Tag Archives: 2013

Song Analysis #16: Stornoway – November Song

Title: ‘November Song’
Where to find it: ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ (2013, 4AD)
Performed by: Stornoway
Words by: Brian Briggs

Brian Briggs is a very interesting singer/songwriter. Like yours truly, he trained as a biologist – his specialty was birds – so he has a different take on songwriting because his life experience is so unique. His band Stornoway released their second album this year, and rather interestingly, both albums – 2010’s ‘Beachcomber’s Windowsill’ and this year’s ‘Tales from Terra Firma’ – end with a tear-jerky love song. ‘Long Distance Lullaby’ was the drunken wailings of a man who has lost his soulmate and is trying to move on, because she already has with someone else. But is ‘November Song’ a love song at all? On the surface it is, but listen more closely to the words and there’s definitely more there.

First, the words:

Verse 1
As I was following the road back to our house
Deeper than blue was the dusk through the trees
With the last of the leaves clinging on like my mother’s hand
Cold as the sandpaper wind on my cheeks

Over the river and under the railway
Moonlight in silver the ribbon of blue
And the phone lines were whistling like my mother’s breathing
And my eyes were streaming

There’s a clock on my wall
Sometimes I hear it in my dreams
But I won’t be afraid of the changes a comin’
While I know a love that is sure as the morning

Verse 2
There’s a light in the clock house
A light in the chapel
A light in the hallway left on by an angel
And I creep up the stairs and I pause on the threshold
To take off my boots and my clothes in the dark

With my nose like a fox and my skin like a chicken
I steal into my bed where it’s warm as an oven
And you feel like the bread made in my mother’s kitchen
And we’re peaceful as a candle

Chorus and outro
And the clock on my wall
Sometimes I hear it in my dreams
But I won’t be afraid of the changes a comin’
While I know a love that won’t break with the dawn
No, I won’t be afraid of the darkness a comin’

No, I won’t be afraid of the darkness a comin’
While I know a love that’s sure as the morning

Now, the analysis:

It’s clear to me this song isn’t purely about love between a man and a woman, even though the subtext is there. No, it’s not that simple. The basic storyline is the protagonist’s circuitous way home to the woman he loves, travelling in the middle of the night alone and therefore he’s able to collect his thoughts. But there are three mentions of his mother throughout this song, and their mentions have major significance.

His mother’s resilience is compared to leaves hanging on a tree bough but not falling: “With the last of the leaves clinging on like my mother’s hand”. Who is she clinging on to? At first I thought maybe this meant she was desperately trying to keep a hold on her son, as mothers do: many mothers feel the women that enter their sons’ lives are not good enough for their children. However, the second mention “And the phone lines were whistling like my mother’s breathing / And my eyes were streaming” indicates he’s been crying. Was he there when his mother died, her clutching to his hand, grasping on her last feeling of life? Or maybe she is in hospital and is poorly and her breathing is laboured, indicating the end is near. I tend to favour the latter explanation, as in the chorus, Brian Briggs sings, “But I won’t be afraid of the changes a comin’” – a major life event is about to occur – “While I know a love that is sure as the morning” – he’s going to be okay because he is with the woman he loves and he knows when the new day dawns, she will be there for him: “While I know a love that won’t break with the dawn”.

When he finally gets to the house, he comments that there’s a light on “left by an angel” (his love) and he wants to be quiet when he gets into bed, so not to wake her. Yet what is he thinking when he gets into bed? “I steal into my bed where it’s warm as an oven / And you feel like the bread made in my mother’s kitchen”: he has a wonderful remembrance of his childhood, of his mother baking bread in their kitchen. It may seem like a strange thought, like slightly Oedipal, but in this context, I don’t see anything salacious in this.

It’s funny, when I first heard this song, before “the darkness a comin'” really made an impression on me, I thought “the changes a comin'” indicated his love was pregnant and they were expecting a child. There was just something about the song, the way it was constructed, that made me think the event being anticipated was a joyous one. And I suppose it still is: even if he is losing (or has lost) his mother and that represents a great darkness that will come, he can hold his love in his arms and won’t be alone because she is his “light” even if the road up ahead is dark. And he will be able to look back at his childhood and recall his mother with great fondness.

He was alone in the dark and chilled to the bone until he came back home and into the light – provided by his great love. He even describes their love “as peaceful as a candle”: hot with passion, yet their passion is settled enough to burn in one continuous flame, peaceful. It’s an example of deft songwriting at its finest.

Lastly, the song, live at the Mercury Lounge in New York City in 2010.

Song Analysis #9: The Crookes – Bear’s Blood

Sometimes I get upset with myself, having started this site and not being able to devote anywhere near the time it needs to produce great regular content. There are so many ideas in my head, and I so rarely have the luxury to sit in front of the computer and just say what I feel. Because usually I’ve got to devote that time to post content on There Goes the Fear, where, let’s face it, people are not there to read about all the things going on in my grey cells!

Since I last posted in January 1) I’ve been in hospital for a week with a ridiculously high fever and flu, and I expected God to be calling me up to join him (and to be honest, my boss made me feel like it would be better if I were dead, how horrible is that), 2) I went to SXSW and saw a ton of bands, 3) only to come back and having been entirely absorbed in writing post-festival content, which ended up being over 50 posts. So…I’ve been busy.

I don’t expect this to be a regular occurrence, but this is a near reposting of a review that has already gone online at TGTF. It had really bothered me for a while that I had not posted a lyrical interpretation of a song by Sheffield band the Crookes yet. After all, it was their chief wordsmith Daniel Hopewell who had encouraged me to take on this project, saying this was the sort of site he would read daily.

Well, as it so happens, that was what exactly happened with this single review and interpretation, and kind of in an unexpected way. I had just walked into work, grumbling slightly about the usual terrible DC traffic, and then my phone went nuts to alert me that I’d gotten new Tweets. I obviously never know who is reading what I write unless I actually get feedback of some kind, and shortly after the article had been Tweeted about our on site’s Twitter, Daniel Tweeted at me to clarify a line that I had misheard and then to tell me he was “very impressed” with what I’d come up with. Most of the time, the only feedback we get at TGTF is of the negative, indignant “how dare you compare my favourite band X to band Y!” variety. (What springs to mind is a expletive-filled tirade attributed to ‘Gem Archer’ [yeah right] screaming at me about a Noel Gallagher piece.) So this meant a lot.

At the time, I knew they were away from home and somewhere on the road in England on tour, so needless to say, the fact that he took the time to say he’d read it, liked it, and wanted to assist in my writing by providing the correct lyric meant more to me than anything in the world. Further, completely unexpectedly, he posted the link to my single review on the Crookes’ Facebook page so more fans could read it. I was over the moon. As a music writer, there is no greater validation of your talent than someone you know and respect coming out and giving you props. Basically that morning, I thought, okay, I can die happy now. Everything from now on is just icing on the cake.

I should also note that the single’s premiere on Steve Lamacq’s 6music drivetime programme on Monday the 15th of April was about 2 hours prior to the terror bombings in Boston, on Massachusetts’ Patriot Day. Boston, for specific reasons I won’t go into in this post, is a very important city to me. When it came time to sit down with the video for ‘Bear’s Blood’ and really tease out what was going on in there, I had a heavy heart for what was going on in my country and maybe it helped pull out from the song what it was about, at least in my mind, much easier. I thanked him and the band for posting the link with this follow-up comment:

After the emotional day we had here in America yesterday, I sat down with the video and just wrote and wrote what I felt about the song. It’s truly the ultimate compliment to know you appreciated the words I wrote about what you gave to us. Thank you for this beauty.

“Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”

So below is a reposting of the original single review on TGTF, just with the parts rearranged for Music in Notes style, but you are welcome to also read the piece in its original form here. I will say that beyond what I wrote Monday night, the more I thought about the words again tonight, I had to stop myself from crying. It sounds so happy, yet there is something about it that makes me sad and ache inside. It feels like a very personal song and look forward to being able to talk to Daniel about this sometime in the near future.

And I’ve thought about it. Yes, I’m handing over several Sharpie pens to the band and they can write all over my face, hands and arms as they see fit the next time they see me. Ha!

Title: ‘Bear’s Blood’
Where to find it: it’s one-half of a double A-sided single that drops the 27th of May 2013, and we’re not sure when their third album is out, let alone when the album will be be released… (Fierce Panda)
Performed by: The Crookes
Words by: Daniel Hopewell

First, the words:

Drip feed hope to a blind, homeless man
Stars explode like aerosol cans
and scar the face of Jalla Jalla*

You felt lust at the edge of your lips
Spread like ichor** to your fingertips
I fell in love with love and squalor^

Oh, it ain’t easy, no, to keep it graceful
To love and be loved seems somehow unfaithful
It feels like I am missing out here?
Baby wants to set me on fire

Old shoes are hung as words are strung from telegraph wires
Bear’s Blood’s down(ed?) in Metelkova^^
You know I’m lost
Oh, it ain’t easy, no, to keep it graceful
To love and be loved seems somehow unfaithful
It feels like I am missing out here?

Oh, you know I’m lost
You know I’m lost…

You know I’m lost
Oh, it ain’t easy, no, to keep it graceful
You know I’m lost…
Oh, it ain’t easy, no, to keep it graceful
To love and be loved seems somehow unfaithful
You know I’m lost…
I crucify the night, a quiet life’s so wasteful

It feels like I am missing out here?
Oh, you know I’m lost
You know I’m lost
You know I’m lost
You know I’m lost

Miscellaneous notes:
* Jalla Jalla: A club in Ljubljana, Slovenia. But I don’t think its purpose is this exclusively. I hope I don’t embarrass Mr. Hopewell next month when I ask him what the deal is with this place…
**ichor: “an ethereal fluid taking the place of blood in the veins of the ancient Greek gods” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary
^ “with love and squalor” – possible reference to J.D. Salinger’s short story For Esme – with Love and Squalor, also the name of We Are Scientists’ debut album released in 2005
^^ “Bear’s Blood down(ed?) in Metelkova” – Metelkova is an alternative, cultural hotbed, and city guides note you can get a shot (or three) of a famous local tipple

Now, the analysis:

Crookes logo smThe Crookes are already hard at work on album #3, which looks like will be following in the footsteps of 2011’s ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ and 2012’s ‘Hold Fast’, so I’m expecting this third album to appear in quick succession. Just getting its first airplay last night on Steve Lamacq’s drivetime show on 6music, ‘Bear’s Blood’ is the first single from their yet to be named third album. The double A-sided single comes out the 27th of May on Fierce Panda. [Update: the other A-side is ‘Dance in Colour’.]

According to Lammo, this song, along with several other new ones, were recorded this year between their support slot with Richard Hawley in February and whence we caught up with them in Austin for SXSW 2013 in March. From all the interviews I’ve done and bands I’ve asked, writing on the road is a very difficult task, so hearing that the Crookes already have several songs in the can for album #3 is good news for fans indeed. ‘Bear’s Blood’, as the first taste of this new material to be unleashed on the public in short order, then demands further examination. Last year, band lyricist Daniel Hopewell indulged my interest in the words to single ‘Maybe in the Dark’ so I would have all of the words in front of me before I began my research. Expecting to have to grovel at his feet again, it was a pleasant surprise to be able to get all (or nearly all) of the lyrics from the new video released last night. And away we go:

Initially, I had it deadset in my mind that ‘Bear’s Blood’ just had to be a reference to the bear pit in Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens that I had mythologised in my head was the setting was ‘Yes, Yes, We’re Magicians’ from 2010’s ‘Dreams of Another Day’ (“Mrs. Porter’s crying, ‘keep that kid away from my bear!’”). But having “METEL KOVA” (or the place of Metalkova) spelled out in black marker on a white shirt helped me out quite a bit.

How I’m reading this on the surface is that it’s chronicling life in this wild and crazy part of a Slovenian town. And if this is the case, the video surely reflects this joy but also mental spirit, with the lyrics of the song being written on band members’ faces, necks, arms and clothes. Being around them recently during the mayhem that is known as SXSW, I watched how the four of them simply love life and how anything related to them ends up truly madcap and fun. It’s not a front. That’s how the Crookes are in real life. They have the incredible ability to bring sunshine into life when there isn’t any.

But I did say that was on the surface. I don’t know how common it is in Britain, let alone far-flung Slovenia, but “Old shoes are hung as words are strung from telegraph wires” often have a criminal connotation when seen in blighted areas in America, quite possibly indicating you’re passing through a less than desirable area; see the intro to the video for Morrissey’s ‘Glamorous Glue’. As happy as this song sounds, it’s about to go dark.

And going further, I can feel someone’s truly tortured. “Oh, it ain’t easy, no, to keep it graceful / you know I’m lost…” seems to suggest that it takes great pains to make things look easy from the outside when your insides are in turmoil. Then there’s the “Bear’s Blood’s down(ed?) in Metelkova”, the drinking of some legendary brew native only to that area. (I’m wondering if the stuff is called ‘Bear’s Blood’ because it makes you think you’re as strong as a bear; scroll to about 1.01 into the video, you’ll see Hopewell with his arms raised as if he’s Rocky Balboa.) I haven’t decided yet if it’s the alcohol causing the person to get ‘lost’ or they were already lost to begin with and is now drowning his/her sorrows in drink. Either way, there’s internal conflict. And I feel this pain.

When I finally transcribed the lyrics myself, the two lines “To love and be loved seems somehow unfaithful / It feels like I am missing out here?” and “I crucify the night, a quiet life’s so wasteful” [the band helpfully set me right on how this line actually reads after I posted this review – Ed.] had me agog at the computer screen, tears ready to roll down my cheeks. How could someone who barely knows me write about my life so well? Obviously it wasn’t written about my life. But I’m sure loads of people can relate too. “What if crucifixion’s on the dole?” is a famous line in ‘Sal Paradise’, but I have to say I’m impressed with the way crucifixion imagery is used again in ‘Bear’s Blood’. I can of course never be sure what he meant, but I know what it means for me. As for “To love and be loved seems somehow unfaithful / It feels like I am missing out here?”, I have my own guess as to what this means to the band themselves, but I’m going to keep it under my hat for now…

I have to admit, I didn’t have an immediate love for this tune upon first listen. The washy guitars seemed to be entirely at odds with everything the Crookes have released up to this point, and the whole affair reminded me too much of what Richard Hawley did on ‘Standing at the Sky’s Edge’ album last year, turning to a psychedelic sound. I kept muttering “oh no, oh no” to myself as it played all the way through. But it was the video – and reading over the lyrics – that sold me on the song. Clocking in as only a few more seconds longer than ‘Maybe in the Dark’, it’s still an amazing pop song by any measure, though lyrically it packs an incredible punch and is a major step up from that previous single. While it will take some getting used to this new sound of theirs, after considering ‘Bear’s Blood’, I’m still in it for the long haul.


‘Bear’s Blood’, the new single from the Crookes, will be released on 7″ and digital download on the 27th of May on Fierce Panda. The band will be headlining the Fierce Panda 19th birthday party at London Scala on Tuesday the 21st of May; tickets are on sale now. Support will be provided by their local mates the Heartbreaks and Hey Sholay. I’ll be somewhere in the crowd, if you fancy saying hello. Not sure if I’ll be sporting black marker on my face and arms though…

Lastly, the promo video for the song.