Jack in the Box

…now with added music. (I suddenly noticed that it fitted a traditional tune perfectly!)

It also fits the subject matter of a book I’m working on: more on that in due course…

backup:

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the Roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her great-granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The tune is the well-known ‘Down-derry-down’ tune used for  various nautical songs including ‘The Dreadnought’/’Flash Packet’/’Liverpool Packet’/’Flash Frigate’… Though I guess it’s more naughty than nautical.

(c) David Harley

Hosanna In Extremis

Something a little different from me on the Poetry Archive YouTube channel. Yes, it’s a poetry video.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) YouTube has done its favourite trick of keeping the volume as low as it can get away with, and I think I rushed it a bit. However, I suspect it will be on the forthcoming poetry and music project in some form.

Fortunately, there are plenty of videos on that channel worth listening to and not requiring tweaking of the volume control.

Meanwhile, here’s the poem.

Born in freefall, oppressed by gravity;
Cutting the harness and falling free
In the last days of the human race,
The last few metres of the Fall from Grace.
The gods look down and cannot change a thing:
No miracles, no more psalms to sing.
The rich men take the seats that they reserved;
The rest fight for a place on Dead Man’s Curve.
Somehow the human race is hanging on,
But humanity’s already dead and gone.

There’ll be no singing in the lifeboats,
Unless it’s in the Captain’s praise.
The countdown started long ago,
The last days of the human race,
But the chaos we’re creating cannot wipe
The smirk from the rich man’s face.

This is your last call:
The countdown to freefall.
The coming gale will shake the earth’s foundations,
And most of us will perish in the flood,
The poor and unseaworthy lie abandoned,
Buried somewhere deep within the mud.
Survival of the fattest; trickle-up economics;
Fact and fiction, fear and faith, despair and desire;
Politics and science, bigotry, morality:
We’re choking on the smoking and you can’t see the fire
.
Cold turkey voting still for Christmas
Season of myths and moral fruitlessness –
Break those habits, not the habitat,
Or you’ll take the whole world with you when you choke on the excess.
This is the very last last chance:
Let’s face down the muzak and dance.

David Harley

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

Loveliest of Trees

Words by A.E. Housman (A Shropshire Lad II), tune traditional arranged and adapted by David A. Harley. It’s more or less the A tune from the reel ‘The Rose Tree’. At some point I’ll probably combine it with a version of the reel. Though since I’ve already exceed my three-score-and-ten, maybe not…

Taster for an album.

Backup:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

David Harley

Jack in the Box

Down in the workhouse when I was a lad
No tongue can relate all the pleasures we had
Dry bread, and Bastille soup by the bowl
And a flogging or two for the good of our souls x2

A tale I recall of those happy times
And an orphan lad always to mischief inclined
He was ever in line for a kick, at the best
And the poor workhouse master could scarcely find rest

Till came the day one of the other lads died
“Aha!” says the master, “I’ll settle your pride!”
He shut up the lad in the dead-house to stay
Alone with the coffin until the next day

But what should Jack do but open the box
He takes out the corpse, and with it swaps clothes
Props it up on the rail at the top of the stairs
Then he hops in the box and the winding-sheet wears

And when it grew dark, the master came up
With a plate for Jack, some victuals to sup
Holds it out to the corpse on the rail
Who says not a word, but stands stiff, cold and pale

“Well, take it!” the master says in surprise
“I should think you’d be starving by now, damn your eyes!”
Then up leaps Jack, who was lying so still
And says “If he wunna eat it, I will!”

When the master heard this he got such a fright
He let go of the plate, and turned whiter than white
Gave a terrible shriek, such a fright did he get
Fell back down the stairs and near broke his neck

Wasn’t that a sad fall for a man such as he
So kind to his charges, with his boot so free?
So pity the poor who must live on the Roll
And think on the guardians and pray for their souls

A half-written song of mine based on a story of Knighton workhouse from ‘An idler on the Shropshire borders’, by Ida Gandy. Told to her by Ellen Hughes (nee Jordan) 1864-1940 also known as Granny Hughes. Many thanks to her great-granddaughter Denise Lewis of the Memories of Shropshire FB group for the information and photograph.

The song doesn’t have a tune yet: in fact, I think I might just fit it to the well-known ‘Down-derry-down’ tune used for  various nautical songs including ‘The Dreadnought’/’Flash Packet’/’Liverpool Packet’/’Flash Frigate’… Though I guess it’s more naughty than nautical.

(c) David Harley

Llanfair Wakes

There was a man, long years ago, lived up in Skyborry
David ap-Evan was his name, a farmworker was he
Those days in Llanfair Waterdine each year they held a fair
And David dearly wished to go and see the wonders there.

“Gaffer, today is Llanfair Wakes; I’d dearly love to see
The doings that I’ve heard of there, if you can just spare me.”
Said farmer, “Not this year; why, mon, myself I have to go.
While I’m away, you must stay and scare away the crows.”

So David went down to the field, though he thought it wunna fair
And while he stood and grumbled, he saw a stranger there.
“David, it’s the Wakes today: why aren’t you at Llanfair?”
“Cos gaffer says to stay home, these ruddy crows to scare.”

Says the stranger, “Come with me, for I mean you no harm,”
And straightaway he called the crows and shut them in the barn.
So David went down to the Wake, and coming to Llanfair
He’d scarce been minutes in the place when he met the farmer there.

When he told the farmer what had passed, the mon began to rail:
Says he, “You think I’m simple, but I’ll not believe that tale!”
So back they went together, and the farmer said no word
Till they opened up the old barn door, and out flew all the birds.

“David, this is Devil’s work,” said farmer with a frown.
“I think you’d best be on your guard next time he comes around.”
Sure enough, before too long back the owd devil did roll,
A-tempting him to this and that till he feared for his soul.

One day as he was sowing wheat, the Devil told him straight,
“David, you must let me have half your crop of wheat,
So tell me which is my share, and you may keep the rest.”
“Why, take the roots!” said David, and so he came off best.

And sure enough the Devil came by as he was planting spuds.
Surely thinking this time he’d do himself some good.
“I’ve a mind to try some tater pie” says he, being cute,
“And I’ll not be caught out twice, me lad, so this time you’ll take the roots.”

Says David, “Twice I’ve bested thee, and third time pays for all:
But there’s a job you’ll do for me, if you mun take my soul.
Fetch me water from Llanfair up here to Skyborry,
And for summat to carry it in, this owd sieve I’ll give to thee.”

Owd Joseph tried, and tried his best, but no water could he bring.
“Third time pays for all,” said David with a grin.
“Uncle Joe, I’ve bested thee: you’d best be on your way,
And if you call this way again you can bring some tater pie!”

In course of time old David died, and when they read his will
It said “When I die, fling my heart onto the owd dunghill.
A raven and dove will fight for it, and then by that you’ll know:
If the dove wins, I’m for heaven; if the raven, for Uncle Joe.”

“And when my corpse you come to take, dunna go by the door,
Nor yet by any window, nor by any path or road.
And when you come to bury me, you’d best be on your guard:
Be certain not to lay me in church, or in churchyard.”

So they took some slates from off the roof to lift him through the gap,
And carried him along the dykes, and not by any path.
They laid him with his head in church, his feet in the churchyard,
And there he lay until at last Llanfair church was restored.

This is based on another story from ‘An Idler On The Shropshire Borders’, by Ida Gandy, told to her by a Mr Powell from Treverward, about halfway between Clun and Llanfair Waterdine. I’m not sure yet whether to put a tune to it or leave it as a recitation – poem seems a bit too grandiose a name for it. 🙂

According to Wikipedia,  “Skyborry” is an anglicisation of the Welsh for barn – ysgubor”. Llanfair or Llanvair means St Mary’s Church, while Waterdine denotes a place by the water.

(c) David Harley

CDs by Mal Brown

Some years ago now, I reviewed for Sabrinafu an excellent CD by Mal Brown called Sharp Stones and Tender Hearts.

He recently sent me a couple of his earlier CDs. Rule Changer is another music CD, and it’s just as good as the later album, with a generous 19 tracks, most of them written by Mal (including his setting of Walter de la Mare’s ‘Trees’ and the co-written ‘Johnny Jones’ Rabbit’, plus the traditional ‘Angels’. Mal’s excellent lyrics are supported by some fine tunes, some sounding almost traditional, some leaning towards music hall, but all good singable songs, with some sympathetic instrumental backing and classy harmonies.

Poems, Pies and Peas is a collection of poems and monologues, mostly without music. Not usually my thing, but this includes some hilarious content. I was particularly gratified to learn the real story of the Mona Lisa. 🙂

Prices and contact details as follows.

1CD – £10
2CDs – £15
3CDs – £20

Plus post and package.

  • Email – malbrownace@gmail.com
  • Phone – 01743 861159.

David Harley

Podcast – A Solstice Garland

Here’s another podcast project: a slightly mildewed Christmas/Solstice garland of music and verse, much of it mine. (Sorry!)

Here are the details of what’s featured, not in strict order.

‘The Holly’ is a traditional carol from Canadian band Atlantic Union. Used by kind permission of the band. “Christmas in the Harbour”, from which the track is taken, is available here and my Mixcloud review of Atlantic Union’s CD “Indulgence” is to be found here.

‘The Fatal Glass of Beer’ is usually credited to Charlie Case, who died in 1916.

‘On Bredon Hill’ is my setting of a poem by A.E. Housman from ‘A Shropshire Lad’. I know it starts “In summertime on Bredon…” but it does get to Christmas eventually, if somewhat tragically.

‘Carpentry’ is an instrumental version of my setting of ‘The Carpenter’s Son’, also from ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

The poems (to put it more politely than literary critics are likely to) ‘Warm-up’, ‘Charade’, ‘Performance Poem’ and ‘Twelfth Night’ are mine, and can be found with other shaggy doggerel at this site.

‘I Heard a Bird Sing’ is by Oliver Herford (1860-1935), and my review for Folking.com of the album by Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire is here.

The project will probably get its own page eventually.

David Harley

My Boy Jack

My setting of the poem ‘My Boy Jack’ by Rudyard Kipling: I was looking at a couple of projects to coincide with the centenary of the ending of the Great War, but this is the only one that’s actually been heard in public.

It’s often assumed that the poem refers to the loss of Kipling’s son John, presumed killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915. The confusion was probably increased by the TV adaptation of David Craig’s play, which missed out the 3rd Act and finished with Kipling reciting the poem. However, while Kipling’s own grief did, no doubt, contribute to the overall tone of the poem, it was first published at the top of a series of articles on the Battle of Jutland, in which the British fleet sustained heavy losses, and it seems to me (and others) that, given the importance of ‘the tide’ in the poem, that the name Jack probably reflects the more generic ‘Jack Tar’. (While the earlier ‘Tommy’ has a very different tone, it does use the generic name ‘Tommy Atkins’ in a somewhat similar way.)

The guitar is a Nashville-strung Baby Taylor. I think the final version of this might have include some double- or triple-tracked vocals. Even if it doesn’t, the vocal needs work.

Backup:

‘My Boy Jack’
1914-18

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide.