Boo Hewerdine‘s discography is impressive. He has played on over 50 albums and has written for 57 artists during a quietly epic career of over 20 years. The Bible, Hewerdine’s second band, did reasonably well in the late ’80s. But it has been since their split that he has excelled as a songwriter and has been employed by artists as diverse as Alex Parks, Gregson and Collister and David McAlmont whilst also continuing to develop as a solo artist.
His latest solo offering, Harmonograph, named after a mechanical device that draws patterns that can be likened to the ways music is created, is his rendition of 12 self-penned songs that have been recorded by other artists, and there are some real gems to be heard.
The album starts with The Girl Who Fell In Love With The Moon, which marks a beautiful beginning. Hewerdine sings sweetly about the eponymous girl, but it is only after close listening that the song’s meaning is realised – it is about menstruation. “There was a time when her mood used to change with the tide / now she’s adrift on a sea of tranquility / she doesn’t care and nobody asks why.” The song had originally been covered by Fairground Attraction singer Eddi Reader, Hewerdine’s main muse. It’s striking how beautifully a man can write and sing about something so inherently womanly.
Weatherman is a lesson in straightforward songwriting, showcasing Hewerdine’s first-ever guitar riff, and is all the better for its simplicity. He demonstrates there is little need to change key every other bar if a strong melody holds sway, as it does in this track. Easing along like a Sunday morning, this is unashamed, upbeat pop.
The folky Ontario is a gorgeous and touching song, beginning with a guitar meldoy that feels slightly twee until Hewerdine’s soft vocals enter and the song begins unfold. It muses on staying and going: “Do I miss you / yes I do / cautious eyes deep iris blue / you went away to be someone new / all the way to Ontario.” The subdued prettiness of Butterfly (On A Pin) is again pop in inflection but the minor key plays it more interestingly. It’s angsty and wistful.
The Patience of Angels is probably the most famous song on the album and was a life-changing composition for Hewerdine. Originally written for The Bible but rejected, it was covered by Eddi Reader. The song was nominated for an Ivor Novello award and Reader won a Brit for her version in 1995. It also paved the way for their on-going successful musical relationship. Hewerdine also produced Reader’s most recent album The Songs of Robert Burns.
The final track, I felt Her Soul Move Through Me, was also recorded by Reader and is an ode to both her father and Hewerdine’s mother, who both died within weeks of each other. Gentle, pure and quite stunningly lovely, love shines through it.
The humanity of Hewerdine’s songs sets them apart. They’re not intensely personal, but observe instead the everyday. Hewerdine’s collection of songs in Harmonograph are lyrical, melody led, and beautifully understated. Harmonograph showcases his songwriting talent to the full. The arrangements are straightforward and touch in rare ways, with flickering moments of beauty.