When the war came: Movement 2: Work

I didn’t want to paint a picture of pre-war England as too idyllic; I’m sure life in a small village like this was pretty tough. So this is a tough song. I hope it is realistic. I like the little sister’s head bobbing up and down among the uncut corn as she brings lunch.

Jools has brilliantly set it to a very lively folk-song kind of rhythm which works really well, stops it being too melancholy, and  provides a lovely contrast to the tender nostalgia of  Long Ago.

SONG TWO: LONG AGO: WORK

 

NARRATOR

 

Life at the mill was hard. But the pay was enough. And us lads were all together. We still managed to have a bit of a laugh here and there.

 

ALL BOYS

 

The sky is dark.

The dawn is sharpening the wind

My feet are clumsy; stiff with sleep.

 

I am so tired.

 

Inside the mill

We shiver out of coats and scarves

We start our work; our fingers yawn.

 

We are so tired.

 

Will I be here

Pushing this handle in the gloom

Will I be here

Through all the summer days to come?

 

The sky is dark.

The dawn is sharpening the wind

My feet are clumsy; stiff with sleep.

 

I am so tired.

 

NARRATOR

 

At least the girls were outside, in the sunshine. But their work was unrelenting too. Especially that summer – so long, so hot..

 

 ALL GIRLS

 

The sun is up.

My back is bending in the heat

My fingers pull the stubborn husks.

 

I am so tired.

 

I stretch my arms.

Across the field my sister bobs

The pasty warm inside her hand.

 

We are so tired.

 

We work until we cannot see the corn

We work until our hands are torn

 

The sun is up.

My back is bending in the heat

My fingers pull the stubborn husks.

 

I am so tired.

Boys and girls

 

The day’s work never seems to end

We are so tired.

 

NARRATOR

 

We thought that things would go on like this for ever.. that nothing would ever change.. that there would be no more to our world.. no wide horizons.. no surprises. We might get married.. have kids.. buy a cottage one day.. But always here, in the same village.

 We were happy enough with that, but..

It’s hard, when you’re young, not to want a bit of change. A bit of adventure…

 But then it came.

 It wasn’t what we thought that it would be.

 

SONG ONE: (reprise) LONG AGO

 

BOYS AND GIRLS

 

I can remember how it was

The day we heard.

When we heard that change was coming

Coming right here to the village

Come to take us and to break us

Long ago.

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When the War Came

I’ve decided to publish in this blog the full narration and lyrics of the song cycle we are in the process of writing for the Schools project at Bath Abbey, as a serial. It is a half-hour piece, performed on June 12th at Bath Abbey, sung by the children of 6 schools, I think, and accompanied by members of the Bristol Ensemble. The narrator – hoorah! – is Jon Monie. This will be its only performance. All are welcome if you are around.

I took this momentous decision which affects the lives of so many people – at least six, as far as I know – because I like this piece and I am proud of it as a lyricist. And a dear friend of mine told me off yesterday for always seeing what I do as second in importance to the music.

The poems are of course transformed by the music into something much more moving and beautiful than they are alone; but they do have merit in themselves.. and after all, they are the story.

Sometimes when you are working with a composer, lyrics combust into music almost immediately; sometimes he grumbles a lot, tries to make you throw it out, says he will try and do something with it – as if he knows all too well the nature of that which he is polishing – and then eventually, capitulates, and it works. Two of the best songs in this – the Trenches song in Dispatches, and the last song – only exist because I fought for them. I’m glad I did. It feels important to stand up for my own vision of a piece.

This was a difficult commission; to write a song cycle for small children about WW1.

We have been immersed in this subject – first for The Cool Web, then for Demon Lover, (which has a long flashback to WW1) and now for this – since 2013. It’s been a long war. However, I am reliably informed that it will be over by Christmas.

Two things which became gradually clear to me led me to this treatment.

First, the understanding that what matters to me in war is love. The love and grief of Graves for his lost friend David became the core of the Web; Demon lover became – for me- about the betrayal of love. The horror of the vast mincing machine of war is in itself  important only by virtue of the importance of that which it destroys. How it does it is not what engages me.

Second: children. Children will be singing this. I wanted it to be about them. I did not want it to be more than they could bear; but I wanted it to be honest. Some of these children who are singing may have themselves experienced war; but most of them will not.

And when that thought connected to what became clear to me in reading endless first hand descriptions of how wounded soldiers call not for their sweethearts but for their mothers.. I knew how to do it.

So I have told the story of six children from a small village in England who go to war.

When we played it through to our choirmaster and our narrator , with Jools singing it at the piano, and I saw them so close to tears, I realised that it works. Its heart is in the right place, which is what matters.

So: Here is the first Movement:

 

WHEN THE WAR CAME

 

A SONG CYCLE FOR CHILDREN

JOOLS SCOTT AND SUE CURTIS

MOVEMENT ONE: HOW IT WAS

NARRATOR

There were six of us in our village. Joe and Fred and Billy, and their sisters, Dot and Phoebe. And Joe’s girl, Mary. Mary was always Joe’s girl, right from when we could walk. He would be running, and she would be tottering along behind him, trying to catch up. 

We all lived in our street, and played together in the back alley. Or out on the hills. I don’t think our parents knew where we were half the time.

 Joe was the leader of the gang, always out ahead, urging the others on.

SONG ONE: LONG AGO: CHILDHOOD

ALL BOYS

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

How days were fun and long and busy

How the bath at home was grimy

How I always was so hungry

Long ago.

 

NARRATOR

 

Fred was more of a dreamer, a quiet lad.. A good friend though. You needed him, he was there.

 

FRED

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago..

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

We six were all there together

Walking happy on a Sunday

Kicking feet on the church railing

Long ago

 

 

NARRATOR

 

Billy was a go-getter. Even at that age, he had an eye for the girls.. And they for him.

 

BILLY

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

We were cheeky, young and easy;

Mad, impatient to be living..

And the girls all pink and giggly..

Long ago.

 

NARRATOR

 

The girls were just ‘the girls’ to us. We spent most of the time trying to get away from them.

 

ALL GIRLS

 

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

The boys were all so naughty

Calling names and pulling pigtails,

Throwing stones and chasing, teasing..

Long ago.

Long ago

Long ago

 

NARRATOR

 

We all had a bit of schooling, when the harvest didn’t need us. Learned about Kings and Queens, and Famous Battles, and Cowboys and Indians, and the Knights of the Round Table, and the Fall of Troy. All very romantic and exciting, and good for games on the hills, but just in old books; not real..

 

ALL GIRLS

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago..

 

We thought it would last forever

Thought that change would never shake us

Never come and take and break us

Long ago.

 

 

NARRATOR

 

But then we turned fourteen; school was over, freedom was over; we were grown-ups and we had to work for our families; life began in earnest. It was the mill for the lads, and farm work for the girls.. none of us fancied service – we didn’t want to go away to a big house where no-one knew us …

 

ALL GIRLS

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago..

 

All those days out in the sunshine

Turned to work and dirt and growing

Turned us into men and women..

Long ago..

Long ago

Long ago

Long ago

Long ago …

 

 

 

Written on Water: The Lantern of the West

1499

After the Saxon Abbey was a distant memory, and the first great Norman cathedral, built on the same spot, had also fallen without trace, our own Abbey was created because of the most famous dream in the history of Bath; the dream that began the Abbey we have today, and displayed itself in the ladders on the front, where the Angels toil ever upwards towards heaven – and, sometimes, plunge downwards to earth.. Bath Abbey – The Lantern of the West..

The Lantern of the West

By night,

Across the valleys and the hills,

streams the light;

 

By day,

sun pours through windows,

painting stone

sapphire,  emerald and gold ..

 

The Lantern of the West.

 

Inside

music rises to Heaven

painting the air

sapphire, emerald and gold..

 

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

 

Outside,

Angels climb stone ladders.

Like music,

Reaching

up to the Father..

 

Father! Father!

 

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

The Lantern of the West.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written on Water: St. Peter’s Fair

One thing the monasteries gave Bath is often forgotten; St Peter’s fair in 1106, the first street celebration in Bath with jugglers, musicians, fire swallowers, mummers, tightrope artists, food, drink and toy stalls, and of course, tourists, who thronged the streets around the Abbey in noisy celebration…and still do…

1106

ST PETER’S FAIR SONG

Piercing the darkness of the narrow streets,

One by one,

Candles glow.

 

Damp cobbles feel the slap of leather feet

Two by two,

People go.

 

Tall shadows dance as the torches pass

Ten by ten

Crowds grow

In city squares..

 

Piercing the darkness of the narrow streets,

One by one,

Candles glow.

 

Damp cobbles feel the slap of leather feet

Two by two,

People go.

 

Tall shadows dance as the torches pass

Ten by ten

Crowds grow

In city squares..

 

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

 

(Jugglers)

 

Catch the song I throw

High in the sky!

Catch the song I throw

Fly, song, fly!

 

(Musicians)

 

Dance to my fiddle!

Hop to my drum!

Leap to the high flute!

Come, gallants, come!

 

(Fire swallowers)

Fire! Fire!

Watch me drink it!

Fire! Fire!

Watch me sink it!

 

(Mummers)

See the King with crown and scarlet!

See the Lady faint in white!

See the villain slink and snigger!

See the Spring and Winter fight!    

 

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

St Peter’s Fair is here!

The high time of the year!

 

(Tightrope artists)

Here I am!

Above your head!

See me dance!

On a thread!

 

Here I am!

Above your head!

See me dance!

On a thread!

 

(Food and Drink)                                                                 

Come buy, come buy,

Sizzling sausages! Steaming hot pies!

Come buy! Come buy!

 

Come buy, come buy,

Sizzling sausages! Steaming hot pies!

Come buy! Come buy!

 

 

 

Written on Water: The Monk’s Song

I have posted an earlier version of this before, but here is the finished one – not much changed, as I recall, in its proper place.

For most of the Middle Ages, monastic life of one kind or another flourished here, as the monks provided spiritual and physical comfort to the people of Bath. The hot springs were central to this care, being used by the monks both spiritually, in baptism, and medically, to alleviate pain and soothe suffering.

But, as time flowed on the monasteries fell into ruin both physical and spiritual, as did the monks.. and with their fall, one of the favourite villains of mediaeval literature makes his appearance..

MONKS’ SONG

I am a jolly monk,

And I live in a monastery,

I have a fine belly,

I live a fine life,

And no one is holier than me!

 

I eat the fattest meat

and I drink all the reddest wine

While out in the street

They have nothing to eat

And no-one is holier than me!

 

I sleep in a feather bed

And I sit by a roaring fire

While the children freeze

In the icy breeze

And no-one is holier than me!

 

I am a jolly monk,

And I live in a monastery,

I have a fine belly,

I live a fine life,

And no one is holier than me!

 

 

 

 

I am a jolly monk                                                                                                                             and I live in a monastery                                                                                                            I have a fine belly                                                                                                                               I live a fine life                                                                                                                            and no one is holier than me!

Written on Water: The Coronation of King Edgar

But…over the centuries the waters receded. The springs re-emerged, and out of the sodden wasteland rose another holy place . .this time sacred to a different God… the One God of the Christians..

Because those springs are so close to the River Avon, the border between Wessex and Mercia, Bath was a significant place in the middle ages at which it was important to have a great religious centre…and when the country was unified, how better to dissolve that border by crowning the first King of All England, Edgar, in the  Saxon Abbey in Bath?

And, after the Coronation, King Edgar, so legend has it, was transported up the flowing river in a ceremonial barge to Chester… which brought us back to the water again..

 

CORONATION MUSIC

 

A thousand candles flicker

A thousand voices lift;

The glory of a new beginning

Shines through stone.

 

Water ripples spreading..

The royal vessel slips its moorings,

slides into the current,

Takes the stream.

 

All hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

 

The new king sits triumphant

The new crown on his curls,

Hand raised,

To the crowds who

Throng the shore.

 

All hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

All Hail, Edgar, King of all England!

 

The great flotilla, surging

And dipping in his wake,

Rides the river;

Rides the river

To Chester!

 

Written on Water: The Ruin

This is an account of building. decay, ruin, and building again. When the Baths fell into decay and the hot springs were drowned by the rising waters, centuries after the Romans had left, a beautiful Anglo Saxon poem lamented their desolation. That poem inspired this song.

RUIN

Cry the wild water!

Cry the deep drowning!

Cry the sunk spring!

Cry the sacked city!

 

Lost are our voices, raised to the high gods!

Wasted the sanctuary, Wasted the healing streams.

 

Silent is Sulis,

Silent Minerva

 

Silent is Sulis,

Silent Minerva

 

Cry the wild water!

Cry the deep drowning!

Cry the sunk spring!

Cry the sacked city!

 

Cry!

Cry!

Cry!

 

Written on Water: The Roman Songs

The next two songs are both about the Roman Baths. The secondary meaning of Written on Water is that our lives do not disappear without trace, but leave echoes in the time to come which continue to alter the world long after we are dead. The first one, Successa, is a tribute to a little girl her loving parents, who wrote the memorial stone tablet on which this song is based,  must have thought buried for ever.

SUCCESSA PETRONIA

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

 

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

 

Vettius Romulus and Victoria Sabina

set this to their dearest daughter.

 

To the spirits of the departed

and Successa Petronia,

who lived 3 years, 4 months, 9 days.

9 days.

 

The second, taken from the Curses tablets thrown into the springs for the attention of Sulis/ Minerva, strikes an altogether different kind of tone.

CURSES SONG

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

I give your majesty, glory, divinity,

my bathing tunic and my cloak..

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

Make the thief who stole all my things

bring them back now!

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

I give your majesty, glory, divinity,

my bathing tunic and my cloak..

 

Hail Minerva!

Solinus calling!

Make the thief who stole all my things

bring them back now!

Or Minerva,

steal from him

all his sleep, and all his health,

Minerva of the hot spring!

 

Hail to thee, Sulis,

O mighty goddess,

I give you six silver coins,

But only, my Sulis, if you get them back from

Senicianus and Saturninus and Anniola,

Who took them from me,

Oh, Sulis of the hot spring!

 

Hail to thee, Sulis,

Mighty Minerva,

Please hear my prayer.

I have lost two gloves, mighty Minerva.

May those that stole them

Lose all their reason,

And both of their eyes.

 

Right all our wrongs, Sulis,

Restore our goods to us,

Punish the wicked!

Hail to thee, Sulis,

Hail to Minerva, Goddess of the hot springs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written on Water

The first set of Lyrics for the Footprint project, the story of Bath Abbey, written! A good day! (Thank you, Keats, for the inspiration as to how to tell the story of an Abbey that rose and fell so many times)

Written on water
Our life is …
Streaming
Away
As we write..

Written on water
Our life is …
Streaming
Away
As we write..

Written on water
Our life is …
Streaming
Away
As we write..

All that we do
That we are
Lost as
The bubbles
Take flight..

Written on water
Our life is …
Streaming
Away
As we write..

As time
Flows onward
All traces
Seem lost,
Seem washed
Away….

But all we love
All
we long for
Believe in
Day by day..

Colours
The water
For ever,
Never
To vanish
Away..

Christmas Carol 2; Suns and Moons

This is my first idea for a Christmas carol for the school children Shean teaches. He wants two.

As I have remarked before, it is not easy to write a new Christmas carol.

Well, at least this is cheerful! Will read it to Jools, and see what he thinks.

 

Apologies to everyone who is still trying to get to grips with May.

 

Suns and moons and

stars are dancing,

waltzing in the sky.

Birds and songs and

hopes and wishes

flying round on high!

 

Hear the loud bells!

Hear the carols!

Sing the glory!

Sing the joy!

 

He is born

this Christmas morning!

Mary’s little boy!

 

Deer are running

in the forest

Hares leap for

the moon!

Tigers twirling,

Hippos whirling!

Crickets

strum the tune!

 

Hear the loud bells!

Hear the carols!

Sing the glory!

Sing the joy!

He is born

this Christmas morning!

Mary’s little boy!

 

Under earth the

worms are turning

Twisting with

the beat!

Moles step out in

velvet waistcoats

Underneath

our feet

 

Hear the loud bells!

Hear the carols!

Sing the glory!

Sing the joy!

He is born

this Christmas morning!

Mary’s little boy!

 

All creation

joins the shout of

Universal joy!

 

He is born

this Christmas morning!

Mary’s little boy!