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#SaturdaySongs No.14 – Great Lake Swimmers

November 10, 2018 4 comments

When I reblogged my #SaturdaySongs post of songs for Bonfire Night last weekend, I had a slight pang of guilt, as I have posted so few of those recently. The idea for this post came about when, earlier in the week, I was having one of my late evening sessions watching YouTube videos. I was in the middle of a run of several by one of my favourite bands, the Canadian group Great Lake Swimmers, and was scrolling through the comments when I came across someone saying they were looking forward to seeing the band play in London. This struck a chord, as I went to that show, and I then had one of those D’oh lightbulb moments: the comment was by me! Here it is, in all its glory, second one down:

As this was six years ago I guess I can be forgiven for not recalling this, and in any event I rarely post comments on YouTube so wasn’t really expecting to see myself there! This brought back some lovely memories of the gig, which actually has a very special meaning for me, and it reminded me that I had written a post about it. After digging back into the darkest recesses of my library of posts, I found the piece. It was originally written on 23 April 2013 in response to that day’s WordPress Daily Prompt. I used to write a lot of those, until they spoiled it all by moving to single word prompts that did nothing for my limited imagination. These prompts have now stopped: it seems I may not have been the only one who didn’t like the change! I was going to do this as one of my reblogs but I thought the occasion deserved a fuller post, so I’m going to share the full text of what I originally wrote and will then round things up at the end. Here’s me in April 2013:

Daily Prompt: Earworm

“The question posed in today’s prompt is “What song is stuck in your head (or on permanent rotation in your CD  or MP3 player) these days? Why does it speak to you?”

The song which I have played most since the album it’s on came out last summer is unlikely to be known by many. It is ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’ by the Canadian band The Great Lake Swimmers. Here’s the official video:

“Easy come and easy go

That’s what they say when they’re about to go broke

So try not to choke

And put your arms around me and don’t ever let go”

Have you even heard of them, let alone know their music? They have been together in various incarnations since 2003 and the album this song is on – ‘New Wild Everywhere’ – is their fifth. If you’d like to find out more about them they are at www.greatlakeswimmers.com

Apart from the fact that I love this band’s music, and this song in particular, there are two answers to the question about why it speaks to me. Firstly, the message is a simple one: “everything can be collapsing around you, but I’m here to look after you” – I know it’s more complex than that, but that’s what I take as the underlying message of the song. It’s a message I like and which I think we all want to have from a special someone if life reaches the point of being dismantled around us, as in the video, or should we be going through a difficult time. As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my previous offerings, I am in recovery from depression and started this blog to encourage others that things can and do get better. But I don’t just sail blithely through life, and I still have my black dog days. I had a spell of these last week and didn’t really start feeling better until yesterday morning. This was the first song I played – it is hard not to get carried along by the tune, and the words seemed comforting after a very rough few days. That’s what the song does for me.

The second level is that this band will always be special to me for a very personal reason. Before I was ill I used to love going to live gigs, usually at least once a month. I went through a period of nearly two years when I just didn’t feel like going to one – Great Lake Swimmers at Bush Hall in London, 26th November 2012, was my first after all that time. Being able to overcome my apprehension at going, on a horrible wet Monday night, to be part of a crowd and to enjoy losing myself in the music again is something that will stay with me forever. And just to prove I was there, a very quick snippet of ‘Ballad of a Fisherman’s Wife’ :

Just to finish that evening off, a final part of the story: on the tube home I tweeted the band and thanked them for a great show. Most bands don’t reply to fan tweets like that, but GLS did – I had a very nice tweet back from Miranda, the rather lovely red headed one, saying how much they appreciated that. The perfect end to my first show after the long break!

I hope you have a special song, piece of music, poem, painting or whatever that says something for you when you need a comforting ‘voice.’ Why not share yours via the comments box, it would be interesting to see what helps, comforts and encourages you.”

Back in the here and now: as a little bonus I thought I’d also give you the song on which I made my comment. It is the title track from what was then the band’s new album, referenced in the 2013 post, and the video is nice, too:

I still play that a lot nowadays. As I said: special band for me, with special memories.

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#SaturdaySongs No.13 – Teach Your Children

June 23, 2018 28 comments

Just when you thought I might never do another #SaturdaySongs post – it is only seven months since the last one, after all – here’s a brand new one for you. Following on from my previous post, I Hope You Dance, this is also on the theme of families and how they develop through the generations.

If, like me, you watch a lot of music videos on YouTube, you’ve probably followed links to some of their recommendations for you. This one was in mine the other day, from a band I’ve loved ever since their first album all the way back in 1969. This song was actually on their second album, Dejà Vu, by which time they had morphed from being CS&N to CSN&Y, though Neil doesn’t feature much on the original version – it is very much a Graham Nash song:

If you Google the song and follow the various links to sites on which people share their interpretations of songs you will find some weird and wonderful stuff. For me, though, this has always been about how our experiences shape us, how we pass that on as we bring up our children, and how they in turn teach us some lessons about life. In other words, it is about the cyclical nature of life’s experience and how it is interwoven into us, and between us and the ones we love. Given that I became a grandfather just over a fortnight ago, you can probably see why this song says so much to me right now – although, to be fair, it has always seemed to me to be much more profound than it might at first appear. The version I shared is a simple acoustic one, just the three guys with guitars and their amazing harmonies. You may have spotted that the signature sound of the original recording – the pedal steel guitar played by the late, great Jerry Garcia (of a little band called the Grateful Dead) – wasn’t part of that live show. I missed hearing it the first time I played the video – it was, after all, part of the reason for the song being a huge hit single – but I think this stripped-down version really brings home the beauty and the meaning of the song.

One of the hallmarks of a good song is the number of cover versions it inspires, and in particular how closely those covers adhere to the original. Fellow musicians know a good tune when they hear one, although there have been many amazing covers which have completely changed the feel of a song: Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends comes to mind – but not Disturbed’s total massacre of The Sound Of Silence! Most of the many cover versions of Teach Your Children are faithful to the original, including the use of the pedal steel. As it is, at heart, a country song, it isn’t surprising that many in that field have covered it. Here’s a lovely version from three of my favourite country musicians:

I think the female harmonies really do the song justice, and it kind of becomes their song while they play it. And on a side note, it’s good to see a former American President singing along – I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen now, as the clown in chief doesn’t even know the words to God Bless America, yet claims to be the biggest, most beautiful patriot! Maybe I should exclude him from any analysis of this song, though, as his children aren’t exactly role models, and he himself has been quoted as saying ‘Growing up, I hardly ever saw my father and it hasn’t done me any harm.’ Yeah, right. Never was the inherent truth of Graham Nash’s song so perfectly demonstrated!

There is also this performance, which links the two previous ones. It’s not often that you get to sing a song with the guy who wrote it, and this is another great version, and a lovely video too:

To bring this full circle (before I share every YouTube video I can find!) I’m closing with one more, perhaps the most appropriate of all. Think about the meaning of the song as you watch this video – my guess is that you may have a tear in your eye by the end:

Who needs a pedal steel guitar anyway? The beauty lies in the simplicity, as it does in the acoustic CS&N performance above. I hope those kids are encouraged to learn what the song is about, as they represent our future and will be the ones who put its values into place in their own lives and those of future generations. As Graham Nash has said: ‘I wrote ‘Teach Your Children’ and we have a lot to learn from our kids. We have a lot to teach them, but we do have a lot to learn from our children.’

Teach your children well….and know they love you.

#SaturdaySongs No.12 – Songs for Bonfire Night

November 4, 2017 31 comments

When I brought back this #SaturdaySongs series I said I would be doing it a little differently. So today, instead of a song with meaning from somewhere in my life I’m doing a themed set for Bonfire Night, aka Guy Fawkes Night.

Earlier this week we ‘celebrated’ Hallowe’en. As I said then, this is largely imported to these shores from the US, in its current form, although parts of the British Isles do have a tradition going back many hundreds of years – the whole thing derives from the pagan festival of Samhain, if you want to follow it up. Our real celebration for this week comes tomorrow, when we mark what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night, if you prefer. This is still a big night in the UK – understanding of it is perhaps declining, but it marks a momentous event in British history. Bonfires will be lit all over the country, and thousands will attend to watch them and the accompanying firework displays. Why?

As the majority of readers here are based outside the UK it would be presumptuous of me to assume that you would know why we do this. Briefly, on 5th November 1605 a man called Guy Fawkes was discovered in the vaults of the House of Lords guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder. He was there to blow the place up during the State Opening of the English Parliament, as part of a plot by Catholics to murder the King – James I of England and VI of Scotland – and install his 9 year old daughter, Princess Elizabeth, as a Catholic monarch. The details of this are well documented so I won’t bore you with them here, but if you want to know more there is a good article in Wikipedia which draws on a number of authoritative sources to give a full description of the plot and its aftermath, which resulted in trials for those who had not been killed as they tried to make their escape, and subsequent executions by the barbaric method of hanging, drawing and quartering. Perhaps ironically Guy Fawkes managed to escape this end – weakened by having been tortured during the investigation into the plot he jumped from the gallows and broke his neck. This all sounds very gory to me. To illustrate that, an admission: the BBC has been running a dramatisation of these events, which finishes tonight – I recorded the first episode but when I read how people were complaining about its graphic detail I went into full wuss mode and deleted it, unwatched!

In the following years the foiling of this plot was celebrated on its anniversary by the ringing of church bells, special sermons and the lighting of bonfires, and it became a part of traditional British culture as a result. This tradition included the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes on top of the bonfire, although in recent times there have been occasions when masks of modern political figures have been put on the guy – we may love our democracy but it doesn’t stop us hating the politicians! When I was growing up it was commonplace to see groups of children on the streets with their guys, quite often being transported in their dads’ wheelbarrow, asking for a ‘Penny for the guy, mister’ but this is seen much less nowadays. In our current Health and Safety conscious era I guess they are most likely to be arrested for begging!

I thought I’d mark the event with a few songs, none of which has anything to do with Guy Fawkes but all of which have the word ‘fire’ in their title. I’ve really thought this through, haven’t I! First up, and one which has a place in my life as being one of the earliest songs (and bands) that introduced me to American rock music, is this:

See what I mean about there being no influence from Guy Fawkes? It’s still a great song though.

The events we are remembering tomorrow took place 412 years ago. But there are, sadly, echoes in modern day life: religion as the basis for differences and even violence; a threat to democracy from those who want another form of government and are prepared to go to illegal and destructive ends to attain it. Sound familiar? We don’t learn as much from history as we would like to think, do we? For a potted history lesson, we could all do a lot worse than listen to my second choice for today:

And when I say ‘all’ I’m thinking in particular of a certain orange president who seems determined to ignore any lessons he might have learned from history, assuming he has ever read about it. Sadly, he is far from alone in that.

My final ‘fire’ song just has to be this. Utterly bonkers, the archetypal one hit wonder, from 1968:

They don’t really make them like that anymore, do they? Somehow, though, Arthur Brown best fits the theme for tomorrow: he’s a kind of walking bonfire, really.

I’m sorry if I haven’t included your favourite fire song, but I didn’t want to overburden you (and as it’s my blog I can choose what I want 😂). Two other obvious candidates are Great Balls of Fire and Ring of Fire (nothing to do with curries). No doubt you can think of many more, all of which will share one common denominator: they are not about Guy Fawkes. There are a number of traditional folk songs and ballads going right back to the early 17th century but sadly, for some reason, none of these appears to have found their way onto YouTube – what were they thinking! There are also a few modern day efforts which mostly share the characteristics of being loud, tuneless and not good enough to meet the high quality standards I apply to this blog (ahem). So I’ve decided to end with a little history lesson instead:

If you’re out tonight or tomorrow, stay warm, stay safe, and enjoy yourself. And please remember that pets (and ageing bloggers) need to be looked after during the fireworks and explosions.

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