arts / songs / songwriting

July 12: I sing two new songs


Last night’s guests at the Castle pub in Bradford were H.U.G. (which I think stands for Haworth Ukelele Group), a dozen or so uke-players who had us all singing along to various hits from Midnight Special to Bad Moon Rising.

I sang my two new songs, composed last week:

Bits of Paper

I write your names on bits of paper.
I riffle through them in the night.
I must consign you to your Maker
As birds awake the morning light.

My muse has many instruments.
I hear them sing upon the wall.
To play all at once would make no sense.
My ears are open for their call.

My feet must follow many paths:
From there to here and who knows where.
I may not do these things by halves.
My life begins and ends in prayer.

I must move on, yet hesitate.
The roads divide and move me on.
I fear tomorrow is too late.
Yet I must seek where you have gone.

Bits of Paper was inspired by looking for a scrap I’d written down a vital name and number on, something I’m always doing, though I have a notebook to avoid this bad habit from screwing up still more my already disorganised life.

Then it struck me that this is a metaphor for those I have loved (which is why it says “nameS”, not “name”) whose names I can’t always remember.

I was writing down the words in Gloria’s living room, where my guitars hang on her wall. And I saw that as another metaphor: I can play them one at a time, but not all at once.

(I don’t think that verse really works, so I think I’ll drop it – though I like rhyming “no sense” with “instruments”.)

The next verse originally went

"There's a woman who loves me,
She's the latest of many"

But I changed it before I sang it, which I think makes it stronger.

At the Castle, I pitched it in Am, which I think is a bit low for my voice, especially since I sang it “unplugged” from the dreadful PA system, which ruined everyone else’s floor spots. Em perhaps?

I struggled for over a week trying to find a tune for it, and in the end settled for a variant of Jean Ritchie’s Dear Companion which I think works.

(I have my own words to that tune already; mine begins

"You are my love
My dear companion")

I’m a teenage OAP

     I'm a teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP, that's me:
     A teenage OAP.
I've paid for my funeral
I've ordered my coffin
But when I think about death
I can't keep from laughin'
Good times are coming and bad times I've had 'em
And I mean to outlive old man Adam.
     Cos I'm a teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP, that's me:
     A teenage OAP.

There's a woman who loves me
She's the last of so many
She makes my life rich
Though I've scarcely one penny
The bankers and wankers have stolen my money
I'm a cash only shopper; they don't think it's funny. 
     I'm a teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP, that's me:
     A teenage OAP.

Roll on the day
When the people take over
We'll stamp on their graves
From the Shetlands to Dover.
I'll sing The Red Flag to the White Cockade tune
We'll take hands and dance by the light of the moon. 
     I'm a teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP, that's me:
     A teenage OAP.Guess I'll never grow up
Till the sun turns to stone
I'll growl and I'll snarl
Like a dog with a bone.
A short time we're living and a long time we're dead
I'm not planning on dying, yes that's what I said.
     I'm a teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP,
     A teenage OAP, that's me:
     A teenage OAP.

For some reason, I’d been thinking of the time, must be over thirty years ago, when I dropped into the Paris Cinema in London’s Regent Street to check out the live BBC transmission of Mike Harding’s folk show.

Seeing me come in, Mike quipped: “Here he comes, London’s oldest teenager.”

That reminded me of the exchange I had with a waiter in a Baghdad cafe, which I made into an SMS poem:

Your beard is white but you are young, said the waiter in the restaurant, kindly. But he was wrong. I am older than my beard. And I shall live longer than Adam.

After the reflective Bits of Paper, I got them singing along to the chorus. A result!

(BTW, for those not familiar with the acronym, OAP = “old age pensioner”, someone aged 65 or over in receipt of the state pension. That’s me, folks!)

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