Shaun Belcher Songwriter

The Serious Mr B-Side to Trailer Star

Category: archive (page 1 of 2)

My Father’s Trees – the story behind the song

There is a stretch of road below Wittenham Clumps in what now Oxfordshire (originally Berkshire and I consider myself a Berkshire Kid) where my father planted a row of poplars and other trees for a farmer in the early 1960s. As we’d drive past them going to builder’s jobs years later he always mentioned them. Stuck in a cold Edinburgh this is a fond remembrance of those trees. As far as I know the disused road (cut off by a bypass) and the trees still there….

I wrote this in 1996 aged 37 bemoaning being nearly 40….now as I approach 60 I don’t know what I was worried about.

The caravans comment is a connection to family history. My great grandmother was born into the Lee gypsy family and indeed it present on both sides of the family…..a rovin I will go 🙂

 

Influences? Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer.

 

MY FATHER’S TREES

WELL NOW I’M PUSHIN FORTY
AND ALL MY LUCK’S BEEN SPENT
I WISH THAT I COULD GO BACK
TO THE PLACES THAT I LEFT

I WISH THAT I COULD BE
I WISH THAT I COULD BE

SITTIN’ UNDER MY FATHER’S TREES

PLANTED THEM IN ’63
NOW THEY’RE SO BIG AND TALL
BUT THE ROAD HE PLANTED THEM BY
IT AIN’T A ROAD ANY MORE

NOW THERE’S A LINE OF CARAVANS
PARKED IN THE WAY
AND THERE’S A LITTLE KID SITTIN’ IN THE SHADE
WISH I COULD BE JUST LIKE HIM…

JUST WATCHIN THE CLOUDS GO BY…
from Black Tin Barns, releases February 1, 2017

The Factory – the story behind the song

In the 1940s men would regularly bicycle from Didcot and local villages to the Oxford car plants.
This is my song about their early morning rides in convoy which especially grueling in mid winter.

THE FACTORY

MEN ARE RIDING ACROSS THE WINTER FIELDS
BYCYCLE LIGHTS SPARKLING IN THEIR CHROME WHEELS
WORKING DUSK TO DAWN IN THE FACTORIES
WHOSE LIGHTS SHINE THROUGH THE TREES

OH CAN’T YOU SEE, CAN’T YOU SEE
THE FACTORY

NOW THOSE MEN THEY ONLY RIDE IN THEIR DREAMS
THE FACTORIES ARE GONE, ONLY FIELDS OF WEEDS
AND THOSE MEN HAVE GRANDSONS WITH COMPANY CARS
YOU CAN SEE THEM OUT RACING AROUND THE BYPASS

BUT TEN MILES OUT OF TOWN THERE’S A SCRAPYARD
WHERE FIFTY YEARS HARD LABOUR IS FALLING APART
IF YOU STARE INTO THE RUSTY CHROME YOU’LL SEE
THE GHOSTS OF MEN POLISHING HEADLIGHTS AND POURING LEAD

MEN ARE RIDING ACROSS THE WINTER FIELDS
BYCYCLE LIGHTS SPARKLING LIKE A CHAIN OF PEARLS

 

 

from Black Tin Barns & River Ghosts, releases February 1, 2017

Road is a River – Story behind the song

Strange one this.

I have lyrics for all the other songs but not this one.

Maybe a one off recording.

Fairly minimal and quite sad.

The road is a river and my windows are full of steam….

Thames Valley blues again….song about home from Scotland.

THE ROAD IS A RIVER

The road is a river and my windows are full of steam
That woman I remember walking across these muddy fields

The road is a river its taken us all away
Far from these fields of straw
These empty barns in the rain

The road is a river
Yes the road is a river
The road is a river and maybe one day it will bring her back my way
In a car of chrome and silver
It’ll slide through these fields of rain
And we’ll float away

The road is a river….

from Black Tin Barns & River Ghosts, releases February 1, 2017

Room 22 – The story behind the song

 

My homage to a unjustly neglected band The Vulgar Boatmen who I discovered in the early 1990s.

They also drew on Velvet Underground but with an academic (lead singer a film tutor later) twist.

Check out their stuff at link below.

www.furious.com/perfect/vulgarboatmen.html

I always see the old Dragon Hotel as the location ..

A GWR Railway Hotel sadly demolished to make way for the usual crap in the 1990s…

Now the council planning a ‘Gateway’ on the site utter crap…money talks..the new Reading anybody?

ROOM 22

STANDING AT THE WINDOW LOOKING NORTH
THROUGH THE POWER-LINES AND THE RAIN AS IT FALLS
IT FEELS THE SAME AS THE DAY WE BOTH STAYED
IN THIS HOTEL ROOM ON THAT SUMMER’S DAY

SAME ROOM SAME VIEW STATION VIEW

ROOM 22

NOW THE HILLS ARE COVERED WITH SNOW
THERE’S JUST BARE TREES AND CROWS
I REMEMBER US WALKING AROUND THIS TOWN
WITH YOU UNTIL THE SUN WENT DOWN

IT’S THE SAME ROOM THE SAME VIEW

ROOM 22

THEN YOU GOT MARRIED SOMEWHERE DOWN THE LINE
MAYBE I’VE PASSED BY YOU ONCE OR TWICE
BUT TONIGHT ALL I HAVE IS THE MEMORY OF YOU
AS I STARE THROUGH THE POWER-LINES AT THE VIEW

IT’S THE SAME ROOM THE SAME VIEW

ROOM 22 WITHOUT YOU

Where Two Rivers Meet (Mary’s Dream) – The story behind the song

 

Whilst living in Edinburgh I attended the first year of a evening course in Scottish Cultural Studies.
Tutors included Murdo Mac Donald and Cairns Craig and I met Robert Alan Jamieson and Hamish Henderson.
It was fantastic. As part of it I wrote an essay on a lesser known Scottish poet William Neil and researched this song
through studying a ballad from Kirkudbright called ‘Mary’s Dream’.

This is my reinterpretation of the romantic story attached to the writing of the song ‘Mary’s Dream’. The full story too long for here so please read the extra material here:

www.kirkcudbright.co/historyarticle.asp?ID=122&p=7&g=4

The last verse is based on ‘New Eden’ in Dickens ‘American Notes’.

There is a natural vantage point in Dumfries known as John Lowe’s seat at the point where ‘Two rivers meet’.

lyrics

WHERE TWO RIVERS MEET

I WAS BORN WHERE TWO RIVERS MEET
I LEARNT TO PLOUGH AND I LEARNT TO REAP
THEN I WENT TO THE UNIVERSITY
AND I LEARNT ALL THE WORDS THE RICH MEN NEED

OH MARY, OH MARY,
WILL YOU WAIT FOR ME
WHERE TWO RIVERS MEET

WE LEFT THE PORT AT DEAD OF NIGHT
THE FULL MOON ON THE SAILS DID SHINE
WE PASSED THROUGH LANDS OF ICE AND SNOW
TWO DIED BELOW, THEIR BODIES FROZE

THEN I FOUND A PLACE IN AMERIKY AND CUT BACK THE TREES
AND A SNAKE IT BIT INTO ME
THEN I DREAMT I WAS DELIRIOUS
I DIDNT KNOW WHAT TIME OR YEAR IT WAS

AND I THOUGHT I SAW YOU IN YOUR WHITE GOWN
TRIPPING ACROSS THAT EMPTY GROUND
BUT IT WAS JUST THE WATER OF THE FLOOD
AS IT ROSE AROUND MY HOUSE

AND I WAS DEAD…

OH MARY WILL YOU WEEP FOR ME.
WHERE TWO RIVERS MEET.

 

 

Black Tin Barns – the story behind the song

As a child they were all around but as developers moved in they faded away..the last ones behind my grandfather’s house now being turned into an Eco Museum for Trees!

Musically I was listening to the Louvin Brothers and although I didn’t hear Gillian Welch and David Rawlings until years later (their first disc was released  in April 1996) there might have been something in the air 🙂

BLACK TIN BARNS

There’s an old dirt track and a muddy stream

There’s a wide open field that’s surrounded by trees

There’s an old tin barn that’s falling down

That’s where I rolled in my sweet baby’s arms

 

Oh country tracks won’t you take me back

To the farms and the black tin barns

 

Now all I can do is sit and stare

Across these fields at trees so bare

All around there’s only sticks and stones

Cos’ nothing been planted so nothing grows

 

When I was young I used to dream

Of you girl in these fields of wheat

But now the wind’s torn everything up

All that I am left is this handful of dust

from Black Tin Barns & River Ghosts, releases February 1, 2017

I also found my first copy of No Depression magazine ( the Whiskeytown cover see below) in 1997 when I back in Oxfordshire….with my barns..
nodepression.com/archive-cover/issue-10-july-aug-1997

 

 

Prodigal Son – the story behind the song

 

Another play with classic americana themes. Here the black-sheep boy returning home. Based on people I knew in Didcot very loosely. Some added harmonica and guitar. One of the strange influences here was Chris Cacavas of Green on Red and later solo fame. Not very well known but well worth seeking out. Same generation as Steve Wynn and Peter Case who also heroes. Oh and a LOT of Bruce Springsteen…I worshipped Nebraska…still do.

The Devil’s Address – the story behind the song

 

Well my mother’s father and my uncle were both truck drivers all their lives but I don’t drive which kind of sad considering how many times driving features in my songs!

I imagined it as a kind of folkier version of ‘Return to Sender’!

The last lines are a straight cop of a Raymond Carver idea in his wonderful poem (Deschutes River) where he ends up trying to disentangle a snagged fishing line and then drops the line about his wife in another man’s bed…..pure class..so now you know….

This track was performed wonderfully by Ronny Elliott in a Johnny Cash manner on Moon Over The Downs disc. That has become the definitive version but here my original.

An important track for the reason that it started the whole ‘Trailer Star’ concept. The tale of a down and out singing from a mobile home idea is down to this song.

At the time I was just trying to copy typical americana tropes of a letter home and for some reason there some Everley Brothers in the mix.

The Devil’s Address

I’m in heaven that’s what the sign says
This bar’s more like hell, everything painted red
Every once in a while a truck goes by headed north
Headlights flashing across these smoky walls

If you want to find me
Post a letter to ‘Happiness’
Mark it care of the devil’s address

I started driftin’ when I couldn’t pay the rent
That mobile home was more like a shed
I spent every winter watching the rain
Turn that gravel path into a lake

Now I’m fine and dandy but I’m all alone
Just me and the sparkle of the tarmac road
Thousand miles behind me, wife’s in another man’s bed
Thousand miles ahead before I’ll ever rest

Ronny’s version  here:

Ronny’s website: http://ronnyelliott.blogspot.co.uk/ 

 

Man with no name – The story behind the song

‘Unknown man with my step-grandfather’ Photograph Long Wittenham 1920s. Aubrey my step-grandfather is on the right.

 

This song goes way back. Probably mid 1980’s in first version . This 1995 rendition probably as good a take as I had of it. A lot of Leonard Cohen in it.

It is a difficult subject and one that explored more fully in the Coppard web page and in the poem there ‘The stone code.

http://www.shaunbelcher.com/coppard/

Everything you need to know there. My father never knew who his father was. He was abandoned along with his mother in 1932.

He was affected by it all his life and it transferred to me.

I will probably never get a conclusive answer but the evidence has mounted over the years.

But as the song says I remain a ‘Man with no name’

Man with no name

 

 

You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chain-link fence blow a dandelion over the sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you now

Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun, you feel cold

You run for shelter, find your father with a halter and he’s staring at the ground

 

Oh why can’t I tell you why can’t I say

I feel like a man with no name

 

In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under this August sun

On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant shot down by a farmer’s gun

And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun

Whilst all the berries your wife picked in summer turn blood red in the cup

 

And you told me I could break down all the fences put around me
And set my own pace

I feel like a man with no name

 

Well your stepfather fell in that kitchen and the dog sat and waited there all day

Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away

So father and son two years later we stand in this graveyard in the rain

If I could show you the answer written in stone I would
If I knew it I wouldn’t have to say

 

I feel like a man with no name

 

Oh why can’t I tell you, oh why can’t I say

I feel like a man with no name

 

In an unmarked grave

 

 

Here Aubrey Didcock and Daisy and son Albert Didcock in better days…

The Ballad of The Orange Tree – The story behind the song

This entire series of songs are the most personal and autobiographical I have ever written.

I have never delved so deeply into folk and personal stories as here a sign of the influence of attending a great Scottish Cultural Studies course at Nottingham University.

In this case the family story (now more detailed thanks to other family members input) revolves around my great-great grandmother and her ‘flight’ as it turns out now from southern Ireland not Ulster as I presumed in 1995. The story is simple she was catholic from a small village..Borrisleigh in Tipperary. It looks like her marriage to a serving British Army man Private Charles Mead precipitated the flight from Ireland (allegedly at dead of night in a fishing boat) to escape persecution by Irish Independents long before the Anglo-Irish War. He too was a catholic I now believe not a protestant but accepting the ‘black and tan’ was treated as even worse than the old ‘enemy’.

They were then sent to Ranikhet in the Himalayas which modeled on an English village in 1880s where my great-grandmother Mary was born on the 15th December 1888. Below her birth certificate.

Here the ‘English Church at Rani Khet’ from a postcard.

and the officer’s mess

This location and photos have only been uncovered recently.

I have amended the song lyrics from what sung on tape from Bombay..to Ranikhet and my Great Nan’s son Jack Everitt was wounded not dead at Arnhem but that whole other story.. and song one day…

The Ballad of Ranger Best referred to in the original recording is a poem by James Simmons which refers to the murder in 1972 of a 19 year old Irish member of the British Army (The Irish Rangers) who abducted from home when on leave from Germany and executed by the OIRA.

For now here the song and lyrics

 

BALLAD OF THE ORANGE TREE

Born in England’s low chalk hills
Where the river slides through the willows
I never knew how tangled grew the tree
Of my mother’s family history

Then one day the photograph emerged
My great-great-grandmother by the kerb
Of a backstreet somewhere in Reading
Her Irish features bold and striking

All I’d heard was rumour and hint
Of how they’d fled Ulster, her Catholic
Outcast for marrying a Protestant man
Who wore the dreaded Imperial tan

Sent to Raniket, my Great-nan’s birthplace
The army connection didn’t break
Three generations since have wed the gun
One of them was wounded at Arnhem

And now with great sadness I see
My cousin proud to be in the British Army
Luckily he’s never been made to serve
On streets where she could never return

Nothing of her past now remains
Each Irish connection wassliced away
Our family grew on in a different place
Like an orange tree in a wooden crate

Staring at the photo here back home
My mother’s every action seems to show
More and more of those hidden roots
As if a hybrid had produced old fruit

Four generations on here I stand
A false map of Ireland in my hand
Every time I try to trace back my tracks
Hurt and shame come hurtling back

Scraping back the soil in a barren field
I find a rusty gun stamped in with the heel
A family sown with King’s Shilling seed
But rooted in Thames Valley green

Then I read the Ballad of Ranger Best
And feel friendly fire burn at my chest
How can I avoid peeling back the skin
To taste what this bitter tree roots in

Bury the gun under the orange tree.

from Black Tin Barns & River Ghosts, releases February 1, 2017

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