Settings CD(s) demos

These are demos for a possible CD project or maybe more than one. Running order still to be decided. Working title ‘Misremembered Hills’. Most of the settings are of Housman’s verse, plus a little Kipling and Yeats, some trad-ish stuff, and one or two songs of mine with a Shropshire connection.

Housman can’t really be described as a Shropshire lad himself: he was born near Bromsgrove in 1859, and died in Cambridge in 1936, and it’s often said (possibly incorrectly) that he hadn’t actually visited the Shropshire countryside of which he presented his own vision until after he had published the collection. (Most of the poems were written while living in Highgate, London.) However, his ashes are buried near St. Lawrence’s church, Ludlow, five minutes walk from where I live at the time of writing. Although I lived for the first 19 years of my life in Shrewsbury, none of these settings was composed in Shropshire either. I was living in Berkshire at that time, though the setting to Bredon Hill was composed while I was visiting my parents in Manchester, I think.

Breathe, My Lute (Housman-Harley)

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. It 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.

 

The Carpenter’s Son (Housman-Harley)

This one is from ‘A Shropshire Lad’. To be precise, Shropshire Lad LVII.

`Here the hangman stops his cart:
Now the best of friends must part.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.

`Oh, at home had I but stayed
‘Prenticed to my father’s trade,
Had I stuck to plane and adze,
I had not been lost, my lads.

`Then I might have built perhaps
Gallows-trees for other chaps,
Never dangled on my own,
Had I left but ill alone.

`Now, you see, they hang me high,
And the people passing by
Stop to shake their fists and curse;
So ’tis come from ill to worse.

`Here hang I, and right and left
Two poor fellows hang for theft:
All the same’s the luck we prove,
Though the midmost hangs for love.

`Comrades all, that stand and gaze,
Walk henceforth in other ways;
See my neck and save your own:
Comrades all, leave ill alone.

`Make some day a decent end,
Shrewder fellows than your friend.
Fare you well, for ill fare I:
Live, lads, and I will die.’

Basic version:

Tune only with umpteen overdubs:

Bredon Hill (Shropshire Lad XXI) [Housman-Harley]

Sometimes known as Summertime on Bredon or On Bredon. Quintessentially Housman, with its tale of love and premature death.

In summertime on Bredon
The bells they sound so clear;
Round both the shires they ring them
In steeples far and near,
A happy noise to hear.

Here of a Sunday morning
My love and I would lie,
And see the coloured counties,
And hear the larks so high
About us in the sky.

The bells would ring to call her
In valleys miles away:
“Come all to church, good people;
Good people, come and pray.”
But here my love would stay.

And I would turn and answer
Among the springing thyme,
“Oh, peal upon our wedding,
And we will hear the chime,
And come to church in time.”

But when the snows at Christmas
On Bredon top were strown,
My love rose up so early
And stole out unbeknown
And went to church alone.

They tolled the one bell only,
Groom there was none to see,
The mourners followed after,
And so to church went she,
And would not wait for me.

The bells they sound on Bredon
And still the steeples hum.
“Come all to church, good people,”–
Oh, noisy bells, be dumb;
I hear you, I will come.

 

When I Was (Housman-Harley)

Actually a setting of two verses from ‘A Shropshire Lad’:  XVIII (Oh, When I Was In Love With You) and XIII (When I Was One and Twenty). Originally intended as two separate songs, but since there’s a thematic resemblance I thought I’d try using the same tune, and this is a sketch for a more ambitious orchestral arrangement that combines the two to mark the transition from youthful fickleness to a more mature wistfulness. Sadly, I didn’t have an orchestra handy, so the strings here come courtesy of a Yamaha keyboard. The guitar part is actually a guitar, though. XIII is somewhat similar in tone (and near-identical in metre) to Yeats’s Down By The Salley Gardens. More on that shortly.

XVIII

Oh, when I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well did I behave.

And now the fancy passes by,
And nothing will remain,
And miles around they’ll say that I
Am quite myself again.

XIII

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
“Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.”
But I was one-and-twenty,
No use to talk to me.

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard him say again,
“The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.”
And I am two-and-twenty,
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.

 

Maids of Mourne Shore (trad. arr. Harley)

This is a rough sketch for an instrumental version of the tune most usually associated with Down by the Salley Gardens since Herbert Hughes used it for his setting in 1909, though other composers and singers have used other melodies. The song Yeats was recreating was probably You Rambling Boys of Pleasure.  I’ve put it here because of the resemblance between XIII and Yeats’s poem, probably based on his remembrance of You Rambling Boys of Pleasure. However, it actually ties in with two settings of Yeats poems to be found below, too.

 

The Pilgrim (Yeats-Harley)

I FASTED for some forty days on bread and buttermilk,
For passing round the bottle with girls in rags or silk,
In country shawl or Paris cloak, had put my wits astray,
And what’s the good of women, for all that they can say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

Round Lough Derg’s holy island I went upon the stones,
I prayed at all the Stations upon my marrow bones,
And there I found an old man, and though, I prayed all day
And that old man beside me, nothing would he say
But fol de rol de rolly O.

All know that all the dead in the world about that place are stuck,
And that should mother seek her son she’d have but little luck
Because the fires of purgatory have ate their shapes away;
I swear to God I questioned them, and all they had to say
Was fol de rol de rolly O.

A great black ragged bird appeared when I was in the boat;
Some twenty feet from tip to tip had it stretched rightly out,
With flopping and with flapping it made a great display,
But I never stopped to question, what could the boatman say
But fol de rol de rolly O.

Now I am in the public-house and lean upon the wall,
So come in rags or come in silk, in cloak or country shawl,
And come with learned lovers or with what men you may,
For I can put the whole lot down, and all I have to say
Is fol de rol de rolly O.

 

South Wind (Trad. arr. Harley)

A Ghaoth Andeas – the spelling varies, and it’s often rendered in English as South Wind – is a song written, according to Donál O’Sullivan, by Domhnall Meirgeach Mac Con Mara (Freckled Donal Macnamara). Often heard in tune sessions in company with Planxty Irwin, and in fact I learned it when I was playing with the dance band Commoners Mock. Played here as an instrumental. It has no connection with Yeats that I know of: I just thought it would counterbalance the slightly misanthropic tone of The Pilgrim. More information on the song here and here.

Planxty Irwin would be a possibility, too.

 

Swifts and Swans (Yeats-Harley)

Uses my instrumental Swifts to introduce my setting of The Wild Swans at Coole.

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?[2]

 

The Song of Wandering Aengus (Yeats)

Just a placeholder: there may well be a copyright issue with the melody usually used.

 

(Farewell to) Severn Shore (Housman-Harley)

Or ‘A Shropshire Lad’ VIII, which wasn’t actually published with a title.

“Farewell to barn and stack and tree,
Farewell to Severn shore.
Terence, look your last at me,
For I come home no more.

“The sun burns on the half-mown hill,
By now the blood is dried;
And Maurice amongst the hay lies still
And my knife is in his side.”

“My mother thinks us long away;
‘Tis time the field were mown.
She had two sons at rising day,
To-night she’ll be alone.”

“And here’s a bloody hand to shake,
And oh, man, here’s good-bye;
We’ll sweat no more on scythe and rake,
My bloody hands and I.”

“I wish you strength to bring you pride,
And a love to keep you clean,
And I wish you luck, come Lammastide,
At racing on the green.”

“Long for me the rick will wait,
And long will wait the fold,
And long will stand the empty plate,
And dinner will be cold.”

 

Tears of Morning (Housman-Harley)

Another Housman setting: words from Last Poems. I’ve followed the example of Michael Raven in using two separate (but consecutive) verses that are clearly connected thematically and in form, at least as far as this stand-alone song is concerned.

XXVI

The half-moon westers low, my love,
And the wind brings up the rain;
And wide apart lie we, my love,
And seas between the twain.

I know not if it rains, my love,
In the land where you do lie;
And oh, so sound you sleep, my love,
You know no more than I.

XXVII

The sigh that heaves the grasses
Whence thou wilt never rise
Is of the air that passes
And knows not if it sighs.

The diamond tears adorning
Thy low mound on the lea,
Those are the tears of morning,
That weeps, but not for thee.

 

Sea Fret (Harley)

This isn’t meant to be quasi-traditional or quasi-classical, so it’s an outlier in this set, but it hangs together with Tears of Morning in that the underlying story is somewhat similar.

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

 

Arbor Tree

Not like me at all, really, but maybe a less depressing Shropshire song would not go amiss.

I came across this set of words in a discussion on the Memories of Shropshire Facebook group, and somehow found myself putting a tune to it as I read. This version of the tune is one of my ‘make it up as you go along’ recordings: it may well change significantly over time, and is not in any case consistent between all the verses.

By W.B.H. and apparently dated 29th May 1786, though that may have referred to the wedding that took place on that date rather than the date of printing. It seems that the modern Arbor Day celebration is held on the last Sunday in May rather than strictly on the 29th. The Aston Clun celebration is closely linked with Oak Apple Day as well as with the wedding of 1786. I don’t know exactly when this was published, but the somewhat random initcapping and the use of a ‘thin space’ before colons and question marks is characteristic of an earlier school of typography, perhaps as far back as the late 18th century.

In Aston Clun I stand, a tree,
A Poplar dressed, like a ship at sea.
Lonely link with an age long past :
Of Arbor Trees, I am the last.

Since seventeen-eighty-six, My Day
Is writ, the twenty 9th of May.
When new flags fly and we rejoice,
New life has stilled harsh Winter’s voice.

To greet a Squire’s lovely bride
Did tenants dress my boughs with pride ?
But Old Wives say, my flags are worn
To mark the day an heir was born.

Wise men, mellow o’er evening ale,
Old feuds and wicked deeds retail.
Thanksgiving dressed my arms, they say
For Peace, when blood feuds died away.

Did here ! my father mark the rite
Of Shepherd’s, gone with world’s first light ?
Was England merrie neath his shade
Till crop-Haired Cromwell joy forbade ?

In sixteen-sixty with the Spring
Came Merry Charles the exiled king.
Did he proclaim May twenty-nine
“Arbor Day” for revelry and wine ?

And Shepherds, plagued with pox and chills
Turn to the old ways of the hills,
To “Mystic Poplar”, to renew
Fertility in field and ewe ?

Stand I, for Ancient ways, for Birth,
For Love, for Peace, for Joy and Mirth?
Riddle my riddle as you will
I stand for good and not for ill.

And if my dress your fancy please
Help my flags to ride the breeze
That you with me, will in the Sun,
Welcome all, to the Vale of Clun.

A Research Article from April, 2003, by John Box gives some very useful information. It’s available from a number of places but, most appropriately, here:  https://hopesayparish.com/arbor%20tree/dressing%20the%20tree.html

Here’s the Abstract:

The custom of dressing the black poplar growing in Aston-on-Clun in south Shropshire – known as the Arbor Tree – with flags on flagpoles every 29 May is unique in Britain. New flags are attached to wooden flagpoles on the tree that remain throughout the year. Written records of the Arbor Tree only extend back to 1898, but the tradition of dressing the tree is reputed to date back to a local wedding in 1786. The article attempts to establish the history and context of the tradition and shows how the custom has developed and acquired new meanings, particularly since 1955 when a pageant was devised. The pageant and the celebrations associated with the tree dressing are evolving in response to those living in the local community as well as to the external recognition now accorded to this unique tradition.

 

Kate of Coalbrookdale (trad.)

Thinking about whether this might fit in, though it’s a broadside that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Shropshire except the title. Certainly much of the story sounds as if it’s extrapolating a story from a pastoral painting of the 18th or 19th centuries. I haven’t recorded it yet.

 

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries (Housman-Harley)

A much later poem, ‘Last Poems’ XXXVII.

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.

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.

 

My Boy Jack (Kipling-Harley)

My setting of the poem ‘My Boy Jack’ by Rudyard Kipling, with a loose link to the ‘Epitaph’ poem: I was looking at a couple of projects to coincide with the centenary of the ending of the Great War, but this is the only one that’s actually been heard in public.

It’s often assumed that the poem refers to the loss of Kipling’s son John, presumed killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915. The confusion was probably increased by the TV adaptation of David Craig’s play, which missed out the 3rd Act and finished with Kipling reciting the poem. However, while Kipling’s own grief did, no doubt, contribute to the overall tone of the poem, it was first published at the top of a series of articles on the Battle of Jutland, in which the British fleet sustained heavy losses, and it seems to me (and others) that, given the importance of ‘the tide’ in the poem, that the name Jack probably reflects the more generic ‘Jack Tar’. (While the earlier ‘Tommy’ has a very different tone, it does use the generic name ‘Tommy Atkins’ in a somewhat similar way.)

The guitar is a Nashville-strung Baby Taylor. I think the final version of this might have include some double- or triple-tracked vocals. Even if it doesn’t, the vocal needs work.

‘MY BOY JACK’
1914-18

“HAVE you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Has any one else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide. 

 

A Smuggler’s Song (Kipling-Harley)

After hearing Baldrick’s Plan sing (very well indeed!) ‘Big Steamers’, a Kipling poem set by Peter Bellamy to a variation on a well-known tune to ‘Henry Martin’, I thought I’d revisit a couple of my own settings of Kipling verses. (I have a rough setting of ‘Tommy’, too, but I’m rethinking that.)

Does the world really need my settings to three poems that Peter Bellamy had already added to his considerable armoury of Kipling settings? I’m not sure about that, at the moment. But here, for what it’s worth, is one of them.

I’m sure I remember at least one other setting of ‘A Smuggler’s Song’ apart from mine and Peter’s, but I quite like this tune. I could repurpose it, I suppose.

 

Two songs of mine that relate to Shropshire, preceded by one that doesn’t but does have a similar archaic feel:

Song of Chivalry (Harley)

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?

 

 

Wrekin (The Marches Line) [Harley]

Much more info here: https://whealalicemusic.wordpress.com/2018/12/23/wrekin-the-marches-line-demo/

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

 

Thomas Anderson [Harley, based on an article by Ron Nurse]

There’s a massive article on this at https://whealalicemusic.wordpress.com/2016/06/12/thomas-anderson/

We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour

High above the river on Kingsland we stood
On the gate to the hall of the shoemakers’ guild
Where the bakers, the tailors, the butchers, the smiths
And the saddlers too their guild arbours built.
Each year in procession the guilds gave a show
And marched through the town to the sound of the drum:
Then it’s back to Kingsland to feast and carouse
And enjoy the great day the guild members come.

We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s arbour

On the 10th of June 1752
In a house called The Crown that stood on Pride Hill
John Richards’ workmen received a week’s pay
And there they stayed and drank their fill.
When a redcoat patrol chanced to pass by
The men  mocked and reviled them with Jacobite songs
And who struck the first blow no-one was sure
But a bloody riot soon raged through the town.

The authorities trembled with passion and fear
When news of this Jacobite outburst was known
For the House of Hanover had won few hearts
And the Stuarts still plotted to win back the throne.
And so that same year, one raw day in December,
The rebellious townsfolk of Salop looked on
While below the old arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour
They made an example of Tom Anderson

Who was once spared by death on the field of Culloden
Then joined the dragoons but deserted, they say,
Only to die on the banks of the Severn
By firing squad on a cold Winter’s day.
When the black velvet suit was stripped from his body
The Chevalier’s colours were beneath it, it’s said,
Received from the hands of Bonny Prince Charlie
Whose cause like young Thomas is broken and dead.

For it’s 200 years since Bonny Prince Charlie
Died drunk and embittered, an old man in Rome
While a century ago in the flowers of the Dingle
The old arbour gateway found a new home.
Now who’s to remember the Shoemakers’ Guild
Or the Jacobite rebels who fought for a throne?
And who’s left to grieve for Tom Anderson
But these two hearts of stone?

We are but images of stone
Do us no harm
We can do none
St. Crispin and St. Crispian are we
On the arch of the Shoemaker’s Arbour

 

And a setting of Tennyson’s poem that has a connection to ‘Wrekin’:

Crossing The Bar (Tennyson-Harley)

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar

 

Some songs previously considered for an earlier version of the CD.

Castles and Kings (Harley)

Sketch for an unaccompanied/harmony version

 

Let Me Lie Easy (Harley)

 

Rain (Harley)

 

Blackwaterside (trad. arr. Harley)