New Album – Nobody’s Song

Nobody’s Song

Original artwork by Kate Morley

Guitars, bouzouki (don’t blink or you’ll miss it), vocals by David A. Harley

All words and music by David A. Harley except ‘Thou Art My Lute’ – words by Paul Laurence Dunbar, music by David A. Harley

All rights reserved.

A mixed bag, but slowly catching up with some of the songs I should have recorded properly years ago. Plus some lyrics that have only recently found a tune (notably the Falklands song, 40 years too late for most people to care), and yet another setting of a poem, this time by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

  1. Nobody’s Song (Harley)

An indirect response to a couple of hostile responses to a not-very-cheerful story song I sang somewhere or other a few years ago. I try not to do sets that are unrelieved misery, but I’m not inclined to apologise because not all my songs are happy-clappy. OK, hardly any of my songs are happy-clappy… 😊

I don’t own the songs I’m singing / They found me by the road /
And let me come along for the ride
Sometimes they’re only wordplay / Sometimes they’re almost true /
Telling everybody’s history but mine

There’s a soldier just returned / Forever damaged from the war /
There’s a sailor forever lost in time.
Songs to lift your spirits / Songs to break your heart /
Telling everybody’s story but mine

Maybe I was killing time / While time was killing me /
Ignoring all the people in my head
Peering out of broken mirrors / To tell their broken tales /
All the people in my dreams and in my head

A city sleeps in sunlight / A seascape in the storm /
A town that I might go back to some time
Words I heard from lovers / For a lifetime or a night /
Singing anybody’s melody but mine

Friends and lovers past and gone / Places I should be /
Dreams that died and others that came true
Time we spent together / Too much time spent apart /
Someone gone forever, much too soon

I was only killing time / While time was killing me /
Ignoring all the people in my head
Peering out of broken mirrors / To tell their broken tales /
All the people in my dreams and in my bed

I don’t own the song I’m singing / It found me by the road /
And let me come along for the ride
Maybe it’s just wordplay / Perhaps it’s almost true /
Telling nobody’s story but mine

2. A Perfect Cocktail (Harley)

The first draft of the words to this waas several decades old, but I rewrote it and added a tune in response to Zoe Zalick’s challenge to write and perform a song in a week. I know, shades of Jack Judge and ‘The Writing Of Tipperary’. 🙂 And no, I don’t generally think it’s reasonable to blame the object of one’sunrequited obession for one’s misery…

Who’s driving nails into my lonely bed?
Who sent images scurrying through my head?
You…

And we mixed a perfect cocktail, you and I
How come now my cup is dry?

How come these days I drink so much alone?
Who’s to blame if I end up stoned?
You…

Who leaves me here, lying all alone?
Asks six weeks later why I didn’t phone
You… 

  1. Light Blue Affair (Harley)

Another lyric from around 40 years ago that finally found its tune. If I stop writing now and live to be 110, I should just about clear the backlog.

It’s a bitter-sweet light blue affair
Caught halfway between hope and despair
A tear for joy or a twisted smile
An elegant pose in the classic style
That echoes reality

It’s a strange ambiguity
Caught between life and parody
A stolen kiss, a moment of magic
Frozen between the comic and tragic
A haunting half-memory

What can we tell from these soft-focus nights
Of what might be real and exactly what’s right?
What can we learn from what we might see
On an under-developed transparency?
Only the questions are clear
Like “Where do we go from here?”

It’s a bittersweet light blue affair
A flash of future, of time we could share
A tear for joy or a twisted smile
An elegant pose in the classic style
Transcending reality
That can be what you want it to be

  1. The Day I Saved The World (Harley)

 Featuring the Hot Club de Carbis Bay…

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

  1. Ghosts (Harley)

One of my rare lapses into something vaguely resembling jazz…

Let’s get down to cases before someone packs their bags
And there’s nothing else to do but walk away.
Please don’t say there’s nothing to talk over: that’s not true
Unless you’d rather just call it a day…

There’s a cuckoo in our love nest
I can see him in your eyes
When you’re looking straight at me
It’s not always me you see
Who is that ghost you recognized?

Sometimes when we’re making love
You seem confused about my name
It seems I’m sharing you
With someone else you knew
Who’s gone, but not forgotten just the same

If you need time to think it over
You’re right, there’s nothing to explain
But please don’t go burning your fingers
On any old flames

I’m not afraid of losing you
I never had you anyway
There always seemed to be
A part of you that you kept from me
Words you never cared to say 

  1. When The Next Wave Breaks (Harley)

A blues of sorts.

I’m nothing but a ripple / A stone thrown in the sea
When the next wave breaks / You can’t tell where I’ve been

There’s a change in the weather /There’s a restless angry sea
There’s no changing you / But there’s surely been a change in me

I’ll take that lonesome highway / By the light of a lonesome moon
You know the sooner you start crying / The sooner I’ll be gone

When the sun is going down / And the moon begins to rise
I’ll be so far down the road / There’s no shadow left behind

There might be just one woman / Could make me want to stay
If you were her, my bag / Would not be packed today 

  1. The Best Days Are Gone (Harley)

Since I turned 24 around 50 years ago, I’m happy to report that that there have been plenty of good days since then…

Sometimes I miss those other places where my lifestyle has been forged
I might even miss this town when I’ve moved on
Though I’m just turned 24, right now I’m feeling so much more
When I get this weary feeling that the best days are gone
The best days are gone

Other times I felt so low and wanted what was lost
Are hidden in a mist of golden days
But mostly I was happy, though I didn’t know it then
Such strange tricks that hindsight plays
Tricks that hindsight plays

Nothing’s as it seems to be, there’s no one I can trust
I want to wake and find myself a million years away
And more than once or twice when just living wore me down
I’ve wished I had the nerve to split and drift with the highway
And drift with the highway

There are names that I remember, many more that I forget
All the girls I never had, too many that I lost
One or two could make me cry at midnight all alone
But when you go I think I’ll miss you most
And now you’re gone, Lord knows I miss you most 

  1. Sale Or Return (remix) [Harley]

This song about rock ‘n’ roll casualties changed my life in a number of ways, not all of them good. But it did (along with ‘Thomas Anderson’) start people (including me) thinking of me as a writer rather than a performer. Not that I saw much fame and fortune either way. A remixed version of a track from one of my demo albums.

Mister can I carry your bags?
We took the same road and we both paid the fare
Buddy can I carry your axe?
We started out right and I know you still care
And hey, can I carry your load?
At least you still look like you’re bound somewhere

I’ve talked to the hero who knew he was hip
Who got too heavy to loosen his grip
Who sold out his name to some strange ego trip
And I know the glass eye looking into itself
The fly blown in amber trapping dust on the shelf
Conversations that tailed into stony silence

I’ve seen how it is twisted out of the frame
By the mythical muse that warps and maims
A half-human soul into implacable aims
And I’ve known a hero we all knew of old
Who sold out his share of the silver and gold
And still he can’t tune out the gall in his soul

So it’s down to the Tranny and the travelling band
But somewhere we drew blank, something better we planned
Is gone with the smithy and the shantyman
So I sat and I drank and I listened to you
Then I drank some more while the beat soaked through
But I guess I just drank off my blue suede shoes

And I know how it is kicking themes into shape
In sleep-bleeding hours between two working days
And I’m not here to say you should make that mistake
No, there’s no point in crossing the bridges we burned
But a few bands ago we talked in no terms
Of sale or return

  1. Ice To The Flame (Harley)

Not at all the sort of song I usually write, but it comes from a particularly stressful period in the 1970s. And that’s all I’m going to say about that…There is another version on one of my demo albums: this is better recorded, but I might go for a fuller arrangement at some point.

Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn
With the sun in your face take the chance to be born
Leave all the leavings that time has outgrown
Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn

Ice to the flame, the sun to the rain
I am Life, I am Death, and Love is my name

Wind on the water, a blight on the heart
The fall of the dice and the turn of the card
Axe to the tree, the scythe to the corn
Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn

Ice to the flame, the sky to the sea
All is One and All is in me

Tongue to the bell, an end to the start
Trust to time, lend an ear to your heart
Wax to the candle and brass to the horn
Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn

Ice to the flame, the sun to the rain
I am Life, I am Death, and Love is my name

Rust to the sword, an edge to the blade
The Healer, the Scourge, the Price to be Paid
Love is the Singer and Love is the Song
Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn

Ice to the flame, the sky to the sea
All is One and All is in Me

Blood on the dagger, a fire in the veins
The sweet and the bitter, rainbow and rain
The Knight and the Jester, the Queen and the Pawn
Turn to the morning and trust to the dawn

Ice to the flame, the sun to the rain
I am Life, I am Death and Love is my name

10. Bread And Circuses (Harley)

A song written in the 1980s (the lyrics, anyway) about the conflict Jorge Luis Borges described as “a fight between two bald men over a comb.” As you might have gathered, I don’t do *“my country right or wrong.” These verses were originally interleaved with verses telling a story about the breakdown of a marriage. When I revisited the song recently, that didn’t seem such a good idea, but the other verses may well appear as a separate song, provisionally called ‘Rifts’.

The lads are on the march again: adrenaline is surging
Through the arteries of power
The gutter press is snarling, waving flags and beating chests,
From the safety of its concrete Dockland towers
The price of bread is escalating and the jobs are getting scarce,
But the circuses get bigger every year
If we lose the World Cup, God will give us back the Falklands
Before the latest Royal new-born appears

In the Corridors of Power, the game is Battleships:
Sink a few and lose a few – that’s Diplomacy
The body count gets higher, the planes and ships get fewer
The bereaved on both sides might agree
That the game’s not worth the candle standing by a single coffin
But there’s so much more at stake than death or life
There’s property and cash and oil and mineral rights
And loss of face, and patriotic pride.

The bombs and missiles blossom, and the gunfire pounds and pounds
The ears of friend and foe
The Belgrano and the Santa Fe, the Sheffield and Sir Tristram
Death by death the roll of honour grows
Till the fighting fizzles out in bitter winter gales
Far too late for so many mothers’ sons
The guns have fallen silent, but the words are bayonet-sharp
And the propaganda war goes on

The hawks are praising God across the tombstones of the dead
A service is attended by the Queen
The Prime Minister spits blood because a timid man of God
Recalls the dead on both sides in ‘victory’
Peace in the South Atlantic; a bombing in Hyde Park
Bloody warfare in the Lebanon
We press on to self-destruction: even as this one war ends
The killing still goes on and on and on

* https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/my_country,_right_or_wrong  

  1. From An Old Tin Cup (Harley)

A curiously old-fashioned song. The words have been hanging around for at least 30 years, and I can’t remember what prompted them, but I was quite pleased to find them again.

I’ve got this feeling that can’t be bad
I’ve seen the end of feeling sad
Thanking fate for a little luck
Drinking life from an old tin cup

I had this dream that by and by
My time would come for living high
Eyes wide open for the best way up
To drinking life from a golden cup

But that’s all changed since you found your way
Back into my heart where you used to stay
Thanking fate for a little luck
Still drinking life from an old tin cup

There was sweet wine I used to sip
Now I need the taste of your honey lips
Thanking fate for a little luck
Drinking life from an old tin cup

One fine morning, pretty soon
We’ll set sail on a poor man’s honeymoon
Thanking fate for a little luck
And drinking life from an old tin cup

  1. Thou Art My Lute (Dunbar-Harley)

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 –1906), the son of parents who were slaves in Kentucky before the Civil War, was better known in his lifetime for writing dialect poetry and prose, but in recent years his more literary writing has attracted more attention and respect. Maya Angelou borrowed a line from  his poem ‘Sympathy’ for the title of her autobiography ‘I know why the caged bird sings’.

 It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

 For my setting of ‘Thou Art My Lute’ I’ve used a consciously archaic arrangement to suit the tone of the poem.

Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—
My being is attuned to thee.
Thou settest all my words a-wing,
And meltest me to melody.

Thou art my life, by thee I live,
From thee proceed the joys I know;
Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give
The meed of love—the cup of woe.

Thou art my love, by thee I lead
My soul the paths of light along,
From vale to vale, from mead to mead,
And home it in the hills of song.

My song, my soul, my life, my all,
Why need I pray or make my plea,
Since my petition cannot fall;
For I’m already one with thee! 

  1. Time On My Hands (Harley)

This one dates back to the 70s, but I don’t think I’ve ever sung it in public. Now I’ve remembered it, maybe I will.

Time on my hands
Time to think of a friend who changed one weekend
Changed to a part of me

Time to look back
Cosily stoned by the fire / getting much higher
Watching you watching me

Time and again
To think of caring for you / knowing I do
Hoping you might for me

Time on my hands
No hangups and nothing to say but “We had our day”
And the music goes on and on

  1. Whistle While You Walk (radio version) [Harley]

Another sort of blues of sorts…

Sometimes you look into her eyes / And you just want to talk
Sometimes you have to see her / Sometimes you just have to walk

Just walk away, walk away / And whistle while you walk away

Sometimes you’re the heartbreak / Sometimes you’re just broke
And all your songs are lost / In the space between the notes

Sometimes you know you love her / Sometimes you feel so cold
Sometimes your heart is empty / And you turn back to the road 

  1. End Game (Harley)

Having gone through phases of writing very long songs, I’ve also sometimes been ostentatiously terse. No doubt many people will thank me for wasting as little as possible of their time. (I’ve always liked short-short stories, too, but I haven’t been so successful at writing them.)

I’ve been looking out for zero since I don’t remember when
Praying not to draw that same old blank again

But it seems at last time passing tears your paper shield apart
And love, the silver bullet, leaves its shrapnel in the heart

M’dame, M’sieur, les jeux sont faits

(c) David A. Harley – All Rights Reserved

Two improvisations…

…likely to appear at some point in an ongoing verse and music project.

  1. Improvisation in High G tuning:

 

or backup:

 

2. Improvisation on piccolo guitar in Nashville tuning:

 

or backup:

 

David Harley

From An Old Tin Cup

From an old tin cup (Words & Music by David Harley)

A curiously old-fashioned song. The words have been hanging around for at least 30 years, and I can’t remember what prompted them.

Backup:

 

I’ve got this feeling that can’t be bad
I’ve seen the end of feeling sad
Thanking fate for a little luck
Drinking life from an old tin cup

I had this dream that by and by
My time would come for living high
Eyes wide open for the best way up
To drinking life from a golden cup

But that’s all changed since you found your way
Back into my heart where you used to stay
Thanking fate for a little luck
Still drinking life from an old tin cup

There was sweet wine I used to sip
Now I need the taste of your honey lips
Thanking fate for a little luck
Drinking life from an old tin cup

One fine morning, pretty soon
We’ll set sail on a poor man’s honeymoon
Thanking fate for a little luck
And drinking life from an old tin cup

David Harley

Requiem / R.L.S.

backup:

A setting that combines poems by Robert Louis Stevenson and A.E. Housman. Needs more work, of course.

Requiem (Stevenson)

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

XXII: R L S

(from ‘Additional poems’, Housman)

Home is the sailor, home from sea:
Her far-borne canvas furled
The ship pours shining on the quay
The plunder of the world.

Home is the hunter from the hill:
Fast in the boundless snare
All flesh lies taken at his will
And every fowl of air.

‘Tis evening on the moorland free,
The starlit wave is still:
Home is the sailor from the sea,
The hunter from the hill.

Thou Art My Lute

Backup:

 

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 –1906), the son of parents who were slaves in Kentucky before the Civil War, was better known in his lifetime for writing dialect poetry and prose, but in recent years his more literary writing has attracted more attention and respect. Maya Angelou borrowed a line from ‘Sympathy’ for the title of her autobiography ‘I know why the caged bird sings’.

It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

For my setting of ‘Thou Art My Lute’ I’ve used a consciously archaic arrangement to suit the tone of the poem.

Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—
My being is attuned to thee.
Thou settest all my words a-wing,
And meltest me to melody.

Thou art my life, by thee I live,
From thee proceed the joys I know;
Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give
The meed of love—the cup of woe.

Thou art my love, by thee I lead
My soul the paths of light along,
From vale to vale, from mead to mead,
And home it in the hills of song.

My song, my soul, my life, my all,
Why need I pray or make my plea,
Since my petition cannot fall;
For I’m already one with thee!

Bread and Circuses

A song written in the 1980s about the conflict Jorge Luis Borges described as “a fight between two bald men over a comb.”

Words & music (c) David Harley

Backup:

The lads are on the march again: adrenaline is surging
Through the arteries of power
The gutter press is snarling, waving flags and beating chests
From the safety of its concrete Dockland towers
The price of bread is escalating and the jobs are getting scarce
But the circuses get bigger every year
If we lose the World Cup, God will give us back the Falklands
Before the latest Royal new-born appears

In the Corridors of Power, the game is Battleships:
Sink a few and lose a few – that’s Diplomacy
The body count gets higher, the planes and ships get fewer
The bereaved on both sides might agree
That the game’s not worth the candle standing by a single coffin
But there’s so much more at stake than death or life
There’s property and money and oil and mineral rights
And loss of face and patriotic pride.

The bombs and missiles blossom, and the gunfire pounds and pounds
The ears of friend and foe
The Belgrano and the Santa Fe, the Sheffield and Sir Tristram
Death by death the roll of honour grows
Till the fighting fizzles out in bitter winter gales
Far too late for so many mothers’ sons
The guns have fallen silent, but the words are bayonet-sharp
And the propaganda war goes on

The hawks are praising God across the tombstones of the dead
A service is attended by the Queen
The Prime Minister spits blood because a timid man of God
Recalls the dead on both sides in ‘victory’
Peace in the South Atlantic; a bombing in Hyde Park
Bloody warfare in the Lebanon
We press on to self-destruction: even as this one war ends
The killing still goes on and on and on

Postcard from Hiroshima

This is a piece that turned up during my ongoing sifting through (and digitizing where necessary and appropriate) all my non-security hardcopy from the 60s onward. This was written in the 80s (lightly edited here) but I never put a tune to it. Perhaps I never will, since it’s typical of the long and downbeat songs of mine that rarely garnered much enthusiasm from audiences. But it seems appropriate for these times.

I have a postcard from Hiroshima I pasted in a scrapbook
With some photographs of Dresden before the bombers came
I always meant someday to assemble them on canvas
I hope I have the time before the whole thing starts again

I’ll deploy them round some other shots of Coventry Cathedral
And the East End of London around 1943
And some more of Babi Yar, Dachau and Leningrad
To prove that no one’s safe or guiltless, not them, or you, or me

Christ was crucified again on barbed wire on the Somme
Torn by shrapnel in Guernica, starved in Biafra
In Warsaw he was lined up with the fighters from the ghetto
It could be me that squeezed the trigger, and the target could be you

There’s never been a simple answer, but the question’s getting bigger
Ukraine to Zimbabwe, Little Rock to Palestine
When our masters saw fit we were pointed at our targets
And scapegoats were graded by their religion or their skin

Don’t look at me that way, brother, I do mean you and me
It won’t always be us who get the cream
If you think your hands are clean, Soweto and Belfast
Kenya or the Congo might just show you what I mean

Christ is dying again on streets in India and Brazil
In Syria and Yemen, from Washington to Kyiv
East of Suez, West of China, New Cross and Brixton too
It could be me throwing petrol and the target could be you

But don’t let it get you down: the guns still buy the butter
For the tables of the wealthy and the leaders of men
And in a little while if the silos yield their harvest
There’ll be caviar and brandy for those sheltered till it ends

When they re-emerge to survey the devastation
There’ll be profits to be made from those not wiped out in the blast
The tyrants of the past will look down in grim approval
To see their life’s work ended so decisively at last

When Christ is dead and buried beyond hope of resurrection
With all the teeming millions who overran the nations
Of the world, our masters will cast lots for what remains
And the whole appalling cycle will be set to start again
But there’ll always be someone else to blame

David Harley

Captains of Industry

I always had in mind a sort of Gilbert & Sullivan tune for this, but I’ll probably never get around to recording it, at any rate with two principals and full orchestra, so for now you’ll have to imagine it. There again, given the levels of cronyism and corruption that we now take for granted from our government, I might edit it to make a little more of the no doubt laudable links between our leaders and the billionaire classes. We’ll see.

[A = Lord Bibbenbrace; B=Sir Allen Key – if it matters!]

A & B:

We rise in the morning at nine
Glide into the office at ten
Just in time for morning and tea

A:

Just an arrowroot biscuit and coffee for me

A&B:

At eleven we both buckle down
To push the wheels of industry round
At half-past to the club for lunch we’re bound

It’s a busy old life for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless captains of industry

A:

Lord Bibbenbrace…

B:

…and Sir Allen Key

A:

When I return to the office at three
A mountain of work waits for me
My putting’s in need of such polish, you know
So it’s round and round on the carpet I go

B:

There’s no such diversion for me
But tea at the Ministry
And tomorrow to lunch in the City I’ll go
And there I’ll confer with an MP I know
About on whose expenses the drinks will go

It’s a busy old life for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless captains of industry

A:

Lord Bibbenbrace…

B:

…and Sir Allen Key

B:

Through many a long sleepless night
I’ve pondered the economy’s plight
The financial climate is such a disgrace
It’s a wonder the Cabinet dares show its face

A:

Oh, I have my sleepless nights too
As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you
Trying so hard that my poor head aches
To recall what it is my company makes
Except huge tax-free profits
And accounting mistakes

A&B:

It’s a taxing existence for such as we
But the rich man’s burden we would not flee
We tireless exploiters of bureaucracy

A:

Lord Bibbenbrace…

B:

…and Sir Allen Key

B:

Such labour we have to endure…

A:

Labour?!?!?!

B:

I do beg your pardon!
Such travail we have to endure
To meet all the workers’ demands…

By the way, have you actually seen a worker recently?

A:

Of course: only last year I had to take a shortcut through the works on the way to my Rolls

A&B:

We treat them as part of the family
We shake hands with shop stewards and offer them tea
And all in the name of (sigh…) democracy…

A:

Lord Bibbenbrace…

B:

…and Sir Allen Key