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)

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

 

 

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!

Quotes about flying…

I started looking for a  Leonardo da Vinci quote about flying for a song I’m rolling in my head, and have ended up with acres of quotes, which I’ve whittled down to pre-1930s. There is no doubt in my mind that some of these will sneak their way into one or two of the songs.

  • The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be? —it is the same the angels breathe.

    — Mark Twain, Roughing It, Chapter XXII, 1886

    Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see

    — Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953

    You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.

    — Amelia Earhart

    My soul is in the sky.

    — William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act V. Scene I..

    More than anything else the sensation is one of perfect peace mingled with an excitement that strains every nerve to the utmost, if you can conceive of such a combination.

    — Wilbur Wright

    By day, or on a cloudless night, a pilot may drink the wine of the gods, but it has an earthly taste; he’s a god of the earth, like one of the Grecian deities who lives on worldly mountains and descended for intercourse with men. But at night, over a stratus layer, all sense of the planet may disappear. You know that down below, beneath that heavenly blanket is the earth, factual and hard. But it’s an intellectual knowledge; it’s a knowledge tucked away in the mind; not a feeling that penetrates the body. And if at times you renounce experience and mind’s heavy logic, it seems that the world has rushed along on its orbit, leaving you alone flying above a forgotten cloud bank, somewhere in the solitude of interstellar space.

    — Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis, 1953.

    Flying was a very tangible freedom. In those days, it was beauty, adventure, discovery — the epitome of breaking into new worlds.

    — Anne Morrow Lindbergh, introduction to Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, 1929.

    Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved. There was science in each curve of an airfoil, in each angle between strut and wire, in the gap of a spark plug or the color of the exhaust flame. There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by beauty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of wind.

    I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics of the ground; one that was richer because of its very association with the element of danger they dreaded, because it was freer of the earth to which they were bound. In flying, I tasted a wine of the gods of which they could know nothing. Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days? I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary life time.

    — Charles A. Lindbergh, The Spirit of St. Louis.

    I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things …

    — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

    Courage is the price that life extracts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things.
    The soul that knows it not knows no release from little things.
    Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
    Nor mountain heights, where bitter joy can hear
    The sound of wings.

    — Amelia Earhart

    [I’m] getting housemaid’s knee kneeling here gulping beauty.

    — Amelia Earhart, comment in logbook, 1928.

    Sometimes I feel a strange exhilaration up here which seems to come from something beyond the mere stimulus of flying. It is a feeling of belonging to the sky, of owning and being owned — if only for a moment – by the air I breathe. It is akin to the well known claim of the swallow: each bird staking out his personal bug-strewn slice of heaven, his inviolate property of the blue.

    — Guy Murchie, ‘Song of the Sky,’ 1954.

    Travelers are always discoverers, especially those who travel by air. There are no signposts in the air to show a man has passed that way before. There are no channels marked. The flier breaks each second into new uncharted seas.

    — Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient, 1935

    To most people, the sky is the limit. To those who love aviation, the sky is home.

    — anon.

    They shall mount up with wings as eagles.

    — Isaiah 40:31.

    We who fly do so for the love of flying. We are alive in the air with this miracle that lies in our hands and beneath our feet.

    — Cecil Day Lewis

    Flying alone! Nothing gives such a sense of mastery over time over mechanism, mastery indeed over space, time, and life itself, as this.

    — Cecil Day Lewis

     Pilots are a rare kind of human. They leave the ordinary surface of the word, to purify their soul in the sky, and they come down to earth, only after receiving the communion of the infinite.

    — Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, President of Ecuador.

    Until now I have never really lived! Life on earth is a creeping, crawling business. It is in the air that one feels the glory of being a man and of conquering the elements. There is an exquisite smoothness of motion and the joy of gliding through space. It is wonderful!

    — Gabriele D’Annunzio, 1909.

    Flying has always been to me this wonderful metaphor. In order to fly you have to trust what you can’t see. Up on the mountain ridges where very few people have been I have thought back to what every flyer knows. That there is this special world in which we dwell that’s not marked by boundaries, it’s not a map. We’re not hedged about with walls and desks. So often in an office the very worst thing that can happen is you could drop your pencil. Out there’s a reminder that are a lot worse things, and a lot greater rewards.

    — Richard Bach, television interview.

    Oh, that I had wings like a dove, for then would I fly away, and be at rest.

    — Psalms 55:6.

    When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with all other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.

    — John Muir, Travels in Alaska, 1915.

    I have often said that the lure of flying is the lure of beauty. That the reasons flyers fly, whether they know it or not, is the aesthetic appeal of flying.

    — Amelia Earhart.

    The great bird will take its first flight … filling the world with amazement and all records with its fame, and it will bring eternal glory to the nest where it was born.

    — Leonardo da Vinci

    A sky as pure as water bathed the stars and brought them out.

    — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, first sentence of Southern Mail, 1929.

    What freedom lies in flying, what Godlike power it gives to men … I lose all consciousness in this strong unmortal space crowded with beauty, pierced with danger.

    — Charles A. Lindbergh

    Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.

    — Amelia Earhart

    A man can criticize a pilot for flying into a mountainside in fog, but I would rather by far die on a mountainside than in bed. What sort of man would live where there is no daring? Is life itself so dear that we should blame one for dying in adventure? Is there a better way to die?

    — Charles A. Lindbergh

    How many more years I shall be able to work on the problem I do not know; I hope, as long as I live. There can be no thought of finishing, for ‘aiming at the stars’ both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.

    — Robert H. Goddard, in a 1932 letter to H. G. Wells.

    I think it is a pity to lose the romantic side of flying and simply to accept it as a common means of transport, although that end is what we have all ostensibly been striving to attain.

    — Amy Johnson, Sky Roads of the World, 1939.

    Aeronautics confers beauty and grandeur, combining art and science for those who devote themselves to it… . The aeronaut, free in space, sailing in the infinite, loses himself in the immense undulations of nature. He climbs, he rises, he soars, he reigns, he hurtles the proud vault of the azure sky …

    — Georges Besançon, founder of the first successful aviation journal L’Aérophile, February 1902.

    Live thy life as it were spoil and pluck the joys that fly.

    — Martial, Epigrams, A.D. 86.

    These bright roofs, these steep towers, these jewel-lakes, these skeins of railroad line — all spoke to her and she answered. She was glad they were there. She belonged to them and they to her… . She had not lost it. She was touching it with her fingertips. This was flying: to go swiftly over the earth you loved, touching it lightly with your fingertips, holding the railroads lines in your hand to guide you, like a skein of wool in a spider-web game — like following Ariadne’s thread through the Minotaur’s maze, Where would it lead, where?

    — Anne Morrow Lindbergh, The Steep Ascent, 1944.

    I don’t understand these people anymore, that travel the commuter-trains to their dormitory towns. These people that call themselves human, but, by a pressure they do not feel, are forced to do their work like ants. With what do they fill their time when they are free of work on their silly little Sundays?
    I am very fortunate in my profession. I feel like a farmer, with the airstrips as my fields. Those that have once tasted this kind of fare will not forget it ever. Not so, my friends? It is not a question of living dangerously. That formula is too arrogant, too presumptuous. I don’t care much for bull-fighters. It’s not the danger I love. I know what I love. It is life itself.

    — Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand, and Stars, 1939.

    And if flying, like a glass-bottomed bucket, can give you that vision, that seeing eye, which peers down on the still world below the choppy waves — it will always remain magic.

    — Anne Morrow Lindbergh, North to the Orient, 1935.

    To fly! to live as airmen live! Like them to ride the skyways from horizon to horizon, across rivers and forests! To free oneself from the petty disputes of everyday life, to be active, to feel the blood renewed in one’s vein — ah! that is life… . Life in finer and simpler. My will is freer. I appreciate everything more, sunlight and shade, work and my friends. The sky is vast. I breathe deep gulps of the fine clear air of the heights. I feel myself to have achieved a higher state of physical strength and a clearer brain. I am living in the third dimension!

    — Henri Mignoet, L’Aviation de L’Amateur; Le Sport de l’Air,1934.

    Many wonderful inventions have surprised us during the course of the last century and the beginning of this one. But most were completely unexpected and were not part of the old baggage of dreams that humanity carries with it. Who had ever dreamed of steamships, railroads, or electric light? We welcomed all these improvements with astonished pleasure; but they did not correspond to an expectation of our spirit or a hope as old as we are: to overcome gravity, to tear ourselves away from the earth, to become lighter, to fly away, to take possession of the immense aerial kingdom; to enter the universe of the Gods, to become Gods ourselves.

    — Jerome Tharaud, ‘Dans le ciel des dieux,’ in Les Grandes Conferences de l’aviation: Recits et souvenirs, 1934.

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.

 

I’ll fly away – a song begins

I’ve had a music motif in my head for a while – I tried to post it on my very first blog post on here, and couldn’t work out how to post…

here’s the original video – I had an idea and I put it down:

 

And here’s the bigger idea piece:

… apparently I’m not as up to speed as I thought I was, it needs down/up? loading onto youtube first, and it’s taking forever. So I shall write down my musings on how this song may take shape. I like the idea of a pentatonic scale improvisation to convey that flying feeling – despite all the glory and adventure, part of the calling of the early pioneer aviators must have been that feeling beyond words they experienced when flying… I want this piece to be an improvisation, but I have an idea to base it loosely around the old folk song ‘I’ll fly away’. So, here’s some widdlings, in their embryonic state, it’s ropey, I’m literally playing it as I’m thinking about it, without rehearsal, floating ideas as i play.

And while the video thingy is down/up loading (note to self: record it on the phone cos when you record it direct onto the computer, it takes forever to down/up load), here’s the progress report on Lament for Amelia Earhart:

In my original research note taking (the ones lost with my stolen laptop), I had found some gorgeous quotes from AJ and AE about flying, and a lovely epitaph from AJ about AE’s disappearance. Couldn’t find the quotes the other day; they must be in the one book I haven’t re-borrowed. But I did read around the relationship between AJ and AH – the media portrayed them as bitter rivals, but they were in fact close friends, and very much kindred spirits, both were dedicated pioneers, neither flew for the glory, but accepted that they needed the glory in order to fund further missions. When Amy and Jim Mollinson crash-landed on their flight to America, the first thing  Amelia Earhart did was to send Amy some clothes, and she invited them to stay at her house. Jim didn’t care for Amelia, thought she was too down to earth, intelligent, and impervious to his charms, but (probably for the very same reasons) Amy and Amelia bonded and became close friends.

So, no, m’lud,  I’ve not put that song to bed yet, but in my defence I’m waiting on the book to surface, because I want to use the quotes as the backbone to the song.

Aaaaand it’s down/uploaded! so here you go – the beginnings of a songwriting process – That Flying Feeling (and I reserve the right to completely change the title, and everything about it).