Alan Hull is one of those frequently forgotten names in British rock music. Probably best known as one of the creative forces behind Newcastle folk-rockers Lindisfarne, who were themselves best known for a string of hit singles in the early 70s (including the rightly celebrated “Lady Eleanor” and “Meet Me on the Corner”) and a questionable collaboration with Paul Gascoigne in the early 90s which arguably permanently tainted their legacy in the eyes of retro-obsessed tastemakers.
Outside of Lindisfarne, Hull gamely plugged away at an on and off solo career from the mid 70s onwards until his sad passing in 1995. His solo albums never received much in the way of promotion from the record company or press at the time of release and as a result, they form the arc of a solo career that has remained relatively unheralded and overlooked to this day, outside of the likes of Mojo magazine having a minor celebration over the re-release of his long unavailable sophomore effort Squire. For me though, it’s Hull’s solo debut, the rather beautiful Pipedream that deserves reappraisal.
It starts off with “Breakfast (73)”, which kicks of Pipedreamby implying the Hull’s solo work will not be a world away from his work with Lindisfarne, midway through though it jumps from something melodic and peppered with a slightly cracked vocal, to something considerably more rocking, building up from a solid riff-base. Lyrically, it also leaps from being a sweet morning scene between two lovers, into something considerably edgier when it is revealed that the woman has to leave before their breakfast meal is complete to return to her child and husband and our narrator feels pangs of guilt as he watches her depart down the road.
The lyrical theme of feeling disjointed and out of touch is retained throughout “Justanothersadsong”, however it’s now married to an upbeat rocker topped with a oddly Status Quo-esque riff. It’s not a mile away from the type of thing that Lindisfarne did really well, and only underlines exactly how big a part Hull’s songwriting was of the band’s sound.
“Money Game” is supple singer-songwriter stuff, topped with mandolins and emphasises just how great Hull was when it came to melodious material. He then ditches the vocals and head for instrumental territory with “STD 0632”, which despite it’s slightly odd title is a beautiful tune and evokes a rather wistful, yet still restless mood with it’s mid-tempo wheezing, the occasional stinging guitar line and despite being utterly devoid of his vocals, is unmistakably Alan Hull .
It’s tempting to see the use of an instrumental midway through the first side as something intended as a palate cleanser, as “Unites States of Mind” is one of Hull’s finest lyrics. It’s nicely reflective folk rocking stuff, the like of which Hull had pretty much mastered at this point, but it doesn’t stop it being one of his most arresting tunes.
The theme of infidelity once again bubbles on “Country Gentleman’s Wife”, but whereas on “Breakfast (73)” Hull’s character had given into his baser desires, here he makes plain he is going to resist the advances of this bored and neglected lady who regrets marrying her older and wealthier husband.
Side two (in old money anyway) arrives with another mid-paced number in “Numbers (Travelling Band)”. It doubtlessly worked better on the old vinyl, but playing unbroken after “Country Gentleman’s Wife” on CD, it seems a little misplaces. Of course Hull could never have predicted that any listener wouldn’t have had to stand up and flip over the album to the second side, so “Numbers (Travelling Band)” is best heard as a track that leads you into the second side of Pipedream and in that sense it’s a great little tune, especially as it works well as a run up to “For the Bairns”, the album’s most upbeat number with it’s jolly piano, horn section and almost cartoonish backing vocals. It’s something of a throwaway tune, but in turn it accentuates the downturn in mood that results in “Drug Song”, a downbeat tune with suitably dark lyrics. It’s certainly not the sort of thing that Lindisfarne could have pulled off and would come as a surprise to anyone who only knows Hull for his links with Paul Gascoigne.
Lightness in tone is regained with “Song for a Windmill” in which a morose lyric is masked by a relatively jolly and propulsive acoustic folk tune. as songs about dilapidated industrial buildings go, it’s a corker.
Pipedream’s relative epic is “Blue Murder”, a slower number which is married to yet another great melody. It’s almost Traffic-like during its instrumental passages.
The album ends with it’s greatest song, the stunning “I Hate to See You Cry”, where Hull’s cracked, yet soaring vocal is accompanied by little more than a slightly out of tune piano and he sounds like one of the great songwriters of his generation (which indeed he was). It’s one of the great lost songs of the mid 70s and we can only count our blessings that so few people have heard it, because if they had it would have been covered by every cloth-eared talent-vacum over the last 40 years.
Pipedream is one of those albums that enjoyed modest success on its release (unlike the rest of Hull’s solo work it did actually chart), but has since wallowed in relative obscurity, however it is ripe for rediscovery as it does have lot to offer. Hull’s lyrics will appeal to the singer-songwriter fan, there’s enough of the Lindisfarne flavour to appeal to the folk rockers, enough melodies and catchy choruses for fans of 70s pop to give it a go and enough riffs and heavyweight imagery for those with a love of 70s rock music to give it a listen.
This is an album which is by no means perfectly formed, and it’s doubtful that it will ever come anywhere close to mainstream acceptance. What it is is a surprisingly substantial obscure gem and a reminder of what a shockingly under-appreciated talent Alan Hull was.