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 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?
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?Embed from Getty Images
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, 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.
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.
Beautiful writing and tune.
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