Every now and then you hear a song that sticks in your head and you feel the urge to play it again and again. Union Street (Last Post) by Show of Hands from their Witness Album is my current one.
(You can hear an all to brief sample of it here.)
It is a slow ballad with piano, guitar and also a mournful Trumpet (or perhaps a Cornet) with a recurring theme fragment of the last post.
It tells a story, both starkly clear and enigmatic. It is in the form of two etters, voiced (and sung) by a man and a woman. It was written by Steve Knightley (who sings the male part) and Matt Clifford who plays the piano on the song. Also, Paul Downes plays guitar and a woman called Miranda sings on it (& also plays Double-bass & Cello on other tracks). I assume that Miranda is the woman seen in the Roots video doing the blogosphere rounds.
(As an aside, when I was in Saudi, you couldn’t get Coca Cola (as they were on the boycott list) so alternatives to Pepsi were Bhuna Lemonade, Afri Cola and …Miranda Orange.)
Here are the lyrics. Steve sings this bit and Miranda speaks most of the first two lines quietly.
B.F.P.O. 14th of December
Time to write these words then we’re on patrol
Guess who says “hello”? as if you don’t remember
The clown who set off the fire alarms and wound up on parole
That Friday night on Union Street
Last place on earth I thought I’d meet
Someone who would see into my soul
Amongst the broken glass the drunks and fights
Captured there in your own light
You shine a path before me no matter where I go
What does this tell us? BFPO stands for British Forces Post Office so we know that he is in the armed forces. It is approaching Christmas. He is stationed away somewhere and is writing a letter to the girl he is in love with. He met her unexpectedly on an apparently raucous boys night out. We don’t know where Union Street is but it is obviously downtown. And likely to be in the West Country.
Second verse. Miranda sings this and Steve speaks most of the first two lines quietly.
Crown Hill 18th of December
An hour before the taxi comes to take the girls to town
Ellie’s 21 today single since September
He really missed his chance with her by acting like a clown
He’d been drinking half the week
As we were dancing cheek to cheek
He was taken by the shore patrol the night before you sailed
Leaving us alone at last
Two shipwrecked lovers who held on fast
And one year down the line our hold has yet to fail
Less than a week later, she has replied. He is a sailor, she probably lives in Plymouth (which has a Plymouth Stret and a Crown Hill). They met when he and his friend were on shore leave a year ago, his friend failed to cop off with her friend because he was pissed up and acting like an idiot. ModPlod got him which gave them the chance to get together. Clever nautical metaphors in the last two lines.
Third verse- Miranda with some backing from Steve
He’s coming home the last day of December
The plane touches down an hour before the dawn
June 14th ’82 I’ll always remember
That day the Falklands fell the year that he was born
This life on the ocean wave I will mourn
Two weeks later he was back in the UK for a loving re-union. In the early Summer, he lost his life in the South Atlantic and she found out she was pregnant with a Son. For her, the Falklands war was a pyrrhic victory.
Was it 1980 that they met in Union Street? Which life on the ocean wave is she mourning:- His, or possibly her Son who has also joined the Navy many years later? I don’t think any British men died on June 14th which was the day the Argentinians surrendered. Maybe she found out she was pregnant that day. Did anyone die? I think so, because of The Last Post interjections.
Regardless of the subtleties, this is a beautiful song and Miranda has a lovely folky voice.