Christmas video set

All three of the songs I performed last week for the Kettle & Wink virtual Xmas session are now up on YouTube. NB these were try-outs, not the actual set: you’d have to go to the Facebook group page for that. If you were really that desperate…

It’s an unusual set for me in that none of the songs are completely original, though the third is a parody.

The first was written in the late 19th century by Charlie Case, and learned way back in the 20th century from the late and very great Diz Disley. Which is why it’s a bit jazzier than you might expect from me… ‘The Fatal Glass of Beer’.

The second is a song by Ewan MacColl that I haven’t sung in many decades: ‘Ballad of the Carpenter’. MacColl’s view of the story of Christ reflects his own leanings towards communism rather than a traditional religious view: while that’s fine with me, I’ve followed Phil Ochs’s adaptation and somewhat softened the Politburo resonances.

Somehow, I’ve never quite felt that ‘The Snowman’ quite reflects my own experience of Christmas.

David Harley

Christmas(-ish) video

I haven’t paid that much attention to Christmas in recent years except when besieged by children and grandchildren, so it’s probably not going to surprise you that this is closer to Scrooge in spirit than to the current rash of feel-good seasonal movies…

Anyway, participating in some solstice-ish live video projects has actually got me back into the home studio for the first time in a while, so there’ll probably be some of the more serious stuff also turning up here and on Facebook in the next few days.

David Harley

A moment of flippancy – Stewball

When I was young and a lot folkier than I am today, a song about an 18th century racehorse variously called ‘Stewball’, ‘Skewball’, ‘Skewbald’ and so on was very popular in folk clubs, especially in the form in which it was best known in the US. Even if you’re not in the least folky and haven’t ever heard that version, you probably know the tune as borrowed by John Lennon for his son ‘Happy Christmas (War is Over)’.

There is lots of information about the US and Irish versions as recorded by various people on the Mainly Norfolk page here.

Now comes the flippancy.

Coming across a rather nicely sung rendition of the US version by Stephen C. Mendel on Facebook, I was reminded that according to many versions of the song in both its US and Irish incarnations, the horse had two unusual characteristics:

  1. It talked to its rider and/or its owner
  2. It tended to drink alcohol rather than water

According to the US version often heard, “he never drank water / but always drank wine”, while the home-grown version popularized by Bert Lloyd tells us that after a big win “horse and rider both ordered sherry wine and brandy”.

So I suppose it was inevitable that while taking my daily exercise, I found myself singing (somewhat breathlessly):

Stewball was a racehorse
He isn’t much missed
He won lots of races
But only when p****d

Let me reassure you that I do not intend to divert my writing in general into the Billy Connolly school of songwriting, and hope not to expand this into a full-length song.

David Harley

Hack my brain

New words by David Harley to ‘Cocaine Blues’ or something similar.

An earlier version of this one insisted on being included in a security blog: IoT Hacking: Surviving an Online World. [Also referenced in this article: Music, Security, and a Nice Cup of Tea.] However, the whole ‘why-do-I-put-up-with-this-alarmist-BS-anyway-when-I-could-retire-to-a desert-island-with-no-internet?’ thing keeps nagging at me. (The answer is because I’d rather live somewhere with reasonable access to a wine merchant.) There’s probably enough mileage in this for a whole (rather sour) opera, but life’s too short for that. I suspect I’ll probably record this version sooner rather than later, however.

I suspect that this rant may offend some prophets of doom, security marketroids, politically active acquaintances, other acquaintances about whom I May Not Speak, The Register, Mark Zuckerberg, and my pro-meme and pro-gun friends on Facebook. If so, I’ll try to live with it.

I won’t go to Heathrow, I ain’t insane
Blackhat hackers might hack my plane
Whoa-oa, Stuxnet all over again

I won’t fly or go by sea
Seaport hackers aiming gas at me
Whoa-oa, Sarin all over the world

Hey doc won’t you please come quick
Hacker in my pacemaker making me sick
Trojans all round my brain

Looked in my mailbox, it’s all the same
Politician wants to hack my brain
Whoa-oa, moneygrubbers in my brain

Went down to Washington and what do I see
CIA has tabs on me
GCHQ all round my brain

Headed for my keyboard on the lope
The man from the Register said ‘no more hope’
Whoa-oa, hackers all round my brain

Hey nurse won’t you please come quick
EEG says I’m really sick
Paranoia all round my brain

Some say the Facebook habit ain’t bad
It’s the leakiest backdoor I’ve ever had
Whoa-oa, Zuckerberg’s in my brain

Hey baby won’t you bring some beer
2nd amendment up to my ears
Cat memes overloading my brain

Ain’t going shopping, that ain’t my speed
Amazon will tell me just what I need
Whoa-oa, ads all around my brain

David Harley

Convoy II

[Borrowed from Parodies Regained]

Or, just when you thought it was safe to order another pint of gold top…

Even if you remember the 1970s song by C.W. McCall or the Sam Peckinpah movie, you may not be aware of the projected follow-up movie, where the action was to be moved to a milk round in West London. If you don’t remember the song, the movie or milk floats, this won’t mean a lot to you.

It was half-past five: I was half alive
And wishing I was back in bed
I’d got 600 up of Silver Top
And a ton and a half of Red.
We were nose-to-tail down Hewer Street
Clear down to Ladbroke Grove,
When Tel came down and checked us off:
He said ‘Let those Gold Tops roll…’

By the time I hit the Westway lights
My wheels began to drag:
By Shepherds Bush I knew the score
So I dropped for tea and a fag.
Halfway round Sulgrave
I had to hit that horn:
I said ‘Big D, this is Catwurzle:
Me flaming float’s broke down…’

He said ‘Hold it son, I’m having tea:
Call the engineers…’
So I did, and they assured me
They’d be out before next year.
I’d pushed her halfway round Brook Green
When I heard a klaxon blow:
It was Charlie in a Morrison,
With another float in tow.

Well, mercy’s sake, good buddy,
Looks like we got us a convoy…

We hit the Broadway well past 12
And swung off down King’s Mall;
Doubled up Ashcroft three floors each
In 15 minutes flat.
By the time we left Riverside
We’d four more floats in hand
Plus three from Express, four from U.D.
And Ted in a Commer van.

“Catwurzle, there’s a 266 bus trying to cut across to Butterwick, come on back.”
“Tell him to get in line, we need all the help we can get…”

We hit Wood Lane three abreast
And those Bears began to snarl,
But they let us through since we had along
Three ambulances from St. Charles.
We crawled up Barlby 90 strong,
And still we picked up more:
two bread vans, three taxis,
12 Hell’s Angels and a van from the GPO.
Tel passed us by St. Marks and screamed
‘You’ll all be on the dole!’
But we carved him up and headed home:
I said ‘let those yoghurts roll – ten four…’

Baby what a groove

I went to university a very indifferent guitarist and came back able to play Anji/Angie (more or less) and Light My Fire a la Feliciano, and with one or two fairly average songs, so I guess my time there wasn’t entirely wasted. Though you might disagree if you actually listen to this.

Once upon a time back in the very early 70s I and a friend scored a lift back to Bangor with a lorry driver who clearly believed that student life was all “boozing and [something that rhymes with nagging]”, to which our first reaction was “so who’s getting my share?”.

But I was a late developer… Just as well, I guess. If my life had really been like this, I probably wouldn’t have made it to my present ripe old age.

Anyway, this was, I guess, one of the first of my own songs to make its way into my repertoire, even if it was a bad case of wishful thinking. 

Baby what a groove: Words and Music copyright David Harley, 1970




The landlady called today
and asked me what I had to say
she said “All these parties night and day
and where’s the rent you’re due to pay?”
I said “I’m sorry I can’t talk now
I’ve got to get some gin
But don’t you worry about me
‘Cause baby what a groove I’m in”

My banker wrote me just to say
I’m way out in the red
But since they stopped my council grant [Remember those? -DH]
There’s nothing to be said
I hope Dad lays a little bread on me
To keep my funds in equity
Now I’ve got 25 hippies living off me
But baby what a groove we’re in

My tutor told me only yesterday
“Your work’s not up to scratch:
We don’t expect you to work all the time
But you’ve not done a patch
It’s all these parties I can see
No wonder you’ve no study time free
And I’ll have you kicked out if you don’t invite me
‘Cause baby what a groove you’re in”

The doctor told me just the other day
“Son, you’re getting in much too deep
You see your trouble is, basically,
Too much bed and too little sleep
Too many fags and too much booze”
I said “I know it’s not the life you’d choose
But I’d rather be dead than have the 9-to-5 blues
‘Cause baby what a groove I’m in

David Harley

Make Mine A Snowball [revisited]

For years this was just a single verse stranded in the first draft of a novel I’ll probably never finish now, and then a few years ago it demanded to be finished. Apologies to both Howard Blake and Raymond Briggs, who might not approve. 

Its first public appearance was after the funeral of my friend Graham Bell. That might seem less strange if I tell you that the service finished with the Ying Tong Song. Graham was always urging me to play more jazz, but I think he would have approved of this even without the vaguely jazzy snatch of White Christmas that precedes it.  I don’t know how Irving Berlin would have felt about it, but at least I haven’t had any ghostly visitors on the nights leading up to Christmas. So far. Bah Humbug!  It certainly proves conclusively that I was not born to compete with Wes Montgomery or Barney Kessel, but it’s nice to give the Strat an airing occasionally. 

The first part was recorded on primitive handheld equipment: today I re-did the acoustic section on the Boss 8-track I use for demo stuff. I still plan one day to take a more careful run at it  in my recently updated home studio and do a little OTT overdubbing. I’m thinking celeste, harpsichord and orchestra. (I have a Yamaha keyboard and I’m not afraid to use it.) 

Not that this is ever going to be translated to a commercial recording. 🙂 


I’m snoring in my chair
I’ve really had too much to eat
And even if I tried
I couldn’t leave my seat.

I’m getting very tight:
I didn’t need those lasht two beersh
And now that last mince pie
Has dribbled down my brand new tie.

Somebody offered me another cup of tea
Turkey sandwich, more plum pudding, woe is me…

I’m sprawling on the stairs
I haven’t got the strength to rise
And dear old Auntie Jill
Is in the bathroom still.

I’ve turned off the TV
The Queen’s speech was keeping one awake
And one more Singing Nun
Is more than I can take

Uncle Dick is feeling sick, he’s running for the loo
Heaving like a mighty monster from the zoo

I’m surfing in my lair
Googling for some online deals
To spend next Christmas Day
On a cruise ship far away…

David Harley 

Faithless Sally Brown [demo]

Words by Thomas Hood, tune a variation on ‘Andrew and his cutty gun’. Oddly, putting the two together was an idea that came out of a security workspace discussion. 🙂

Something rather more whimsical than the last couple of songs posted here.  Strictly a demo: when the lightbulb lit up, I just sang it straight into the microphone.

I’m not sure yet how well it works without the printed words: I’ll have to try it live, I suppose, and maybe consider some editing. Might fit as light relief into a press gang set with darker songs like ‘On board of a man of war’ or ‘All things are quite silent’.  The lyric is a poem by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). The tune I’ve used is (more or less) the A-tune to ‘Andrew and his Cutty Gun’ with a twist of ‘False Sir John’.

YOUNG BEN he was a nice young man,
A carpenter by trade;
And he fell in love with Sally Brown,
That was a lady’s maid.

But as they fetched a walk one day,
They met a press-gang crew;
And Sally she did faint away,
Whilst Ben he was brought to.

The boatswain swore with wicked words
Enough to shock a saint,
That, though she did seem in a fit,
’T was nothing but a feint.

“Come, girl,” said he, “hold up your head,
He ’ll be as good as me;
For when your swain is in our boat
A boatswain he will be.”

So when they ’d made their game of her,
And taken off her elf,
She roused, and found she only was
A coming to herself.

“And is he gone, and is he gone?”
She cried and wept outright;
“Then I will to the water-side,
And see him out of sight.”

A waterman came up to her;
“Now, young woman,” said he,
“If you weep on so, you will make
Eye-water in the sea.”

“Alas! they ’ve taken my beau, Ben,
To sail with old Benbow;”
And her woe began to run afresh,
As if she ’d said, Gee woe!

Says he, “They ’ve only taken him
To the tender-ship, you see.”
“The tender-ship,” cried Sally Brown,
“What a hard-ship that must be!”

“O, would I were a mermaid now,
For then I ’d follow him!
But O, I ’m not a fish-woman,
And so I cannot swim.

“Alas! I was not born beneath
The Virgin and the Scales,
So I must curse my cruel stars,
And walk about in Wales.”

Now Ben had sailed to many a place
That ’s underneath the world;
But in two years the ship came home,
And all her sails were furled.

But when he called on Sally Brown,
To see how she got on,
He found she ’d got another Ben,
Whose Christian-name was John.

“O Sally Brown! O Sally Brown!
How could you serve me so?
I ’ve met with many a breeze before,
But never such a blow!”

Then, reading on his ’bacco box,
He heaved a heavy sigh,
And then began to eye his pipe,
And then to pipe his eye.

And then he tried to sing, “All ’s Well!”
But could not, though he tried;
His head was turned,—and so he chewed
His pigtail till he died.

His death, which happened in his berth,
At forty-odd befell;
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton tolled the bell.

Parodies Regained

This is actually a page on this blog that (part-)replicates a blog I set up some time ago but haven’t done much with. The title of the page (and of this article) gives you the general idea. Musical pastiche and parodies, basically.

I needed a break from work and thought it was about time I started tidying up my blogging empire a bit.

And the new page: Parodies Regained

David Harley