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Birdsong

11 September, 2010 2 comments

I wrote a recent blog concerning the Vigil’s held here each week for the fallen and, unfortunately, it has been every week since my arrival and on most occasions for several individuals.

In my usual location we are isolated by several miles of desert in all directions and, as such, see very little of any kind of animal or plant life (unless of course you count the swarms of Starship Trooper-esque ants which are everywhere in this country)! This week however I have travelled to the capital of Helmand Province to carry out some work on an ailing system and it’s a somewhat different experience. I’ve already written of the bemusing experience of seeing greenery, trees, flowers and a gazebo during my previous visit, but this time I noticed something else…

We paraded in front of six flags; the Union flag, the Stars and Stripes, the national flags of Denmark, Estonia and Afghanistan as well as the Black Rat of 4th Mechanized Brigade who are currently the British war fighting brigade out here.

 

A view of Sangin Valley in Helmand province - ...

Image via Wikipedia

 

The service was in memory of two British soldiers who had died in combat during the previous week, both young men who made a mark on those who they worked with. As the Last Post faded and Flowers of the Forest made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end I noticed something I didn’t even realise I’d missed.  As the sun set and the Muezzin sang the call to prayer behind the stirring sound of the bagpipe’s lament I heard a bird sing. I don’t know my ornithology so I couldn’t even tell you what it was, other than inspiring, rejuvenating, refreshing.

One of my favourite novels is Sebastian FaulksBirdsong, a book I first read between my previous tours of Iraq and Afghanistan and several times since.  A story in three parts (although written as two) it details a man’s life before and after his life in the trenches as a tunnel rat during World War I.  I do not think I have read something either quite so thought provoking or emotionally exhausting in all my years of enjoying literature. I am in awe of the ability of Faulks to write of that period as if he was there, the detail, the depth of perception is, quite simply, staggering. I also find the juxtaposition of the wartime element with the romance of the ‘pre-story’ and the emotion of the closing pages part of its charm.

Despite my love of this book I had never fully grasped the reason for the title. Yes, I am aware of tales of there being no birds over many of the sites of major battles in more than just World War I, and I am aware of the joy birdsong is meant to provide, lifting the heart and healing the soul, but until this day I had never truly understood.

I do now.

It seems strange that the sight of a feathered creature flying erratically over flags flying at half mast, singing their song, oblivious to the tragedy unfolding below them could lift the spirit, but it does, and emphatically so.

It’s moments like these which provide the inspiration for lyrics which mean something, not only to the author, but to the reader or listener as well. Later on that night I found thoughts rattling around my head which needed a release. I’m concerned that much of what I write just now may seem self-obsessed or overly dramatic/melancholy, but I suppose it’s the nature of the beast. At times like these you find yourself questioning your values, your morals and your sensibilities.

Those thoughts found an escape, it’s only a beginning, but here is what may well become Birdsong:

Don’t sing songs in our memory
You can’t know the words
Don’t regale us with stories
The truth needs to be heard

Listen instead for the life we preserved
The sounds you ignore as you walk through your day
Heed what we say as we give you our word
They’re the reason we came here and were willing to stay

When the bird breaks its silence, listen close to the song
It was there in our haven, it followed us on
When the bird breaks its silence, don’t ignore what it sings
It was there as we struggled, as young men became Kings
When the bird breaks its silence, listen through to the end
It was there as they fought, those lions of men
If the bird breaks its silence, you’ll all get to see
The reasons you live in the land of the free

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So long… And thanks for all the Fish!

2 August, 2010 1 comment

I intended to write a lengthy blog yesterday about the acoustic Fish show I attended a fortnight ago and the Peter Green/Mostly Autumn gig I was meant to attend at the weekend.

Unfortunately Mr Green is very ill and all future shows have been cancelled/rescheduled so I didn’t get to attend that one, a shame as I was looking forward to the opportunity to say goodbye to Liv, Bryan and everyone else before I go, and thank them for their support earlier in the year during our tour.

I did, however, attend an excellent show by Fish with some good friends. It was great to see the big man so relaxed on stage, comfortable as ever, and stretching the vocal chords a little after his recent scares. He is as self-deprecating as ever and was on good form for the entire night… Highlights for me? Pilgrim’s Address and my wife forgetting the lyrics to the 3rd verse of Just Good Friends (our wedding song!) as soon as Fish handed her the mic to sing along! A brilliant show and we topped the night off with a few drinks with the Judge and Fish in Stone Roses. Good times.

I had intended to see so many people before heading off later this week but, as usual, time has caught up with me and I find myself chasing my tail as is often the case after so much time has been spent planning for the unexpected.

If I haven’t been in touch to say goodbye, and you think I should have, then I apologise. On the other hand I’m sure you’ll appreciate that my focus these last few weeks has been my wife and children.

It may seem strange but, after all the training and planning, I’m actually looking forward to getting out there and getting on with the job at hand. I’m sure time will fly and I’ll be back with those  I need and love in what will seem like no time at all… In the mean time I intend to take every spare moment to read (for inspiration) and write material for the album which the guys will be recording in my absence.

We’ve already begun 3 tracks with two completed to guide vocal stage and one at the concept stage, I have several additional ‘streams’ I’m following and Pete and I have discussed what direction we’re aiming for. All in all it should be an interesting time.

I’ll be in touch…

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…

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.