Alan Hull – Singing A Song In The Morning Light – The Legendary Demo Tapes 1967-1970

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The making of Alan Hull as a songwriter was not sitting hunched over his guitar in his bedroom with only his introspection for company, but the three years he spent working as a trainee nurse in a Tyneside psychiatric institution.

 “That’s what changed me and the things I was writing about,” he said of his time working with patients at the St Nicholas hospital in Gosforth in the late 1960s.  “It made me think about a lot of things and made the songs go deeper.”



For a while the experience threatened his own equilibrium, but the troubled souls in his care also gave him a “million ideas” and taught him that there are many different ways of looking at the world. Coupled with his own poetic sensibility, a deep compassion for his fellow human beings, a scabrous wit and a righteous pride in his Geordie working-class roots, the result was a flood of songs written between 1966 and early 1970, before he formed Lindisfarne. The band then took its pick of the best, but only scratched the surface of a prodigious songbook that is said to have numbered more than 200 compositions.

Some of Hull’s songs from the period were haunting and ethereal. Others were raucous singalongs. There were tender love sonnets and songs about the long, dark nights of the soul. Compelling story-telling and angry protest took their place alongside hymns to the hell-raising pleasures of boozing and anthems of faith in humanity such as “Clear White Light”, a line from which gives this anthology its title.

Taken in the round, the demo recordings on Singing A Song In The Morning Light represent the early pencil drawings of an artist whom Jerry Gilbert a few years later in an interview in Sounds would describe as a “deep philosopher acutely aware of other people’s reactions and motives”. At the same time, Gilbert noted that Hull was also “a round-the-clock looner who revels in his own madness”. His ability to drink almost anyone in Newcastle under the table was legendary among Tyneside’s musical fraternity and it was not without good reason that the credits on Hull’s 1973 solo debut Pipe Dream read “vocals, guitar, piano, harmonium, Guinness, wine, tequila, Pernod”.


Lindisfarne took his compositions “Lady Eleanor” and “Run For Home” into the Top 10 of the UK singles chart, while other Hull songs recorded by the band such as “Fog On The Tyne” and “We Can Swing Together” have become much-loved folk-rock standards.

While maintaining a parallel solo career, he was still with Lindisfarne when his death from a heart attack in 1995 at the age of 50 robbed us of a unique voice. In line with the wishes expressed in his will, his ashes were scattered in the Tyne and mourners were instructed to wait for a day when the fog was rolling in.

Yet once the fog had cleared, a feeling lingered among his admirers that when the lists of the all-time great songwriters are being compiled, too often Hull is unfairly forgotten. His legacy has not been overlooked by his fellow songwriters, though. Take a look at the BBC’s 2021 documentary Lindisfarne’s Geordie Genius: The Alan Hull Story; presented by fellow Tynesider Sam Fender, in it Hull’s peers queue up to pay fulsome tribute. “I think he’s up there with Richard Thompson and Ray Davies and the really English songwriters,” opines Elvis Costello, who admits to having stolen shamelessly from him. Others to acknowledge Hull’s influence in the film include Dave Stewart, Sting, Mark Knopfler and Peter Gabriel.

The existence of the demo tapes Hull made before forming Lindisfarne has long been known, but over the years only a handful of tracks have seen the light of day on various anthologies and compilations, leaving a total of 77 of the 90 recordings here that have never previously been released.

By the time Hull recorded these demos he had tasted modest success with a Newcastle band called the Chosen Few, with whom he’d recorded two singles for Pye. But when other members of the band went on to form Skip Bifferty, Hull already had a family to support and more reliable employment was required – which was how in 1966 he came to enrol as a trainee psychiatric nurse. At the same time he took to playing solo in local folk clubs, which led to him recording demos of his songs at a studio in Wallsend established by David Wood, whom he knew from his beat group days.

When Hull couldn’t pay for the studio time, Wood became his manager and the pair set up their own folk club in Whitley Bay. One of the bands who played the club were Brethren, who saw themselves as a kind of Geordie version of The Band. They started backing Hull both onstage and on some of his demos, and the band swiftly evolved into Lindisfarne.

Among the demos recorded with Brethren here are ragged takes of future Lindisfarne hits “Lady Eleanor” (inspired by Hull’s obsessive reading of Edgar Allan Poe while on late shifts at the hospital) and “We Can Swing Together”, a rollicking tale of a drug bust at a party on which Hull and his future bandmates manage to sound like a folk-rock version of the Pink Fairies.

There are also a brace of tracks on which he’s backed by Skip Bifferty, including the contrived psych-pop weirdness  of “Schizoid Revolution”, clearly inspired by Hull’s experiences as a psychiatric nurse, while various uncredited friends back him on the prog-tinged freak-out “Overstrung At 3am” and the period satire “Arthur McLean Morrison Jones”.

For the rest it’s mostly just Hull and his guitar or piano. There’s a gorgeous solo take on “Dingly Dell”, which became the title track of Lindisfarne’s third album, and a wondrous version of “Winter Song” which wouldn’t have sounded out of place if sung by Robin Williamson on The Incredible String Band’s first album.

Yet, among the previously unknown songs, what’s most striking is the wildly experimental breadth of his writing as he tries on different skins to see what fits. “This Land Is Cold” transplants Woody Guthrie from Oklahoma to Northumbria, while “Go Throw Your Life Away” worships at the shrine of Dylan, using almost the same chord sequence as “Like A Rolling Stone”, over which Hull sings about doing the football pools. Elsewhere there are adventures in giddy surrealism (“Conversation With A Chinese Cat”), memorable love songs (the Beatlesque “Love Lasts Forever”), aching piano ballads (“Spain 67”), political rants (“Better Town”) and gentle lullabies for his kids (“Go To Sleep”).

The performances are for the most part rough and sketchy – they were, after all, recorded merely as demos for publishing purposes and often committed to tape after several hours spent loosening his vocal cords in the pub. Yet at the same time it’s crystal clear that we’re listening to a songwriter learning how to harness his uniquely Geordie iteration of genius.


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The formative work of Lindisfarne's leading light is dusted off to reveal many a rough diamondAlan Hull - Singing A Song In The Morning Light – The Legendary Demo Tapes 1967-1970