When I was a teen, I wrote poetry. It wasn’t very good poetry. I didn’t know how to write poetry. I was just a teenage boy trying to understand his feelings and putting them on paper. Two things came out of that poetry. I started to enjoy writing. I started to enjoy reading. My English teacher encouraged me to write, I even won and end of year award; a poetry book. The other thing that happened was that I used it to compartmentalise my feelings. If something was bothering me I would write it down and it wouldn’t bother me anymore.
Around the age of 16, I wrote a piece called The Storm. It was included in my poetry collection titled, “I, of the storm”. It was my Magnus Opus, it was a poem in 20 parts, 3.7k words, over 12 pages.
It tells the story of a man who decides that he needs to leave his home town. He spends some time thinking about leaving, about why he should leave, until he finally plucks up the courage and convinces himself to go. He then walks alone until he gets to a harbour where he sits and waits hopefully for a ship to take him away. As the ship leaves the harbour he reflects on what he is finally leaving and the hope of the new world that he will be taken too. Only the journey is a difficult one, and a storm erupts and throws everything at him and breaks his ship apart leaving him stranded and fighting for his life in the cold icy waters. Until he is unceremoniously dumped on a beached. Left there. Lost.
In my early 20s my Grandad Pattison died, and I travelled up to Newcastle for the funeral. After the funeral I ended up talking about The Storm with my cousin Gavin. Gavin was interested in reading it and potentially putting it to music. Over the next few years while Gavin was working in Burton-upon-Trent and therefore close enough to me in Manchester that I could drive down at the weekend and listen to what he had and we could do a little work on it.
Both of us moved on and got on with our respective lives but I knew that Gavin kept plugging away on it.
In 2009 Gavin contacted me and said that he was looking at an up beat coda piece to tag on to the end of The Storm. Actually he said, “One thing though. We may need to put a happy ending in as I would wish to finish it on a high (and major key) and give the poor lad some hope….” So one day on a train journey to London I wrote the first draft of Mourning Rain and sent it to him.
Cut to this year just before my birthday and Gavin and I have a chat about songs and maybe collaborating on something. Anyway, Gavin has the “rough mix” of The Storm which he says he will upload to DropBox for me. He has no plans to do anything with it anymore as its a tad dated etc…
So I download the tracks and take a listen.
Ouch. Musically it’s fine. Yes, it’s very much of its time. And it has a style not too dissimilar to 70s and 80s prog rock – music that inspired both of us. I can hear Pink Floyd and Marillion and maybe a little bit of the Small Faces. But I also get some Bowie, some Lou Reed, and a few others.
Lyrically however, there are problems. So many jarring words and phrases. I feel that Gavin was too generous working with my unbalanced lyric style and my teenage flights of fancy. So I agree that it would probably take too much reworking just to get the lyric right and even if I could manage it, it would probably break the soul of the piece. Maybe we should grab some of the best bits to salvage and create a “Songs from the Storm”.
So, I spend the next few hours listening to it in order to capture on paper the lyric changes that were made by Gavin and in some places, the singer. The idea being that I would look at all the lyric areas that irked me and see if I could polish off some rough edges. Anyway, something happened. I started listening to it.
I get to one song, The Harbour. It’s a small piece only three verses. Gavin has written a slow piano piece and used the lyric intact. The vocalist sings it with slight emphasis and pauses not quite where I put them. It was never a special piece to me. I never give it a second thought. It’s not in my top ten list of things that I can’t believe I wrote… Only now I do. Only now it is.
Up until this point the music has swept along as the boy wrestles with his decision to leave and then gets on with it. Here Gavin brings it to a halt, removes all the instruments, the noise banging around the boys head; while he sits in peace and looks to the harbour, the piano slowly shows him the new hope for what is about to be the next part of his life.
That one moment is the pivot of The Storm. The boy sits at the harbour and looks at the journey behind him, and where he has come from; the turmoil but necessity of leaving behind his old life. He looks across the harbour watching his salvation in the guise of a ship. The ship that will take him to a new place, a new life. A new bit of hope. But in the calm of that quayside moment, he doesn’t yet know that it isn’t as straight forward as that. The journey across the sea is going to be fraught with peril as the biggest storm he has ever witnessed chew him up and spit him out and leaving him drifting in the dark and cold sea. Strangely, I don’t think I ever understood that when I wrote that piece. It was just three verses that linked poem (viii) to poem (x).
But with the simple melody and piano I suddenly understood. And in that one moment, I got it. You see, I’ve never read The Storm. That is, never actually read it. I experienced it. You see, The Storm isn’t a story about a boy leaving his home town and looking for a new life. That’s what I thought it was about. That’s what I had tried to convince myself, and anyone who asked, that it was about.
The Storm is a story about a teenage boy’s depression. A teenage boy trying to understand his life and trying to find a way out of, or through a difficult period in his life. I never got that. Because I never had that problem. I wrote it down. I compartmentalised it and moved on. Only I know now how people around me were worried for me at that time in my life. People have read The Storm and said to me, “man you were in a dark place when you wrote this”. I’ve always just trivialised it. I never felt like that. This is just a poem I wrote. I was never in that dark place. Was I?
Now as I’m listening to it I become a bit more forgiving. I stop listening to it as something I wrote. I stop listening to it as something that has to stand as modern music. I listen to it under the title of the DropBox folder that Gavin gave It “The Storm, Musical Poem”. I Listen to it like it’s an experimental art piece. Like it’s something the Small Faces did when they wrote Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Marillion: Misplaced Childhood. Would those quirky lyrics bother me if it had been Lou Reed singing, or David Bowie, or David Byrne.
So I’ve finished up my editorial markup for the potential changes I require, but rather than type it up, I decide to go for a walk. The whole piece is an hour and ten minutes, so I take it for a longer walk. I press play on track one and start walking, and I listen all the way through in one piece without distraction and without thinking about it as something I was involved in. It’s just a concept album that someone has handed to me to listen to…
A number of the lyrics that I hadn’t liked, I don’t mind so much now. Because they work in the context of the piece. Gavin has woven his music around my quirky, unorthodox lyric style (read – unstructured and amateur) and the singer brings them to life. There are so many little bits that I love musically and lyrically.
And there it is… by the time I hit the up beat Mourning Rain, and we have given the poor lad some hope… I’m crying. A 50 year old man, walking down the street with tears in his eyes, brought on by one of the most powerful pieces of music I have listened to.
You see. It’s all there. From beginning to end, captured in 70 minutes of Gavin’s music, and almost 3.5k of words that I wrote when I was 16. A teenage boys struggle with Depression. My struggle.
This is Mourning Rain. This is the lyric I wrote almost 20 years after writing The Storm…
Mourning Rain I opened my eyes to see a rainbow in the distance, I looked to the skies to watch the clouds burn on the horizon, A fresh wind blew, waking me from my burden, And somehow I knew that the worst was behind me. (Was behind me) Tasted the freshness of a new day, Felt that something had been washed away. Went to wipe the tears from my face, And realised I was in a better place. I never knew that I'd been gone so long, Never thought that I'd survive the storm, And now I feel my wet clothes dry Let the dark clouds just pass me by, I'm mourning rain.... I'm mourning rain.... I'm mourning rain.... Looking back I had made the right choice to provoke the storm, I had to find the calm inside to understand where it all went wrong, But everything feels alright now, See the future before me clear of doubt and clear of pain, Embrace the life afforded me, now that I've been cleansed by this mourning rain. And everything feels alright now
When you listen to The Storm, and I hope one day that you can, it’s hard work. It’s emotional. It is not a cheery piece by any stretch of the imagination… but as the first bars of Mourning Rain kick in, you are uplifted. That boy, struggling to understand himself. Struggling to get out of the deep hole he found himself at the bottom of. Struggling to understand his place in life. Struggling to understand his past and his future… well he made it. At some point in his life; somehow he knew that the worst was behind him. And as he went to wipe the tears from his face, he realised he was in a better place. And everything felt alright now.
You see, the mistake I made when I started listening to The Storm was that I was reading my poem. The poem I wrote when I was 16. You don’t read The Storm, you experience it, you feel it. And Gavin, by adding the music, allowed me to feel it. I just had to open myself up to that thing that I had written on 12 pieces of paper, compartmentalised, and moved on from.
I am so grateful to have this after all this time.
Gavin has brought my Magnus Opus to life and more importantly given it context, and context that I’m not sure I could do alone. It deserves to be heard by as many people as possible – as he worked over many years on it and crafted, in my mind at least, a masterpiece. Even if we don’t make any tweaks, and we don’t polish the final mix… I love it. And I am very proud of what we did with it.