Archive for June, 2010

Bursting Into Life…

21 June, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m away from home just now. I have been for a few weeks and will be for another week or so. Before that I was home for a short while, but I’ve been away off and on, if I’m honest, for the best part of 13 years. Over that time there have been many songs which have grabbed my attention, not all rock as you may expect, sometimes very simple songs.

One such song would be Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. The last time I was on tour I had an acoustic guitar with me which I played (or tried to) as often as possible. With the song having such a simple guitar part it was a sure bet for me to learn with my limited talents.

There are things that happen while you’re away which don’t hit you until you get home. One of these is your perception. I mean everything, your senses adapt to your surroundings, the sights, sounds and smells which seem so alien to you on arrival soon become ‘the norm’ and all memory of colour is washed away.

This was my situation when I landed in Brize Norton at the end of my tour. I’d spent six months in Helmand Province being blinded by the drab tan landscape, bombarded with alternating smells of shit and baked earth and listening to armoured vehicles, Chinooks and whingeing Staff Officers, I was knackered. As I pulled out of Brize in the hire car I dialled in Radio 1 and it was Jo Whiley with her Live Lounge, she introduced the show’s performer for that day and I nearly switched over, Natasha Bedingfield? Surely she was just another digitally tuned pop starlet who couldn’t really perform? How wrong could I be!

As the song began I was filled with a sense of colour as I drove through the Oxfordshire countryside, have you ever noticed how true the words ‘green and pleasant land’ really are? The fields and trees seemed to glow with a fluorescence which was hard to comprehend, add to that the smell of moisture in the air and my combined senses lifted me to a place of heightened awareness, and then she sang:

Forget what we’re told
Before we get too old
Show me a garden
That’s bursting into life

It’s strange how some things, no matter how simple, stay with you forever as freshly as the day they happened. I can still close my eyes and visualise the view and, if I hear the song (especially her version), everything’s pulled so sharply into focus I can actually smell the moisture in the air.

It’s the little things that matter.


To you, perceptive reader…

20 June, 2010 Leave a comment

The first of the new batch of lyrics was inspired by, although it is not based upon, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. I have not read a vampire novel which grasped my imagination like this since reading Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. I say vampire novel, I’m not sure it falls into that genre as neatly as those two words suggest. This is no pulp fiction gothic slasher instead preferring to draw vast portraits across the reader’s imagination of the Balkan states during both their 15th century grandeur and more recent decline into communist states.

The Historian cover art.

The cover artwork for the 2006 edition of Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian

I have avoided the easy option of writing a vampire song, preferring instead to think of the Order of the Dragon and that of the Janissaries created to oppose them. I saw this as an opportunity to write of the burden placed on individuals by the decisions of past generations. Kostova herself states:

Dracula is a metaphor for the evil that is so hard to undo in history.

While I wrote initially from the point of the Western, Christian, Order of the Dragon I was compelled to include a verse from the Qur’an which is included in the book and, to my mind, portrays the attitude of all religions.

Those who do not believe
And die while they are unbelievers
On them falls the curse of Allah,
Of Angels and of men

This may well end up as being my first ‘voice-over’ on a song as I think it may be spoken over the middle eight, we’ll see.

The book has not only spawned this lyric (and possibly a second, slightly darker, sibling) but it has drawn me back to history as a subject, one I have delved into heavily over the years and am now enjoying again with a rediscovered vigour. Expect some historical epics on a grand scale then!

To quote Kostova one last time:

To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…

There are few songs I use the word perfect for…

19 June, 2010 Leave a comment

There are few songs I use the word perfect for. This would be one of them:

There is something about the clean, dry acoustic and vocals section at the end which makes my hair stand up every time.

Could this be the end?
Is this the way I die?
Sitting here alone, no-one by my side.

I don’t understand
I don’t feel that I deserve this
What did I do wrong?

I just don’t understand

Are you sitting comfortably?

19 June, 2010 Leave a comment

Then we’ll begin…

The point is, I’m not sure where to start? Should I labour the point about the original lyrics? Should I take you back to where (when) this all began? I think not. Going back the last few months should suffice, to the point where the preparations for this year’s crusade were started.

Before I take you back to the start of 2010 I would like, if I may, to reveal to you the goings on of the last few weeks and then, perhaps, the reason for this ‘blog will become a little clearer.

I am currently on a course, not a journey unfortunately, an educational course which is a prerequisite for the role I am to fulfil in Afghanistan. Now, bearing in mind the fact that on returning from Helmand Province the last time I began my studies toward an IT degree which has now been successfully completed, I would like you to put yourself in my shoes (Converse, if you must know) when confronted with the following introduction to a lesson:

The lights on the front panel of the laptop indicate the following:

  1. Solid Green – The battery is fully charged and power is being supplied
  2. Amber – The battery is charging and power is being supplied
  3. Red – 9% or less of the battery remain

Needless to say my mind has wandered for much of the intervening two and a half weeks and will, more than likely, wander for the remaining week or so.

One benefit of the level at which the course is targeted has been the amount of time I’ve had available for reading, and writing. I started the course having read a couple of chapters of Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, a book I can heartily recommend to anyone who has a predilection for horror, vampires, history or simply a well written story. Needless to say the book has not lasted long, it has however rekindled my interest in all things historical. In fact I have spent much of my time in the evenings studying 15th century Balkan history which led to Ottoman history, hence to the Byzantine period and finally, for now, Eastern and Western Roman Empirical history.

In addition to the historical interests it has sparked a bout of lyric writing the likes of which I’ve not experienced since the first five or six songs appeared in as many days. I have found myself writing complete lyrics in a little over two hours, something which in the past has resulted in (to my mind at least) some of the best, most cohesive, lyrical content I have written.

So far I have scribbled on such topics as Drakulya, the futility of history as a teacher, I’ve even managed to revisit previously incomplete songs relating to Dorian Gray and childhood fear of the dark and I am now veering off in the direction of Roman Legions and Holy Crusades.

And that is where we are for now.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Holy Wars… The Punishment Due

19 June, 2010 Leave a comment

Yes, I know it’s a Megadeth song title, but I couldn’t think of a better way to put it! And, if you have read the band’s blog, you’ll notice that blog entries are often named with song titles. Perhaps an alternative could be:

Politics and Religion – Never to be discussed in polite company.

The observant among you will have noticed at lease two uses of the word crusade so far in this ‘blog. The first in the previous post. And the second? (Take a peek at the URL in your browser!)

Why? The answer to that lies in a question I posed to myself in 2007, and have continued to do so since. (In all honesty I can’t remember if I heard the question somewhere else first, but for the purposes of this entry it is irrelevant.)

How will history see the recent conflicts in the Middle East?

Will they look back in years to come and see them as portrayed by the invaders? A coalition of benevolent, rich, capitalist states supporting a nation weakened by oppressive evil regimes. Or will they see them as a final war between Eastern and Western religious ideologies, Christian against Muslim. A Last Crusade.

Despite having been involved in both areas I fear it shall be the latter by which we are measured. The wars, for that is what they are in all but name, will be remembered as the predominantly Christian capitalists forcing their will on the predominantly Muslim tribes of the Middle East.

And it makes me sad.

I am a religious man. I am not a church goer, yet I can honestly say that I believe in a higher power. Over the years I have had cause to scratch the surface of many of the world’s major religions and their writings. The one thing which has struck me throughout these dabblings is the similarity, at a higher level, of them all and the intertwined mythology which binds many of them in the dim and distant past.  Yet despite these similarities, or perhaps because of them, we seem destined to disagree.

And so, in less than 6 weeks, I shall embark on my own pilgrimage to join what will not be, unfortunately, the Last Crusade.

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