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Music Review: Claire Hamill – Love In The Afternoon (Re-issue)

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Claire Hamill was born in Middlesbrough in the north of England and learned to play the guitar at the age of twelve. She was spotted by Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell and released her first album, One House Left Standing which led to tours supporting Jethro Tull and Procol Harum.

Her albums October, Stage Door Johnnies, and Abracadabra helped cement her reputation as one of the UK’s leading female singer songwriters. In the early 1980s she briefly teamed up with Wishbone Ash and added background vocals on their albums Just Testing and Number The Brave.

She resumed her solo career with the album Voices, and it quickly became one of her most successful releases. When Love In The Afternoon appeared in 1990 it came at a time when her music was being widely recognized and her reputation was further enhanced by an album of rare pastoral beauty, awash with delicate themes.

Quite simply it is far too good an album to lie all but forgotten on some dusty shelf and this re-release (Esoteric Recordings, 2008) acts as a perfect reminder of the quality song writing that Claire had to offer at this stage in her career.

Love In The Afternoon is rich with visual imagery. It was originally planned as a concept album set around the Battle Of Hastings, the town where she lived at the time. Several remnants of that theme can be found on the released album. In fact the first track recorded was the instrumental “The Crossing”, which was written about William The Conquerors arrival on the Sussex coast in 1066.

The album is quintessentially English with Claire’s haunting voice marking the arrival of the invading boats from France. However the theme wasn’t continued and instead Love In The Afternoon became the set of songs we hear today.

Opening with “Glastonbury” the Englishness of the album’s atmosphere becomes immediately clear. This is further underlined by tracks such as the sublime “Trees”, the beautiful “Liverpool Theme”, and the instrumental piece “The Beauty Of England”. The latter is a visual image of rolling hills, green fields, rivers, and church towers.

When discussing the track “Horses” on the album notes Claire explains, ‘I again used the technique of a backdrop of vocal sounds, not quite words. I’m actually saying ‘wild black horses’, but in a way that is reminiscent of some kind of Native American Indian theme’. Before admitting, ‘it is the only thing on the album that I would change and do again’.

From a listener’s perspective “Horses” is a livelier track that acts as a nice balance to the gentle atmosphere of the album. Despite Claire's own uncertainty the vocal style works very well and is used again to good affect for “Liverpool Theme”. The title track dates back to 1973 and was co-written with Robert Fripp.

Only “Japanese Lullaby” seems to stand alone but in doing so adds more colour to the set. It remains a regular feature in Claire’s live performances today. “Calling To You” is a superb performance by Claire, again delicate, and possessing an almost breathless intimacy.

This re-release also includes two bonus tracks. “Jerusalem” is taken from the traditional song and is delivered in Claire’s exquisitely haunting vocal style. “Someday We’ll All Be Together” is written around Pachelbel’s Canon, surely one of the most beautiful and instantly recognizable pieces of Classical Music ever written. Claire’s lyrics, added to the music, make for an uplifting recording.

Claire continues to record and perform today. However with Love In the Afternoon she reached a pinnacle of writing that has been lovingly and deservedly re-released.

Claire Hamill can be found on her official website.

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