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Introducing Wheal Alice

The how and why…

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Song of Chivalry revisited

There will probably be a more ambitious version of this here at some point, but at the moment I like this one-take version.

Words and music (c) David Harley

Originally published as a poem in Vertical Images 2, 1987.  I waited 30+ years for the melody to turn up, and finally did a make-it-up-as-you-go-along job earlier this year. The vocal here needs work – and I need to learn  the words – but the arrangement is much better.

And yes, I know that it’s unlikely that M’Lord fought both at Crécy (1346) and Agincourt (1415). While the Black Death subsided in England from about 1350, outbreaks continued beyond the first half of the 15thcentury. I’m not sure how likely it was that M’Lord slept on silk sheets, but it’s a metaphor, not a history lesson…

When M’Lord returned
To his sheets of silk
And his gentle lady
Of musk and milk

The minstrels sang
In the gallery
Their songs of slaughter
And chivalry

The rafters roared
With laughter and boasting
Goblets were raised and drained
In toasting

The heroes of Crécy
And Agincourt
Or the madness
Of some holy war

The hawk is at rest
On the gauntlet once more
Savage of eye
And bloody of claw

Famine and fever
Are all the yield
Of the burnt-out barns
And wasted fields

The sun grins coldly
Through the trees
The children shiver
The widows grieve
And beg their bread
At the monastery door
Tell me then
Who won the war?

David Harley

Castles and Kings/Vestapol revisited

Now with slightly better vocal and added slide. Words & Music (c) David Harley. (Well, not Vestapol, of course.)

When I was a kid in a country town
and I’d nothing better to do:
I’d detour round by the railway bridge
on my way home from school.

Leaning over the bridge with my chin in my hands,
too young to be wondering why,
I’d wait what seemed hours for the signal to change:
wait for a train to go by

The lure of the footplate, the churn of the rods
straining to places unknown;
fog in November, smoke in the cold air
the faraway steam-whistle moan;

bathing my eyes in the warmth of the lights
as up the track she would fly.
I’d get home late: they’d ask ‘Where have you been?’
I’d say ‘watching the trains go by’…

Saturday lunchtime some days in the spring
with the sky an implacable blue,
collecting the numbers of Castles and Kings:
it’s all we’d want to do.

Perspective of steel cut through frostbitten green,
just went on to a faraway end,
and I always felt sad at the Cambrian’s tail-light
as she’d disappear round the bend.

Now trains mean timetables, luggage and waiting rooms,
leaving the people I love;
the pounding of diesels, the A to B run
– perspective has subtly moved.

Tonight I am free and the rails are still endless
(if I had the fare to ride)
but I stand on a footbridge in the heart of the city
watching the Tube trains go by.

David Harley

Castles & Kings/Vestapol [demo]

A sort of West Midlands train blues.

A sort of West Midlands train blues. And yes, the title refers to GWR locomotives. How sad is that? I’ve put up versions of this before, but I like the blues-y feel of this dropped-D arrangement. I’ll be redoing the vocal, and probably putting a second (resonator) guitar over  the top.

Vestapol isn’t mine, of course. But it seemed a logical place to go when the song finished… The tune is probably distantly related (in name, at least) to a parlour guitar piece published by Henry Worrall in the 1880s which is actually in open D, but the many train blues-y versions of the tune don’t resemble Worrall’s piece. Nevertheless, open D is often referred to as Vestapol tuning. My version is loosely based on an imperfectly remembered version I heard from Stefan Grossman in the 70s.

David Harley

Faithless Sally Brown [demo]

Words by Thomas Hood, tune a variation on ‘Andrew and his cutty gun’. Oddly, putting the two together was an idea that came out of a security workspace discussion. 🙂

Something rather more whimsical than the last couple of songs posted here.  Strictly a demo: when the lightbulb lit up, I just sang it straight into the microphone.

I’m not sure yet how well it works without the printed words: I’ll have to try it live, I suppose, and maybe consider some editing. Might fit as light relief into a press gang set with darker songs like ‘On board of a man of war’ or ‘All things are quite silent’.  The lyric is a poem by Thomas Hood (1799–1845). The tune I’ve used is (more or less) the A-tune to ‘Andrew and his Cutty Gun’ with a twist of ‘False Sir John’.

YOUNG BEN he was a nice young man,
A carpenter by trade;
And he fell in love with Sally Brown,
That was a lady’s maid.

But as they fetched a walk one day,
They met a press-gang crew;
And Sally she did faint away,
Whilst Ben he was brought to.

The boatswain swore with wicked words
Enough to shock a saint,
That, though she did seem in a fit,
’T was nothing but a feint.

“Come, girl,” said he, “hold up your head,
He ’ll be as good as me;
For when your swain is in our boat
A boatswain he will be.”

So when they ’d made their game of her,
And taken off her elf,
She roused, and found she only was
A coming to herself.

“And is he gone, and is he gone?”
She cried and wept outright;
“Then I will to the water-side,
And see him out of sight.”

A waterman came up to her;
“Now, young woman,” said he,
“If you weep on so, you will make
Eye-water in the sea.”

“Alas! they ’ve taken my beau, Ben,
To sail with old Benbow;”
And her woe began to run afresh,
As if she ’d said, Gee woe!

Says he, “They ’ve only taken him
To the tender-ship, you see.”
“The tender-ship,” cried Sally Brown,
“What a hard-ship that must be!”

“O, would I were a mermaid now,
For then I ’d follow him!
But O, I ’m not a fish-woman,
And so I cannot swim.

“Alas! I was not born beneath
The Virgin and the Scales,
So I must curse my cruel stars,
And walk about in Wales.”

Now Ben had sailed to many a place
That ’s underneath the world;
But in two years the ship came home,
And all her sails were furled.

But when he called on Sally Brown,
To see how she got on,
He found she ’d got another Ben,
Whose Christian-name was John.

“O Sally Brown! O Sally Brown!
How could you serve me so?
I ’ve met with many a breeze before,
But never such a blow!”

Then, reading on his ’bacco box,
He heaved a heavy sigh,
And then began to eye his pipe,
And then to pipe his eye.

And then he tried to sing, “All ’s Well!”
But could not, though he tried;
His head was turned,—and so he chewed
His pigtail till he died.

His death, which happened in his berth,
At forty-odd befell;
They went and told the sexton, and
The sexton tolled the bell.

Sea Fret 2 [demo]

A song it’s taken me two years to write…

Black cat in my path today – black news chilled me to the marrow
Black cloud standing in my way – two birds of prey and one for sorrow
A little chaos flown from my life – too late to hope for one last summer

A sea fret hides the harbour – a cold wind blows off the sea
You lie somewhere I’ll never find you – and no-one’s lying next to me
And surely these are not the places – that we were meant to be

Once you blew into my life – like a friendly hurricane
Near misses, French kisses – then you’d be gone again
Till later you’d drop by – and break my heart again

Sometimes I was sure I loved you – sometimes I think that you loved me
But there was always something else – somewhere you had to be
Always something in the way – someone else you had to see

I always knew we’d drive each other crazy – my fevered heart still hoped someday
I’d find you waiting round the bend – for someone I hoped to be
Waiting there for someone – I never could quite be

Mist rolls up the mountain – the wind blows off the sea
There’s no ledge for us to meet on – and no-one’s lying next to me
And surely these are not the places – that we were meant to be