Mick Softley Sunrise (1970)

There are a number of influential folk music artists active first in the 1960s who played a key role in the development of the genre but whose recorded output does not now receive the acclaim given to many others. Along with Mac McLeod, Mick Softley played such a role through his late 1950s period in Paris, his travels on the road and setting up the St Albans folk club which would attract artists like his friend Donovan, Bert Jansch and Maddy Prior. He released a sole acoustic album in 1965 as the folk boom was taking off but felt burned by the experience and went back on the road for a number of years. By the time Mick has been persuaded to record again (in part by Donovan) the sixties were drawing towards their close and Mick would record his first album to receive proper arrangements and production.

Working with the rhythm section of Fotheringay and their guitarist Jerry Donohue with Barry Clarke of UK folk-rock band Trees as the instrumentalists the resulting album “Sunrise” did well enough to support two further albums but did not achieve significant commercial success. However this was no reflection upon the album itself, which brings together the experience of the artist over the years and is his defining release.

It starts with the jaunty folk-pop of “Can You Hear Me Now” with strummed guitar, rolling piano and almost a country-gospel feeling. “Waterfall” has a simpler acoustic folk feeling that is similar to Owen Hand (or Nick Drake). The vocals are excellent, expert in their informal storyteller feeling but moving and emoting in a way that enhances the song. With “Eagle” things get particularly interesting on this Indian sitar-folk song with playful flute and pulsing hand percussion. It’s a great track and draws from a similar place to his friend Donovan’s “Peregrine” (with its companion bird title). Listening to the gently soaring vocals he sounds like a relaxed Tim Buckley around the same time when “Lorca” and “Blue Afternoon” were released. This sound is continued on the extended last song “Love Colours” which has a very innocent hippy feeling and blissfully intense sitar instrumentation.

“Julie Argoyne” is a breezy whimsical folk-pop song that is indebted to Donovan. When asked about this connection both artists would claim a mutual influence upon each other. Mick’s desire to travel and not be tied down is explored on the acoustic songs “Caravan” and “On The Road Again” which use the observation shown by early Al Stewart but to highlight the gypsy life. He brings a sad quality to these songs and they sound particularly personal to him.

A further experimental quality is shown on “If You’re Not Part of the Solution, you’re part of the problem” with a jazzy touch, saxophone and Indian percussion reminding of a brighter version of the Nick Drake style. “Birdie Birdie” likewise has a simple folk structure and bright melodies that seems like a less introspective Nick Drake song.

“Ship” is an epic that starts acoustically as an exploration of the developments in travel from ship, to train (with harmonica effects) and ultimately to space travel and Jupiter being an interstellar gateway. As befits the increasingly strange lyrics the music moves from acoustic guitar and saxophone to wild psychedelic electric-guitar effects and space sounds. From a simple beginning this becomes one of the most out-there psychedelic-folk epics recorded in the later part. Barry Clarke’s guitar is stunning, pulling out all kinds of sounds and soaring effects whilst a folk-rock backing adds depth as the lyrics talk of ‘falling back to earth’. A fantastic often overlooked classic of the psychedelic folk style.

The more psychedelic sound continues on “Time Machine”, which has a strong folk-rock sound (not of course unlike Fortheringay being their players). This has haunting lead guitar, strange lyrics about time travel and a style that seems to merge folk with Grateful Dead like extended exploration on such as “Dark Star” and towards the end the kind of acoustic power-rock The Who were doing on Tommy. We even hear an early use of synthesisers on counter-melodies that actually works well. It’s another high quality, adventurous song in an album that incorporates a number of styles but is seemingly expert at them all.
“Michael ‘Mick’ Softley (born in 1941 in South Woodford, Essex) is a singer / songwriter and guitarist UK.
Figurehead during the Folk Scene Columbia, Softley has set up his own club people, released three albums
and was called to work with Mac MacLeod, Donovan Leitch and Maddy Prior. Donovan has even included two songs from Softley
(“Goldwatch Blues” and “The War Drags On”) on his first albums (Donovan Softley cites as a “major influence”)

(…) Avoid capitalizing on the opportunity to stardom, Softley continued to travel and play for free, preferring
watching people enjoy his music to make money. He moved to County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland in 1984,
eventually settling in Enniskillen where he still lives. It is a well known figure in the city and he also played
occasionally at the Folk Festival in Belfast. In recent years he has focused on writing poetry. “
Can You Hear Me Now 2:46
Waterfall 2:09
Eagle 4:25
Julie Argoyne 2:30
Caravan 3:03
If You’re Not Part Of The Solution, You Must Be Part Of The Problem 2:50
Ship 6:07
You Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine 3:56
Birdie Birdie 4:05
Time Machine 4:57
On The Road Again 1:43
Love Colours 8:23


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