This is a very old song (early 1970s) I keep revisiting. Old in years, but perhaps not in terms of maturity. This time I went back to it because Ian Semple played a version on his radio show on Coast FM (thanks, Ian!) that I’d not only forgotten I’d cut, but also couldn’t find on my laptop. This version has a slightly trimmed version of the lengthy instrumental (much more recent) with which it starts, and a different take on the actual song. It’s essentially the same track that I used on the Ten Percent Blues album, only I didn’t use the instrumental for that album.
Unusually for me, the guitar is in open G (which I did use a lot more in those days, but mostly for slide). I think I originally wrote it on banjo, which might explain a lot. The instrumental might reappear on a poetry/music project.
You sing your songs, the stage is bare
There isn’t anyone out there
Sometimes it almost seems that way
And I run out of songs to play
Forget the muzak and the beer
The open mouths, the grudging cheers There isn’t any better way To freeload your life away
Back in 1969 I lost someone I thought was mine That’s the price I had to pay When I ran out of songs to play
Goodbye, old friend, I have to leave To prove to myself that I’m still free I’ll see you in a year or so And buy the round you say I owe
The long cigarettes, the cheap red wine The melodies you say are mine If you find somewhere to be I hope you’ll save a place for me
A taster of sorts for the forthcoming parallel instrumental and verse project. ‘Back In Free Fall’ was (unusually for me) a quasi-classical improvisation played on my Yamaha electro-classic, just slightly cleaned up.
A guitar solo I used to play a lot when I was living in London, though I think I was living in Bracknell when I wrote it. Actually, this version has some sections that suggest I was intending to come back to it and add a second guitar, which explains why it’s so much longer (too long!) than when I played it out in the wild. But clearly I haven’t. Yet.
The title has nothing to do with Bert Jansch, by the way. I’m flattered when people tell me what I do reminds them of him, but I don’t really see a resemblance, though I did listen a lot to his first album when I first started to learn the guitar. But if anything, I was more influenced by John Renbourn. And there are bits here that sound as if I was trying to be both of them at once. But to get back to the point, the title refers to the fact that for much of my life I was known as Bert rather than as Dave or David.
Played on a cheap and cheerful Kimbara acoustic – actually, it was a very decent little guitar – and recorded on domestic equipment.
I’ve heard too many gorgeously sung versions of this to add my own indifferent vocals to the pot, but I do want to include it in a recording project, so this is a sketch for an instrumental version. It needs work, of course – it’s much too busy at the moment – but I think there are possibilities here. It fits because I’m planning to include a couple of my own Yeats settings. However, the well-known melody used here doesn’t need replacing by any tune of mine. 🙂
After I wrote a review of the CD ‘A Shropshire Lad’ (by Michael Raven and Joan Mills), in which I specifically mentioned that Michael had set When I Was One and Twenty to the tune better known as Brigg Fair, I had a thought. I mentioned in passing in that article that the theme of the poem is not dissimilar to that of the Yeats poem (based on an imperfectly remembered folk song) Down By The Salley Gardens. The Yeats poem was published in 1889, and A Shropshire Lad was published in 1896, so it’s very likely that Housman knew the Yeats poem, though for all I know, he may have written his own poem before he came upon Salley Gardens. I’m not sure it matters all that much: I’m not doing a PhD thesis. 🙂
Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
Anyway, a quick turn around the fretboard demonstrates that the melody Maids of Mourne Shore, the one most commonly associated with Down By The Salley Gardens since Hughes used it for his setting in 1909, would also work with When I was One and Twenty. As would any of the other tunes associated with or set to the Yeats poem, I guess. Oddly enough, the melody to The Rambling Boys of Pleasure, usually assumed to be the song that Yeats was trying to recreate, probably wouldn’t work so well, at any rate without some modification to accommodate the length of the lines. According to the music historian A.V. Butcher, Butterworth‘s setting to One and Twenty was related to a folk melody, but which one is unknown. Certainly the setting doesn’t ring any bells with me.
The world is not short of recordings of this very popular song. This is a variation on an instrumental version I recently rediscovered, having performed it quite a lot in the 70s. I plan to use a more polished version in a forthcoming project.
Also known as Southwind, The Southern Breeze, An Ghaoth Andheas, and so on. Has also attracted quite a few sets of words. Recently crossed my radar when working up some material with a ceilidh band, and I couldn’t resist trying it out. I may well vary the instrumentation for the ‘real’ version, but I quite like it with just guitar (though I’ve overdubbed here).
Sometimes attributed to O’Carolan, but I don’t believe there’s any proof of that, though Greg Clare tells me that it’s often performed along with Planxty Fanny Power (which I believe is O’Carolan) or Planxty Irwin (which is on my to-do list). The Fiddler’s Companion attributes it to Domnhall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara) and includes Gaelic words and translation as well as much more information.
I find myself in an unusual position. (Steady! Not that sort of position.) I’ve played guitar and/or bass with ceilidh bands from time to time since the 1970s, but have never rehearsed with one until recently.
Which got me thinking that one or two tunes might fit quite nicely into a recording project I’m hatching. This is a sketch only for one possibility. It includes far too many guitars (probably one part would be a bass with just one second guitar to put in some sparse countermelodies) and the actual tune gets buried at some points: it’s just that this has some bits I wanted to keep for reference. I believe the tune was originally recorded in 1909 by Cecil Sharp from John Locke in Leominster. This interpretation is based on a vaguely-remembered recording from the 60s by Jon and Mike Raven. I think this was the record (with Jean Ward): SONGS OF THE BLACK COUNTRY AND THE WEST MIDLANDS.
I’m tempted to buy it, but then I’d have to learn the tune properly. 😉