Review from Woven Wheat Whispers magazine July 2004
If you are like me, a person who is most at ease away from the city buzz, you will simply adore the descriptive writing and stories on Graham’s 2003 album, Built To Last. The bulk of the 15 tracks here were written about, or composed within sight of the Welsh Marches, that beautiful area that borders England and Wales. Penned over a span of 30 years and enhanced with a pair of covers (Steve Knightley and Vicky Williams), this is a collection of songs that exudes quality in every note, word and chord.
The album opens with a short Michael Chapman-esque track, “The Welsh Marches”. Running to only a little over a minute, it offers a small taste of the treats in store. “Built to last” follows and the song tells something of the area’s history and reveals Graham’s genuine and longstanding love affair with this part of the country.
“The Long Mountain” is a cracking story song that bears comparison to some of the finest work by Show Of Hands. So much so, that I had to check the sleeve notes to see if they revealed a Steve Knightley writing credit (no they didn’t!) “Feet on the Ground” follows and is again a story set to music. This beautifully observed tale tells of a family’s link with the land and the surprise discovery of some lost standing stones. The track features some gentle finger picked guitar from Graham and atmospheric flute work courtesy of Dave Manley.
“Outlaw” is a lovely moody song that has a slightly American feel thanks to the subtle use of banjo, dobro and harmonica. In contrast though, it is followed by “The Saturday Gig” a delightful fantasy about the night a local English rock and roll band were joined in their local pub by Elvis, Chuck Berry and Eric Clapton. Next up comes “The Drover’s Song” and is the second of three tracks you can sample by clicking below. This is a delightful song telling the personal story of a drover, who in centuries past moved the cattle across country to various markets. As the industrial revolution gathers pace, he is all too aware that his life is soon to change.
“Rumours of War” has shades of Nic Jones in the precise guitar work while the poetic lyrics deal with the relationship between father and son. The spirit of Michael Chapman looms large in “The Devil’s Chair”, a brooding descriptive song that relates to the sometimes unsettling rock formations you can discover when walking in the wild British moors and fells. “Country Life (1 and 2) brings together two songs of the same name. The main body of the track comes from the pen of Steve Knightley and can be found on the Show of Hands album of the same name. A little more spartan than the original, this wonderful song gives a much more honest viewpoint on the country idyll so many of us wish for. It is cleverly book ended by a well known traditional song that shares the same title.
“Wolf” has shades of Bob Dylan in the clever combination of keyboard / organ and harmonica and its up beat tempo adds a nice change of pace to the album. In contrast, “On the Black Hill” tells the tale of a farmer living in solitude up on the fells. As each year passes by, so does the chance of him leaving his home and making a new life. The final track you can sample is “Mitchell’s Fold”, another descriptive song that ponders the history of a favourite hill in Shropshire. Vicky Williams wrote the penultimate track on the album but I must confess to never having heard the original. That matters little though as it blends seamlessly into this collection of songs. Again set in the border country it is a fine song with well crafted words and a melody that benefits from some deliberately underplayed additional flute and keyboards to accompany Graham’s guitar.
Built To Last closes with “White in the Moon the Long Road Lies”. A.E. Houseman composed the words and these have been applied to an unnamed traditional song. This makes for a perfect closing track, mirroring the opener, which too comes from Houseman’s writing.
This is a quality album through and through. Graham is an excellent but unfussy guitarist and is blessed with a rich emotive voice. As a songwriter, he is amongst the best and it is obvious that great attention to detail has been applied to all the creative aspects involved in the making of this album. I sincerely hope you enjoy as much as I do.
- Gary Copeland, West Midland Express and Star, May 28 2004
"Graham Bellinger has released a solo CD that focuses on his impressive songwriting talents. 'Built to Last' is a sort of suite based on his long time relationship with the Welsh Marches, a landscape that has clearly influenced this collection written over a period of thirty years.The best, like 'Feet on the Ground' and 'On the Black Hill' resound with a gritty irony and all of them reveal a poetic lyricism that almost always hits the mark and only occasionally strays uncomfortably into New Age territory. Add a song apiece from Steve Knightley and Vicki Williams and some excellent backing from Bellinger's musician friends and you have an album that's built to last"