Tag Archives: soldier of the line

112. LASTING PERCEPTIONS OF THE GREAT WAR DISCUSSED IN FOUR RECENT SONGS: By Larry Miller; Amy Goddard; Reg Meuross, and Del Bromham.

Introduction  We are currently living through the one-hundredth anniversaries of the battles of the Great War (1914-18). A century ago, Battles such as Mons and Loos had finished in stale-mate, leaving thousands dead in their wake; and the horrors of The Somme were in full flight. Passchendaele, and The Kaiserschlacht were yet to happen, and so the killing continued. Those names still send a shudder down the spine of many of us living in the 21st Century – in spite of the fact that very few people alive today are actually old enough to remember the conflict – and no one alive who actually fought in it.

Yet still it lives on in our cultural memory; and many of us have family stories handed down about the living Hell of the Great War. My own family were fairly typical in that we provided four young men for the British Army – Len was killed in action on the Somme (and I am writing this article now in commemoration of his sacrifice in July 1916); his brother Frank was wounded; Jim was captured (but escaped); and my Grandfather Albert came through unscathed (at least physically). Jim and Albert were musicians – the former played banjo and sax in at least two early Jazz bands after the war (See the photo above; and my article #8); and my Grandad Albert was an accomplished amateur violinist with musical interests that ranged from the Classical to the popular. (Look out for an article about his violin and a Waltz that he wrote, on this website at some time in the future).

Many musicians fought in the war of course. Many bandsmen acted as medics and stretcher-bearers even if they were not directly involved in the fighting. In the days before multi-media entertainment, many young soldiers were adept at some form of musical instrument or other, and would entertain their mates to raise their spirits or just to relieve the boredom.

Given that The Great War is still a lurking spectre in the national psyche, it is not then surprising to find that it still inspires the writing of songs to this day – as every new generation has its take of the conflict. There is apparently still plenty to say about it from many points of view. I have chosen just four very moving songs that illustrate modern perceptions of three very different aspects of the Great War – yet all are aspects with which we can sympathise. They are all based on true stories.

Larry Miller 'Soldier Of The Line' album cover

Larry Miller ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (2014) album cover

Larry Miller: ‘Soldier Of The Line’:  My first example is by this remarkable Blues-Rock guitarist; and is the title track from his excellent album – arguably his best – Soldier Of The Line (2014). The song is a world away from his usual Blues-Rock repertoire. I have described it before as being a kind of ‘Progressive-Folk lament’. It is skillfully played on acoustic guitar in DADGAD tuning; and has a very hauntingly appropriate melancholic vibe about it. The album version is also enhanced by a sympathetic cello. (For my interview with Larry and a review of a gig he played in Essex, last year, see my article #61).

Larry’s song is based on the experiences of his Grandfather and Grand Uncle – brothers and musicians who – like millions of others – served at the sharp end in the Great War. It is written from the point of view of a Tommy actually serving in the trenches at the Front. Within the lyric, Larry skillfully explores the things that would be going through the mind of the young soldier, far from home and loved ones; asking himself what he is doing there (yet resolutely determined to do his duty nonetheless); and eager for letters from home – and desperately hoping that his lady-love is still waiting for his return. It is a poignant song which Larry has thoughtfully crafted both musically and lyrically.

Unfortunately, soon after I interviewed Larry last year, he suffered a stroke; but I’ve heard from his Bassist Derek White, that he is slowly recovering and has played a little guitar lately. I’m sure all of his fans and all of my readers will join me in wishing him a speedy return to full health. He also told me during the interview, that he was working on a new double album – something of a magnum opus from the way he described it to me – so let’s all hope and pray that he is able to complete it soon.

Here is a video of Larry performing ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (With thanks to Sarah Reeve)

Amy Goddard: 'Gladdie' single cover.

Amy Goddard: ‘Gladdie’ (2015) single cover.

Amy Goddard: ‘Gladdie’:   My second example is a song that was deservedly a semi-finalist at the 2015 Song-Writer Awards; and features on Amy’s wonderful second album, Secret Garden. (See my album review #94).  It was also available as a single (See my review #79).

The song looks at the war from the perspective of one of those loved ones left behind to ‘keep the home fires burning’. In this case the protagonist Gladdie (Amy’s Great Grand Mother) is missing her sweetheart who is away at the Front. It is a beautifully tragic song of three verses and three choruses. In the first verse Gladdie is remembering her dates ‘walking out’ with her beau before he is sent to the Front. In the second they correspond by letter; and she is frustrated by the lack of information. Of course, in the final tragic verse, she receives the news that her beloved has unfortunately died. How many such stories – sadly mostly now long forgotten – could once have been told about the Great War? They say that every family endured the loss of a loved one during the conflict, so this song serves to remember them all.

Amy has crafted a wonderful song in ‘Gladdie’. Her skillful guitar work (in Open-C tuning) coupled with her emotional – almost ethereal – vocal make this a haunting and poignant song that I know has reduced listeners to tears. The album version also features a sympathetic violin too, which enhances the sadness within the song.

Here is Amy’s official video of ‘Gladdie’

Reg Meuross: 'Dragonfly' (2008) album cover.

Reg Meuross: ‘Dragonfly’ (2008) album cover.

Reg Meuross: ‘And Jesus Wept’:   I first heard this remarkable song covered by Nigel Dee of The Acoustic Warehouse, Kingsteighton, Devon (See my review #29); and  I am told that Reg has played at the venue himself). From this cover, I was inspired to investigate the original. It appears on Reg’s Dragonfly album of 2008, but I first heard it only a couple of years ago – and I’m very glad that I did.

The song deals with an aspect of the war that has at last received widespread recognition: the unjust execution of young soldiers for ‘Cowardice’. Reg was moved to write the song after reading of the plight of Private Harry Farr; executed by firing squad in 1916. This is one of the brutal travesties of the Great War that only comparatively recently has been given voice in the national conscience – that is, the ignorance of the Top Brass to accept, understand, and deal with the phenomenon of ‘Shell-Shock’ (which is now far better understood; and these days described as Combat Fatigue). Pte. Farr was posthumously pardoned in 2006.

Reg plays this haunting song on acoustic guitar in Drop-D Tuning. Again, a beautifully sad song entirely appropriate for the subject matter; and it is thoughtfully written (as is typical of Reg’s work).

Here is a video of Reg performing ‘And Jesus Wept’ from the Songs From The Shed Sessions 

(Pic: Stray)

Stray’s Valhalla (2010) album cover

Del Bromham: ‘Harry Farr’:  The same subject has also inspired the writing of ‘Harry Farr’ by Del Bromham of London-based heavy rock band Stray (of which Del is the only surviving member from the original group of the late ’60s). It appears on their album Valhalla (2010); and couldn’t be more different to Reg’s take on the subject; for whereas Reg emphasises the sad tragedy of Harry’s unjust execution, Del’s contains that sadness plus large portions of darkness and anger too.

Del’s interest in Harry’s story is far more personal than Reg’s too, in that Del’s Grandfather was actually diagnosed with ‘shell-shock’, after being injured at the Battle of Ypres, and spent his whole life after that in a mental hospital until he passed away in 1969. It was whilst watching a TV programme on Harry Farr and others who were executed, that it struck Del that his Grandfather too could have been condemned if he’d been sent back to the Front after being wounded at Ypres. ‘The song just had to come out’ Del told me ‘I remember the song was written very quickly, almost like an invisible hand was assisting me writing the lyrics.’ Its clear too that Del has done his homework on the historical facts of the case.

This song by Del has been described by other writers as ‘recalling Iron Maiden’ in essence; and that is fair comment (although Maiden have cited Stray as an early influence on their music), yet to me it primarily has the feel of a typical Stray/Bromham number (especially in the rhythm guitar part) – yet not merely a rehash of their earlier work. Its a great rocker that is popular in the band’s live set, and has an important message to impart – ie, making us aware of the plight of not just Harry Farr, but of the 300 or so other poor souls who were executed for ‘cowardice’ during the Great War. Del has always been known for writing deeper stuff than your average rock musician at times, that’s for sure.

Here is the video of Del Bromham’s Stray’s ‘Harry Farr

For more information about Harry Farr, here is a link to the Wikipedia page

It is a century or so since the events that inspired these four songs have passed; yet still they live on – and so they should, as I think it is important to remember that hideous conflict of 1914-18. Each is a very personal tale; yet can be seen as representative of many millions of similar true stories which are probably mostly forgotten by their families; so I applaud these writers for keeping the memories alive, each in their own way. There are no doubt other songs on the subject of the Great War (and it is a subject that interests me greatly), so if any of my readers would like to suggest others, I’d be pleased to hear about them. Finally, I’d like to thank all four of these remarkably talented and thoughtful song-writers for keeping these diverse and important aspects of the Great War alive through their wonderfully moving music and lyrics. They prove that although the war is long over, its dark shadow still haunts us to this day – and still inspires great songs. Long may that be the case. PTMQ

 

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61. LARRY MILLER BAND at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday, 17th July, 2015. + a pre-gig interview with Larry; and a few words about the club’s new venue.

When I bumped into Dave and Brian of Touchline Live Music, in Peggy Sue’s Music Bar back in April (see my Blog entry #47), they told me that they had Larry Miller booked for July, and would I be interested in coming along? I was of course keen to do so, as I knew I should be available that night; and there  was the chance of an interview with the renown Blues-Rocker in the offing too. Also, I was keen to see the Touchline’s new home at Hockley Community Centre – or ‘The Commy’ as its known locally.

Sound-check completed, the stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check completed, the Touchline stage awaits…(Photo: PTMQ)

The shennanigans that went on over the loss of the club’s last venue in Hullbridge, I’m not qualified to speculate on. The important thing is that the club has had a new home in Hockley, Essex, for the last six months. I have been unable to visit ‘The Commy’ since the Touchline moved in there, so I was keen to see what Dave, Brian and co  had achieved so far. My first impression was good – the car park alone is a vast improvement on the old place! And as I walked in, I was continually impressed by everything that I saw. The whole place is very smart; and the function room is excellent. (The stage is at one end, and was looking good – set up with Marshall and Warwick amps and speakers). To be honest, I liked the other place  – it was fine; but this venue is definitely superior.

I arrived early, and after being greeted by Trudie, Dave and Brian (and also having got myself a beer), I was introduced to the club’s guest star for the night, Larry Miller; who had kindly agreed to an interview with the Quill! I’d never met him before, but he is an instantly likable bloke with a genuinely warm handshake; and turned out to be quite a character – off-stage as well as on. Trudie suggested that we should chat outside on the patio; so that’s where we went.

We began by talking about Larry’s last opus: the excellent Soldier Of The Line, released late last year. Apart from the fact that this is arguably his best work so far, I was particularly interested in the story of Larry’s Grandad, a violin player who served in the Great War, which inspired the title track. This is because my Grandad also served in that hideous conflict, and played violin too. (I won’t go into that now, but there is more to say about it, so it may be the subject of a future Blog entry). At this point, my mate Rambo turned up and after introductions, joined us.

(Photo: Rambo)

Mr.Miller and myself engaged in a pre-gig conflab! (Photo: taken by Rambo)

I asked Larry if the superb title track (which I describe as a kind of Progressive-Folk lament), was to be part of a new direction for him: ie, experimenting with genres outside the Blues-Rock field of which he is a recognised master – bearing in mind that there is also an interesting and unexpected brassy, Jazzy ending to the opening track on the album, ‘One Fine Day’. Our man pointed out that we are all influenced by multiple genres – even those who claim to be purists in a particular field: ‘People always think that if you play one type of music, that’s what you’ve been listening to all your life….we all listened to the same things if you grew up in this country – The Beatles; The Stones; Abba; Mud; Sweet – what was playing in the charts. I can write most forms of music really’ he said ‘…but if you’re making a living (from music), you’ve got a fan-base; and you know what your fan-base want to hear. Some of them go to that (pointing to his new album that I’d put on the table) and think “Oh this isn’t Larry!” One bloke said he threw it away! Then he went back to one of my old records and thought “Oh I’ll give it another go”; and then of course he hasn’t stopped playing it since! Its a fine balancing act: you’ve got to move forward, but at the same time keep the guys who pay your bills happy!’ (Surely no one is unhappy with Larry’s last album, are they?)

‘Unless of course you are like Richie Blackmore’ I digressed, ‘…who never gave a toss about his fans anyway, and totally gave up Rock for Folk music without batting an eyelid – much to the chagrin of his fans!’ (Just for the record, I like some of RB’s Folky stuff). We then laughed about Blackmore’s infamous tantrums with Purple and Rainbow (I witnessed one of these for myself at Wembley back in ’79, – but that’s for another blog). Larry quipped that he was ‘…probably suffering from pre-minstrel tension!’

Back to the subject in hand, Rambo observed that: ‘Surely you’ve got to go where your heart takes you?’  Larry agreed: ‘Yeah, if you’ve got an ounce of creativity about you – you are an artist. I never did music so that I’d become rich – it would be nice though! Its like any artist, like Picasso. He never painted pictures to make a lot of money – that would be soulless’ . Its quite clear then that Larry wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. And quite right too.

Larry with '57 Gold Top (Photo: PTMQ)

Larry with his main guitar: a Gibson Les Paul ’57 Gold Top Reissue (Photo: PTMQ)

So I asked what Larry had in the pipeline? ‘I’m working on a double album right now’ he replied, ‘…The Sinner And The Saint. I’ve got about sixteen tracks on it. I consider it my best ever.’ ‘So when is this Magnum Opus due out?’ I asked. Larry couldn’t say yet. Nor would he be drawn too much on it other than saying ‘Its got my normal Blues-Rock content’, and that there’s ‘a mandolin track’ on it. Then he told us ‘I’m a Christian; so its going to be a spiritual one as well’. Larry had anticipated my next question here, as I’d planned to ask about the religious subjects / references that I’d noticed in some of his earlier songs – ‘Bathsheba’ for example. ‘American bands sing quite happily about these subjects but English bands don’t’ he said. That’s probably true enough; apart from The Strawbs, I can’t think, off-hand, of a British band that have handled religion (not including Occult obsessed HM bands!) ‘Everything I write comes from within’ he explained. Anyway, that’s an album I personally can’t wait to hear!

The subject of the young Blues-Rock guitarists came up then – again Larry anticipated the question, as I was going to ask what he thought about young guns like Virgil McMahon; Laurence Jones; and Oli Brown. ‘I know ’em – all nice guys’ he said. ‘Its great that they’re playing it, but I wish their mates would get into it. Its weird … they’re playing to all these old guys!’ I agreed. There aren’t a lot of young Blues fans; and this came up when I interviewed Virgil last October (see my Blog #26). Funny enough, I’m glad to report that my son James and a couple of his mates do love Blues-Rock, and he would  have been there with me that night if he hadn’t been lured away to a cricket match in Chelmsford!

I asked Larry about his forthcoming gig at the Forum in London, supporting Walter Trout for his I’m Back Tour. He is very much looking forward to it as you would expect. Larry didn’t know if Walter had specifically head-hunted him for the gig, but apparently someone close to Walter did say that Larry reminds Walter of himself as a young player – not that Larry is that young of course! But its quite a complement coming from an international giant of the genre like WT.

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Next I asked about his guitars. ‘Ahh!’ he exclaimed seeming to relish the chance of some axe-chat! ‘I take it you’ll be playing a Les Paul tonight?’ I enquired.   ‘Yeah. Well, I’d always been a Strat man’ he said. ‘Because of Gallagher?’ I asked (Larry being a well known fan). ‘I guess so …but they just looked so awesome! I’ve had loads of Strats, but you see lots of Strat players with a slightly thin toppy, grainy sound. I liked Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sound, but …then I saw Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium. He had all these guitars; and this one guitar sounded really lovely, and it was a Gibson Les Paul ’59 – it was obviously the best sounding guitar there. So I bought a Les Paul in 2002, but I could play a Strat faster, so it took me a while (to get used to it). Then people started to say “Oh you’ve got a great guitar tone”; well they never say that if you’re playing a Strat. But with the Les Paul its a brilliant thick, creamy sound. And if you back off the volume, then it cleans up like a Strat anyway. So now I’m a bona fide Les Paul Player!’ Larry now has three Les Pauls – one of which, a Gold Top ’57 Reissue is his main gigging axe. ‘Its absolutely wonderful’ he enthused.

What about acoustics? He said he used a 1931 National for slide work on the forthcoming album; and he’d be playing ‘just a crummy old thing’ later that night for ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (it actually turned out to be a good-looking, and great sounding Yamaha acoustic tuned to DADGAD). I said I’d be watching closely so that I could try to learn the song. ‘Its bloomin’ hard!’ he warned; then added laughing ‘…well I think so!’ Well if he finds it hard, and its his song, I don’t know what chance I’ve got at playing it!

Finally I asked Larry to sign my CD copy of Soldier Of The Line. He stared at the cover for a while deep in thought; then smiled and wrote ‘To Phil The Music Quill, from Larry The Music Mill’! As well as everything else, Larry has a great sense of humour! He went back stage then and Rambo and I took our seats, reserved for us by Trudie, on Table 1 – right in front of Larry’s monitors. And there we waited….

Soldier of the line - Larry Miler (Photo: PTMQ)

Soldier of the line – Larry Miller with his Yamaha acoustic  (Photo: PTMQ)

At about 9pm Master Of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin climbed on stage  and introduced the band. Larry casually strapped on his Gold Top and plugged in, and after a little banter with the audience launched into the rabid rhythm riffs of ‘Mad Dog’. Like a Rottweiler suddenly released from a cage, he hit us with a full-on display of axemanship and growling vocals! It was a howling success; and that set the pace and tone for the entire gig really.

From the very beginning, you can’t take your eyes off Larry – he is like a presence on stage. Not just because of his consummate fret-board dexterity, which left me open-mouthed at times; or for his powerful vocal style; but also for his on-stage antics: throwing himself about like a man half his age – even running around in the audience at one point! And he kept it up throughout the whole show too! He still has the enthusiasm he had as a fifteen year old – and its infectious! We, the audience, were lapping up everything he did. Clearly he is a man who loves what he does. Quite how he keeps it up night after night, I don’t know.

‘Our Time Is Coming’ was up next – again a power-packed rendition with breath-taking solos – and to paraphrase the lyric, ‘there was nothing we could do about it’! Great applause ensued, and Larry said ‘Really cookin’ isn’t it?’ Then the intro of ‘The Power You Have’ had us clapping along, before the distinctive rhythm riff burst full scale upon us. Another winner.

At this point, Larry introduced the rest of the band. The other members tend to be somewhat overlooked in comparison to the presence and antics of the main man. But they were there alright – and a superb performance they both gave too. On Bass was Derek White; Larry’s long-term gigging bassist. And on Drums, Graham Walker; ex-Gary Moore Band. These two proved themselves to be more than capable as a rhythm section; tight and reliable, and always there to provide the back-bone to the songs, and enable Larry to venture into lengthy abstract solos at will.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Things slowed down a bit then for the beautifully arpeggiated intro to ‘Calling All The Angels’. The angst-ridden lyric he sang with genuine passion; and the lead solo came from deep down in his soul. It was dripping with emotion!  After some more banter he said he’d do his ‘Rory tune’ – a Gallagher-esque Blues-Rocker that would have had his late, great Irish hero nodding with approval.  And thus ended the first set. Only five songs long; but as he explained ‘I can’t help doing solos that are 400 hours long!’ Time for a beer methinks!

The second half began as promised with ‘Soldier Of The Line’. Larry donned his Yamaha acoustic (the ‘crummy old thing’ mentioned earlier), tuned to DADGAD, and after doodling a little, began the very distinctive and beautiful intro to the song. And I must say, it did look difficult to play! But what a faultless performance it was; musically perfect, and sung with genuine emotion.

With his beloved Gold Top back in hand, ‘One Fine Day’ followed. This is the opener from the Soldier…  album; and one of the tracks that make that collection his best yet in my opinion. This live version did not disappoint either. No brass was possible for the outro, of course, so Larry just improvised a nice lead to finish. Only another good rocker from the same album could follow this. ‘Mississippi Mama’ hit us like a hurricane running amok through the Bible Belt! It went down a storm.

He gave us the pure Blues of ‘Missy Mango’ next. Its a simple but effective number that is a perfect vehicle for Larry to improvise over. Another excellent Blues tune followed this; and again Larry showed off his remarkable skills. ‘I Fight Myself’ ended the second half to rapturous applause and a standing ovation. It was well deserved.

During this part of the show, he had been quite brutal with his Les Paul. Volume and tone pots were roughly handled; the pick-up switch was singled out for a fair amount of abuse; but the low-E string was particularly brutalised when he used it to hold the unfortunate guitar aloft and shake it roughly! This all produced the most amazing sounds, and he was remarkably adept at it! In fact, given Larry’s normal string-bending technique – that often rendered at least two semi-tones – he had to frequently retune the thing throughout the gig.

The whole place was on its feet. Encore! was demanded – and duly delivered. Returning to the stage, the boys delivered more of what we desired, in the form of the SRV-esque ‘Rebekah’. Finally, the unmistakable opening riff to ‘Parisienne Walkways’ sounded out from Larry’s Marshall speakers. Teasing us with that searing sustained note made famous by another of his heroes, Gary Moore, Larry gave us a final flourish of his sublime axemanship. Phew!

Thanks to Larry and the lads for a superb demonstration of Blues-Rock at its highest level. I think this is definitely a contender for my Best Blues-Rock gig of 2015. Its difficult to guess who could possibly top it!  Finally, a great big thank you to Dave Kitteridge for arranging the interview; plus Trudie; Brian, and Steve the sound man; and all at the club and the venue for helping to make it a very memorable night indeed.  PTMQ.

Here is a link to Larry’s website… http://www.larrymiller.co.uk/index.htm

Here is a link to Touchline Live Music’s page… http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/