UB40 Review for Folking.com

While not many people would think of UB40’s reggae-based rhythms as characteristic of a UK folk band, there are enough of their own songs of social commentary in their back catalogue to put them in a similar category to singer/songwriters like, say, Billy Bragg. (In fact, social commentary is a dominant thread among reggae songwriters but this isn’t the time for that lecture, and I’m not really qualified to give it anyway.)

That said, both the CDs recently released by the band calling itself UB40 Featuring Ali, Astro and Mickey contain a high percentage of cover versions of songs that you probably won’t encounter much in a folk setting. But that doesn’t bother me: my finger was surgically removed from my ear many decades ago.

Once upon a time – when I first started to listen to folk music – there was the Clarion Skiffle Group, the Ian Campbell Trio and the Ian Campbell Folk Group. As well as nurturing such luminaries as Dave Swarbrick, Spencer Davis, Christine Perfect, and Dave Pegg, Ian was himself the composer of a number of fine songs, many of them with a political message. He was also the father of four sons, two of whom, Ali and Robin, went on to become founder members of UB40, a heavily reggae-influenced band also noted for its political sensibilities.

In 2008, however, Ali Campbell and Mickey Virtue left the band, and in 2013 percussionist and vocalist Astro followed. Subsequently, the three of them were reunited in the line-up represented on CD called Unplugged, now released along with a Greatest Hits CD compiled from recordings by the lineup that remained stable until 2008. It doesn’t include recordings where Duncan, a third Campbell brother, replaced Ali as the original band’s vocalist. (There is yet another brother, David, at one time the band’s manager but as a performer more inclined to the traditional, and not to be confused with the Guyana-born singer/songwriter David Campbell, now living in Canada.)

My review of the two CDs can now be found on the folking.com site: UB40 FEATURING ALI, ASTRO AND MICKEY – Unplugged + Greatest Hits (UMC)

David Harley


The Day I Saved the World [demo]

A song I wrote in the early 70s. The final version probably won’t be much different to this, just a bit tidier. Especially the vocal and the rather abrupt entry of the lead guitars… If you don’t like it, blame it on the bossa nova.

Vocal and Spanish guitars by DH.


Once I believed that love
And good intentions
Would win the day
And we would overcome

Now I’ve learned it does no good
To lean on love and knock on wood
Now you’re gone
And I’m the lonely one

I found all the wrong things to do
But just for one moment, loving you
I could have saved the world

Since I lost track of you
I’ve lost sight of a star or two
But love’s a game
That tends to leave you scarred

And though you say the story’s done
There’s still time to find the sun
If you would only tell me
Where you are

I found all the wrong things to do
But just for one moment, loving you
I could have saved the world

Words and Music Copyright David Harley

Seven Years in the Sand [demo]

Last week (November 15th 2016) I played a minor part in an event in Ludlow. Clive Richardson delivered a fascinating lecture at the Assembly Rooms about servicemen of Ludlow who died during the Second World War. In the course of the lecture I played guitar for his wife, the singer Ann Merrill Gray, on some songs from that era, and also got to sing one song myself, and couldn’t resist putting a version of the latter up here.

According to Ewan MacColl, from whom I learned this back in the Dark Ages, this ‘lugubrious ditty’ seems to have originated with the Middle East Air Force Regiment in World War II, but is now also claimed by every other unit to see service in that part of the world. According to his sleeve notes for ‘Bundook Ballads’, “The only song which exceeds it in popularity among desert troops is the ribald Ballad of King Farouk, a song of rich bawdiness and impossible advice.” For so many reasons, we resisted the temptation to include the latter in the lecture.

(Guitars and vocals here by your humble scribe.)

Curiously, it seems that the Ballad of King Farouk was at least in part the work of Hamish Henderson, better known nowadays (perhaps) for his much graver lyric The 51st (Highland) Division’s Farewell to Sicily, set to the pipe tune Farewell to the Creeks, composed in 1915 by Pipe-Major James Robertson, while a prisoner of war.

While I don’t think the world needs me to put on a Scots accent in order to sing Farewell to Sicily, the pipe tune Farewell to the Creeks is a gorgeous tune which might just find its way onto this site in an instrumental version at some point. Though, since I have no intention of learning the pipes at my age, I’m afraid it will have to be played on something less bellicose. Norman Kennedy asserted (according to a Mudcat thread that I’m unable to access at this time) that ‘the Creeks’ referred to the Creek Nation, but in an interview with Hamish Henderson, Robertson stated that the Creeks he had been thinking of were located in Portknockie.

Even more oddly, it seems that Dylan had the same tune in mind when he wrote The Times They Are A-Changing. (It’s often struck me that the lyric was probably influenced by Phil Ochs’ Days of Decision. But that’s the folk process, I suppose.)

David Harley


An unexpected radio interview

Talking about security in the South Atlantic.

While a sizeable proportion of my income still comes from writing about security, I do very little media stuff nowadays. I probably won’t do another conference presentation, and I can’t remember the last time I did a live interview, let alone radio. Except tomorrow, 14th November 2016, when I talk to an audience whose location is so remote, it makes my little corner of West Penwith look metropolitan.

I’m doing an interview with Craig Williams, who has a small company called Gigabyte IT, on Saint FM. That’s a community radio station on St. Helena, way down in the South Atlantic, which has only recently started to benefit from the mixed blessing of the mobile phone. I’ll probably use my bit as a basis for a blog article or podcast (or both) in the near future: that’s not an obvious fit for this blog – in fact, it’ll probably go up on ESET’s blog site – but I’ll flag it here anyway in case any of my readers (how are you both?) are interested.

David Harley

Rain – more advanced demo

Sketch for a more ambitious arrangement for a song I wrote in 1970. Previous sketches have been purely unaccompanied (though the last one included an overdubbed harmony), but this one includes various guitar parts. Actually a Variax pretending to be a Guild 12-string, a Martin, a J-200 and a baritone acoustic. Isn’t technology wonderful? This version is nowhere near CD-ready, however.

David Harley

Hat Fitz & Cara – CD Review

A little information on my latest CD review for folking.com.

Not here – I haven’t done any reviews for this site so far – but for Folking.com: HAT FITZ & CARA – After The Rain

An interesting modern blues duo based in Australia. Cara Robinson takes most of the vocals (and very good she is too), and plays (on this album, anyway) ‘vintage drums’ and washboard. Hat takes lead vocals on a couple of tracks and plays electric guitar, resonator guitar, and mandolin. Excellent songs.

I once wrote a couple of chapters for a book edited by a hacker who sometimes called himself Hat. I don’t think Hat Fitz is the same bloke, though. 🙂

David Harley

Reynardine [demo]

A very 60s-ish guitar arrangement of a traditional song. Final arrangement might be quite a lot different. Words and tune approximately as A.L. Lloyd et al. Is he (Reynardine, that is) a British outlaw, a Bluebeard, a werefox, a French outlaw? I don’t know, but he’s attracted many different theories, which I’ll maybe go into later…


Just trying out some ideas at the moment.


David Harley

Tommy [rough demo]



Actually a very rough demo, as I was in ‘make-it-up-as-you-go-along’ mode. (The tune! The words are by Kipling, of course.) I rather like it, though, so I intend to get back to it when I’m better acquainted with it: it’ll suit a recording project I’m working on very well. According to Wikipedia, it’s a poem of 1890, but it was reprinted in Barrack-Room Ballads (1892). Also according to Wikipedia, the still-current term ‘Tommy’ or ‘Tommy Atkins’ derives from the use of the name Thomas Atkins in 19th century War Office manuals as a placeholder when describing how forms should be filled out.

I WENT into a public ‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, ” We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, go away ” ;
But it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s ” Thank you, Mister Atkins,” when the band begins to play.

I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ ” Tommy, wait outside “;
But it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s ” Special train for Atkins ” when the trooper’s on the tide.

Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap.
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul? ”
But it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes ” when the drums begin to roll
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s ” Thin red line of ‘eroes, ” when the drums begin to roll.

We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Tommy, fall be’ind,”
But it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s ” Please to walk in front, sir,” when there’s trouble in the wind.

You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an` Chuck him out, the brute! ”
But it’s ” Saviour of ‘is country ” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An ‘Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool – you bet that Tommy sees!