Black is the Colour

Black is the Colour is one of my favourite folk songs, with it’s haunting melody and sense of longing…and Strong Ale recorded it (with a lovely slide guitar part from Brian Armstrong) on the “The Beaten Track” album. When I was playing duo gigs with Jim Fox, this was a song that he used to sing, and it was inspired by Jim’s version that I decided to learn it. I have been introducing it for years as a “Scottish love song” – and usually I do a deal of research before committing to folk songs – it tends to be quite an interesting pastime for a nerd like me…for some reason I didn’t research this one very thoroughly until now.

It turns out that it IS of Scottish origin – I always thought it was based on a Burns poem but that isn’t so, and I’ve no idea where I got that from – but that when collected by Cecil Sharp it was in America, presumably brought over by Scottish immigrants (although Sharp has it as part of his collection of English folk songs of the Southern Appalachians).  The first version I remember hearing is the Nina Simone one – a very different  melody from the one I sing.  This American melody was introduced to the song by John Jacob Niles in 1941 (or at least, that is when it was first released), and is the melody that all the jazz versions and the many country versions have stuck to.

The other melody – the one I sing – I know through Christy Moore, who in turn learned it from Hamish Imlach.  Hamish’s version is the earliest released version of this tune that I know of.  If anyone knows more about its origins I’d love to hear.  I assume that this is the traditional tune that predates Niles’ American version.

The words are sweet but without being cheesy (apart from maybe the line “I love the ground whereupon she stands”).  Songs about missing those one loves somehow seem to resonate better than most romantic composition…this one gets me every time:

Here’s me performing it..


and here’s Strong Ale’s version (on Spotify)


The lyrics as I sing them are:

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,

Her lips are like some roses fair,

She’s the sweetest smile, And the tenderest hands,

I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

I love my love and well she knows,

I love the ground, whereon she goes,

I hope the day, it won’t be long,

Til she & I could be as one.

I’ll go to the Clyde and I mourn and weep,

For satisfied, I ne’er can be,

I wrote a letter, just a few short lines,

And suffer death, a thousand times.

Black is the colour of my true love’s hair,

Her lips are like some roses fair,

She’s the sweetest smile, And the gentlest hands,

I love the ground, Whereon she stands.

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The Frozen Lake

I’ve been releasing a song every month for half a year soon, and the reason is quite simply that I have a huge backlog of material that I don’t know what to do with…albums are expensive to produce and there is not a huge market in them.  So rather than allow these songs (there’s hundreds of them) to gather dust, I thought some of you might like to hear them.

This year I will also try and give you the background to them…starting with January’s single…the nearly 7 minute long The Frozen Lake

About 8 years ago I did a weekend of gigs in Denmark with my old pal Ed Conway.  Those who don’t know him can see what he does here.  Ed and I used to play together in a band called Rumpus…we were fairly popular in the late 90’s and made a living out of a comedy/chaos/folk/rock/riot act involving stuffed toys, cucumbers, numerous hats and “death defying feats”.  It was probably the most fun time of my life.  On the way back to the airport that weekend we stopped for lunch by a frozen lake (it was winter).  This became the inspiration for a story that Ed wrote down in a little notebook.  A classic British folk song sort of tale with a Romeo and Juliet twist.

A while later Ed showed me the notebook which had a bunch of other ideas for songs (though none quite as detailed as The Frozen Lake) and said I should take the ideas and write the songs for a folk album called “The Anonymous Folkie”…So I started with the Frozen Lake.  One of the other songs listed was last month’s single “Beasts of Burden”…so I’ve so far managed 2!

Originally I thought it should be very British Folk style in a Fairport sort of arrangement, but the more I played with it the more I felt it lending itself to a Peter Gabriel era Genesis interpretation.  So I picked up my 12-string and there was no going back.  One day I may well do a more traditionally folk version (same with Beasts of Burden) as I still think The Anonymous Folkie would be a fun project.  But for now it’s turned into a Prog Rock sort of thing, and I quite like it like that.

As with all the singles released so far I play all the instruments, sing, produced and engineered the whole thing.  This one has a lot more instrumentation than the previous offerings…so here’s a quick run down of what was used:

Vocals (recorded with U87  microphone going through Focusrite Liquid Channel emulating a classic Neve desk)

Martin HD 28V acoustic guitar

Guild GAD 12 string guitar

Musicman Stingray bass guitar

Fender Stratocaster going through Vox AC30

Roland RD300 stage piano (for midi keys)


Drum Samples



The lyrics are:

On a cold clear winter’s night stars reflect in the lake

Tears for her sweetheart filled her eyes

Till they could no longer hold the salt water drops

That drip ripples on the watery skies

It was tomorrow she was to wed but no bride will she be

The press gang took her fiancee away

To fight for king and country on some far off shore

With but a promise to return again one day

Each day she sits on the shore of the lake

Where as a child she had played

Staring at the other side where her true love had lived

And she longs to return to those days

Through the winter she could cross the frozen lake

To her love who lived on the other side

When the birds return and the ice begins to break

in the spring he shall make her his bride

She senses the bad news before it is spoke

In battle he drew his last breath

His body could not found but they all saw him go down

Sounds the news of his untimely death

Quite beside herself she walked into the lake

Walked on til the current pulled her down

And the icy cold water swallowed her pain

And in the dark depths she was drowned

A layer of ice formed on the waters that night

The coldest night we ever saw

And for a whole year winter cast a shroud across the land

12 months and the lake didn’t thaw

Through the winter she would cross the frozen lake

to her love who lived on the other side

When the birds return and the ice begins to break

in the spring he shall make her his bride

12 months of winter and a soldier appears

Enquiring where his betrothed might be

He is told of her death in the waters so cold

And in tears he is led off to see

He sat on the ice his heart heavy with grief

Salty tears melting the ice

Til underneath he can see the face of his love

And he thinks he hears her desperate cries

He broke through the ice to dive down to his love

Convinced that new life he could bring

And in her arms he drowned and the lake began to thaw

On that very first morning of spring

In the winter she would cross the frozen lake

To her love who lived on the other side

Now the birds return and the ice begins to break

For it is the spring and he shall make her his bride

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Albums that formed me – No 1: Al Stewart – Love Chronicles

When I was 20 a friend of mine lent me 2 Al Stewart albums – Bed Sitter Images and Love Chronicles.  We did that kind of thing back then…the culture amongst teenagers was that we’d buy records on a Saturday at HMV or one of the 2 second hand record shops in Wolverhampton, and then we’d play them for each other, or maybe record them on cassette and give them to each other.  Many of us still did this well into our 20’s…I probably would never have stopped if my record collection hadn’t been stolen.

Bed Sitter Images was fantastic – a clear example of a record company investing in a young artist’s debut and it has elaborate orchestration on its many fine songs.  But Love Chronicles I immediately considered a masterpiece.

So with that in mind I’ve decided to use it as the basis of the first of a series of essays on albums that have been hugely influential in my life.  Partly because I enjoy writing and partly because it gives me time to appreciate them and share my joy. You’ll be able to see these on the first Monday of each month here on the MD Blog…

I nearly didn’t get to hear it (Love Chronicles that is)…whilst picking up the 2 records to take them home I dropped and just managed to catch them, prompting Mark’s Dad to say “He’s a big lad, you don’t want to upset him”.  Happily neither disc was harmed.

The album starts in New York city with the tale of the young Englishman observing the comings and goings of the Big Apple natives between the narrative of his romantic exploits with a harmonica-playing astrology student.  His observational skills and his choices of adjectives take the listener straight there.  It’s a fantastic opening number: upbeat and catchy.  In my early days of busking I used to sing “In Brooklyn” and enjoyed it vastly…I think I still know all the words!

Next up comes another observational piece.  “Old Compton Street Blues” has a beautiful haunting melody with a melancholic descending bass that perfectly fits the story of the young, beautiful model who “really did have something that the others never had”, whilst following her decline through destitution, rejection and prostitution into middle age.

Let’s talk about the musicians on this record.  I was a Led Zeppelin fan years before I heard these songs, and both Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones play on the title track (we’ll come to THAT later), but most of the album is played by members of Fairport Convention; Simon Nicol, Richard Thompson, Martin Lamble (recorded before his fatal car crash, though the album was released later that year) and Ashley Hutchings, although under pseudonyms, so they didn’t get in trouble with their record company…this did mean that I was unaware that they were performing on this album until much later…It was around this time that I got really into Fairport and regularly attended their Cropredy Festival but somehow didn’t realise they were on one of my favourite records.

The 3rd track is another song I used to play a lot in my busking days, and performed at my first ever solo gig.  “The Ballad of Mary Foster” is a terrific story of a husband and wife growing apart, but where most songwriters would stick to the relationship, Stewart delves into the whole life stories of both parts…the first part being David Foster’s story, and then we zap over into a completely different rhythm, tempo, mood and tune (which may be familiar to Dylan fans and folk music know-alls).  The band drops out and Mary Foster’s story is told just to an acoustic guitar.  Amazing amounts of detail are listed as her whole life is told.  Always brings a tear to my eye this one!

For me the absolute highlight of the album is “Life and Life Only” – again it’s the descriptive detail and back stories of the characters that make it so powerful.  From sitting on a wall at Bournmouth beach and looking at a few people Stewart manages to imagine every detail of their lives, assert that “sometimes it must get lonely” and then muse “who will I be?”

Side 2 begins with the song that, to me, sounds like the record company said “But we have to have a hit single on this thing!”  You should have listened to Al is that – a good song, but a poppy dancey sort of affair that feels a little out of place in this aural gallery….so for my side 2 always started with…

Love Chronicles.  Ok, I am a sucker for excessively long and complex compositions with lots of guitar solos…and at 18 minutes Love Chronicles fits the bill.  And it’s a story – a true story.  And perfectly told.  With humour, honesty, humility and intimate detail we are taken through the narrator’s love life from “passing sticky sweets under the table” at kindergarten through teenage crushes and crushing heartbreaks to mature relationsh where ”it grew to be less like fucking and more like making love”.   Ending with a big rousing thank you to all the girls he ever knew.  With an almost gospel feeling B3 Hammond to finish off the album on a mega-high.

The album is largely a singer-songwriter affair with an acoustic guitar base and that is absolutely my go to genre…in fact this album generally is the exact blueprint of how I best like music to sound…except for the production.  Unfortunately this was recorded in the days when stereo was new and multi-tracking was in its infancy…though contemporary with some great sounding albums (Led Zeppelin 2 for example), this has a terrible tinny acoustic guitar sound, and the band sounds like it was recorded live in a rehearsal room.  Even the 2007 remastering for digital release doesn’t save it.

What does save it – and more – is the genius of the songwriting combined with a fantastic band who seem to be allowed to just let rip and express the compositions however they see fit.  Most people associate Al Stewart with the classic “Year of the Cat” (great album)…but for me this is his best.  I just love this album.

Note: The digital release of this album as seen below on Spotify has additional tracks (Jackdaw, She Follows and Fantasy).  I HATE when albums are re-released with additional tracks…put them on a new album FFS…so press the stop button after the organ dies out on Love Chronicles for the whole experience!

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New Year’s Love Stream

Hi Folks

Hope you all had a good Christmas, Yule, Solstice, Hanukkah or whatever else you might celebrate in these days. 2020 is about to end (I think a few of you may be relieved) and to say “goodbye and good riddance” I’ll be looking back at the year from where I’ve been on the last Love Stream of 2020 on my facebook page

See you in 2021…hopefully in real life!

Blessings to you

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covid update

Well…gradually Northern Europe ground to a second lockdown…bit by bit…country and region by country and region…so I now have no gigs left this year.

Hopefully the Brophy’s Law gigs in January are still on: 14th at Turbinen in Randers (this should be Ok whatever – they’ve managed to stay open all the way through) and Amager Bio in Copenhagen (fingers crossed for this one – there can’t be many people in Copenhagen who haven’t already had the virus!!)

Solo gigs will begin again as soon as the Government gives the go ahead…plus the time it takes to make the phone calls and organise the calendar.  Strong Ale are planning big things in small places, but need the Covid go-ahead…so basically…we just have to wait it out and hope that we survive.

Wednesday evening Love Streams have been interrupted by a couple of things that couldn’t be moved (I may not have gigs but I ain’t stopped working!)…but will continue as before each Wednesday whenever possible over on FaceBook.

Take care of each other and hope to see you at the Love Streams and in real life in the not too far distant future!

love and cabbage!


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New Single! Beasts of Burden

Hey folks…

Another month is upon us and instead of filling your stockings with more Christmas music, my latest single (available 1st December) is a Neil Young inspired song about working animals…Beasts of Burden

The idea came from a notebook belonging to my good friend, ex-bandmate and all round good geezer Ed Conway check out what he does here: and here:

The notebook contained ideas for an album’s worth of songs…ranging from just song titles to complex stories.  This month’s single had the title “Beasts of Burden” and specified Yak, Buffalo, Camel and I think Bison…it ended up with mules and Shire horses too.

Ed wrote the ideas down for me to turn into a folk music album…which might still happen…but in the mean time I took this idea and another one called “The Frozen Lake” (which will be the next single) and allowed them to grow into whatever seemed to fit…this one went into a sort of Neil Young vibe and the Frozen Lake into a 1970’s prog rock Genesis sort of thing…I decided not to intervene.

Again on this single and the next I am playing all instruments, recorded at Avalon and have put it all together alone…hope you guys enjoy it…links below as soon as it is released!

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Divided States Of America

So the Orange faced one had been voted out…and a new era is upon the DSA.  Congratulations to Joe Biden and to Kamala Harris.  I do not envy them their job.

The Senate is still Republican, so all the fine ideas Biden has for tackling Covid, Climate Change and the economy are going to face the same constant braking effect that Obama struggled with.

The outgoing president shows no signs of going out without kicking off the 2nd civil war and “his” people (nearly half of those who voted remember) are convinced that the election wasn’t fair…no idea yet why, but that is not the point…and they are livid.  I predict riots at best, civil war at worse and global war at absolute worst.

The federation is polarised – as is most of the world:  On the one hand Trump style fascism, in the form of the UK Conservative Party (and smaller right wing groups like UKIP, Britain First, EDL etc), Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orbán in Hungary etc etc, with the support of the Alt Right (Bannon, Breitbart, Farage, QAnon and so on), supported by Russia (though I think only in order to destabalise the West.  On the other the self-devouring centre left in the form of the EU, Starmer’s Labour in UK, and the almost (but thankfully not quite) unelectable Joe Biden…I say self-devouring because the right has been gifted power so many times recently by in-fighting (look at the fate of Corbyn in UK), excessive political correctness (those on the left don’t dare anything for fear of being labelled ant-something…the right have no such problem) and an incomprehensible dedication to Neo-Liberalism.

Trump has been demonised by the centre and the left…and that demonisation has led credibility to his claims of persecution.  There was no need to pile so much hatred upon him – his own words condemned him several times a day.  Yes, he appears to be an absolutely horrid person, and his politics are of varying quality.  But furthering the polarsiation of the nation by continually painting him as the main villain are unhelpful – The extreme right can point to bias in the media against him and sow doubt about everything else that is written.  And his followers will (and do) point out that he is the first US president to actually do most of what he promised to do, and the only one (or at least one of the only ones) not to start a war.  And the real villains are behind the scenes – the likes of Bannon and the corporations that have guided his political choices.

I – as many others – am very glad to see him go (assuming he does) and hope Biden & co can bring peace, unity, prosperity and decency to America.  But 70 million still voted Trump.  The danger is not past.  And we really can’t hope for a return to the pre-Trump days:  insane neoliberalism, unending warmongering and religious extremism, wrapped up in patriotism for a federation that appointed itself the policeman of the world in order to further its colonialist ambitions.

A new world order is emerging – America’s time may be over.  Trump may have been the final nail in the coffin.  We’ll see.  Whatever happens, it won’t be boring.  Unfortunately.

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Old Irish Pub

Thanks everyone at The Old Irish Pub for a great weekend. Covid may be making life difficult, and both musician and those in the hospitality industry are suffering greatly, but people are still coming out – and being responsible about the restrictions and precautions – and having a good time listening to music and interacting. Even if it’s very early in the evening!
We’ve been playing 6:30 pm til 9:30pm…with the pub closing at 10pm…not much time to make money there! So thank you to The Old Irish Pub and all the other places that are still putting music on. We couldn’t live without you (us musicians financially and many many others psychologically!)
I’m at the one in Odense (with the amazing bar staff) this weekend too. Happy (for 2020) Days!

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gigs this weekend in Odense

Hey folks…there will be no dancing, there will be limited numbers, there will be face masks and it’ll all be over at 21:30…BUT…

I’m going to be playing Friday and Saturday evening in Odense at the Old Irish Pub!  There is still some life left in Denmark!!!

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covid update

Hello my brethren folkies…

The second wave is upon us, and even in Denmark, which has managed to stay fairly level headed, the restrictions are mounting.  The newest rules mean that it is pretty much impossible to do any live work.  Anyone has any other kind of work I can do, let me know!

In the meantime there are new singles coming out every month, the next one being It’s Good To Be Here on 1st November…this was supposed to be a summer song celebrating coming back to the world after lockdown, but there was a delay both at mastering and at the distributor, so I had to send it back in the queue…which means it is now a song about being happy about where you are stuck in the new lockdown.

2020 has been a financial H-bomb, but a lot of good has come from it.  I’ve been reading up on vegetable and fruit production; we now have sheep, chickens, ducks and goats (and baby goats in the spring!); I’ve improved my body, mind and found connection to my soul through yoga; I’ve learned a lot of new songs; the Love Stream on Wednesday nights is now an established tradition; Around 20 new songs (I think some of the best I’ve ever written) have been born; Brophy’s Law have been recording and releasing material; and I’ve had some quality time at home…and I was lucky enough to have an OK summer as Denmark opened up for a couple of months.

Hang in there everybody.  We can’t see each other in the flesh, but tune into the Love Stream, keep in touch and keep streaming and playing the music…

This too shall pass

love M

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