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.

 

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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.

 

Off to Austral-i-a

Not sure if this needs a chorus… although the last line is a sort of refrain. Amy had been flying for around 18 months when she decided to fly to Australia. During this time, she had also qualified to become an aeroplane mechanic – she was the first woman to become qualified. Amy wasn’t a tub-thumping lead-the-parade feminist, she saw no reason that she couldn’t do things because she was a woman.

I could be wrong here, but researching around Amy’s flight to Australia, I got the impression that one of the reasons she embarked on the journey was to show the guys at the aerodrome that she could do it, and that she would able to get a job working in aviation, (and she didn’t mind if it was in the mechanics dept, or piloting, or anything) based on her abilities, rather than not getting the work because she is a woman.

Amy spoke of how she imagined flying to australia, then turning round, flying back and sneaking back into the aerodrome at lunchtime, so that when the men came back from their lunchhour, she’d be in her overalls, checking out an engine, saying, ‘Well lads, Johnnie’s back, and she’s done it,’ they’d all have a laugh, and a bit of a back slapping session, and life would return to normal, and people would start taking her seriously. I don’t think that she realised the enormous impact of what she was attempting to do, how her life would change afterwards, or the amount of planning and preparations that was needed before Amy could jump in her plane and fly off to Austral-i-a.

OFF TO AUSTRAL-I-A

I'm going to fly to Australia
To show them I'm no failure
I only need a set of wings and I'll be on my way
A solo flight as far as I can
Will prove I'm equal to a man
I'll set my sights and compass on Austral-i-a

If I can beg, steal and borrow
I'll set off there tomorrow
I'll pack my bags and wave goodbye, there's nothing more to say
I'll show them I can do it
I'll prove there's nothing to it
I've set my sights and compass on Austral-i-a

Flying halfway round the world 
is no challenge to this girl
I'm fully trained and ready for whatever comes my way
I've got permits and fuel stops planned
A ransom note, in case of bandits
Nothing will get between me and Austral-i-a

I've packed propellers, tyres and spares
And things to make repairs
A parachute, a knife, a gun and maps to show the way
My cockpit looks like a village store
There's food and clothes and so much more
But I'll need the lot to get me to Austral-i-a

 

next song -Jimmy & Johnnie

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song scratchings for Jimmy & Johnnie
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jimmy & johnnie page 2

This song is about Amy’s short-lived marriage to Jim Mollinson. Together they were the darlings of the air, and their combined celebrity status afforded them a life filled with all the fabulous people of the day. Brace yourself – this little vid is what happens when i first come up with an idea. If I can’t write it down, I get it down on my phone. And this way, if I get my phone stolen, or my computer pinched (again), this time all my workings and meanderings are locked into pixelworld.

JIMMY & JOHNNIE
We're going to smile for the cameras
You're handsome and I'm pretty, 
Smile for the cameras
You're charming, I'm witty
A match made in heaven, 
The Daredevil Duo
Up in the clouds 
in a plane built for two, oh
Can you see the crowds smile and wave when we're in town
We are popular people to be around

CHORUS:
Oh oh oh, there's nothing can stop us
Oh oh oh, on our way to the top
We're Jimmy and Johnnie, and we don't care
We're King and Queen of the Air

You fly, I fly
Reporters want our stories
We both fly together
And double the glories
We are fabulous and fearless
and we're nobody's fools
We're taking the risks
And changing the rules
We're moving in circles where there's glamour and style
With wall-to-wall fun and excitement by the mile...chorus

We've got a lifestyle to envy
A whirlwind of pleasure
A lifestyle to envy,
We're media treasures
We're gorgeous and crazy,
We're smoking and hot
I'm the Angel of the Sky, 
You're the Flying Scot
The invites keep on coming, the fun never ends
With the royalties and celebrities and fair-weather friends..chorus

Momma says
You're abandoning your roots
Momma says
For your fashions and your suits
Momma says
You think you're being so clever
Momma says
Nothing lasts forever
But I know she's only jealous of my life of fun and daring
Cos she's stuck at home while my Daddy's selling herring... chorus

 

Lyrics -head in the clouds

I’m writing the lyrics for ‘head in the clouds’ here – it’s a first draft. technically it’s a second draft because they were completed on the laptop that got stolen. But as all i could remember was the title, and the song has pretty much been totally transformed, its a first draft. Which means the lyrics will get honed and tightened. I promise. The tune is sorted, just need to record a simple version of it. Watch this space.

HEAD IN THE CLOUDS
The men are out on the North Sea, trawling, 
The children in the back streets, brawling 
And the women, hanging washing, calling
The kids home for the night
There's a whisper on the damp sea air,
Telling of a whole new world out there
Beyond the daily grind and cares, 
lift your head up, see the light

Sundays are for singing hymns
Praying to your god, atoning sins
If you keep your faith, you'll always win
Penny in your pocket for the words in your heart
But times are changing, tides are turning
She's stoking the fires, there's a passion burning
There's a wide world waiting and she's yearning
For life and adventures to start
CHORUS:
and oh...the living could be so easy
If you'd only step in line with the crowds, 
And oh... your life could be mapped out for you
Amy... you've got your head in the clouds

Bible stories and fairy tales, 
H.G. Wells and pirate sails, 
Action, adventures, and holy grails
There's more to life that calls
More to life than breathing and dying, 
More to life than not ever trying
More to life and she wants to be flying
Rising above it all
CHORUS

lost in a story, take me away
I'm making my own adventure one day
And I won't listen to a word you say
When you tell me I can't chose
Because I'm a woman, because I'm a girl
Because I come from the wrong kind of world, 
I'm not going fishing, I'm hunting for pearls
And I've got nothing to lose
thi
CHORUS:
And oh...the living could be so easy
If you'd only step in line with the crowds, 
And oh... your life could be mapped out for you
Amy... you've got your head in the clouds

 

This is my working sketch for the song, so I don’t forget how it goes – It’s in the wrong key, I’m playing it in D and I may transpose it to G, and it’s the first time I sang through it, so I’m sort of making the tune up as I go along – the word scanning is all over the place, and the tune will change as it gets honed and refined.

Amy Johnson Song Cycle

Amy Johnson Song Cycle

Acclaimed musician and songwriter Amanda Lowe has created ten original songs that look at the life, achievements and untimely death of pioneering aviatrix Amy Johnson. This diverse array of songs provide a picture of the life and times of Amy Johnson, covering everything from her determination to learn to fly, her early adventures in aviation and subsequent incredible achievements, her rise to celebrity status, her love life and her work during the Second World War.

Amanda’s song writing process is documented in this project blog, where details can also be found of how to get involved with the project by submitting films in response to the songs.
See Amanda perform a small selection of the songs at the Amy Johnson Festival on Saturday, July 16th as part of Hull Folk Festival, and the song cycle performed in its entirety with a full, all-female band at Zebedee’s Yard, Hull on Saturday, August 13th.