Don MacLeod & David Harley

These are 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, and sometimes there (and further afield) 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 this is 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.

Backup:


‘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.

Backup:


‘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.

Backup:


‘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. 

Backup:


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

Backup:

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.

Backup:

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.

Backup version:

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…


Backup version:

‘Heatwave’ is mine, and has nothing to do with Martha and the Vandellas. Actually, it’s about some of the negative aspects of living in London in the 1980s-90s. On the original track, I sang and played acoustic and electric guitars and banjo, while James Bolam (not the actor) contributed piano. However, it could be included here on the grounds that Don and I used to play it together, even though we didn’t record it together. However, it didn’t transfer too well to a digital format.  The solo version below it is a bit rough, but it includes the lyric as I sing it now, slightly shortened from the 80s version.

Backup:


 

Solo [demo] version: more recent, but the vocal needs work or replacement

Backup copy of solo version:


 

And here’s the 1980s version messed about with to omit the lines I didn’t like. Garageband is a blunt tool for such detailed editing, but I quite like hearing the ‘right’ words. Unfortunately, the remastering of the remaster introduced some noise.

Backup:

There’s a heatwave in the city and the day drags on forever
The tarmac burns through patent leather
Clear through to the sole
Ice tumbles through glass as the temperature soars
And the dayshift leaves the nightshift to take over for a while

The city sings at midnight to the well-fed and the civilized
While waiters mop their faces in the kitchen, out of sight
Small change pours in torrents over counters in the bistros
And the moon hangs red and sullen in the dustbowl of the sky

The city is on heat, bare-legged girls in summer dresses
Dodge the lechery of workmen laying cable through the day
But the night turns on the body to sweet pornography
Passions feed on darkness and the body mutes the mind

The city squeals at midnight in its pain and ecstasy
The life-force surges through the veins and soaks the sheets
The couples claw and couple and feed upon each other
And still the hunger rages through the streets

I saw a refugee from Galway with a faceful of stubble
Singing sentimental songs in the underground today
He’s going back to Mother Ireland and the Mountains of Mourne
And he only needs a bob or two to help him on his way

The city whimpers at midnight in its apathy and squalor
From a bench on the Embankment, from a derry in Barnes
From a squat in Deptford, from the winos and the junkies
From the homeless and the helpless, the hopeless and the lost

A refugee from Calvary is preaching anarchy and anger
Through his multi-megawatt PA
And when the concert’s over he packs his guitars and prophecies
And goes back to his hotel to drink the night into the day

But out there in the streets the word is out all over
The heat are out for action in New Cross and Ladbroke Grove
The temperature is dropping but the tempers are at flashpoint
And no-one lingers on street corners if they’re walking home alone

The city screams at midnight in the agony of anger
The rocksteady revolution pays its homage to its dead
Where dreadlocks meet deadlock the shock tears up the flagstones
And on their righteous anger the riot squads are fed

The Klan charts fiery crosses cloistered in an upstairs room
The architects of reaction spin their bitter webs
Black and white scrawl their frustrations in blood across the charge sheets
And no-one dares explain the chaos in their heads

The city burns at midnight and the blood runs down the sewers
In the ghettoes and the side-streets where the patriots have been
Squad cars and an ambulance cut through the aftermath
And tomorrow’s front pages unfurl to set the scene

David Harley

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