This is a sort of West London blues for the 1980s that probably demands an authentic glo’al stop here and there, but I don’t think I could carry that off, in spite of many years living surrounded by Londoners. There again, I don’t think Lily Allen carries it off either, but it doesn’t seem to have harmed her career.
You don’t hear much about inhalant and solvent abuse nowadays – certainly not here in Cornwall – perhaps because there are plenty of more glamorous highs around, but it certainly hasn’t gone away. It was one of a batch of songs I wrote for a review in the 1980s, but didn’t offer it for consideration because the show was going into quite different directions. I’ve never performed it in public that I remember.
Words & Music by David Harley: Copyright 1981
I stay away from dear old dad
He’s out of a job and gets to feeling bad
And it don’t take much for him to lose his rag
He hits the beer from time to time
And mum takes it out on me and Brian
But when we’re not at home we don’t much mind
It’s their way of cooling out
Of course I haven’t worked since I left school
No jobs around, and I’m no fool
I can get more money on the street as a rule
It would really get right up my snout
Stacking crates and washing bottles out
Anyway I like to get out and about
Got me ways of cooling out
Dad thinks mum’s got the dropsy bad
There’s this smell of glue all round the flat
But I’m away down the road with me blowsing bag
If he asks I’ll say Bri’s into Airfix kits
And off I’ll go with me Evostik
Down the park with me packet of crisps
Got me ways of cooling out
Mum thinks I’m always down with a cold
She says I’m off me nut but then I’m never home
When I’m reeling round on a toluene high
But you’ve got to do something when it all goes grey
So I’m back down the road with Mick and Dave
The caretaker chases us off the estate
But we’re only cooling out
Dad’d go spare if he knew, I bet
But he’s too busy drinking himself to death
And mum only sees what she wants to see
That’s her way of cooling out…
Part of this popped up as a poem on social media this morning. (I expect it often does, but I just happened to notice it on Facebook.)
I often think I ought to learn it, but I probably won’t, for all the reasons described in the song/poem, not to mention an increasingly unreliable memory. Anyway, this is a version performed by the Weavers at Carnegie Hall during a reunion concert (probably in 1980).
And here’s a thread on Mudcat about the origins of the poem, set to music by Pete Seeger, who used these lines as a chorus:
How do I know my youth is all spent?
My get up and go has got up and went
But in spite of it all, I’m able to grin
And think of the places my get up has been.
The thread includes a couple of versions of the poem/lyric. According to a poster to that thread, it was written by Homer A. Shiveley in the 1930s and published in the local newspaper in West Union, Ohio.
Alas, my get up and go seems to want to go several times a night…
However, this is rather more country than country blues.
Old-ish country-ish version:
More recent version:
A trace of your scent still lingers on my pillow
And raises echoes in my memory
And I believe you’re missing me almost as much as I miss you
But I wish to God that you were here with me
The sun will surely rise on another soft blue morning
And lying in your arms is where I’ll be
With sweet dreams still in my eyes, I’ll wake and kiss your hair
But it’s a long cold night while you’re not here with me
This guitar once played for keeps, but since you changed my life
This guitar just plays for you, if that’s OK?
This guitar rang bells for losers, but there’ll be no more songs of losing
Though this guitar just plays the blues while you’re away
I suppose it’s appropriate to go back to this given the part of the country I now live in. 🙂
A setting of the poem by Rudyard Kipling. I have in mind a guitar accompaniment I’m not quite comfortable with yet, but this version is unaccompanied with some harmonies, and it may stay that way. The words and a few notes are available from this page. I believe Peter Bellamy used to sing a version set to ‘The White Cockade’, which I guess would readily lend itself to a more chorus-y version. In the 70s, I remember hearing a version to a different tune sung in Berkshire that used the second verse as a chorus.
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.
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 line ‘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.)
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.
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.