Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day Five). “Will You Ever Return Me? Just Like Frankie Fontaine, I Wonder, What Can I Do?”

Hometown Unicorn was released as the first single from Super Furry Animals debut album, Fuzzy Logic on the 26th February 1996.  The beautifully constructed single is packed full of intriguing folktale style lyrics such as the opening verse:  “I was lost, Lost on the bypass road, could be worse, I could be backward born, Could be worse, I could be turned to toad”.  The single came complete with a stunningly mysterious promotional video featuring long time friend of the band and former band mate turned world famous actor Rhys Ifans looking suitably lost as he walks up and down a road carrying a suitcase, appearing and disappearing amongst beautiful views of the Welsh countryside, appearing to be chased by an unidentified object and looking as if he is going crazy in a shed filled with recording equipment.

Hometown Unicorn is one of those Super Furry Animals songs which, like many of their early recordings, is like a puzzle to interpret.  Taking the chorus of “I say you please return me, Will you ever return me, Will you ever return me, Just like Frankie Fontaine, I wonder what can I do?” coupled with the video and the song’s other assorted lyrics about being lost and being “found riding a unicorn”, the song appears to be about alien abduction.  Before I look at the alien abduction case which informs the chorus, let’s look at the unicorn.

The unicorn is a mythical creature which in European folklore, is often depicted as a white horse or goat-like animal.  In the middle ages and Renaissance era, it was commonly described as an extremely wild woodland creature, a symbol of purity and grace, which could only be captured by a virgin.  Firstly here, we have the idea of capture, relating to the alien abduction and secondly, the unidentified thing that has captured the song’s subject has potentially done so on their virgin visit to Earth.  Then, there is the idea of mythology, tying in with the idea of myths and legends surrounding alien abduction.

One such legend is the case of Franck Fontaine, referred to as “Frankie Fontaine” in the song’s chorus.  The event, now known as the Clergy-Pontoise Hoax, began as a report of a UFO abduction and ended with one of the spectators present at the supposed abduction channelling messages from extraterrestrials whom he claimed were involved in the taking of Fontaine.

The story starts on the morning of the 26th November 1979, when Jean-Pierre Prevost of the Paris suburb of Point-oise called the police to report that his friend, Fontaine, had been abducted by aliens.  Prevost told of how he and Fontaine, along with two other men, were preparing to drive to a nearby town to sell clothes at an open-air market.  Fontaine, their driver, waited in the car whilst the other men went to gather their stock.  A UFO appeared and Fontaine was taken from the car.  The other men watched as the UFO sped away into the sky.  Fontaine reappeared a week later claiming to remember very little about what had happened, saying he fell asleep at the wheel of the car and woke up in a cabbage field, unaware that a week had passed.

After Fontaine reappeared, the police intensified their investigation concerning the incident and were joined by Grope d’Etudes des Phenomenes Aerospatieux Non Indentifies (GEPAN), France’s main UFO investigation organisation.  After conducting interviews with the alleged abductee and the principal witnesses several times and looking for any collaborating evidence, GEPAN came to the conclusion that the incident was without any value in furthering knowledge of UFOs and therefore, the incident has come to be regarded as a hoax.

Shortly after the incident, French UFO enthusiast Jimmy Guieu published a book-length account of the story entitled Contacts OVNI Cergy-Pontoise.   In the book, Guieu believes the story to be true and suggests that the UFO’s intended target was Fontaine but actually Prevost, who had begun to channel messages from the abductor whom he referred to as intelligences from the beyond.  Shortly afterwards, Prevost published his own book about Fontaine’s abduction entitled The Great Contact.  The book centred on the messages which he had received, primarily one from Haurrio, about the deteriorating state of life on Earth.  Prevost went on to found his own publishing house and gather a following of people attracted to the message from outer space.  However, he was unable to find enough people interested in the venture and soon the publishing house folded, leaving him in heavy debt.

A full four years after Fontaine’s supposed abduction, Prevost finally confessed that it had been a hoax.  He told a French reporter that he had organised the event and had hidden Fontaine in a friend’s apartment during the week of the supposed abduction.  He continued to tell of how he had done so in order to attract attention to his channelled messages and in order to assist in building a modern religion based upon extraterrestrials.

Following the confession, Guieu refused to accept to Prevost’s story.  In the interim between the emergence of the abduction stories and the confession, Guieu has come to know others whom had received messages from Haurrio.  Ufologist Jacques Vallee suggests that the whole incident had been an operation by the intelligence community in an attempt to create a sect upon which various social science experiments could be conducted.

Song of the Day: Space in Music (Day One). “Ground Control to Major Tom …”

This week’s theme for Song of the Day is ‘Space’, so what better way to start than with David Bowie and his love of all things otherworldly.  The man who would later bring us the glam alien Ziggy Stardust, started writing about space way back in July 1969, with the release of Space Oddity, the first single from his second album David Bowie.  The success of the single on its release in 1969, led the album to be renamed Space Oddity when it was reissued in 1972.

To set the scene, the single was released just nine days before Apollo 11 landed on the moon, leading some to dismiss the song as a cheap shot at cashing in on the impending moon landing.  These detractors included producer Tony Visconti, who despite liking the demo songs for the rest of the album, decided to delegate Space Oddity to Gus Dudgeon.  To realise his vision for his space tale, Bowie looked to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which inspired the song’s title.  Additionally, the slow and barely audible instrumental build up of Space Oddity is similar to the deep bass tone used in Also sprach Zarathustra by Richard Strauss, which is used predominantly in the film.

In a 2003 interview with Performing Songwriter magazine, Bowie said of Space Oddity:

“In England, it was always presume that it was written about the space landing, because it kind of came to prominence around the same time.  But it actually wasn’t.  It was written because of going to see the film 2001, which I found amazing.  I was out of my gourd anyway, I was very stoned when I went to see it, several times, and it was really a revelation to me.  It got the song flowing.  It was picked up by the British television, and used as the background music for the landing itself.  I’m sure that they really weren’t listening to the lyrics at all (laughs).  It wasn’t a pleasant thing to juxtapose against a moon landing.  Of course, I was overjoyed that they did.  Obviously, some BBC official said, ‘Oh, right then, that space song, Major Tom, blah blah blah, that’ll be great’.  ‘Um, but he gets stranded in space, sir’.  Nobody had the heart to tell the producer that”.

Space Oddity saw the first appearance of astronaut Major Tom, whom has since become one of Bowie’s most famous character creations.  There has been much speculation whether the space theme of Space Oddity was actually a metaphor for heroin use, with the countdown heard in the song being analogous to the drug’s passage down the needle prior to the euphoric hit.  Bowie spoke of a period of brief heroin before the release of Space Oddity in a 1975 interview with Playboy, saying:

“The only kinds of drugs I use are ones that keep me working for longer periods of time.  I haven’t gotten involved in anything heavy since ’68.  I had a silly flirtation with smack then, but it was only for the mystery and enigma of trying it.  I never really enjoyed it all.  I like fast drugs.  I’ve said that many times.  I hate falling out, where I can’t stand up and stuff.  It seems like such a waste of time.  I hate downs and slow drugs like grass.  I hate sleep.  I would much prefer staying up, just working, all the time.  It makes me so mad that we can’t do anything about sleep or the common cold”.

The idea of Space Oddity being at least partially related to heroin use was made even more likely with the arrival of the song’s first sequel, Ashes to Ashes, from the album Scary Monsters & Super Creeps, in 1980, which stated, “We know Major Tom’s a junkie, Strung out on heaven’s high, Hitting an all-time low”.  Additionally, this lyric is also thought to be a play on the title of Bowie’s 1977 album Low, which charted his withdrawal inwards following his drug excesses in America a short space of time before.

Major Tom was resurrected once again for Hallo Spaceboy.  Whilst the album version from 1. Outside (1995) does not reference Major Tom, when the song was remixed by the Pet Shop Boys and released as the third single from the album, it added the lines, “Ground to Major, bye bye Tom … Dead the circuit, countdown’s wrong … Planet Earth, is control wrong” sung by Neil Tennant in reference to Space Oddity.

On 12th May 2013, Space Oddity was covered by astronaut Chris Hadfield, shortly after handing over command of the International Space Station.  Hadfield, already famed as being the first Canadian to walk in space, released the video of him performing the song on YouTube, which has so far received over 25 million views.  Hadfield’s performance was the subject of a piece by Glenn Fleishmann in The Economist on the 22nd May 2013, which analysed the legal implications of publicity performing a copyrighted work of music whilst in earth orbit.  There was no need to worry as Bowie fully endorsed the cover, taking to Facebook to call it, “possibly the most poignant version of the song ever created”.

Other versions of Space Oddity, and arguably the oddest of all, include Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola, released in November 1969, a special version of the song with Italian lyrics.  Two Italian bands, Equipe 84 and The Computers, had already recorded their own Italian versions of Space Oddity.  Feeling that these versions may threaten the chances of Bowie’s original in Italy, Bowie’s record company commissioned Mogol to write the new Italian lyrics.  Mogol came back with a song about a young couple who meet on top of a mountain, the title of which translates as “Lonely Boy, Lonely Girl”.  Bowie was highly amused when he found out what the new lyrics meant, saying in an interview for the 1999 biography Strange Fascination by David Buckley:  “I’ve put in all that time singing some bloody love song about some tart in a blouse on a mountain!”

Song of the Day: Music About Other Artists (Day Four). The Go-Betweens on Patti Smith on Kurt Cobain and Others. “When She Sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I Thought What A Shame It Wasn’t About Tom Verlaine”.

Patti Smith, along with her husband Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, began work on her sixth studio album, Gone Again (1996) in 1994.  Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, previously of the seminal garage band MC5, was a highly influential force on what would become Patti Smith’s first album since Dream of Life in 1988, teaching her to play acoustic guitar so she could write songs by herself and providing her with titles and concepts to develop.

The first of these songs was Summer Cannibals, the eventual single from the album, which discussed the darker side of being a rock musician.  The couple drew from Fred’s Indian ancestry in order to compose a song told from the point of view of a tribe’s shaman.  The song tells of an old woman coming down from the hills in order to tell her people of their history, informing them of, in times of strife, the cycle of life and the changing seasons. And thus began the potent theme of death on Gone Again, a theme inspired by the deaths of several people close to Smith.

Photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had died March 9th 1989, aged 42, from an AIDs-related illness …

… and Patti Smith Group pianist Richard Sohl had died on June 3rd 1990, aged 37, from heart failure.

During the writing of Gone Again, Patti Smith was devastated yet further when on November 4th 1994, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith died suddenly from heart failure, aged just 45.   The loss of her husband informs a vast majority of Gone Again but specifically the final song, Farewell Reel.  Played on the acoustic guitar which her husband taught her how to play, Farewell Reel opens with the spoken message, “This little song’s for Fred; it’s G, C, D and D minor”.

Shortly after the death of her husband, her brother, Todd, also died, aged 45.  Gone Again is also notable for featuring the last studio performance by Jeff Buckley, who added his voice to Beneath The Southern Cross.

Smith was also moved by the death of Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, with whom she had sympathised.  Cobain committed suicide, aged 27, on 5th April 1994.  Smith didn’t know Cobain personally but told Seattle Weekly News in 2010:

“My reaction to Kurt Cobain was much more emotional.  I was heartbroken when he committed suicide.  I loved Nirvana.  And I knew that Kurt Cobain was very fond of my husband and the MC5.  We felt so badly.  We just wished that we would have known him, and been able to talk to him, and had some sort of positive effect on him.  Seeing Robert [Mapplethorpe] doing everything to live, and then seeing this very gifted boy kill himself was painful to factor”.

Smith’s reaction to Cobain’s death can be heard on the song About A Boy, a suitably etheral and sometimes funereal lament, the title of which is a play on Nirvana’s About A Girl, from their 1989 album Bleach.

Lyrically, About A Boy, much like many other songs on Gone Again, is spiritual and almost hymnal with lines such as “Toward another, He has gone, To breathe an air, Beyond his own, Toward a wisdom, Beyond the shelf, Toward a dream, That dreams itself”.

The verse “From the forest, from the foam, from the field, That he had, Known, Toward a river, Twice as blessed, Toward the inn of happiness” tells of Cobain’s ascendance to heaven but also refers to his hometown of Aberdeen in the US State of Washington.  The forest mentioned in the verse is most likely to be Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington, whilst the river mentioned is the Wishkah River, a tributary of the Chehalis River which flows south through Washington and empties into the Chehalis at Aberdeen.  Linking in with the Indian theme on Gone Again, the name “Wishkah” is an adaptation of the Chehalis Indian word ‘hwish-kahl’, meaning “stinking water”.  More importantly, however, the Wishkah River has a great deal of significance in the legend of Kurt Cobain, as he lived under a bridge on the river during a period of homelessness after dropping out of high school and being thrown out of his mother’s home.  The song Something In The Way from Nevermind details this time in Cobain’s life.  After his death, one third of his ashes were scattered in the river.  Additionally, the river gave its name to the Nirvana live album, From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah, released in 1996 and featuring live performance recorded between 1989 and 1994.

A band who had been listening to Smith’s tender tribute to Cobain was Australian band, The Go-Betweens.  For their 2000 album, The Friends of Rachel Worth, Robert Forster wrote When She Sang About Angels, in part an answer song to About A Boy.

When She Sang About Angels includes the slightly sarcastic sounding riposte to Smith choosing to pay tribute to Cobain, “When she sang About A Boy, Kurt Cobain, I thought what a shame, it wasn’t about, Tom Verlaine”.  Tom Verlaine is best known as the front man of seminal New York rock band Television, most notable for their critically acclaimed and highly influential debut album Marquee Moon (1977).  Verlaine was a stalwart of famous New York punk clubs such as CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and dated Patti Smith whilst they were both up and coming artists.  Verlaine has collaborated with Smith many times over the years, most notably adding guitar to Smith’s albums Horses (1975); Easter (1978); Gone Again (1996) and later, Gung Ho (2000) and Twelve (2007).

The song’s title and lyrics “When she sang about angels, She looked at the sky …” refers to both Smith’s songs about people who have died on Gone Again and to Smith’s song Ask The Angels, the opening track on, and third single taken from, her 1976 album Radio Ethiopia.

Additionally, When She Sang About Angels includes lines such as “When she sang about the fields, She raised up her arm, As if she was pushing back the cotton on some Midwestern farm”, a reference to Smith’s powerful stage mannerisms and the imagery of fields which inhabits some of her songs.  Take for example, in About A Boy where she sings, “From the field that he had known”; Ask the Angels, in which she sings “Across the country through the fields” and Birdland (Horses, 1975) in which she sings, “Him and his daddy used to sit inside, And circle the blue fields and grease the night”.

Despite the hint of sarcasm which pervades Forster’s critique of Smith, there is also a lot of tenderness expressed towards Smith in When She Sang About Angels.  Take for example the refrain, “Anybody else, anybody else, but I let it go by”, absolving Smith of her various lyrical and performance tendencies and the reminiscence of the lines “Then she threw some names, Like she always did, She threw some names, she dropped some names, Like she used to when I was a kid”.  Smith is known for writing songs about other people and in particular other artists.  Take for example, her song Frederick (Wave, 1979), written about Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith before their marriage in 1980.

Smith would pay further tribute to Kurt Cobain on her 2007 album of cover versions, Twelve, when she covered Nirvana’s 1991 mega-hit Smells Like Teen Spirit, from the album Nevermind.

Smith’s version of Smells Like Teen Spirit strips away the thundering bombast of the original, the sound which inspired a thousand other bands and almost single-handedly invented ‘Grunge’, and delivers it with a sparse country-tinged arrangement featuring a bass guitar, acoustic guitar, violin, banjo and her voice, which much like Kurt Cobain’s, has influenced whole generations.

Song of the Day: War in Music (Day Six). “What If I Take My Problem to the United Nations?”

For her eighth studio album, Let England Shake (2011), PJ Harvey looked to war for inspiration and in particular, the war in Afghanistan, which Britain was heavily involved in at the time of the album’s writing and recording.  Harvey also took inspiration from past conflicts, most notably the two World Wars.  Of the album’s subject matter, Harvey told Uncut Magazine in January 2015:  “I’ve always felt that I’m affected by the world, by the way we treat each other, by the way different countries treat each other”.

Let England Shake was not the first time that Harvey had spoken about war in her music.  On her 1996 album with John Parish, who also collaborated on Let England Shake, Dance Hall at Louse Point (credited to John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey), she included the song Civil War Correspondent.

At this point in time, Harvey never explained her lyrics and they were, more so than ever, left open to broad interpretation.  One could assume that the civil war mentioned in the song is the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War, a phase of the war in Afghanistan which had been raging since 27th April 1978.  The war in Afghanistan had started when the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) took power in a military coup, known as the Saur Revolution.  Most of Afghanistan subsequently experienced uprisings against the PDFA government.

In December 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan began with the aim of replacing the existing communist government.  The mujahideen, Afghanistan’s resistance forces, fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.  Some factions received support from the US, with the Pakistani ISI serving as the US middleman, and Saudi Arabia.  The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from Afghanistan in February 1989.  The Soviet-backed Afghan communist government survived for three more years until the fall of Kabul in 1992.

In 1992, Afghan political parties agreed on the Peshawar Accords, a peace and power-sharing agreement which established the post-communist Islamic State of Afghanistan after the resignation of communist President Mohammad Najibullah and appointed an interim government.  Militia leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar opposed the agreement and with Pakistani support started a bombardment campaign against Kabul, signalling the beginning of the 1992 – 1996 Afghan Civil War.  In addition, three militias who had been able to occupy some suburbs of Kabul engaged in a violent war against each other.  Other than Kabul, other cities to witness violent fighting included Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar.

Despite these assumptions that the civil war of which Harvey speaks in Civil War Correspondent is probably the Afghan Civil War, it is left open to interpretation.  Therefore, the narrator of the song could easily be a correspondent in any war, making the song a stark reminder that all war is the same:  Each war has its casualties and its devastating effects on those involved, whether on the frontline or witnessing the atrocities from a journalist standpoint.  “Word leave my heart dry, Words can’t save life, Love has no place here, No joy, no tears” sings Harvey emotionally on the song.  Perhaps the correspondent is actually Harvey herself as opposed to a media correspondent, a songwriter attempting to put into words what she sees through the media.  “I shout but he don’t hear, Just put down the page, Darling spare me your tears, Dear God please send me the light of day, I can feel his, Heart wired, Heart like, Gunfire …” continues Harvey in the guise of a war correspondent watching a soldier losing hope in the face of the brutality he is facing.  By the end of Civil War Correspondent, the soldier’s mind and spirit has been consumed by the war and he cannot escape the gunfire anymore than he can escape his own heartbeat.

On her 2000 album Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, Harvey had been inspired by her love of New York City.  Take for example, Good Fortune, with its references to China Town, “In China Town, hung-over, you showed me just what I could do” and Little Italy,  “When we walked through Little Italy, I saw my reflection come right off your face”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea also includes the highly prophetic song One Line, which includes the lyrics, “I’m watching from the wall, As in the streets we fight, This World all gone to war, All I need is you tonight”.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea won the Mercury Music Prize, the ceremony for which was held on September 11th, 2001, the infamous day as the terrorist attacks on the USA.  Harvey was in Washington DC and had witnessed the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon from her hotel room window.  When she was announced as the winner, she made her acceptance speech by telephone, saying, “It has been a very surreal day.  All I can say is thank you very much, I am absolutely stunned”.

Following the September 11 attacks, the USA announced its War on Terror, a term coined by President George W. Bush.  The USA, backed by its close allies, including Britain, invaded Afghanistan.  The war followed the Afghan Civil War phase (1996 – 2001) and public aims were to dismantle al-Qaeda and deny it a safe base in operations in Afghanistan by removing the Taliban from power.

Additonally, in 2003, the USA, with assistance from the United Kingdom, invaded Iraq, signalling the start of the Iraq War, which aimed to and succeeded in toppling the government of Saddam Hussein.  The conflict continued for much of the next decade as an insurgency emerged to oppose the occupying forces and the post-invasion Iraq government.  The USA and United Kingdom officially withdrew from the country in the 2011, the year of Let England Shake’s release but the insurgency and various dimensions of the civil armed conflict still continue.

After witnessing the horror of the September 11 attacks which sparked off the Afghanistan War firsthand, it is no wonder that Harvey would at some point in her career feel compelled to compose more songs pertaining to war, this time using the subject of war to create a concept album.  Harvey began writing the lyrics for the album before setting the words to music.  She has cited the poetry of Harold Pinter and T.S. Eliot as influences, as well as the artwork of Salvador Dali and Francisco de Goya and the music of The Doors, The Pogues and The Velvet Underground.  She also researched the history of conflict, including the Gallipoli Campaign, and read modern-day testimonies from civilians and soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Of the musical content on Let England Shake, Harvey makes full use of the autoharp which she began to play in concert some years prior to working on the album.  She told local newspaper Bridport News in 2001:  “I was really enjoying this different, enormous, wide breath of sound that the autoharp gives.  It’s quite a delicate sound, but it’s also like having an entire orchestra at your fingertips.  I began by writing quite a lot on the autoharp, and then slowly as time went by, (because this album was written over two and a half years) … my writing started moving into experimenting with different guitars, and using different sound applications, ones that I had never really experimented with”.

In order to tell the tales of war which make up Let England Shake, Harvey adopted a very different vocal style to that used on previous works.  Harvey commented in her 2011 interview with Bridport News that “I couldn’t sing [the songs] in a rich mature voice without it sounding completely wrong.  So I had to slowly find the voice, and this voice started to develop, almost taking on the role of a narrator”.

Let England Shake is a wonderfully executed suite of war-inspired songs.  The title of the album and its opening track can be interpreted in two ways with respect to the two different periods of time which inspired the songs.  Firstly the opening line of the title track, “The West’s asleep, let England shake” refers to the past, before World War One, when England appeared to be a perfect epoch for peace and prosperity.  The Western world was asleep, overconfident in its own power, economy and technological development.  The brutality of both World Wars proved the opposite and England was one of the countries which suffered the cruel and tragic consequences.  Secondly, the same line also refers to the present, where we find Harvey pondering as to whether England is now, once again, overconfident and whether the Western world is, once again, on the brink of collapse.  Therefore, based on historical evidence, England will, indeed shake again.  Interestingly, shortly after the release of Let England Shake, a series of riots occurred across England, breaking the deceptive state of calm.

Additionally, Let England Shake features the lines “I fear our blood won’t rise again, Won’t rise again”, an observation about death.  In this line, Harvey is saying that if our blood doesn’t rise again, from the graves that contain our corpses, then there is no hope.  The line also poses an attack against the teachings of Christianity, which has justified the most horrendous actions against humanity throughout history, such as Crusades, Inquisition, paedophile networks and torture practices.  Christianity states that we are going to be saved by Jesus after death and this life is not a real one, for only in resurrection will we be reunited with divinity and eternal life.

Further into the album, we find the song This Glorious Land, the third track and the second single to be taken from the album.  The lyrics of This Glorious Land refer to the military and the ongoing Afghan War, told from the perspective of the locals in a country invaded by England and America (“Oh, America, Oh, England”).  The song tells of how such interventionism often exploits those being invaded, removing their culture and ability to be a contender in the world economy:  “How is our glorious country ploughed, Not by iron plows, Our land is plowed by tanks and feet, Feet, Marching”.   The people of the invaded country are also often forced to exploit their own children in order to survive.  The lyrics in the final refrain allude to the disastrous effects of war:  “What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is deformed children, What is the glorious fruit of our land?  The fruit is orphaned children”.   Whilst the song was primarily inspired by the conflict in Afghanistan, it could also refer to the bombing of Japan by America and Britain during the Second World War.

The fourth track on the album and its first single, The Words That Maketh Murder, is also about the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan as well as the World Wars, the First World War in particular.  The lyrics also criticise diplomacy, particularly in the final refrain, “What if I take my problems to the United Nations?”  which, with dark humour, finds the subject of the song, who has experienced the unimaginable whilst involved in the conflict such as “soldiers fall[ing] like lumps of meat”, looking to the international peacekeeping body for help.  The refrain is based on a lyric from Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues (1958), where he sings, “I’m gonna take my problems to the United Nations”.

The reference to the United Nations places the song’s setting in the modern day, i.e. the Afghanistan War, as opposed to the First World War, as the United Nations did not exist until 1945.  The League of Nations, the United Nations predecessor, was regarded as powerless and content to allow the strong to bully the weak and, two decades after the First World War, failed to stop the outbreak of the Second World War.  The United Nations has been slightly more successful but has also often ignored, as recently as the Invasion of Iraq by the US and Britain.

In the lead up to the catchy and beautifully conceived refrain, Harvey paints a bleak picture of battlefield carnage.  “I’ve seen and done things I want to forget, I’ve seen soldiers falling like lumps of meat, Blown and shot out beyond belief, Arms and legs were in the trees”.  The lyric “Longing to see a woman’s face” finds the subject of the song missing the comforts of home, perhaps his wife or just female company.  “Instead of words that gather pace” is likely to refer to the Treaties and threats that tipped Europe into the First World War in 1914.  After the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand is Sarajevo, all of the world’s major powers were pulled into the First World War one by one.

The chorus of the song, “The words that maketh murder, These, these, these are the words, The words that maketh murder …” are a further attack on the diplomacy which surrounds war.  By referring to war tribunals as “The words that maketh murder”, Harvey is discussing the way in which killing on the battlefield is seen as legitimate but when investigated by war tribunals, it can be classified as a war crime.  Whilst the work that the soldiers carry out is important, killing, regardless of circumstances, is still murder.

Following the first chorus, we find the line “I’ve seen a corporal whose nerves were shot”, a reference to Post Traumatic Stress (shell-shock), which is a common ailment suffered by soldiers who have fought in wars.  The line “I’ve seen flies swarming everyone” and later lines “Death lingering stunk, Flies swarming everyone, Over the whole summit peak, Flesh quivering in the heat” refer to the way in which war was often conducted in extremely unsanitary conditions and disease was as big a threat to the soldiers’ survival as the opposing side.  The repetition of lyrics about soldiers falling is most likely an expression of shell-shock related flashbacks.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder’s single release in January 2011 was directed by Seamus Murphy, who also created videos for the other eleven tracks on Let England Shake.  Harvey contacted Murphy after seeing his “A Darkness Visible:  Afghanistan” exhibition in London in 2008.  In her interview with Bridport News, she said that she “wanted to speak to him more about his experiences being there in Afghanistan”.  After an initial meeting, a collaboration grew with Murphy taking charge of promotional photographs for the film in July 2010 and completing the promotional videos in January 2011.  The resulting videos were screened at various UK festivals between the 14th and 17th July 2011 and released on the DVD Let England Shake:  12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy on the 12th December 2011.

The video for The Words That Maketh Murder features Harvey practicing the song on the autoharp.  The opening scene features lights shining through a car windshield, followed by imagery of warfare such as a soldier walking through an open field.  Later in the video, the soldier is shown dead in the middle of the road during the lyric “I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat”.  Additionally, the video shows soldiers dressed in formal uniform and children playing a war-related video game.  Other scenes show a funfair and slips from a rock concert as well as a ballroom scene filmed in Blackpool, a still from which was used as the single’s artwork.

Let England Shake was named Album of the Year in no less than 16 different publications, including Uncut, Mojo, NME and The Guardian.  In September 2011, ten years after winning the Mercury Music prize for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, she won the Mercury Music Prize for Let England Shake.  This win marked the first time in the award’s history that it had been awarded to the same artist twice.

Song of the Day: Crime in Music (Day One). “It’s All Over the Front Page, You’re Giving Me Road Rage”.

On a dark country lane on the 1st December 1996, Tracie Andrews, a barmaid and aspiring model, stabbed her fiancé, Lee Harvey, over 42 times with a pen knife after they had stopped his Ford Escort XR3i after an argument.  Two days later, Andrews claimed that Harvey had been killed in a road rage attack, saying that a “fat man with staring eyes” had stabbed him 30 times.  Later that month, however, Andrews was charged with Harvey’s murder.

The couple’s relationship had been tempestuous from the very beginning.  Andrews had met Harvey at a nightclub in Birmingham and the pair quickly became an item.  However, it quickly became apparent that Andrews had a temper and easily became jealous if any other woman came close to Harvey.  Both Harvey and Andrews had a child each from previous relationships and both parties were particularly jealous of the others’ ex-partners.   Many commented that Harvey and Andrews’ feelings towards each other verged on obsession and there was an apparent lack of trust between the pair.

On several occasions the relationship became violent with the police often being called to the couple’s home.  People commented about the acts of domestic violence after Harvey’s murder, saying that both were as bad as each other, Andrews continuously having bruising on her arms and Harvey once having scratches all over his body and a bite mark on his neck which looked as though he had been bitten by a dog.  There were also very public incidents of violence, including one in Bakers Nightclub in Birmingham in October 1996 when Andrews had confronted Harvey and assaulted him because he had gone to the club when she felt that Bakers was her night out and not hers.  After Andrews spotted Harvey chatting to another woman at the bar, she bit him and was dragged out of the club by security.

It also became apparent that Andrews was a chronic liar.  In the August before Harvey’s murder, Andrews had announced that she was pregnant, much to the horror of people who had witnessed the violence in the relationship.  Despite their misgivings, the families and friends of the couple were upset when Andrews told them that she had had a miscarriage after falling whilst shopping.  It soon transpired that Andrews had in fact had an abortion, feeling that having a baby would ruin her life.  Once again, the police were called to the couples’ residence after violence had ensued following Andrews’ revelation during an argument.

The explosive relationship between the couple was a recipe for disaster, a disaster which occurred on that fateful night of the 1st December 1996.  On their way back to the couple’s home from the Malbrook Pub, Bromsgrove, where their last argument had started, the couple stopped on Cooper’s Hill.  In Andrew’s initial statement to the police, she told of how a car had been following them, speeding to overtake them and beeping his horn.  She stated that Harvey had stopped the car after having enough of the aggressiveness of the driver following them.  She continued to tell of how the driver of the other car had got out, screamed abuse at Harvey such as “Paki bastard” and had stabbed him repeatedly.  At first, nothing about Andrews’ story of how the incident happened made the police suspicious; such was Andrews’ highly manipulative nature.  Andrews’ story was made even more plausible by the fact that Andrews herself had sustained various injuries, claiming that Harvey’s assailant had also attacked her.  The media quickly began to state that the murder had been a result of road rage.

On the 3rd December, Andrews appeared in person, together with Harvey’s family and holding the hand of Harvey’s mother to appeal for witnesses.  Those present noted that for somebody who was supposedly still in shock and upset, Andrews had a lot to say for herself whilst others noted that certain parts of her story did not correspond with what she had initially told the police.  Here started the police’s suspicions.

On the 4th December, Andrews told her family that she was going back home for a sleep.  Her family became worried and went to Andrews’ home to check on her.  On entering Andrews’ home, her mother picked up her handbag and in it, found a note addressed to Andrews’ daughter reading, “I’m so sorry, I can’t be here no more, I want to be with Lee”.  Her family entered Andrews’ bedroom to find that she had taken an overdose.  Andrews reportedly died twice whilst on the way to the hospital.

A few days later, the police finally obtained the evidence that would change the investigation.  Simon Baker, who was travelling down towards Cooper’s Hill from the opposite direction with girlfriend Elaine Caruthers, passed Harvey’s Ford Escort XR3i but stated that there was no vehicle following them.   The witnesses stated that the couple were having such a disagreement that Harvey had overshot his intended junction, reversed the car and began to travel down Cooper’s Hill.  On the 7th December, the police arrested Andrews on suspicion of murder.  On the 19th December, after being given a medical all clear, Andrews was questioned about the discrepancies in her story and Simon Baker’s witness report.  Andrews flatly denied having killed Harvey, calling in a solicitor who took the unusual move of lifting any reporting restrictions on the ensuing murder enquiry.  At a defence press conference, an E-fit of the person whom Andrews claimed to have killed Harvey, the “fat man with staring eyes”, was issued.

In the ensuing court case, investigators noted that her clothes were covered in Harvey’s blood in a manner that would suggest Andrews was the murderer.  Additionally, a black hat was found discarded at the murder scene.  The hat was covered in cat hairs from Andrews’ pet.  Andrews admitted that the hat had been in her possession and that she had thrown it by the side of the road.  Forensic evidence eventually showed that the murder weapon, a pen knife which Harvey had brought back from a holiday in Spain, had been concealed in Andrews’ snakeskin boot, had been on her person when she was taken to hospital after the murder, and flushed away down a hospital lavatory.  It was also found that Andrews had waited a full seven minutes before shouting for help.

Andrews was convicted at Birmingham Crown Court on 29th July 1997, and was sentenced to life imprisonment, with a recommendation that she serve at least 14 years.  Andrews appealed against the sentence, claiming that she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice because of the damaging publicity surrounding her case.  In October 1998, her appeal was denied.  In April 1999, Andrews admitted that she did stab Harvey to death, whilst maintaining that she acted in self-defence.

Two years after the much publicised murder of Lee Harvey, Catatonia featured the song Road Rage on their second album International Velvet.   The song was released as the album’s third single, reaching number 5 in the UK singles chart.  Road Rage was inspired by the murder and the media coverage that it gained in the aftermath.  This was something that did not escape the notice of Maureen Harvey, Lee Harvey’s mother, who said of the song in an interview with the Sunday Mercury on April 5th, 1998:

“It is tasteless and disgusting that people are trying to make money from such a tragedy.  My son did not die in a road rage attack; he was killed by Tracie Andrews.  We simply do not need songs like this”.

In her 1998 book, Pure Evil:  How Tracie Andrews Murdered My Son, Decieved the Nation and Sentenced Me to a life of Pain and Misery, Maureen Harvey talked about the song further, saying:

“ … at least the group’s singer Cerys Matthews had the decency to return my call and explain that she hadn’t intended to cause any offence.  She tried to convince me that the song showed how Tracie had gone crazy and that it didn’t actually do her any favours”.

In relation to the case of Tracie Andrews, Road Rage includes the chorus:  “You could be taking it easy on yourself, You should be making it easy on yourself, ‘cause you and I know, It’s all over the front page, You give me road rage, Racing through the best days, It’s up to you boy you’re driving me crazy, Thinking you may be losing your mind” and additionally features lines such as “If all you’ve got to prove today is your innocence, Calm down, you’re as guilty as can be”.  In defence of the song, Cerys Matthews told the Birmingham Post on 6th April, 1998:

“The title, Road Rage, was inspired by the newspaper reports of the case of Tracie Andrews.  But it is really about how fast technology is moving”.