Lammas Day, the 1st of August, was traditionally the start of the harvest, when the first wheat was cut and made into loaves that would be given to the church to thank God for the crops.
During the period of reaping, celebrating and thanksgiving that followed, a young couple might be permitted to spend 11 days in a trial romantic union.
This sometimes led to marriage, but if that wasn’t allowed, they might have to wait until the next Lammas fair before they could be together again.
We liked the sound of that, so we imagined a young couple who were very much in love, but who, for some reason, couldn’t stay together beyond the 11 days of the Lammas fair.
We decided from the off that we didn’t know why their union couldn’t continue, and that the listener would have to draw his own conclusion. This added an interesting element to the writing process: we’d normally begin with a full story and set about pulling all its strands together, whereas this time we had a picture with a big hole in the middle whose shape we had to describe without hinting at the specifics of what was missing. As a somewhat mechanically-minded writer (excessively so at times, I will readily own), it was a liberating experience for me to create a mystery and to have in mind no explanation for it.
(These articles assume that the reader has the lyrics to hand – or at least the recording. The further I get into writing this set of post-hoc dissections, the clearer my view of what they’re for and what use they might have. I think it’s not unreasonable to presume that anyone reading this far has access to the song under analysis. If not, bon courage!)
Structurally, we have this:
bridge (A term with various interpretations even among songwriting coaches!)
coda (Same section as the bridge but with additions.)
Here, I use the word ‘bridge’ to refer to a bridging section between the chorus and the verse. I don’t call middle eights bridges; I call them middle eights, whether or not they have eight bars and occur in the middle. For me, a bridge is a link between two sections, although I’m not uncomfortable with alternative usages of the term.
Only two verses then, to set our story out. It’s plenty, as the lines are long, and four of them could be argued to be eight, particularly with the rhymes falling halfway along them as well as at their ends. The verse and chorus use the same chords, and the device we employ to differentiate between them is a change of harmonic rhythm – that is, the chord changes speed up. The cycle is Dm7, C^, Gm7, A7, with one chord lasting two bars in the verse but only one bar in the chorus. That increase in pace mirrors the shift from rosy reflection to hurried goodbye as we move from one section to the other.
At the end of the chorus, under the line ‘All the year I’ll keep you here inside my yearning heart’ the chords’ pace doubles again as we run through the sequence F^, Gm7, A7, Bb, Em7b5, A7 – a sorrowful little movement with a two-part harmony that lends a splash of poignancy to our thwarted lovers’ parting declaration.
The bridge is just Dm7 with decorations. When it’s used as a coda, the strings get to explore the dorian mode with increasing confidence until the fade stops them getting too bold.
The song was recorded guitar-first without a click so that it could push and pull for a more natural, emotion-led feel. It’s one of my favourites on the record, for the simplicity of its theme and the sadness of its sound.
To hear samples of all the songs on the ‘Calendar’ album, go to The Straw Horses website.