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


Author: David Harley

Musician/singer/songwriter; independent author/editor

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