“Wes draws on a wide assortment of musical influences, pushing the boundaries of the all-too-familiar formulaic singer/songwriter
tag to create something all his own.”
– All Music Guide
“Start strong, stay strong” could be the summary of British-born folk-rock songwriter, performer and novelist John Wesley Harding’s ongoing career arc. His very first album, 1989’s It Happened One Night, was recognized as “remarkable” (Creem); his latest solo CD, 2004’s Adam’s Apple, was described as “an instant classic” (Paste). In other words, the self-proclaimed “Bastard Son of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez” has remained a master of literate, brash, insightful and acerbically funny folk, rock and pop throughout a 19-year career and more than ten albums.
Appleseed’s release of It Happened One Night & It Never Happened At All is a musical and historical windfall for critics, fans and Harding newbies alike: the 2-CD set marries an expanded, remastered 19-track version of Harding’s live, solo, acoustic debut, It Happened One Night, with a second disc of 14 previously unreleased studio recordings from the late Eighties, with some cuts featuring members of Elvis Costello’s Attractions.
Although the man known as Wes (real name Wesley Harding Stace; renamed himself after Bob Dylan’s 1968 watershed John Wesley Harding album) expresses second thoughts in his characteristically self-mocking liner notes about the common sense of releasing a live debut, It Happened One Nightremains a memorable calling card, presenting such favorites-to-be as “The Devil in Me,” the hilariously irreverent Live Aid “tribute,” “July 13 1985,” and tender “Save a Little Room for Me.”
But according to Wes, “my first album should have been It Never Happened At All – a whole different album I was making in 1988/89 with great musicians . . . forgotten, dispersed all over the place, and now presented here . . . To me, it is my alternative first record from a parallel world where you can have two debut albums.” On the other hand, he also admits that, “as a record of me in the first year of my career, I like [It Happened]. It shows me exactly as I was at a very typical show, singing (sometimes in tune), full of words, perfecting my ‘strum und drang’ guitar technique, doing everything very very fast.”
Including eight studio versions of It Happened songs, many with full band accompaniment by members of the Attractions, Lindisfarne, Mark-Almond, solo artist Geraint Watkins, and other outstanding musicians, It Never Happened displays Harding experimenting with musical styles – folk, C&W, blues, that rocking Bo Diddley beat – behind his already mature songs of personal and global politics, romantic relationships, and self-effacing but universal verities. The passion, fearlessly confrontational songs, and wit of musical predecessors Dylan, Springsteen, Costello and Billy Bragg are part of Harding’s background, but he has blazed his own trail throughout his career, constantly tinkering with production approaches, studio sidemen, and performance lineups (solo or with band). What remains constant is the intensity, courage, perceptiveness, vulnerability, and humor of his outlook, informed by experience, age, perspective, and the can-you-believe-it events of our daily world.