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. 🙂
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.
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.
‘My Boy Jack’
“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,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide.
After hearing Baldrick’s Plan sing (very well indeed!) ‘Big Steamers’, a Kipling poem set by Peter Bellamy to a variation on a well-known tune to ‘Henry Martin’, I thought I’d revisit a couple of my own settings of Kipling verses. (I have a rough setting of ‘Tommy’, too, but I’m rethinking that.)
Does the world really need my settings to three poems that Peter Bellamy had already added to his considerable armoury of Kipling settings? I’m not sure about that, at the moment. But here, for what it’s worth, is one of them.
I’m sure I remember at least one other setting of ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ apart from mine and Peter’s, but I quite like this tune. I could repurpose it, I suppose.
There will probably be a more ambitious version of this here at some point, but at the moment I like this one-take version.
Words and music (c) David Harley
Originally published as a poem in Vertical Images 2, 1987. I waited 30+ years for the melody to turn up, and finally did a make-it-up-as-you-go-along job earlier this year. The vocal here needs work – and I need to learn the words – but the arrangement is much better.
And yes, I know that it’s unlikely that M’Lord fought both at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). While the Black Death subsided in England from about 1350, outbreaks continued beyond the first half of the 15thcentury. I’m not sure how likely it was that M’Lord slept on silk sheets, but it’s a metaphor, not a history lesson…
When M’Lord returned
To his sheets of silk
And his gentle lady
Of musk and milk
The minstrels sang
In the gallery
Their songs of slaughter
The rafters roared
With laughter and boasting
Goblets were raised and drained
The heroes of Crécy
Or the madness
Of some holy war
The hawk is at rest
On the gauntlet once more
Savage of eye
And bloody of claw
Famine and fever
Are all the yield
Of the burnt-out barns
And wasted fields
The sun grins coldly
Through the trees
The children shiver
The widows grieve
And beg their bread
At the monastery door
Tell me then
Who won the war?
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.
[Slightly amended from a post on Sabrinaflu, since not many people in this region are likely to travel to Shropshire for a gig.]
Last night I caught up with our recording of Cornwall’s Native Poet: Charles Causley, screened a little while ago on BBC4. It’s actually a cut-down (60 minutes) version of a 90-minute film produced by Jane Darke, and my wife recorded it for me, knowing of my long-standing interest in Causley’s verse. (No, it isn’t only Housman’s verse I read…)
I wasn’t aware of Jim Causley until I moved here to Cornwall, and learned that apart from being a highly-rated interpreter of traditional songs, he had set some of Charles Causley’s verse to music. So for me, one of the highlights of the documentary was hearing Jim’s musical settings: it turns out he is indeed a really good singer (and a sympathetic setter of other people’s words to music as well as his own). So now I need to get to one of his live performances.
[This is the bit I’ve changed slightly from the post for Sabrinaflu.] Since I don’t live in Ludlow any more, it’s unlikely that I’ll get to his appearance at The Song House at the Blue Boar on December 15th 2017, and if you’re reading this article, you probably won’t either, but if you do happen to be in the area and aren’t familiar with his work, I recommend that you give him a try. [End of amended bit.]
This song was originally part of a set of songs I started in the 1970s but never actually finished. In those days my generation was very much preoccupied with Vietnam and its neighbours, though the story wasn’t meant to be geographically or politically specific. More about the psychology of occupation and the winning (and losing) of hearts and minds… I was very much of a generation of songwriter that was very focused on issues, he said pretentiously.
A thousand years of rape
lie easy on my body
a thousand years of blood and fear
a million miles of marching feet and refugees
bring wampum, cookies
beads and rings
trade pretty things
for my pretty thing
and death-in-life hero eyes
before you spread your epaulettes
(smoke your Luckies
drink your words
eat your candy
suck you dry)
The lyric was published in Chaff 2, 1985. A version of this was recorded for the Scriptwrecked tape, but I’ve just re-recorded it for this site.
Here’s an article from the Poetry School on How to Put on a Poetry Reading flagged by my friend Jean Atkin, who puts on regular readings in Ludlow at which I’ve occasionally been allowed to assault the ears of an audience. (If you’re in that part of the world, I include poetry events on the Sabrinaflu blog as well as folkier stuff.)
It’s a bit London-centric, but worth a look if you’re planning a poetry event. Come to think of it, some of those tips are applicable to musical events too.
Which all reminds me that I haven’t visited any poetry events around Penwith yet. Oh, Cornwall, what a treat you have in store. 😉