Thou Art My Lute

Backup:

 

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872 –1906), the son of parents who were slaves in Kentucky before the Civil War, was better known in his lifetime for writing dialect poetry and prose, but in recent years his more literary writing has attracted more attention and respect. Maya Angelou borrowed a line from ‘Sympathy’ for the title of her autobiography ‘I know why the caged bird sings’.

It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

For my setting of ‘Thou Art My Lute’ I’ve used a consciously archaic arrangement to suit the tone of the poem.

Thou art my lute, by thee I sing,—
My being is attuned to thee.
Thou settest all my words a-wing,
And meltest me to melody.

Thou art my life, by thee I live,
From thee proceed the joys I know;
Sweetheart, thy hand has power to give
The meed of love—the cup of woe.

Thou art my love, by thee I lead
My soul the paths of light along,
From vale to vale, from mead to mead,
And home it in the hills of song.

My song, my soul, my life, my all,
Why need I pray or make my plea,
Since my petition cannot fall;
For I’m already one with thee!

Bread and Circuses

A song written in the 1980s about the conflict Jorge Luis Borges described as “a fight between two bald men over a comb.”

Words & music (c) David Harley

Backup:

The lads are on the march again: adrenaline is surging
Through the arteries of power
The gutter press is snarling, waving flags and beating chests
From the safety of its concrete Dockland towers
The price of bread is escalating and the jobs are getting scarce
But the circuses get bigger every year
If we lose the World Cup, God will give us back the Falklands
Before the latest Royal new-born appears

In the Corridors of Power, the game is Battleships:
Sink a few and lose a few – that’s Diplomacy
The body count gets higher, the planes and ships get fewer
The bereaved on both sides might agree
That the game’s not worth the candle standing by a single coffin
But there’s so much more at stake than death or life
There’s property and money and oil and mineral rights
And loss of face and patriotic pride.

The bombs and missiles blossom, and the gunfire pounds and pounds
The ears of friend and foe
The Belgrano and the Santa Fe, the Sheffield and Sir Tristram
Death by death the roll of honour grows
Till the fighting fizzles out in bitter winter gales
Far too late for so many mothers’ sons
The guns have fallen silent, but the words are bayonet-sharp
And the propaganda war goes on

The hawks are praising God across the tombstones of the dead
A service is attended by the Queen
The Prime Minister spits blood because a timid man of God
Recalls the dead on both sides in ‘victory’
Peace in the South Atlantic; a bombing in Hyde Park
Bloody warfare in the Lebanon
We press on to self-destruction: even as this one war ends
The killing still goes on and on and on

Postcard from Hiroshima

This is a piece that turned up during my ongoing sifting through (and digitizing where necessary and appropriate) all my non-security hardcopy from the 60s onward. This was written in the 80s (lightly edited here) but I never put a tune to it. Perhaps I never will, since it’s typical of the long and downbeat songs of mine that rarely garnered much enthusiasm from audiences. But it seems appropriate for these times.

I have a postcard from Hiroshima I pasted in a scrapbook
With some photographs of Dresden before the bombers came
I always meant someday to assemble them on canvas
I hope I have the time before the whole thing starts again

I’ll deploy them round some other shots of Coventry Cathedral
And the East End of London around 1943
And some more of Babi Yar, Dachau and Leningrad
To prove that no one’s safe or guiltless, not them, or you, or me

Christ was crucified again on barbed wire on the Somme
Torn by shrapnel in Guernica, starved in Biafra
In Warsaw he was lined up with the fighters from the ghetto
It could be me that squeezed the trigger, and the target could be you

There’s never been a simple answer, but the question’s getting bigger
Ukraine to Zimbabwe, Little Rock to Palestine
When our masters saw fit we were pointed at our targets
And scapegoats were graded by their religion or their skin

Don’t look at me that way, brother, I do mean you and me
It won’t always be us who get the cream
If you think your hands are clean, Soweto and Belfast
Kenya or the Congo might just show you what I mean

Christ is dying again on streets in India and Brazil
In Syria and Yemen, from Washington to Kyiv
East of Suez, West of China, New Cross and Brixton too
It could be me throwing petrol and the target could be you

But don’t let it get you down: the guns still buy the butter
For the tables of the wealthy and the leaders of men
And in a little while if the silos yield their harvest
There’ll be caviar and brandy for those sheltered till it ends

When they re-emerge to survey the devastation
There’ll be profits to be made from those not wiped out in the blast
The tyrants of the past will look down in grim approval
To see their life’s work ended so decisively at last

When Christ is dead and buried beyond hope of resurrection
With all the teeming millions who overran the nations
Of the world, our masters will cast lots for what remains
And the whole appalling cycle will be set to start again
But there’ll always be someone else to blame

David Harley

Links to available albums

This site hasn’t really kept up with the ridiculous number of my album and single releases in the last year or two. No, I don’t expect them to keep me in my old age. If someone occasionally buys an album or even a track, that’s nice, but it’s really more about getting as many of the songs as possible out there in some reasonably structured, (hopefully) semi-permanent form. Just in case someone, sometime likes them enough to dig out the obscurities.

So here is a list of the Harley albums and singles currently available including content summaries These releases replace cassette and CD albums previously available  (which is how they come to be released in such a short timeframe), and are at present digital-only releases. Right now, some of them are still only available from Bandcamp, but I’m working on that.  Some may be the basis in due course for multi-media projects: for instance, I’m currently working on a music and verse project that will draw on some of the instrumental tracks from Back In Free Fall and Still In Free Fall, and an expanded multi-media version of Tears of Morning. The list below is just a barebones list of releases. (The links here are to the Bandcamp albums – the Available Albums link includes further links to other sources such as Apple Music.

  • Strictly Off The Record‘ and ‘Further Off The Record‘ are slightly different ‘greatest hits’ collections. Admittedly I don’t actually have any hits, but these are the tracks/songs that have been listened to most, or have had radio play, or get asked for during live performances, or that other performers have expressed an interest in learning. They’re a good place to start (and finish, in most cases…) as they include 20 or so songs that are a pretty good cross-section of my better recordings.
  • Moonflow VI was the first single. It’s an extended version of an instrumental included on Tears of Morning.
  • Tears of Morning is a collection of songs with a Shropshire connection, including settings of verse by A.E. Housman and ‘W.H.B.’
  • The single One Step Away (From The Blues) is one of a handful of tracks recorded for an album by Bob Theil, Don MacLeod, Pat Orchard, Bob Cairns and myself in the 80s. Unfortunately, the album was never released.
  • The EP ‘View From The Top‘ features Don MacLeod, and consists of songs we perform (occasionally!) as a duo, written by us individually or together.
  • The EP ‘Hands of the Craftsman‘ consists of songs and verse from the 1980 review ‘Nice…If You Can Get It’, directed by Margaret Ford, for which I wrote most of the original music.
  • The Game Of London‘ consists of stories in song of the city in which I spent some 25 years of my life.
  • Ten Percent Blues‘ has tracks that mostly have a touch of blues, including a look back or two at my very short career on the road.
  • The single: ‘How To Say Goodbye‘ is the song with which I considered embarrassing my daughter at her wedding. 🙂
  • Dinosaur Tracks‘ are mostly of demo quality, quite a lot leaning towards blues.
  • Cold Iron‘ puts together most of my songs of social commentary.
  • Kitsch And Canoodle‘ – songs of love, lust and obsession. Probably describes most of my current repertoire.
  • Upcountry‘ – songs with a loosely rural theme, some in a country/blues/folk idiom, plus some settings of verse by Kipling, Housman and Yeats.
  • Single: ‘Song Of Chivalry‘ – originally posted to try out a different distributor, but same version subsequently added to Bandcamp. NB this is not the same version as the one on Tears of Morning.
  • Back In Free Fall – Part 1 of a collection of instrumentals that will be the musical backbone of a music-and-poetry project.
  • Single: Back In Free Fall – a guitar piece played on my electro-classic, with a vaguely Renaissance feel.
  • Still In Free Fall – Part 2 of the instrumental collection.
  • Born To Be Mild: 1st Demo Album – first of a set of albums where the tracks are not really commercial-quality recordings, but I’m putting them out because I think the songs are better than the performances. If and when my health improves, I’ll certainly revisit some of them. The first batch is mostly my settings to verse by Housman, Kipling and Hood.
  •  The Duke Of Haphazard: 2nd Demo Album – second in the set…
  •  The Old Man Laughs – not part of the demo collection.
  • Album: Demo Album 3 – still under construction.
  • Album: Nobody’s Song – still under construction.

David A. Harley

The ‘Further Off The Record’ album

Not my most recent album, but you might call this my Greatest Hits album, if I’d ever had any hits. It does include the four tracks released so far as singles, though, and most of the tracks are remixed and/or remastered. In fact, these are all songs that have attracted airplay in the UK and/or US, been requested at live events, or had significant numbers of plays where streamed or available in various video and audio formats. And anyway, I like ’em!

Available from Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes etc.  (Link includes excerpts from all tracks.) PR and lyric sheets here: Further Off The Record. See also Strictly Off The Record, on Bandcamp, with an extra track!

Continue reading “The ‘Further Off The Record’ album”

New album – ‘Upcountry’

The album ‘Upcountry‘ combines songs that lean towards Americana, blues and even country with more ‘traditional’ material including settings of verse by Housman, Kipling and Yeats, plus a couple of songs about Cornwall, where I now live. All songs by me except where noted.

1. A Smuggler’s Song (Kipling-Harley) 03:14
2. Wearing Out My Shoes 02:26
3. This Guitar (Just Plays The Blues) 02:17
4. Cornish Ghosts 03:39
5. Hannah’s Gone Upcountry 03:44
6. The Road To Frenchman’s Creek 03:27
7. Whistle While You Walk 03:53
8. Janey 03:22
9. Gooseberry Blues 01:48
10. Aftermath/Postcards 05:29
11. Anywhere 03:12
12. A Rainy Day Blues 02:24
13. Tears of Morning (Housman-Harley) 02:46
14. The Wild Swans at Coole (Yeats-Harley) 06:33
15. The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley) 02:24
16. Woods In Moonlight 05:22

 

Woods in Moonlight – demo

You might call this a sketch for the end of summer… Definitely not intended as the final version. By way of an experiment, the guitar here is tuned to ‘B Standard’, like a baritone guitar.

Backup:

Sometimes your words at midnight stream through my memory
But your face is growing dimmer: I don’t know how it can be
That you’re gone from my life, yet you still haunt my dreams
And daybreak finds me wondering just what it all could mean

Walking through the woods in moonlight, there are no words left to say
I stumble blindly through the shadow as the long years slip away
And only now I realize that it’s too late to count the cost
And I can only write those words to make my peace with those I’ve lost

So many nights lost, lamenting all the days
Opportunity knocked, but that same night it ran away
Your voice in my ear, your breath upon my skin
Closer than sweat, warmer than sin

Another morning broken, and reconstruction fails
Once more my train of thought has gone completely off the rails
But soon the world will turn without us, and new days won’t be broken
By the words we should have said or the ones best left unspoken

Crossing the Bar – demo 2

Backup:

I’ve posted a guitar-accompanied version of Tennyson’s poem before, but it suddenly occurred to me in the middle of the night that it might sound nice with a free-reed accompaniment. Since I don’t play concertina etc., I had to fake it with a Yamaha keyboard.

Needs work!

David A. Harley

New album – Kitsch and Canoodle

Available, as ever, on Bandcamp.

Kitsch and Canoodle

David A. Harley

Songs of love, lust and obsession. Come to think of it, that probably accounts for my entire output.

All vocals and instruments by David A. Harley. Words and music for all songs by David A. Harley except ‘Quirks and Crotchets’, for which Alan Doyle wrote the tune, and ‘Back in the Day’, for which Alison Pittaway wrote the lyrics. Cover photograph by Jude Harley.

  1. Let Me Lie Easy
  2. A Rainy Day Blues
  3. Please
  4. Quirks and Crotchets (Doyle-Harley)
  5. This Guitar Just Plays The Blues 2021
  6. Her Own Way Down
  7. Back In The Day (Pittaway-Harley)
  8. This End of the 1960s
  9. Can’t Sleep
  10. Never Look Back
  11. New Ends and Sad Beginnings
  12. Two Is A Silence
  13. The Jailer
  14. What Do I Do?
  15. Song Without Warning

Wheal Alice Music WAM21-11