Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Keep The Home Fires Burning

'There's a silver lining
Through the dark cloud shining
Turn the dark cloud inside out'
"Keep The Home Fires Burning", Novello/Ford, 1914

This is where it all begins, for me. A winter evening watching Top Of The Pops on a slightly battered old television (screen scratched, a little too quiet because if you turned the volume up you had to turn it off and on again to the turn it back down), heart bursting at the enormity of feeling that the little song at number 13 suddenly brought.

In these days where everything I listen to comes with more information and knowledge than ever, with all accompanying expectations and presumptions, it's weird to think how free of context I once heard this song. I hadn't heard of the wartime song from which it takes its title. I barely knew anything of Britpop and certainly didn't know of The Bluetones' links to it (I thought that they were Canadian initially, for reasons which now escape me), nor of the NME's allegations of racism that centred around this single and may well have helped finish off their mainstream career. We'll return to those second two later, as they don't really have much bearing on the song itself.

The other "Keep The Home Fires Burning" certainly does though, even if I didn't get it then. In fact looking it up again and thinking about it for this entry has brought that home even more. I was all set to write that the shared title and references are there for black humour only as the Bluetones song has nothing to do with 'gallant son[s] of Britain' or the war. But then, there it is in the third line. 'My home is a warzone'. It's in fact an inversion of the whole original song, turning the silver lining inside out to find a black cloud. It never gets too explicit about what it is that Mark Morriss is running away from, beyond that line and the chorus of 'Home fires burn/scorching a hole through me'. Neither does the sprightly music ever really push home a sense of violence or conflict but the massive sense of betrayal in finding that reliable, safe home is nothing of the sort squeezes through very clearly nonetheless.

And even if, like me then, you miss all of the ironic contrasts in the lyrics then the beautifully arranged nostalgic brass (Hovis! Coronation Street!) of the intro and outro manages to convey exactly the same thing. A neat trick.

Since I've never suffered anything like the implied home situation it wasn't relating to that that made the song grab me so hard back then. I think, beyond the economic phrases weilded so effectively as to make for their best lyrics ever, and music now so ingrained that I find it almost impossible to even think about it to write, it was the sense of putting a brave face on everything that got to me the most. I'd been spending days at a time listening to Travis (The Man Who, obv) turning almost nothing into grand displays of emotion, and despite superficial musical similarities this was in many ways the opposite. It still does something to me now.

YouTube: Keep The Home Fires Burning video, not the most serious of affairs.
mp3: Keep The Home Fires Burning (US version), minus the brass and plus a country tinge.

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