What does it sound like?:
Until a couple of weeks ago I had never near of Mike Hart. But I was listening to an old Mojo free CD which had been gathering dust unplayed, featuring music from Liverpool artists, and a track by him just leaped out of the speakers. I checked out the album it’s from, and I can’t stop listening to it.
Mike Hart was part of Liverpool music through the 60s. He initially fronted Merseybeat band The Roadrunners, and was then part of Adrian Henri’s music and poetry group The Liverpool Scene. He was signed by John Peel’s Dandelion label and released two solo albums, of which Mike Hart Bleeds was the first, coming out in 1969. Sadly, neither did anything, and Hart, who seems to have had a massive self destruct button, descended into alcoholism. He died in an Edinburgh nursing home three years ago.
Mike Hart bleeds is an classic archetypal 1960s Folk/pop singer-songwriter record; it reminds me of near contemporaries like Ralph McTell, Harvey Andrews or Rab Noakes. For better or worse, Dylan’s shadow inevitably looms large, particularly the Dylan of Bringing it Back Home. Disbelief Blues is either an outrageous rip-off or brilliant parody of Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, complete with chugging guitar, wailing harmonica and a large list of contemporary characters including Vanessa Redgrave reading the Daily Express and Ian Smith and Enoch Powell drinking Black and Tans in an Irish pub. The beautiful Dance Mr Morning Man has both the seductive voice and guitar sound of Hey Mr Tambourine Man and similarly overwritten lyrics –
‘Discarded faded versions of old tattered dreams
Haunt the sad mind he found meandering’ etc
But Hart carries it off and makes something which is his own. It’s partly the sense of place. Whilst there is a generic aspect to the songs, they are also firmly rooted in Britain of the late 60s – not the flowerpower swinging London Carnaby Street Britain, but the one that was still just two decades on from the Second World War, with poverty, urban greyness and homelessness. The brilliant ‘Shelter Song’ rages against huge temples like Liverpool’s St George’s Hall and two cathedrals and suggests they should be requisitioned and filled with bunks for homeless sleepers. Aberfan shames the easy grief of celebrities and people donating to relief after the Welsh tragedy which should never have happened in the first place.
The song on the Mojo CD is the final track, Almost Liverpool 8, and it is magnificent. How had I never heard it before? It’s a beautiful yearning, wistful love song – a song of a love he knows will be unconsummated, and in which he imagines the future suburban life of this girl. Already he sees this as the great lost love of both their lives. I can’t help wondering if Elvis Costello had heard it when he wrote Alison – it has the same combination of bitterness and tenderness.
Costello is one comparison, and there is another obvious one too. Hart is at various times angry, melancholic, sardonic, funny, gentle, tender. In that regard he is archetypal Liverpool. He has a great, immediately distinctive voice. Remind you of anyone? Songs like Shelter Song and The Ring Song in particular recall the John Lennon of Working Class Hero, released just one year later, and clearly both men will have grown up with similar English and Irish songs and other musical influences.
It’s not perfect – some of the songs are a little underdeveloped and there are some lazy lyrics here and there. But at its best it suggests a genuine wasted talent, who whilst he may have underachieved, nonetheless achieved at least this, which is more than most.
This being the Afterword I know there will be many here who know Mike Hart’s music. But if you don’t, I do urge you to check out this album. It’s deleted, but second hand copies can be found on line, and I’ve been listening to it on Spotify.
What does it all *mean*?
It’s a classic case of music which is melodic and attractive on the surface, but with personal darkness and anger at the state of the world underneath it.
And it’s a reminder that it’s a thin line between commercial success and failure and it isn’t always to do with the talent and quality on show. But we knew that.
Goes well with…
A pint in a Liverpool boozer
Might suit people who like…
English singer songwriters and folk artists from the mid and late 60s