Swifts and Swans

A lengthy piece that combines my guitar solo ‘Swifts’ with my setting of a poem by W.B. Yeats – ‘The Wild Swans at Coole’. Unfortunately, the guitar is poorly recorded in places.

For this more recent version, the guitar sounds better but it’s not the best I’ve ever sung it. And there are some bits of the guitar part in the older version I like. I guess the answer is to have yet another shot at it, but in the meantime…

And here’s the poem.

The Wild Swans at Coole

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

When I was (suite) – demo revisited and remastered

Several decades ago, I put a tune to ‘A Shropshire Lad’ XVIII:

Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

But now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they say that I
Am quite myself again.

For a long time I sang that (occasionally) unaccompanied. More recently, it occurred to me that the same tune also fitted XIII ‘When I was one-and-twenty…’ and that the two actually had a thematic connection. So I put together a suite of the two, both accompanied on guitar, and also including an instrumental interlude. I’m still working on a final recording of that, which might also include an instrumental version of ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’: indeed, Sally Goddard and I were discussing a live set a couple of years ago that would have included all three songs. Recently, I reverted to an unaccompanied version of XVIII as sung here. And that might be the way I do XVIII in the final version. Here, however, is a remastered version of an early take on the combination of XVIII and XIII, including a quasi-orchestral interlude. (It’s actually a Yamaha keyboard, since that was the nearest thing to a real orchestra I had to hand!)

Watch this space for further developments…

David Harley

Adventures in Video: ‘The Fancy Passes’

‘The Fancy Passes’ is part of a suite of settings of verse by A.E. Housman.

This one is XVIII in ‘A Shropshire Lad’.

Oh, when I was in love with you
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

But now the fancy passes by
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they say that I
Am quite myself again.

The full suite also includes an instrumental interlude followed by XIII ‘When I was one-and-twenty…’ I’m still working on a final recording of that.

This unaccompanied video version was my entry for the May 2020 Trad2Mad competition held by Islington Folk Club. It didn’t win, but that’s unsurprising, given the very high standard of singing that I generally associate with that club. Unfortunately, I’ll probably never get to play there again, given that I’m the wrong side of 70 and living in Cornwall…

David Harley

Kipling demos [2]

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’
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. 

Kipling demos revisited [1]

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.

A Smuggler’s Song