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Abbey Music Poems about Childhood Song Lyrics Uncategorized When the war came Narrative and songs

When the War Came

I’ve decided to publish in this blog the full narration and lyrics of the song cycle we are in the process of writing for the Schools project at Bath Abbey, as a serial. It is a half-hour piece, performed on June 12th at Bath Abbey, sung by the children of 6 schools, I think, and accompanied by members of the Bristol Ensemble. The narrator – hoorah! – is Jon Monie. This will be its only performance. All are welcome if you are around.

I took this momentous decision which affects the lives of so many people – at least six, as far as I know – because I like this piece and I am proud of it as a lyricist. And a dear friend of mine told me off yesterday for always seeing what I do as second in importance to the music.

The poems are of course transformed by the music into something much more moving and beautiful than they are alone; but they do have merit in themselves.. and after all, they are the story.

Sometimes when you are working with a composer, lyrics combust into music almost immediately; sometimes he grumbles a lot, tries to make you throw it out, says he will try and do something with it – as if he knows all too well the nature of that which he is polishing – and then eventually, capitulates, and it works. Two of the best songs in this – the Trenches song in Dispatches, and the last song – only exist because I fought for them. I’m glad I did. It feels important to stand up for my own vision of a piece.

This was a difficult commission; to write a song cycle for small children about WW1.

We have been immersed in this subject – first for The Cool Web, then for Demon Lover, (which has a long flashback to WW1) and now for this – since 2013. It’s been a long war. However, I am reliably informed that it will be over by Christmas.

Two things which became gradually clear to me led me to this treatment.

First, the understanding that what matters to me in war is love. The love and grief of Graves for his lost friend David became the core of the Web; Demon lover became – for me- about the betrayal of love. The horror of the vast mincing machine of war is in itself  important only by virtue of the importance of that which it destroys. How it does it is not what engages me.

Second: children. Children will be singing this. I wanted it to be about them. I did not want it to be more than they could bear; but I wanted it to be honest. Some of these children who are singing may have themselves experienced war; but most of them will not.

And when that thought connected to what became clear to me in reading endless first hand descriptions of how wounded soldiers call not for their sweethearts but for their mothers.. I knew how to do it.

So I have told the story of six children from a small village in England who go to war.

When we played it through to our choirmaster and our narrator , with Jools singing it at the piano, and I saw them so close to tears, I realised that it works. Its heart is in the right place, which is what matters.

So: Here is the first Movement:

 

WHEN THE WAR CAME

 

A SONG CYCLE FOR CHILDREN

JOOLS SCOTT AND SUE CURTIS

MOVEMENT ONE: HOW IT WAS

NARRATOR

There were six of us in our village. Joe and Fred and Billy, and their sisters, Dot and Phoebe. And Joe’s girl, Mary. Mary was always Joe’s girl, right from when we could walk. He would be running, and she would be tottering along behind him, trying to catch up. 

We all lived in our street, and played together in the back alley. Or out on the hills. I don’t think our parents knew where we were half the time.

 Joe was the leader of the gang, always out ahead, urging the others on.

SONG ONE: LONG AGO: CHILDHOOD

ALL BOYS

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

How days were fun and long and busy

How the bath at home was grimy

How I always was so hungry

Long ago.

 

NARRATOR

 

Fred was more of a dreamer, a quiet lad.. A good friend though. You needed him, he was there.

 

FRED

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago..

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

We six were all there together

Walking happy on a Sunday

Kicking feet on the church railing

Long ago

 

 

NARRATOR

 

Billy was a go-getter. Even at that age, he had an eye for the girls.. And they for him.

 

BILLY

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

We were cheeky, young and easy;

Mad, impatient to be living..

And the girls all pink and giggly..

Long ago.

 

NARRATOR

 

The girls were just ‘the girls’ to us. We spent most of the time trying to get away from them.

 

ALL GIRLS

 

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago

 

The boys were all so naughty

Calling names and pulling pigtails,

Throwing stones and chasing, teasing..

Long ago.

Long ago

Long ago

 

NARRATOR

 

We all had a bit of schooling, when the harvest didn’t need us. Learned about Kings and Queens, and Famous Battles, and Cowboys and Indians, and the Knights of the Round Table, and the Fall of Troy. All very romantic and exciting, and good for games on the hills, but just in old books; not real..

 

ALL GIRLS

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago..

 

We thought it would last forever

Thought that change would never shake us

Never come and take and break us

Long ago.

 

 

NARRATOR

 

But then we turned fourteen; school was over, freedom was over; we were grown-ups and we had to work for our families; life began in earnest. It was the mill for the lads, and farm work for the girls.. none of us fancied service – we didn’t want to go away to a big house where no-one knew us …

 

ALL GIRLS

 

I can remember how it was

So long ago.

 

I can remember how it was..

So long ago..

 

All those days out in the sunshine

Turned to work and dirt and growing

Turned us into men and women..

Long ago..

Long ago

Long ago

Long ago

Long ago …

 

 

 

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