Murals

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I’m proud to be from Northern Ireland, and this album is my labour of love for the place.

As everyone knows, it has a troubled history.  My generation didn’t want to talk about it – it was boring, embarrassing even, to us.  But then again, we knew we weren’t Irish, which was what most people across the water labelled us as, not giving it a second thought.

It was this identity vacuum – either you quietly accepted the “Irish” label, or you got into a complicated explanation that tended to run in circles and have people nodding off – that led me to engage more deeply with Northern Irishness.  You realise that although there is no neat label you can slap on yourself, the are loads of associations, affiliations and belongings once you scratch the surface.

Then follows the history.  If the politics is in perpetual tight-lipped gridlock, this is only because the details of recent history are so copious and vivid.  Thus, no neat story, no winners and losers, no war even, just a more amorphous “conflict”, yet, again once you scratch the surface the kaleidoscope starts rolling around.  Intimidatingly complicated on first encounter, and always more sensitive than you think, but really, really interesting.

It has taught me a crucial lesson – one most people know but precious few really understand and keep at the front of their minds – that there are at least 2 sides to every story.  And as you look closer, especially into real people’s lives, the kaleidoscope turns again.

So this is my response to all of that.  It is angry and opinionated, coy and cheeky, political (if it’s really important to you, you can probably detect my biases, such as they are), sentimental and cynical.  But it is intentionally inconsistent in its perspective, duplicitous, feckless and fickle, and it is one long track – no event can be isolated, each thing blurs into the next – like real life is.

MDH
Michael Humphrey
Born Bangor, Co. Down
Hither Green, London
2017


00:00 Mural 1  

Mural1

1:54 Alec & George

Geordie you’re a boy, make a big noise
Play it in to feet, gonna be a big man someday
Lodger for a lady, Matt Busby’s new baby
Soon to be the fifth Beatle or some might say

In your nightclubs and boutiques you were talk of the town
Then a tribute on an airport when your plane went down

And maybe if I’d never left
There would still be Alec Higgins and blushing Best
Chuckling in the park as they confessed
Yes, maybe if I’d never left
You could walk past Hurricane Higgins and Geordie Best
Walking sticks leant against forgetfulness
The two old boys as the best of friends got away with all the bad stuff in the end
As if it all worked out OK, and I’d never left

Alec you’re a fiend, keep your tip clean
Tearing through the reds at the Jam Pot on Sandy Row
You went over like George after falling off your horse
How you potted from the corners God only knows

A can of Guinness for his tea is all Alec would ever need
You’re so bitter, you could never bounce back from the ban

And maybe if I’d never left
There would still be Alec Higgins and blushing Best
Chuckling in the park as they confessed
Yes, maybe if I’d never left
You could walk past Hurricane Higgins and Geordie Best
Walking sticks leant against forgetfulness
The two old boys as the best of friends got away with all the bad stuff in the end
As if it all worked out OK, and I’d never left

Geordie you’re a boy, make a big noise
Fallin’ in the street, like your Mum, to your Da’s dismay
Alec you’re a fiend, keep your tip clean
Hustling and sticking in your throat ‘til your dying day

The two old boys as the best of friends got away with all the bad stuff in the end

5:51 Find Tomorrow

“How can it possibly stop”, she said
When the news report came through
“It’s not nearly enough”, he said
In the compensation queue

A final tear the day you die
A tear held back throughout the trial
It’s time you took your time and lived your lives

Pull off your Celtic shirt
And unzip my dancin’ skirt
Your father doesn’t have to know
It’s up to us to let it go
It’s up to us to keep it close
It’s up to us to let it go and find tomorrow

Take your shoebox down from the bookcase
And turn it out across the bed
Take your mirror down, out of your face
And push the tension from your head

The casket’s closed to cold benign
The rage has rotted with their eyes
It’s time you took your time and lived your lives

Pull off your Rangers shirt
And unzip my dancin’ skirt
Your mother doesn’t have to know
It’s up to us to let it go
It’s up to us to keep it close
It’s up to us to let it go and find tomorrow

There is no impending pennance
And no agonising wait
There is no shining iceberg
To sink your ugly freight

For all your dying husbands inside
And all your mourning and ruined wives
You need to take your time
It’s time you took your time
You need to take your time and live your lives

10:06 Old Collins I 

Old Collins is a long time dead
Old Collins is a long time dead
Partition’s still and issue
We’ve yet to really miss you
They haven’t gone away he said
Old Collins is a long time dead

From Empire to a Commonwealth, a new era set the scene
A general election splits the orange from the green
Anticipate conscription and thank God for armistice
He organised the volunteers to more active service
The swift low-flying columns who hid in tenements
Dreamed up in university – a different internment
The devil De Valera would court the Catholic vote
And swan around America while Collins took the boat

11:30 Mural 2
Mural2

12:43 Paisley

There’s no substitute for status in this old dirty business
And there’s nothing like politics for patronising heretics

I’ve often imagined your funeral, where no-one f*cking came
A quiet little statement, not out of respect, but out of shame
We wait for them all to go soft and die, and lay them in the earth
Then the new state is born and immediately breaks the gangs to prove its worth

I’ve often imagined your sermons on mid-July Sundays
For all the bits you’re leaving out what’s even left to say
It’s all a bit Old Testament – the angry God says no
And promises rivers of Loyalist blood to Thatcher and the Pope

Woe unto thee, Reverend Paisley
You smiled so hard with those Ballymena teeth
For dear old Ian so loved the Lord,
Ulster fists will be banging for evermore

It’s the same for the Orange Order and the Grand Masonic Lodge
and the Church: clamber up the pyramid til you’re next to God
We wait for all that to go soft and die and lay it in the earth
Then the new state sits behind its desk and thanks Ian for all his work

Woe unto thee, Reverend Paisley
You smiled so hard with those Ballymena teeth
For dear old Ian so loved the Lord,
Ulster fists will be banging for evermore

15:43 Bloody Squaddie  

Throw a rock, throw a rock, fire a plastic bullet
Pale from shock, pale from shock, screaming for to cool it
Bogside, waterside, side-swipe riot
Peaceful march, civil rights, squaddie doesn’t but it

The delicate situation now demands
Parades and marches all be banned
Trickle down the chain of command
More than 13’s blood on your hands

They’ll smear blood on your English streets
And they’ll smear blood where your family sleeps
The delicate situation now demands
Parades and marches all be banned

Risin up against the state
Supplement the tired police
But handed to them on a plate
The only excuse they’d ever need
Shoring up to keep the state
The boys came in to keep the peace
To see a white hanky – but shoot anyway

Decades pass, and then an election
A minister for education
Could the boy knocked by the system
Re-invent and try to govern

Can we tolerate to trust him?
Or have we thrown our own white towel in?
The latest strategic action now demands
Tricky exams all be banned

Risin up against the state
Supplement the tired police
But handed to them on a plate
The only excuse they’d ever need
Shoring up to keep the state
The boys came in to keep the peace
To see a white hanky – but shoot anyway

Throw a rock, throw a rock, fire a plastic bullet
Pale from shock, pale from shock, screaming for to cool it
Bogside, waterside, side-swipe riot
Peaceful march, civil rights, squaddie doesn’t but it

Risin up…

19:04 Old Collins II

Old Collins is a long time dead
Old Collins is a long time dead
Partition’s still and issue
We’ve yet to really miss you
They haven’t gone away he said
Old Collins is a long time dead

Burning down the customs house, he’s making his demand
For the keys of Dublin Castle to be placed into his hand
Ten thousand pounds dead or alive, his blood to buy and sell
The King’s writ doesn’t run here, nor in the Woodenbridge Hotel
We got plenty of sovereignty but still no republic
The freedom to achieve freedom – banal old rhetoric
What a mess the Easter Rising, what a farce at Bail-na-Bla
What damage done by grand ideas, we’ll never know the half

20:23 Mural 3
Mural3

21:34 Greater Things  

Born in Wolverhampton, raised in South Armagh
Learned the No Surrender from the Tiocfaidh ar la
A common-law orphan, played Gaelic football
‘Til they stopped the bus in Kingsmill and just shot them all

Fair retaliation in a no-rules war
Lead to mushrooming recruitment of the young and sore
After family tragedy and carrying guns
Came up reborn, from being down in prison

Hoped to walk with God, but got waylaid
Stood against the ceasefire, felt a point should be made
In support of the marchers, kept the Orange faith
Smack and ecstasy funds a sectarian disgrace
Great books have been written about greater things

Maverick killings to support Drumcree
Michael McGoldrick, Happy Birthday Billy
Claimed undeserving of the name King Rat
Did the great inventer of the Loyalist spat

Expelled by the big boys for refusing the boat
He threatened a woman with cutting her throat
One half of an H-block, biding their time
With the INLA on the other side

They ruled no collusion, but security failed
For a thug to be silenced, a cross to be nailed
Then a dance in Dungannon got the Kingsmill routine
Another measured response in this troubled quarantine
Great books have been written about greater things

Two masked gunmen in orange shirts
Put a Shankill Road ceasefire on yellow alert
Disappear up Conway Street and back to base
Dispatched the leadership’s bullet through a red-hand face

A mural-sized message about flouting authority
The police should be given every assistance by the community
We were all told that your guns had gone
We never really believe, we hoped you’d prove us wrong
Great books have been written about greater things

It’s sad to die, it should be sad
But it all depends on the life you’ve had
Great books have been written about greater things

26:00 Your Garden

Your garden is tended by the residents
Your garden is barbaric and it’s neatly swept
Your garden is disfigured in granite
Your garden is full of tour guides so it’s never quiet

Does it calm you down?
Does it move things on?
Does it celebrate these things or commiserate?

Don’t spoil it
Don’t spoil it
To distill out bad blood you’ve got to boil it

In your garden there is a lamplight that’s always on
Your garden is for volunteers, prisoners, civilians
Your garden shows respect for those who served
Your garden is exactly what you deserve

Does it blur the lines?
Does it sanctify?
Does it pacify you lot?  Or inspire you?
Don’t spoil it
Don’t spoil it
To distill out bad blood you’ve got to boil it

Does it calm you down?
Does it move things on?
Does it celebrate these things or commiserate?
Don’t spoil it
Don’t spoil it
To distill out bad blood you’ve got to boil it

They’re whiting out the murals to stop us looking back
A parliamentary cure-all and a blue plaque
They’re whiting out the murals to stop us looking back
A parliamentary cure-all and a blue plaque

29:48 Secret Story

Stop telling my secret story
We all know it properly, we all tell it differently
So when you make your little movie, don’t be too careful
Don’t tell my version – Tell your version, or disrupt everything

Stop telling my secret story
Of bodily debris, and signs you cannot see

Photographs of weapons retired to certain shady bunker locations unknown by normals
Archive footage of civilian character actors, urgent and morose, and poses in murals
Flashbacks of night-time incendiaries, balaclavas and sunglasses at funerals
Meetings that don’t make sense, that wouldn’t happen outside the story
Chance transcendiaries of TV news and familial allegiances,
On sporting pitches and regional showcasions
Community solidarity and libraries of fraternal ties, values to unite and antagonise
A shared propaganda, fumbling in translation
From side to side, a shunting commissive, a bumpy ride
Derision and condemnation in a secretive narrative

But a flaccid third act, this ripening story, failing to inspire even speculation
After the tabulation of statistics and the invoice has been returned
Only estimation of how the car-bomb decibel used to ring
What kind of a thing? And is it too late to tell?

Stop telling my secret story
Of bodily debris, and signs you cannot see
A title doesn’t make a story you know

Compensation tossed after frustration
And monuments in gardens of earnest forgetting
No paranoia of lessons unlearned
No leap to objectivity – for that would bring
Shuddering whiplash, a mocking and crumpled rebound caused by sticky shoe-soles
The monuments are outside, and outside
Not our side and their side
On some new layer, hovering over optimism
For distant eyes, not inside lives
A pointing up of the storyline, that makes
Remembering feel like amnesia
And flashbacks quake to anaesthesia
I won’t have my story used up for that
The characters are all the same – but my movie is better cast
Some folks wouldn’t even begin to tell you because of that
They wouldn’t even tell their own children
I reserve the right to reprimand, as you observe but fail to understand
My secret story

Stop telling my secret story
We all know it properly, we all tell it differently
So when you make your little movie, don’t be too careful
Don’t tell my version – Tell your version, or disrupt everything
I will pause your movie,
And think in different directions,
And miss my connection

32:58 Old Collins III

Old Collins is a long time dead
Old Collins is a long time dead
Partition’s still and issue
We’ve yet to really miss you
They haven’t gone away he said
Old Collins is a long time dead

The IRA it can’t hold out, the Brits won’t give an inch
We cannot stomach compromise, not then nor ever since
Wild men screaming through the keyhole, safe in cowardice
They pray with their high standards although they’re meaningless
Let the radicals all kill themselves so the bores can run and run
The Boundary Commission fails to banish partition
They expected this N.I. to fail as an economic state
In 90 years, look at yourselves, do tigers hibernate?

34:22 Mural 4    
Mural4

35:46 Here We Are Again

Here we are again, here we are again

A cluster of deserters facing west with their eyes low
Here we are with breast-pocket ball-point pens queuing to go
Queuing to go

Collar and sleeves
And something to read
Here we are again

A window of acquaintance in reverse measured nicely
Here we are, but soon are gone politely: see you in a week
See you in week

For it’s blowin’ a gale
Through your January sales
Here we are again

Again we are connected and displaced
A photograph of a familiar face
You compare and check your progress with the list and miss
And kiss the tourist
The distance now endureth
To anywhere we are again

Here we are again
Imagine ‘round the status of the plans and lament the chances
Your next event is just around the bend so bend back the branches
Bend the branches back
Bend ‘em back

You haven’t a clue
What you’re going to do
Here we are again

Again we are connected and displaced
A photograph of a familiar face
You compare and check your progress with the list and miss
And kiss the tourist
The distance now endureth
To anywhere we are again, forthwith

There you are brave face, and here we are
There you are brave face, and here we are
There you are brave face, and here we are
There you are brave face, and here we are

40:05 Van the Man  

Well I went to see my idol, I thought, what if he dies on stage?
It’d be just like an undertaker dying while digging his own grave
But he didn’t, he was brilliant, and the way he played
Made me think if I’m gonna do this, I’d better up my game to stand a chance

And what else – apart from “it was good” – would I hope to write?
No matter what I was always gonna have a great night
What kind of epiphany did I half-predict?
Some kind of literary-holy-spirit-pink-fit or Ulster trance?

I played this to my idol, and asking if it was good
I watched his lips explaining to check he understood
But he didn’t, he was too polite, he liked the song a lot
And win or lose I’m gonna have to give this all I’ve got or there’s no chance

I’m well-healed, and I’m on my way back home
I’m well-heeled, and I’m after that horizon

I’m well-healed, and I’m on my way back home
I’m well-heeled, and I’m after that horizon

43:35 Losing My Accent

I remember once losing my wallet
Way back at the end of my teens
In truth it was picked from my pocket
By some hallion in search of the Queen
I expect they drank most of the money
So that probably wound up the same
But the cards must’ve been pretty useless
Because all of them brandished my name
My granny picked one in brown leather
For the wearing it had to be thick
But I lost it with all of my money
That day when my pocket was picked
I remember inside was a photo of me
And another of somebody else
There might’ve been one with the both of us
Safely hidden with my worldly wealth

15 years later I’m losing my accent
Time has hollowed the weight of my sighs
You might still decipher the spring in my step
But you’ll flag the bags under my eyes
And if when I’m talking you get distracted by a certain mutation of tone
Don’t remark that I’m losing my accent
Just raise me a glass and welcome me home

I’m gradually losing the sponsor
From the front of my Liverpool top
The white of it flakes off so easily
There’s no way that I can make it stop
Here where it used to say Carlsberg
Only these abstract shapes can be seen
Despite the washing machine’s tireless efforts
You can still make out my favourite team
The sponsor was out of date anyway
And the red it is tending to pink
It’s tricky to mask your true colours
They stick to you more than you think

But you might have noticed that I’m losing my accent
You may notice the weight of my sighs
You might have detected a spring in my step
But flagged the bags under my eyes
But if when I’m talking you get distracted by a certain mutation of tone please
Don’t remark that I’m losing my accent
Just raise me a glass and welcome me home

Sammy Crooks stands at the roadside
He’s lost all the feel of his toes
At the back of his mind he did wonder
If they’d end up as black as his robes
Old Sam’s shuffled off of his step now
But another has taken his place
You might not get the shake and the lecture
But you’ll still see a red rosy face
So put a crisp note in his barrel
Just in lieu of the myrrh and the gold
He might not talk like Big Sammy
But sure he’s there in the steps in the cold

Well if when I’m talking you get distracted by a certain mutation of tone
Don’t remark that I’m losing my accent
Just walk me through the Flagship
Through the side door of Fealty’s
Because I don’t feel that different…

49:11 Mural 5 
Mural5


Thanks to Biggy, Kiki, and Emma Peto for piano services

and to Our Wee Country for resisting easy comprehension and thereby teaching us many important things

All songs and sounds written, performed, recorded and produced by Michael Humphrey – MDH

Lyrics etc. – mdhmusic.com

It sure is some story, the tale that ends in destiny


Murals Back Cover