Stone & Bone

“It’s hard to decide what to let go and what to keep. But those decisions are as much a part of the creative process as thinking things up in the first place.”

Blakes graveThis song began in a graveyard. I’ve loved Bunhill fields for many years. It’s a really atmospheric graveyard in the City of London. The English visionary poet and artist William Blake is buried there along with many people who were considered radicals, dissenters or non-conformists. It’s also the resting place of over a hundreds thousand of London’s poor and forgotten. They don’t have graves but their remains lie there. It’s been a burial site since at least Roman times and the name Bunhill is a corruption of ‘Bone-Hill’.

I lived in London for about 3 years and Bunhill was a favourite place to visit. I try and visit now whenever I’m in town. One day I was sitting quietly in the graveyard when a coachload of American tourists arrived. There were 30 maybe 40 or them, all carrying identical packed lunches in brown paper bags. They proceeded to picnic on and around the graves. I got out my notebook and proceeded to write my thoughts, ideas and feelings about the place. It started with the line ‘Pilgrim fathers fill their plates among the greying graves’ and went from there.

When I’m in a mood to write and I can switch off my brain, then ideas and words just pour out of me. I like this way of writing. You just let your consciousness stream out onto the page without editing or censoring the thoughts. It’s especially good to do it in situ, out in a landscape, place or environment that inspires you. It’s not easy though, because I have a tendency to self-censor and criticise. You just have to tell yourself that that part comes later. So as I sat in the graveyard  I filled several pages with my scribbles.

Bunhill Fields

Then later on, at home, I sat down with a banjo and began to sculpt and edit the words into a song. This is the tough part because I had so many lyrics and had to cut most of them out in order for the song to be a reasonable length. It’s hard to decide what to let go and what to keep. But those decisions are as much a part of the creative process as thinking things up in the first place. I like to think that some of the lines I discarded will find their way back into a song one day. Maybe a sequel to this one?

Eventually a narrative of sorts emerged, in which the poor and long forgotten dead emerge from their graves zombie style. This is also a song about the cold heart of the City of London. The City or Square Mile, is a weird and strange place. It has it’s own Police Force. You never see beggars or homeless people. It’s fastidiously clean and tidy compared to the rest of London. It’s absolutely awash with Masonic symbols and the architecture of power and money. But it is built (literally and metaphorically) on top of the bones of the working poor who built Britain’s empire. So that I tried to capture some of that in the song.

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STONE AND BONE – lyrics

I’m made from….
Flagstone, grindstone, knucklebone, thighbone,
Capstone, kerbstone, tailbone, whalebone,
Cobblestone, milestone, backbone, jaw –
I’m built from stone and bone

There’s no monuments on these bone dry fields
to commemorate those buried here
Just wretched poor on wretched poor – a hundred thousand souls
The prostitute, the destitute, those cast aside by institute
From the borough slum to the boiler rooms, they all been shovelled here

In the name of progress the city cries
you may dance upon my stones tonight
but feed my slots with coins that shine,
you’re all just bones to me. And I’m built from stone and bone.

Here comes London’s forgotten dead,
they’re crawling from the flower beds
All withered and sucked to a dusk dry husk by the roots of ancient trees
Then Landed Gentry in wigs and gowns,
they try to run but they’re hunted down
and hung upon their apron strings all laid compass square

In the name of progress the city cries
you may dance upon my stones tonight
but feed my slots with coins that shine,
you’re all just bones to me. And I’m built from stone and bone.

I’m made from….
Flagstone, grindstone, knucklebone, thighbone,
Capstone, kerbstone, tailbone, whalebone,
Cobblestone, milestone, backbone, jawbone
Crossbones headstone wishbone tombstones

The Pilgrim Fathers fill their plates
on tables made from fractured slates
As they feast upon the greying graves of a hundred thousand souls
Then the earth below them starts to shake
as the spectral form of William Blake
Storms into the Stock Exchange and fire fills the skies

In the name of progress the city cries
you may dance upon my stones tonight
but feed my slots with coins that shine,
you’re all just bones to me. And I’m built from stone and bone.

(C) 2016 Matt Hill