❉ C.J. Newman on two classic albums by a creative and versatile singer-songwriter.
There are those of us, of a certain age, who may well recall the BBC TV show ‘Rock Family Trees’. For those not familiar, it was a musical documentary where the origins of various bands from the 1960s and 1970s are explored through Peter Frame’s beautifully hand-drawn genograms. The attraction of the show was that it illustrated the deeply interconnected and enduring relationships of musicians from that era. It pointed to a vibrant ecosystem of collaborations between the fiercely talented, the passionate and the fortunate.
The release by Cherry Red Records of Pieces of Me and The Fetch span a musical journey of some 44 years and represent the totality of Linda Hoyle’s solo recording career. Yet they provide a fascinating illustration of the kind of collective endeavours that made Frame’s musical genealogical exploration so addictively interesting. The two albums, whilst separated by the passage of years, are nevertheless both imbued with the spirit of Hoyle; a creative and versatile singer-songwriter whose restless intellect and empathy meant that the music industry was only ever going to be part of her journey through life.
Releasing both albums together captures the evolution of Hoyle’s powerful voice both physically and lyrically. It also emphasizes her skill as an astute collaborator, bringing together like-minded, and fiercely talented musical souls. The always excellent Cherry Red Records have once again produced a sympathetic remastering without sacrificing any of the vibrancy of the original recordings. Hoyle’s versatile and powerful jazz-infused voice provides the fulcrum around which these two distinct albums can pivot.
Upon listening to Pieces of Me, there is an inescapable feeling of being a voyeur into an unsettling, yet intimate musical world. The album, first suggested by her then manager, jazz club owner Ronnie Scott, is the product of a formidable joint effort with the accomplished Karl Jenkins. It was Jenkins who brought in bandmates from the jazz-rock collective Nucleus. Chris Spedding – surely the most protean guitarist of his generation – combined effortlessly with Jenkins’s keyboards, Jeff Clyne’s jazz bass playing and John Marshall’s drumming to provide an irreducible core of musicianship which allows Hoyle’s voice to flourish.
The mixture of styles on Pieces of Me can prove a little disorienting at first, with each track taking the listener on a very distinct journey. The lyrical power of Nina Simone’s Backlash Blues lays down a spiritual marker for the rest of the album during which Hoyle and Spedding combine to serve up a blistering opening. This makes the contrast with the second track, the Streisand-esque Paper Tulips, even more stark. Hoyle then proceeds to rip through the seedy underbelly of late sixties Soho with the urgent rocker Black Crow and stretches her recently trained voice in For My Darling. But it is the title track Pieces of Me that really grabs the listener by the throat. Once again, the virtuoso Spedding harnesses all of his skill to provide a screaming counterpoint to Hoyle’s commanding musical presence.
Laura Nyro’s Lonely Women and Hoyle’s feminist salute to Valerie Solanis again furnish the ice-and-fire contrast that makes this album so beguiling. The beautiful packaging of this re-release provides insights from Hoyle herself on the songs, an invaluable window into the depth of feeling packed into each track.
The Ballad of Morty Mole, a wistful and lyrically playful track is, in fact, a love song for her most enduring collaborator – husband, and philosophy academic, John Nicholas. Journey’s End, an undoubted creature of its time, is an anthemic muse on hope and Morning for One provides a melancholic narrative reflection on a solitary life. The final track is a nod to the women in her jazz heritage: Mildred Bailey’s Barrel House Music, sees Hoyle work with legendary stride pianist, Colin Purbrook and provide a fitting closing to a unique and revealing album.
If Pieces of Me is a spicy tapas-style concoction of collaborative influences, Hoyle’s second album The Fetch is a much more delicately seasoned dish. Although produced after a gap of 5 decades since the last, the album actually has its origins in collaborations from the late 1960s. Before Pieces of Me, Hoyle was lead vocalist for jazz-rock band Affinity where she met polymath and legendary session bassist Mo Foster. Although both left Affinity in the early 1970s, the friendship that endured between the two over the intervening years was the catalyst for Hoyle’s return as a recording artist.
An Affinity reunion in 2011, led to Hoyle and Foster writing and recording over the course of the next two years. The addition of Canadian songwriter Oliver Whitehead provided another branch to the Hoyle musical family tree. Although originating in the 1960s and 70s, this collaboration was a very modern one; with Foster based in the UK and Hoyle having relocated to Canada. Data files of Foster’s music were sent to Hoyle who overlaid lyrics and recorded the work in the studio aided by Pieces of Me recording engineer Roger Wake.
The opening song, The Fetch is a Hoyle/Whitehead penned track. It fires the album into life with a lilting but piquant electro-jazz style. The fire in Hoyle has not dimmed but the passing of the years, give a more sardonic twist to her work. The hauntingly evocative Cut and Run shows vulnerability and is followed with Hoyle bearing her musical soul in Confessional. Throughout the album we have another tour de force of rich musicianship allied to a lyrical candour that cannot help but engage and provoke in equal measures.
The Fetch is an album of layered sophistication and serves as an elegant codicil to Pieces of Me. Hoyle’s lyrics, do not burst with anger. Instead they echo the melancholy and wisdom that age and contentment can bring. Nowhere is this more apparent than the beautiful It’s the World, the apogee of poise and elegance (with a simply gorgeous fiddle accompaniment from Chris Haigh) that transports you to a bar in Paris. Fortuna spikes and provokes with a Hammond organ and trumpet-led crescendo after which Snowy Night provides a much-needed musical embrace. A glance to the past is never far from the music and in Maida Vale we hear a ghostly Humphrey Littleton introducing Affinity on his show. Again, the stunning production of Cherry Red Records – always faithful custodians of venerable material – lends the music a depth and polish that will reward repeated listens.
Both of these albums are rare treasures that occupy very different places on the jazz-rock spectrum. Pieces of Me is an album of contrasts, anger and power, while The Fetch is a mature elegy spanning the decades. But both albums have the undoubted DNA of Hoyle threaded through them. The range and talent of her collaborators serve to showcase, but never overshadow, the central truth of Hoyle’s sublime voice. The final track of The Fetch, unironically titled Acknowledgements is a hymn in praise to the diverse range of musicians that have influenced her. The rock family of which Hoyle is the central figure, has jazz-creativity at its core, musical virtuosity as its hallmark and lyrical intensity as its legacy. Pieces of Me and The Fetch may be very different, but both of them are richly rewarding testimonies to the power of Hoyle and the many branches of her musical family tree.
❉ Linda Hoyle: ‘Pieces Of Me/The Fetch’ 2CD Remastered & Expanded Edition (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC22736) was released 25 September 2020 by Esoteric Recordings/Cherry Red Records, RRP £11.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ CJ Newman combines a lifelong love of music, science fiction and cult movies with his alter-ego, as an academic writer on space exploration. He can be found on twitter as