Steve Daggett - Without
DAVID KIDMAN -
Now where’s this guy been hidin’ out? Well, on Tyneside, where he’s developed a hell of a cult following – and no wonder, cos he’s brilliant!
The history?: Singer-songwriter Steve was once a member of Lindisfarne (mid-80s), their producer too, and he performed with Alan Hull’s Other Side band; he’s also produced or engineered a whole host of star names from Bryan Ferry and Kathryn Tickell to Prelude and Paul Lamb. But here on Without, Steve’s fourth solo album, we’re just given the man himself.
It’s a basic, no-frills gambit that gives rise to a bare-bones, excessively truthful-sounding record, just Steve and his trusty troubadour-guitar (and a dab of harmonica here and there). I might add too that truthful is nothing less than you normally get from Steve’s producer here, Ron Angus, for Ron has with stunning accuracy captured both Steve’s musical essence and his overwhelming personal character, while imparting the overall sound of the recording with a satisfyingly full but not over-egged ambience that draws the listener right in and encourages closest attention at all times - befitting both the man and his songs. Very impressive indeed, as are both.
First acquaintance with Steve’s abundantly gritty (garglin’ on liquid sandpaper!) vocal delivery yields immediate comparison (for me) with Kieran Halpin most especially (on some songs), or Tom Pacheco, or Bob Dylan, even Johnny Cash in his very last days (on others). The opening (title) song just growls its close confidentials, exposing the singer’s emotional vulnerability clearly and potently, to a totally uncomplicated guitar strum: succinct, economically expressed, and absolutely no need for any more. This song actually bookends the album, since it comes in two versions: the stark guitar-and-voice treatment at track one and a slightly augmented (with a spare piano line and electric guitar) treatment at track ten that lends the lyric a tellingly warmer perspective
The second song, And Then, is a contemplative chanson with a refrain that should by rights plunge you into darkest depression but the effect is curiously uplifting. The hoarse expressivity Steve brings to The Wagon (a compelling but catchy song examining addiction) recalls the intimate delivery of Sheffield’s Paul Pearson.There are certain songs of Steve’s where in specific elements of their overall feel and structural composition the Halpin comparison hits home most: the rhythmically intoned, almost scattergun list of everyday objects and images that characterises Skip Life; the intensely rendered, heartbreakingly throaty pleading of Don’t Look At Me That Way; the hammered riffing backing for Wild that reflects the harsh voicing and seemingly reckless abandon of the lyric’s wishfulness.
Elsewhere, the meaningful yet ironic repetition of the title phrase of Nothing To Say (a standout track) proves a powerful device for expressing the song’s bleak resignation, contrasting with the more tender delivery Steve now adopts for the plaintive Bring On The Sun.
Perhaps the most overtly Dylanesque song here is 100,000 Hours - with its simple, memorable imagery it could almost’ve come from Bringing It All Back Home, with that double-edged quality of experience overlying the innocence, that comes from closer scrutiny. And in general terms Steve seems to have taken inspiration from Alan Hull in his expert crafting of themes of love, loss and despair with immediacy of expression and realism of observation.
Let me stress here that altho’ it might sound as tho’ I’m labelling Steve derivative or copycat by invoking those specific comparisons, this is definitely not the case, for his songs have an abundantly strong personality all their own, and Steve’s uncompromising, unwaveringly intense delivery is second to none and just what they need. I’m paying the guy the highest compliments here – and yes, you really do need to hear him.
David Kidman, January 2009
JOHN BRINDLE - MAVERICK Magazine (3+ stars)
North East troubadour, armed with trusty acoustic guitar, bares his soul on a truly ‘solo’ disc.
Steve Daggett is a well respected North East working musician. Having learned his craft through years of gigging, Steve has gained a solid cult following in the process. Along the way, Mr Daggett has released numerous solo albums, been a latter day member of Lindisfarne, and racked up some production credits too.
For this disc Steve appears to have gone back to basics. This truly is a solo album, one man and his guitar, recorded quite quickly with no production tricks. Thus, Mr Daggett stands or falls by his performing skills and, more crucially, his songs. Think Johnny Cash, during his final ‘unplugged’ Rick Rubin phase, or 1960s acoustic Dylan, and you may have an inkling of what to expect.
Despite the bare boned nature of the music the sound is very full. The opening Without, sets the tone. A simply strummed guitar is merely the backdrop for the main event, Steve’s voice. He sounds like he’s been on a regular diet of sandpaper, gravel and broken glass, yet his timbre has a warmth and appealing vulnerability. ‘When there’s no love about I do without…’
The listener is left feeling like an eavesdropper throughout this recording as Daggett airs his private thoughts and fears. And Then, is a good example; the author contemplating mortality and the fear of failure; ‘Tell me what would you do if you already knew you would fail?’ is the repeated hook, as Steve speculates how one would spend the last 365 days. It’s a powerful song.
Other highlights include Skip Life, a clever ‘list’ song about life achievements and disposable possessions. Perhaps the finest song on offer is the ironically titled Nothing To Say, where Steve takes a swipe at the ‘nanny state’ with its Orwellian theme; ‘They put cameras in the sky, recording you and I.’ The tone of resignation and acute observations make the song a real winner. One good line follows another; ‘Nothing to say about television, nothing to say about terrorism’.
Mr Daggett blows some weary harp on 100,000 Hours, adding a little colour to the proceedings. He sounds very Dylanesque here. The finger-picked Bring On The Sun is a tender song, contemplative in nature as the author acknowledges his ‘live for the day’ attitude to life. ‘We’ve got this one and only last chance, bring on the sun’.
The theme of running out of time is solidified with the aggressive, devil may care, Wild, a strident strummer; ‘While we’re still alive let’s start our personal revolution!’
The record concludes in powerful style as Mr Daggett reprises the title song Without. The addition of an atmospheric acoustic piano adds real depth to the song. A quietly reverberating electric guitar adds colour too.
Without won’t be to everyone’s tastes. However, it is an honest, brave and at times powerful record. Engineer Ron Angus can take credit for capturing a full, warm sound. This rewarding set of songs proves the old adage, that often ‘less is more.’
John Brindle, 2009
MATT CLARKE -
My introduction to his music was as an unannounced support act to Slaid Cleaves at Newcastle Live Theatre some years ago. Since then I've purchased all of his releases via the internet and this latest Without is most worthy of recommendation.
In general singer-songwriters are too intense and self indulgent for their own good but here Steve manages to carry it off despite having both these traits in abundance. I believe the reason is his lyrical prowess. From the non-stop rollercoaster of words that is And Then to the masterful imagery of Skip Life(could have been a Ray Davies song) it is quality writing throughout.
Track three, The Wagon, that seperates them has the line of the set "roll up the money, get it under your skin, just like a human hoover on a threadbare carpet of sin". Marvellous.
The sound is basic but wonderfully recorded, one guitar and one extremely expressive vocal that borders on Bob Dylan/Tom Waits style and I repeat, yes it's intense and self indulgent but this time around it's the making of it, not the downfall.
Matt Clarke, 2009
DOUGLAS GRAY - O.T.V (OnLine Television)
Here is drama, humour, observation and social comment largely delivered by a voice and guitar. The secret of this collection of tracks is how the listener is drawn into a whirlpool of 'rock and roll' poetry set starkly upon an airy acoustic guitar canvas.
The writing echoes the likes of Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and shamelessly Bob Dylan but is original in it's delivery. The vocal shifts from a gravelled roar WILD to a soft under-sung tone BRING ON THE SUN to my personal favourite, the Lennon-like AND THEN.
The subject matter is diverse, cleverly covering addiction THE WAGON to infidelity DON'T LOOK AT ME THAT WAY and politics NOTHING TO SAY.
The somewhat challenging and dark brooding title track that opens the album reprises at the end of the album with an atmospheric wall of sound, not that of Phil Spector but that of Steve Daggett. This move raises my only doubt. If the other songs had the same production values could the album have been more mainstream accessible? However, that said 'WITHOUT' is without doubt his finest work to date.
Douglas Gray, 2009
RICHARD PHILLIPS - Freelance author
I recently saw a poster advertising a Steve Daggett gig, it described the one man show as being ‘stripped down to the bare bones of gritty vocals, guitar and harmonica’…….That too, is pretty much what you get on Daggetts third solo album. Gone are the fiddles, accordions and upright bass of ‘Carrier Bag’ a sound that seemed at one time, to define Daggett.
Well, the clue is in the title and the self produced ‘Without’ is all the better for it…just a man, his guitar and harmonica equipped with a portfolio of songs that deny, indeed resist embellishment.
And, so to the songs…One mans’ musing on the world. Love, loss, anger loyalty, despair but, to these ears at least… hope.
I admire any artist that makes the reviewers life easy, so, with two versions of ‘Without’ to choose from I can feel as if I’m doing my bit to save the planet. Track 10 (Version 2) has Daggett adding Stratocaster guitar and minimalist piano to suggest that an altogether grander arrangement exists somewhere else, in his head perhaps? Version 1 (Track 1) minus these embellishments, with a different, breathy, raspy vocal sets the mood for most of the remainder of the album.
Beautifully crafted, it is expertly delivered.
‘Don’t Look At Me That Way’ written during the recording sessions for this album…describes the ‘Glad Eyes Syndrome’ endured by performers everywhere…set against an understated rhythm the throaty vocal almost groans with weariness against the scourge of unwanted attention.
‘Wild’ feels like a ‘Pyscho Killer’ for the socially inhibited. It describes persons standing on the sidelines of their own lives, looking in, and on - hopelessly lost. Their life, a spectator sport. The aggressive groove is at one with the aching, yet equally powerful vocal.
In a similarly reflective theme ‘And Then’ the Gibson sounds almost ‘baroque like’ and chimes beautifully in the background as Daggett invites us to consider lost opportunities and chances not taken.
The highest compliment that I can pay ‘The Wagon’ is that I can hear Neil Young singing it… the clarity of the metronomic playing and precise hypnotic scratching on ‘the plate’ underpins the whole song. The lyric could not be more relevant for this booze, binge, boom, bust, society… everything in moderation except excess.
‘Nothing To Say’ finds Steve’s plaintive vocal sitting atop laid back guitar… ’Nothing to say about feral children, nothing to say about starving millions, nothing to say about oil in the sand, nothing to say about blood on their hands’… Got nothing to say except this is one of the strongest songs Daggett has ever written.
Unmistakeably in ‘Bob Mode’ ‘100,000 Hours’ feels at first like a lover chronicling his loss…but closer scrutiny suggests that whilst this is most definitely a song of love and loss, it is not a love song. Calculator time anyone?
‘Bring On The Sun’ has been around for a while and having heard it played here with this new arrangement, this is perhaps the most ‘fragile’ song Daggett has produced to date. In places it’s reminiscent of Daniel Lanois circa ‘Acadie’ but with a vocal that stretches into Cash territory. A triumph which could only be written by a man of a certain age.
For me, the standout track is ‘Skiplife’… I generally avoid ‘list songs’, but this song comes to life in a very urbane and hugely relevant way. Set against a rolling rhythm this song should come with a ‘Parental Guidance’ sticker ‘Warning…Visually Explicit Lyrics’. A list song with a heart and a message…now, that is something!
Much credit must go to Ron Angus of Studio One, who captures the essence of Daggett beautifully. It seems to me that Daggett’s battered old Gibson has never rung so true or the silences sound so blissfully poignant.
This is an album of full thoughtful melodious laments. I know of no other writer who embodies the spirit of Alan Hull better. ‘Hully’ would have been very proud of Daggett and this collection of songs
A considerable achievement by any means. Daggett should feel very satisfied. Furthermore, we should all embrace it..for we have a real songwriter in our midst.
Richard Philips (12 October 2008 - Pre Release)
SONGS IN A CARRIER BAG
MICHAEL MEE -
The title of Steve Daggett's new album sums up the delight and the dilemma which surrounds a singer/songwriter who is one of the foundations on which north east music is built. Songs is an accurate, if slightly emotionless start but then up leaps the self-deprecating In A Carrier Bag suggesting a humbleness which is misplaced.
There are some with a tenth of Daggett's talent who shout twice as loud about it. If the category exists then Steve Daggett is the singer songwriter's singer songwriter. His passionate performance of The Ballad Of Jimmy Forsyth, accurately mirrors the passion of the writing.It is also a typical Steve Daggett song, deviod of pretension it is plain speaking and beautifully visual. Daggett's spare but emotive use of lyrics is onl;y one of his many strengths.Daggett at times plays down the depths his songs reach but Pretty Useless is a biting and compassionate, confessional love song. It could easily be any one of us looking in the mirror at that particular track.
Folk artists, because that is what he undoubtedly is, are sometimes thought of as unnecessarily intense and introspective but Daggett is the exception, there is an openness and robustness about his music. He has a big talent and a big heart both of which are on display on Songs In A Carrier Bag, it's just that title.
CJ HOLLEY - GET RHYTHM MAGAZINE
Steve Daggett launches into his new album with 'The Ballad of Jimmy Forsyth'. Jimmy was the Welsh photographer who recorded the detail of Newcastle life back in the 1950s with great aplomb. I'm sure Jimmy, who is still around by the way, would enjoy this musical journey through his past as Steve has been performing the song live for the past couple of years and has certainly found its groove.
It's not downhill from his opening foray either as Daggett's deft songwriting once again prevails. 'Pretty Useless (Revisited)', we all feel that way sometimes, the gentle, dreamy 'In Your Own Time' and the Celtic-ish 'Hometown' all reflect different facets of the man's varied songwriting skills. There's 'Tremble', 'Immunity' and 'Heatwave' (not that one) where his leftfield leanings come to the fore and the folky 'Toffeeman' which has real grit and edge, all are outstanding tracks on a extremely well crafted album.
Rachel Rhoades (violin, accordion) and Michael Bailey (bass), Steve's regular partners in his 'Acoustic Trio', are on hand to deliver with skill and sensitivity. Phil Armstrong delivers his usual seamless lead electric guitar, Tony Davis is on keyboards and Stephen Robson helps out on drums. The rest is written, sung, played and produced by Steve himself.
Good work sir and thanks for the Lennon-esque hidden track!'
NEIL EMERY -
Apologies Steve, and fellow band members, but till two days ago I've never heard any of your music before, and I rejected the option of "googling" you.. And preferred just to listen to the CD with open virgin ears.
So, "Songs in a Carrier bag", with a style and sound between the Levellers and Tom Petty, it starts with a "Harrods bag" of a track, and the best track, "The Ballad of Jimmy Forsyth", a foot thumping superb classic, perfectly balanced with a great chorus and guitars twangs aplenty, left me wanting more... But "Pretty Useless" followed, I wanted to embrace it but just couldn't , as with "Heatwave".. God, Steve, if you're talking heatwave, cheer up mate! But that said the rest of the CD is a pure delight, and there are many gems to find buried within these twelve tracks, the Lennonesque vocals and sound of "Sleep Now", a truly well crafted song, as with the excellent "Tremble", "Devils Causeway" lifts the tempo just at the right time, and perhaps this CD is lacking a couple of these lively songs, but the other songs more than make up for these minor moans, as with "In your own time", "Hometown", and the short but perfectly formed title track.
The music matures with every listen, so please do take in this collection of fine songs, and even though the "Harrods" bag of an opener isn't matched, it certainly reaches the level of the classy "Waitrose" bag, not a "Lidl's" in sight...Well worth a listen 7/10
THUD, THWACK AND TWANG
LITTLE NEMO - HOLLEY'S COMET MAGAZINE
Steve Daggett has enough experience and maturity to put together any kind of band he wants and make it sound credible. With his acoustic trio he seems to have discovered the perfect vehicle for his song writing talents. Daggett is a wordsmith of no mean aptitude and the songs here bear witness to that.
The title song Thud, Thwack and Twang was a number he wasn't so sure about when written but it has in a way rectified his way of thinking and helped him find a vehicle, with the help of Rachael Rhoades (violin) and Michael Bailey (bass), both ex-members of Morgan Le Fay, which he finds comfortable.
The 4-track 'Thud Thwack and Twang' is Steve at his best with all four songs,'Thud.., Hardcore TLC, If Only I could Make You Talk' and Pretty Useless illustrating his prowess as a writer, singer, arranger and producer. All songs have a rough country edge with Steve's gritty voice tempered by Rachael's delicious violin and Michael's understated bass. To fill the sound out here Steve has added Phil Armstrong on electric guitar and Jeff Armstrong on drums.
In any other world Steve and the band would really be making waves, and that's not for the want of him trying. If he had flown in from Austin then we would all be raving. With the help of some good advertising and promotion Thud Thwack and Twang could lift Steve Rachael and Michael to higher places. From what I know of the man and his music he deserves it. Don't dismiss him because he's "Steve from down the road", that has been the fate of too many singer/songwriters from this region.
Little Nemo, 2003
MICHEAL MEE - Southern Reporter / Blues Matters
Behind the Lear-like title and gentle lolloping country rhythm of the opening title track THUD,THWACK AND TWANG the listener is afforded a privileged position - the view of a show through the eyes of Daggett himself.
The optimism of "a lot of magic in the songs they sang tonight, they got the sound just right" gives way to"'the girls they sway but the guys they swagger, dancing around like a drunk Mick Jagger" summed up as the more they drink the less they listen.
HARDCORE TLC is a dark 'soap opera' styled tale and IF ONLY I COULD MAKE YOU TALK is so personal and raw that he struggles to finish, exhausted by the effort.
It would be insulting to call Daggett a 'tortured soul'. How could I know? But he is a sensitive man and performer. You want to be entertained? Steve Daggett will entertain you. That's what he is as much as what he does. His original songs will have you asking, "Who wrote that" and the cover versions will surprise you with their refreshing new arrangements.
The final take PRETTY USELESS will make you shift in your seat, it will make you go quiet, most importantly it will make you care. Live or recorded, what you get is not a man singing for his supper but for his life and that, my friend, is the definition of a true troubadour.
DM - REVOLUTIONSUK
If pop stardom in this day and age depended upon great tunes and urgent, passionate delivery rather than synthetically enhanced voices (and more!) and demographic calculations of appeal then Steve Daggett would already be a huge star. Sadly for his bank manager - but luckily for us - Daggett is one of the many musicians out there producing heartfelt, hugely enjoyable music that lovers of good sounds will find if they take the trouble to look.
He can take the classic ingredients of a love song and produce in Just To See You Smile a melodic slice of heaven that will certainly have you smiling and basking in its warmth, this generated in equal part by the lyrics and Jim Hornsby's tremolo guitar. Like Roy Harper, Daggett despairs at the increasing isolation and inhumanity of those who see computers not as a handy tool but as a way of life and an alternative to human interaction. Hence the wonderful Cybercafe: "Your icons aren't icons, they're nothing at all" and "Dreams are digitally conceived and rendered. Time passes by unremembered."
The title track takes us into Neil Young territory as much as that of troubadours, a lingering, mournful harmonica creeping into what could serve as a statement of identity for many a songwriter. Identity is at the heart of New Skin, a suitably unsettling number with a killer mandolin hook that's bound to get under your skin, as will the drum loop and growled lyrics of the following song, This Time Of Year.
I was a big fan of Gabrielle's Dylan adaptation of last year, Rise, and Daggett's top-notch song of that name - this time without ol' Bob's assistance - is similarly gentle and but uplifting. (I'm just glad Daggett didn't have to go through as much as Gabrielle did to inspire it!) He also gives good advice in a very tuneful way, as with the gritty, exhilarating Have A Drink, although, to be honest, the Revolutions crew already need no encouragement. I would encourage picking up this album however, and that's something I'll drink to!
JON HALL -
Steve has been around in the music industry for many years, working with the likes of Stiletto, It Hz and latterly Lindisfarne. It was with the North Eastern combo that he developed a fast friendship with the late, great Alan Hull, and on this, his first solo album the influence is clear.
The arrangements are generally sparce, with mandolin and acoustic much to the fore, accenting Steves' gravelly vocals, something of a cross between Dylan, Tom Petty and suchlike.
But it is the songs themselves that make this on of the best singer/songwriter collections that I have heard in a long while. Highlights are 'Mandolin Moon' - a tribute to Alan Hull - the lyrics containing the titles of some of Alan's songs, 'Just to see You Smile' - very reminsicent of Petty's 'Don't Come Around Here No More', but individual nevertheless. 'Rise' is a heartfelt exhortation for better things to come, 'Love Song (part one)' is simply beautiful - the track of the album.
'Live Your Life Your Own Way' has a wonderful dulcimer and border pipe arrangement, 'Have a drink' is a bit of Geordie fun. 'Always on my Mind' reminds me of early Neil Young, with some nice harmonica and lyrics of longing. 'Evening World' gently rounds of this most impressive release. CRACKING album!
Michael Mee - Tweeddale Press Group
A REAL MUSIC MAN STAKES HIS CLAIM
Some bright spark labelled Northumbria's tourist initiative the 'Hidden Kingdom', well with this new album of songs, singer-songwriter Steve Daggett will only enhance a growing reputation gained on the north-east live circuit and will surely become one of the region's discovered musical treasures.
The ability of a writer to see things in a unique way and then put that into words is a talent in itself but to add music and then perform it is the reason singer/songwriters are cherished and Daggett proves here beyond a shadow of a doubt that he possesses that unique skill.
Troubadour Territory begins with perhaps the most personal and certainly the most evocative song Mandolin Moon about his friend, the late Alan Hull. This is no mawkish, over-sentimental tribute but an upbeat song in honour of the Lindisfarne singer. Anyone with an idea of the history of popular music will both understand, and share, its sentiments.
What follows is the work of an incisive observer. Cybercafé exposes graphically the soulless ness of today's internet age and laments the passing of simple human contact. Troubadour Territory is no political treatise on today's ills, Just To See You Smile is a love song as gentle and romantic as Love Song (part one) is cutting. A song about love looked at from the cynic's angle.
Troubadour Territory captures the essence of Daggett's live performance without slavishly aping it. This Time of Year, musically staccato, yet intricate, with a strange effect playing around his voice as the track evolves into perhaps the most overtly 'rock' song on the album. Along with the laconic Country Junkie, they demonstrate that he is as adept in the studio as he is on stage.
Daggett has traveled far and wide for influences on the album, Border pipes combine perfectly with Dulcimer on Live Your Life Your Own Way and perhaps it is fitting that Troubadour Territory finishes with the closest we come to a traditional 'folk' song, the stark Evening World.
Troubadour Territory will give those who enjoy his live performances time to discover something that may get overlooked during the evening. There are powerful sentiments expressed in each song. He is not a man who deals in great abstract themes or tortured analogies, he says what he wants to say, honestly.
His voice is defiant and throaty, very reminiscent of Frankie Miller on the title track and the multi-layered Have A Drink, superficially a song of male celebration, but deeper a cautionary tale. In turn, softer on ballads like New Skin, he wraps it round each song in a perfect fit.
For those who enjoy music from the roots, our roots, then Troubadour Territory is for you, the affected and the pseudo may have to look elsewhere.
Tweeddale Press Group