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Pete Bradley of Fatea

reviews Days O' Grace by Hector Gilchrist

Hector Gilchrist has an amazing voice. Not only does he have tremendous range, his voice oozes warmth. The title of his previous album, “Ingleneuk”, sums his voice up perfectly: on a cold winter’s day you could thaw out your frozen soul in front of it. The annoying thing about him, though, is his voice seems effortless. He seems to sing as easily as other people might breathe. You’d have thought to create a sound as beautiful as that, you would need to exert, or at least pretend to exert, a lot of hard work.

Either as a solo artist, as part of the duo Selkie, or as part of the trio Soiree, Hector has been a staple of the British folk scene for decades. In fact, “Days O Grace” is released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his first performance, which was at a folk club in Crewe. An amazing achievement, unlikely to be attained by many.

The majority of the songs on Days O Grace are Scottish songs, or are related to Scotland. To a sassenach like me, I’d always assumed that most Scottish songs were written by Robert Burns, so this album, as well as being a pleasure to listen to, is also an education to me: of the fifteen tracks, only one was penned by Burns. But what a beautiful track. The Gowden Locks o’ Anna was written about a nineteen year old barmaid, Ann Parks, who Burns had an affair with. Ann gave birth to Burns’ child, Elizabeth, who was brought up by Burns’ wife as one of her own.

Hector is accompanied by three wonderfully talented musicians on this album: vocal accompanianment is by Moria Craig, and Jonny Dyer and Vicki Swan play just about every single instrument you have ever heard of, plus a few more.

Not only is this an album of delightful songs that are sung beautifully, the arrangements are wonderful. Ian McCalman’s “The Shian Road” starts off with Hector alone providing the vocals. Just when you think that the song couldn’t be better, Moira’s harmonies fade in gradually and wow, the song suddenly becomes even more exquisite. At the end of it, I felt I too was mourning for never being able to see the Shian Road again even though I’ve never seen it. Similarly, Alan Reid’s “Just A Boy”, again starts off beautifully, and most musicians would be happy if the track stayed like that throughout, but a nyckelharpa solo from Vicki adds an extraordinarily poignant break in the middle.
The video attached to this review of Hector singing Tom Goulder’s “Faraway Tom” at the Ram Club in Thames Ditton, is delightful. On the record, accompanied by Jonny’s keyboards, the song is even better.

Hector wrote the lyrics to “Strong and Faithful” himself, the music being written by his Selkie partner Liz Thomson, and he wrote the music to “Scotland” to a poem written by Sir Alexander Grey, but there is only one song on the album, “Lang Road Hame” that was completely written by Hector. “Lang Road Hame” is a masterpiece, having been written in archaic Scottish, which is an amazing feat. The title of the CD, “Days O Grace” is taken from the lyrics to “Lang Road Hame”.

Days O Grace is a beautiful album and it has whetted my appetite to hear more original material from Hector. Maybe his next album could be all his own songs.