Hard Days for Dreamers

 

As soon as I started learning to play the guitar, I started writing songs.* As I worked my way through Russ Shipton’s The Complete Guitar Player book, each new chord or technique generated a new song utilizing them. Although this certainly helped augment my repertoire beyond the 60s hits and folk standards in Shipton’s tuition book, my own songs were more about being ‘the one where I use a bar chord’ or ‘the one where I try a bass strum style’. As minor chords were easier to play, playing slow was easier than playing fast and I was in my last years as a teen, everything I wrote was inevitably plodding and depressing.complete-guitar-shipton

Eventually though, I learnt all the chords**. I also realised that few people would notice a depressing song if it was played with a little verve and bounce. In short, composing songs stopped being about expanding my box of tricks as a guitarist. The reverse was now true. I knew enough tricks already to serve the needs of the song.

Hard Days for Dreamers was one of the first songs I wrote that fell into that category. It’s a decade old, but looking over the lyrics, I’m fairly pleased with this one. There’s a lot of the existential angst of my early twenties there. Now I’m old enough to recognise that none of that angst is existential at all – it’s all perfectly real.

Joking aside, the song remains sadly topical. At the time I wrote the song, immigration was in the news as it is now. Back then, the main route of migration was across the Straits of Gibraltar, and like today, the sea claimed many trying to make the crossing to Europe. It was a theme also addressed by Steve Knightley in the Show of Hands song The Flood, which influenced writing Hard Days for Dreamers.

felucca-aswan-guitalele
Our felucca on the Nile, near Aswan. 

I hadn’t played Hard Days for Dreamers for a long, long time. Last week I found myself in Nubia, Upper Egypt, traversing the First Cataract of the Nile on a felucca (a traditional sailing boat). The desert looming on both banks of the river brought the song back to me, and to my surprise I discovered I could remember all the words. I wrote it capoed high on the guitar, so it was a natural fit for the guitalele.

Hard Days for Dreamers

Water always vexing me

For the rain it never falls

All the clouds been lured away

To desiccation’s call

You’re shelter in an empty land

A well beneath the tree

When the endless sky is closing in

With its white-hot jealousy

 

These are hard days for dreamers

Them out to bind your wings, them fools keep breaking things

These are hard days for dreamers

Distillation of a tear, no drinking water here,

Oh my darling sing

 

Water always vexing me

And again my girl’s have broke

Another child, another blessing

Another weight upon the yoke

You’re shelter in an empty land

A haven in the drought

The offer of sweet sanctuary

From the desert’s silent shout

 

These are hard days for dreamers

Them out to bind your wings, them fools keep breaking things

These are hard days for dreamers

Distillation of a tear, no drinking water here,

Oh my darling sing

 

Water always vexing me

And perhaps tonight I’ll drown

Perhaps I’ll reach the distant shore

Or the waves may take me down

Drifting desert, raging sea

Still I taste the salt

Struggling on this maelstrom

So I somersault

 

These are hard days for dreamers

Them out to bind your wings, them fools keep breaking things

These are hard days for dreamers

Distillation of a tear, no drinking water here,

Oh my darling sing

Oh my darling sing

Oh my darling sing

 

* Arguably, I was writing songs even before I picked up an instrument, but calling them poems rather than songs (and terribly mawkish things they were too!).

** Well okay, maybe not the jazz chords

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Hard Days for Dreamers

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