The how and why…
A Tommy Johnson classic that suddenly revisited my head after a decade or two.
I was actually noodling around with an arrangement for Castles and Kings, which I’ve started to think of as a sort of Shropshire train blues, when I suddenly found myself thinking of the Tommy Johnson classic ‘Big Road Blues’, which hasn’t crossed my mind in decades.
This version is a bit tentative (not least because I wasn’t sure I remembered the words correctly, and the arrangement isn’t at all how I used to do it). But I wanted to get it down before I forgot about it again, and I think with a little polish it’ll work well.
Improved version of a setting by me of the Housman poem.
[Another pass at a song I’ve previously mounted on this site. This time, I’ve built up the guitar a bit, and dialed down the vocal drama somewhat. Not the final version, but I’m far happier with this.]
Another Housman setting, this time from Last Poems. Very rough, since I was literally making up the tune as I went along, but I’m seeing whether it will fit into a sequence of songs I’ve been working on. (See Soldier (You Come, You Go) and Soldier of Fortune.)
The 1917 poem refers to the British Expeditionary Force, which German propagandists referred to as ‘mercenaries’ because at the outbreak of war, Britain’s army consisted of professional soldiers rather than conscripts or the later volunteers of ‘Kitchener’s Army‘. The BEF was practically wiped out by 1916.
A poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, ‘Another Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries’ takes a very different view, regarding the BEF as ‘professional murderers’.
The setting by Geoffrey Burgon sung by Gillian McPherson on the soundtrack to the Dogs of War is much more dramatic, and very effective (even though some might doubt whether the poem is entirely appropriate in terms of this particular novel and movie). This is much simpler and fits the cycle I have in mind better. Still, I might rethink that. This is definitely a work in progress.
Here’s the Housman poem:
Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth’s foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling,
And took their wages, and are dead.
Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth’s foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.
I’ve recorded this several times before, including a ‘proper’ studio version, but have never been quite satisfied with it. This rough mix attempts a looser version with a jazzier guitar. Both guitars here are a Gibson jumbo with a P90 pickup, by the way, if these things are of interest to you. 🙂
One I wrote in the early 70s. Trying out a different arrangement.
I wrote this song (properly called ‘Rain’) when I was still at school in the 1960s and had just discovered folk music. And on the rare occasions when I’ve sung it in public, it’s always been unaccompanied, though I have previously recorded a version with pseudo-acoustic guitar. This, though is a very rough draft for a different vocal interpretation, and a step towards a properly electric accompaniment. More of that later.
Another (non-bottleneck) version of ‘Faintly Fahey’.
The instrumental I call ‘Faintly Fahey‘ started as a sort of fake Irish air, then got translated into a bottleneck version. This is a non-slide version closer to the original idea.. There may well be more to come on this, as I think it might go rather well with the song ‘Can’t Sleep‘, but that needs more work.
A slide instrumental based on the song known as ‘One Kind Favor’ or ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’, first recorded by Blind Lemon Jefferson. It probably derives ultimately (and quite remotely) from a mournful Victorian ballad by Gus Williams called ‘See That My Grave Is Kept Green’. There is a recording of the ballad by the Carter Family, who also recorded something closer to the bluesier song as ‘Sad And Lonesome Day’.