OFFICE JUNIOR 2.57
This was inspired by a simple five-frame strip cartoon in Mad Magazine many years ago. Each frame had a worker looking greedily into the next frame and envying the next person up in the chain, until the final frame. The concept probably fits virtually any hierarchical organisation, but the song was written during the first throes of the audit culture now gripping most public service organisations, and so reflects that. When performing for an audience of university-based people, I can quite easily slot the roles of Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor into the final two verses.
We all have regrets; and episodes in our lives that we remember with shame, or embarrassment, or anger. My two verses here relate to time I spent in Yugoslavia as a postgraduate student, and in Lebanon (Phoenecia) even earlier. Once I had finished it, I imagined writing other alternative verses, but I never have. There is no particular reason why I should associate regrets with the Mushroom on Scout Scar near Kendal: it is just a superb viewpoint as described; with the inside rim of the dome of the Mushroom indeed picking out landmarks. But the idea of looking outwards and simultaneously backwards came later. Only much later still did it occur to me that it would be possible to interpret the “high up on the mushroom” line as involving hallucinogenic substances. This was neither intentional, nor have I any experience of whether it may be true.
The Norwegian cow on the roof started out as my own short story, and I first thought of it while gazing along a beach in Southern Ireland, which really did stretch two miles straight and flat in each direction; and imagining some ill-researched Jeffrey Archer-style novelist describing the Norwegian coast in such terms. When developing this into a song format, it was natural to introduce a similar Norwegian dislocation into each verse. Straight coastlines, flat roofs, cactus hedges, warm winter sun, sweet white wine …. The basic story has developed a life of its own, and this is now the first song of an unfinished trilogy.
The tune started out as my (successful) attempt to devise a finger style for playing songs in 5/4 time. The lyric idea came out of watching rolling news programmes (while recuperating from my heart bypass surgery) where every hour newscasters revisit the same news story as if for the first time. But I have for many years also rather enjoyed the assumption that when goldfish imagine a Creator, or Deity, they will visualise such a being in Fish form. The version of the song here is still incomplete (I hadn’t successfully worked the middle section up to adequate performance standard) and anyone who wants to hear the proper version should listen to Ryan McGovern’s haunting rendition on my second CD Molecules.
YER BIKE 6.04
The idea for this came to me while listening to a Phil Hare CD. But I can’t remember (or find) which track. Like many a song, once the idea and the structure was in place, the song almost wrote itself. Apologies to any traditional songwriter whose words I may be quoting. No apologies to Norman Tebbitt, whose mean-spirited advice to denizens of the industries his government’s policies had laid waste, provides a linking chorus. As someone once quipped, “There used to be something called a career path. Now it’s crazy paving, and you have to lay it yourself.”
BLIND SONG 3.56
The first proper song I ever wrote, way back in 1969 (probably). It was inspired by an hour-long poem by a blind poet that I listened to, fascinated, for almost an hour, when it was broadcast on the radio. That went into far greater detail of the use of senses than this song, but I was well pleased with it at the time. On completion, I went out and accidentally got just about as drunk as I have ever been.
NEVER AGAIN 4.34
If you’ve ever had food poisoning you’ll know how long it is before you can again enjoy the food that you think gave it to you. Years, decades, maybe for ever. I still have a problem with bacon-flavoured crisps, after an event dating back to the late 1960s involving my then girlfriend’s parents’ staircarpet. Yet with alcohol … how many of us have woken to the familiar strains of “never again” … only to find ourselves down the pub again that very evening? Why doesn’t the same thing happen? The theory that it is all down to a secret forgetting-ingredient that manufacturers of alcoholic beverages add to their products was developed by brother Nicholas in an academic article published in ..
CHRISTY CRUNCHIES 2.16
This idea started life (and still exists) as packaging for these wonderful biscuits, designed by my friend and flatmate Neil Jones as a three-dimensional cartoon (or carton) in the late 60s. I merely turned the ideas and endorsements on the original packet into doggerel, and (for the purposes of this CD) borrowed the German national anthem. It used to go down well in the Troubadour in Bristol, just as a poem; though it is less well received in these more sensitive and politically correct times. At one point it was joined by a companion piece similarly extolling the virtues of communion wine, but apart from the couplet “if you drink sufficient bottles, angels will hang over you” this lacked the wit of the original.
This song was written in genuine anger, which I still feel, at the continued appalling treatment meted out to the Palestinian people. The enormity of the injustice heaped upon them, and its post-hoc justification by reference to the “terrorism” that is one minor part of their otherwise entirely legitimate response to that injustice, and the consent of the western world to that injustice, is simply mind-boggling. It was written in 1968, when most Palestinians now considered to be residents of the West Bank and Gaza were properly recognised as refugees expelled from what is now Israel. That refugee status now seems to have been largely forgotten. But when, thirty years after writing it, I revived the song, it mostly seemed still so absolutely relevant that I decided not to change or update a single word, even though 50, rather than 20, years have passed away since the Israeli terrorism that drove so many Palestinians from their homes. I have been unable, in this performance, to recapture the fervour with which I originally performed this back in the 60s and early 70s, in one memorable occasion to virtually the entire Arab-speaking population of Zagreb (that meant a lot of students) and local Communist Party heavyweights at a Palestinian solidarity conference.
RED MAN WHITE MAN 2.02
I had just about written the words to this when the CD was recorded, but hadn’t learned them to performance standard, so only the chorus and a rather tentative melodic line appears here (see Molecules CD for the full version).
The first song in my second phase of songwriting, which started during the period of convalescence from my heart surgery in 2002. In fact, I read brother Nicholas’s short story (published in All Hallows magazine in 2004 and available online here) on which it is shamelessly based on the evening before the operation, and immediately knew that it had a structure that would lend itself to a four-verse song with chorus. I had it more or less written before I came out of hospital, and long before I was able to hold a guitar; fortunately it fitted a tune that I had been saving for a suitable song for many years. Both short story and song are based on historical fact: my father flew submarine-spotting Liberators from the north coast of Scotland in the last days of WW2; and it could easily have been his plane rather than another 547 Liberator that was shot down by U-534 in the last 3 days of the war with the loss of the crew. Which would have meant that I wouldn’t exist; nor the short-story writing brother. And who knows who might have existed had the crew of the plane that was shot down survived to have families. My father himself had four aunts, none of whom ever married, not least because of the shortage of suitably-aged young men after the even greater carnage of WW1. I am quite pleased with the idea of how the chorus changes ever so slightly each time.
All songs and music ŠJohn Waller 2002 (except Christy Crunchies)
Recording, engineering, studio effects, cover design and production by Nicholas Waller