Wrekin (The Welsh Marches Line) – demo

Expansion of a blog article previously posted, with link to song but much more background information.

Advertisements

I’ve linked to this song before, but as I’ve added quite a lot of background info this time, I thought it was worth a post of its own.

Wrekin (The Marches Line) (words & music by David Harley)

The Abbey watches my train crawling Southwards
Thoughts of Cadfael kneeling in his cell
All along the Marches line, myth and history
Prose and rhyme
But these are tales I won’t be here to tell

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again

Lawley and Caradoc fill my window
Facing down the Long Mynd, lost in rain
But I’m weighed down with the creaks and groans
Of all the years I’ve known
And I don’t think I’ll walk these hills again

Stokesay dreams its humble glories
Stories that will never come again
Across the Shropshire hills
The rain is blowing still
But the Marcher Lords won’t ride this way again

The royal ghosts of Catherine and Arthur
May walk the paths of Whitcliffe now and then
Housman’s ashes grace
The Cathedral of the Marches
He will not walk Ludlow’s streets again

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again
And I may never pass this way again

‘The Abbey’ is actually Shrewsbury’s Abbey Church: not much else of the Abbey survived the Dissolution and Telford’s roadbuilding in 1836. Cadfael is the fictional monk/detective whose home was the Abbey around 1135-45, according to the novels by ‘Ellis Peters’ (Edith Pargeter).

The Welsh Marches Line runs from Newport (the one in Gwent) to Shrewsbury. Or, arguably, up as far as Crewe, since it follows the March of Wales from which it takes its name, the buffer zone between the Welsh principalities and the English monarchy which extended well into present-day Cheshire.

‘The hill’ is the Wrekin, which, though at a little over 400 metres high is smaller than many of the other Shropshire Hills, is isolated enough from the others to dominate the Shropshire Plain. The beacon is at the top of the Wrekin Transmitting Station mast, though a beacon was first erected there during WWII. The Shropshire toast ‘All friends around the Wrekin’ seems to have been recorded first in the dedication of George Farquar’s 1706 play ‘The Recruiting Officer’, set in Shrewsbury.

‘Lawley’ refers to the hill rather than the township in Telford. The Lawley and Caer Caradoc do indeed dominate the landscape on the East side of the Stretton Gap coming towards Church Stretton from the North via the Marches Line or the A49, while the Long Mynd (‘Long Mountain’) pretty much owns the Western side of the Gap.

Stokesay Castle, near Craven Arms, is technically a fortified manor house rather than a true castle. It was built in the late 13th century by the wool merchant Laurence of Ludlow, and has been extensively restored in recent years by English Heritage, who suggest that the lightness of its fortification might actually have been intentional, to avoid presenting any threat to the established Marcher Lords.

Prince Arthur, elder brother of Henry VIII, was sent with his bride Catherine of Aragon to Ludlow administer the Council of Wales and the Marches, and died there after only a few months. Catherine went on to marry and be divorced by Henry VIII, and died about 30 years later at Kimbolton Castle. Catherine is reputed to haunt Kimbolton, so it’s unlikely that she also haunts Whitcliffe, the other side of the Teme from Ludlow Castle. (As far as I know, no-one is claimed to haunt Whitcliffe. Poetic licence…)

For some time it has puzzled me that in ‘A Ballad for Catherine of Aragon’, Charles Causley refers to her as “…a Queen of 24…” until I realized he was probably referring not to her age, but to the length of time that she was acknowledged to be Queen of England.

The ashes of A.E. Housman are indeed buried in the grounds of St. Laurence’s church, Ludlow, which is not in fact a cathedral, but is often referred to as ‘the Cathedral of the Marches’. It is indeed a church with many fine features (I have about a zillion photographs of its misericords) and its tower is visible from a considerable distance (and plays a major part in Housman’s poem ‘The Recruit’).

The song was actually mostly written on a train between Shrewsbury and Newport at a time when I was frequently commuting between Shropshire and Cornwall to visit my frail 94-year-old mother, who died a few months after, so it has particular resonance for me. It originally included a couple of extra verses about Hereford and the Vale of Usk, but after the ‘Wrekin’ chorus forced its way into the song, I decided to restrict it to the Shropshire-related verses. Maybe they’ll turn up sometime as another song.

David Harley

How to say goodbye (live version)

Taken from Ian Semple’s radio show on CoastFM, summer 2018.

I really ought to get round to recording this properly.

Lyric and back-story here.

David Harley

Wrekin [demo]

If you’re familiar with the Welsh Marches Line, it probably won’t surprise you that the first draft of this was born on my way from Shrewsbury to Newport.

This version is more solid than the previous version and incorporates a bit of second guitar.

Wrekin (words and music by David Harley)

The Abbey watches my train crawling southward
Thoughts of Cadfael kneeling in his cell
All along the Marches line, myth and history, prose and rhyme
But those are tales I won’t be here to tell

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again

Lawley and Caradoc fill my window
Facing down the Longmynd, lost in rain
But I’m weighed down with the creaks and groans of all the years I’ve known
And I don’t think I’ll walk these hills again

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again

Stokesay dreams its humble glories
Glories that will never come again
Across the Shropshire hills, the rain is blowing still
But the Marcher Lords won’t ride this way gain

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again

The royal ghosts of Catherine and Arthur
May walk the paths of Whitcliffe now and then
Housman’s ashes grace the Cathedral of the Marches
He will not walk Ludlow’s streets again

The hill is crouching like a cat at play
Its beacon flashing red across the plain
Once we were all friends around the Wrekin
But some will never pass this way again

And I may never pass this way again

David Harley

Song of Chivalry (live version)

Recorded during my recent ‘Live Lounge’ session hosted by Ian Semple at CoastFM. Played on my Baby Taylor in Nashville tuning.

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.

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

Song Without Warning (demo)

Song Without Warning (Harley)

(c) 2018: all rights reserved

This is my box of dreams, my nest of nightmares
Words and lines and verses in a cage
Fragments of conversation
Thoughts that barely made the page

Some days, I think someday I’ll write them
All the verses in vitro in this room
Someday these little birds will find the way to fly away
They won’t need me anymore and they’ll be gone

Sometimes I call myself a writer
Though I’m afraid I might have lost the paperwork
Till they tap me on the shoulder and remind me
My poetic licence hasn’t been revoked

When my last song has been written
When I’ve picked my last chord
My box of dreams will still be here
Overflowing still with orphaned words

For every song without warning
That somehow made it to be heard
There’ll still be all these scraps of recollection
Thoughts and dreams that never found their words

Sometimes I call myself a writer
Though I’m afraid I might have lost the paperwork
Till they tap me on the shoulder and remind me
My poetic licence hasn’t been revoked

 

Two for Joy

One for sorrow, two for joy… meditations on a very handsome bird with a slightly dubious reputation.

Seeing no less than eight magpies in the garden today – well, I only saw three, but my wife saw five more before I got there – I was trying in vain to remember some of the lines to the nursery rhyme (the Spencer Davies Group version kept getting in the way). I always assumed that the line from that version – ‘ten is a bird you must not miss’ if I remember correctly – was a sneaked-in-novation  to hook viewers of the ‘Magpie’ programme into tuning in next week, but it turns out that at least one version from Lancashire has a similar line. ‘Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss’: doesn’t scan very well, but possibly good advice, at least some of the time. That Lancashire version actually goes up to 13: I found it on the British Bird Lovers site, though the RSPB site also refers to it.

Wikipedia tells me that it has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096. Magpies are frequent visitors to other songs, though, some of which are included in that Wikipedia article. Then there’s this one from Donovan’s ‘Gift From A Flower To A Garden’, for instance. And even one of mine, though in that instance the reference is a little oblique.

I must admit that despite their slightly dubious reputation, being associated with bad luck and even the devil, they are very handsome birds. Not altogether comfortable neighbours, though: when I lived in North London, I used to visit the Rye Meads Nature Reserve.  The first time I took my daughter there, though, I was discomfited to discover that the kingfishers I’d half-promised her had been driven away by egg-stealing magpies. 😦

But here, specially for you, are ‘two for joy’. Though it kind of looks as if they’re not speaking right now.

David Harley

Butterfly (Over The Hill)

Most Saturdays – at any rate when I’m at home – I spend the hours between 12 and 2pm listening to Ian Semple’s radio show on Coast FM (Facebook page here). While Ian plays a great deal of local music, his tastes are wide-ranging: today, for instance, his playlist included Pink Floyd, Richard Thompson, Seasick Steve, Wilde Roses, and Ry Cooder, as well as more local names like Baldrick’s Plan and Julie Carter. And this was a track of mine that he played today. 🙂

My friend Vic Cracknell, who among other musical activities runs open mike nights around Surrey, where I lived for several years, often used to introduce me as ‘someone who plays authentic blues.’ As a result of which, I got used to introducing this along the lines of: “This is a traditional blues. However, it differs from most traditional blues in that it was written on the platform at Chalk Farm Tube station after an evening at the Enterprise folk club in 1983.” 

In recent years, I’ve usually played this on electric guitar. This version, though, was recorded on domestic equipment (or maybe a Fostex X-15) in the 1980s, with quite a different arrangement (and on acoustic guitar). I think I might try for a better recording using the same(-ish) arrangement in the near future. But in the meantime, this isn’t too bad considering it was taken from a cassette.

David Harley