Category Archives: Music

Saying the Names; a Poem and a Painting

Saying the Names by Faye Hall, from a photo by Lancia Smith

The painting above is one of an sequence of three by the remarkable Canadian artist Faye Hall. This one was made in response to my poem Saying the Names, which I give below. Saying The Names celebrates the remnant fishing fleet in the little Northumbrian harbour town of Amble. The poem chants the lovely names of these vessels as part of a meditation on the power of language, of naming itself, and as an evocation of the unique atmosphere and history of that part of England. Faye has created a remarkable work, using a photopraph by Lancia Smith for the portraiture and encorporating lines of my hand-written text for the poem, in different scales, into the fabric of the painting, so that my words about sky and sea and light become part of her evocation of those same things in colour and texture. Faye has written an article about these paintings, and her collaboration with Lancia and with me in the Mennonite Brethren Herald here, but she has also given me permission to post the photo of her painting here on my blog, where I thought it would be good to set it alongside the poem and also a recording of my reading it.

In fact this is not the first artistic colaboration inspired by this particular poem. It was picked up in 2002, shortly after it was first published, by Kevin Flanagan and his Riprap Quartet and they played a jazz setting of it in the royal Festival Hall. we have since performed it together on several occasions and, fter the text of the poem I will embed a youtube video of one such performance. (If you are in or near Cambridge and would like to hear Riprap, and also have a chance to hear the great Beat writer and biographer Gerry Nicosia, then do come to the Unitarian church for a jazz-poetry concert on 8th September at 8pm. full details here.)

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

Saying the Names

Dawn over Amble, and along the coast
light on the tide flows to Northumberland,
silvers the scales of fishes freshly caught
and glowing in their boxes on the dock,
shivers the rainbow sheen on drops of diesel,
and lights, at last, the North Sea fishing fleet.
Tucked into harbour here their buoyant lines
lift to the light on plated prows their names,
the ancient names picked out in this year’s paint:
Providence, Bold Venture, Star Divine
are first along the quay-side. Fruitful Bough
has stemmed the tides to bring her harvest in,
Orcadian Mist and Sacred Heart, Aspire,
their names are numinous, a found poem.
Those Bible-burnished phrases live and lift
into the brightening tide of morning light
and beg to be recited, chanted out,
for names are incantations, mysteries
made manifest like ships on the horizon.
Eastward their long line tapers towards dawn
and ends at last with Freedom, Radiant Morn.

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A Song for Valentine’s Day

Playing Maggie's song in the BBC studios

I was a guest on Sue Marchant’s Big Night In radio show the other day and took the opportunity to play this song live and dedicate it to my wife Maggie in time for Valentine’s day! I wrote it for her a few years ago and its on my new CD Dancing Through the Fire. Ironically its the only song of mine in which the movie industry has ever aken an interest, And for a while it looked as if it might be part of the sound track of a romantic movie. but the movie never got funding and the plans were dropped so I guess the title of the song turned out to be true after all!

I hope you enjoy it.  You can hear the full CD version with Oli Smith’s wonderful sax solo by pressing the play button or clicking on the title and the lyrics are posted below:

Movies s3 t3 m2

They Don’t Make Movies (Out of Love Like This)

All those people in the movies look so healthy young and tanned

And I know there’s nothing that they wouldn’t sell.

I can see their words of promise run like water into sand

So I draw my water from a deeper well.

When we wake up in the morning you can hardly face the day

And I see the courage other people miss,

As you spend yourself for others, as you keep the dark at bay,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.

 

Bridge:

                 

There’s no glamour like the magazines, no glitter like the stars,

No putting on the make-up to impress,

But we still stand together love, for all our battle-scars,

We hold each other’s hearts and still say yes.

 

 

You cant photograph fidelity, or merchandise restraint,

Your inner beauty wont be selling soap.

And sometimes from the outside it might seem that love grows faint

On the inside its renewed each day in hope.

So there’s nothing on the surface to attract a stranger’s gaze

There’s not photo-genic posed romantic bliss,

Just two people staying faithful through the darkest winter days,

But they don’t make movies out of love like this.

 

Bridge:

And its been a long day’s journey just to get us up to bed,

But we’re not too tired to share a loving  kiss,

And the truest and the deepest things are more than can  be said,

And they don’t make movies out of love like this.

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Happy Birthday Bob

As Bob Dylan celebrates his seventieth birthday I’ve been reflecting all day on how much I owe the man; more than I can say, more than I can pay. Even though sometimes buying his albums almost beggared me as a poor student, I have been repayed for my teenage scrimping and saving a thousand fold. What I’ve been given is a sound-track, a commentary, a critique of my life, but also an invitation to step beyond it, again and again into ways of being, seeing, and knowing I could never have otherwise imagined. Thanks Bob. By way of small tribute I am posting here a cover of Slow Train I recorded with my Band Mystery Train and an article on Dylan, the bible and poetry I wrote for the Tablet in december 2008. So here goes. Click on the tablet link at the bottom of this page to go to a pdf of the article: “Think Twice, It’s Alright”

tablet2646[1]

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A Weaving Song

weaving on the loom

Here’s a little song I wrote a while back and recorded with a friend, a fine violinist, out in the fens. Its a fairly lo-fi recording I made myself, which I’ve only just discovered I still have,Its a song about the connections and textures of love and friendship. Its on soundcloud so I’ll post their player and then put the words below. If no player appears then just click on the song title.

silken patternings

A Weaving Song

The shawl you wear is soft and warm

and, cast about your shoulder,

it wraps around your beauty

as the autumn nights grow colder.

What cloth have we to clothe our souls

against a dark world’s weather?

O take these tangled threads with me,

we’ll weave that cloth together

side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave that cloth together

What threads have we between us love

to offer for the weaving?

Some bright with joy, some silver-grey

and some are dark with grieving,

some green and blue as earth and sea,

some soft as cloud and feather,

but side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave them all together

side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave that cloth together

 

we bring each other single threads

in joy or sorrow spun

and with a word, a glance,a touch,

our weaving has begun

was ever there a softer bond

or such a treasured tether

as is the one you weave with me

that binds us both together?

side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave that cloth together

Whatever colours fleck your thread

the same are seen in mine

but friendship interweaves them both

into a new design;

a common cloth that wraps us round

against the dark world’s weather,

as side by side, by warp and weft

we weave that cloth together

side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave that cloth together

The checkered cloth of nights and days

Is threaded through with gold,

it shines within the steadfast gaze

of love that can’t be told

The clothes you wear are soft as silk

and mine are tattered leather

but still our souls are clothed as one

in cloth we weave together

side by side, by warp and weft

we’ll weave that cloth together

single threads in joy or sorrow spun

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Letting Go for Lent

Van Gogh’s painting of The Sower

Sing a song of sowing, of carrying the seed

A song of hopeful planting, to meet a future need,

Sing a song of letting go, and falling to the ground,

Of burying that feels like loss, still waiting to be found

These are the opening words of a lyric I wrote for Redemption Song, a play about the story of Ruth and Naomi, but they have come back to me as I turn my thoughts to the late Lent that starts this month. It seems fitting that Lent, a season for ‘letting go’ should coincide with spring, a season for sowing seed. Perhaps we should see our Lenten observance as the ‘letting go’ of a Sower of Seed, and not just the ‘giving up’ of an Abstemious Pharisee. If there are things we choose to do without, perhaps we should let them go into God, drop them as seeds, into the good ground of His Love, so as to receive them back at his hand, in another form and another season. This is what Jesus did for his forty days in the wilderness. He let go, and said ‘no’ to the temptation to make stones into bread, to make a private feast in the desert. But God took the seed of what he had ‘let go’ and it bore fruit a hundred fold when he broke bread in that same wilderness and shared it with five thousand. God gave him back what he gave up, but in a newer and better form, made possible by that first letting go.

And that was true of the deepest letting go of all. When it comes to Holy Week and Passiontide we shall see Jesus let his whole life go into God; “into thy hands I commit my spirit” he says from the cross. But that Good Friday ‘letting go and falling to the ground’, that ‘burying that felt like loss’ was the prelude to a glorious finding, and giving back on Easter Day.

Perhaps we can so ‘let go’ our lives into God this Lent that we may find that God has let his life go into us too, has planted his Love, His Son, as a spring-sown seed, to grow in our lives from Easter and Beyond.

Oh and by the way the lyric I mentioned above is from a song, also simply called Redemption, which I hope will appear on my next cd. Meanwhile the full lyrics are here and you can hear an early ‘mix’ of the whole song  here, or by clicking on the ‘play’ button below.

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A sonnet for my guitar

lightly lifting my gibson, turning air to music

As I (literally) sang its praises in my last post, I thought I’d follow up, in this one with a sonnet about my guitar. I wrote this for our Girton Poetry Group when we had set one another the task of writing about ‘Hollows’ and I began to reflect on the way it is the lightness, space, and emptiness in a musical instrument that gives it its singing voice. Gibson guitars are made in Montana and I had read and enjoyed an article about luthier Ren Ferguson and the team who make guitars there, so some of that awareness entered into the poem too, together with the sense of an acoustic guitar as like a living breathing companion, feminine in its form, a feeling that a good guitar, like a good muse is always teaching you something new about your self and your craft. So here’s the poem. As always, you can here me read it either by clicking on the ‘play’ button (if it appears in your browser), or by clicking on the hi-lighted title of the poem.

Hollows

I lift you lightly, you were made for me;
No box of rain made for the grateful dead,
But breath instead and beauty for the living.
A certain shaping of the mountain air
Censes its secret wood-scent in your hollows.
The high, dry, hallows of Montana
First saw you braced and fretted, resonant
And ready to be sounded into song,
The smallest tremor trembles through your form
And turns the air to music. My full heart
Is poured into your forming emptiness
And given back as passion for another,
Your hollows hold a weight that sets me free
I lift you lightly, you were made for me.

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Old Guitar, New CD

Old and Worn

Also Old and Worn

We’re at the mixing stage with my new CD Dancing Through the Fire and I thought I’d experiment with sharing some early mixes here Here is a link (or player I hope) for a track I may include called Old and Worn. If the button doesnt appear below you can try clicking on the song title where I give the lyrics below. This is an early take with just me playing both guitar parts and no other accompaniment.

Old and Worn

I was round rockin with the boys, they showed me all the latest toys,

They got gizmos now that could almost play the gig.

They like to tell me money talks, they sure can make those boxes squalk,

They say by spending out they’re bound to make it big

 

Chorus: But my Guitar is old and worn, made the year that I was born,

You could put it down as only wood and string

But when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Well I know the likes of you, you must have everything brand new

And you will trash it on the day its lost its sheen

And you know the likes of me you can leave me standing like a tree

But I’ve got roots and rising sap to keep me green

 

Chorus : And this Guitar that’s old and worn, made the year that I was born,

But its grown a tone that’s more than wood and string

And when I open up that case and blow the dust from off its face

And lift it up, sometimes I swear I can hear it sing

 

Now as I watch my life unroll, I read the poems on the scroll

And I do my best to savour every line

And every year that takes its toll, is laid down deep within my soul

But I can draw it up again like vintage wine,

 

Like this guitar etc.

 

Now this box of mellowed wood, sounds every bit as good

As the day its maker blessed it with a string

I can see it lying in the shade, remembering every note its played

And waiting for the day that’ll let that music ring

 

Cho: So I don’t mind my touch of grey, I’m not fearing for the day

When every buried seed is bound to have its spring

When Someone opens up my case, I’m gonna see Him face to face

And when I’m in my Makers hands He’ll hear me sing!

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Poetry Aloud (and a little Mozart!)

As you know I have been posting occasional poems on this blog for a while and various friends have asked to hear me read them. In particular they would like to hear the Advent Sonnets read aloud. I intend to record those in the next day or two and I hope, with the help of one of our choristers, to let you hear the antiphons themselves sung in plain chant, so watch this space.

I am using an excellent service called Audioboo. Which I hope you can play from this page So to try things out, here is a poem of mine about listening to music called Mozart at Greenbelt, you should be able to play it by clicking on the play symbol below.I have also printed out the text of the poem. If the play button doesnt appear then click on the title of the poem:

Mozart at Greenbelt

We lie upon the grass on God’s good earth
and listen to the Requiem’s intense,
long, love-laden keening, calling forth
echoes of Eden, blessing every sense
with brimming blisses, every death with birth,
until all passion passes into praise.

I bless the winding paths that brought us here,
I bless this day, distinct amidst our days,
I bless the light, the music-laden air,
I bless the interweaving of our ways,
the lifting of the burdens that we bear,
I bless the broken body that we share

Sanctus the heart, Sanctus the spirit cries,
Sanctus the flesh in every touch replies

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Collateral Magic!

malcolm and noel sing 'Blowing in the wind"

I’m just back from the CS Lewis Foundation‘s writers retreat/CS Lewis conference in Texas at which I was speaking on the subject of CS Lewis’s great sermon The Weight of Glory, and also singing and reading a little poetry. It was a truly extraordinary weekend. First up was a session on the  friday night called “Collateral Magic: a revolution in word and song, which I did jointly with the amazing Noel Paul Stookey, the ‘Paul’ of Peter Paul and Mary. He is a fabulous musician, a witty raconteur, but also, as I discovered over the weekend, a very gracious and spiritually grounded person. He is in a wholly different league from me, a million times better known and, musically far more articulate and experienced, so he could so easily have made me feel nervous, inadequate, or simply out of place, instead he made me feel completely at home, as if I really belonged up there playing at his side, just naturally as a fellow musician and songwriter. And that generous spirit was something that just deepened as the weekend unfolded. We opened by singing ” I shall be released” together and then alternated playing and discussing our own songs before we finished with “Blowing in the wind ” as a duet. To join in singing that particular song with someone who had known Dylan from the outset and had a hit with it before he did, and to sing it together in a context in which we both knew that the wind in which the answers are blowing is the Ruach, the Pneuma, the Holy Spirit of God, was unforgettable. Among the songs I sang were ‘The Green Man’ and ‘Angels Unawares’, and hearing his familiar voice sing the chorus on a song of my own was indeed a piece of ‘collateral magic’. In fact the whole weekend was magic and thronging with angels unawares, I’ll write more about it, and about what Lewis called “The inconsolable secret” as time allows, but meanwhile, if you have facebook, this should get you to a video of our rendition of The Green Man: Malcolm and Noel sing The Green Man

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And the Beat goes On

I am fascinated by the threads of connection that run between all the kinds of poetry, song, and story-telling in which I delight and am always pleased when they are living connections in the form of real people you can meet, friends you can make. For example as my father-in-law and I got to know each other we found we had the same tastes in literature, loved the same poets and even the dame pasgaes in some of those poets, and we both seemed to have learned to appreciate the same qualities. I remember saying to him that it was CS Lewis, as a literary critic who had guided me into the fields of literature and given me some keys to understanding it all, and he replied, “well he did the same for me, only in person as he was my tutor at Oxford!” Suddenly we both knew who the connecting thread was and I felt a particular pleasure that my father-in-law was a living link for me back to an author whom I knew intimately but had never met in the flesh.

The same goes  for my passion for American song and poetry, especially the work of Bob Dylan. From the day I bought Highway 61 Revisited Dylan has been the voice and channel for me for a whole stream of American poetry which I soon came to realise stretched back behind him, not only nto blues and folk, but very specifically into the Beats,  especially the great figures of Ginsberg, and Kerouac, who were in their own radical way carrying on a tradition of flamboyant, inspired anarchic, energetic writing that goes back to Walt Whitman. In Dylan’s film Renaldo and Clara there is a moving episode where he and Ginsberg visit Kerouac’s grave and play music and recite poetry together, honouring someone who served the same muse.

I have been involved for a while in a jazz poetry project, the Riprap Collective, which takes its inspiration from the Beat Generation and tries to do in a new way and in new jazz and poetic genres, what the beats did in their day, but until now we had no living link

with the beats who insired us. but all that changes this week! This Friday, 22nd October I will be playing host to Gerald Nicosia, the  internationally acclaimed author of Memoy Babe, the great Kerouac biography, and a recognised authority on the whole beat generation. but he is himself also a performance poet and has performed alongside Ginsberg at blues and poetry festivals and indeed Ginsberg has commended his woek on Kerouac. Gerald is coming to Cambridge to give a public lecture on the Friday in the English Faculty, 9 West Rd, to which all readers of this blog who are in, or can make it to Cambridge are welcome. But then on Saturday he is going to join with me, Riprap and  another Cambridge poet Keith Dursley and we are going to do our own version of the kind of Jazz-poetry happenings at which Kerouac and Ginsberg used to read. This should be an amazing, and in its own way historic event, and again all my readers here are very welcome. I am giving all details below and hope to see some of you there.

Two Jack Kerouac Events









The Writer Kerouac, the Mythological Kerouac, 
the Popular Kerouac, and the Real Kerouac 

A Lecture by Gerald Nicosia
5pm Friday 22nd October, GR-05, 
Faculty of English,
 9 West Road Cambridge.

All welcome, free admission.

Poetry and Performance

A poetry reading and performance by Gerald Nicosia with members of
The Riprap Quartet.

With support from KM Dersley and Malcolm Guite. 

8pm, Saturday 23rd October, 
Memorial Church (Unitarian), 
Emmanuel Road
CB1 1JW. 

Tickets £5 on the door.
see also:
http://www.ampublishing.org/kevinflanagan/quartet.htm

www.geraldnicosia.com

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