Songs and albums about the North East of England have a long and honourable history. Big Harcar, which is part of the Farne Islands off the coast of Northumberland, is another interesting entry in the list. Starting with gentle folk song ‘The Whin Sill’ (named for a rocky part of County Durham) the album then goes into full-on indie rock mode with ‘All Hail, All Glory’ “All hail, all glory to the dead. Dulce et decorum. Well Britannia rules the sea. But the land belongs to me” The sentiment is fine, as are the words of ‘Serpentine’ which name-checks everywhere: “From Hampstead Heath. To Morecambe Bay… Dunoon to Budle Bay” without seeming to have any specific point to make.
When the music calms down a bit with the atmospheric ‘The Launch’ and ‘Hollow’ the North East folk feel becomes more obvious and they seem to have worked on the words rather more as well. The centrepiece of the album is the nine-minute ‘The Haven of St Aidan’s’ which goes a long way to explaining songwriter Aaron Duff’s love of the area. Big Harcar was the scene of a famous shipwreck, rescued by Grace Darling in 1838 and the bleak feel of that coastline comes over in the music. ‘The Land is Behind Us’ is an acoustic reflection on the fishing fleets of the North East and is very much in the tradition of earlier folk music from the region. You can hear Ewan MacColl singing this. Another long song closes the album. ‘Until My Bonnie Can Be Revived’ updates the seafaring themes. “The horizon’s littered with Meccano sets. And Lego arks.” Part a North Eastern Psalm 107, “those who go down to the sea in ships”, part lament for the passing of tradition into the hands of others, this is a contender for song of the year.
Overall, this about two-thirds of a good album. The three indie rock songs that fill up the early part of the record feel unfinished and there to make up the numbers. Bands like Field Music do that sort of thing much better. When they let the more folk-based parts of their music out, Hector Gannet have an original voice to offer, and at least two genuinely great songs here.