Reflections on War

by Gary Miller

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about

'Reflections on War' is the title of Gary Miller's groundbreaking and highly-anticipated 'comeback' album of 2010, following a long-term absence from live performance and recording, due to a long period of illness. Released on Whippet Records (WPTCD22) and produced by award-winning producer, musician, and songwriter Iain Petrie.

“This CD grew out of my involvement in the community arts project ‘Reflections on War’ at York Art Gallery, as part of the Territories Project for York Museums Trust. Assistant Curator of Arts Learning, Gaby Lees asked me to facilitate a series of songwriting and poetry workshops over 6 sessions in April-June 2009. It was my pleasure and privilege to meet and work with a wonderful group of people in developing an exhibition based on war-themed art and memorabilia from the Museum’s collection, aswell as personal stories and recollections on the subject of war. The work created by the participants (a fascinating collection of poems and stories) is collected in two superb books which perfectly supplement this fine exhibition. In addition, I was inspired through the project to create a series of songs of my own, often inspired through direct involvement with the participants themselves. I was particularly interested in focusing on the personal impact of war through its effect on individuals. When the opportunity arose to record some of these songs for this collection, I never imagined at the outset that the results would be made available to be heard outside the small circle of people involved in the original project. The recording project, however, developed and grew and took on a life of its own – and so here are the results for all to hear!”
Gary Miller (from ‘Reflections on War’ CD sleeve notes)


REVIEWS:

"Gary Miller has a distinctive voice which he uses to deliver songs in a very direct manner. On this CD, however, he has experimented with different approaches. These contrasts, combined with varied musical arrangements on each track and Gary’s ability to compose strong melodies, make for a riveting listen... those who seek challenge and intelligence in the music they listen to will, like me, welcome the re-emergence of this unique talent." Joe Grint, Tykes News, UK.

"Lots of actually quite decent songs about soldiers and war with good folk-rockish arrangements." fRoots, UK.

"A very exciting, multi-faceted view of war from Gary Miller. Gary and his brother formed the Whisky Priests and produced many wondrous cds filled with the culture and folk art of the North-East of England. This look at war is equally folky and earthy. But it is also reflective and inspirational - comforting. Great listening with a variety of styles and textures. Highly recommended. The cd is truly inspiring and uplifting and covers the phenomena of war now so much a part of our own experience today. Well worth listening to." Conrad Jay Bladey, Hutman Productions, USA.

"His lyrics are of the same quality as those popular WW1 songs from Scotsman-turned-Aussie Eric Bogle. Musically he is branching out in different directions, there are tracks we're used to from the Priests, but he is also covering new ground... Gary Miller is back on track." Walkin' T, Folkworld, Germany.

"What can I say - The Whisky Priests were one of the great under-rated bands, and Gary is one of the greatest songwriters the UK has ever produced and again, much uner-rated. This album is sheer genius. Buy it now." Anders Moskus, iTunes.

credits

released 01 January 2010

All tracks written & composed by Gary Miller, except ‘Battleships’ (lyrics adapted by Gary Miller from a collection of phrases and comments by the ‘Reflections on War’ community arts group).
All tracks: Copyright Control / MCPS/PRS.

Recorded in the Cosmic Egg, on various scattered days between August and November 2009.
Produced, Engineered and mixed by Iain Petrie.
Remastered at Castle Sounds Studio, Pencaitland by Stuart Hamilton on 4th December 2009.

GARY MILLER – vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin, octave mandolin, percussion.
IAIN PETRIE – electric guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, djembe, percussion, programming, vocals.

Additional Musicians:
ARTHUR CROSS – whistles and backing vocals on ‘Twa Scots Soldiers’.
RACHEL CROSS – fiddle and backing vocals on ‘Twa Scots Soldiers’.
SHEILA CROSS – backing vocals on ‘Twa Scots Soldiers’.
GRAEME KENNEDY – cornet on ‘Bold As Brass’.
ALISTAIR PETRIE – piano and hammond organ on ‘Bold As Brass’, ‘Sister of Mercy’, ‘Somewhere at the Front, Somewhere’, ‘Grandpa Mill’, ‘A Hospital Ship at Tobruk’ and ‘Soldiers of The Lord’.
BARBARA PETRIE – lead vocals on ‘Grandpa Mill’ and harmonies on ‘Bold as Brass’ and ‘Battleships’.
And not forgetting the Veterans of Mons Male Voice Choir for their stirring rendition of ‘Soldiers of The Lord’.

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about

Gary Miller Scottish Borders, UK

Gary Miller first rose to prominence with internationally renowned folk-rock band The Whisky Priests (1985-2002), founded with his twin brother Glenn - “the Joe Strummer and Mick Jones of Folk Music". In 2010, following long-term illness, he released ‘Reflections on War’, his debut solo album and first CD of all new material in 10 years and returned to international touring. ... more

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Track Name: Twa Scots Soldiers
TWA SCOTS SOLDIERS

Twa Scots soldiers enlisted fae France
Spurred on by Kitchener to take their chance
Against the Kaiser with a screech and a yell
And make him afraid o’ the Ladies From Hell

Dressed in khaki kilts and a fine pair of spats
Standing in line like real cool cats
Glengarry on each heid and a gun in each fist
What possessed these twa canny lads to enlist?

From Mons to Ypres all the way through the Somme
Would they be left standing when their mates are all gone
To look back and wonder how they ever returned hame
Or will they no’ come back again?

Twa sweethearts did they leave behind
To worry themselves nearly out of their minds?
“Dinnae fret me hinny just bide yer time
For we’ll both be back by Christmastime”

“Oh laddies ye dinnae ken the danger that ye’re in
Before ye’ve grown accustomed to the smoke and the din
O’ the rattle o’ machineguns and the whiz-bangs crashing loud
They’ll be wrapping yer wee bodies up in a shroud”

From Mons to Ypres…

One looks down and examines his gun
Will it keep him alive until the War is won?
The other stares ahead wi’ a pipe in his teeth
A young-old face, what thoughts lie beneath?

Is he thinking o’ his hame in the hills and glen?
Daydreaming o’ adventure wi’ the rest o’ the men?
Is he lost in premonition o’ the horrors ahead?
Does his spirit hear the pibroch sounding for the dead?

From Mons to Ypres…

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Bold as Brass
BOLD AS BRASS

Sat in your uniform looking real class
Striking a pose as bold as brass
You played a mean cornet in a military band
The finest sound in all of the land

The girls all adored you; it was always a lark
When the band came to play in Battersea Park
Polished and smart, a mighty fine gang
All for one, one for all, when the instruments sang

So blow on your cornet, blow it loud and proud
When the band would strike up, what a heavenly sound

An old photograph in sepia tones
Shows all of the boys in impeccable rows
Trombones and euphoniums, marching snares and bass drum
Cornets and tuba and a shield proudly won

So blow on your cornet,…

As the call went out, “there’s a war to be won”
Rifles and bayonets replaced cornets and drums
Down on the platform there was not a dry eye
As they wished you luck as they waved you goodbye

An artillery officer astride a fine mount
Twice gassed ’midst the carnage, still not out for the count
But no longer to blow so bold on your brass
With your lungs constricted by the harsh mustard gas

So blow on your cornet, blow it loud and proud
When the band would strike up, what a heavenly sound
And though sweet music fades, its memory flows
Are you playing in Heaven now God only knows?
As the angels sing when your cornet blows
I’ll be blowing your trumpet wherever I go

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Sister of Mercy
SISTER OF MERCY

A kind angel does her rounds
As the bombs fall all around
Never ceasing, never failing
Her young heart pounds
So very, very weary, constantly weary
Through eyes tired and bleary she smiles

She says, “God deems I will survive
I thank God that I’m alive
To comfort and to strive
Where but for the grace of God go I”

She calms the sobbing ones
Who quake in terror of the bombs
Brightened by a good sing-song
They pray their nightmare won’t last long
Just to know that she was there to keep them from despair
Their need lends courage to keep her going strong

She says, “I live from day to day
I see each bombing raid’s display
As the ack-acks strafe and stray
And the casualty list rises every day”

Like the Lady of the Lamp, burning bright
This Rose of Heaven brings comfort, love and light
While underneath the lamplight no nightingale sings
In Berkeley Square the sirens sing
While a city burns to the ward she returns
And the wild-eyed stares of those who need her care
She will constantly be there
The Sister of Mercy heeds their prayers

Hardly time for a cup of tea
Oh for a nice cup of tea!
In the cover point she sleeps
In slumber dead and deep
In her uniform she lies for two hours at a time
And then it’s time to rise and start again

Like the Lady of the Lamp…

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Somewhere at the Front, Somewhere
SOMEWHERE AT THE FRONT, SOMEWHERE

Somewhere at the front, somewhere
A soldier sits with pad and ink
Lampooning all the things that he sees there
It might cause a bit of a stink
For if the CO learns of it, quicker than a blink
He’ll have him cleaning the latrines or even in the clink
For it wouldn’t do for Tommy to question or to think
Somewhere at the front somewhere

Now Tommy has a lot of gripes
So to comment on army life
He draws cartoons that take almighty swipes
Whilst making fun of all his troubles and his strife
He’ll grouse about the billets swarming everywhere with rats
But it’s far worse in the trenches where they’re as big as cats
They’ll empty out your mess tin then fill up your tin hats
Somewhere at the front, somewhere

There are bits of onion floating in your tea
To wash down bully beef or plum and apple jam
While the generals sit in chateaux sipping brandy
To wash down all their lovely eggs and ham
Now two teaspoons of rum just doesn’t seem quite fair
To give Tommy the courage he needs for trench warfare
What can he do but raise a shrug and shout “C’est la Guerre!”
Somewhere at the front, somewhere

Exhausted you’re made to stand in line
For medical inspections and parades
Bellybuttons touching backbones, every one
Like skeletons, what specimens we make!
The MO walks along the line and grabs you by the balls
And squeezes them until you cough, it makes you feel so small
We’ll use his balls for marbles so he has no balls at all
Somewhere at the front, somewhere

Tommy’s work encapsulates the human spirit
Over the cruel inhumanity of war
It’s got comedy, cynicism, and satire
Parody, anger, wistfulness and more
You won’t see it in Punch or hear it proclaimed as art
But it speaks for every Tommy whoever played his part
In every grim fiasco that tore his life apart
Somewhere at the front, somewhere

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Grandpa Mill
GRANDPA MILL

Grandpa Mill, I see you
As a short but handsome young man
Too young was I to understand
The pain and suffering you went through

Sitting on your lovely horse
Before the mustard gas attacked you
Through your long years, what could you do
But face it bravely of course

I remember many things
The short, sharp bark when you laughed
The clean white hanky that sponged away the tears
But most of all, I recall my love for you

Grandpa, dry your eyes
Let me take the pain away
I never once heard you complain
Grandpa, dry your eyes

And Grandpa, through the years
I recall your winning smile
You kept joking all the while
Grandpa, through the tears

I remember many things…

Playing cards on rainy days
Then a change upon your face
Abject misery mixed with rage
Let me take the pain away

Now I’m older and you’re gone
You fought your battles through the years
I never understood your moods then
But I do now

I remember many things…

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Battleships
BATTLESHIPS

A brooding menace ’neath ghostly clouds
A monstrous image of war
Mask-like, cold and inhuman
Far from a civilized shore

“This is our great navy
Britannia rules the waves
Sending all our foes to flight
Or down into watery graves”

Behemoths symbolic of military might
A mechanical horror displayed
It’s war at a distance, powerful, aggressive
A warning sign: “Be afraid”

“This is our great navy…”

Everything is faded battleship gray
The sky is heavy, like lead
Ominous, waiting, the Winter Sea
A landscape fit for the dead

“This is our great navy…”

A sense of security, fearless, remorseless
So the public feel safe in their homes
A show of strength, moving forward, relentless
An unstoppable machine heaves and groans

“This is our great navy…”

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: A Hospital Ship at Tobruk
A HOSPITAL SHIP AT TOBRUK

Reading your memoirs transported me
Across the years over Time’s rolling sea
Of the salt sea air and its smells I partook
As I stood on a hospital ship at Tobruk

You gave me a feel for the casualty rate
They were shovelling them out in increasing spate
Just one theatre of operations on which I did look
As I stood on a hospital ship at Tobruk

I witnessed the bombardment; I saw the shells burst
I tasted the blood; I was choking from thirst
I heard a machinegun go rat-a-tat-tat
To the beat of your resolute heart

“You are real, you’re a woman!” a young laddie cried
You became real to me as I read of your trials
An angel in white, tending her flock
Of wounded on a hospital ship at Tobruk

So standing there ’midst the sights and the smells
My senses experiencing part of the hell
Just a small part of you, I trembled and shook
As I stood on a hospital ship at Tobruk

Then back to the present safely I stand
There is still part of you I can touch with my hand
Your cape and your medals, your portrait so fine
Gazing out at me out of time

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Yellow Bird
YELLOW BIRD

Oh what has become of your gentle hands
That softly caressed a love so dear?
Now chemically stained and rough like sand
They caress mute packages of death and fear
On the Devil’s Altar behold each shell
Swing the mallet; force the powder in
Make them ready to deliver a gift from Hell
Pray your own luck is in

And sing my yellow bird sing

Oh what has become of your delicate face
That broke the hearts of the boys so dear?
So milk-white soft with a porcelain grace
Before the boys all marched from here
To remember you just as you were
Many never to return
Before your health was ruined beyond repair
And you watched your future burn

Sing my yellow bird sing

So far from the effect
You fight for the cause
Steadfast on your alternate frontline
For excitement, for the money, or to do your bit
Or to live up to the boys
To whom you waved goodbye

Oh what has become of your beautiful mind?
Tell me now how do you view the world?
Through the warlike nature of humankind
And your own contentment in your dangerous work
Do you see the devastation in your dreams?
Are you wracked and torn with guilt?
Or has your heart grown immune to the nightmare screams
Of an innocence that can never be rebuilt?

Sing my yellow bird sing

For the Barnbow Lassies and the Gretna Girls
The Woolwich Arsenal gang aswell
And all those munitionettes who fell
From England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales
To their counterparts on the whole world stage
“Grant them O Lord eternal rest
And let perpetual light shine upon them”

Sing my yellow bird sing

Sing of the peace that the dove may bring
Take wing my yellow bird take wing
Take heart, risk flight, break out of your cage
Roam free in the light where wars don’t rage
Never worry about a thing

And sing my yellow bird sing

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: Soldiers of the Lord
SOLDIERS OF THE LORD

Over ‘No Man’s Land’ march the Ghosts of Agincourt
Keeping time with bows in hand as the big guns pound and roar
We are unafraid like the brave old knights of yore
We are soldiers of the Lord

Every side is singing its own battle hymn
Whether British, French or German we’ve all put our faith in Him
When God is on your side the other side can’t win
We are soldiers of the Lord

Whether Saint George charging with his sword up in the air
Or Joan of Arc with her flaming hair
With an angel and a prayer we will not despair
We are soldiers of the Lord

The pieces are moving; the knights are in the sky
The King is in his counting house far behind the lines
We are simply pawns, made to do or die
We are soldiers of the Lord

Whether Saint George charging…

The Spirit of War amidst a dazzling light
Lifts our hearts and puts our enemies to flight
Donkeys bray and we charge with a lion’s might
We are soldiers of the Lord

Whether Saint George charging…

With a need for signs and wonders an urban myth takes wing
Behind a choir of angels we sing-a-ling-a-ling
Let the Bells of Hell go ting-a-ling-a-ling
We are soldiers of the Lord

Whether Saint George charging…

(Gary Miller)
Track Name: One Soldier's Thoughts
ONE SOLDIER’S THOUGHTS

I just called round to say farewell
For they’re sending us soon deep into Hell
Where the hot baking sun offers you no respite
Until your bones chill to ice in the cold desert night

I just want to give you a few of my thoughts
Whether or not you think that I ought
To be doing my duty and if I should go
Well this is my life; it’s all that I know

Now don’t be alarmed at this state that I’m in
I may have ballooned but in time I’ll be thin
They’ve just fattened us up for the trials ahead
Like slaughterbound lambs to the abattoir led

All those close to me have trials of their own
So they mustn’t know this fear that I feel
I’ll laugh and I’ll joke and make light of it all
And pretend that it just isn’t real

I hope there’s enough body armour to spare
Those who send us care nothing about our welfare
Despite tanks, helicopters and predator drones
We’re under-equipped, fed by lies and alone

In this war of aggression we’re just pawns in their game
Placed on the frontline for death or for blame
Human shields, human misery, atrocities galore
Do our leaders share my reflections on war?

When I come home they might dress me in shorts
With no need for shoes when my ticket’s been bought
No more like a fool for the last bus to run
But knowing that two legs are better than none

I seek neither glory nor undying fame
Neither medals nor honours so grand
Just to return through fate or God’s will if I can
Home from Afghanistan

So please don’t miss me when I’m gone
Pray for us who into this maelstrom are hurled
While I dream of those dearest to me
And pray for peace in a better world

(Gary Miller)