Pete Clemons from the Coventry Evening Telegraph details the rise of a fantastic and much-loved local artist.
One of the most eagerly anticipated CD releases of 2016, for me at least, is that by Coventry troubadour Cliff Hands. And for Cliff, who is much admired by fellow musicians and music lovers alike, this will be his third album release.
Being first made aware of the album toward the end of 2014 it was actually my most eagerly awaited release of 2015 but, as you will see, aligning everything together for a project like this is no easy task, particularly when you are part time musicians.
But, align everything they did and the completed product is upon us. The album is titled ‘Two Inch Down to Dust’ and I do not say this lightly, but I truly believe that this particular set of songs, have hit the mark in terms of quality and craftsmanship that has surprised me. This release is nothing short of sensational.
Whenever I have had the chance to talk to Cliff he always seems to come across as a very pleasant and unassuming sort of guy. But this is in complete contrast to his songs which can carry quite a sting.
Cliff is also incredibly modest about his past recording achievements which I personally have held in high regard. But I have always felt that his songs are worthy of far greater recognition than just the Coventry’s circuit for singer songwriters. Not that there is anything wrong with the Coventry circuit. Far from it, but I am sure a wider audience will relate with this release.
For this album Cliff plays acoustic guitar and occasional mouth harp. He has also enlisted the talents of David Sanders on lead guitar, Wes Finch on bass, and Gee Vaughan on drums. Timely contributions have also been added by Hazel Stalker on piano and Bradley Blackwell on upright bass. And each of these musicians has complimented the songs by adding sensitivity or an edge where required, light or dark where necessary. And all are understandably and rightly proud of what has been achieved here.
Cliff’s lyrics are, I would describe as, observational. He creates songs about instances where some of us quite often would turn a blind eye to. They can also incredibly witty and thought provoking. And probably down to their sheer honesty they can also create a sharp intake of breath. His songs, for me at least, instantly conjure up images and paint pictures.
Like many musicians nowadays, Cliff is a ‘spare time’ musician. It is not his day job and neither is it a major source of income. I believe that they call it a ‘labour of love’. By day Cliff is a carpenter and I guess is he in contact with all manner of folk. Just maybe, it is that contact which sharpens his senses and puts life into perspective for him and from where he is able to channel his thoughts into his songs and music.
Cliff released his debut album ‘Crawling from the Woodwork’ during 2008. It was a completely solo work. At that time he was quoted as saying the following "Most of the songs on the album have been written over the previous two years, although one or two are a bit older than that. Although I have been busy with work and family commitments, I never gave up playing and would always be strumming and writing. But then a couple of years ago I stumbled across the Tin Angel live music venue in Spon Street and the people I met there inspired me to start up seriously again’’.
For his second album ‘Street Shanties’, released in 2012, Cliff attempted to enhance his songs and take them to another level.
So for that album he introduced the talents of guitarists such as Al Britten and David Sanders. These guys are far from strangers to Cliff as previously they had performed together as ‘The Dead Lily’s’.
A good melody is all important to Cliff. And you can hardly criticise him for being a lazy writer as he stretches the dictionary to its full extent with each word of his lyrics seeming to count.
My personal take is that the album does not overtly fall into any genre. Yet it is tinged with folk, country and rock styles. The songs on ‘Two Inch Down to Dust’ were not all new to the project. One track, for example, titled ‘Number Plates’ has certainly been around for a while. In fact I was fully expecting to see it appear on Cliff’s second album ‘Street Shanties’. But it simply did not fit the flavour of that album.
For those who have seen Cliff play live then they may be familiar with one or two of the tunes but they have developed significantly over time. And now, and with the added textures from the backing band, those particular songs sound really wonderful.
The album, which is littered with references to Coventry, was recorded in two locations. These were The Tin Angel studios at the Canal Basin and over in Stratford. But because of work and family commitments getting everyone together has been a real challenge. And as such, the album took two years to put together and complete.Cliff is particularly keen to acknowledge the talents of Ian Whitehead who recorded and mixed the album and also to Paul Sampson who mastered it.
Great care and a good deal of thought has also been taken with the albums overall packaging. A photo shoot was arranged on location at the Cat in the Hat curiosity shop on the London Road who kindly let Cliff and the band loose within their premises.
And credit is due to Gee Vaughan for the resulting sleeve and photos and Al Britten for its artwork.