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The Personal Column: '1000 days, 1000 songs'

'as one war ends, another one begins / look at the children, look at them'

Via my friend the pianist, composer and singer Bill Fay, I’ve learned of the US project, ‘1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs’* with which he’s become associated. In my last column, I mentioned that I’d been challenged by a friend (not Bill) to write a poem a week for a year and I self-published the result in a little book of 52 poems titled once weekly (Ourside, Stroud, 2018.)

Compared with 1,000 songs, it was a modest undertaking, but there is a serendipitous connection. The US project was originally launched on 10 October 2016 as ‘30 Days, 30 Songs’, and was designed to publish one song per day until the US presidential election on 8 November 2016. I wrote my first weekly poem that very week.

I confess though, I’m somewhat confused by the project’s machinations. The original project urged people not to vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election.

The first thing to say is that 30 Days, 30 Songs failed of course, and so, presumably, it was extended to 1,000 days and for all I know will continue until president Trump is brought down or brings himself down.

When Bill wrote and told me he’d been asked to contribute a song, I was under the erroneous impression that all the songs were specially written anti-Trumpery. His song ‘Shame’, however, was written 20 years ago and failed to get on his outstanding album, Life is people (Dead Oceans, 2012). It’s a lovely song which you can hear by searching for ‘Bill Fay Shame’ on YouTube.

Those readers with miraculously long memories (and even longer subscriptions to PN) might remember me writing about Bill’s first album, Bill Fay (Deram, 1970) in my column in 1971. Broadly speaking, its concerns were ecology and world peace. World peace has remained a consistent concern of Bill’s ever since and his own innate peacefulness is in both his lyrics and the often hymn-like quality of his tunes. ‘Shame’, though, has some real anger in its delivery and is a relatively rare expression in his songs which are generally understanding, healing and forgiving:

You can cry all night, you can cry forever
for the crimes of mankind against these little ones
while their eyes burn bright, we only set our sights
on the war of every land against its neighbour
shame, yeah shame, shame, yeah shame
One day the sun will refuse to shine
and the moon and the stars will close their eyes
on a world that will not heed the tears of those that cannot speak
one last straw and the camel’s back is broken
shame, yeah shame, shame, yeah shame
They used to go to sleep with tomorrow a surprise
now they only dream of planes that fill the skies
as one war ends, another one begins
look at the children, look at them
shame, yeah shame, shame, yeah shame

Bill’s latest album is due out soon and I hope room is found to include this very powerful song. It’s beautifully sung and played and speaks so directly and plainly it’s impossible to ignore if you have any soul at all.

I haven’t explored the 1,000 other songs but notice among them are two outstanding women. Nina Simone sings her uplifting anthem, ‘To be young gifted and black’, and Kate Bush beautifully laments the young soldiers who are ‘Army dreamers’ – a song I’ve lauded before in this column.

A couple of weeks ago Kate Bush’s lyrics were published without music and the tired old argument about whether song lyrics can be poetry surfaced yet once more. I say again: I think the finest poets of the 20th century were – and are – its songwriters.

*All financial proceeds from the project will go to the Centre for Popular Democracy.

Topics: Culture