World Poetry Day

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In my corner of the world today, the sun is shining, fourthe sky is blue, and daffodils are blooming in abundance throughout the village. A glorious backdrop for World Poetry Day, one which evokes images of Wordsworth’s wandering cloud, and perfectly sums up the hope which Spring always brings me. Hope is one of the themes underlying a poem I wrote, which Peter Coyle has used as the lyrics for his beautiful single The Year After You. Here is the poem as I originally wrote it.

 

The Year After You

 

You left on a Sunday, a day reserved for best.

That’s what was stolen from me as you took your last rest.

Wailing and sobbing, but feeling oh so numb,

Repeatedly asking how it had come to this meaningless, empty life without you.

No longer caring if I made it through

To the next day or even the next hour.

Sweetness and light turned sullen and sour.

 

I was smashed and broken when your birthday came and went,

Searching for a sign, something you had sent

To let me know you were still around.

There was nothing.

An overwhelming void where you should have been.

It wasn’t fair.  How could this have happened? What did it all mean?

 

No answers came, only platitudes empty of sense.

If time’s a good healer, the wait would be immense.

 

Cut to the core, my wound is soul deep.

Waking only to fill the gaps between sleep,

When I’m with you again, seeing you smile,

Hearing your voice for just a little while.

But those times become fewer and despite what they seem,

Reality hits: You can’t cuddle a dream.

 

Shutting out the world (It’s a scary place without you)

Or wanting to punch everyone in it.

There’s nothing I wouldn’t do to have you back for only a minute.

I know it can’t happen, but the notion beats reality.

A coping mechanism, saving me from insanity.

 

Then, slowly, like a new-born lamb finding its feet,

Shakily, unsteady, I venture from my retreat.

 

Life’s ride is still running, a gift there for the taking,

Even if the effort seems hardly worth making.

I vowed to keep good memories. How could I forget?

I promised you I’d be happy. That hasn’t happened yet,

But I’m starting to think one day it might.

The future bodes less daunting, less dismal, if not quite bright.

 

So, I sit listening to the songs we once shared together.

Moments of bliss, they will last in my heart, today, tomorrow, forever.

You will be with me always, that much I know to be true,

As I stumble along in the year after you.

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The Year After You

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Writing extensively about the Eighties means I sometimes have to be more analytical than reflective. Holding up a mirror is not enough. You have to examine things in microscopic detail. However, irrespective of whether I’m writing about an historic event, a backstage anecdote or a fond recollection, there is an underlying fundamental thread that often defies methodical analysis. The people involved in these events.

I could write reams on the political significance and worldwide implications of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but just one image of the revellers celebrating its demise atop the landmark, shortly before its collapse, says so much more than I ever could. The revelation, during my interview with Ranking Roger, of David Bowie turning delivery boy ahead of his Milton Keynes gig in 1983, to ensure Saxa had his cans of White Stripe, only serves to emphasise the star quality of the man behind the legend. Even something as simple as recalling the first single we bought can evoke strong emotions, not only because of the music but the people associated with it too: the artist, the person who was with us when we bought the record, who we sang, danced or cried with to that track. Memories may be made of the sights, sounds and even smells of our past but the truth is, without people they are nothing. That is why it hurts so much to lose someone who has been an integral part of those memories.

Last April, after a cruel battle with a particularly aggressive form of lung cancer, Lee, my best friend and soulmate of 25 years lost his fight with the disease, at the age of 51. The months that followed are really just a blur, in which I honoured existing obligations on autopilot but have no clear memory. Photos from that time are the only tangible proof I have of my existence then. In most, I have a familiar big smile, but when I look at my eyes I see someone who truly did not know what day of the week it was. It wasn’t until the end of July when, thanks to the help of some wonderfully supportive friends, I began to write again. Although prior to that, I had begun to write poetry for the first time since my late teens.

A couple of months ago, I shared one of those poems, ‘The Year After You’, with Peter Coyle, who later told me “I only read the first two verses and I had to stop. It made me cry and so I had to walk away and come back to it later. It was very emotional and that is why I wanted to try and put it into a song. Even then it was difficult. It hurts just listening to it for me, because the words are so raw and sincere. There is a real beauty and strength to them. They have a direct link to the heart.”

That song was waiting for me when I arrived home one Saturday afternoon last November. I had been to London for a radio interview to promote The 80’s Annual, and had then gone on to interview Soft Cell’s David Ball for my next book. Coming home to discover one of The Lotus Eaters had turned one of my poems into a song perfectly topped off the kind of day my teenage self could have barely dared to dream about. ‘The Year After You’ is a deeply personal poem I wrote about losing Lee, so it will come as no surprise to know I was in tears when the track finished playing. Peter admits that in writing the song “I was very scared because the words to ‘The Year After You’ were so real and intimate, but it just gripped me and wouldn’t let go. It is so special to open up and allow someone else’s personal feelings and emotions to be expressed in the music, even when they are difficult emotions, but it is harder singing someone’s words because you have to assimilate them as though they come from your heart. You just hope that the writer sees that you are trying to reflect her honesty.”

I had only to hear the emotion in Peter’s voice, as he sang the words I had written, to know that. However, I was still uncertain when he suggested the possibility of releasing the song. It had taken a lot of deliberation before sharing the poem with him, so the thought of it being in the public eye was quite overwhelming. Understanding my reticence, Peter left the decision with me. The song was a gift to me, so it was up to me who should hear it.

Eventually, I decided there could be no better tribute to the man who had been by my side for most of my adult life, and whose loss had changed it forever. Besides, who was I to stop anyone from hearing this gorgeous creation, which may have arisen from sadness but has finished as a beautifully crafted message of hope?four.jpg

So, early December saw Peter in the studio, mixing the song which I am pleased to announce will be released on 3rd February. Currently, the track can be pre-ordered from iTunes and will also be available from various outlets such as Amazon and Spotify.

To find out more about Peter Coyle and his music, visit his website: www.petercoyle.com.

 

Trailblazers of Conscience Songs

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Below is the link for the second episode of Trailblazers I recorded for Sky Arts. It’s about songs of conscience or, as Billy Bragg says in the programme, the “kind of music that says something other than ‘I’m great, you’re shit. Do you like my socks?'”.

Sunny’s Sad Story

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Many songs in the Eighties carried a message or told a story, even if it wasn’t immediately obvious or fitting to the music. Nik Kershaw’s “I Won’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” was about the threat of nuclear war, although you could be forgiven for not making a connection between the subject matter and its synth pop accompaniment. In some cases, the meaning of a song’s lyrics has only become apparent years later. As I was only 9 years old when The Vapors released “Turning Japanese” in 1980, it was at least a decade before I came to realise the alleged story behind the song!

The Seventies saw a lyrical dearth, which only ended with the advent of Punk, but the Sixties set the bar for storytelling lyrics. That is one of the reasons I love listening to Radio 2’s “Sounds of the Sixties” show, on a Saturday morning.

Last week, as Brian Matthew introduced the track “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb, he relayed the sad tale of how the song had come to be written. Harold “Hal” Hebb, Bobby’s older brother by six years, had been murdered in a mugging 48 hours prior to writing it, the song being an outpouring of Bobby’s grief.

Listening to the song, knowing the circumstances in which it had been created, was like hearing a brand new song, both in the lyrics and in the emotion of the vocal. What do you think?