INTERVIEW: Hector Gannet | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Sometimes the best albums are the ones which capture not just the spirit of the time, but also its very sound.

Drowned in a folk sensibility, the debut album by North Shields’ Hector Gannet, Big Harcar, finds itself rooted in the sound of the North East. Sparse, melancholic in places and filled with swooping choruses, Big Harcar captures not only themes of the North East, via industrial culture, climate change, activism, feminism and North Shields’ fishing communities, but also its sounds and spirit.

Perhaps a distant relative of Sting’s 2014 folk/Northern roots album The Last Ship, though updated with a more contemporary indie rock sound, Big Harcar builds a bridge between the North’s folk traditions and its industrial past; setting itself in the sounds and spirit of the River Tyne and moving the listener through the region’s history. Deeply historical, poetic and layered in modernised folk structures, Big Harcar is a masterful album in both composition and theme; recent single All Hail, All Glory investigates the very nature of patriotism while Dead Nag highlights the struggle of the working class to keep their heads above water.

Rooted in North Eastern values, particularly the desire to play things down, the band themselves are keen to minimise talk of the grand gestures surrounding the album. “I’m not sure the album is a concept album,” confirms chief songwriter Aaron Duff, “like a lot of artists I write about the people and places I see around me from day to day and I’m inspired by the local area, people and places. Gradually these ideas come together into songs, and the songs go on to make albums, but I didn’t set out to write a concept album specifically about North Shields and the Tyne.”

like a lot of artists I write about the people and places I see around me from day to day and I’m inspired by the local area

Though perhaps not the concept which it appears to be, Duff does admit that there is a consistent theme to the album. “I started most of the work as a solo thing and it was partly inspired by my family background which is rooted in elements of fishermen and trawler men in North Shields, so I suppose that’s the main theme. We also talk about local lighthouse keeper Grace Darling [on epic closing track The Haven of St Aidan’s] and the natural beauty of Northumberland, so the album is certainly grounded with local reference points and historical events.”

A relatively slow process in its creation, the principle gestation for Big Harcar was the time it took Duff to collect the right pieces together; some songs formed part of his solo material, while others are clearly a full band endeavour. Some of the tracks on the album are quite old, I took the main elements of the songs and started to work them through with a band of brilliant musicians who added their own textures and built out the album. The album is a body of work that spans about two years.”

However long it took to create, record and then produce (“Paul Gregory of Lanterns on the Lake did a great job of capturing the sound we wanted, and you can’t underplay his role” Duff enthuses), it seems that Big Harcar was worth the wait; the album has already picked up prominent plaudits, not just from the North East but also from outside the region (Louder Than War touted Hector Gannet as one of the ’Top 25 bands that might change your life in 2020’). It seems like the sound of North Shields is not only pretty, but also travels well; somewhat of a shame when considering the band were due to tour the album as part of a support slot on (what should have been) the next Sam Fender tour. 

Recently announced gigs at Tyne Bank Brewery and The Cluny mean that local shows are possible, though with both selling out almost immediately it’s unclear what will come next to support the album’s launch. Duff seems grateful to the North East’s scene and tenacious local promoters, not just for giving them a vehicle to promote their album, but also for their role in keeping live music alive. “It’s upsetting in a way to put the album out in the middle of the pandemic, meaning we might be restricted in how we tour it, but it’s great to see venues come up with ingenious ways of trying to make live music work. We all need to help each other at times like this.”

As he should, Aaron Duff remains optimistic about the future, though cautiously so. “The response so far to the album has been great, but you don’t know where we are going to be with Covid so we just need to carry on being as optimistic as we can, and fingers crossed it’ll all be okay.”

If nothing else, the future of North Shields’ sound is certainly in good hands and, listening to Big Harcar, there’s no other place you could be.

Hector Gannet release Big Harcar via Guga Records on 30th October. They play The Cluny on Saturday 24th October and Tyne Bank Brewery on Friday 13th November


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