In Remembrance : June Tabor – The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

In 1914 they came from the hamlets and the villages and the towns and the cities.

They came from the hills and the mountains and the valleys.

Farmers and miners.

Teachers and doctors.

White, Brown and Black.

They  marched away from Home with smiles on their faces.

They knew they would be Home again soon.

Today it is exactly 100 years since the guns fell silent ending World War One.

The emotional, spiritual, pyschic and cultural cost of such a war is beyond all human calculation.

A cataclysm shattering hearts and minds.

Shattering philosophies and faiths.

Shattering nations and societies.

Shattering hopes and dreams.

Shattering comfortable certainties..

The toll in terms of deaths and casualties we can, in awe, to some extent number.

From Australia : Lieutenant Joseph Balfe from Brunswick aged 25 and more than 62, 000 of his comrades.

From Canada : Private Percy Bark aged 18 and more than 64,000 of his comrades.

From India : Zaman Khan and more than 73,000 of his comrades.

From New Zealand : Private William Dunbar aged 29 and more than 18,000 of his comrades.

From South Africa : Overton Mason aged 38 and more than 9,000 of his comrades.

From Belgium : Guillaume Lemmens aged 21 and more than 58,000 of his comrades.

From The United Kingdom : George Ellison and more than 880,000 of his comrades.

From France : Robert Laval aged 21 and more than 1,397,000 of his comrades.

From Italy : Elio Battista and more than 650,000 of his comrades.

From Ireland : Tom Kettle aged 36 and more than 15,000 of his comrades.

From Greece more than 25,000 comrades fell.

From Japan more than 4,500 comrades fell.

From Montenegro more than 13,000 comrades fell.

From Portugal more than 7,000  comrades fell.

From Russia more than 2 Million comrades fell.

From Romania more than 330,000 comrades fell.

From Serbia more than 400,000 comrades fell.

From The United States more than 115,000 comrades fell.

From Austria – Hungary more than 1,400,000 comrades fell.

From Bulgaria more than 85,000 comrades fell.

From Germany more than 2 Million comrades fell.

From The Ottoman Empire more than 700,000 comrades fell.

And what was it for?

And what was it for?

Rain, midnight rain, nothing but the wild rain
On this bleak hut, and solitude, and me
Remembering again that I shall die
And neither hear the rain nor give it thanks
For washing me cleaner than I have been
Since I was born into solitude.
Blessed are the dead that the rain rains upon:
But here I pray that none whom once I loved
Is dying tonight or lying still awake
Solitary, listening to the rain,
Either in pain or thus in sympathy
Helpless among the living and the dead,
Like a cold water among broken reeds,
Myriads of broken reeds all still and stiff,
Like me who have no love which this wild rain
Has not dissolved except the love of death,
If love it be towards what is perfect and
Cannot, the tempest tells me, disappoint. (Edward Thomas)

 

And then at 11am on November 11 1918  it was over.

 

Over as far as any war can be for those who survived returning forever scarred in body and mind.

Over as far as can be for those who endured years in prisoner of War camps.

Over as far as can be for the Mothers and Fathers who lost their Sons.

Over as far as can be for the girls who lost their first love.

Over as far as can be for the fiancés who never married the man whose ring they wore.

Over as far as can be for the widows who lived on mourning the vanished husband.

Over as far as can be for the sons and daughters trying to persuade themselves they remember their father – the soldier in the photo on the mantelpiece.

Over as far as it can be for old soldiers years later suddenly remembering the comrade who died in the last hours of that last day.

 

 

Remember these Dead.

Remember them.

Remember them.

 

 

Remember these dead.

Remember them.

Remember them.

Richard & Linda Thompson : Down Where The Drunkards Roll

Some of us move surefooted through this wicked world.

Insouciantly dodging the broken pavements, the hidden potholes and the disguised ditches.

Most of us get by more or less intact.

Sometimes tripping.

Sometimes stumbling.

Sometimes falling flat on our face.

Everybody, everybody, Falls.

We get by because we are uplifted, caught, by a net of love and affection laid down by  our family and friends.

The cuts and bruises, initially so dramatic, fade away and heal.

Barely limping we march on down life’s highway.

But, there are others among us for whom no net is spread or for whom no net is strong enough – so fast and surely do they Fall.

These afflicted Souls have always lived in some dark corner of every town, in every land, in every era.

You probably know where they congregate in your town.

Though you may pass by at speed you’ll know where The Drunkards Roll.

You may have been, in your days of youth, one of those regularly out walking, dressed up, gallant, cheerily passing, night after night, the keg of wine from hand to hand.

Except, for you, it was a spree you left behind which you now recall half with a smile, half with a shudder.

Not for you the DTs, the shakes and the horrors.

But one or more among you never returned to the broad highway.

One or more among you returned again and again to the dark end of town until it became their physical and spiritual address.

Where’s Bill these days?

Where’s Alice?

Whatever became of Phil?

You’ll never guess where I saw Mary!

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Down where the Drunkards Roll.

Ah but every one of those Souls has a tale to tell you about how their fall, their particular fall, was so certain, so sure and now it seems so final.

Who will listen?

Who will listen to those tales and retell them with respect?

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Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – an orphan who though sent to, ‘A Home’  never, never, found a home and a family to love him and for him to love?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a girl who learned at unbearable cost that some sacred trusts are betrayed and can never be spoken about out loud or sober?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a priest who found he could just about bear the secrets he was told but who broke down because of the weight of the secrets of his own?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – a rain sodden, once ramrod straight soldier with medals flashing in the sun, who now after so many deaths, so much loss, shambles along shouting oaths to the winds in stained pants?

Who will hear these shouts, these blasted cries and curses and hear in them some echo of hymns and praises?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – the gambler who drew losing hand after losing hand until there was nothing left for her to lose?

Who will see and sing for this Drunkard – he sports a Sailor’s cap and in raddled talk he tells of exotic ports and tropical island girls he left behind; yet he knows and we know he never left dry land?

Maybe, only Lord Jesus will truly understand.

Who among us now will see and sing and try to understand?

Who among us will see, sing and tell their tale?

See, sing and tell their tale?

 

 

Richard and Linda Thompson from their stunning 1974 debut Album, ‘I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight’.

A radical, clear sighted, aching tenderness suffuses the whole record.

It’s present in every note of Richard’s limpid guitar.

It’s present in every syllable of Linda’s heart wrenching vocals.

In Down Where The Drunkards Roll they achieve a rare state of musical empathy and grace.

There is nothing voyeuristic or callous here nor any empty greetings card sentiment.

Richard Thompson accepts that the world can be a desolate place filled with dread.

Not shrinking from the fathomless cliffs of fall he yet conjures consolatory beauty.

He has heard and not shrunk from midnight’s broken toll.

Staring into the darkness with a steady heart he can write, sing and play songs that honour the Drunkards and the ‘confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse’.

Oh, and if you ask me, if you’re looking for Lord Jesus, I wouldn’t go looking on 5th Avenue or Bond Street, Passeig de Gracia or Arbat Street.

No.

No, I would cross to the far side of the tracks.

I would seek the alley where no lights shine.

The place filled with gamblers who never drew a hand.

With sailors who never left dry land.

I would look in the slums and the favelas.

I am as certain as certain can be you’ll find him Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

Down Where The Drunkards Roll.

And, if you need to fortify your Soul as you journey here’s a song to keep in your heart.

 

 

Notes :

I listened to many very fine versions of this song including solo live versions by Richard, The Thompson Family, Loudon & Rufus Wainwright, Jon Boden and Bellowhead.

They all have something to recommend them.

None however can match the plangent perfection of the original which also features Simon Nichol and Trevor Lucas.