About some of the Lyrics
You can read each lyric with the download and it will be downloaded in the package, or you can read them on the CD insert booklet. Here I give you the story behind each song.
Mrs. Bride is a story about a lifer who finds that the way to cope with his life sentence in jail is just to ground himself in breathing. The journal of the Prisons Phoenix Trust is full of impressive letters from lifers who have found their way out of rage and confusion with the help of yoga, meditation and sympathetic correspondence from the Prisons Phoenix Trust. I have also met lifers in Kingston Prison in Portsmouth who found peace of mind, after many years of anguish and regret, by learning to love the simple things: breathing, eating, seeing the sky, sharing. The prisoner in Mrs Bride has killed his partner and is now many years into his sentence and much wiser. I am convinced that we find our strength and our freedom within ourselves, and that the last verse, “Banged up in my cell I know I’m free,” expresses a great truth of the independent spirit. The Prisons Phoenix Trust is a charity offering yoga and meditation teaching in prisons, which is of enormous value to those who can respond. Prisoners can get in touch with their nourishing inner sense of life and transform themselves.
The Beautiful Suchness of Things mocks the universal comedy of unlived lives. We busy ourselves with one thing after another, our minds racing ahead to the next one, and don’t savour the present moment of anything. The refrain, by contrast, is my hard-won Zen learning from koan-study on Joshu’s MU. Those who are Zen practitioners interested in sitting with a koan might like to read my full article, originally published in the New Chan Forum in 2012, on the long logical and illogical journey through paradox and meaninglessness to Suchness, with the help of dear old Joshu: Meaninglessness that makes sense.
Dark Islands is a song set in Connemara in the West of Ireland, right on the edge of the Atlantic. My original title for it was Lehenagh Point. My sons and I were sleeping in a cow shed with no door and no window glass, looking out over Galway Bay. The old farmer, Petie, had scythed down a reed-bed to give us a mattress for our sleeping bags. My little boys were deep asleep and I was watching the moonlight and thinking of my partner, far away and preparing to leave us.
Smiling People tells us that “everything is made of love.” This is true, though I only discovered it quite late in life, after a number of meditation retreats. The song started out as a dialogue duet between an anxious searcher after love and a more confident adviser. I have cut out the anxious neurotic. Nick had a fast riff that suited the subject very well, so it does not matter about the details of the lyric because Nick’s exuberance sweeps the song along.
Notariddle is my attempt at saying the unsayable about the ineffable. But it is not meant to be a riddle. One really experiences this, and we are not trying to be obtuse when we describe it as best we can.
What Can It Be? is a non-possessive love song in which love comes through Great Nature and surrounds us with quiet delight.
Blame Not is based on an idea of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s. You have no doubt come across Thomas Wyatt in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. He was a diplomat and very good poet, close to the court of Henry VIII, who was suspected of being one of the lovers of Anne Boleyn, but escaped execution when she and her supposed consorts were all beheaded after dubious interrogations by Thomas Cromwell. Anyway, he wrote a lyric Blame not my lute, for he must sound which has this theme. I have written a new lyric for our times borrowing the situation he describes. Nick’s tune has a touch of Tudor Greensleeves about it and a pub singalong swing, as a traditional song should.
Lingering. In the Chinese city of Suzhou there are canals and rivers and elegant gardens, one of which is called The Lingering Garden. There is this plaque in The lingering Garden:
The inscription says, “Lingering Between Heaven and Earth Forever.” It is a beautiful park, with fish ponds, pavilions built over the water, winding paths through rock tunnels and over outcrops, bamboo thickets and a long vista to a pagoda. I spent a lazy summer day there watching grandparents looking after little children and wrote this Lingering lyric about the meaning of “Forever” in the context of, as Blake put it, holding “Infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour.”
The Suzhou Garden:
The Blog as a Journal
For my Blog as a Journal with new entries as I add them, jump to this page.
For Haibun (prose and poetry combinations) that I have written jump to this page.
For articles on Zen Buddhist topics jump to this page.
For my haiku-teaching site for teachers, and for the haiku archive of the meditation based haiku poets’ collective called Redthread jump to this page.
How do you collaborate? Nick the musician wants to write the music first and get someone to add words. George the writer wants to write a lyric and have it set sensitively to the right music. The path we have found is to create separately and then come together and adapt to each other. Nick develops twenty or thirty musical ideas as riffs, sometimes with an added melody line, and sends them on a CD to George. George listens carefully and tries to match the emotional flavour of the riff to one of his lyrical ideas. Then he will have to adapt his language to the riff’s rhythm and line length. The rhythm may suggest a way of adding to the theme or intensifying it. When the two of them come together Nick improvises, singing a melody to the lyric, and they jointly develop the song’s structure. The refrain may be added later. Nick cuts lines that don’t work, or asks for better syllables to sing. George insists on being true to the original conception and tone in the singing performance. The refrain somehow emerges from both or neither.
We wrote several songs for a female vocalist, and we have recordings made with the wonderful deep voice of Krystyna Jankowska, the third collaborator.
The first two songs that Krystyna sings are now posted on my blog, elsewhere on this site. They are rather different in character to the songs Nick sings. Try April in Dublin with its heavy air of regret and invigorating burst of kletzmer music, and Who Will you Call? in which Krystyna’s deeply feeling voice urges an intelligent man to see sense!
The portrait photographs are by Jan Fowler of http://www.aposites.co.uk who also built the website.
The CD cover image is a photograph by Denise Elliott.