Breathe, My Lute

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.

Version with harmony vocal (demo for collaborative venture, but I might develop that.)

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.)

Returning to Housman, the first verse also reminds me somewhat of Byron’s We’ll go no more a-roving.

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.

David Harley

Same Old Same Old [demo]

Originally called ‘Same Old Blues’ but as there are several songs with a similar title, ‘Same Old Same Old’ seemed more appropriate. Very definitely a demo since I was making up the tune and the chords as I went along, but has promise, I think. About time I found a tune for it, anyway. I started on it today because it looked as if I’d have lots of time to work on it, but then ‘real’ work kicked in with a vengeance. Hope to get back to it soon.

Copyright David Harley, 1987

The burglar bells chimed midnight
The sky was pouring down
My feet froze to the catwalk
But my head was homeward-bound

Same old blues
Same old back-street blues

My head is stuffed with nicotine
My throat is full of sand
My bloodstream is pure gin
I can’t remember how to stand

Same old blues
Same old inner-city blues

The all-night bus is AWOL
I can’t get to my bed
There’s a tangle in my fingers
And a jangle in my head

Same old blues
Same old long-gone midnight blues

One Kind Favour [demo-ish]

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.

David Harley

End Game [demo]

Written at a time when I was starting to realize that love doesn’t get any easier as you get older. In fact, it tends to get more complicated. Sketch for an arrangement.

End Game: Words & Music copyright David Harley, 1974
All rights reserved

I’ve been looking out for zero
Since I don’t remember when
Praying not to draw
That same old blank again

But it seems at last time passing
Tears your paper shield apart
And love the silver bullet
Leaves its shrapnel in the heart

Madame
M’sieur
Les jeux sont faits

How can I keep from singing? [demo]

Ironically enough, given its title, an instrumental version of a 19th century hymn. I’ve been playing it a lot since I started playing serious slide guitar again. When I play it live, I sometimes go into ‘Twelve Gates to the City’, but more often I go into something far less spiritual. 🙂 I should probably spend some more time on the recording – there’s more extraneous noise on this version than I like – but it’s going in the right direction.

The hymn has its own Wikipedia page, including the first published lyrics and the verse added by Doris Plenn and sung by Pete Seeger. In fact, I first heard it on Seeger’s I Can See a New Day album, a compilation of live recordings released in 1964. The music is credited to Robert Lowrey, as published in his ‘Bright Jewels for the Sunday School’, published in 1869, but the source of the original lyrics is uncertain. The lyrics (apart from Plenn’s) included in the Wikipedia page are apparently as published in the New York Observer in 1868 under the title Always Rejoicing and attributed to ‘Pauline T.’

David Harley

Let Me Lie Easy [demo]

A song I’ve been working on, one way or another, for nearly 40 years…

I’ve actually written this song three times, though the tune has survived every iteration. The first version of the words disappeared during the break up with an ex-girlfriend in the mid-70s, the second with my first ex-wife. I have an ex-rated musical career. This is the third or 4th demo, but it’s getting nearer to what I have in my head. At least you can hear the synth on this version. Synth and multi-tracking notwithstanding, it’s more folk-y than most of my stuff.

Words & Music by David Harley: copyright 1975, all rights reserved.

I don’t want to hear that the show must go on
I know that the world keeps on turning
But how can you ask me to rise with the lark
With this pain in my heart still burning?

Let me lie easy, let me lie late
Let me lie low, let the world wait
Let me lie easy, let me lie lie late
Please let me sleep till it’s over

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
The dogs call in vain for their master
Just give me a while to untangle my threads
And Little Boy Blue will come after

The summer’s near gone and the year’s on the wane
The harvest stands ripened and wasting
Just give me an hour to unscramble my head
And I promise I’ll not keep you waiting

Also…

The 1st and 2nd versions of the lyric are gone forever, which given that they were even darker than this version, may not be such a bad thing. But this version, which turned up in my things-to-work-on-one-of-these-decades folder, gives some idea. I probably won’t sing it this way again, or attempt to incorporate it into the existing version, but just for completists…

Let me lie easy [older version]

Let me lie easy, let me lie late
Let me lie low, let the world wait
Let me lie still just this once in my life
Please let me sleep till it’s over

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn
The world’s upside down without warning
Just lend me a night to unscramble my head
And I’ll sort it all out in the morning

Crows in the stubble, a gull on the wing
A shout through the misty distance
Just lend me a moment to bind up my wrist
And appear to reward your persistence