Liner notes 10 – 12

DECEMBER (Slight Return)

K and I were coming back home from a bleak, stressful shopping trip; the night had fallen early. I’d been musing about doing a “slight return” to the December song, the idea being that I’d start with the same riff as the first song and then take it all off in a different direction. Anyway, I’d not been thinking much about it at all; but then, as we were walking home, the whole song just came out, a few lines at a time. K had to walk ahead (it was raining) while I stopped, once more the mad man, to write down the lines as they came on wet note book pages. We were nearly home, too. By the time I’d walked down two short streets I was ready to sit down and play the tune almost entirely, for the first time. It took a while to record it, though, as the first time I was straining too hard. We threw away the shouty versions and I re-recorded it more moderately.

It’s not even mid-December / And the wall of smoke / Encircling the globe / Has cut off this benighted pole from daylight.

And the dying solar embers / Seem drenched in night / And sorrow fills your veins / Desperate for another shot of summer.

Mourn, for the species that exist no more / Mourn for the rich men and the poor / Mourn, for the soldiers ringing Bethlehem / The Saviour will be born and he’ll do: nothing.

It’s not even mid-December / And the wall of smoke / Encircling the globe / Has cut off this benighted world from daylight.


I was stumped for a song and a topic. K and I went through the song ideas I’d recorded on my little white pocket recorder thing, and I picked out one that we liked at the time, but which in hindsight was almost precisely Nick Drake, complete with loose slow swing-time – “that, like a wounded snake, drags its slow length along,” as Pope wrote of Drake’s music.

But time was short so we had to pick that riff, and I stayed up late, very late, trying to get something to work with it. Pretty quickly I speeded it up and gave it a sub-Daniel Kachamba groove; but the CONCEPT – the germ which is a fusion of words, plot and melody – would not come. Possibly, I was forcing it too much. I wanted to write a song for all the students at Edinburgh University who renewed that dull uni’s sense of activism: the People and Planet, and CND societies of the late-90s; for the student who I once taught, and recognized two years later on the front of the student newspaper, getting lifted by the police outside Faslane; the others who needed essay deadline extensions because they were in Greenock jail; the ones who believed what they were studying, and wanted it to change the world. Like I had, back when I started at uni.

Thanks to them, I went back to believing that. Unfortunately, the song is rather mediocre. Probably trying to carry an emotional charge which I’m not a good enough writer to manage. Anyway, I changed the name.

Sarah was never a rebel, she was a good good girl, / But her priest tells me that she’s changed, whatever happened to her?/ Spotted getting lifted by the police, outside the missile base: / If it can happen to you, it can happen to me.

Lectures in the morning and then a tutorial. / When I look out over my students I think they all should fail. / They all look so bleary in the morning; where have they been? / If it can happen to you, it can happen to me.

And the lesson that the students teach the teacher is: If it can happen to you, if can happen to me.


I wanted to write a prequel to the song which I knew I was going to write for the end of the series; and I’d already prefigured it by dropping a mention of the poor guy’s curse in song two. As I was thinking about the Santa trope, and doing some research about its history, I got more and more into the idea that Father Christmas, and later Santa, had displaced a much more interesting and challenging idea embodying the threat and promise of nature, signified by the Green Man – as he appears in the tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for instance. I have no evidence for this. I just like the idea.

Father Christmas was a 19th Century symbol of the right to get drunk at Christmas; Santa is a 20th Century symbol of the right to consume. I mean, the f***r doesn’t even SAY anything. He just goes “ho ho ho.” What a useless non-contribution to the cultural psyche.

In the second Santa Claus song, I got more of an idea of what deal Santa might have struck with the Church, and what function the Green Man used to play in winter time. But for now, I just railed against the empty symbolism.

I spent most of the time writing the words. The music got sorted out in twenty mins at the end – apart from the final ascending minor arpeggio, which cost many wasted tracks as I fluffed it after an otherwise good take. Also, in the song I sang “inside of three days,” and later on checked and indeed found that Gawain has a year and a day (from New Year’s Eve to the following New Year’s Day) to solve the Green Knight’s riddle. A year spent under a death sentence – which only honetsy and virtue can avert. What true gifts that Green Knight brought!

The wind drags the rain and the night from the moors / And down with the darkness there comes Santa Claus / With his coke-coloured cloak and his rainments so bland, / The scar on his face, the stick-on beard, and the butcher’s hands.

He hands you a present with guilt in his eye / The more that he gives you the more you desire. / Like an army on every street corner he stands / That fears that the rebels will take back their land.

It was the Church who let the stranger in. / They opened the door and welcomed him / For reasons unknown.

Where is the Green Man who could not be slain / By the blow of the axe dealt by young Sir Gawain? / Who laughed at the court of King Arthur and said / In a year and a day one of us will be dead.

Where is the Green Man I can hardly recall? / And the shadow that falls / Is that of Santa Claus.


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