Whose song is it anyway?

 

"Roadworks in Silsden?  We can't go round them.  We can't go over them!  We'll have to go through them.  Beep beep nose tail ... we're going on a Gig Hunt, we're going to find a Good One.  What a Lovely Night!  We're prepared."      So might those arriving for the fortnightly Swan Acoustic Session have intoned as the faithful foregathered this week.  Well, those coming from the south, anyway.

 

The Swan, as is usual these days, was already full of diners when the first musicians arrived; so once again we set up in what is becoming our new usual corner; the top room by the open fire, unseating two blameless drinkers already positioned there.    It's great to see the pub - indeed, any pub - full of people in this time of austerity and the preference of today's Youth to preload on supermarket vodka and then go to night clubs rather than enjoy a pint or two in their local.  But we are more cramped than we used to be, and the inevitable increased ambient noise makes it more difficult to perform and listen.  Is that why fewer people seem to be attending the Sessions these days?

 

Tonight we had just five performing musicians, embellished by three audients: Kath, Bev, and an un-named gentleman who left around half time.  Kath was anticipating having to make an emergency dash to Brighouse; while other minds were on the football, where Brian and Bradford City were enjoying a frustrating evening.  But with chat of this and that, we finally got down to business just before nine.

 

Barry Lane opened up with "Before I Met You": a cheerful number telling of how his life had been transformed by a new relationship.  Written by Charles L Seitz, Joe "Cannonball" Lewis, and Elmer Rader - not exactly the line-up Barry had written down, but Wikipedia cannot lie - can it ??  He followed this with a more typical "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky", which says it all really.  Barry claimed this was Trad - always a safe get-out; and at some point it probably becomes true of any song performed by many people down through the years.  But Google ascribes it to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, 1954 - whilecautioning that it may have been based on a much earlier song with a different title.  Possibly different lyrics and tune as well, who knows?  Barry meticulously chronicles every song he performs at our Sessions, to make sure he never repeats himself.  Well done for mining so extensively into the Country / Bluegrass canon.

 

After much discussion about whether we were going clockwise or anti-clockwise, John Waller continued with "Grandad 2050", a song written from the point of view of a putative grandchild in that year, looking back at how his now-dead grandad had so uncaringly burnt fossil fuels despite knowing the consequences; which by 2050 had happened.  Such was the ambient noise that Graeme misheard this as 2015, which somewhatobscured the message.  He followed this with "Letter Go", a short song depicting a turning-point in a relationship, from which one might construct a back-story.  Both self-penned within the last ten years.

 

Having decided that we were going anti-clockwise, Graeme Morrell then re-positioned himself in a clockwise position, throwing order into confusion.  Finding he was in DADGAD, he converted mid-song to "Spencer the Rover", a truly Trad song about the competing lures of Roving versus Stability - in this case, the warmth of the familial hearth wins.  Covered, amongst other, by the Copper Family and John Martyn.  Pausing only to re-tune his guitar to the key of G9, he then gave us "Scholarly Man" by his favourite Michael Chapman.  The lyrics to this are unavailable on all the lyric-sites I was able to access, but as with all Michael Chapman songs, the lyrics play second fiddle to the guitar licks and riffs (a lick is an incomplete riff, I discover); which Graeme executed with his usual flair and extraordinary mastery of the fret-board.

 

We now moved clockwise to local songster Ian Pucknall, who would have been next moving anti-clockwise had Graeme stayed in his original position.  He gave us "Creole Belle", which he attributed to Mississippi John Hurt, who indeed popularised it in the early 60s.  But internet researches trace it (or its origins) back to 1900, and a Danish Pianist named J Bodlewald Lampe (I am not making this up), when it had a much more fulsome set of lyrics than the Hurt/Pucknall version, many of which may have been discarded for reasons of political or racial sensitivity.  He followed this with the safer ground of Allan Taylor's "Lady Take Your Time", being the lament of a (presumably) male protagonist hoping a female friend would not reject the gilded life he could imagine them sharing.  We've all been there (I expect).

 

And so finally, the running order zigzagging round the assembled musicians like a demented zebra, to debutant Nigel Chapman.  He claimed that this would be only the second time he had performed in public: but had received much guidance and wisdom from football enthusiast Brian Wylie.  He gave us a stirring rendition of a Harvey Andrews song, variously known as "The British Soldier", "The Soldier"or just "Soldier", based on an actual incident (Belfast, 1971) when a British squaddie had sacrificed himself by smothering a bomb in order to save the lives of women and children who would otherwise have died.  The song was apparently "banned" by the BBC for fear it might incite sectarian anger, and also "discouraged" by the British Army, for the same reasons.  An odd fate for a song intended to transcend sectarianism.  He followed this with an Irish standard officially titled "I'll Tell Me Ma", but colloquially known as "The Belle of Belfast City".  This can truly be considered Trad, as it originated as a children's playground game in the 19th Century.  Nigel showed himself, in this and his later songs, to have a clear, strong voice combined with balanced guitar accompaniment.  We can justifiably hope he will make a third public appearance soon.

 

After the drinks break, we proceeded clockwise, again starting with Barry.  He gave us "Cannonball Blues" collected (or maybe even written) by the original Carter Family.  [It seems a third-generation Carter Family is still performing.]  About a train of that name, from Buffalo to Washington, on which someone is leaving someone else.  In Barry's next song ("When I call your name" by Vince Gill), someone comes home to find that their partner has left them.  The similarity of subject matter is, Barry says, a coincidence.  Maybe it comes with the genre - "Mah baby left me and mah dawg jus' died" sort of thing.

 

Back to Nigel, and two more Irish standards: "The Star of the County Down" first traced back to the 18th century; and "Fields of Athenry" written by Pete St John as recently as 1970, though it relates to the Irish famine of the 19th century.  It was a Dubliners standard, and also adopted as an anthem for Celtic Football Club.  More strong singing from Ian, much helped by the reduction in  ambient noise following the departure of the Fish and Chip birthday party.  On their way out, they thanked us for providing background music.

 

Graeme stayed with the contemporary: a Dylan song "To Make You Feel My Love".  Covered by Billy Joel even before Dylan released his own version, it is now sometimes attributed to Adele, who covered it more recently.  He followed this with "Sounds of Silence", the Paul Simon song with harmony arranged by Art Garfunkel that marked the start of their partnership.  Strange how rarely one hears this seminal song preformed at sessions such as this.

 

Ian again, who decided to try a song inspired by a couple of songs we had already heard.  It's great when this happens in sessions, and a themedevelops organically.  The downside, as Ian discovered to his cost, is that it may lead you into starting a song you haven't prepared, only to find you can't remember the final verse.    This unfortunately happened with his version of "Los Companeros", another by Allan Taylor.  To befair, it is a long song: the reminiscences of an elderly revolutionary Cuban, with carefully crafted lyrics that might be easy to misremember.    Then he gave us a Steve Earle song, "Goodbye", written in 1994 or thereabouts; which he prefaced with the guitar intro to "Old Friends" off Simon and Garfunkel's 1968 "Bookends" album.  Fusion!

 

Finally, John Waller gave us another pair of his own songs.  "Sun Goes Down" looked at England: how we see ourselves, how others see us, and what certain of our traits can lead to.  It also involves a British soldier being killed by a terrorist bomb.  He followed this with "Paneriai", being the final thoughts of one of about 100,000 Jews and others exterminated by the Nazis in a pinewood outside Vilnius, Lithuania.

 

Nigel, Bev and Kath all left at this stage, and we were back to the Four Just Men of a month previous, except James was replaced by Ian.  A quick-fire round: Barry with "Waiting Out the Storm" by Kate MacKenzie: someone planning to leave someone else, rather than actually doing it.  Graeme with another Al Stewart: "Night Train to Munich", about a spy in the late 30s.  Ian with a John Prine song "Sam Stones" about the drug-drivendisintegration of a Veteran.  John with another self-penned number "Ljubljana", about the tensions between the Catholic Church and the Partisans during the WW2 Nazi occupation of Slovenia.

 

It being just eleven pm, we tried a few songs for everyone to join in with - with varying success: Both Sides, Now (Joni Mitchell) led by John, Streets of London (Ralph McTell) led by Ian, and one that I cannot read off my notes (looks like Pardes) led by Graeme.  I remember the chord sequence involved C, G and D, which narrows it down a bit.  Maybe someone (Graeme?) will leave a Comment if they remember.

 

So, all in all, a Good Night.  Plenty of songs that others had not heard before, nearly all making some sort of commentary or point; be that social, political, or related to personal relationships.  Apologies for the length of the Post, but I like to research the (often confused) origin of songs, while the songwriter in me wants to prevent the creeping tendency for mere singers to commandeer the ownership of songs written by others.

 

John Waller

Posted on October 19, 2016 .