Notes on the Songs
The continued existence, over decades, of a Communist-inspired monument, partially damaged by a Catholic priest, exactly captures the historical cross currents that have flowed through and over this most beautiful city. Caught between Ottoman and Holy Roman empires 500 years ago and Communist and European Union empires in the last century it reminds us of the moral and practical individual choices that we Brits, safe on our island fortress, rarely have to make.
BETHESDA TO ROWAN 3.58
This is a superb walk across an often-deserted stretch of Snowdonia, North Wales. The song was initially intended to be just an appreciation of the scenery: but it somehow morphed, as songs often do in the writing, into something else: a sociological treatise on two very different villages. However, the song is probably unfair to both: Bethesda’s shopfronts are less boarded than they were; and I have been into Rowan’s pub to find everyone speaking Welsh.
The basic idea for this occurred to me when I was ten years old; and wondered where, exactly, all the molecules that constituted my baby brother had been a year earlier, before he was born. It much later became the basis for a stand-up routine before ending up as this song. This particular rendition was recorded live at the Bristol Troubadour Reunion Concert in Bristol, 2004. The concept has been approved by Biomedical Scientists and rubbished by Statisticians. But parts of it must be true ….
Inspired by a misinterpretation of a Middle English poem, this song attempts to capture the inevitable rise and fall of cities, empires, and all human endeavour. I had just re-read Lord of the Rings when I wrote it, so there are probably bits of Minas Tirith in there, along with Arthur C Clarke-type visions of spaceships coming across the remains of long-ruined civilisations; and also hints of "Electric Los Angeles Sunset".
RED MAN WHITE MAN 3.35
The full version of a song trailed on the Liberator CD. It was written as Blair and Bush were limbering up to invade Iraq while claiming that no decision had yet been made to do so. That explains the “conflicts yet to come” line; and it is about the general unfairness of the way the powerful have always overcome the weak, whatever the real values involved. Having won, of course, the powerful then get to write the history in their own favour.
THE SILENCE 2.42
Many of those who fought in and survived World War II, especially those who saw the most extreme action, simply refused to talk about it. Most are of course now dead from natural causes, thus permanently silent. This song is a tribute to those who did what they had to do.
THE ITALIAN CHAPEL 5.05
What drew me to this remarkable story of the Italian Chapel on Orkney was the idea of role reversal. At first the Italians were the prisoners, and the British were the guards. But as they became inspired by their creation, the Italians became the free men, choosing to stay, while their guards became the ones trapped and unable to leave. I have no idea if there were any “Tommy”s as depicted in the song; but the broader concept stands even if not. As does the Chapel, still.
NORFOLK WHERRY 2.10
This song came from nowhere. I just had a picture in my head of a cold winter’s morning by a canal or slow-moving river. The idea of the wherry, and its sad rotting abandonment as transport needs changed: well, that’s what folk singers are always on about.
This one came in a rush. It quite often generates lively discussion in the audience about old Bradford, with people telling me I ought to put this in, or that in. Well, I’ve put in what I noticed and still remember from when I first came to Bradford in 1971: at the time expecting to stay a maximum of two years. Still here. I should never have bought that back-to-back house with outside toilet on a cobbled street for £485.
LETTER GO 1.22
This started life as an entry to the BBC Radio Today Programme’s competition requiring stories of exactly 50 words: yet with a beginning, a middle and an end. It didn’t win.
I like different time signatures, and try to write as many songs as possible not in the standard 4/4. To this end I devised a finger-style sequence for every signature from single chords through 3/4, 5/4 to 7/8. It seemed to fit well with the chords and gradual development to Pachelbel’s Canon.
SAMUEL, OH HOW YOU’VE CHANGED (written by Al Stewart) 3.56
The only cover on this CD. I have been more influenced by Al Stewart than everyone else put together; not just his chord structures and melodic lines, but his lyrical style and his interest in history. I first heard Al play this live in November 1967 (in meeting room 5A, Bristol Students’ Union) before his first disc came out. And I’ve been playing it ever since. It remains one of the most enigmatic (I’m not sure what he means by it) yet personal (I know exactly what I mean by it) and favourite songs of all time and I want it played at my funeral.
GOLDFISH (performed by Ryan McGovern) 3.40
A sort of anti-cover. Goldfish was trailed on the Liberator CD. Here I am pleased to include the full version, performed by the talented Ryan McGovern, who does it so much better than I can.
BENGT OLAFFSEN 2.44
The second song of a trilogy chronicling the life and times of a troubled Norwegian dairy farmer and his unpredictable ruminant quadruped. Since writing these songs I have received several newspaper cuttings and other evidence that Norwegian cows do indeed occasionally get up to odd tricks.
All songs written and performed by John Waller © 2003-2005
except track 12 (written by Al Stewart) and track 13 (performed by Ryan McGovern)
Recording, engineering, studio effects, cover design and production by Nicholas Waller