Archive for the ‘Siren Songs’ Category

Michael Gove And The First World War – A Singalong

Joyce Grenfell 2“Hello Children…


Can we settle down now please?  Come along…

That’s it – Shane, Wayne, Duane… Jordan, George…George?!

Er… Kai, Sky – and that means you as well… Samsung and Nokia… good…

Now children this morning in assembly we’re going to sing a song for that terribly nice Mr Gove…

Don’t worry dear… you’ll know the tune as Michael Row The Boat Ashore

No you can’t go to the toilet yet…

Right… altogether now…”

Poppies red

All follow the bouncing ball… 

Michael Gove on the first world war, Hallelujah
Children’s understanding rotten to the core, Hallelujah

Left-wing bolshies fudge the key details, Hallelujah
Lions led by donkeys is the lie they hail, Hallelujah

The education gap is deep and wide, Hallelujah
Too many chavs upon the other side, Hallelujah

Paxman sounds a trumpet and stuck in his oar, Hallelujah
But Michael says mixed metaphors don’t win a war, Hallelujah

Michael’s busy writing the Establishment’s note, Hallelujah
Designed to keep the Victorian era afloat, Hallelujah

The opposition claim Gove’s an educational bore, Hallelujah
Got to keep grades up or you’ll be shown the door, Hallelujah

Baldrick has a cunning plan to see, Hallelujah
But Michael says the details don’t scan for you and me, Hallelujah

Michael Gove on the first world war, Hallelujah
Playing fast and loose with the needs of the poor, Hallelujah

Michael Gove on the first world war, HallelujahWW1 Trenches

Revising history’s a duty but never a chore, Hallelujah 



The Greatest Love Song Ever?

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face…


It’s too easy to get blasé about great songs.  Some after all are just there… every few years they punctuate the day-to-day once again in advert, soundtrack or radio playlist proving that familiarity has bred – if not contempt – then dulled appreciation from ears that have taken them for granted. 

The stunning trailers for David Attenborough’s Africa TV series – raised to sublime emotional heights by the use of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face –  has opened ears anew to the stunning impact and beauty of this undeniably great song…

Originally written by Scottish folky Ewan MacColl in the late-50s for his then girlfriend – soon to be wife – Peggy Seeger; The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face was lifted to new artistic peaks by Roberta Flack’s definitive 1969 album interpretation and shortened hit mix that charted subsequently in 1972.  Stretched in musical scope and empowered it’s difficult to imagine MacColls’s reaction upon first hearing her version after his – to put it politely – reported indifference to interpretations of the song in the contemporary folk world. 

“To listen closely and to be softly lifted by the rush is to be touched by something otherworldly and spiritual …”


Expanded to twice the length of the original… Flack’s stunningly enunciated tour-de-force lifts the blueprint from sweetly personal folk secret to epic universal profundity by virtue of her soulful performance and the room the arrangement is given.  It is as if from being delivered in a private moment between two lovers on a back garden seat the song is allowed to drift and connect across the whole of the rolling landscape.  From the first opening notes of delicate, almost slumbering guitar and the simple rhythm that punctuates throughout – the emotions and devotions are given a chance to breathe.  This is helped by less emphasis on the dominant strings that are to be found in the production of the single version.    

There is a quality to the use of silence and pause, prayer-like invocations, dynamics and space here that retain tremendous clarity even from this distance.  Less is more they say… and here is a masterclass in a gently-building poetic lyric and the most tasteful reinforcement that has none of the blandness that has come to be associated with the term.  The quiet/loud template has been deeply influential among other singer songwriters and although it stretches a point to trace this beyond the ballad to the musical equivalent of the other side of town it is common practice among the heavy rock fraternity.

The stately progress of The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face does more than momentarily suspend time; it halts it in the most unobtrusive, natural way while creating a dimension for peace and reflection.  Perhaps no other popular song expresses the body and soul intoxication of first love/love at first sight in so erudite and profound a manner as this.  It’s stark understated piano and time signatures give it a church feel.  To listen closely and to be softly lifted by the rush is to be touched by something otherworldly and spiritual – yet fundamentally of all our everyday experience.  

There is melancholy, though not specifically due to the lyrics, but from the evocation of eternity and the realisations that this level of heightened infatuation rarely lasts.  Forget the cynics and embrace the idea that such a love simply changes appearance with time. The first few expressions of Flack’s voice are akin to raindrops running down a window pane before a sensual waterRaindrops on windowfall – that becomes a flood subtly reinforced by the propulsive accompaniment.  

Beguiling as love itself as it swells on the lines – “Like the trembling heart of a captive bird.”  It is like falling over a breathless precipice of palpitations and trysts.  This lyrical punctuation is repeated again on the line  – “And the first time ever I lay with you.”  This is no paean to lust: the love here is pure and life’s available gift for rich(er) or poor(er).  This is truth without schmaltz.  The chemistry of attraction is not painted by numbers as in so much mainstream fodder but in richly poetic terms – terms that can be understood by all.  

“It’s a love song of the ages – for all the ages and stages of life.”


Thankfully the song has survived favourite status among X-Factor auditionees and finalists.  No amount of excruciating treatment before inanely-delivered comment and TalkTalk bookended commercial break has destroyed the spell it weaves in the right hands.

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face – almost a genre in itself – has offered a statement; an Olympus to aim at – and an artistic plan for writers of love songs to scale for the last forty years.  Much as individuals have striven for the feelings it enunciates like the worst of addicts: lovesick in the best sense of the word. 

Sit down, switch off the mobile and all the other distractions and turn up loud… it will be the best five minutes you’ll spend today.  No matter how many times you have heard it the song still summons something from deep inside and – depending on your state of reflection or relationship – uncontrollably shallow breaths; or sometimes even tears.  It’s a love song of the ages – for all the ages and stages of life. The power never diminishes: it’s safe on a popular and critically constructed rostrum.  On a plateau with the most affecting of what is only a handful of truly great love songs.


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