Track by Track:
intro by tom johnson
track guide by aaron duff
The last couple of years has seen a keener eye focused on the music coming out of the North East of England, having so often been a much-overlooked landscape full of decadent but skewed folk(ish) storytelling. Field Music have long been the region’s beacon, but the wider discovery of Richard Dawson’s weird and wonderful compositions, and the long-overdue Mercury Prize nomination for Lanterns on the Lake has seen a spike of interest (not to mention that theme song from the Netflix series ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’). The latest band to hopefully capitalise on this attention are Hector Gannet, a quartet from North Shields who release debut album Big Harcar this Autumn. The eleven-song collection is led by Aaron Duff, and it’s his powerful voice, dripping with local accent, that lands the biggest impact across the record.
Produced by Paul Gregory, of the aforementioned Lanterns on The Lake, Big Harcar wears its influences proudly on its sleeve: namely the land and sea which surrounds them. the band take their name from a boat that sunk while on its way to try and rescue people, while elsewhere ‘The Whin Sill’ is named after the layer of igneous rock that lies beneath various counties in the north, and the massive closing track ‘The Haven of St Aidan’s’ which takes its dues from the rugged coastline of the area as well as “a nod to the heroics of English lighthouse keeper Grace Darling”.
The band have previously been likened to British Sea Power but it’s perhaps the bands quieter moments that resonate most chiefly; the beautiful instrumental track ‘The Launch’ and the subtle and weaving ‘Into the Deep’ which features a tender guest appearance from Lanterns’ Hazel Wilde. As debut records go, however, the whole thing feels admirably comfortable in its own skin; an endearing new voice that swells as powerfully as the choppy seas that so pertinently shaped it.
Listen/Buy Big Harcar now, via Bandcamp, and be sure to read Aaron Duff’s track by track guide to the album below…
Track by Track
The Whin Sill
It was inspired by an article I read about ‘The Great Whin Sill’, a layer of volcanic rock reaching north from Teeside towards Berwick and west into Cumbria, it’s distinctive features can be observed in various locations across the region. I found it quite inspiring once I started to learn about it, which might seem a bit odd, but I was thinking beyond ‘the sill’ really. I think there’s a strong link between landscape and people, So this sort of explores the idea that we are shaped by our habitat, as much as we effect it in return.
All Hail, All Glory
Although I make reference to the past, ‘All Hail’ is really about the present. To some extent I was exploring my own values as much I was observing those of others. My interpretation of patriotism is one of citizenship and public spirit, but all too often it seems beliefs can be exploited to incite conflict. When it comes to remembrance, to me it means ensuring such things are never repeated and respecting all those who have and continue to suffer for the good of others. It’s important to remember these ideals, particularly in times of such unrest.
In Fading Light
It’s a subject I still feel is yet to be given the attention it fully deserves. Coming from an area where wildlife is on the doorstep, I can’t help but feel deeply concerned by the impact we continue to have on the natural world. This is something which will impact us all, and that’s really what this song is about. The track title is actually taken from a 1989 screenplay set in North Shields, based around the decline of the fishing industry. The causes and the affects of that subject also deeply inspired the song.
The oldest tune on the album. I can hear a significant shift in my approach to writing with this and I think that’s perhaps why it’s stuck with me, at the same time I can hear how my writing has evolved since. I remember lyrically it just sort of flowed out, which happens from time to time with songs, those are always the hardest to describe because you can’t explain where it comes from.
Into The Deep
This definitely shows a different side to HG. I wasn’t really focusing on writing a ‘song’, I was just playing with ideas which eventually grew into this peice. I was influenced by orchestral and brass band music which I definitely think comes across in the arrangement and the performance. It was obviously inspired by the sea, I really wanted to evoke that sense of beauty and danger and to some degree, the longing for escapism which that kind of imagery congers up for me, so the environment and indeed it’s preservation definitely played a large part in inspiring both the lyrics and the music.
This one came about when working with archive footage of shipbuilding on the Tyne as part of North East Film Archive’s ‘Moving North: Coastal’ project. I wanted to create something to represent the anticipation and the eventual elation of a completed build, so the whole structure is supposed to mirror that. I was very conscious of portraying the right emotions which is difficult with a largely instrumental piece but at the same time I was keen to let the music explain itself, I didn’t want to cloud things too much. The track ends almost as it began, as if to say, “on to the next one”.
The music has a sort of playfulness to it which was intended to contrast the lyrical content, yet in some ways it puts emphasis on the laughable, farcical side of the subject matter. I actually think that, with everything that’s happened in the past six months, the song resonates even more than it did when I wrote it, which is awful really. Recent events have only helped to show how those at the top have no grasp on how ordinary folk live, nor how hugely their actions effects us.
You really can’t fail to acknowledge the spiritual presence of coal mining in the north east. The emotional and physical remains of the industry stand as eerie reminders of a bygone age. Like anything of cultural significance it deserves to be remembered and celebrated, not without acknowledging the impact such industry had on life and the surroundings as well as the impact of it’s demise and the effect it has on the identity of a people and a place.
The Haven of St Aidan’s
When I can, I tend to spend a lot of time in north Northumberland, around Bamburgh and Holy Island. This song is really an attempt to bottle-up that environment. The area is famed by the heroic tale of Grace Darling, a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rescued survivors from the paddle-steamer, ‘Forfashire’ when it wrecked on ‘Big Harcar’. I found this, as well as the religious and cultural history, really inspiring. I wanted to portray the spirit of the place and it’s environment, which at times, can be extremely tranquil, and at other times violent and unforgiving.
The Land Is Behind Us
This song attempts to reflect the emotions surrounding the acceptance of change, casting off from the past. It’s a nod to the great Ewan MacColl, who wrote the original soundtrack to the short TyneTees documentary film ‘The Way We Live: Fishermen 1959’, which happens to feature my Grandparents. I borrowed part of his melody by way of tribute to that, and in some ways the lyrics sort of reflect his own, I feel.
Until My Bonnie Can Be Revived
I wrote it after viewing footage of my Grandad working aboard a North Shields fishing trawler. Obviously on a personal level the footage means a great deal and it’s an insight into a past era which I’m proud to be connected to. The song is kind of an attempt to portray how that profession becomes a way of life, particularly when it’s a family tradition. On a wider scale it focuses on loss, reflection on the past ,the passing of time and changing landscapes.
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