Amy Johnson Song Cycle

Yes. we’re all ready for the Big Gig tonight.

We’ve got our flying hats, our 1930’s frocks, we’ve had a little outing at the Sun Inn open mic nite, and hopefully we’ll be flying tonight.

Amanda Lowe and the Aviatrix : Amanda Lowe (guitar, mandolin, vox), Jessica Lawson (autoharp, mandolin, guitar, shakey egg, vox), Ellie Gaynard (violin, vox), Lou Duffy-Howard (Bass, vox)

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Fifty Times A Day

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I started this song ages ago and forgot about it. There was only the chorus, which was inspired by something I read about the mechanics of flying in the pioneering times of Amy Johnson.

Petrol had to be filtered through a chamois leather as it was poured into the fuel tanks, as it was stored in (often) rusty barrels, in (often) primitive airfields that might only have one or two visitors a month.

Once in the air, the petrol had to be pumped from the fuselage tanks into the top wing tanks by hand by use of a device similar to a bike pump. The seals on the pipes were never solid, and petrol would spurt out during the pumping. It took 30- 40 pumps on the hand pump to get a gallon of petrol transferred, and the aircraft had a long way to travel inbetween fuel stops,  using 50 gallons a day. Think about it.

30-40 pumps on the handpump, 50 times a day. Assuming you’re flying for say, 18 hours, that’s …. I can’t even work out the maths on that one. Squirty petrol pumping at least every half hour. And still flying, and navigating.

Amy Johnson hated the smell of petrol, but she got used to it, as it seemed to be the one constant in her life.

And here’s me, trying to work out the song…

And here’s a slightly more polished version. and I use the term ‘polished’ very lightly. Brace yourself.

We’re rehearsing this tonight, so I’ll post a much better version tomorrow.

Lyrics: 
Fifty Times A Day
I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
It takes a lot of preparation to fly
And I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
There's a lot of work to do before I get up in the sky
I've got to plan my route, raise some money
Check for stormy weather, and I'll tell you honey
I'll be pumping that petrol through fifty times a day.
Chorus:
Fifty times a day, fifty times a day
I'm pumping that petrol through, fifty times a day.
ooooh oooh oooh...

I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
It's not always a glamorous life...
And I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
That I have my share of trouble and strife
But it's worth it to look down on the world below,
And have people flock to see you wherever you go
But I'm still pumping that petrol through fifty times a day
Chorus:

I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
I hate the smell of petrol and it gets everywhere
I'll have you know (I'll have you know)
I get it on my hands, my clothes and in my hair
But when I land in Africa, a little Belgian guy
Fills my cockpit with roses, so it smells nice when I fly
but I'm still pumping petrol fifty times a day
Chorus:




 

 

One Bright Morning

Started rehearsals for the Amy Johnson Song Cycle with the band. I’m really excited and honoured to be playing with a group of exceptionally talented musicians: Ellie Gaynard – violin and vocals, Jess Simpson – autoharp, mandolin, guitar & vocals, Lou Duffy-Howard – bass and vocals, and myself. The songs are transforming themselves into gorgeousness, the music is sounding like a proper song cycle, not just a collection of songs.

The song cycle has many different themes that ran throughout Amy’s life, the yearning to make something of her life, to go beyond the ordinary, to be a pioneer, to prove herself, enjoying the unexpected celebrity status, getting tired of the constant public scrutiny, the relationships with Jim Mollinson and Amelia Earhart, and untimely deaths. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and the more I play the songs, the more I love them. Good old Amy. She’s helped me through a difficult summer.

I played the songs solo at the Hull Folk Festival, and it was good to finally give them an airing beyond pixel land. The band performance will take the songs into a completely different dimension. Will take some film of the next rehearsal, but in the meantime, here’s the four of us trying to work out harmonies for the Prologue – I’ll Fly Away

 

LAMENT FOR AMELIA EARHART

This song has been aaages in the writing. The original lyrics were all taken from an Amy Johnson quote about Amelia Earhart’s death, but I lost them when my trusty laptop was stolen, and couldn’t find the quotes anywhere. After exhausting my search, I started again from scratch.

The melody is based on a beautiful traditional tune ‘The Misty Mountains’ (NOT the one on the Hobbit), and even though I say so myself, this one is a bit of a tearjerker. It needs a different title, because the words apply to the end of Amy’s life too.

Amy and Amelia Earhart were, (contrary to the media-constructed rivalry stories), very good friends. When Amy crash-landed on her flight to America, Amelia sent some of her clothes and things to the hospital, and insisted that she stayed with her to recover. They had similar dreams and aspirations, were both passionate about flying and were true visionaries about the future of flying. After Amelia’s plane disappeared on her flight over the Pacific, Amy seemed to reassess her hunger for flying further, faster, longer, and stepped back from the limelight.

The first vid was me, waking up in the middle of the night, finally getting to the core of the song. It’s one of those weird songwriting things – I can roll a song around in my mind for ages, and until I find the core of the song, it’s backbone if you like, the hub around which everything else spins, I can’t bring the song to life. Once the core is there, the words flow.

And the first try out of the song…

LAMENT FOR AMELIA EARHART
In the still of the night I hear your voice calling
With your Icarus dreams and your melted wings falling
Fly further, fly higher, fly longer, grow stronger
Always strive, stay alive, and arrive

CHORUS:
We were sisters together, we conquered the skies,
Thought we were immortal, thought we'd never die,
Our legends will live on, our stories be told,
For we were so fearless and bold

Do you dance with the angels, or swim with the mermaids?
The rolling Pacific is hiding you still 
In a watery grave, under flotsam and waves
I hear your voice whispering still

Remember we said how we'd never grow old?
The pull of the heavens and adventures untold
We couldn't resist, but Life's bitter twist
Was too strong, took too long, did we get it so wrong?

Courage and heart are much more than they seem, 
they're the price that we pay for fulfilling our dreams, 
Life is for living, however you choose it
We were offered adventure and never refused it

We were sisters together, we conquered the skies,
Thought we were immortal, thought we'd never die,
Our legends will live on, our stories be told,
For we were so fearless and bold

 

 

OVERHAUL

Here’s the lyrics as I scribbled them down…

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This song is an imagined conversation between Amy and her father. I’ve used direct quotes from Amy – she became tired and suffocated by all the adulation, it became a vicious circle: she had to create new records and become ever more daring to make money, but the attention became too much for her – all she wanted when she began the whirlwind was to be accepted as a pilot, as a mechanic, as a woman equal in a man’s world.

This song is the age-old archetype of a daughter/son wondering if their father/mother is proud of them. I’m not sure what Amy’s relationship with her parents was like – it certainly became strained after her wedding to Jim Mollinson (she told them about it the day before; they drove all night to get to London for the wedding, and couldn’t get into the church because of the crowds), and her father had at one time, offered to pay for Amy to live in Canada rather than follow her dream to fly. Did she worry about what her parents thought about her fame and glory? Did she ever confide in her father about how it was all getting too much for her?

This song comes towards the end of the song cycle, and has a slowing down, self-reflective feel to it. I’ve used a F-G-C-Am chord progression, which is a common coda-out chord progression in songs.

Interestingly, I started the song on father’s day, and finished it the day before my father’s birthday. Read into that what you will.

I’ve filmed the writing process (I’ll up/download the films as soon as I find where I’ve packed the lead thingy), which started when I was in the middle of moving house, and finishing when the house move fell through and I became homeless. But I know my daddy is proud of me.

These first three films are me, rather bravely capturing myself as I try and coax a song from the ether. It was a very hot day, and yes, I was wearing clothes

and this is me trying out the lyrics to see if they scan… still needs a bit of work, but I have an idea of where I’m going with the song…

OVERHAUL
Hey Daddy did I disappoint you? 
I never lived like you wanted me to
My headstrong ways often made you frown
Hey Daddy, did I let you down?
But I've got adventure in my soul
And I got it all from you
You were once an adventurer,
I got my dreams from you

Look at me now, Daddy, look at me now

The King of England has heard of me
Daddy, are you proud?
I never wanted to be ordinary
I never wanted to follow the crowd
My dreams were so much less than this
But nothing ever goes as planned
I wanted acceptance, instead I got glory
Daddy, I hope you understand - 

Look at me now, Daddy, look at me now.

They want the Legend, not the person,
Everywhere I go the crowds are waiting
Cheering Amy Johnson, Amy Johnson
Daddy, I'm slowly suffocating
Look at me Daddy, I'm not happy
Happiness needs only three things
A few good friends, a small place to live,
And wings.....

Look at me now, Daddy, look at me now 

I'd trade all my fancy dresses
For a greasy overall
And a plane that's crying, 
Crying out for an overhaul
Like me, 
Daddy, like me.

 

Hold My Hand, St Christopher

This song is about Amy Johnson’s famous flight from UK to Australia. Even though she didn’t manage to break the record for a solo flight, she broke a record for the quickest time to India, and by this time the media was hooked on her story. A journey, not without incident, trials or tribulations, Amy was completely overwhelmed by the media frenzy awaiting her in Australia, and the million strong crowd who were there to greet her on her return to England.

I’ve based this song loosely on a folk melody, which had been my earworm for a while. The lyrics began with me telling the story, but quickly morphed into Amy telling the story. To tell the story in any detail, the song would be several hours long, so I’ve judiciously cut out everything except for what I need to make the song work.

here’s my lyrics, as they were scrawled down:

and here’s me seeing if the lyrics fit:

Hold My Hand, St Christopher 
Croydon,just after sunrise, 
Goggles on, saying goodbyes,
Crank that beast, point her East, Hope the devil is on my side
Rush or air, propeller's whirring,
Gypsy Moth, engine purring, 
Throttle down, leaving town, Gonna be one hell of a ride

CHORUS:
This girls from nowhere's going somewhere. 
I haven't got there yet, 
Hold my hand, St Christopher, 
I'll need all the help I can get.

Nineteen days from here to there, 
They say I'm crazy, I don't care, 
The sky is mine, I'm doing fine, I'll make it through somehow
I've looked down on mountain peaks, 
Heard palm trees rustle, dined with sheiks,
Hugged my plane when the sandstorm came - If my friends could see me now 
CHORUS:

Baghdad - what are they saying?
Who's this girl? they're going to start paying
Attention to me, 'cos they can see something in my story
India - I'm worldwide news
Record times and new breakthroughs
This Hessle Road lass has now got class, and the world is rooting for me
CHORUS

Far East - more crash landings
Fix plane - I can sleep when I'm standing
They come to greet me in their finery when I land in Singapore
I'm weary, bedraggled and dusty
But hey - this is nineteen thirty
I'm here to show that anything goes, and I'm going to go some more
CHORUS

Last leg - can't fly any faster
Plane's wrecked, held together with plasters
We're tired and worn, but still airborne across the Timor Sea
Whoo Hoo! Darwin's getting nearer
Whoo Hoo! Landing strip is clear
I'm touching down, toast of the town, Who's that girl? It's me!

Promises, Promises…

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This song is about the end of Amy’s marriage to Jim Mollinson. Amy was never happier than when up to her elbows in grease tinkering with the engine of a plane, or soaring above the clouds off on an adventure.  Jim was a bon viveur, a playboy, a freeloader and very much the party animal, frequenting seedy nightclubs and all-night drinking bars. It didn’t take long for the magic of his lifestyle to wear thin on Amy.

I’ve been listening to women blues singers of the 1920s and 30s, and particularly love Bessie Smith. This song is an unashamed nod in the direction of ‘Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out’ – I’ve used the same chord progressions.

In this video, I’m at the piano – I’m no piano player, and it won’t feature in any of the concerts, I was mapping the lyrics out and sitting at the piano as I was doing it, so I filmed myself first time I tried to put the lyrics to the chords. As with all these blog vids, they are me working the songs out, making a note of them, so I know what sort of idea I had in my mind. I make no apologies for them being rough and ready – what you see on the blog vids is not the finished product, but me giving birth to the songs, pushing them into being. If I ever work out how to attach another page onto this blog, I’ll film the songs, cleaned up, wrapped up in a blanket, and ready to face the world. Here, I’m only the midwife.

PROMISES, PROMISES
          C     E7      A7
You're a glory-leggin' good-time guy
     F            A7                Dm
You wouldn't look twice at me if I didn't fly
          f                 F+               C (Gbass)  A7
But your words dripped like honey, and your kisses were sweet
          D7                            G
And the way that you loved me swept me off my feet
          C     E7      A7
Ah.. Promises, promises, made to be broken 
          F               A7         DM
But the cheating and the lying cuts deep 
          F           F+        C(Gbass)       A7 
You're a philandering Rover, we both know it's over 
     D7                   G            C
But I ain't crying and I ain't losing sleep. 

You wanted the high life, you wanted it all 
You showed me the heavens then you let me fall 
And when I was down, you wasn't around, 
You were drinking and womanizing all over town 
Ah.. Promises, promises, made to be broken 
But the cheating and the lying cuts deep 
You're a philandering Rover, we both know it's over 
But I ain't crying and I ain't losing sleep. 

You're selfish, resentful, argumental 
And pretty women still fall for your song 
But I ain't falling no more, 
I've shown you the door 
Those seedy nightclubs are where you belong 
Ah.. Promises, promises, made to be broken 
But the cheating and the lying cuts deep 
You're a philandering Rover, we both know it's over 
But I ain't crying and I ain't losing sleep.