My Compass Songs... (song influences & descriptions from the album)
“Nowhere… have I seen any place of so intense or varied a beauty in so small a compass” - Gavin Maxwell.
This is writer, traveller & adventurer Gavin Maxwell’s description of the western Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I completely identify with this when thinking about my home, South Cumbria & the Lakes. The same could be said for the whole of the UK & the world - we have so much intense & varied beauty which is indeed, relatively, in so small a compass.
1. Seek Thy Brother
A phrase to ward away any evil spirits or omens. I first came across this by reading Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water trilogy. The second book ‘Raven Seek Thy Brother’ describes Maxwell’s run of bad luck after the relative glorious tranquility of the first. I have now adopted the saying when I see a solitary magpie instead of a salute or frantic wave!
2. Boat Thief Song
Many years ago I rubbed shoulders with a local Lakes band, Boat Thief. I always thought their band name conjured up a great image of misspent youth during the summer months in and around the Lakes. Although this song is not about the band, it is simply inspired by barmy summer evenings and adolescence in full & free abandon, defiance & lots of memories made.
3. Heart Shaped Wood
Travel north from Kendal on the M6 you will pass the Tebay Gorge. Keep looking right and you will see a woodland in the shape of a heart on the fell side. It looks its best during summer when in full leaf. There are many stories associated with the wood and I brought them all together to write this song. Forbidden lovers and WW1 being the main focus.
4. Between Breaths
A dazzling Lake District day and a walk in any direction will reveal a body of water to sit by, paddle in or swim in. With this song I invite you to walk & roam - just remember to be aware of all your senses, drink in the landscape and experience the love your fellow humans & creatures - between each breath.
5. Edge of the Map
I first thought about writing this ditty of a song after watching Pirates of the Caribbean. Remembering the scene towards the end of the film where Jack Sparrow is swashbuckling with Captain Barbossa, in and out of the shafts of moonlight revealing the skeletal & still cursed Barbossa. The Captain’s quote to Jack was “...you’re off the edge of the map Jack, here there be monsters” The song has become more of a ‘feel the fear & do it anyway’ message for me & hopefully everyone who listens to it.
6. Seabirds’ Call
My childhood was spent around the edgelands of morecambe bay at Grange Over Sands. I would often look across the bay towards Morecambe & Heysham to see its many colours, changes & moods. I would think about an imaginary journey to sail outward into the world, then return to those familiar sights & sounds. The adventure would be with a loved one & take a whole year. We would return to the safe & familiar calls of the seabirds across the sands.
7. Sycamore Gap
Along Hadrian’s Wall there is an iconic tree which has grown in a gap within the wall. This Sycamore tree has been photographed many times & has appeared on the big screen. I thought about the wall, when it was built, the time, lives & spirits of the legions who constructed it. In those times I wondered of their often grim existence & if they returned now, would they recognise the landscape & what they’d built now?
I read a book when I was very young called The Overland Launch. The story of a lifeboat in 1899 which couldn’t be launched from Lynmouth in Devon as the bad weather came in & sea too rough. To reach the stricken merchant ship The Forest Hall floundering in the Bristol Channel, the whole village turned out & took Louisa over Countisbury Hill to Porlock by horse & many hands. This is her story.
9. Lakeland Heart
Another song about travelling away from a beloved place only to remember it fondly & return to the splendour of what you left behind. In my case it’s the varied beauty of the Lakes but the fresh & cooling autumn rain can fall in your beloved part of the world too, wherever that may be.
10. Shells & the Stars
A reference to the most magical place I’ve been to in the British Isles. Sandaig, and the Bay of Alders where Gavin Maxwell’s cottage, Camusfaerna stood. The true location of the trilogy Ring of Bright Water, it really is a stunning & tranquil place to spend some time with it’s peaceful stillness, numerous blue shells, (and rare shells) and on a clear night, the stars. Having read the books, a trip there confirmed how wonderfully remote & idyllic it would have been to have lived there. The cottage no longer remains... but the shells & the stars do.
11. Rockland Road
This is the road I would walk along to school. Actually a crescent, inclined road, centred by a patch of rough wooded land we would play in. At the crest of this road, a dark snicket accessed by stone steps would take me to the school. At the end of summer term I would run down the snicket, leap the steps & race down Rockland Road to home. To me this signified the start of the summer holidays where we would play out on bikes or go swimming and never return until dinner time.
12. Mr Raven
Inspired by many trips to Edinburgh and learning about the fascinating streets below the streets. The Mary King’s Close story touches on the black death and it’s darker times amongst the people of Edinburgh. The story depicts the beak like masked ‘Dr’ who could do very little as a doctor but poke the victims with a stick to see if they were alive. The beak was full of herbs & spices to protect ‘Mr. Raven’ from the stench & the miasma, or vapour, believed at the time to have been the way it spread. Grim times indeed with the appearance of Mr Raven in those narrow, overcrowded streets.