Now with added video:
Words & music (c) David Harley.
A song which has been nagging at me for several years, since we first knew that we were moving to the area (though it actually took a year for everything to go through). But then, it took even longer to finish the song.
Re-recorded and remastered.
Close to where I stand on Trecobben
Pilgrims walk St. Michael’s Way
Few today reach Santiago
Most will cease their journey at the Bay
The Mount is rising from the distant water
Yet barely seems an arm’s length away
Causley on the road to Marazion
Dreamed of one last summer in the Med
Sheets are dancing Morris in the wind
A buzzard slowly circles overhead
Engine houses march along the skyline
A sea fret daubs the coast in brown and red
Beyond the darkening horizons
Beyond the hills to the West
Beyond Pendeen and Cape Cornwall
The Longships founder off Lands End
Sea nymphs and mermaids pluck the heartstrings
But the bells no longer ring in Lyonesse
Around me march the ghosts of long-dead armies
Recalled among these ancient stones
The engine house beyond the farm
Still offers shelter to the crows
I watch the sun sink slowly to the West
Back into the sea from whence it rose
Trecobben is an alternative name for Trencrom Hill and the giant who is supposed to have lived there and passed the time by throwing stones at his counterpart Cormoran on St. Michael’s Mount, which can clearly be seen from the top of the hill (weather permitting).
The St. Michael’s Way is part of the network of pilgrim’s paths that converge on the pilgrim route that leads to St. James Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. It’s believed that pilgrims and missionaries from Wales and Ireland would land at Lelant and walk overland to Marazion rather than risk sailing/rowing around Lands End.
The second verse refers to Charles Causley’s ‘The Seasons In North Cornwall’ where he talks of meeting ‘Old Summer’ on the road to Marazion.
Living around Trencrom, we’ve had lots of time to observe that the horizon is often obscured by low-lying red-brown cloud, especially when pollution levels are high.
The Longships are a series of islets a mile or so off Lands End, known for the lighthouse on Carn Bras. In Arthurian legend, the kingdom of Lyonesse was said to have bordered Cornwall but to have sunk beneath the waves between Lands End and the Scillies. Walter de la Mere’s ‘Sunk Lyonesse’ refers to Nereids playing lyres in “sea-cold Lyonesse”, while the Mermaid of Zennor has her own place in Penwith mythology.
There is a plaque on the Iron Age fort at the top of Trencrom that reads:
“This property was presented to the National Trust by Lt Col C L Tyringham, of Trevethoe in March 1946 & at his wish is to be regarded as a memorial to the men and women of Cornwall, who gave their lives in the service of their country during the two world wars. 1914 – 1918, 1939 – 1945”
There are a good many engine houses in the area, but the one beyond Trencrom Farm is the one variously known as Wheal Alice and Wheal Foxes, part of the former Trencrom Mine.
Having resented it for decades when people have told me that I’m ‘influenced’ by Bert Jansch – I’m sure I’ve been influenced by many people, and I’d love to be able to play some of Bert’s songs, though there are only a couple I’ve ever sung – but I haven’t intentionally copied anyone in many decades. While I’m still in awe of his guitar-playing, I’m a songwriter with my own voice and guitar technique, and I tend to think that when people want to pigeonhole you as ‘copying’ someone else, that’s either just laziness or a bad case of ‘you’re no better than me, you’re just a copyist…’
Anyway, I was rather surprised to revisit this and notice that the vocal here was quite Jansch-ish in places. Especially as Bert didn’t actually do a lot of blues, that I remember: maybe I’d been listening to the album (‘Nicola’) on which he did do a lyrically weird version of Corinna/Weeping Willow and a slightly more conventional ‘Come Back Baby’. That said, the guitar here sounds quite John Renbourn/Wizz Jones, rather than Jansch – I think I hear a little bit of Al Jones there, too – but with some tropes I’m pretty sure are all mine … But I’m certainly not ashamed of it, and probably couldn’t match it nowadays.
The words are quite blues-pastiche, but not based on any older song in particular. Not a song I’d write now, but I think it works OK. Recorded on domestic equipment in the early 80s, though I’m pretty sure I was already singing it in the mid-70s, around the time I started singing much more of my own stuff. .
I don’t have technical skills to generate sophisticated animations and such, and I’d rather not flood the world with too many live videos of variable quality. But some recordings seem to fit OK with a series of photographs. Well, to my ear and eye, anyway. ‘Painting the Desert’ is actually an improvised slide guitar piece accompanied by photographs from a drive through the Painted Desert in Arizona, from when we followed up a work trip to the Bay Area and San Diego with a version of the Grand Circle Road Trip including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, as well as Sedona, Oak Canyon and so on. I have a feeling that I’ll eventually find a use for some of the photos from those attractions, too. In the meantime…
Music (c) David Harley
A bluesy slide piece.
An instrumental version of a song also known as ‘One Kind Favour’ or ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’ – not the Carter Family song with the latter title, though.
A lengthy piece that combines my guitar solo ‘Swifts’ with my setting of a poem by W.B. Yeats – ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. Unfortunately, the guitar is poorly recorded in places.
For this more recent version, the guitar sounds better but it’s not the best I’ve ever sung it. And there are some bits of the guitar part in the older version I like. I guess the answer is to have yet another shot at it, but in the meantime…
And here’s the poem.
The Wild Swans at Coole
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?
Music (c) David Harley, who played acoustic guitar, resonator guitar and electric guitars through the magic of overdubbing. Both electric guitar parts feature a Line 6 Variax. I can’t remember what guitar the first electric voice emulates, but the second was a Coral Sitar emulation. Photographs (c) Jude and David Harley: mostly from Stonehenge and York.
The recording was remixed for the video.
Not often I do a genuine(-ish) folk song… (It sounds composed, maybe in the 19th century?) Instrumental version of a song collected by Carl Sandburg in Missouri. Combines two close variants of the tune. He apparently called it The Sad Song, which indeed it is. The words are the subject of much discussion on Mudcat: maybe 19th century, maybe significantly older. The tune reminds me slightly of The Furze Field, but I think that’s a little too upbeat to go from one to the other.
Guitar and resonator guitars are all me. Isn’t technology wonderful?
MP3 backup on this site: