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

Christmas video set

All three of the songs I performed last week for the Kettle & Wink virtual Xmas session are now up on YouTube. NB these were try-outs, not the actual set: you’d have to go to the Facebook group page for that. If you were really that desperate…

It’s an unusual set for me in that none of the songs are completely original, though the third is a parody.

The first was written in the late 19th century by Charlie Case, and learned way back in the 20th century from the late and very great Diz Disley. Which is why it’s a bit jazzier than you might expect from me… ‘The Fatal Glass of Beer’.

The second is a song by Ewan MacColl that I haven’t sung in many decades: ‘Ballad of the Carpenter’. MacColl’s view of the story of Christ reflects his own leanings towards communism rather than a traditional religious view: while that’s fine with me, I’ve followed Phil Ochs’s adaptation and somewhat softened the Politburo resonances.

Somehow, I’ve never quite felt that ‘The Snowman’ quite reflects my own experience of Christmas.

David Harley

Christmas(-ish) video

I haven’t paid that much attention to Christmas in recent years except when besieged by children and grandchildren, so it’s probably not going to surprise you that this is closer to Scrooge in spirit than to the current rash of feel-good seasonal movies…

Anyway, participating in some solstice-ish live video projects has actually got me back into the home studio for the first time in a while, so there’ll probably be some of the more serious stuff also turning up here and on Facebook in the next few days.

David Harley

Adventures in Video – Young Hunting (Trad2Mad version)


This is an unaccompanied version of ‘Young Hunting'(Child 68) I found when I was still at school in the 1960s, though I’ve undoubtedly changed it since. I didn’t have a tune for it, so I cobbled one together. Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I found the words, though I’ve come across a fairly similar American text (unattributed) since.

I don’t always sing it unaccompanied, though.

Light down, light down my own true love
And stay with me the night
For I have a bed and a fireside too
And a candle that burns so bright.

I can’t light down and I won’t light down
Nor spend the night with thee
For I have a love and a true true love
Would think so ill of me

But he’s bent down from his saddle
To kiss her snowy white cheek
She’s stolen the dagger from out of his belt
And plunged it into him so deep

She’s taken him by his long yellow hair
And the maid’s taken him by the feet
They’ve plunged him into that deep doleful well
Full 20 fathoms deep

And as she’s turned her round to go home
She’s heard some pretty bird sing
Go home, go home you cruel girl
And weep and mourn for him

Fly down, fly down you pretty bird
Fly down and go home with me
And your cage will be made of the glittering gold
And the perch of the best ivory

I can’t fly down and I won’t fly down
And I’ll not go home with thee
For you have slain your own true love
And I’m feared you’ll murder me

I wish I had my bent horn bow
And drawn with a silken string
I surely would shoot that cruel bird
As sits in the briars and sings

I wish you had your bent horn bow
And drawn with a silken string
I surely would fly from vine to vine
And always you’d hear me sing

Audio capture:


David Harley

Adventures in video – Paper Tiger

Audio capture:


Paper Tiger (words & music by David Harley)

Oh, you paper tiger,
Now see what you’ve done
You made your stand on shifting sand
And now begins the fun

Your bluff’s been called at last
So what do you do now?
Now someone got the drop on you
And finally faced you down

Oh, you paper tiger… (x2)

Oh, you paper tiger
Now see what you’ve done
Every chamber emptied
And nowhere left to run

How could you forget
The only code that you lived by
To move so fast and talk so soft
And keep your powder dry?

Oh, you paper tiger… (x2)

Oh, you paper tiger
Now see what they’ve done
They’ve picked you clean and strung you up
To dry out in the sun

Oh, you bigshot bankrupt
You flamed-out flat-lined fake
They’ll bake you in the ashes
Of your latest last mistake

Oh, you paper tiger … (x2)

Adventures in Video – Now How Long?

The first version of this goes back to the late 60s or early 70s, but I’m not sure if I ever performed it in public. An attempt to write something blues-y that wasn’t a 12-bar.

Audio capture:


Heard some lonesome whistle blow
How long Lord?
Now I know it’s time to go
How long?
When you get those hard luck blues
All you need is walking shoes
How long Lord?
Now how long?

Empty pockets, empty bed
So long Lord?
Empty dreams in an empty head
How long?
When you get those walking blues
Radio just plays bad news
How long Lord?
Now how long?

When you feel those cold winds blow
How long Lord?
You know the way you have to go
How long?
Thought I heard the DJ say
Got no reason left to stay
How long Lord?
Now how long?

Waiting by the railroad track
How long Lord?
Heading out with no way back
How long?
Standing in the pouring rain
I must have missed that Gospel Train
How long Lord?
Now how long?


Stranger in Uniform

Words and music (c) David Harley



Audio capture/master:


Antique electric version:



Quiet days / Slow march past of the minutes
Remorseless progression / of the hours
The sun burns out / in a mock tropic sky
The sands run down / and time holds its breath

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the mirror-still days

Quiet days / counting falling leaves
Stripping petals / from a scrap of bush
Nights under the trees / hiding from the world
Singing wild songs / to a gypsy moon

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the cut-crystal days

Quiet days / sunrise leaps from tree to tree
A small boy with a fishing rod / re-lives jam-jar days
Ripples smooth away / the wrinkled image
Waiting for history / to rewrite the page

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
to shatter the diamond-cut days

Quiet country days / in a honeymoon paradise
Raindrops / dancing tiptoe on the glass
Clouds hang heavy / as time and history
Hiding in each other / in autumn 1939

Waiting, ever waiting for the stranger in uniform
To shatter the looking glass days


Adventures in Video – Vestopol


audio capture:


Vestapol (even the name has variant spellings, almost as many as the tune) has a fascinating (if slightly confusing) history. Henry Worrall (1825-1902), an artist and musician who taught guitar at the Ohio Female College, composed a guitar piece apparently inspired by the siege of Sebastopol (1854-1855) and sometimes called ‘The Siege of Sebastopol’ or ‘Sebastopol: Descriptive Fantasie’, or – according to the printout of the sheet music I have in front of me – just ‘Sebastopol’.

Sadly, I can’t read music – well, maybe if it’s simple enough that I can play it on recorder, but that’s about as far as I can go, so I don’t know how close that piece is to the tune I’m interpreting in this video. Compared to this version, played by Macyn Taylor on parlour guitar, not very. That said, this version, played by Brian Baggett “interpreted from the original manuscript…in collaboration with the Kansas Historical Society” is just about close enough to suggest that my version does derive ultimately from the older piece. As does the resemblance of the naming of the later piece, and, even more, the fact that both pieces use the same open D (D-A-D-F#-A-D) tuning, often referred to by blues musicians as ‘Vestapol’ or ‘Vastapol’ (or similar) tuning.

It’s worth noting at this point that Worrall also published an arrangement of a popular piece called ‘Spanish Fandango’ – which, though it’s not without charm, to my ear resembles a ‘real’ fandango rather less than ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ resembles the work of Václav Tomášek – which uses an open G tuning (D-G-D-G-B-D). While I’m not aware that Worrall’s ‘Fandango’ has had anything like the same popularity or influence among blues/ragtime/folk musicians that ‘Sevastopol’ has, it’s notable that this open G tuning is often referred to as ‘fandango’ tuning. And certainly Elizabeth Cotton, who also played ‘Vestapol’, had a very similar tune called ‘Spanish Flang Dang’.

But – returning to ‘Vestapol’ – how did a formal piece apparently intended for the genteel parlours of the US get to my genteel home office/recording studio in the Wild West of Cornwall as a blues-y, train-y, ragtime-ish, clawhammer picking piece?

Stefan Grossman, who put together a three-part video to teach his own version, kind of skates over the issue as barely explainable, though a contributor to a thread on Mudcat points out perfectly reasonably that blacks and whites worked together and blacks worked as servants in the homes of white people: “They heard, they liked, they learned.” And adapted, making the work of other musicians into something of their own. So by the time John Fahey recorded the tune he still called ‘The Siege of Sevastopol’, it had developed into something significantly different Worrall’s tune, and acquired words – Robert Wilkins’s ‘Poor Boy (a long way from home) and ‘Prodigal Son’, later kidnapped by the Rolling Stones.

In fact, I sometimes follow Grossman’s lead in combining ‘Vestapol’ and ‘Poor Boy’ – he was the first person I heard do that, back in the late 60s or early 70s – or tack it onto the end of one of my own songs as with ‘Highway Fever’ here. Or ‘Castles and Kings‘, but not available as a recording right now.

However, on this occasion I decided to quit while I was ahead and just do the instrumental. And hope that it doesn’t measure up too badly to the many fine musicians who’ve taken their own shots at this well-worn but well-loved music.

David Harley


Adventures in video – (Farewell to) Severn Shore

My setting of a poem by A.E. Housman from ‘A Shropshire Lad’. All rights reserved.

Mastered audio capture of the performance:


Homestudio recording



Many online sources give the first line as title, but my edition of ‘A Shropshire Lad’ doesn’t give a title to this piece, so I’ve used a variation on the second line for the song title.

A Shropshire Lad VIII 

‘FAREWELL to barn and stack and tree,
Farewell to Severn shore.
Terence, look your last at me,
For I come home no more.

‘The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood is dried;
And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.

‘My mother thinks us long away;
’Tis time the field were mown.
She had two sons at rising day,
To-night she ’ll be alone.

‘And here ’s a bloody hand to shake,
And oh, man, here ’s good-bye;
We ’ll sweat no more on scythe and rake,
My bloody hands and I.

‘I wish you strength to bring you pride,
And a love to keep you clean,
And I wish you luck, come Lammastide,
At racing on the green.

‘Long for me the rick will wait,
And long will wait the fold,
And long will stand the empty plate,
And dinner will be cold.’

Rain (video)

My entry for the July 2020 Trad2Mad competition for unaccompanied singers. I’m not altogether sure why I do these, unless it’s enjoyment at the pretence of being a singer. Anyway, this is a song I wrote in the 60s when I was still at school and had just discovered folk music. (The 3rd verse was actually added a decade or so later, and I’m still not sure whether it belongs there stylistically, but I sang it here anyway, though it was a last moment decision.) Nowadays, I often sing it with guitar (sometimes using the first verse as a chorus), but I originally intended it to be sung unaccompanied. Probably because I wasn’t much of a guitarist…

Audio capture, mastered to raise the volume slightly:

Backup copy:


Accompanied version:




Rain, the gentle rain that hung upon the grass
The autumn rain that touched the fields so early
When the summer sun returns will you hold me once again
In your arms, among the fields of golden barley?

Summer was a burning wind that raised a bitter crop
That came and went so swiftly and unfairly
And then the autum rain put a rust upon my heart
Left alone among the fields of golden barley

A pale song, a sad song to hold within my mind
A bitter song of summer love gone from me
When the summer sun returns will you hold me in your arms
Once again, among the fields of golden barley?

(Optional alternative 3rd verse)
A pale song, a sad song to hold within my mind
A bitter song of summer love gone from me
A pale song, a bitter song to hold within my mind
Left alone among the fields of golden barley

(Optionally, repeat verse 1, or use as chorus.)

David Harley