Stranger in Uniform

Words and music (c) David Harley

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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

 

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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.

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Homestudio recording

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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…

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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

(Optional)
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

Videos with photos

I don’t actually feel that video is my natural home. I get frustrated by the rough patches in my live videos, and I don’t have the resources or the skills to put together a professional non-live video. Still, there are a few videos up now where a reasonable audio version has been combined with some appropriate photos, and (a few) people seem to like them. I’ve added them to a page on this site here as part of my ongoing tidy of the site, and if I do any more, that’s where I’ll add them. But here are the ones that are there already.

[Tracks 1 and 2, words and music (c) David Harley. Tracks 3 and 4, music (c) David Harley. Track 5, words by David Harley based on an article by Ron Nurse; music by David Harley.]

[All vocals and instruments by David Harley. Photographs and artwork (c)  David and/or Judith Harley.]

  1. Wrekin – a song about Shropshire, with particular reference to the section of the Marches Line that runs through it. Much more information here. 
  2. Cornish Ghosts – a song about the part of Cornwall in which I live.  More information here.
  3. Painting the Desert – a slide instrumental accompanied by photos from a trip to Arizona and thereabouts.
  4. Moonflow III – another instrumental, this time with multi-tracked guitars (no, that’s not a real sitar). Photos from Stonehenge and York.
  5. Thomas Anderson (actually a podcast rebuilt with photographs of Shrewsbury, where most of the events of the song took place.) More information on the song and historical background here. 

David Harley

Adventures in Video – Blues for Davy

I am sometimes accused of trying to copy Bert Jansch’s guitar style. If only I could… Of course, learning to play acoustic guitar in the late 60s, I learned a lot from listening to Bert, and probably more from John Renbourn, as well as folkier people like Martin Carthy and Nic Jones, country blues players, singer/songwriter types like Tom Paxton and Phil Ochs, and many more. But if there was anyone I really wanted to sound like, it was Dav(e)y Graham. ‘Blues For Davy’ was the nearest I got to DG in jazzy mode (as he so often was. It was originally recorded on home equipment for the ‘Sheer Bravado’ cassette. That version didn’t survive migration from cassette very well, but there’s a link to it below. There’s a good guitar piece in there somewhere, and I quite like the energy and economy of the two-minute version.

I’ve recently been revisiting it, though, with a view to giving it more light and shade. Using an electro-acoustic guitar has also given it much more of a ‘classic’ jazz feel – less DG, more Jim Hall or Charlie Byrd. I wish. Actually, this is the most recent version I’ve recorded: after I posted a slightly shorter audio version, someone suggested that it would be nice to have a video version so that they could some idea of the fingering.

Blues for Davy (Harley): 2020 video

To my surprise, this actually turned out to be the best of the recent versions, though maybe too long for some tastes. So I grabbed an audio capture, added a little reverb and mastered it to bring up the sound level.

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And here’s the acoustic version from the 1980s.

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There are a couple of other recent versions on the instrumentals page here and here, but these two very different versions are IMHO the best.

David Harley

Butterfly (Over the Hill) – two alternative versions

Having post links to a video and a couple of alternative versions of this blues-y thing, I discovered a couple of completely different versions lurking on a USB drive.

One version where I unleashed my trusty Les Paul. Haven’t done that for a long while…

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And a slide version. Too slow for my taste now, but some nice slide-y moments.

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David Harley

Adventures in Video – Moonflow III

Music (c) David Harley, who played acoustic guitar, resonator guitar and electric guitars through the magic of overdubbing. Both electric guitar parts feature a Line 6 Variax. I can’t remember what guitar the first electric voice emulates, but the second was a Coral Sitar emulation. Photographs (c) Jude and David Harley: mostly from Stonehenge and York.

The recording was remixed for the video.

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