A life in music (under construction)

Not that my life has been all about music, though I was a (not all that successful) professional musician for a while in the 70s. In fact, the last 30 years of my working life were spent in IT, mostly in security. But music has always been a critically important part of my life. I wrote my first song when I was around 7 or 8. But don’t worry: I can’t remember much of it and have no intention of rewriting it.

Later on I learned the recorder, though I was never a particularly good player, and then the harmonica. In my lateish teens I acquired my first guitar, though it took me a fair while to get to grips with it. In fact, at school I was once invited to join a band – we called them groups in those days – playing harmonica, on condition that I didn’t try to play the guitar. However, I heard a lot of good music at that time, including classic folk-y stuff like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Davy Graham, Martin Carthy, Tom Paxton, Dylan, Phil Ochs and so on.

It wasn’t till I got to University in North Wales, though, that I started to work seriously on the guitar, and to the surprise of some who’d known me earlier, was getting to be quite good at it. I also started to write better songs.

[Space here for something selected from ‘Baby what a groove’, ‘Thanks for nothing Ephraim Clutterbox’, ‘Another Bangor Day’]

Perhaps the longest-lasting musical friendship of my life began then, when I sang regularly with Sally Goddard. Sally now lives in St. Johns, Newfoundland, and sings with a band called Atlantic Union. Their latest CD has some rather impressive tracks – I reviewed it here. Sally and her husband frequently visit Cornwall, and maybe one of these days we’ll actually play together in public again.

[Back to Shrewsbury/the Manchester years]

In the mid-70s, I found myself in Berkshire, and my writing started to be the most important part of my performing life. Up to that time, I’d been playing/writing a lot of blues-y things (still do) and singing quite a few shanties (but I’m over that…), but now I found myself more aligned with UK writers like Peter Bond, Bill Caddick, Richard Plant, Bernie Parry et al. In particular, the song ‘Thomas Anderson‘ made it difficult to go back to being Americana-centred.

This was also the time when I first started to set some of the poems of A.E. Housman to music. This is a version of a more recent setting, combining two pieces from ‘Last Poems’. Neither has a title, but I call the song ‘Tears of Morning’.

Settings, mostly of Housman poems, willl provide the backbone for a current recording project.

The aftermath of a somewhat traumatic relationship took me first back to Manchester, and then to London, where I lived for 25 years. There is much more to be said about that, but here’s a song from that era that I wrote with my friend Don MacLeod. We recorded it for an album with Bob Theil, Bob Cairns and Pat Orchard. Unfortunately, contractual issues meant that it was never released. Don now lives in Worcestershire, and currently plays guitar with the Julie July Band. He also gets down to Cornwall most years, and we’ve played together quite a lot recently, in Cornwall and in the Midlands. Bob Theil now lives in Belgium: we exchange the occasional email, but have so far failed to meet up in this millennium. I’ve lost touch with Bob Cairns, but Pat Orchard is still doing good things.

[Space here for ‘Heatwave’ and ‘One step away’, which I also recorded for that album.]

In the course of that 25 years, I got married (twice). I wasn’t doing much musically during my daughter’s early years, but this song looks back at those years. I resisted the temptation to sing at her wedding, though.

In 2001, I was invited to work for the NHS in the Midlands, and so returned for a while to Shropshire, then my (third!) wife’s work took us to Surrey, before concerns with my mother’s health took us back to Shropshire. More on that in due course.

In 2016, we found our way down to West Cornwall, which is where we now live, quite conveniently for lots of musical events in St Ives and Penzance. Until my mother died in 2018, though, I still spent a lot of time commuting between here and Shropshire, which is how this song about the Marches Line came to be written.

As our present location is a little remote, it may not be our – clichĂ© alert! – forever home, but I suspect that we’ll probably stay in Cornwall. As I’m no longer working in security – apart from the occasional freelancing job – I’m now trying to concentrate on recording my huge backlog of songs, written and unwritten.

But more on that later.

David Harley


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