Today, I felt somewhat metallic, so I went back to a tune I wrote back in the 70s. It’s been a while, so it’s a bit rough round the edges. (The fact that both the guitars are actually the same acoustic – a Gibson J160E – made it a bit harder on the fingers than it needed to have been, too.) Distorted lead is the way I originally wanted it, but I might do an acoustic version instead when I do it properly.
I sometimes think there should be a song to go with this, but never got round to writing some words.
This is my setting of a poem by William Butler Yeats. I posted a recording of it in 2015, when I was essentially making it up as I went along, but coming back to it after a year, I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with it.
The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.
The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.
Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.
But now they drift on the still water,
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?
Had it not been for Facebook, I might never have realized that so many people regard summer as starting around Midsummer. I suppose astronomical summer (as opposed to meteorological summer) explains why Springwatch feels so late in the season.
In a way, it’s very English to centre summer on the available daylight rather than meteorological patterns, since we’re usually pleasantly surprised by days on which it doesn’train. Though I suppose warmer rain has its advantages.
Having only troubled to look into this so late in life, I’m now wondering whether to celebrate the start of summer (again), regret the imminence of the solstice (light-wise, it’s all downhill from here), or wait a few days to wish you a happy St John’s Day (and maybe even St Peter’s Day a few days after). Or maybe I’ll just go back to not thinking about it at all. However, being in Cornwall at the time of Golowan probably makes the latter course of action impractical. I’m already in danger of extreme fascination with this world of Obby Oss (I’d love to have reproduced Charles Causley’s poem here, but you can find it in his ‘I had a little cat’ collection) and Obby’s connections with Old Penglaze and the Mari Lwyd. Not to mention Mirk of Lilleshall and his description of how St John’s Day turned from devotion to gluttony and sin. I think I’ll just leave that there.
[Article expanded and updated, July 2016. Updated again in August 2016. Remastered version of recording added February 2020, and moved the content from this page to a Collaborations sub-page Thomas Anderson. See also this page for more background info.]
This is a sort of West London blues for the 1980s that probably demands an authentic glo’al stop here and there, but I don’t think I could carry that off, in spite of many years living surrounded by Londoners. There again, I don’t think Lily Allen carries it off either, but it doesn’t seem to have harmed her career.
You don’t hear much about inhalant and solvent abuse nowadays – certainly not here in Cornwall – perhaps because there are plenty of more glamorous highs around, but it certainly hasn’t gone away. It was one of a batch of songs I wrote for a review in the 1980s, but didn’t offer it for consideration because the show was going into quite different directions. I’ve never performed it in public that I remember.
Words & Music by David Harley: Copyright 1981
I stay away from dear old dad
He’s out of a job and gets to feeling bad
And it don’t take much for him to lose his rag
He hits the beer from time to time
And mum takes it out on me and Brian
But when we’re not at home we don’t much mind
It’s their way of cooling out
Of course I haven’t worked since I left school
No jobs around, and I’m no fool
I can get more money on the street as a rule
It would really get right up my snout
Stacking crates and washing bottles out
Anyway I like to get out and about
Got me ways of cooling out
Dad thinks mum’s got the dropsy bad
There’s this smell of glue all round the flat
But I’m away down the road with me blowsing bag
If he asks I’ll say Bri’s into Airfix kits
And off I’ll go with me Evostik
Down the park with me packet of crisps
Got me ways of cooling out
Mum thinks I’m always down with a cold
She says I’m off me nut but then I’m never home
When I’m reeling round on a toluene high
But you’ve got to do something when it all goes grey
So I’m back down the road with Mick and Dave
The caretaker chases us off the estate
But we’re only cooling out
Dad’d go spare if he knew, I bet
But he’s too busy drinking himself to death
And mum only sees what she wants to see
That’s her way of cooling out…
Part of this popped up as a poem on social media this morning. (I expect it often does, but I just happened to notice it on Facebook.)
I often think I ought to learn it, but I probably won’t, for all the reasons described in the song/poem, not to mention an increasingly unreliable memory. Anyway, this is a version performed by the Weavers at Carnegie Hall during a reunion concert (probably in 1980).
And here’s a thread on Mudcat about the origins of the poem, set to music by Pete Seeger, who used these lines as a chorus:
How do I know my youth is all spent?
My get up and go has got up and went
But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
And think of the places my get up has been.
The thread includes a couple of versions of the poem/lyric. According to a poster to that thread, it was written by Homer A. Shiveley in the 1930s and published in the local newspaper in West Union, Ohio.
Alas, my get up and go seems to want to go several times a night…
However, this is rather more country than country blues.
A trace of your scent still lingers on my pillow
And raises echoes in my memory
And I believe you’re missing me almost as much as I miss you
But I wish to God that you were here with me
The sun will surely rise on another soft blue morning
And lying in your arms is where I’ll be
With sweet dreams still in my eyes, I’ll wake and kiss your hair
But it’s a long cold night while you’re not here with me
This guitar once played for keeps, but since you changed my life
This guitar just plays for you, if that’s OK?
This guitar rang bells for losers, but there’ll be no more songs of losing
Though this guitar just plays the blues while you’re away
I suppose it’s appropriate to go back to this given the part of the country I now live in. 🙂
A setting of the poem by Rudyard Kipling. I have in mind a guitar accompaniment I’m not quite comfortable with yet, but this version is unaccompanied with some harmonies. The words and a few notes are available from this page. I believe Peter Bellamy used to sing a version set to ‘The White Cockade’, which I guess would readily lend itself to a more chorus-y version. In the 70s, I remember hearing a version to a different tune sung in Berkshire that used the second verse as a chorus.