Flying an Unknown Flag
Living Tradition issue 66 Jan/Feb 2006-02-08
This latest collection of original songs from Leicester’s finest effortlessly maintains the standard he’s set over the years. Although the immediate impression is perhaps of a more relaxed set than Pete’s previous offering (the mighty Swarthmoor), there’s no lack of depth or commitment in the writing. The songs speak directly for themselves in exactly the way good songs should – reflective commentaries that have no truck with the empty posturing of the soapbox yet are ideally able to make meaningful commentaries on our lives.
One of Pete’s special gifts as a songwriter is that he doesn’t need to resort to an overt linguistic expression of anger or bitterness to make his point, and his songs are all the better for their succinctness and their thoughtful, cautiously optimistic demeanour. Pete’s realism and intrinsic truthfulness are allied to this skilful use of quiet observation, ensuring that imagery is kept simple and universal, easy to relate to and easy to assimilate both in spite of and because of the intelligence with which the words are put together. That quality of directness of thought and simplicity of expression in Pete’s might suggest to you that maybe, just maybe, Pete’s possessed by the spirit of Emily Dickinson (in the touching “I’m in Love With Emily Dickinson”, Pete walks “the dream between God’s love and life’s despair”)! Pete’s sense of bafflement at the ageless conundrums of life, love and living is something we can all identify with, for let’s face it, “all the world’s within a world in the Post Office Queue”!
When considering romance, Pete’s supreme economy of expression makes more from less, as “In Another Life” proves. Pete takes us on a journey of self-discovery, making us think without preaching. Pete’s sense of history, the continuum of human concerns, runs through his songwriting like a consistent thread – from the jovial and catchy opener “Harvest”, through the softly meditative “Further” (a standout) and “The Shores of Italy” (from the lyrics of which the album gets it’s title) and on to the chummy reminiscences of “The Busker’s Song”, finally finding its natural conflation in “A Love That I Don’t Understand”, where Pete’s imagined situation (“in the year 2090 and still here in Blighty, still trying to make poetry rhyme”) calls forth a telling and resigned reflection on the insignificance of human endeavour when set against the laws and processes of nature. I’m not entirely convinced by Pete’s decision to end the album with a revisit of his “greatest hit” “Another Train”, although one could say that it seems to bring the album (and Pete’s songwriting to date) full circle.
Pete’s “house band” on the album consists of Neil Segrott, Chris Parkinson and
fellow Urban-Folkster Roger Wilson, and their spirited ensemble sound gives the
set an identifiable branding that suits the material – and Pete’s personality –
down to the ground. The accompanying booklet, interestingly, informs us of the
location where each song was written – many were composed at friend’s houses (or
sheds!) – and full lyrics are included too.
Dirty Linen April/May 2006 # 123
Pete Morton is one of those singer/songwriters whose writing is
such a consistent blend of accessibility and lyrical and vocal power
that it is a mystery why he has not reached the broad success that he
deserves. Morton’s tenth release, “Flying an Unknown Flag” which Morton
recorded with a splendid small ensemble, including former House Band
member Chris Parkinson and Roger Wilson, along with bassist Neil
Segrott, features 10 new compositions along with a powerful new version
of Morton’s “hit” “Another Train.”
The disc opens with “Harvest,” a stirring celebration of the life journey we all
make, with an irresistible chorus. Among Morton’s specialities are historical
story songs, represented here by “Great Gold Sun” which uses the viewing of a
tattered old film to evoke a vibrant street scene from 1905, and the poignant
“Shores of Italy”, which chronicles the journey of an ill-fated boat of African
immigrants. Morton also excels at using small slices of life to demonstrate the
dignity of humanity, whether a chance meeting of old schoolmates outside a shop
in “The Busker’s Song”, or a brisk evocation of the myriad life stories
juxtaposed in “The Post Office Queue”. Morton sounds eerily like Richard
Shindell on the ethereal “I’m in Love with Emily Dickinson” and ponders a
relationship that might have been in the bittersweet “In Another Life”. Morton’s
sonorous baritone, his powerful melodies and his finely crafted lyrics make him
one of our most gifted singer/songwriters and “Flying an Unknown Flag” is a
moving celebration of the human spirit well worth seeking out.