- - Monday, June 9, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

‘The Guv’nor” is still writing, playing, recording and touring — just don’t dismiss his work as “only folk.”

You see, Ashley Hutchings doesn’t shy away from his immense role in British folk music, but the 69-year-old bassist/bandleader is on a mission to show that his art extends far beyond the genre.

True, he did found the iconic Fairport Convention, widely regarded as the most important British folk-rock band of the ‘60s and ‘70s; the folk revival group Steeleye Span; and The Albion Band, which has worked with and contained some of the British folk movement’s most influential musicians.

But while those bands still perform and record, Mr. Ashley hasn’t been a member of them for decades.

“It’s always folk, folk, folk, folk,” he said late last week from his home in England. “I’m immensely proud of what we did, and it was a big part of my life, but that cuts out 25 years of work I did in music, poetry and popular art.”

A few new projects give fans a better understanding of the breadth of Mr. Hutchings‘ work: the publication of his new book “Words, Words, Words,” the re-release of his 1987 concept album “By Gloucester Docks I Sat Down and Wept,” and the release of “Chimes at Midnight,” a compilation of songs from his acoustic band The Rainbow Chasers.

Mr. Hutchings‘ book features a collection of lyrics, poetry and album liner notes he wrote after leaving Fairport Convention, whose main songwriters were guitarist Richard Thompson and singer Sandy Denny — a departure that allowed him to develop his writing voice.

“Once I did start writing, I carried on and carried on and carried on,” he said. “I left a lot out of the book. I could do a second book.”

His book’s publication comes hard on the heels of record label Talking Elephant’s re-release of “By Gloucester Docks,” which critics have praised as a masterpiece. For it, Mr. Hutchings drew on Elizabethan poetry, theater, folk, rock and traditional music to tell the real-time story of a love affair.

Lately though, Mr. Hutchings is keen to have fans hear the acoustic music he has recorded with The Rainbow Chasers, calling those songs among the strongest of his career. He tours with the band as well as with his son, Blair Dunlop.

Although he is anxious to highlight work other than folk, he said there is a groundswell of interest in folk in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

“We are definitely feeling it here. If we take the folk scene, for example, it was very uncool 20 years ago,” said Mr. Hutchings, known in the U.K. as “The Guvn’r,” presumably for his formative powers as a bandleader. “Now it’s built so much that you have big-name rock stars that are very happy to have fiddles and [other folk instruments] in their music. I see folk music in its broadest form — we can include country and blues too — permeating every form of music apart from pop.”

He’s not alone. The folk influences on arena-filling acts such as Mumford & Son, the Lumineers and Of Monsters and Men are readily apparent. And as the folk-flavored sounds of the Punch Brothers, The Civil Wars and Caitlin Rose capture increasingly large fan bases in the country scene, Grammy Award-winning electro musician/producer Zedd (Anton Zaslavski) has predicted that “organic” acoustic music will be the next wave that rises in popularity in the U.S. and throughout the world.

“It is definitely heading in that direction,” said Zedd, a classically trained musician. “I don’t want to say it will be like hippie music, but definitely in that direction [and] with those influences.”