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paul roland - werewolf of london (1980)

Paul Roland - The Werewolf of London‘The Werewolf of London’ was my first album and being just 19 and inexperienced I had to rely on the session musicians to bring my songs to life. I was very fortunate in having an old school friend on bass who played as well as a pro and a great drummer with the meaty, bouncy glam rock drum sound I always strive to get plus a very versatile and technically proficient keyboard player (Brian Gould). Inevitably some of their ideas gave my simple songs real character, while others evolved into something more to their taste than mine. ‘Blades’ benefited enormously from Brian’s baroque church organ and nods to Buxtehude, ‘Brain Police’ went rather too strongly toward Gary Numan for my liking and ‘The Cars That Ate N.Y’ surprised all of us thanks to the use of a ‘space station’ fx processor that was on loan to the studio at the time and which enabled me to produce ‘disgusting digestion noises’, as one reviewer observed and gave the drums real crunch. The first time I thought I might be on to something good was when the drummer introduced me to his girlfriend by saying, “This is the kid who wrote The Cars That Ate New York.“ Pity I didn’t make more of the lyrics to that song, but they made sense to me at the time!
   

Blades of Battenberg

Through the iron gates a carriage rolls to the house, a mansion old.
Twilight glints and trees have torn fingers spreading across the lawn.
The halls are white, their shroud is cold, the vaults are sealed, their tales untold.
Beneath a portrait of a brave young man, an old woman still in her bridal gown.

We are the blades of Battenberg
Downstairs our whispers are faintly heard
We are the blades of Battenberg.

 

 

 

When I was young my head was full of cobwebs and dark secret passageways inhabited by hideous creatures as I used to read American horror comics at night in bed under the blankets so that my parents wouldn’t see that my light was on after dark. It was quite a precarious pastime as I only had candlelight to read by! So when I came to write my first songs at the age of 14, I naturally drew on supernatural themes. This early song was directly inspired by a story I read in ‘Ghosts’, my favourite comic which made a lasting impression on me due to the lurid artwork (by Berni Wrightson) and the deliciously nasty twist in the tale which often saw grisly justice meted out to the villain. It was only years later when I read about Miss Haversham in ‘Great Expectations’ that I realised that Charles Dickens must have been reading the same comics as me!

Note: Blades were rakish young gentlemen in the 18th century who lived for pleasure, gambling, wenching and drinking to excess.

Brain Police

On the 13th floor of the embassy, the CIA and Security
in deep discussion over foreign policy

In a black Cadillac six blocks downtown the KGB have tracked
them down,
Their psychic agent’s sending blue smoke rings of sound

Across the square behind hotel blinds another whose training is reading minds
Waves of light around him wind.

 

 

 

I found the idea for this song while idly flicking though a magazine which had an article on psychic spies. More than 20 years later I interviewed US Major David Moorhouse who had taken part in the US Army’s top secret ‘remote viewing’ experiments and I was then developing my own natural ‘psychic’ faculties and writing about them. (The interview was published in my book ‘Investigating The Unexplained’)

Oscar Automobile

I had a friend name of Oscar Automobile
Bones of milk white he walks on winged heels
Shadow bent like a pagan he sits at the end of my bed
Reading lore from Thomas Moore rotates his head

He hides like Wilde beneath a wide-brimmed hat
He’ll visit the wax museum and laundromat

His eyes are shattered rivulets of glass, gazing from his shades he views the past
Although some say he’s crazy and say that he’s no god
I thought I saw just for a time, flames lick where he trod.

 

 

 

This was the third recording of this song (the first was for the original single, the second for the first version of this album on Ace Records and the third was recorded for my management David Enthoven and June Bolan who really should have told me to drop it and work on something more original. It is uncomfortably close to Marc Bolan to be anything other than a clumsy and embarrassing pastiche, though I took it all very seriously at the time. In my next life I’ll do it all very differently…

Flying Ace

I was the best flying ace that there ever had been,
though I've just half a face & a permanent grin.
My eyes locked in stare, I was a monocle flier
My past was in law, my future in barbed wire.

Don't bring me down.

I can't fall asleep at right for the fear of dying alone & dying in here.
Wheel me down to the top of the cliff, then turn your back - can't go on like this.

I played by the rules, a gentleman’s game, of dogfight duelling, now I'm a little insane.
I've a faded photo of a younger man, a log full of kills & a steel claw hand.

I was sent away to your public schools. On the playing fields of Eton I played by your rules.
I could have lain in the cold & alone, just one more kill, one more kill from home.


Chords:

[C Am E7 Am] x2    C G Am   [D Am] x2    F G F G C

 

 

Little did I know at the time that intimate, wistfully melancholic acoustic songs were my forte and I would have been better off and more sincere if I had stuck to those and ditched any attempts at aping my musical heroes (the cringe inducing 50’s pastiche ‘The Witching Hour’, the flaccid ‘Alcatraz’ and the twee ‘Girls’ on the original album on Ace being just three excruciating examples of what happens when you are too young and impatient!)

 

Public Enemy

The G-Men wait in limousines, huddled in their raincoat dreams
Sheets of rain in headlight beams, streaming cold on black windscreens
By the rear-view mirror stands J. Edgar Hoover comb in hand
In the phone booth ‘cross the street O’Banion tries to eat the heat

The desk clerk drawls, “It’s such a crime, that poor guy room bound all the time.”
The FBI they’re not so dumb, they’re closing in on number one.

He’s a well-known face in town, too well-known to be shown around
So she takes their car down-town

His hoodlum eyes through surgery have reddened most alarmingly
The doctor leaves and in his case a paper bag with Eddie’s face.

Chords:
[E A B] x2   B E B E   F# A B D E

 

 

 

I was obsessed with old Warner gangster movies as a youth and was absolutely floored when John Peel played this on his late night BBC show one week and ‘Blades’ the next. I remember him comparing ‘Public Enemy’ to Marc Bolan (which I took as a compliment) and making a joke about where Germans got their Ska (scar) “Duelling at Heidelberg.” RIP Mr Peel.

Werewolves of London

Cloaked in gloom in the smoking room
Hunched in the claw of the evening chair
Beneath the drapes, in the moon beams plume
A gentleman of leisure craves the night’s air.

The werewolves of London
In winter’s cathedral cowl
The wind winds through the organ
While werewolves of London howl.

Taking a leaf from Burke and friend,
he hails a cab to the East End
The hansom cab driver’s unaware
of the changing disposition of his fare.

The London bobby’s not so slow
He’ll follow where the gaslight glows
Down to the waterfront they’re closing in
We know who you are and where you’ve been.

Chords:
Verse E G E D G E G C B E
Chorus C G Am X4

 

I’ve always had a passion for old horror movies, particularly those made in black and white by Universal in the 1930s and 40s and the early Hammer films, but I quickly discovered that while I liked my horror ‘straight’, when it came to writing songs with a horror theme I couldn’t help but write most of them with my tongue in my cheek, as we say. I had no qualms about borrowing the title from Warren Zevon’s song of the same name as it was just too good to limit to one song and I was later told by a radio presenter who interviewed him that he had found my take on the same theme very amusing.

Angel

The count, they said his heart was cold,
They rumoured he’d sold his very soul
Now he steps outside, finds the tavern’s not so unkind
He sees her in the market square buying foxgloves for her hair.

His library was locked since 1910 but now he reads there once again
He thumbs through faded script, romantic verse and sharpest quips
He’d rather be a saner man with clearer eyes and steady hands

Often wondered at the ease those young men fell upon their knees
He’d gladly pledge allegiance to the very devil of he wanted you.

 

 

When I was offered a re-release of this album by Armageddon Records (home to the Soft Boys, Knox and others) I took the opportunity to drop three tracks and replace them with 2 new songs (‘Angel’ and ‘Jack Daniels’) and a re-recording (‘Werewolves’). I don’t remember anything about ‘Angel’ other than the drummer’s idea to change the rhythm to an off-beat ‘reggae’ style gave it a lift.

Lon Chaney

He came up the back stairs so as not to be seen
He mimed to his bedridden mother what he had gleaned
His parents, both deaf mute, knew the meaning of pain
Without the lightning of words they still felt the rain.

The fairground girl couldn’t stand the touch of a man
So the fake armless wonder cut off both his real hands
Then she left under the spell of a man who loved her.

He bulged his eyes with wires, his mouth with clamps.
He lived in the shadows beneath the gas street lamps.

 

 

My first album drew on songs I had been writing since I was 14 and this was another one that originally had a different title and lyrics. As with ‘Alice’s House’ years later, I considered the music to be nice but nothing special until I wrote the words and then it became something rather special.
I was impressed by Chaney’s dedication to his art and the suffering he had endured both onscreen to create his most memorable characters and off-screen in living with his deaf-mute parents. I juxtaposed these with the plot of his film ‘The Unknown’ and though it was not one of my most eloquent lyrics, the unusual subject matter together with the languid violin ensured that it helped establish me as a ‘name to watch’, as ZigZag magazine said at the time.
The fretless bass and violin are beautiful and impressed on me that good musicians always have something worth contributing and should be given the opportunity to offer their ideas and not simply be told what to play, no matter how confident the artist might be.

Alcatraz

Another threatening letter, another threatening day
Bitch me like Delilah, a long line with nothing to say

Your body’s built like Alcatraz you should have been put there
You could’ve escaped in a big balloon filled up with your own hot air.

If you weren’t as strong as your typeface or as far as your nose is from the ground
I’d buy a submachine gun and then I’d cut you down

There’s a riot going on.

You’re a heavy in your ready-to-wear, wide boy you got no joy to spare
You’re aftershave is up to strength, you can measure my wit by its length
 

 

The least said about this mess, the better.

Jack Daniels

He’s shrouded in fog as he walks through the grounds
Of the Countess of Richmond with the fiercest of hounds
His mouth is hair-lipped, gargoyle sounds.

Got the strangest of pastimes, yeah he feeds on your fears,
He writes you long letters so you burn at the ears
At the Hellfire club he’s a life member peer – wicked sneers.

He stares at the bottle and you’d swear he was falling in love
But he grips at the neck then a twist of his white velvet glove.

His heart is in rumour, he’s the meanest of foes,
He’s ten paces behind you wherever you go
A demon in daylight, watch him glow.
 

 

The only good thing I can say about this song is that it has a really nice barrel house piano solo and that Robyn Hitchcock told me it was the one track on the album that he liked (“I like the rock and roll song” quoth he).

 

paul roland - Burnt orchids (1985)

Paul Roland - Burnt Orchids

 

Death Or Glory

In the cruel half-light the lines are drawn,
While the mist hangs low in the early dawn.
Then a cry goes up and the colours too,
And the Eighth Hussars ride into view.

Down through the ages, time after time,
The flower of youth cut down in their prime,
Each century - death or glory.

A flash of steel and the mounted Greys,
Cut through the smoke and cannon haze.
Musket breath and sabre blade,
Tear tunic cloth and ornate braid.

A reckless ride for lost ideals,
Ending on the thorns of steel
Wrap the flag, sound recall,
A trophy for the Mess Club wall.

Chords:
C#m A F#m D

 

 

I gave up writing and recording for three years between 1982-85 after an offer from a major label fell through and a short spell with managers June Bolan (widow of Marc Bolan) and David Enthoven (formerly of E.G. who had handled King Crimson, Roxy Music and ELP) came to nothing. Immediately after that The Kinks manager promised to record me and bring in The Attractions (Elvis Costello’s band) to back me but that too failed to materialise. I was left with the Dutch record label boss who had launched Joan Jett’s solo career with ‘I Love Rock and Roll’, but he too failed to secure anything and so I turned to music journalism writing for ‘Kerrang’ amongst others. During that period I met Ozzy Osbourne backstage at Wembley Arena and asked for his advice which consisted of ‘keep away from record companies’. So I did. Then in 1985 I made contact with Aftermath records (an offshoot of Armageddon) and slowly began to rediscover my enthusiasm for writing and recording.
My only regret is that this song had to be recorded with a drum machine (the studio was too small to accommodate a drum kit!) but I later had the chance to re-record it with my band as a radio session.


burn orchids

Lying by the river bank in summer’s evening glow
I heard the tower clock strike Five
in the playing fields below

‘Dance’, that’s what I say to you
‘Dance’ before your time is through.

Father grew orchids then in a humid conservatory,
He tried to teach me, but I failed each time and he became displeased.

I nurtured then from a tiny seed a belladonna bloom
And at the garden party he smelt its strange perfume.

 

Chords:
Verse  Em Am Bm Em X2
Chorus D Am C D X2
Middle 8 Em Am D Em, Em Am Dm Bm

 

 

 

I’d wanted to use a small woodwind or string ensemble ever since I’d read about a King Crimson track that used a chamber orchestra and whose theme was an Agatha Christie inspired country house murder mystery. It sounded like an elegant world that was worth exploring and appealed to my storytelling instinct. But before I had learnt to play the guitar all I could do was sing my own tunes to classical recordings of baroque chamber music(!)
I tried to create that effect on ‘Mad Elaine’ by having the cellist double track her parts, but what I really needed was an arranger. Fortunately, by the time I was ready to record ‘Burnt Orchids’ I had found a wonderful arranger who could realise my imaginary Edwardian/Victorian world. The title song was inspired by a children’s play I’d seen on TV when I was about 8 or 9 concerning a domineering Victorian father who destroys his sensitive son’s botany collection. In the song the boy gets his revenge by murdering the father using the seed of a poisonous hothouse plant.

The puppet master

Behind a yellow lit window at the back of the square,
A wizened old man with ashen grey hair,
His grandfather clock strikes the hour of twelve,
The puppets are hanging from hooks on the shelf,
The Burgemeister is staggering home,
The Child-catcher, he walks on alone.

A hoary wretch with murderous intent,
Who glanced over his shoulder where'er he went,
Is taking a knife from a sawdust filled drawer,
Then he walks down the hall to the twisted wood door.
But while he is upstairs there is movement below,
The patter of tiny feet, louder it grows,
They're climbing the stairs with painted fixed grins,
Axes in hands, arms on jointed crude pins.

Next morning the puppets are back on their shelves,
And they find the old man who kept to himself,
But a new puppet hangs in the bay window now,
Its garish red face stares at the wires from its brow.


Chords:

Verse: Em G C Em
Chorus: Am C D x 2

 

 

 

The Puppet Master was another song inspired directly by a story in an American Horror comic I’d read in the early 70s and which had festered in the back of my brain until I could exorcise it through music. It was originally called ‘The Puppet Master of Guillotine Square’ but fortunately I pruned it down to avoid being accused of pretentiousness!
I think it was my bass player who suggested playing the guitar part pizzicato rather than strumming it and from that time on I’ve always tried to simplify songs to make them more atmospheric and effective. Robyn Hitchcock and Knox sing backing vocals on the original recording.

Captain blood

The London road is treacherous and carriage wheels sink swift in mud
And many men have rued the day they crossed blades with Captain Blood

Newgate gaol had held him once, but not for long and ne’er again
They say he knew Dick Turpin well like Tyburn knows rogues and highwaymen.

Beneath the inn’s oak panelled floor he heard the militia pounding upon the door
He sealed the sheaves with seal and red waxen stud
Entitled them ‘the life and times of Captain Blood’.


Chords:

Verse D C G D X 4
Chorus A C#m G Bm X2

 

 

 

I recorded this for the aborted second album and salvaged it for the ‘Blades’ 12” EP and later for the ‘Burnt Orchids’ mini album (mini album were fashionable back then for some reason). Knox of the vibrators played the lead guitar solo, John Willans (who later changed his name to Danielz to front the Bolan tribute band TRextasy) played rhythm guitar and I played the chugging electric. I regret not giving this song a better set of lyrics, but I hadn’t acquired the facility with words that I later developed on songs such as ‘The Hanging Judge’. In 1980 I was still fumbling around trying to find my own voice and style (By the time this finally appeared on ‘Burnt Orchids’ five years later I was beginning to find it).

Cairo

Where the dark streets wind in Cairo,
Where the howling jackal mourns,
There the bazaar alley beggars
Twist their limbs into the wind.

Where the fan blades turn in Cairo,
In the swirling evening heat,
Lemon teas in the cafe,
Parchment scraps in the street.

In the Grand Hotel in Cairo,
Grizzled men sell contraband,
Hurry, hear the Half-tracks crawling,
Like insects through the sand.

Shadows run like ink over dunes to dark the Nile,
Shadows run like ink to the Valley of the Kings.

Chords:
Verse: Dm G C Am Dm
Chorus: F G Am

 

 

 

I invariably write songs to a chord sequence, but ‘Cairo’ was a song that just popped into my head when I was out walking. I ran back and quickly worked out the chords before I forgot the melody line. ‘Gabrielle’ was another written that same way.

Green Glass Violins

His face was cracked like candlewax,
his mouth was thin like wire,
The tormented young composer threw
his papers into the fire.

By the flickering flame his fingers stroked the clavinet,
While throbbing gently grew the drone of string quartets.

The falcon birds of winter were screaming in the trees,
While rain it broke, beaded like chains on window glass like grease
From a panel in the study wall behind the candelabra,
He removed a small cigar box, within - a miniature orchestra.

 

 

 

Never one to admit defeat, I put the music from two discarded songs from the abandoned second album together to create ‘Green Glass Violins’. Since then I have always tried to find ways of strengthening songs by adding the best parts of other songs that I’d written at the same time. I always put the song first and if it means that I use up an album’s worth of ideas to make 6 songs even stronger then I simply sit down and write another 6.

Funhouse

It’s always raining, it’s always raining
Running down canvas to grass
Peering through the darkness, straining just to hear him
Hear he comes now to open for the night
The Funhouse emporium of sweet delights
The Funhouse welcomes one and all tonight.

While the world is sleeping, curled in cold contentment
The funhouse promises to please,
Candy for the children, toys that will amaze them,
And something for the lonely and the lost.

Leave the dark behind you, the suffocating silence,
The babbling chatter of fools
See the freaks! The future!
Indulge in every pleasure!
Open your eyes to light, your ears to sound.

The Funhouse emporium of sweet delights
The Funhouse welcomes one and all tonight.

 

Piers Moritmer
Piers Mortimer

I remember recording three songs with my string trio (of whom only viola player, the late Piers Mortimer, stayed with me to tour and record in the mid-late 80s) in a tiny basement studio in Folkstone (once home to H.G Wells). ‘Funhouse’, ‘Beau Brummel’ (first version) and ‘The Great Edwardian Air-raid’. The engineer told me that I had chosen the ‘wrong’ song to put on the album (and he was right) It should have been ‘The Great Edwardian Air-raid’, but at the time I remember saying that it was too ‘quirky’ to release on anything other than a B side as no one could possibly like a wistful acoustic song about airships bombing Edwardian England.
The inspiration for this song came from Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ which I returned to many years later on ‘Dark Carnival’ because I felt that I hadn’t conveyed what I wanted to capture first time around.

Ghostships

Jack he sits alone by the waterfront,
Waiting for the ghost ship to come,
All his bags are packed for a voyage
from which he knows he will never return.

Looming through the fog glides the Ghost ship
Rotting from Crows’ Nest to keel,
Not a soul was seen to steer her,
Save a corpse lashed to the wheel.

The horned moon is pinned by its splintered mast,
Grey torn shrouds that once were sails,
Dead men stir from their sleep in the hold
their jaws lined with dust, their song but a wail.

Their mouths hung by threads,
their eyes are a hollow,
Calling like demons, restless in chains,
A ghost ship cursed to sail on forevermore,
Timbers shriek but not with the strain.

 

 

Another track retrieved from the aborted second album (recorded with my studio group of Simon, Roger and Brian whose swirling strings prompted one wit to complain they felt seasick!) and spruced up with more instruments to make it presentable. But it was only after I added the hurdy gurdy (played by Phil Martin) for the retouched version on ‘Gaslight Tales’) that I felt it finally sounded ‘authentic’. (Incidentally, it was Phil who had given me my first opportunity to play in public at a folk club in 1977)

 
 

paul roland - dance macabre (1987)

Paul Roland - Dance Macabre

witchfinder general

Where the plague has scourged no crops will grow,
Even ravens feed from the gallows pole,
A fallow land bled by civil war,
Where all are prey to the inquisitor.
He comes to carve to cure the beast,
With the burning zeal of a perverted priest,
His pageant like a funeral cortage,
Heralding a grim and new dark age.
From the churchyard to the village square
Where the priest intones a mocking prayer,
Innocents are dragged screaming through the streets,
To feed the flames and Puritan conceit.

 

In the early days I didn’t use a drum machine to write songs or a multi-tracker to record home demos. I simply used an internal rhythm or borrowed one that I liked from a favourite record (the galloping rhythm for ‘Witchfinder General’ came from a Dr Feelgood track). I would record a basic guitar and vocal part on a cassette recorder so that I wouldn’t forget it then play the rough ideas to the band and we would develop it together.


madame guillotine

Madame Guillotine she walks in majesty,
Vile jesters fawning at her feet.
Madame Guillotine her chamber music-screams,
Dark suitors kiss her talon hands.

Where tattered banners fly her falcon circles high,
Searching out its prey amidst the ruins.

Madame Guillotine, cadaverous, obscene,
And yet she is again with child.

Moss chokes the crumbling tower in this her Autumn hour,
Amongst the empty battlements she waits.
And when her kingdom falls courtiers and suitors all
Will pass like a procession in the night.

Chords:
[Am Bb] x2   Am C D    [F#m Bm] x2    G C D

 

From the moment I heard Tyrannosaurus Rex in 1972 I have been hooked on songs with a strong fantasy theme – Queen’s second album, King Crimson’s ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’ and the rustic Olde England of Jethro Tull. ‘Madame Guillotine’ was my attempt to evoke a similar world with a character who is the embodiment of evil.

The great edwardian air-raid

We stood upon the heath, the astronomer and I,
Counting parasols, watching couples cycle by,
Suburban streets were still when someone cried aloud,
And at that moment I looked up the war machines broke cloud.

A low hum filled the air as they turned towards the town,
Their bombs destroyed the bandstand and sent statues to the ground.
Craters marked the common, rubble, smoke and flame,
Someone fired a pistol in anger and in vain.

Stunned we walked to Maida Vale and on reaching my front door
The astronomer said without a qualm “You know this must mean war”.

Airships filled the skies above our heads,
the sky was dark and fires blushed it red,
Airships filled the sky, blacked out the sun,
The old world died, a new age had begun.


Chords:
Verse: A Em G A
Chorus: C G Am

 

I have loved the novels and short stories of H.G.Wells since I was a child. The idea that the quiet Edwardian countryside and suburbia could be the setting for fantastic events (the appearance of an invisible man, an alien invasion, extraordinary inventions and portals into other dimensions) was a notion that I found exhilarating. So it was inevitable that I would draw on these when writing songs. I never imagined that they might one day be seen as a seminal influence on the most unlikely of musical movements – steampunk.

the hanging judge

The hanging judge woke at midday
with fetid breath and tombstone decay.
Stubble scratch, cold floor feet.
He cursed the whore twixt his crumpled sheets.

The Hanging Judge gin to fix his gouty leg
and twitching ticks,
Belching broad he greets the day.
”Today” says he “is a hanging day”.

Fortified with a glass of port he raps
the bench “Silence in court”,
His birdlike clerk hovers by,
“Guilty as charged, hang ‘em high”.

(note: tombstone decay = rotted teeth; ticks = fleas)


Chords:
Verse: Bm A Bm
Chorus: G A Bm M8: E G D

 

The Regency period was another major influence on my lyrics and a rich source of themes, although the image that prompted this song came from Dickens’ (specifically Hugh Griffith who played the magistrate in the film ‘Oliver’).

still falls the snow

Where falls grey veils of snow upon the spires of old Moscow
There furtive faces press to the windows cold caress

Mad eyes view within, silent the wind-up waltz begins.

Satiated the mastiffs sleep coiled by their master’s feet and fire

And still falls the snow.

 

 

 

I don’t know what inspired this little scene of poor Muscovites watching the wealthy gorging themselves in pre-revolutionary Russia. Perhaps a scene from ‘Dr Zhivago’? Or an empathy for the downtrodden and a sense of injustice which has been a recurring theme of mine (though rarely overtly). I was very fortunate to find a balalaika player to lend the authentic touch to this track.

matilda mother

(cover of the Syd Barrett song)

 

 

 

 

gabrielle

She comes to me when darkness falls
I hear her name, she softly calls
I cross to the window and tear the curtains open wide
A woman is waiting there on the other side

Gabrielle why do you haunt me so
Gabrielle I need to know.

The rhapsody she used to play
Rising again as if to say
Though time has passed and I have gone
The love we shared is still as strong


Chords:

Intro Am C x 2 + G
Verse: Am C
Chorus: G D Am G D Am C

 

I have always considered this to be one of my weakest songs, but I suppose its simplicity was the reason for its popularity. The music just popped into my head as I was walking across Putney Bridge to meet with June Bolan and David Enthoven who were my management at the time and the central image came from a haunting scene in ‘The Innocents’ (1961) when the governess (Deborah Kerr) glimpses a shrouded female figure among the reeds at the lake

requiem

In a churchyard grey and overgrown
Where rooks perch upon the headstones
And cry in cracked and mocking tones for no one.

The mourners clad in black and lace
File through this God forsaken place
To lay to rest their master's mortal husk.

Dust to dust, last of his line with all the ritual of his time,
Walled within the vault for centuries.

Beneath the dying sun. Still the rooks cry for no one.

When the mourners file away
the black, plumed horse drawn hearse will stay
Until the undertakers have drunk their fill.

 

There is an elegance and theatricality in the stately ritual and staging of a Victorian funeral and their morbid obsession with death that appeals to the melodramatic.
When I finished this lyric I knew that ‘Danse Macabre’ was going to be a particularly strong album and I couldn’t wait to start recording. I now had a band to record with and a label, Bam Caruso, with a reputation for releasing quality psychpop. They provided a good studio, but added sounds I wouldn’t have used and refused to replace them so I left and recorded the next album for New Rose in France.

buccaneers

I still recall the night I went to sea,
The Press Gang and the crack they gave to me,
No goodbyes, no farewell upon the quay,
No kiss from my sweet family.

Haul away, haul away my boys,
You’ll not see your ma’s again,
Haul away and curse old Captain Jack,
The hardtack and the grubs that live therein.

At first light I with my back against the gun,
Blinked into the sun there to see,
Captain Jack with a sickly jaundiced skin,
Barnacle pox and the foulest grin.

For four long months we sailed the seven seas,
At the mercy of the breeze, no charts have we,
I fear I won’t see Portsmouth e’er again,
A Buccaneer am I now to the end.

(note: hardtack = biscuits; barnacle pox = pockmarked skin)

Chords:
Verse: Am C F Em F Em G
Chorus: C D F Am, C D Am

 

Occasionally I would write a song to ‘improve’ upon a track that I liked. I wrote ‘Buccaneers’ after hearing ‘Queen and Country’ by Jethro Tull and deciding that it would be fun to write a pirate song. I borrowed a book on the subject but just having the book in my hand was enough to set me off so I returned it unread.

In The Opium Den

Three stone steps lead down into heaven,
Three stone steps to the Opium Den,
Ecstasy waits coiled like a snake,
Draw from the hookah and the serpent will awake.

In the palm of a young peer prostrate upon cushions
A phial of liquid - fluorescent solution,
Ecstasy waits coiled like a snake,
Draw from the hookah and the serpent will awake.

Caressing a carved pipe with long bony fingers,
Delirium blossoms in cool vivid colours
Ecstasy waits coiled like a snake,
Draw from the hookah and the serpent will awake.

 

Just before I made ‘Danse Macabre’ I recorded this track and ‘Demon In A Glass Case’ as a single for Imaginary Records (which was co-owned by Dan Treacy of the Television Personalities and Alan Duffy who discovered The Mock Turtles). Alan had released a cassette compilation of mine on his Acid Tapes label and used to phone me every Friday night to tell me of the latest rave reviews he was getting for my compilation from fanzines in Europe and America and these fanzines started to tell labels in their country about me. That’s how I came to release albums in Greece, France, Italy and Germany. Before this the only response I had was from the BBC DJs who had played tracks from my first album - John Peel, Anne Nightingale and Alan Freeman.

Twilight of the gods

Once the gods looked out from their halls in high Valhalla
All the gods were masked, armed with blades forged in Valhalla
Once the gods rode out on their mounts of charnel black
Whom the gods had slain would glide aflame to high Valhalla

 

‘Danse Macabre’ was put together from tracks I had recorded before I was invited to join Bam Caruso and other tracks recorded at their studio in St Albans. They brought in a producer (a little too late to make any difference) and added some very artificial keyboard sounds that I wasn’t happy with. But I remember the producer telling the label owner that this track should be released as a single and that it could be an indie hit. Sadly they didn’t and it wasn’t so I left, more determined than ever to keep artistic control over my own recordings.

 
 

paul roland - a cabinet of curiosities (1987)

Paul Roland - A Cabinet of Curiosities

 

madhouse

Here I am in another home, Sister's gone and we're quite alone
Let's mix up her stock of pills, guarantees alarming thrills.

Here I am in another ward,
they've taken my toys now I'm real bored
But I've still got you my chum,
I'll tie you to the bed and we'll have some fun

Here I am in a padded cell,
the joke's on them 'cause I'm quite well
There's just no truth in my insanity,
I'm the Director of this Madhouse, can't you see?
 

 

While driving back and forth on the Autobahn on our first or second German tour I heard the TV Personalities ‘How I Learned To Love The Bomb’ and thought the lyric was ‘Here I Am In Another Home’ (as in mental home) so when I discovered it wasn’t that at all I wrote ‘Madhouse’ with the Caligari twist in the tail on a portable organ in the label owner’s flat the next morning.


wyndham hill

They gathered around the machine at the fete on the common
Winged with vellum stretched taut on a wood frame
And all judged the venture ‘insane’

“Tell me,” enquired the Reporter, “are you really in earnest?”
“And what are the chances of it falling out of the sky?”
”And if it did, would you be certain to die?”

And we’ll sail into the wide yielding blue,
while far below receding from view
Wyndham Hill and all that we knew.

A last minute check on the structure and we were ready,
Strapped in my chair I waved to my wife far below.
Then gradually released the controls.


Chords:

Verse: Dm C Dm C Am D
Chorus: C Em G x3 + Dm Am

 

 

 

Another song inspired by H.G. Wells. This time based on his story ‘The Argonauts of the Air’. ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ was recorded for the French indie label New Rose who had asked for a new album and as I was writing more songs than I could hope to release on one label there was no problem in finding enough acoustic songs to make a mini album, which was fashionable at that time. This was my chance to write and record songs that would not have fitted on a group record. It was a side project that I made to please myself and for that reason I was really surprised how well it was received. ‘Rolling Stone’ recently called it ‘one of the 100 best albums you’ve never heard of’ which was a belated honour that means a lot to me.

jumbee

In Port Au Prince the tall ships take on spice,
Brown skinned girls and the sailors they entice,
I saw them once burnt black hacking at cane,
Feet dragging dust, ankles swollen by chains.

The Overseer he snakes his whip to the night.
And they stumble on goaded by its bite,
Inland where the sweet Magnolia blooms,
Shuttered moonlight bathes the white man’s room,

Sleep sweetly Baron Samedi,
there’s Jumbee working in the fields.

(Note: Jumbee = zombie)

 

 

 

Most of my lyrics I just tease out of my head, but some songs benefit from a little ‘research’. I remember reading some Voodoo stories to find some key words and phrases which would give this lyric authenticity. Incidentally, ‘shuttered moonlight’ refers to a specific scene in the film ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ where the light streams through shutters creating bar-like shadows.

gary gilmore's eyes

(cover of the song by TV Smith/The Adverts)

 

 

 

burn

No light leaks from the master's study,
There's no sound in the dormitory,
All the boys are sleeping soundly,
Softly softly, catchee monkey.

Now I have here the answer
to those who said I couldn't learn
Something science has taught me,
now this place is going to burn.

When a gas is fed under pressure,
There's a tendency at high temperature,
For the flame to grow somewhat higher,
Then my friend you've got yourself a fire.

 

 

 

I wasn’t an avid reader in my youth. My main source of inspiration were movies and other people’s music. This song was inspired by a scene in ‘The Medusa Touch’ (1978) when the young pyromaniac burns down his school. Wishful thinking on my part, no doubt!

stranger than strange

There are faces in the marbling and on the bark of trees,
Heads upon the flower stalks and wild ones on the weeds
In the pattern of the wallpaper that's peeling from my wall
And voices in the corridor which echo down the hall.

And its stranger than strange, It’s stranger than strange.

There are features on the Hothouse palms sucking in the air,
Something nasty in the Hothouse, it’s too hot to bear,
Creeping vines are writhing upon my garden wall,
Lashing out with tendrils but I evade them all.


Chords:

Verse Em D C Bm x2    [G A C G] x2
chorus [C D Em] x4

 

 


Paul Roland & Nick Nicely

I recorded the demo of this song together with the demo of ‘Jumbee’ in a German studio on the last day of the first German tour (June-July 1986), but only re-recorded ‘Jumbee’ for the album. I should have also re-recorded ‘STS’ which would have benefitted from an imaginative arrangement. A pity.

 

walter the occultist

Walter the Occultist is sleeping in the parlour,
His tarot is stained with cucumber and tomato,
The kettle bubbles over, calls the caged canary ‘Walter, mind the shop”.
”Walter can you tell us” ask the fat girls from the chorus,
”Will we be happy and the Gods they be for us,
And what do the cards say about those men we met upon the pier?”

Once there were stars behind his eyes,
But now they have dimmed and crystalised,
The Gods are cruel, they tease the fool,
Who lifts the veil.

Walter reads the tea leaves spread on the Sunday papers,
The things that he sees there would astonish all his neighbours,
The strongman and the midget, the bearded lady and the tattooed twins.


Chords:

Verse F/Fm D# Am F
Chorus Bb Gm X2 E C#m F

 

 

I have always considered this to be one of my weakest songs, The idea for this song came from seeing a palmist’s shop on a Kent seafront. It was closed for the season and looked rather sad so I wondered what kind of person might work there. Originally it was called ‘Norman The Occultist’ but that didn’t have quite the right nebbish quality and might have suggested Norman Bates from ‘Psycho’. Sometimes finding the right words or title can make such a difference as to whether a song works or not, so I persist until I have exactly the right title or the words I feel it needs.

demon in a glass case

He stands erect and silent in morning coat and gown,
The pride of my collection and when my friends come around,
They stare incredulous and marvel at the sight
“How excellent a specimen.” “Exquisite’. “A Delight.”

He’s my demon in a glass case,
I caught him unawares,
Leafing through my old books
In the cupboard underneath the stairs.

He has an air of arrogance I saw it from the first,
As I struggled with the fellow his manners were the worst,
It hurt me more than he, of that he failed to see,
But I knew I had to do it for he looked a lot like me.


Chords:

Verse: C E7 F G C E7 Am E7 x 2
Chorus: F G Am Break E Am

 

 

I used the title from a story I’d once read in an American horror comic about the English eccentric Jeremy Bentham whose skeleton was put on public display fully clothed in a wooden cabinet at University College London complete with a wax head. The song has nothing to do with Bentham, but I loved the title. The track is rather dear to me as it features my one and only acoustic guitar solo.

berlin (ep track)

It seems long ago and not yesterday that I stood at the gates of Berlin
When the 20s began to this eager young man all roads led to Berlin
The artists, the plays and the dark cabarets and tea at the Adlon Hotel
Paris would pall, had nothing at all compared to the call of Berlin

Farewell Berlin, farewell Berlin.

How we laughed in those days in the clubs and cafes then we lost our hearts and our minds
It seems long ago and not yesterday that I turned my back on Berlin.

 

Chords:
[Am E7 G D Am E7 Am Am] x4    [F Am] x2    break [C D Am] x2

 


Paul Roland & Piers Mortimer

It was only when German indie label Pastell Records released a compilation ‘House of Dark Shadows’ based on the Acid Tapes compilation in June 1986 that I had the opportunity to tour.
I had played regularly in a folk club in 1977 but performed only a couple of songs each time. I didn’t play a full set until my first real gig with a band at Canterbury College of Technology in 1980 and that was a disaster (nobody could hear the keyboard cues so some of the songs went on and on), so I had been reluctant to perform live again, especially as it would be as an acoustic duo (myself and electric viola player Piers Mortimer) at a time when acoustic guitars were taboo.
Prior to our first Germany tour in July 86 we played a couple of gigs in Kent as guests of The Dentists and nobody threw anything! So that was a great relief.
On the first German tour -or it may have been a later one- I was invited to record at the Berlin studio owned by Alphaville who had had a huge hit with ‘Big In Japan’ and this was the song I recorded there as well as re-recording the drums on ‘Gabrielle’. The lead singer liked my music and they offered me free studio time to record an album, but I would have to have signed away my publishing rights so I politely turned them down. In retrospect I think that was a mistake. Who knows what it might have led to? But while I was there I recorded ‘Berlin’ and they showed me round Hansa Studios where Bowie had recorded ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’, so that was nice.

 
 

paul roland - happy families (1988)

Paul Roland - Happy Families

The curate of cheltenham

The Curate of Cheltenham, the Reverend Weir, Believed that his mission in life was quite clear,
To bring God to the natives,
the heathenous hordes,
Whilst imbuing the stimulating waters abroad.

He bought a cheap passage in a Tramp Steamer's hold, And wrapped in the 'War Cry' to stave off the cold he lived on a diet of cod liver oil,
With fish on a Friday brought plain to the boil.

Alighting at Cape Town and raring to go He charted a boat and some natives to row, Standing proud and erect in the narrow canoe.
Like a coxwain at Cambridge he rallied his crew.

'Oh tell me, dear mama, what good work could I do,
I know I've been a bitter disappointment to father and you.'

Three days on the river with provisions for four,
'twas with some relief that they made for the shore,
Where the natives proved friendly and ready to feed,
The curious cleric with a trunk full of beads.

He ran them up trousers to save them from shame,
He taught all their women how to entertain,
Which knife went with fish and which went with meat,
Good manners at table, not to talk when you eat.

He taught all their children to spell and to read,
To gather their jumble for those who are in need,
He read them the lessons and prayed for the sinner,
Whilst they fed him on mangos to fatten him for dinner.

 

‘Happy Families’ was one of the rare occasions when I wrote the lyrics before I wrote the music and that is because I had found a book on the lives of English eccentrics and the words just poured out before I had a chance to write the music. That accounts for the limerick like quality and the length (you tend to run with the story in a limerick whereas song lyrics are limited by the number of verses you feel the music can accommodate).


journey to the pole

A traveller of great renown, a theorist of repute,
Planned a novel exploration by a most unusual route,
He maintained the Earth was hollow, that his theory was quite sound
And that another world was waiting in the darkness underground.

The sun he said was filtered, light streamed in through a hole,
Through which he planned to descend at the apex of the Pole,
A Galleon he'd charter with provisions for the trip
And one hundred men of stout resolve to navigate the ship.

Sponsors queued and so accrued more funds than were required
And all agreed he was indeed the man they most admired
And so at last the date was set and they cast off from the quay
The Mayor wept and a brass band played "For Those In Peril On The Sea".

Well five months on and not a word was heard of ship nor men,
And all forgot or ceased to care what had become of them,
Until at last a traveller past, a solitary soul,
And found a rusty anchor chain frozen at the Pole.

 

 

 

Although this song is rarely singled out by anyone, I have a special affinity for it as it has just the right piquancy of melancholia and whimsy and I found the lyrics delightful, as if someone else had written it and I had merely scribbled them down.

nursery crimes

When I was young I didn't have too many little friends,
Only one, and she was three score years and ten,
A nanny with a most peculiar pedigree,
A former felon, but she was always good to me.

And when they came for her she shimmied down the drain,
Made off with Mummy's jewels, we'll not see her again.

She taught me how to forge a fiver from a stolen plate,
How to do my time if made a guest of the state,
She gave me lessons on the blowing of a strong room door,
Too much 'jelly' and the Nursery went through the floor.

I learnt the rackets and the value of a good disguise,
How to case a joint and how to fence the merchandise,
And now I'm older and they ask me what I want to be,
A life of crime is sure to be the life for me.

 

 

Believe it or not, the initial spark for this song was a manic harpsichord part in an early Queen song (the ‘Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke’ I think it was). New Rose were not too keen on me releasing so many albums, but I was buzzing at the time and so what was I to do – say ‘no thank you, too much music, take it away, come back in six months’? I still have the ‘problem’ of being ‘over productive’ 30 years later, but now I have a more understanding and accommodating label and alternative outlets (bandcamp, the PRAS etc) and my attitude remains the same – as long as the new songs pass my personal standards then who is to say I should sit on them for six months until the ‘market’ says the time is right?

cousin emilia

Miss Emilia St. John spent innumerable hours
in pursuit of butterflies, bugs and wild flowers
She cared not a fig what the villagers thought
of her pith helmet, net and large khaki shorts.

Tired of Trowbridge and sedate village life
And never content to be any man's wife
she embarked on a voyage to India by ship
Bid her father, the Rector, 'So long' and 'Pip, pip'.

In Baghdad a young boy of Sepoy descent
Accompanied the Memsahib wherever she went
Into the mountains west of Zanzibar
In search for rare species for her killing jar.

In Rangoon the Sultan of diminutive size,
Made improper suggestions over jellied sheep’s eyes,
In China the Viceroy gave her cause for concern
When the tattle at tiffin took an unsavoury turn.

So on through the swamplands and regions unknown,
Where the crocodile backs served as their stepping stones,
The intrepid Emilia with her butterfly net,
Last seen on a cycle en route to Tibet.

 

 

 

The ‘Happy Families’ mini album was a delight to write and record. I find humorous verse much easier to write than ‘straight’ and serious subjects, Once I have tapped into the vein it just flows so easily and when I came to record these songs I indulged my long held passion for quirky instrumentation that would evoke the characters I described. I imagined Cousin Emilia to be a feisty matronly lady in the manner of Margaret Rutherford.

builder of follies

A builder of Follies set out to astound
with a network of tunnels and rooms underground.
He had the carpets rolled up and the floorboards away,
And his workmen were digging by night and by day.
Rubble and topsoil they piled in the hall.
The servants knew not what to make of it all.
Molehills of dark earth appeared on the lawn,
With an interminable racket from midnight 'til dawn.

He descended by lift at the foot of the stairs,
Conveyed thence by rail in a converted bathchair,
To a hallway which stretched two thirds of a mile,
And a dozen fine bedrooms in the Italian style.

He had a Regency ballroom to tempt the smart set,
Bathed in the blue of one hundred gas jets,
He invited all those he considered his friends
To a Grand Opening Ball, but not one would attend.

 

 

 

 

best years of our lives

[Music: Traditional, Lyrics: Roland]

Broughton fags for Cunningham, Mayhew's fag has fled,
I don't fag for either for daddy knows the Head.
Crabtree runs the Prefect's bath, Dawlish brings him tea,
Me, I added to the fun, milk spiced with LSD.

Three Cheers for Kings and Houghton House,
Three more for Master's wives,
Another for cold showers and the best years of our lives.

Curfew here is sacrosanct, the town is out of bounds,
So keep an eye for Matron returning from her rounds.
Chaplin takes confession, he says we're steeped in sin.
The Lower Fourth's ungodly thoughts bring dribbles to his chin.

Who'll cheer our first eleven and damn the vanquished foe?
Why, the earnest, eager Freshmen will, 'cause we're too drunk to go.

(note: fag = servant, Head = headmaster)

 

 

 

I recorded the demo of this song together with the demo of ‘Jumbee’ in a German studio on the last day of the first German tour (June-July 1986), but only re-recorded ‘Jumbee’ for the album. I should have also re-recorded ‘STS’ which would have benefitted from an imaginative arrangement. A pity.

 

aunty

Aunty lacks the social graces, she pulls the most peculiar faces
in the most public of places, she really is a scream.

Her voice is loud, her manners too, her dresses green and her jokes quite blue,
But you should see her dance the Hoochie Coo, the Lindy or the Frug.

Everyone says aunty's thrifty, but they don't know her hidden gifts,
She seldom pays but goes 'shoplifty'. She's mastered slight of hand.

She favours all the better stores shoplifting from floor to floor,
And always one step from the Law.

Her friends are bores or frightful smarties. They're really not the type for aunty.
Still, she gives the most outrageous parties and everybody comes.

A nuisance everywhere she goes, an embarrassment to those she knows,
But I know where her money goes. She's left it all to me.

 

 

I only found out many years later that this song had been played as a theme song on Italian national TV every time they screened a Miss Marple movie. Very apt I say.

animal crackers

His taste was odd to say the least, he sampled every form of beast,
As patron of the London Zoo he savoured birds and insects too,
Ate garnished beetles fried on rye and baked a crusty Rhino pie,
For birthdays or a special treat he'd cook the dodo's tender feet.

A slight eccentric in his ways he boiled an elephant's trunk for days,
And when it proved too tough to slice he turned his gourmet skills to mice.
Invited guests for Sunday roast were served with mice on buttered toast,
Followed by a steaming stew of wild colonial kangaroo.

Of course he had his share of flops, like smoked giraffe and panther chops,
But all in all he cooked good fare, the best, said he, was polar bear,
A delicacy of the rarest kind for it was still quite hard to find,
Grilled and turned from time to time and all washed down with dry white wine.

Eccentrics, all on his father's side, begun with frogs in formaldehyde,
So who would have thought he'd come to be a genuine celebrity,
A friend of swells and royalty who were treated to a splendid tea,
Who politely nibbled, but never scoffed for they were brought up to be toffs.

 

 

Amazingly, the dishes listed were actually consumed by a real life eccentric who evidently had an iron constitution and a most peculiar palate.

happy families (ep track)

Father's pruning the roses, the noise it gets me down,
But a snip, snip, snip of the sharp shears and he's planted underground.
Mother knits in the parlour, needles click something cruel,
Now Mummy's wrapped in the armchair, from head to foot in wool.

Quiet please, you know I'm nervy,
What's my plea? Why, it's 'Not Guilty',
I'm not wicked, loved my family,
I just wanted a little peace and quiet.

Brother bought a Bugatti, when it starts the whole house shakes,
But soon he'll be off on a long run, non-stop 'cause I fixed his brakes.
Sister practised piano, she practised night and day,
Then I did what she did to Beethoven, but in a quite ingenious way.
Uncle slept in the study, it's true he used to snore,
But I haven't heard him lately as he sleeps beneath the floor.
Aunty Bertha is quiet, she hadn't done a thing,
Still, I stuffed her in the dryer, 'cause I'd promised her a spin.

 

 

The reference to Beethoven continues to confound some listeners, so let me put you out of your misery and say that it means she murdered Beethoven (ie played his music badly) so I did the same to her.

 
 

paul roland - duel (1989)

Paul Roland - Happy Families

 

When ‘Duel’ was released several reviewers expressed their horror and dismay at hearing hard rock from the man who had charmed them with ‘A Cabinet of Curiosities’, but I had begun as a rock artist with ‘The Werewolf of London’ and ‘Cabinet’ had been no more than a pleasant diversion in what I intended to be a varied career writing and recording whatever took my fancy and using whatever instrumentation the songs demanded.


knights

The joust begins, the King has called his knights to combat.
This toad grey day the King and Council will brook no quarter,
like mute black crows they gather for a sporting slaughter.

The wager stands, the hand of the rotund royal daughter,
Whose toothless grin stays the suitors who would court her.

To honour the truth and to uphold the right,
to one love be faithful this the code of the knights.

Each his lance, a broadsword and rust tarnished armour,
whose joints are stiff and bow the gait of his wheezing charger.

The joust is done but none rise from the ‘field of honour’.

Chords:
Bm A G     D E G D

 

 

 

I had a lot of trouble writing the lyrics to ‘Knights’ and the ‘King Must Die’ suite until I decided on a wryly humorous approach inspired by reading ‘Gormenghast’ by Mervyn Peake. I confess I hadn’t read it until someone wrote that ‘Blades of Battenburg’ sounded as if it might have come from that world and then I just had to check it out.

the crimes of dr cream

They say he was a tall gent and curiously cross eyed,
He'd none of Dr Jekyll, but all of Mr Hyde,
His bedside manner was lax in the extreme,
His preference was poison and his name was Dr Cream.

By day he lodged in Lambeth and on Sundays led the hymns,
By night he savoured Stamford Street, its Music Hall and inns,
He stalked the streets of London with his powders and his pills,
A cure all for the working girls, an end to all their ills.

In the milky white solution he dipped his poison pen,
and turned his hand to blackmailing the sons of gentlemen,
but Scotland Yard was close behind and soon the trap was sprung,
followed by another for Dr Cream was hung.

 

 


Dr Neil Cream was a real historical character who confessed to the Jack the Ripper killings on the scaffold, but during my research for my book ‘The Crimes of Jack the Ripper’ I discovered that he couldn’t have been responsible for the Whitechapel murders as he was in gaol at the time.

reptile house

Everyday is like the last, each a pleasure when it’s past.
Come inside, it’s warm, inviting,
Liquid lights dance on the ceiling
And you can see my friends.

Now follow closely if you please
I like the dark I’m quite at ease
Put your ear up to the curtain
Listen close I’m almost certain.
You can hear my friends

The zoo has closed,
No need to go
They like you sir,
They told me so,
See the lizards they are sleeping
Very soon now they’ll need feeding
And you can feed my friends

 

 

 

I shall be forever grateful to Chris Randall, my arranger and keyboard player at the time I recorded this, for all the wonderful string and woodwind arrangements he wrote for these albums. I would take him a rough home demo with just guitar and vocal and explain what I would like in terms of instrumentation and the approach (usually an ornate chamber music style). Many years later when distance prevented us from working together I evolved my own way of arranging instruments for my songs and I learnt much from doing so plus I acquired some very rudimentary technique which gave me the means by which I could ‘orchestrate’ my own music, but without Chris these albums would not have sounded as distinctive and baroque as they do.

spring heeled jack

Who lurks down the lane crouched in the shadows
No lantern to light his way?
Whose laughter rings like a Music Hall villain
the ladies faint dead away?

Its Spring Heeled Jack, that elusive fleetfooted felon,
Its Spring Heeled Jack, one bound and he's over the rooftops,
another and he's far away.

Who pulls on the bell when God fearing Christians are
tucked in or bound for bed?
Who rings again and thinks it fine mischief to singe them
and crack their heads?

Whose heels mark the snow,
lead up to high walls and puzzle the Peelers so?
Whose prints were found ringing the rooftops,
the hooves of the devil? No!

 

 

 

Originally this song was to have paid homage to screen horror queen Barbara Steele, but I’ve kept that subject for another more suitable song.

nosferatu

He dines alone in empty rooms with sweet bouquet of withered blooms,
his teeth long rotted to the root he sucks the pulp of bruised fruit.
Gone the bearing and the grace, sad sunken eyes and charnel face,
He'll dye his hair and paint his nails and rouge the cheeks that ageing pales.

Nosferatu he sleeps the sleep of the undead.

And when he stands before the glass no reflection does he cast,
This vile disease that taints his line burns the fabric of his mind.
He writhes accursed in his bed, the wretched sleep of the undead,
The slow parade of faded friends, the long dark sleep that never ends.

His great house weeps with rank decay, he walks by night and sleeps by day.
He'll rail the Reaper, curse him low, he who waits and mocks him so.

Chords:
Verse: Bm A G F# x 4 + Chorus: Bm A G F#
BREAK: Bm A Bm A F#m March: Bm G A Bm x 3 + F#m

 

 


I find it almost impossible to write seriously about familiar subjects, so I look for another ‘angle’ to get me into the song (as also happened with ‘Knights’ and ‘The King Must Die’). In the case of ‘Nosferatu’ I had to forget all the vampire clichés and think of him as a frail, dissolute old man haunted by his regrets and lost opportunities. How much easier it would be for me to write those lines today!

 

at the edge of the world

Once sailors brought back tales of how they found a far land,
where sculpted cliffs with old men's frowns scowl down on black sand,
where lightning walked and dark clouds thundered,
to wake the Kraken from its slumber at the far edge of the world.

There marbled waves would rear before the shore like stallions,
to beach the bleached ribs and the carcass of lost galleons,
where in her eyrie grinned the old crone
sewing shrouds for sailors white bones at the far edge of the world.

There did they know the Furies and their fearful four gales,
and when becalmed Poseidon's breath would fill their tall sails,
and so on through uncharted waters
lured by the Siren and her daughters to the far edge of the world.

 

 

 

alice's house

As a child I dreamt I fell headlong down a hungry well,
to land upon a leafy floor just like Alice years before.

In fact she'd left a note for me, "If you're free please come to tea",
and so without further ado I left just as she'd asked me to.

Asked Tweedeldum and Tweedledee
But neither one knew where Alice's House could be.

I asked the Knight, I asked the hare,
but neither could direct me there,
and yet somehow I reached her gate
whose notice read "You're far too late".

 

Chords:
Verse E F# A E E F# A B X2
Chorus F#m D X3 A E - Middle 8 F#m E X2

 

 

’Alice’s House’ and ‘Captain Nemo’ are two songs that had pleasant music but did not come to life until the words gave it a specific character. Had I limited myself to writing songs about real life and relationships these songs would have been comparatively mundane and not had a personality of their own. Finding a world and living in it (or at least going there when seeking inspiration) has been my way of ensuring that I write songs with an unconventional theme that interest me and hopefully others too.

menagerie

A Fellow of the Royal Society his house played host to a menagerie,
where a penguin dressed butler's tails served him port and brought the mail.
His parakeets could impersonate st-st-stutter of the Magistrate
Who lived next door but rarely called for he found no amusement in it all.

Evenings in were seldom tame for he'd taught his pets to entertain,
the chimp would start on violin and soon the others would
join in.
An orang-utan would play the spoons from a repertoire of familiar tunes
and exotic birds would harmonise for pale sweet meats and sugared flies.

 

 

This song had been written for ‘Happy Families’ but I had enough tracks for that mini album, so I included it on ‘Duel’ where it remains a diverting novelty.

The King Must Die

A) Over the Hills and Far Away
The last great knight has left the lists too fat to fit his breeches,
He seeks succour in foaming ale and the Apothecary's leeches.

The Queen completes her tapestry begun she knows not when,
and now she's done, unpicks each stitch and starts over again.

The King looks out on cloistered courts, his gardens in full flower,
but the men who made this golden age are dead drunk in the tower.

B) The King Must Die
The Kings sleeps late, is seldom seen, his crusted beard is quite unclean,
his fingernails of lichen green brush crumbs from his great bed.
Arthritic hands of mottled brown turn moths from out his dressing gown,
he'll search at some length for the crown which nests upon his head.
He'll talk aloud unto himself, curse his cough and wretched health,
and run a finger along the shelf where his pills and potions reign.
And if his limpid Chancellor should chance to peer around the door
He'll bellow like a wounded boar and repel him with good aim.

Ill met the Council of the King in Midnight Court conspiring
A seditious hooded gathering concur the King must die.
I fear they whisper sinister, the Bishop and the Minister
A poison to administer in a veal and venom pie.

Gut, the cook, girth aptly wide, surveyed the pie with paternal pride
Quite aware of what lay inside and feigned a modest tone.
And all the while the Council schemed how best to pick the kingdom clean
While those who would did court the Queen with one eye on the throne.

C) The King Is Dead
The Court, the Keep and corridors are ankle deep in dust,
and cobwebs hang like tapestries in the armouries of rust.

Beat the black draped, muffled drum, cast orchids on his bed,
sound the carved white funeral horn for lo, the King is dead.

The banners in the banquet hall have faded like dull rags,
and feasting on the crumbs beneath a brood of wretched hags.

The servants drank the cellars dray and stole the silverware,
the jailor and the jester danced, a most ungainly pair.

In the room of cracked spines and parchment
Sat the scribe, quill poised and back bent
Blowing dust from the black Book of Hours.

Chords:
Verse Em Am X2
Chorus C Em G D X2 + break on Em Amajor
Middle 8 Em Am Em Am C B A

 

 

This triptych posed the question – how to write a suite of songs about a medieval court without sounding like a pretentious throwback to the self-indulgent early 70s? The answer – take a tip from fantasy novelist Mervyn Peake and imagine what would happen when those knights in shining armour grew old and fat and fought among themselves.

 

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