Before deciding to produce a brief introduction to the selection of tracks entitled ON THE CHARLOTTES I had been intending to say something about each of them This plan was discarded but having come across what had previously been prepared I decided to post it here. A reference to this post will now be placed alongside the information on www.skcsongs.com where the selection presently resides
The old tracks in this selection were written during my time of living on Haida Gwaii - referred to then as the Queen Charlotte Islands. In bringing them together some comments about their content and the context in which they were written have been prepared for an introduction and a brief conclusion They all belong to a particular place and time but they are also representative of one of the earlier phases of my interest in writing songs.
Then as now the writing happened only occasionally and in no set or determined way but perhaps it did become more of a habit when I was on the islands. And my way of working may well have been heading in that direction from its beginnings in Glasgow through a relatively brief stay in Alberta.
The tracks are taken from the original cassette and reel to reel recordings which were made a very long time ago. They have been worked on and mastered to make them more presentable but they will have inevitably retained much of the quality they acquired when they were recorded using very basic machines in ordinary conditions.
There are fifteen songs and one lyric which will be inserted alongside the concluding comments. Entitled WELL HERE I AM AGAIN I was unable to locate a recording of it but as part two of the opening song I SURE WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU AGAIN it is included for that reason
The loneliness of the 'long lonely time' referred to in the first track was all mine and did not belong exclusively to the islands. I probably took it there and lived with it in much the same way as I would live with it wherever I am
It was rare for anyone to arrive at your door without a bottle in their hand and the words for HUMPTY DUMPTY MENDED loosely relate to an incredibly generous and welcoming woman who, unlike many other workers and visitors to the islands, was well embedded in the community
If the song writing began to acquire an earnestness in Glasgow then the drinking followed a similar progression although the last glass of wine referred to in I'M GIVING MY HEAD A REST happened elsewhere and several years later
There were occasions when those of us who came to the islands to work for a relatively short period of time behaved, directly or inadvertently, in ways which lacked the generosity of the community into which we were warmly received. There were also incidents in which the behaviour of some was blatantly disrespectful. These words for THE PLAY IS BY A PAUPER were written on hearing that a colleague had been trampling around the village burial ground to take 'rubbings' of the grave stones.
I associate THE LADY IS PREGNANT with a school in which I worked where the values of some of the staff were decidedly at odds with the needs of the children. There's nothing new there of course but the concerns which had become the main of focus of attention, like the coffee in the jar being too full, were a distraction and a means to avoid dealing with what was important and in need of change.
There was enough to be anxious about on a personal level without contemplating the prospect that a ‘three times as big as the last tidal wave’ might engulf the islands. It was only years later when I knew about Tsunamis that I understood that the fear was very real and was based on the geology of the region and past events
None of the words I wrote at the time dealt directly with the profound inequity and unfairness in how the different communities were able to thrive. And there were incidents and events some of a tragic nature and involving children which were deeply upsetting. But some of the awfulness did find its way into several lyrics in a more oblique way and there were several mostly unsuccessful attempts to turn them into songs. The following PULL THE SHADES DOWN is an example. It is incomplete with the words of the title missing from the track but it feels right to include it
A further discernible influence on PULL THE SHADES DOWN and HOOCHY POOCHY was the Vietnam War which we were made very aware of with the arrival of several young Americans who had escaped to Canada to avoid being enlisted They were living in the small cabins they had constructed in the forest just North of the town.
The pleasures of having a dog were ongoing although as the words describe in DID YOU SLEEP IN THE SNOW MR TOAST his disappearance one evening during an unusually heavy snowfall brought with it a particular kind of misery. The town was small and as we wandered the streets looking for him the fear was he had got hurt rather than got lost otherwise he would surely have found his way home. The search had to be called off in the dark of a very cold night
In the early morning with the snow still thick on the ground I crossed a bridge that now no longer exists and saw him in the distance coming towards me, As I called his name He came running towards me. The only bearable sense to be made of his adventure was that he had been taken in for the night
I can recall only one occasion when I was in the sea as NAKED AS THE DAY I WAS BORN and one when I was half way there. They happened on two different beaches and in two completely different temperatures and states of mind. One was on a dark cold evening on North Beach after probably having had too much to drink: the other was on an unusually warm summer's day and more of the kind described in this lyric
THE MOUNTAIN CAN BE VERY HIGH is the second of the loneliness songs But as with the loneliness spoken of in relation to the first track I was probably dealing with experiences which I had been trying to leave behind when I chose to travel as far west in Canada as it was possible to go.
In LOVE GONE DIED a tendency to turn words into a comment about love and the loss of it is evident. This inclination has been consolidated over time. To what extent it existed back then is more obvious in some of the material which has not been included in this selection. I can't recall any love that died out there but I do vividly recall the wind.
I WALKED OUT ONE MORNING is an almost true story and TAKING IT DOWN covers some of those often recurring thoughts about who you are and what brought you to a particular place. I like the idea of to trying to get down to where I don't count. And its usually not particularly hard to get there.
WHEN I GET UP TOMORROW is less about reality and more about wishful thinking. the concept and appeal of moving on is also never far away
About THE TREE IS ALMOST BARE NOW The bare tree belonged in the garden of a house I lived in on a street called on Harrison What the words lack - and they do lack a lot - is made up for (for me anyway) by the wee tune. The tree is also a feature in a self portrait and as it evokes so many fond memories after some hesitation I thought it should be included
WELL HERE I AM AGAIN
Well here I am again
Writing to you in the rain
The sun has not shone now
For three straight days
I continue to keep fit
I drink a little bit
And I still haven't caught
A single fish
Well really that's a lie
I caught one one inch wide
Then put it back again
I saw it smile
It swam into the tide
Then turned back for a while
I bet you didn't know
That fish can smile
I haven't read this over
To check for mistakes
But I hope the message
Will get through
All I really want to say
Is I'm living day to day
And I'm thinking
Almost constantly of you
SHALL WE GO TO MEXICO
This last track brings me back to Glasgow and reminds me of a long ago memory of walking down Huntly Garden with an old friend talking about how good it would be, at some time in our lives, to take a trip out to Mexico. It took a long time to get there and when it did happen many years on from that conversation it involved a journey south from the islands rather than one out West I have also chosen it because however breathless and rushed it may sound it end with the sound of the found Mr Toast
These words belong to a special time in my life They are a few only of those which were never used in later selections. But they are for me no less evocative of a place that was probably the most impacting and influential in my life. I was enriched in so many ways and not least by the children I met there who inspired the work which has since taken up an immense part of my life.
My own several attempts to also belong on the islands were thwarted by either fate or by me. I can’t be sure which did most of the thwarting but I can say without hesitation that I feel part of me is still there.