Foreign Sands

As I’ve mentioned at interminable length on this here blog (who even has a blog in 2018? That’s right: your man, Carps) songs come easy, or they come hard – and this is one of the easiest to come in quite some time. Have a little listen, scan through the lyrics and join me after the break for the backstory, such as it is.


“Are you tired of being a no one
Then pick up a flag and you could be someone”
So they say

So step off the bus, and into an office
Sign on the line and here ends the problem:
“Here’s who we want you to kill.”

The first thing you learn is how to take orders
Don’t rock the boat, and don’t question borders
Rising with the sun

Then they break you: make you a no one
Name, rank and number,
Give you a logo
So they can tell who you are

And as you die in foreign sands
Lifeblood slipping through your open hands
As you turn to face the sky
And wonder if you knew the reason why

Flies buzz a corpse
And you look and feel nothing
It’s just another day to bury your feelings
Now that you’ve gone pro

Then it’s your turn
And no one feels nothing
They read out your name
But it’s not quite a headline
As they add you to the list

And as you die in foreign sands
Lifeblood slipping through your open hands
As you turn to face the sky
And wonder if you knew the reason why

The tedious back story

Occasionally (too occasionally, really) you pick up a guitar, hit a chord… and something happens. At the risk of sounding like a Lidl own-brand Brian Wilson or that lad out of East 17, everything is just suddenly… there.

And so it was with this pretty mordant number. If I could be arsed to download, process and upload the original voice recording I took on my phone, you’d notice not a thing changed between that initial 45 second run through of the verse and chorus – apart from, obviously, the arrangement and lyric.

In an odd way, listening back, I think I might have been vaguely pitching at a Liam Gallagher solo track kind of vibe. Swap my lyrics out for something more meaningless and I suspect it would be a comfortable fit for his voice. But fuck him.

The arrangement of bass, piano, and strings took a little while to get right. As you know by now, I don’t read music and can’t really play the piano, so it’s a process of gradual trial and error to build up parts that fit together. And I’m pleased with the end result. The main body of the song is pretty short, but during that time there are numerous guitar parts, different piano parts, and changing ‘string’ parts (which are actually programmed in via the gift of GarageBand, but don’t tell anyone. It can be our secret).

Pleased with the piano figure in particular, I worked out an extended outro – where the song turned into a heavy looping groove. Although I liked it quite a bit, I figure that brevity is the soul of wit, so chopped a couple of minutes of the outro off to bring it closer to the 3 minutes I try to impose on myself.

The lyrics – as I so often find – came to me quite late. I mentioned earlier that I had half a feeling that I could pitch this to Liam Gallagher, so it started out as a string of vague nonsense about not knowing your identity, but when I hit the line “pick up a flag…” things started to coalesce. Identity for a lot of people is, I suspect, not really a thing. Once you’re past 25 you sort of think like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” But some people seem to cling to things: football teams… bands… fashion cultures… and most ruinously national identity.

I’ve touched on the theme before, but identifying so strongly with a nation can seductively lead you into the kind of logic that ends with people dying by the thousand, mostly unremarked, to save or protect some momentary spasm of a vaguely understood reason regarding nationality (or more realistically, political/religious/commercial need wrapped in a flag of convenience).

And, going back to the them of identity, there’s a paradox. In taking up the identity of a country in the form of armed service, you actually lose your identity – and if you die, become a slab of portland stone in a field somewhere and are recorded in a list of millions.

Oh I don’t know. It’s complex. Or maybe it’s simple and it’s only complicated because I’m trying to justify my shitty partial rhyming scheme.

I’m not slagging off soldiers here, by the way, or the sacrifices they make – but somewhere inside the blackened husk of my soul, part of me clings to the long-held dream that really we should be hoping for a world where armies and war are obsolete.