UK country music legend Hank Wangford released his first new album in 6 years, Holey
Holey, via the British independent record label $incere $ounds on 14th August. With his tongue firmly placed in his cheek, Hank – the alter-ego of Dr Sam Hutt – describes this as his “troublesome tenth album”. And, he admits, he is “getting on” as he will turn 80 in November of this year.
Written in Rancho Wangford, Hank’s hideaway on Connemara’s wild western shore in Ireland, Holey Holey is less obviously country than some of his previous albums, but a strong country/Americana feel still pervades.
Residing just off London’s Portobello Road, surrounded by his books, cowboy hats, cactuses and guitars, Hank gives a simple assessment of his new album. “It’s all just tunes. That’s what they talk about in Ireland: tunes. And it doesn’t matter if you call them country or songs or Americana, they’re either good tunes or bad.”
The country feel that runs throughout this new collection provides the platform for the stories behind each song, stories from life that Hank wants to tell. “Sitting in Rancho Wangford, with the Atlantic outside the window, it’s hard not to write songs about the sea, wind, waves and tides,” Hank admits. “But every now and then I give in. So ‘Over The Horizon is another horizon. Over the sea is more sea’. I couldn’t help myself!”
The album’s title track came about after, says Hank, he experienced some songwriter’s block. Staring out at the sea, Mrs Wangford informed him that the ferocious Connemara wind had ripped a tile out of the roof. “I looked up and thought ‘There’s a hole in the roof where the rain gets in. There’s a hole in my heart where the pain sets in’ … and there it was. The potholes in life…”
Full of blunt honesty, Hank’s ruminations on love and life (and death) are recurring themes. “Missing You Already is about being as old as I am, but still crazy in love,” says Hank. “At my age, it’s normal to wonder which of you is going to die first. And I’m saying ‘Let it be me. Maybe it’s selfish but I want to go first. I don’t want to be around when you’ve gone…’”
It’s a song preceded by Hallo My Friend, a lyrical love song to an old friend of Hank’s, who died tragically just as he was settling into enjoying the love of his life.
Elsewhere, Uncle Joe was inspired by Hank’s teenage years during the Cold War and an image on his communist mother’s kitchen wall. Hank lived in that parallel universe where the good people were Russians and communists, and the baddies were the capitalists and the
This sense of irony has stayed with Hank all his life. In the early years, when he was trying to play country music to a post-punk audience, he satirised some of country’s absurdities while loving the music itself. Laughter helped him play country to people who hated the music. But it gave him a reputation as a joker, lampooning the music and not to be taken seriously. But Hank is a serious man. Unlike some other doctors who went into showbiz, like Harry Hill, Graham Chapman of the Pythons or Graeme Garden of The Goodies, Hank continued his medical work part-time, enabling him to continue playing music and touring.
Having become a rock ‘n’ roll doctor in the ‘60s, Hank’s patients included Pink Floyd, Ian Dury, The Clash, The Grateful Dead, Keith Moon, Family, Roy Harper, Kevin Ayers and Keith Richards – the latter being indirectly responsible for Hank’s country music epiphany.
In the early ‘70s, Keith Richards sent his friend Gram Parsons to see “Dr Sam”. Gram picked up Sam’s guitar and played the old George Jones classic You’re Still On My Mind. “I was into soul and R&B,” says Hank. “Ray Charles was my first hero, along with The Everly Brothers. I thought I had no time for country. But when Gram played that song I saw the soul of country in a flash.”
Hank formed his first country band in the late ‘70s, becoming alt-country heroes in the ‘80s and a permanent fixture on the UK’s live circuit. Nowadays, lockdown aside, he tours and gigs with his band The Lost Cowboys and The Wangford Bass Combo, with two bass players, which Hank explains is “something country has needed for a while.”
In the ‘80s, Hank did the first two series on UK TV about country music: HW’s A-Z of C&W and Big Big Country “just to open people’s ears up to another kind of country music”. He wrote for newspapers and did a number of radio series for the BBC, most importantly, Wangford’s Ride where he travelled from Texas through South America to search for the real Hispanic cowboys.
In the early ‘00s he worked on Rural Arts Touring, an Arts Council scheme taking music and drama to village halls, playing in over 350 villages and learning more about the UK than he ever knew. And through all of this Hank has continued working as a doctor. With Holey Holey due for release, Hank looks off to the virtual horizon outside in West London. “See? Music and medicine? It’s all made of the same stuff, all comes from the same soul. They intertwine, they soothe us and make us all better. It’s not surprising I’ve loved doing both – and can’t leave either of them alone!”
Hank may be getting on but he’s still getting on with it. And you won’t stop him now.
Holey Holey is out now on $incere $ounds