Breathe, My Lute

Words by A.E. Housman, tune and arrangement by David Harley, 2015. All rights reserved.

One of my Housman settings. However, this one isn’t from A Shropshire Lad. Every so often, a tune just pops into my head and demands to be written. Strange how often that’s happened when reading Housman… I don’t own a lute (and haven’t tried to play one in decades), so I used my classic. I do love the lute, though I long ago gave up trying to play anything by Dowland.

Backup copy

The  poem was apparently written by a very young Housman (15) for a play, as a song to be sung by Lady Jane Grey while in prison awaiting execution. It somewhat resembles a lyric by Louisa McCartney Crawford (1790–1858) set to music by George Arthur Barker as part of a sequence of Songs of Mary Queen of Scots – The Captivity opens with the lines ‘Breathe, breathe my Lute that melting strain My soul delights to hear’. Clearly there are parallels in the context of the two lyrics. There again, filtering thoughts about one’s l poems to or about one’s lute is almost de rigeur for poets: consider ‘My Lute Awake’ and ‘The Lover’s Lute cannot be blamed though it sing of his Lady’s Unkindness‘ by Thomas Wyatt, and even ‘Thou Art My Lute’ by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. (However, I am not currently considering an ode to my Strat.)

Returning to Housman, the first verse also reminds me somewhat of Byron’s We’ll go no more a-roving.

Breathe, my lute, beneath my fingers
One regretful breath,
One lament for life that lingers
Round the doors of death.
For the frost has killed the rose,
And our summer dies in snows,
And our morning once for all
Gathers to the evenfall.

Hush, my lute, return to sleeping,
Sing no songs again.
For the reaper stays his reaping
On the darkened plain;
And the day has drained its cup,
And the twilight cometh up;
Song and sorrow all that are
Slumber at the even-star.

David Harley

Same Old Same Old [demo]

Originally called ‘Same Old Blues’ but as there are several songs with a similar title, ‘Same Old Same Old’ seemed more appropriate.

David Harley: vocal, guitars, keyboards (no, that’s not a real sax…)

Copyright David Harley, 1987

(Remastered version)

Backup:

The burglar bells chimed midnight
The sky was pouring down
My feet froze to the catwalk
But my head was homeward-bound

Same old blues
Same old back-street blues

My head is stuffed with nicotine
My throat is full of sand
My bloodstream is pure gin
I can’t remember how to stand

Same old blues
Same old inner-city blues

The all-night bus is AWOL
I can’t get to my bed
There’s a tangle in my fingers
And a jangle in my head

Same old blues
Same old long-gone midnight blues

One Kind Favour [demo-ish]

Tryout for something by Blind Lemon Jefferson (also known as ‘See that my grave is kept clean’) that I’ve known for decades (probably about five of them…) but never sung in public, that I remember. It started off as an instrumental version but… well, the voices made me do it.

Funny how slide seems to lend itself so well with songs about death.

David Harley

End Game [demo]

End Game: Words & Music copyright David Harley, 1974
All rights reserved

Written at a time when I was starting to realize that love doesn’t get any easier as you get older. In fact, it tends to get more complicated. Sketch for an arrangement.

Backup:

I’ve been looking out for zero
Since I don’t remember when
Praying not to draw
That same old blank again

But it seems at last time passing
Tears your paper shield apart
And love the silver bullet
Leaves its shrapnel in the heart

Madame
M’sieur
Les jeux sont faits

Let Me Lie Easy

A song I’ve been working on, one way or another, for nearly 40 years…

I’ve actually written this song three times, though the tune has survived every iteration. The first version of the words disappeared during the break up with an ex-girlfriend in the mid-70s, the second with my first ex-wife. I like to say that I have an ex-rated musical career.

Remaster backup:

Words & Music by David Harley: copyright 1975, all rights reserved.

I don’t want to hear that the show must go on
I know that the world keeps on turning
But how can you ask me to rise with the lark
With this pain in my heart still burning?

Let me lie easy, let me lie late
Let me lie low, let the world wait
Let me lie easy, let me lie lie late
Please let me sleep till it’s over

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
The dogs call in vain for their master
Just give me a while to untangle my threads
And Little Boy Blue will come after

The summer’s near gone and the year’s on the wane
The harvest stands ripened and wasting
Just give me an hour to unscramble my head
And I promise I’ll not keep you waiting

And, for completeness, this is a very early version I found fairly recently, but I probably won’t sing it this way again (if I ever did).

Let me lie easy, let me lie late
Let me lie low, let the world wait
Let me lie still just this once in my life
Please let me sleep till it’s over

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
The world’s upside down without warning
Just lend me the night to unscramble my head
And I’ll sort it all out in the morning

Crows in the stubble, a gull on the wing
A shout through the misty distance
Just lend me a moment to bind up my wrists
And appear to reward your persistence

 

David Harley

 

Bootup Blues [demo]

Newly-recorded demo of Bootup Blues (also sometimes known as Big Blues, for strictly nerd-ish reasons).

Words (and music, such as it is) by David Harley. Copyright 1996.

This one has been acoustic, electric, and even unaccompanied (that’s usually at poetry gigs where I didn’t think to take an instrument, though), but I thought a slide version might be nice. I have a resonator guitar and I’m not afraid to use it. 😉

While this still has demo status, I wouldn’t be too unhappy if the final version finished up sounding very much like this.

When I woke up this morning
My laptop wouldn’t boot at all
I said I woke up this morning
And tossed my Tosh against the wall
My baby took the mains adapter and the battery’s screwed beyond recall

Well she left me for some guy
With a 99GHz overclocked PC
And now she’s interfacing
With his RS232C
(he’s a serial womanizer)
She said my hard disk was too small
To satisfy
Her new spreadsheet

I wouldn’t treat an iPad
The way that woman treated me
She fragmented my hard disk
And ran off with my Angry Birds DVD
Left me nothing but this boot sector virus
And a copy of Wordstar version 3.3

You can get some idea of how old this thing is from the fact that the iPad was originally an Amstrad, and the Angry Birds DVD was originally a 7th Guest CD. It’s hard keeping up with technology. Hopefully, I’m still ahead of the curve on PC CPU specs, Moore’s Law (or House’s variant) and overclocking notwithstanding.

The reference to RS232C is slightly disingenuous: RS-232-C is the 1969 version of the standard, not hardware. I wouldn’t have mentioned any of this if it weren’t for a ludicrous conversation in a pub with someone who apparently thought I was setting PC for Dummies to music rather than writing a mildly amusing blues parody.

And to the guy who recommended that I use Sophos to deal with my boot sector virus, thanks for the suggestion, but I do actually work – or, strictly speaking, consult – for an(other) antivirus company*, and I think I’ve got it covered.

David Harley

*Actually, as of 2019, I don’t. Quite right too, at my age. I’ve now left the security business in favour of the insecurity business, a.k.a. music.

Weeping Willow/Corrina [demo]

[Revised notes and added to this blog on 15th May 2016 after Ian Semple kindly included this recording on his Radio Penwith show. That’s the only Cornish connection, though I expect I’ll continue to sing it now I live down here. NB this replaces the demo I posted on my song site in July 2014. It’s still a demo, but it’s nearer the way I now hear it in my head. Whether it’ll ever get as far as a commercial recording is a different issue.:)]

Not one of my songs, of course. This demo is an interpretation of a song I learned many years ago from Michael Cooney by way of banjo player (well, multi-instrumentalist) Merrion Wood. Oddly enough, Bert Jansch also recorded a slightly similar ‘Weeping Willow Blues’ using a 12-string. I’ve never heard Michael Cooney’s recording, but I seem to remember that he also played it on 12-string when I heard him play it live. Just to be awkward, I play it slide, so it’s probably not that close to either version.:)

I think Michael did tell me at the time (I guess it was in the early 70s) where his version comes from – I heard him sing it at the old Shrewsbury Folk Club. (A post on Mudcat suggests that it came from Leadbelly: it does somehwhat resemble Roberta.) However, he kindly responded to a recent email as follows:

I first heard the song sung by Guy Carawan; I believe he sang it in a minor key. I added a verse or two from other blues songs and worked out that arrangement. I play it in D with the E string tuned down to D, AND I used to (back then) tune the whole guitar down so when I played it in “D” it was really in C# or even C.

Michael recorded the same song on an LP called ‘Singer of Old Songs’, and it turns out that it’s on the CD of the same name he’s released on his own label. I plan to acquire a copy sooner rather than later: apart from being curious to see how far my version has changed from his, I always enjoyed his sets back in the 70s and I look forward to hearing some of those songs again.

The ‘Sometimes I think you’re too sweet to die…’ verse is close to one associated with Rabbit Brown’s ‘James Alley Blues’, widely known through Judy Roderick’s rewrite ‘Born in the Country’.

David Harley
Small Blue-Green World

The Last Musketeer [demo]

No Cornish connection as such: it’s just that I’ve started working on this song again since we moved here.

Words & Music by David Harley, copyright 1975

This is one I probably haven’t sung in public since the 1970s, but I’m not sure why. I wrote it after a friend’s wedding in the Isle of Man in the early 70s, though it’s not about that specific event. But I remembered it again while I was arranging accommodation for a completely different and Very Important wedding. 🙂

[6th May 2020: new version recorded for no particular reason: I just wanted to try out a different software package. Still a demo.]

Older version with light overdubbing.

Continue reading “The Last Musketeer [demo]”