Don MacLeod & David Harley

The album ‘View From The Top’ consists of studio-recorded songs I used to do with Don MacLeod back in the 80s when we worked mostly as a duo, sometimes with a singer called Sarah whose surname – shamefully – totally escapes me. Don is a very fine acoustic guitarist with blues and ragtime leanings, and our repertoire was fairly eclectic, but included quite a few of our own songs (written together or separately). Most of the songs here come from my cassette album Sheer Bravado, plus a couple from the Diverse Brew (provisional title) album we worked on with Bob Theil, Bob Cairns and Pat Orchard – unfortunately it was never released. Those tracks did appear subsequently on the cassette album Scriptwrecked and pretty much all of them were formerly available on the CD Twofer. None of these albums are currently available.

Don now lives in Worcestershire, and I live in the West Country, so we don’t often get to play together, but you can often find him playing around the Malverns, including (until recently) with the Julie July Band.

There were problems with the source tapes for these sessions, sadly.

  • The tracks for Sheer Bravado were recorded on a type of Ampex tape that was subject to a form of deterioration called ‘sticky shed syndrome’: the glue breaks down and polyurethane rises to the surface, resulting in a gumminess that disrupts playback and can damage both the tape and the player. (Some tape types from several brands at that time developed the same problem.) While such a tape can be (and was, in this case) repaired by baking, the fix is temporary, so if I wanted to revisit the tapes directly, it would have to be rebaked with no guarantee of success. So the tracks referenced here are the best I was able to do by remastering. I don’t have the mix tapes, so there is very little I can do about the sometimes inexpert mixing.  On the other hand, my voice generally sounded better then that it does now.
  • The Diverse Brew tracks were taken via cassette rather than directly from master tapes.  Two of them actually sound better than you’d expect, but there isn’t much I can with any of them except basic remastering.


Sheer Bravado tracks, recorded at Centre Sound, Camden, in 1983. 

‘Speak My Heart’ is one of Don’s songs: here, he plays acoustic guitar while I sing and play lead guitars.

 

‘View From The Top’ is a song Don and I wrote between us: generally, I’d write the words and he’d put a tune to them. (In fact, most of the songs I’ve written solo have started with the words: I guess I think of myself largely as a lyricist, though I’ve done some settings of verse by Housman, Kipling and Yeats, too.) The vocals, guitar and keyboards are all me on this occasion.


‘She’s Gone’ is really Don’s song, though I tweaked the words a little. Don plays some rather classy acoustic guitar, while I contributed vocals and lead guitar.

 

‘So Much For Romance’ is another of Don’s songs. He played acoustic guitar and piano, and I added vocals, acoustic lead and keyboards in a later session. 


‘Scratch One Lover’ is one of mine. I played acoustic guitar and sang, and Don added acoustic lead.

How does it feel to be proved right
When everything just fell apart?
Does it buy you sleep through long cold nights?
Does it ease your aching heart?

Score two points, scratch one lover:
You said it’s too good to be true.
Why don’t you run back to your mother?
She always knows what’s best for you.

All those black moods and jealousies,
Now you know they were justified.
She looks so happy, holding hands with someone else:
Was it worth it, being right?

Hold on to all that righteous anger
But don’t forget who set it up for her.
If she’s easier in someone else’s arms,
She might be telling you you were unfair.

Score two points, scratch one lover:
Let it ride, it’s just the gypsy’s curse.
But people tend to give you what you ask for:
Maybe you only got what you deserved


‘Sheer Bravado’ is my words set to Don’s tune. Bizarrely, the same tune was originally used for a different lyric of mine called ‘Solo’ (nothing to do with the Sandy Denny song of the same name). I think Don preferred and sang the ‘Solo’ version. I might revisit ‘Solo’ at some point if I can find the lyrics. I think I still like this better as a song, though the slide on this version is a bit off-key in places. Vocal and both guitars by me.

Look at us now, back to back
And so choked up
That neither dares to say a word.
What is this crazy game
where losing doesn’t count
As long as no-one sees you’re hurt?

It doesn’t seem to me
That you really want to break up:
And moving on is light years
From my mind.
Yet we fence and fight and snap
And when we ransack our emotions
For a clue to what we’re doing, all we find
Is sheer bravado.

It’s just make-believe:
Behind the thrust and parry,
We’re just two frightened people talking tough.
No-one would believe
We were so close an hour ago:
Isn’t it time we called our bluff?

It doesn’t seem to me
That you really want to break up:
And moving on is light years
From my mind.
Yet we fence and fight and snap
And when we ransack our emotions
For a clue to what we’re doing, all we find
Is sheer bravado….



Diverse Brew tracks, recorded at Hallmark, central London

‘True Confessions’ is one of our songs written together. Don played acoustic guitar and piano. I sang lead and harmony vocals, and there are additional harmonies from Anna (Lyn) Thompson, with whom I was working as a(nother) duo around that time. Lead acoustic and electric guitars are me, and percussion was by Richard Davy.

You don’t have to talk, you know it’s really not a case
Of finding words for filling in our time and space
I’ll still be here tomorrow, if that’s what you want too
Who else could take me where we’ve been?
No-one else but you

The day was a river of darkness
Till you brightened up the night
And that’s the best of good reasons
To come close and turn down the light

There’s a lot to say, a lot I guess we should discuss
But surely later would be soon enough
I’ll still be here tomorrow, if that’s what you want too
Who else could take me where we’ve been?
No-one else but you

It’s not the time for true confessions
Lying here still aglow
With all your warmth and softness
God knows there’s nowhere else I’d want to go

We could talk of time and changes, good trips and bad
And just for once time is on our side
But now’s the time for loving and resting so close
And yesterday is dreams and nursery rhymes
I’ll still be here tomorrow, if that’s what you want too
Who else could take me where we’ve been?
No-one else but you
Who else could take me where we’ve been?
No-one else but you


‘One Step Away (From The Blues)’ is one of mine: it’s a song I still sing a lot, sometimes in tandem with ‘Letting Go‘ (which I don’t think Don and I ever played together). On this recording I played acoustic guitar and electric slide guitar, Don played acoustic lead, Bob Theil played acoustic 12-string.

He never wanted her love, just a piece of her time
A loving night now and then, and no loving lies
Just a tender glance from distant eyes
But he learned too late to recognize
That he was far, far away – he’d missed the alarm
Drowning far, far away in other arms
He hadn’t noticed her changing till daylight broke him the news
Far, far away, one step away from the blues

He never wanted to stray far away from himself
He never thought he’d rely on anyone else
For a light in the window, a knock on the door
Somewhere to keep warm when the nights turned cold
But she was far, far away when the blizzard set in
The door stood silent and locked, and he was soaked to the skin
He hadn’t noticed her changing till she left him with nothing to lose
Far, far away, one step away from the blues

He only wanted to give a small part of himself
But she took his heart then found someone else
She never thought he’d give her more than a thought or two
When she packed a few bags and cut herself loose
And went far, far away in search of herself
Never thinking to leave her new address
Neither of them knew he was changing
Till he woke up with nothing to lose
Far, far away
Far, far away
Far, far away
One step away from the blues…


The studio version of ‘One Step Away’ is now available as a single, but here’s a demo version.

David Harley

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