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Ready Or Not
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REVIEW by Stewart Henderson , Poet, lyrist and broadcaster
To consider the remarkable 50-year career of guitarist, songwriter and lauded session musician, Bryn Haworth, is to walk through rock music’s Hall of Fame. For starters, Bryn’s early days were spent as a key member of the late 1960’s London-based Atlantic Records house band, The Fleur de Lys, working with such soul greats as Isaac Hayes, and Dave Porter who wrote many of the Sam & Dave hits for Stax.
And then there was the famous night in 1968 at the music industry premier hangout, The Speakeasy, when Jimi Hendrix, an enthusiastic admirer of Bryn’s guitar playing joined Bryn and The Fleurs’ for an ad hoc performance as they played Purple Haze and Red House together.
Bryn eventually decamped to the U.S.A. to join a new band, Wolfgang, managed by legendary promoter, Bill Graham, appearing on bills with Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead.
Come 1973 Bryn was back in the UK, signed to Island Records, recording the first of his two albums for them, ’Let The Days Go By’. A move to A&M followed later, with another brace of albums, including the Nashville recorded, ‘Grand Arrival’.
During this period, touring with the likes of Fairport Convention and Traffic, and appearing on John Peel’s Radio 1 Sessions and BBC 2’s showcase, The Old Grey Whistle Test, Bryn began to establish his reputation as a go-to session player with his revered slide guitar deemed an essential for many artists. As Richard Williams, the person who signed Bryn to Island Records stated, he is ‘a musician’s musician’.
The late Gerry Rafferty, who died in 2011, recognised that. His and Bryn’s relationship spanned several of Gerry’s albums, even up to the present day, with Gerry’s daughter, Martha calling on Bryn’s musical friendship with her father, and his expertise in piecing together some previously unheard material, with Bryn contributing to five tracks on the critically acclaimed September 2021 release, ‘Rest In Blue’…
…And so to Bryn’s new album Ready Or Not, which distils and amplifies just some of the remarkable pedigree, and pilgrimage, outlined before. The eleven tracks illuminate the concerns and reflections on ‘the midnight cry’, as in the masterful, ‘Great Story’, opening title track. Over the past months, Bryn has been listening in the uneasy silence to the babel tumult, to produce an album of wise warnings and enfolding solace. Blues, country, gospel and rock and roll respectively take their turns on the floor with the latter of those musical styles to the fore in Boom Baby Boom, the witty lyrics enhanced by an impeccable arrangement.
We Never Thought This Could Happen, is a most moving country contemplation on the events we’ve collectively experienced of late. Then, track four brings a subtle and effortless gear change with the smooth and sassy, Walk Away, a driving home in the early hours instrumental.
The longing for belonging permeates All I Need Is A Home with Bryn’s wistful vocal emphasizing the lyric’s universal pining for settlement and security. Environmental concerns drive Enough Is Enough, a stewardship song arising out of the My Tree Matters campaign, which protested against the proposed felling of historic woodland …’listen to the birds crying ‘mercy please’…
…This artfully segues into the timely Let’s Work Together. Originally penned by Wilbert Harrison it became a 1970 major chart hit for Canned Heat. Bryn goes to the blues-to-the-very-boots of the song to fashion a chugging, corking 12-bar.
In recent years Bryn has released three albums for prison inmates arising out of his ongoing faith-commitment to those in prison. The country ballad, I Had A Dream, isinspired by Jesus’s words in the New Testament, Matthew: Ch. 7, ‘build on the Rock and not on sand’. With all due respect, Johnny Cash, a fellow prison visitor, could not have empathised better.
The final three tracks, continue in a similar stirring spirit with Call On Me, a Latin rhythm co-write with Eric Clapton keyboard player, Chris Stainton. This leads into the transcendent toe-tapper that is Holy Spirit Of God, suitably preparing us for the final, sublime instrumental, Doxology, a beatific guitar riff on a C16 melody which can be traced back to the Genevan Psalter hymnal.
For a far-sighted summing up of this outstanding and commanding album, I’ll leave that to the person who knows Bryn best, soul-mate Sally Haworth. When her husband signed that two album deal with Island Records back in the 1970’s, Bryn said he was happy to record just one album. As Sally discerningly and paradoxically observed, “Ready Or Not…is that album!”…. And so it has gloriously and authoritatively come to pass.
All songs written by Bryn Haworth, published by B+S Haworth, except Let’s Work Together written by Wilbert Harrison © EMI Music Publishing
- Produced by Bryn Haworth
- Associate Producer and Engineer Neil Costello
- Drums Paul Beavis, Terl Bryant, Henry Spinetti
- Bass Dave Bronze, Matt Weeks
- Keyboards Chris Stainton, Mark Edwards
- Percussion Karlos Edwards
- Guitars Bryn Haworth, Neil Costello
- Mandolin and Vocals Bryn Haworth
- Backing Vocals Mal Pope, Bryn Haworth