You and I: A new (very old) song

I’ve got a nerve – I really have. I will rail endlessly in pubs about sappy bands like Belle and Sebastian with their wishy-washy chord changes and whimsy… and yet here we are: possibly the wishy-washiest thing I’ve ever written. Have a listen, read the lyrics, and then rejoin me for some frank talk about how it all came to pass….

Lyrics

You and I, sat beneath a cloudless sky
And talked about our lives
Our hopes, our dreams and teenage lies
Just you and I
You and I

You and me, staring at infinity
While drinking god knows what
Thinking that there’d always be a you and me
A me and you

You ran away to a brave new world
And left me here in the same old town
But I still go to places where we used to play
And dream about those endless days
But now you’ve seen a brighter green
I’m just a part of that same old scene
You and I
You and I

You and me, chasing girls and hopeless dreams
That never came to be
Lost amidst the swirling streams ff history
Like you and me

I clung too hard to the same old paths
And trapped us both in old photographs
But I still go to places where we used to play
And think about those endless days
And now I’ve broken everything
And there’s just a hole where we used to be

But I hope that you find peace
And at last you’ll be at ease
And I hope your star still shines
And memories don’t die
Of you and I
You and I

A little bit of history…

This is actually one of my earliest songs (long before I got all sniffy about wishy-washy chord changes) and I can date it to…. ooh… 22 years ago or so. I was still at university, and was dog-sitting for my uncle and aunt. Sitting in their back garden, overlooking the grave of Jimmy Savile’s mother – true story – this song more or less arrived fully formed from an artless strumming around C, CMaj7 and Fmaj7 – enlivened by an unexpected visit now and then to a jazzy A#7.

Lyrically, at the time it referred to a very specific moment in my life. My best friend had moved away to university in some other part of the country while I’d chosen to boringly remain at home in Leeds. And so our friendship had started to fray. In 1995 or whenever, there were no social media – or even mobile phones – and so meeting up was infrequent and depended on any number of variables.

One day, however, we did meet up when he came home to see his family. He phoned me: “You coming to the pub? I’ve got some cocaine.”

I aren’t – and wasn’t – in any way against drug use, but this seemed… off, somehow. The pub, yes… but cocaine? This was a suburban pub serving Sam Smith’s at £1.22 a pint – not fucking Scarface.

And when we met? He’d changed. His university life had become a slew of drug taking, sex and psychological adventure. I suddenly felt childish… outdated… abandoned. I had been outgrown.

At this time in my life, I was beset by a kind of early-onset nostalgia. At the age of 21, I was already yearning for my childhood – and this informed any number of my songs at the time. Little wonder then, that the original lyrics for this song were full of sighing regret for my ‘lost’ friend and my own sense of being left behind.

I don’t recall now whether this was ever really something we played as a band. I imagine we maybe wheeled it out a couple of times, but realistically we were playing rock pubs so I can’t think that we played it very often.

But still – it always stayed with me, and later in life its meaning changed. We had all moved on by our 30s and were getting married, having kids and all that. And my friendship with the lad in question had been entirely rekindled. So now the song had another layer of nostalgia for me because I was now nostalgic for the time when I was nostalgic. I don’t even know what that means.

Anyway, a few years ago (as I have alluded to, passim) I did some stupid, reckless things that cost me many of my friendships – included a very savage break with this friend in particular. So now the song took on a renewed meaning as a vehicle to express some of my regrets.

As I’ve been playing it for over two decades, the main structure was pretty simple to lay down – but I’d never really envisioned an arrangement so the recording took a few attempts to get right. I’ve mentioned the light jazz inflections here and there, and the strumming pattern always had the feeling of a light bossa nova, and so I gave in to that impulse – leaning into the sort of natural latin swing, and adding bongos, rimshots and various other bits and pieces and ended up making it basically as sappy as possible. All told, it was all complete in a few hours and I’ve decided that I like the innocent sound overall.

Here endeth our tale.


PS: For reference, here is original demo I cobbled up a couple of years ago – complete with vocal harmonies that didn’t make it onto the final version (but I might yet change my mind on the subject).

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