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One That Got Away - Andy Armstrong

Before I forget...

This article looks at Andy Armstrong’s 1979 album, “Before I Forget…”.

I acquired this record only a few weeks ago; it jumped out at me as I was trawling through the vinyl in a second-hand shop. I did have to look twice, just to be certain that it was “our” Andy Armstrong. As I have an interest in local music, I plucked it from the rack and placed it under my arm.

I saw Andy that night and showed him the disc. We had a bit of a chat about the musicians used throughout, and about the album generally. I got the impression that he liked the record - this was not going to be an embarrassing skeleton emerging from his musical closet.

It was a couple of days before I got to play the album. I wanted to wait for a time when I could sit and listen properly, without distraction. I have, in recent years, fallen into the trap of listening to music while I am busy doing other things – not the ideal way to appreciate a record and a habit I am trying to break.

front cover
front cover

Phil Cunneen (keyboards), Dean Birbeck (drums and percussion), Graham Conlen (acoustic and electric guitars) and Geoff Kluke (acoustic and electric bass) well-credentialed and highly regarded musicians one and all – support Andy’s vocals and acoustic guitar throughout this record. “Before I Forget…” was recorded at Pepper Studios by John McDiamid who also collaborated with Andy on production.

The first side of the album contains five songs. The opener is a marvellous effort; the gentle, personal “My Song” which features some beautiful singing and a layered vocal fade out that would do Brian Wilson proud.

The next two tracks are upbeat – “Strangers’ Names” comes first; a song about the difficulties of reconciling your inner self with the externally presented veneer. It features some top-quality backing vocals, scored and arranged by Andy. This is followed by the gentle boogie of “Half the World”, which postulates the notion of escaping from the seemingly universal propensity for conflict; “Half the world is crazy, picking on the other half”. Ex-Fraternity member “Uncle” John Ayers’ accomplished harmonica augments the bluesy feel of the song. To my mind these two songs come rather too early in the piece, creating a musical feel that isn’t typical of the rest of the record. Perhaps they could have been separated.

Track four is the sublime “Lullaby” – a haunting, beautiful song about love, protection and the fear of loss – “Who’s going to sing you to sleep if not me?”. This song is one of the highlights of the album. The inspired use of a string quartet, arranged by 19 year-old Tim Sexton, lifts what is already a very impressive piece.

The last song is the traditional ballad “Willy of Winsbury”, the only non-original on side one, and it treads familiar folk territory while featuring some interesting chording. Andy was inspired to record this after seeing it performed by folk band British folk band Pentangle some years before.

Side two opens with “Mountain”, seemingly a song about reaching an impasse and struggling to achieve your goals. The track immediately reminds me of Crosby Stills Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children”. It features an impressive wah-guitar solo, reputedly done in one-take in the studio. All very pleasant.

From there we go into “Spiritual”, the second of this record’s real treats. A lone piano (reminiscent of “Hallelujah”) is joined by Andy’s passionate vocals and the song builds gradually, but purposefully, to create the most powerful moment of “Before I Forget…”.

This second-half of the record continues to showcase Andy’s songwriting talents, the only exception being the inclusion of another traditional number. “Lord Franklin”, the story of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated discovery of the Northwest Passage in 1845 is the album’s penultimate song. Mandolin is supplied by Jock (John) Munro, who joins the band for the last two tracks. Ron Pearce also joins the band on accordion for this song.

The album finishes with the cosmic overload of “Seabird” and, although not as powerful as “Spiritual”, is an ideal closer and a good song to boot. Musical imagery abounds in the lyrics of this tale of arrival at what is, perhaps, the Promised Land. At least, that’s my interpretation. Andy tells me that the inspiration for this song was rooted in the natural world, although no less wondrous.

And, as “Seabird” disappears into silence, we are done.

Most of the songs on this album were written a few years before its release – more like 1972 than 1979 – and, upon listening, that makes sense.

Andy says of this album:

“It’s a collection of songs that, for the first time, I felt strong enough about to present to the Adelaide musicians I admired most. The album has my name on it but it really is an ensemble piece. Songwriters need bands, and bands need songwriters!”

lavish rear cover art...
lavish rear cover art...

Overall, this record is most definitely of its time, yet still proves to be a most enjoyable listen. At its high points, “Before I Forget…” is as good an example of acoustic guitar-oriented folk/rock that you are likely to hear. It features a host of great musicians, is well recorded, and well produced at Pepper’s Studios.

I’m not sure, however, how you can go about hearing this record. It is worth tracking down, so keep your eyes peeled when in record shops. Alternatively, you could always ask to borrow my copy!

Until next time,


© Copyright David Robinson, 2009

Not to be reproduced without the permission of the author