Digging two graves

“Before You Embark On A Journey Of Revenge, Dig Two Graves” — Confucius

I’ve been working on a song called Rivers of Blood this week. I thought I’d finished all the tracks for my Grass Mud Horse album, but maybe not. If I’m left with a choice, and I have songs left over that’s a good thing I suppose. I’ll let you watch a video demo I did of the song to give you a taste…

Rivers of blood is a song I started working on about a year ago when I was in Inner Mongolia for Spring Festival, and I left it on the back burner. I was on a big Dungeons and Dragons kick at the time and I’d been writing some storylines and character arcs and I think that naturally spilled over into a song.

The premise is a tale of retribution and revenge. A kingdom has fallen to its sworn enemy. The invaders are savagely oppressing and murdering the citizens. Before he is captured the conquered King has sent his only son and heir away in secret to a land far across the sea. When the Prince comes of age he returns to his homeland to take it back and free his people at any cost. The invaders limp home with whats left of their tattered army. Many years later the stories and songs passed down by the defeated invaders stir up the old hatred again and the cycle of violence is reborn.

Essentially it’s a story of how violence begets violence; whilst also touching on the dangers of nationalism. I also find it interesting how some cultures keep traditions of hatred and violence alive through their songs, stories and culture. Sometimes these songs and stories can be breathtakingly beautiful but perhaps they also serve a terrible and unfortunate purpose?

Lyrics for Rivers of Blood

As I said earlier the lyrics tell a story, however I tried to leave certain details to the listeners imagination. For instance I don’t mention any countries or names. I leave the time-period somewhat vague (though it obviously isn’t modern); and I also don’t reveal if we’re dealing with history or fantasy. Part of my reason for this is to allow the listener to project their own ideas onto what they’re hearing; but it’s also because the tale itself is something humanity has been doomed to repeat over and over again, across continents, and throughout the ages. Here’s a shot of my lyrics diary…

I wrote these up as finished, but have still been amending.

The first verse sets the scene with a young prince in hiding, telling us all the horrific stories he’s been told whilst in exile from his homeland. The second verse talks of his secret return, to unite his people against their oppressors and restore himself as the king or whatever. I think at this point the listener is firmly on the princes side, so that’s why I change the tone for the third and final verse. At this point things get quite graphic and violent. They’re not just going to kick the invaders out, they’re going to decimate them, women and children included. The second half of the final verse then sort of tells the moral of the tale and wraps the song up.

“Before You Embark On A Journey Of Revenge, Dig Two Graves” — Confucius

….ok so here are the lyrics

Rivers of Blood
By Chris Barry

Verse 1

It’s many a year since I ran away,
Since I left the home, where I longed to stay,
They came uninvited, they raped and they stole,
they burnt down our crops, they burnt down our homes,

Tales are told in the Taverns and Town,
That tell of the evil new ways they have found,
To murder my people for no cause at all,
And by rope hang their bodies from the old castle walls,

Verse 2
I’ve stollen aboard a ship where I hide,
Wet hungry and cold for a half dozen nights,
No longer the boy, that I used to be,
By my sword I’m a man, with a clear destiny,

My father ‘oft told me that this day would come,
When his fallen kingdoms prodigal son,
Would return to bring glory and vanquish the foe,
Whose tight hold on our yoke, I would soon overthrow,

Verse 3
For no quarter I’ll ask and no quarter I’ll give,
No enemy soul, will I suffer to live,
Without mercy we’ll slay with axe, sword and knives,
The invaders will perish with their children and wives,

In the years that follow when their boys become men,
All the stories and songs, stir the hatred again,
And so from their homeland, they set sail once more,
To bring death and dismay to our poor countries shores,

Home, Home, I’ll find my way home,
Through rain, sleet and fog, I’ll find my way home,
No more, No more, so let it be known,
Through Rivers of Blood, I’ll take back my home,

Home, Home, I’ll find my way home,
‘cross rivers and bog, I’ll find my way home,
A call, A call, that summons me home,
Through Rivers of Blood, I’ll take back my home,

A lesson learnt in time…

Ok so when I started recording the song for the GMH album I instantly hit a snag whilst trying to program the drums and get the project set up. If you did indeed watch the video above then you will have heard that the song has a kind of mid-paced, driving Irish triple time feel to it. Turns out the song is in 6/8 time. I didn’t have any intentions towards the time sig etc when I wrote it, it just came out with that feel.

Anyway I couldn’t quite figure out what the correct time signature was at first and I really thought it was in 3/4 time…I also had the click track twice as fast as it should be. So essentially the drum program is trying to create a pattern that follows a baseline that’s at about 90 BPM in 6/8 time, but I’m telling my DAW that it’s 180 BPM in 3/4.

If you know music theory, you know that technically it should all still work as 90 is half of 180, and 3/4 is divisible within 6/8. HOWEVER life doesn’t work that way and things are much more complicated with drums and where the downbeats fall etc, so I ended up with something that wasn’t exactly wrong, but didn’t sound at all right either. There is a lesson here and I’m getting to it, so bare with me :).

Essentially I was contemplating just working with what I had, and admitting defeat; but I wasn’t happy and I refused to compromise. So I went back to back square one. I actually deleted the whole session and started over. This time I revisited grade 6 music class and clapped along to my demo to find the time sig, and then I saw what I’d missed.

Something I’ve learned as a musician/songwriter is that of all the battles you face on your road to success (and they are monumental), perhaps the biggest battle is against yourself. The urge to “just compromise” is an ever-present issue to be confronted by songwriters. If your gut says “this is shit”, or “somethings not quite right.” You NEED to pay attention. If you record a vocal take and think to yourself, “that one will do”; do it again! I know it’s annoying to hear this, but you know I’m right.

The song isn’t ready to share unfortunately. It’s got a different feel than even the other folky/Celtic punk stuff with Grass Mud Horse…this one is slower and feels like heavy metal at times, so I’m taking my time to get things right.

I do have a couple other things I can share though that I worked on this week. Firstly I did a drawing as a mock-up for a mascot/logo type thing for Grass Mud Horse…so here’s that….Lliam the Llama…

Lliam the Llama

Also I did a lot more work on my pirate punk shanty No Prey! No Pay! and added some cool sound effects…..boat creaking for intro, cannon shot, and a sword being drawn out…I think the mix is better now, so check it out below!

>>>Listen to No Prey! No Pay! Here<<<

Well that’s it for this blog. I’m hoping next week I’ll have some Christmas jumper photos of GMH to share, and hopefully my Christmas single will be out and available….but I don’t know for sure. It’s kind of last minute to release it for this Christmas, but we probably will anyway cos we got to start somewhere. Also next week I should have a mix of Rivers of Blood ready to share.

Thanks for reading….please subscribe and leave comments etc!

Chris 🙂

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