Thursday, February 4, 2021

Unearthing Heron, pt. 9


I decided to forego my usual diagramming of the song for this one, but I’ll tell you where I think everyone is located. More than any song so far on the album, it feels like the instrumentation and voices haven’t been mixed in the same way that shows where everyone is sitting in regards to everyone else. Plus, this is the only track with additional musicians on it — they asked their girlfriends at the time to sing along.

Left appears to be Tony Pook’s vocals and I would guess Roy Apps’ guitar. There’s also a little keyboard part at the end, presumably Collins or Moore added it in the studio.

Center is Apps’ vocals and the girlfriend trio when it joins, which G.T. Moore explained as “Tony’s girlfriend was Rose, Roy’s girlfriend was Helen and my girlfriend was Suzy.”

Right is Collins’ accordion, and Moore’s guitar and vocals.

As the first song that I’m writing up after Tony Pook’s recent demise, it seems like a wonderful and potentially elegiac song to be examining. It’s the only Pook/Collins song on the album, noticeably Pook wrote one song with each of the rest of the band: Apps and Pook wrote “Car Crash” and Moore/Pook wrote the brief “Carnival and Penitence.”

You can never be too sure about reading biographical details into a song, indeed we can’t be sure exactly who wrote what. Yet this song does seem to written by the same person who wrote the lyrics to “Car Crash” – someone more at home in the country then the city. And by the accounts I have read of Tony Pook, he was the one (or one of the band) who didn’t feel that comfortable recording in the studio and pushed for the opportunity to record outside on his family farm. And of all the songs, this is the one with the purest nature-focused lyrics.

The main character in this song is seemingly some sort of nature god, resting and observing the winter patiently. I’m getting vibes similar to “Watcher of the Skies” by Genesis, or maybe one of their tracks from their Trespass album. This could be a Christian song, with sort of Blakean outlook on the natural world (“to see a world in a grain of sand/and a heaven in a wild flower/hold infinity in the palm of your hand/and eternity in an hour”), or it could be a pagan song.

Honestly, however, the “lord and master” of the song could just be a regular person, Pook himself perhaps, and the whole song could be a metaphor for a temporary depressive state where Pook acknowledges that he is the only one in control of his situation – “I am the melter of everything/And the snow will flow to the stream.” Seasonal imagery is often associated with the changing of one’s own life, particularly in the folk lyrics of the 60s and 70s (see Nick Drake). We might not know exactly where he was coming from, but I would point out how perfect it was that this song was chosen to be on the 2004 Gather in the Mushrooms compilation (subtitle being “The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974”). It’s that sweet spot of paganism and Christianity that works so well in British folk rock music. And who is the “friend of the trees?”

And while I didn’t know Tony Pook, or really have much biographical information on him, from what I know I feel comfortable thinking of this song, one of Heron’s most popular, as an appropriate elegy for the man.

Here’s a video of them playing “Lord and Master” in 2005 with their alternate line up and a female singer/keyboard player. Great to see Tony there, shining humbly.

See the waters drifting by
On a winters day in the cold
I am the lover of everything
And I walk with a friend of the trees

The trees softly sing to the waterfall
And the water it sings to the soil
And the sky it longs for the sun

Living alone on the riverbank
Watching the fish swimming by
I am the maker of everything
And I soar with the birds in the sky

The elm cries out for the summertime
And the oak it calls to the birds
But the maker he sits and he sighs

The snow will fall on the empty fields
And will freeze the heart of the soil
I am the melter of everything
And the snow will flow to the stream

The stream it will flow I don't know where
And the time is past and is gone
And I just sing with the trees

See the waters drifting by
On a winters day in the cold
I am the lover of everything
And I walk with a friend of the trees

The trees softly sing to the waterfall
And the water it sings to the soil
And the sky it longs for the sun

Sunday, October 18, 2020

RIP Tony Pook

The official Heron band and Roy Apps Facebook pages have announced that Tony Pook, one-fourth of Heron, has passed away.

My favorite description of him comes from a commenter on YouTube who said he had purchased a table and chairs from him, and that Tony was a "top bloke." 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 8


This song, with lines like “Sitting in your mother’s garden, smoking Lebanese/Beneath the privet hedge,” and “We walked across the fields of Berkshire, resting in the hay,” shows the freak folk side of the band – the hash smoking, very English, rural guys. To be honest I know very little about their biographies, but that is the suggestion I get from what I’ve read so far.

Regarding the term “Lebanese,” I asked someone I know who lived in England in the 60s and 70s and he told me, “We used to get loads of Red and Gold Lebanese, brought in as kosher cheese.” (Internet research came up with a reference to “Lebanese” from as early as 1969). A privet hedge is a common feature of an English garden, which grows as a thick shrub wall which can often serve as a property border. And Berkshire is a county just west of London, with the largest town being Reading, although the band met up at a folk club in Maidenhead..

An Apps tune, most of the singing is Roy and Pook, with Moore singing on the chorus. A faint Hammond Organ part compliments the song in the center of the speakers. If I haven’t given enough credit to Steve Jones before, let me be sure to mention now what an important part of the group’s sound he is. Such complimentary keyboard/accordion work, perhaps because he was brought in after the songs were mostly written, that never outstays its welcome.

 The song itself concerns an unrequited love, of a young person getting to know someone in the late summer. Someone trying to interpret romantic signs but ultimately resigned to just realizing that the romance wasn’t going to happen. The word “reflection” in the title has a double meaning, as it can refer to the reflection in the lake mentioned in the song.

Lying by the lake in August, rolling in the leaves
Down by the water's edge
Sitting in your mother's garden, smoking Lebanese
Beneath the privet hedge

And though I thought I caught the warmth behind your smile
I could have been deceived
But with my tear-washed eyelashes
I should have been believed

And it would be alright now we have said goodbye
But you didn't even touch my lips
But you didn't even try

We walked across the fields of Berkshire, resting in the hay
And making daisy chains
Out along the streams and rivers spread across the way
And swelled with recent rain

Stepping home a little sadly, slipping through the trees
Much slower than we came
Till getting home I kissed you once
And you just spoke my name

And it would be alright now we have said goodbye
But you didn't even touch my lips
But you didn't even try

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Happy 50th Anniversary to Heron's first album.

 It would be a pity, at this point to not acknowledge that today, 9/23/2020 marks the 20th anniversary of this great album, as posted today by both the official Heron page and G.T. Moore on Facebook.

What's a good way to pay tribute? Listen to the album probably -- I'm still working on the next article. And watch this little official Heron video?

Monday, May 18, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt.7

A traditional song that Moore had heard from Woody Guthrie, but one that feels right being sung in an English pasture. I associate gooseberries with England, but apparently they are eaten in parts of the United States too. Covering this song was the idea of Moore, who also arranged it (he told me the rest of the band wasn’t that into the idea at the time). On its surface, the song is about a lost love who you'll give everything up for, even a tasty dessert. In the Guthrie version below you’ll hear this version is very similar, though noticeably Guthrie sing “had a piece of pie/had a piece of pudding” while Heron sings “had a peach pie/had a peach pudding.”  This is a perfect illustration of how folk music lyrics change over time.

You do wonder if the reason they recorded it twice was just because they had done two usable takes and they needed more content for a otherwise short album, but the song does bookend the album nicely. This version would’ve been at the end of Side 1 of the original LP. It’s only about 23 seconds long, but made longer to allow the first side of the album to fade out on only sounds of outdoors.

The song starts with Moore playing and singing, then Apps joins on the right, and Pook on the left. I thought that maybe this would’ve been the track where Jones actually sings too, but it’s just the three main singers, so I’ll have to be baffled over why Jones has a vocal credit on the album for a little longer.

Hank Williams also sang this song as a farewell song, as did Doc Watson. It’s also often known as a fiddle tune. But the exact story of what the song is about is a bit of a mystery. I found a person on trying to figure out if Sally Goodin was a real person (perhaps with the last name Goodwin). Another person responded that Sally was a very real person, a slave who had many children with her owner and was subsequently sold, the song being from the point of view of a daughter who never got to see her mom.
The Bluegrass Picker’s Tune Book says that the song was originally called “Boatin’ Up Sandy,” referring to the Big Sandy River, and that Civil War confederates had renamed it after a Sally Goodin who ran a boarding house on the river. But again, you can find all sorts of theories on the Internet, and these are just a few.

Sources agree however, that the fiddle player Eck Robertson popularized the song in 1922 and its sort of known as a rite of passage for fiddle players to be able to play the song. Eck Robertson would say that the song was about a girl named Sally who had a fiddle contest to see which boyfriend to marry. She also was said to have many children, Eck would joke that she had 14 children, so he learned to play the song 14 different ways. 

Here's fiddle-player Daniel Carwile playing the song and talking a little bit about it.

Look down the road, who was a-comin
I thought to my soul I’d kill myself a-runnin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Had a peach pie, had a peach puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin
Strawberry pie, gooseberry puddin
But I’d give it all away to see my Sally Goodin

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 6

A Moore song that Pook liked, so it was given to him to sing. Now that I’m able to pick out their voices, I feel like each one subtly reveals a personality. I feel like in a more regular band, Pook could’ve been the solo singer and maybe even a bit of a pop idol. But on the other hand, it seems to be his personality which influenced the band to leave the studio for the field outside Pook's parent's farm.

This song seems to be about a young friend who’s having difficulties with growing up and interacting with the world around him. I often picture the character Phil Daniels played in “Raven,” a boy released from a juvenile detention center who struggles to fit into with his foster family. Someone who has tried to do their best but ended up shunned by society. In hearing the song a few time I wondered if the song is a bit of a "telling off" in the same vein as Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone."

Not Parklife. Daniels in Raven.
There’s a certain awkwardness to the “please don’t hit” line, but it also seems authentic – like the writer is a little afraid of this “one time singer, one time loser” and has to insist that he staggers off and helps himself somehow. Or if you think of the song a different way . . . the “Little Boy” could be the writer himself, saying the immature parts of himself need to go away.

Musically the song starts with Pook hitting the harmonica note played by Moore, with dual guitars on the left and right and Jones’ piano in the left. After a little bit of looking online I believe that what Jones is actually playing is an electro-acoustic instrument called a "pianet." The Hohner-Pianet N, to be more precise, as featured in their field photo and in this video:

Apps joins on the left singing, and Moore, who sings on the right on the second verse, also adds harmonica. The song seems to fade out into what sounds like, let’s be honest, the perfect afternoon.

Here's Heron doing "Little Boy" with Gerry Power. Interesting because it's one of the only Moore compositions they're filmed doing in this concert, I believe. Perhaps still a favorite of Pook?

I'm a little unsure about some of the lyrics here. The above video helped, but they seemed to have sang it out of order anyway:

Little boy you must be honest
You are all alone tonight
Run your fingers along the railing
Where all the ladies made you sly
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang by you easy
Please don’t hit.

Little boy you must be unhappy
There is no one that you love
There is no one here to help you
If you will not help yourself
Though the whole world betray thee
As you stretch your neck to kiss
Let your arms hang beside you easy
Please don’t hit.

In the street and down the arcade

Where all the flowers will drip

One time singer, one time loser,
One time lover, one time kid
Far away from me you stagger

There must be no other way

But let there be no doubt about it
You cannot stay.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Unearthing Heron, pt. 5

I’ve been really trying to hone my ears on picking out their individual voices but it is tough sometimes. But what I think we have here is a duet between Moore and Apps, with Moore at the left with his mandolin and Apps at the right with his guitar. So nice to hear a collaboration of the two main songwriters in the group.

This is an Apps song. I get the feeling that Apps has some particular love for the Incredible String Band and Donovan in addition to the almighty Dylan who seems to be a love of all the group. They reunited to do a Dylan tribute album entitled Jokerman in 2016.

The track “Rosalind” which was recorded at these field sessions, was left off the album and I wonder if it had a lyric that was a little too close to Donovan. “Rosalind says catch the wind and put it in a bag/Made of sea shore sand.” (The song also includes a mention of herons.)

“Smiling Ladies” includes lines daringly close to Dylan and Incredible String Band. “Turning back my paces” in reminiscent of Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” “The music has no edges” is reminiscent of ISB’s “the song has no ending.” I am not suggesting anything other that if you were writing in the same vein of some of these songwriters, you can’t help but stumble over similar sounds and symbols. Think about how many folk singers had songs about “jokers” (or “harlequins” for that matter) after Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

Nature imagery and stillness are the themes again, which seem central to Apps songs. Definitely a sadness to this musing about the human struggle of immobility vs. action. It seems like other people are starting the day, while this young daydreamer just wants to think about the beautiful women he’s met

There’s a long pause at the end with just natural sounds. Interesting to note that the nature sounds were recorded later because they just didn’t get picked up with the microphones enough the first time. But I don’t fault them that, I’m sure it’s roughly the same sounds.

Here's a great version of "Smiling Ladies," without Moore, with Gerry Power. Lovely accordion from Jones:


Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon 
The sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces

Touch the earth and breathe the spring
And walk along the river
So if I have to see you go
It doesn’t seem to matter
Maybe I will sing until the music has no edges
To say will be turning back my faces

Breath on breath of morning wind
Stirs the curtain laces
You may go to chase the sun
Or vanish in its changes
I will stay to gaze upon
Sweetly smiling ladies
Yes I will be turning back my paces.