Harvest Sun @ Philharmonic Music Room 19/10/16

Some 48 years after the release of his debut album South Atlantic Blues, FAGAN is finally on tour to promote it after a much-vaunted re-release, including a date at the Philharmonic Music Room. The album saw its initial release when Fagan was just 22 in 1968, but sank without trace, a victim of the incredibly productive times for music of the late 60s. The album took on mythical status as a lost classic, a piece of its time, left behind and forgotten. Until now.

Backed on the tour by Scotland’s Trembling Bells, Fagan is more than pleased to finally be able once more to breathe life into these songs, this collection of sketches of his former self, his earlier, younger days, and is grateful for this opportunity. At 70 years of age, this is his first ever European tour. That’s some wait he’s had. He is clearly happy the wait is over, and we find him in a happy and relaxed mood, keen for us to hear these songs which have remained so precious to him for so long, but with far too few opportunities to share them.

From the opening bass guitar and organ strains of In My Head, it’s easy to see how these songs have taken on classic status in the intervening years. Written about hard times, living dirt poor in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a child, Fagan’s scratched and languorous baritone soul vocal speaks of too much pain, too much darkness, and too much rum. Thankfully, he proclaims “no more Cuba Libre, no more Bacardi, just music and love” as he hints towards the bottle’s probable involvement in his lengthy hiatus.

Crying is a highlight of the album, and his voice here has lost little of the broken and painful delivery of the 1968 release, reminiscent of Scott Walker, or some of David Bowie’s softer moments. It is a dark, pleading lyric, stark and needy: “Chase away all my tears, all the broken glass in me”. Here in the Music Room, with Trembling Bells so obviously devoted to and inspired by this interesting, emotive and intuitive batch of songs, Crying, as with the other songs, is treated with the gentle respect it so richly deserves and it’s as much a highlight here as on the record. The band play through the album with an almost improvised vibe, loose and light, but without stepping on toes, and without overpowering the songs. Another clear highlight for us is In My Hands, sparse and spacious, led by Fagan’s acoustic guitar, and stretching, tarnished vocal. The doo-wop blues arrangement of Crystal Ball gives the band even more room to move, and they capitalise on the opportunity well, notably drummer Alex Neilson, whose sticks dance across and around the kit, energetic and enthused throughout.

There is discussion of a rock opera, entitled Soon, which though complete, was never recorded and Fagan assures us that, fuelled by this renewed interest in his work, plans are in place to finally put it to tape with Trembling Bells. He plays two pieces from Soon to finish the set. With tight harmonies from the band, it’s easy to see that Soon can take a natural place as a follow up to South Atlantic Blues, and the opening and closing themes from the rock opera make for a fine climax to this warm and welcome evening in the company of a great writer, once lost and now, happily found.

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