It’s over five years since I first saw John Smith. It was one of those intimate, perfect Saturday afternoon gigs in The Rabbit Rooms, Bangor. I recall it clearly – such was the impact his voice and musicianship had on the assembled souls, such was his banter that filled the gaps.
His sixth album, Hummingbird is clearly a labour of love. Recorded in Sam Lakeman’s Somerset studios, Smith wanted to commit six of his favourite folk songs to tape – as if to lay to rest a burning need, to leave as a legacy, for posterity.
‘Lowlands of Holland’, ‘Hares on the Mountain’, ‘Lord Franklin’, ‘Master Kilby’, ‘Willy Moore’ and ‘Unquiet Grave’ are the six chosen ones – and it is clear, that although he has performed these songs hundreds of times, for the record, he has thrown every inch of his being in to making them perfect, John Smith perfect. The result is so stunning and pure, you just have to stand still, take stock, and lend him your ears.
The new album is not without new material. Smith is a prolific and dedicated songwriter – and the new songs do not disappoint. The title track – ‘Hummingbird’ – will become a John Smith classic, not least for its immediate narrative and lyrical clarity.
‘Axe Mountain’ – originally on ‘Live from the Union Chapel’ – is revisited. Smith recognises the greatness of English folk heroine Anne Patricia Brigg and her 1971 classic, ‘The Time Has Come’.
It is this recognition and reverence of other folk heroes and heroines, both living and dead, that sets Smith aside. He knows how much he owes them. He has been nurtured and reared over the years by the likes of John Renbourn, Davy Graham, Joan Baez, John Martyn, and Paul Brady to name just a few. He is held in high esteem by many who have encouraged, supported and recognised his talent – so it’s fitting to see that some of his contemporaries have joined him on ‘Hummingbird’ – most notably Cara Dillon, John McCusker, and Ben Nicholls.
Stripped back, and given a new lease of life, John Smith’s ‘Hummingbird’ brings these old classics back in to focus, along with new material that sets him apart.
‘Hummingbird’ is available to download from johnsmithjohnsmith.com