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Wesley Stace – ‘Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding’

Album Review

Written By Stu Huggett

Hailing from one of Hastings’ more high-achieving artistic families, songwriter and novelist Wesley Stace long ago left town for life in the United States and a performing alter ego as John Wesley Harding.

Since his debut, 1988’s live album ‘It Happened One Night’, Stace’s enviable diary of collaborators has grown to include Bruce Springsteen, The Fiery Furnaces’ Eleanor Friedberger, The Decemberists and R.E.M./Young Fresh Fellows side-group The Minus 5, and this latest record finds him backed by Minneapolis’ alt-country pioneers The Jayhawks.

Aside from a faithfully bright cover of ‘Don’t Turn Me Loose’, a 1972 continental hit by “the Dutch Simon & Garfunkel” Greenfield & Cook, Stace and The Jayhawks have combined to create a casual, Anglicised Americana sound.

Bar room piano and lap steel appear on the upbeat ‘You’re A Song’, one of several tracks (‘I Don’t Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll’, ‘Audience Of One’) where the lyrics use Stace’s musical profession to frame his thoughts of love.

He takes aim at an unspecified rival (“Hey little fly tormenting me”) on the catty ‘For Me And You’ while the propulsive ‘The Wilderness Years’ has much fun with its Biblical wordplay (“You threw me out of your Eden / Now I’m on gardening leave”).

As everyone who grew up here knows, even if you leave the town a part of Hastings stays with you, part of the marrow of your being.

Thus, in the centre of the album, there sits ‘Hastings Pier’, a portrait of the Stace’s youth in the town, his memories of busking round the Memorial and holiday jobs set to wave-like ripples of loosely improvised guitar and piano.

More than simply autobiographical, the song also tells the story of the pier itself, from the big 60s concerts (“Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett’s final show”) up until the 2010 fire, which Stace watched “Burn like Halloween / Melting my computer screen”).

As both he and we know, Hastings Pier is now renewed, but the song drifts off before this revival, Stace’s reminiscences floating away with the ash and timber of the structure he once knew.

If you’ve not yet dipped into Stace’s twenty-something albums over the part thirty years, here’s your key.

‘Wesley Stace’s John Wesley Harding’ is released 24th February on Yep Roc Records.

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