Lyrics & Chords

Better Times

(Standard tuning, capo at the 5th fret, starts off in the Am shape; please see my notes on the song at the end of the lyrics)

(Am) I remember we were bound for (C) glory
(Am) I remember better (G) times
(Am) Everyone had their (C) story
(G) An' a buddy could spare a (Am) dime
(C) I loved you like a (Am) brother
(C) I loved the trains and the (G) wine
(F) The cheaper the (C) better
(G) Oh I remember better (Am) times

When you heard that whistle blowing
She was coming to the bend
The train would get to slowing
An' you could help some other friend
An' you could treat him like a brother
You could share the bread and the wine
But he could be the Devil
Just jumping trains to Perdition's line

There'd be one man with a Bible
An' gamblers at his feet
He'd raise Cain and Abel
An' those boys would start to cheat
And they'd fight just like brothers
They'd fight in Jesus' name
And all of the others
Bettin' on who would win

And there’d be a story about a woman
That every one could share
We’d all remembered loving her
An' combing her long black hair
An' some would call her sister
She was everything and more
She was a mother
A sweetheart and a whore

An' when we could go no further
We'd jump the rails and run
Lookin' for a job that had no worker
Was the hardest work we ever done
And those nights were cold and lonely
You could die just tryin' to keep warm
Dreaming of glory
An' that woman's loving arms

I remember we were bound for glory
I remember better times...

Copyright © Better Times 2001 words and music by Tom Fairnie.

I had this melody for a long time but the idea for the song came from my continuing interest with attempting to write a song that would sit naturally in an American Folk Song Book. The musical influences (Guthrie, Paxton, Dylan et al) are fairly obvious so I won't spend time on that but I'm proud of the lyrics and I'd like to try and give you an insight into them here.
Like a lot of writers I use biblical imagery, not only because of it's obvious meaning but also because it's a great way of taking an issue like brotherly love for instance and making a complex point in a kind of shorthand.
Better Times is set in a boxcar during the Depression and the cast of characters tell stories, recall loves, gamble and fight. The ironic part is that the human spirit is such that we can often look back to the hardest of times and see them as being the best of times.
I like to personalise my songs, not only because I think it gives them a feeling that helps listeners relate to them, but also because I'm more assured writing from personal experience. The sub text in Better Times is about the relationship between my brothers and myself. We shared experiences and memories of a Scottish working class upbringing in the 1950s, laughed together and fought like all brothers do but there's always the trust and, I guess, the bond that never leaves you no matter what.
In terms of the lyrics I particularly like the verse that begins "There'd be one man with a BIble" I think the wordplay is interesting and hopefully, it's also thought provoking.
My final comment would be that when I sing it I really try to see those characters and hear their voices. It's a case of "there but for fortune" if I can quote a far better poet.


The Aleph (with acknowledgement to Jorge Louis Borges) 

(Standard tuning, capo at the 4th fret, starts off in the E major shape and rocks between the E major and A major shapes with some finger lifts. Please see my notes on the song at the end of the lyrics)

(E) Heard my (A) name in the pouring (E) rain
Stood and watched it running down a drain
Held my breath on the Bridge of Sighs
Called an echo but it came back lies
Saw the marble on a step in Rome
The strangest things can take you back home
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

I heard a prayer like a dog in pain
Swam a river in a desert plain
Stayed the night in a palace once
Stayed the night in a palace twice
Stayed the night in a Spanish town
Swam in the sea but I could not drown
Made the guest at a wedding feast
A bride in white and a bloody sheet
Played some cards one night in France
Learned to drink and how to take a chance
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

(A) Blood and water, tears and (E) wine
(A) Memories take more than (E) time
(A) They take the heart of (E) yesterday
(B7) And friends and lovers fade (A) away
But I wonder if they
(E) Stay young in (A) photographs
(E) Stay young in (A) old photographs

I’ve walked down roads walked by Saint Paul
The Virgin Mary and no one at all
Played guitar like a Rolling Stone
Been invited to an African throne
Saw a woman and a dying child there
Some of the past is so hard to bear
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

Blood and water, tears and wine...

I’ve met the son of an African slave
Stood in silence at a soldiers grave
Saw the light die on a battlefield
Saw the truth where it was concealed
Held you close in a foreign bed
I made a promise but I never said
And the wisest man that I ever met
Said don’t remember what you can’t forget
Don’t remember what you can’t forget
Don’t remember what you can’t forget 

© The Aleph music by Tom Fairnie, words by Tom Fairnie & Bob Shields March 2001 

The essential thing about this song is the performance, which has to be focussed and a bit driven to carry the listener into the swirl of memories. The rhythm is very important and I always regard it as a song with a  kind of blues structure although that is somewhat lost in the actual performance.
 I love lists and The Aleph is essentially that. The trick is to create connections in the memories for the listener or to allow them to make their own through the words and images. The language is obviously very imortant because a song like this won't work if even a single word jars so I took special care to try and get it right. Bob and I got together when he suggested the song needed a break (the first version was a relentless list!) we wrote the break in about ten minutes and Bob's idea about adding the word "old" to the repeated line was brilliant.  I would say that if you wanted to play it; that this is a song that you could make your own by just going with it or getting into a groove (for want of a better expression).  I should perhaps point out that I now seem to be more comfortable singing this song capo'ed at the third fret but it was recorded with the capo on the fourth.
The Aleph in Jorge Louis Borges short story of the same name is a pearl like object that is found on a cellar step and in which can be seen everything that is happening in the world at that moment. That story features one of my favourite passages, which is essentially a list of apparently random events.
 The Aleph is also the first letter in the Jewish alphabet, which gives it yet another layer of meaning to do with language and religion. I have another song called Falling Down, which I have often considered calling The Zahir as it's about teh fall of empires and that seems like an appropriate counter to The Aleph. I'll leave you to discover what the zahir is and the possible meanings behind it if you don't already know.

birthmarked lyrics

The Journeyman lyrics

The Black Flag

I saw the stars on that black flag, flying over me
I was barefoot in this desert, cold sand under my feet
I was swearing at no-one, and turning my rosary
I was trying to understand what was happening to me
I’ve been thirstier than this, in the heart of a bar
I’ve been colder and colder, and colder by far
I’ve walked alone but I’ve never, never been afraid
But I can’t say why it feels like nothing gets heard
Then I saw the lightning up yonder, like a white sign
Saying beloved take care, I’ve got fire on my side
You wanna try and betray me, well I’m gonna find out
Confession and redemption that’s what this is all about
But all I know in this world, is that there’s truth and there’s lies
And we’re all dwelling right here, on the borderline
And if it’s the black flag of heaven, flying over this Hell
Then a sinner like me can be saved as well
I heard a wild dog howling, raging at the moon
Like it was guarding something, more precious than stones
But there’s nothing here that anyone, would want to keep
Just a promise that somewhere else there’s an innocent sleep
But I’ll be cursed from here, to my dying day
‘Cause I believed the Devil, and what he had to say
That faith was a rock, and if I walked a barefoot mile
I could find it again, that I’d be reconciled
Now I’m left standing here, on the bloodstained ground
I’ve got a smile as narrow as twilight, and sand in my wounds
There’s blood like water, but nothing’s gonna grow
‘Cause no-one here is ever gonna reap, what they sow
And if the flag hung heavy, and the stars all fell
There’d be nothing new under heaven, or over Hell
And if we’re all lost, well some of us are free
The black flag, the desert, the dog and me
The black flag, the desert, the dog and me
The black flag, the desert, the dog and me
The black flag
© The Black Flag words & music by Tom Fairnie 31st January 2002

Everybody’s Got To Learn To Dance

See the girl in the black dress
And the boy by her side
He’s followed her around the room
With his eyes
He puts his hand on her lower back
For a dance
He makes his move
He takes his chance

Everybody’s got to learn to dance
Everybody’s got to take a chance
Everybody’s got to know the tune
Everybody’s got to make their move, make their move

He tries to find a winning phrase
To make her smile
But misses every opportunity
By a mile
She just wants this shy young man
To hold her hand
To make his move
To take a chance

Everybody’s got to learn to dance...

She asks him if he knows her name
He whispers yes
He wants to tell her everything
He wants to confess
How much he’d love to touch the skin
Beneath her dress
To make his move
To take the chance

Everybody’s got to learn to dance...

The game runs at it’s own pace
The music fast or slow
The heart beats to it’s own drum
Love’s metronome
But we’ve all got to learn the steps
To that first dance
To make our move
To take our chance

Everybody’s got to learn to dance...
© Everybody’s Got To Learn To Dance words & music by Tom Fairnie 1.9.01


Wild Geese (with acknowledgement to Bob Shields)

This is a song about a woman
I met her in the old by and by
Me and her in that bar room
It was a dangerous mix of tequila and rye
And I wish I’d known back then
About all the lives I was gonna wreck
I’d be in some kind of state of grace
Instead of sitting here trying to forget
Well, you know, she wasn’t so pretty
And I didn’t think she’d mean that much to me
But I knew she was somebody’s darlin’
She’s be someone’s best memory
So this is a song for her
And for that night we met
She had a rose tattoo on her thigh
Lord, do I regret

I love you my loving darling
Forgive me for what I’ve done
I’ve done wrong once to often
Now I’ve lost what I had found

I lost the name I was given
Paid the price for my crime
Now I’m just another number
Doing ten in a twelve by nine

Take my heart now it’s broken
Lost my sweetheart divine
It was my one, my one and only temptation
I had water but I wanted wine

I close my eyes and we’re together
And I can taste the morning dew
I hear bird’s call and responding
Can you hear me calling you?

I remember late one evening
As the sky was growing dark
I saw wild geese on the river
Taking flight and heading north

Take my heart now it’s broken
Lost my sweetheart divine
It was my one, my one and only temptation
I had water but I wanted wine
© Wild Geese words & music by Tom Fairnie 2000


The Aleph (with acknowledgement to Jorge Louis Borges)

Heard my name in the pouring rain
Stood and watched it running down a drain
Held my breath on the Bridge of Sighs
Called an echo but it came back lies
Saw the marble on a step in Rome
The strangest things can take you back home
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

I heard a prayer like a dog in pain
Swam a river in a desert plain
Stayed the night in a palace once
Stayed the night in a palace twice
Stayed the night in a Spanish town
Swam in the sea but I could not drown
Made the guest at a wedding feast
A bride in white and a bloody sheet
Played some cards one night in France
Learned to drink and how to take a chance
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

Blood and water, tears and wine
Memories take more than time
They take the heart of yesterday
And friends and lovers fade away
But I wonder if they
Stay young in photographs
Stay young in old photographs

I’ve walked down roads walked by Saint Paul
The Virgin Mary and no one at all
Played guitar like a Rolling Stone
Been invited to an African throne
Saw a woman and a dying child there
Some of the past is so hard to bear
I lost my way in that blinding light
But I found my way to you tonight
Found my way to you tonight

Blood and water, tears and wine...

I’ve met the son of an African slave
Stood in silence at a soldiers grave
Saw the light die on a battlefield
Saw the truth where it was concealed
Held you close in a foreign bed
I made a promise but I never said
And the wisest man that I ever met
Said don’t remember what you can’t forget
Don’t remember what you can’t forget
Don’t remember what you can’t forget
© The Aleph music by Tom Fairnie, words by Tom Fairnie & Bob Shields March 2001

In The Turning Of Our Time

In the turning of our time
If I could see you when the snow lies
Down by willow bank and burn side
I would taste you as the snow melts on my tongue
And in the turning of our time
Or in the scented breath of sweet spring
‘midst the primrose and the columbine
I would bind you as the blood unto the thorn
And in the turning of our time

And if our time could turn again
If our time could turn again
Turn the stars to salt and sand
Turn them back by heaven’s hand
Turn the raven into dove
Turn this longing into love

In the turning of our time

If I could hear you in the ash grove
Where mavis song and leaves lie
Loving words would find a pure and nameless voice
In the turning of our time
Or I might hold you when the day ends
Curved within its slow and falling line
A river stretching free from icy winter’s sleep
And in the turning of our time

And if our time could turn again
If our time could turn again
Turn the stars to salt and sand
Turn them back by heaven’s hand
Turn the raven into dove
Turn this longing into love

In the turning of our time
In the turning of our time
© In The Turning Of Our Time words & music by Tom Fairnie, Bob Shields & Martin Boland January 2002


Dust On Dust

In the corner of the graveyard
Where blind priests hide their wine
The coldest of the angels
Cries tears of turpentine
And gives a compass reading
Which no one will believe
They’ve got no faith in science
And all it can conceive

And in a corridor in the distance
Where the dirt lies in decay
It gathers and remembers
A dustbowl far away
And a wind that came from God’s mouth
And through a Preacher's eye
To where tables beat out double-deals
And beds creak to deny

And at the edge of every silence
Where the sea takes its last breath
In the moment of its stillness
You can hear the sound of death
But it's just an echo from the past
And Sinbad knew its name
It's curled inside your footprint
And it was whispered once in shame

And for every shard of glass
That cuts us to our bone
A stained and broken window
Leaves Sebastian on his own
With arrowheads and bleeding
Red dust across the floor
To a saint in silence meeting
With a blonde behind the door

And from her mouth to the cradle
And then across her breast
Her lover's making crosses
Their union has been blessed
Upon a bed of ashes
They’re lying in disgrace
Ashamed for eating apples
But exalted by the taste

But like some kind of circus
And like some kind of fool
The beast is being tamed
By a whip and by a stool
And then the world returns to ashes
The same as it always was
When no one dreamed that chaos
Was gonna be the cause

But if the order came for everyone
To draw that fatal breath
At the moment when the sea was still
And holding on to death
He was courting that cold angel
And kissing her white lips
Sebastian was drawing blood
With just his fingertips

And there would be a cloud of anger
To come and fill the void
A vacuum of disbelief
Conceived by Doctor Freud
And the case for uncertainty
Would be proved beyond a doubt
And Schrödinger’s little cat
Would finally be let out...yeah
© Dust On Dust words & music by Tom Fairnie 9thApril 2001

The Harbour At Symi

Sail in the morning
On the warm sea
Out of the harbour
Come sail with me
Come sail with me in the morning on the warm sea
Out of the harbour
Symi

Swim in the water
Come swim with me
Mansion houses
Overlooking the sea
Come swim with me in the warm Aegean Sea
In the harbour
Symi

Building boats, sailing the sea
Calling me home, calling to me
Symi

The sun like honey
Golden over me
Turns to amber
On a still blue sea
Sun like honey, turning to amber on the sea
In the harbour
Symi

Building boats, sailing the sea
Calling me home, calling to me
Symi

Stars like windows
In a mansion house
The water still
In the harbour mouth
Windows like stars in the still dark sea
In the harbour
Symi
© The Harbour At Symi music by Tom Fairnie words by Tom & Jane Fairnie April 2002

My Little Radio

I’ve got a little radio
Plays a little zideco
A little fiddle then an old banjo
On my little radio

I got a little radio
Bakelite and a little red glow
It’s never gonna fadeo
Not my little radio

My little radio’s coming in loud and clear
My little radio’s all I want to hear
My little radio plays all night long
My little radio sings this little song

I got a little radio
Grand Ol’ Opry Show
On the waves from RKO
To my little radio

I’ve got a little radio
Townes and Country Joe
Hank Williams through the snow
On my little radio

My little radio’s coming in loud and clear…

I’ve got a little radio
Juliet to my Romeo
Sweetheart of the rodeo
She’s my little radio

I’ve got a little radio
Sunshine studio
On the way from Tupelo
To my little radio

My little radio’s coming in loud and clear…
© My Little Radio music by Tom Fairnie words by Tom Fairnie & Bob Shields 28th August 2003


The Journeyman

I’ve got no dreams and no descendants
I just am what I am
I’ve got no dependants
I’m a solitary man
And though I value my independence
I keep all the friends I can
‘Cause every single road’s a penance
To a journeyman

But Jesus was a working man
You try to do the best you can
And do something good as well
Drink a little wine sometimes
Go out with the guys
Spend some time in jail
Get a kiss and go to jail
Then you see the sky one night
You watch the stars collide
In the west, in the west
In the west, in the west

I’ve had friends that tried to love me
And lovers I’ve barely known
I’ve been familiar with plenty
Nearly been close to some
Oh but I envy you now baby
With your momma to keep you warm
On this cold and rainy highway
I just want my daddy to take me home

But Jesus was a working man
You try to do the best you can
And do something good as well
Drink a little wine sometimes
Go out with the guys
Spend some time in jail
Get a kiss and go to jail
Then you see the sky one night
You watch the stars collide
In the west, in the west
In the west, in the west

That sky is black with thunder
And the thunder’s black as stone
This cathedral roof I’m under
Was built by a journeyman
All the way from over yonder
To the cold west and beyond
But if I fell at this altar
I know he’d come and take me home

But Jesus was a workingman
You try to do the best you can
And do something good as well
Drink a little wine sometimes
Go out with the guys
Spend some time in jail
Get a kiss and go to jail
Then you see the sky one night
You watch the stars collide
In the west, in the west
In the west, in the west
In the west, in the west
In the west, in the west
© The Journeyman words & music by Tom Fairnie August 2002


Fall Alone

I think I might forget your name babe
If I could just recall a trace
Of the plan I misconceived babe
A memory without a face

In the footsteps of our parting
And in the silence of our lies
Scattered sand maps our footprints
Under the bruise of tortured skies

I may never walk that shoreline
Pebble on stone, wet with weed
Do you remember the taste at all babe
Of a second birth and a salty seed

Well a stone can skip on the water
And water can wear down stone
You can cry as much as you want to
But your tears will always fall alone

Like the memory of an ocean’s
Distant maelstrom grinding sand
Turning me in that whirlwind
Into the dust of another man

And in the taste of spindrift darkness
Broken bones are blown ashore
To be shaped again by moonlight
Into the word that was before

Then I turned back towards town babe
So much smaller I recall
I heard the tide that was your heartbeat
In that midnight water fall

Well a stone can skip on the water
And water can wear down stone
You can cry as much as you want to
But your tears will always fall alone
© Fall Alone music by Tom Fairnie, words by Tom Fairnie & Bob Shields March 2002


There’s Blue And There’s Blue

Some people are blue
‘Cause they ain’t got a penny
But they’re not so poor
They’ve still got plenty
I’m one of the few
And they’re one of the many
‘Cause I ain’t got you
And they’ve never met you

Oh, they’re not really blue
‘Cause there’s blue and there’s blue
It’s true
And there’s missing you
And I’m missing you

Some people are blue
‘Cause they’ve never been loved
Well they’re unlucky it’s true
But that ain’t so tough
‘Cause they never loved you
And it ain’t enough
To be alone and unused
If it never got rough

Oh, oh they’re not really blue
‘Cause there’s blue and there’s blue
It’s true
And there’s missing you
And I’m missing you

Some people are blue
‘Cause they’re down so deep
The whole night through
They cry in their sleep
But if they only knew
How much a grown man can weep
When a woman like you
Gets out of his reach

Oh, oh they’re not really blue...
© There’s Blue And There’s Blue words & music by Tom Fairnie 16/7/01

Rockets Over Babylon

Watched rockets flying over Babylon
An arc of stars & stripes from Washington
Another TV special another war replayed
High above the nights of the new crusade
High above the nights of the new crusade

Heard a mullah’s prayer from the minaret
Beneath an empty sky of mirage jet
Summoning the faithful to face the infidel
Tonight you’ll be in paradise or hell
Tonight you’ll be in paradise or hell

Bombs over Berlin, and the Lebanon
Bombs over Hanoi
And rockets over Babylon
There’s rockets over Babylon

There’s a crescent moon above a desert land
A river of Saracens across the sand
The night is black as oil beneath a burning spire
Where rain must fall anointed by fire
Where rain must fall anointed by fire

Saw a cowboy ride into a setting sun
From the lone star state to the Pentagon
The wagons circle round for the victory feast
As vulture shadows swoop in from the east
As vulture shadows swoop in from the east

Bombs over Berlin, and the Lebanon
Bombs over Hanoi
And rockets over Babylon
There’s rockets over Babylon

Watched rockets flying over Babylon
An arc of stars & stripes from Washington
Another TV special another war replayed
High above the nights of the new crusade
High above the nights of the new crusade
© Rockets Over Babylon words & music by Mike Dillon, Tom Fairnie & Bob Shields February 20th 2003


Rolling Home

From Fisherrow to the Neuk o’ Fife
Fishermen and fisherwives
All depend upon the silvery shoals
To turn silver into gold
Silver into gold

On the cold November sea
Sailing round the Isle o’ May
Where the silver herrin’ go
To turn silver into gold
Silver into gold

So set the course and set the sail
Look for the Dog Star to trail
Catch a rolling tide home
The winds will take you there
The waves know just where
There’s a rolling tide home
Rolling home

In the mussel beds on the back sands
In the salt water wi’ calloused hands
They fill the creels ti’overflow
In auld Fisherrow
Auld Fisherrow

And fishwives aye ca’ their men
For being faithless a’ ower again
But their hearts aye ebb and flow
Tae auld Fisherrow
Auld Fisherrow

So set the course and set the sail...

A Newhaven bride wrapped in her shawl
Waves the men folk away to trawl
The herrin’ harvest from the sea
Tae bring tae yon quay
Tae bring tae yon quay

An’ on the sea they’re a’ your friends
The winds, the waves and the fishermen
But the best friend in a’ the sea
Will bring you to yon quay
Bring you tae yon quay

So set the course and set the sail...
© Rolling Home words & music by Tom Fairnie 1969 & November 2001


When It Gets This Late In The Evening

When it gets this late in the evening
And you wonder how it got this dark
It’s cracked blue and your glass is empty
Just a whisper of bourbon and ash
The room is quiet as Sunday
And cold as a father’s curse
When it gets this late in the evening
And there’s a rumour it might get worse

When it gets this late in the evening
And the drinks are getting low
Your friends, well they’re all leaving
They got somewhere else to go
You’ve spent the whole night standing
At the dark end of the street
But when it gets this late in the evening
There’s no one left to meet

You’ve sang your last blue song
Your voice gave up its ghost
So you whisper like a deathbed confession
And say goodnight to the host
You just need something to believe in
Someone to be a friend
‘Cause when it gets this late in the evening
Just want to make it to the end

When it gets this late in the evening
You wonder how it got this wrong
Was it the crack in the glass
The bourbon or the ash
Or the minor chords in the song
Or the minor chords in the song

There are lovers in the darkness
And they’d let you take it all
For just a moment without sadness
They’re crying down the hall
There’s a Bible you’ve been reading
And there’s a bottle by the bed
When it gets this late in the evening
You’re blowing smoke rings for the dead
© When It Gets This Late In The Evening words & music by Tom Fairnie 26th March 2003


Companions

If you are tired and frightened
A child in an angry world
Someone hears you crying
No one goes unheard
And if you are cold and hungry
Abandoned to the street
In the dust and the dirt there
Too scared to fall asleep

I will be your companion
I will be your friend
I will walk the last mile with you
I will hold your hand

If they are coming for you
And you feel that ancient fear
I pray that there is mercy
And mercy may be there
If you are lost and homeless
Without a land, a refugee
I will give you shelter
There’s a shelter here with me

And I will be your companion
I will be your friend
I will walk the last mile with you
I will hold your hand

If you should become a prisoner
In a place where justice died
Hold tight to the truth
The world knows who lied
And if your heart should grow weary
And your voice be made still
I will speak for you
And a thousand others will

And we will be your companions
We will be your friends
We will walk the last mile with you
We will hold your hand

To be blamed and forsaken
To walk that empty road
To beg and be passed by
To have that pain ignored
To be grateful for small mercies
To be called by your name
To be acknowledged as a person
To stand up without shame

And I will be your companion
I will be your friend
I will walk the last mile with you
I will hold your hand
© Companions words & music by Tom Fairnie July 2001