I’m letting this summer song jump the queue.
It’s dark outside, and cold, and raining noisily – none of which I object to at all, but all of which now offer a strong contrast to my still fresh memory of visiting the Avebury stone circle on June 21st to watch the sunrise on the longest day of the year. Before summer is too far behind us, I’d like to describe this little hymn to its solstice and the celebrations that take place annually upon it.
This was always going to have a rousing chorus; that much was clear before we even began to write. It had to be an anthem for the longest day, a pagan singalong! And the best way to achieve this seemed to be to put the song’s perspective right in the middle of the solstice celebrations, hence the ‘here and now’ lyrics in the chorus:
‘Hail, oh hail the rising sun
The longest day is come!
Hail, oh hail this golden morn
The longest day is born!’
The verses set the scene of a summer solstice celebration in a stone circle. Verse one welcomes you to the occasion; verse two describes the moment of sunrise. The lyrics are simple and literal. We wanted to describe what happens and let the listener draw her own emotional inferences from that, rather than describing what the solstice feels like to us, or to someone else. Such an event exerts a powerful emotional influence on its observers in ways that are personal to each of them, and in simply outlining the scene we give a nod of deference to the solar system’s inexorable and indifferent cycle, whose vastness of scale both humbles and uplifts those who take the time to witness its pivotal moments.
Onto the music. We wanted depth, harmonic richness, and warmth, and so began my favourite part of the process. I think it’s relevant at this point to digress a little into a few words about what chords actually are. As guitarists, we tend to think of them as shapes first, and then, if we study the matter a little more deeply, we begin to appreciate them as combinations of notes. Further investigation and greater familiarity with the harmonic palette eventually allow us to become even less dependent on the shapes and to think primarily in terms of inter-related notes. This is when you might choose Cadd9 because you know you want the notes C, E, G, and D, and not because it’s an easy little hop away from a G major. Not that there’s anything wrong with stumbling across the perfect chord for the job because your fingers just happen to land there – let creativity flow by whatever means it will! – but freeing oneself from ‘shape dependence’ opens up a new realm of harmonic possibility for the composing guitarist.
Anyway, the verses use Em11 (mentioned before in these pages as a delicious fusion of E minor and D major), Dsus2/B, whose bass note drops to Bb to pull us down to Am, then Csus2(#11) (I got that from Genesis), and one of my well-worn favourites, F^sus2 (133010). The bridging section leading to the chorus hangs for a while on a D/G (I got that from Focus). It’s mysterious, warm, slightly ominous when sustained for that long, and blossoms very nicely to an A7 for the chorus.
The chorus reaches Am by its 7th and 8th bars, before repeating from the A7 – the minor to major shift providing a little reflection of the renewed hope with which sunrises generally – and major solar events in particular – have long been associated.
There’s a video for this one. That was part of the reason for going to Avebury this June. I captured some beautiful scenes and asked many marvellously attired celebrants for permission to film them. You can watch it here: http://youtu.be/cmwtBcdRTv8
To hear samples of all the songs on the ‘Calendar’ album, go to The Straw Horses website.