Genre: Folk (Contemporary)
Playing time: 33 minutes
Availability (out of 3): *
Related website(s): http://www.bennygallagher.com
My rating: 10/10
I like… The range of moods, the thought-provoking and evocative lyrics, the arrangements
I’m less keen on… –
This was one of the first albums that I bought (on vinyl, back in the early 1970s!) I’d started to take an interest in music in my mid teens, and in a bid to be cool I had also begun to buy the music newspaper “New Musical Express” or “NME”. This was, of course, pre-internet, and that newspaper, and its rival “Melody Maker”, was peppered with fairly extensive adverts from mail-order suppliers of albums and trendy tee-shirts.
This album was reviewed in the NME to considerable acclaim; strangely, almost the only thing I now remember about the review was the minor criticism that, with a playing time of just 33 minutes, the album was on the short side.
Anyway, I was intrigued enough to check out the album at my local independent record store in the market hall. I probably paid around £2.25 for it, and took it home in the carrier bag bearing the store’s logo and name in orange – ‘Ear ‘Ere – for a spin on my turntable!
I bought it a number of years ago on CD, and although it isn’t one of my most played albums, I always enjoy listening to it when I play it and end up wondering why I don’t play it more often. Put it down to having limited time!
Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle both hail from Scotland and began to play together in 1959 before becoming members of the band McGuinness Flint, and wrote all but two of that band’s debut album.
“Willie And The Lapdog” was the second album that the pair released under their own names.
The duo went on to achieve deserved commercial success with songs like “Breakaway” and “I Want To Stay With You.”
After releasing a number of albums together, they went on to pursue individual writing careers. Graham Lyle has written songs covered by such luminaries as Rod Stewart, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Tom Jones, and Tina Turner, who sang his “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”
When the album was released on vinyl it even came with a booklet containing a basic version of the sheet music, which was quite remarkable. The front cover had nice artwork, a pencil drawing of the two lead characters from songs that gave the album its title. I’ll mention “Willie” and “The Lapdog” in my comments on the tracks.
Great buy on vinyl – songbook included!
There’s a slightly amusing typo on Amazon at the time of writing this, with one entry listed as “Willie And The Rapdogs”!
It is indeed on the short side in duration, but I feel it’s a strong album with some very evocative and highly original material that is adeptly arranged and delivered. It’s hard to categorise, and given that it is mainly acoustic and with a gentle sound I’ve classed it as “folk”, though some would argue with that. I pretty much stand by my categorisation on the grounds that those with an interest in acoustic, non-traditional music may well enjoy it.
As mentioned above, I feel that this album has some very original material. The characters of the title comes from two of the album’s songs.
starts the album. It’s sung in the first person by an apprentice, “The lapdog”, as a tribute to his mentor, Willie. It begins – and ends – with some mandolin chords and is sung to a medium tempo.
The trade that the “lapdog” is learning is grave-digging. The words are poignant and lovely as the young man reflects on his initial naivety and the wisdom (as well as the skills) that he learned:
“I was a young man stepping into my life…
stepping out of school, across the graveyard gates,
an educated fool…”
“Oh Willie, your helping hand
helped to make the man…”
I love the soulful harmonica solo part way through. I also like the setting of the song; grave digging is an unusual choice of career for such a song, but part of the song’s strength lies in the transition of outlook and the growing up process that the young man underwent, including the confrontation with the reality of death:
“A friend or stranger, it didn’t change us.
We took a heavy spade and laid their soul to rest
and kept a graveyard face…
is separated from “Willie” by seven tracks, and on the original vinyl was on side two. I’ve placed it here simply as it seemed logical for the review.
This is the counterpart of the opening song, the old gravedigger’s reflections on his young apprentice. In part it’s a lament for the passing of his own youth:
“The way the wanderer stepped into my life,
hat in his hand, and taking a chance
on a grin and a silvery tongue –
oh, what it is to be young…”
Willie goes on to reflect poignantly on his own typical youthful aspirations that went unfulfilled:
“I had a faith, and I had a dream
but I let the chance slip through my hands…”
This lament that youthful optimism is prone to disappointment is extended a little:
“Sometimes I wonder what they teach them in school,
sending them out with their head in the clouds
and everything pinned on a dream –
oh, it don’t seem right…”
I think it’s a lovely song, and it has an upbeat side to it; the older man has obviously benefitted from the companionship of the younger just as much as the younger has been helped by the older.
Give A Boy A Break; Sittin’ Down Music
These two songs are upbeat and are both about enjoying music. As “Sittin’ Down Music” pleads, “take a turn, sing a song, all join in and hum along…”. There’s some nice dobro playing on this second of the two songs.
is my second favourite to “Willie”. It tells of an unemployed man (“those dark, despairing days on the dole, that any man from thirty-nine will know, and Dan the only man to keep his soul…) who “in the days gone down left the dole to sail the world…”
I like the way that the song combines pathos with dignity. Dan has kept his dignity despite having to “clean his shoes with wraps from margarine”. The song reflects, too, on the “head of silver-grey”, the facial “lines crossed” – and the “time lost, time lost…”
“Harmonium” tells of the stresses and strains of life being eased by playing this instrument. Again the song has some lovely lyrics: “through dusty days to touch your faded keys, and the change in me….”
“Among the birks” isn’t a song about being in the presence of fools, but among birch trees! It’s a love song, and features actual bird song to enhance the evocation. “Thoughts From A Station” has another allusion to the old gravedigger (“Willie, your words are timeless…)
Interestingly, writing this review has led me to check out Gallagher and Lyle again. I see that Benny Gallagher has released a live album “On Stage” and a studio album “At The Edge Of The Wave” that I intend to check out.
I’ve already said that although I don’t play this album often, I always enjoy it when I do so, and I love the songs almost without exception. I like the thought-provoking subjects and lyrics of some songs in particular, and the folk “flavour” of the album is well suited to the songs it contains.
I don’t often hit the replay button when listening to it, but that is simply because I am happy to go with the flow of the tracks and the changes in mood that they bring; some songs I think are exceptionally good. Notwithstanding the album’s brevity, then…
My rating: 10/10
It’s a pity that the album isn’t more readily available, and an equal pity that their later, more commercially successful work has overshadowed the songs on this album. “Willie” and “Sittin’ Down Music” feature on their “Best Of” album, however.
Please note that this blog is non-money making and is simply an attempt to share music that I love. I am anxious however to credit the sources of any illustrations included in my posts.
As you may have guessed,I struggled to find appropriate illustrations for this review!
Section “Who?”: photo of Gallagher and Lyle: http://i1.dailyrecord.co.uk/incoming/article1121597.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/graham-lyle-717994338.jpg