EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT

"Like the barley in the breeze, I'm always moving free"




Part of the Annotated Lyrics Horslips Pages


"I Often Hear a Song in Dreams"
Two Perspectives on Everything Will Be Alright


You won't let me see your daughter
Make her turn her back on me
But like the barley in the breeze
I'm always moving free.
And when the songbird's in her nest
I call on her at night.
We often outstay moonbeams...singing
Everything will be alright
Singing everything will be alright.

You won't let me build a spire
Reach out to the sky.
You cut me from my living god,
Can't see him till I die.
You won't even let me learn.
I dream but cannot write.
I often hear a song in dreams ... singing
Everything will be alright
Singing everything will be alright.

I bought a gun
From a soldier on the run
Just to teach a thing or two.
But I threw it back
Took up my harp
Tried to make my dreams come true.

You try to cut me from the land
Bid men move out to die.
Your shadow moves across the sun,
Soon poets start to lie.
But theirs will always be a song
Of smiles that bring the light.
The man behind the dark can hear me ... saying
Everything will be alright.
Saying everything will be alright.

You won't let me build a spire
Reach out to the sky.
You cut me from my living god,
Can't see him till I die.
You won't even let me learn.
I dream but cannot write.
I often hear a song in dreams ... singing
Everything will be alright
Singing everything will be alright.
Singing everything will be alright.
Alright, everything will be alright.

Recorded On:

  1. The Unfortunate Cup of Tea
  2. Horslips Live
  3. Horslips, The Best of

Source Tunes:

The Trip to Durrow
Rakish Paddy

Notes from the album:

The Trip to Durrow burbles along under this hopeful anthem. But everything wasn't all right as it happens. The Unfortunate Cup of Tea was Horslips' lease successful album in critical -- and sales -- terms. After it the band regrouped and dreamed up The Book of Invasions.


"I OFTEN HEAR A SONG IN DREAMS"
Two Three Perspectives on Everything Will Be Alright

From Donnacha Kavanagh, January 23:

While I hate the second guessing of writers' intentions, I am about to annoy myself hugely by doing it to one of my favourite Horslips songs and one that is a forgotten classic, rarely getting a mention among the assorted Troubles, Swords of Light, Dearg Dooms and Mad Pats.

On the face of it, the song can be read as the manifesto of the cheerful optimist who, despite repeated knockbacks, believes he can get through it all and all will be well. Certainly that is the impression you get from the first verse:

You won't let me see your daughter
Make her turn her back on me
But like the barley in the breeze
I'm always moving free.
And when the songbird's in her nest
I call on her at night.
We often outstay moonbeams, singing
Everything will be alright
Effectively, he saying "You won't let me go out with your daughter, but we sneak away anyway and stay up all night..." something I can identify with, as I was doing the same with a lovely young lady around the time I started to obsess on this album (c 1983).

However, from there on the song takes a different, albeit related, path and it is here that my possibly whacked-out theory comes in.

The rest of EWBA has always struck me - rightly or wrongly - as a song about the Plantation of Ireland. I know that sounds far-fetched, but keep in mind that this is the album immediately before BOI, the first in a trilogy of albums about the invasion/emptying of Ireland.

Check out verse two:

You won't let me build a spire
Reach out to the sky.
You cut me from my living god,
Can't see him till I die.
You won't even let me learn.
I dream but cannot write.
I often hear a song in dreams singing
Everything will be alright.
This has always been a reference to the Penal Laws for me, whereby celebration of the Catholic mass was banned and education for Catholics was also banned. This leads nicely into the bridge:
I bought a gun
From a soldier on the run
Just to teach a thing or two.
But I threw it back
Took up my harp
Tried to make my dreams come true.
Ah, rebellion: the default fallback position of the Irish peasant. Although in the song the erstwhile lover, dreamer (and clearly musician) merely dabbles with the idea of fighting back, instead venting his frustrations through music. This ties in with the folk-memory being kept alive by the itinerant musicians and storytellers. It also leads into the dynamite guitar solo and spirited rendition of Rakish Paddy that somehow reminds me of fireworks in a clear winter sky.

And then we come to the final stanza:

You try to cut me from the land
Bid men move out to die.
Your shadow moves across the sun,
Soon poets start to lie.
But theirs will always be a song
Of smiles that bring the light.
The man behind the dark can hear me, singing
Everything will be alright.
Land ownership was severely curtailed by the Penal Laws and landholdings were split equally among the sons of Catholic landowners, leading to progressively smaller - and eventually untenable - holdings. This in turn led to clearances and the consolidation of larger estates and the first trickles of the emigration flood that would come later.

The shadow image always suggested to me a malign or oppressive influence (the rule of law, perhaps?) that robbed the peasantry of all but the simplest pleasures. Poets lying ties in with the Aisling tradition of poetry, whereby apparently simple love poems were instead deeply political examinations of a downbeaten people (cf Roisin Dubh). The fifth line reinforces the image of the culture being kept alive by the bardic tradition (similar to the "we are a river flowing" imagery of Irish Ways and Irish Laws), while the man (or is it men? I absorbed this album - as with the others - through a mono Pye record player of venerable vintage) behind the dark refers to either all those who have gone beyond the final curtain of death or even to those earlier musicians warriors and poets, the Fairies.

There you go, long and windy and in need of a good talking-to, but those are the images that haunt me when I hear this song. And could I just repeat: I LOVE this song. Even though I have in the past been less-than-fulsome about TUCOT, it is an album that took up an awful lot of my time at one point and while I don't think it ranks with BOI or DS, it is not a question of the album being bad; it's just different.



From Lee Templeton, February 7:
TUCOT is an uneasy album of shadows and furtive ghosts. And over these many years it's also become a crafty old medium, capable of summoning the ectoplasms of a aural past. That funky horn-riff of "If That's What You Want" has Richard Roundtree stalking mean streets again as Martin Scorsese frames the shot of Harvey Keitel leaving the strip club. Or Snakes' Farewell, a deceptive slice of cool sophistication complete with a rattler's tail intro, calling up a wary, nocturnal mid-decade moment in the universal urban scene.

Even that flash of Camp, a major aesthetic force of the era, showing its thick ankle and unshaven leg in several of the tunes and the album artwork itself. The bit of vaudeville dialogue, complete with sentimental piano dripping along in the background; the clink of china and parlor patter in the rollicking rendition of the album's eponymous traditional tune; that monster's growl introducing the little B-n-D farce of High Volume Love. And are you sure that isn't Columbia and Magenta, unaccredited on the sleeve notes, as the female backup singers on that same song?

Half-insane girls in the shadows, devil's laughter everywhere, moans in the next room, prayers and rosaries, a monster's silhouette in the cottage window, faceless enemies around every corner..."you got to run, you got to hide, you got to get away..."

Then, finally, there's Everything Will Be Alright, ending the album with a song that hints at the album that might have been if the band had had more time to light a few more candles and dispel some of the darkness gathering around. It opens with birdsong, an ambient dawn chorus recorded after an all-night session of hard work at the Rockfield recording studios in Wales. According to Eamon Carr "We walked over fields to a brook. [Fritz Fryer] was interested in getting the sound of the stream."

To me the birds are reminiscent of the various sounds that bridge the songs on The Beatles' Sgt Pepper, and perhaps it is no mere coincidence that Fryer, the producer, came from a beat group background himself which included sharing the bill with the Beatles during their Cavern Club residency. With his passing, Fryer's obituary highlighted the "eccentric" qualities of his work -- a word often applied to the Beatles sense of play in their music as well.

But beyond connections to the Beatles (and theirs is another ghost haunting the proceedings -- Horslips was planning to use Come Back Beatles as a B-side for the album's first single.), the birdsong establishes the song's key theme: music's perseverance and its redemptive power.

It always interested me that the second verse of the song was the one to be repeated twice. Now that Donnacha's analysis prompted me to pay closer attention to the song and that verse in particular, I realize that it holds the keynote:

I dream but cannot write
I often hear a song in dreams singing
Everything Will Be Alright
When a significant word appears twice in close succession, it's a signal to pay attention. The same word occurs again in the third verse where there's a tense choice between the paths of action and art:
I bought a gun
From a soldier on the run
Just to teach a thing or two.
But I threw it back
Took up my harp
Tried to make my dreams come true
In 1977, in an interview to New Musical Express, Jim Lockhart specifically highlighted the lyrics of Horslips' music as one of its key elements. "Ideally it should be like a poem with symbols intimated by key words. The more you read it, the more you can discern and enjoy."

I do think the signal words of "dream" and "dreams" connect EWBA to the later arc of the stories of exile and new lives on Aliens, specifically Come Summer, Ghosts, and a Lifetime to Pay.

There are earlier songs with dreams for a central image in Horslips' music. On Dancehall Sweethearts, in The Blind Can't Lead the Blind, the image anchors the chorus:

Love is blind or so it seems
To make me offer you my dreams
After all is said and done
A blindman's dreams aren't much fun
Although this is a very intimate song, the offered dreams have almost a tangible quality: they can be given or shared with others. There seems to be a significance in presenting them to another and their acceptance equally so. In this same way, I consider the "memories" image in Come Summer as something communal, passed down through generations: a preservation of a culture in an intangible, therefore survivable, format. Poems and songs are ideal for this transmission:
So they've left taking memories with them
But with those who have cared, a sweet magic is shared
And its charms will always be with them
We associate memories with the past and dreams connote the future. In reality, the two mental states often borrow from each other, an interrelationship art constantly explores. In Come Summer, the memories and charms leaving with the emigrants have roots in ancient cultural associations. I would accept that this is also true for the related image of dreams within these same songs.

Ghosts expands this theme with the narrator restoring immediacy to a scene that, for many of Americans like me, is now abstracted by history's retelling and several generations:

They came knocking at my door
The landlord dressed in black
Said "Pack your bags and move on out.
We don't ever want you back."
Yet, even though there is "nothing left to sell," there is one thing left to carry forward into the future:
There proved there could be hope
Where ever there are dreams...
Again, the significance is highlighted through repetition of the theme:
So long ago it seems
The love that drives me ever on
Is the love I find in dreams
And so, inevitably, it comes as a rude shock, as the album no doubt intends, to find that there are "dreams" are waiting for these people on the other shore.

Following immediately after the achingly beautiful Ghosts, is the car-horn interstate highway blast of A Lifetime to Pay, a song that sounds pretty damn good in a mix with any number of other late-70s Me Decade life on the road/rock critiques1. (Life in the Fast Lane, American Girl, Young Americans, Born to Run, Running on Empty, Hollywood Nights, White Punks on Dope. To name just the few.) And like the best of these, the lyrics to A Lifetime to Pay hide a good deal of cynicism in their self-congratulatory celebration of this new land of opportunity. "Now it's free for all" and "you've enough on your plate" have meanings that cut several ways; not all of them positive. "Forget the past," the song seems to say, "You've got yours."

So this is the life
You've dreamed of
Don't worry if it's not as good as it seems

You've enough on your plate
Look, that's business
You know you can buy the American Dream
It's a one-size-fits-all Dream now, in capitals. Something handed to everyone at the arrivals dock, regardless of their port of departure. Easy. Universal. No guns2 or harps required anymore. Only "a dollar a day" and all our lifetimes to pay.


1And yes, if this song is cueing up on the car CD player as I hit the on-ramp to the 101, I crank it. After all it's a great big world with lots of places to run to.

2Argumentively. We can discuss the guns later. Actually, I think we did in TMWBA.



From Donnacha Kavanagh, February 15:

All right, try this theory for size. Right, theory number 2: It is not explicitly about the Penal Laws after all, I have decided, but it is coloured by them.

It is a song about "The Troubles", as 30 brutal years of internecine savagery was euphemistically called in Ireland.

(As a digression, there is something about Ireland and euphemisms -- the greatest convulsion to hit the planet, or WW2 as it was also known, was referred to in Ireland simply as The Emergency. I can imagine the headlines: "War in Europe -- Ireland gravely inconvenienced".)

However, to return to the theme, it can be viewed as the song of a young lad caught up in the strife in NI during the 1970s. In verse one, "you won't let me see your daughter" could be taken as a comment on the disfavour with which both sides of the fight viewed "mixed marriages" or even courting a member of the opposite tribe. (I remember getting a fierce telling-off from my mother when I went out with a Protestant girl. "They're out to trap ye!" she warned. "They'll tempt you with sex and all sorts!" I couldn't wait, frankly.)

Similarly the bridge "I bought a gun from a soldier on the run" could well be taken from life, as there was a healthy trade in firearms between disaffected paramilitaries and equally disaffected soldiers in NI at the time.

"But I threw it back, took up my harp" is a simple renunciation of violence and a turning towards music as a unifying force, one that could perhaps give people the all-too-rare opportunity to come together in a common purpose (and by extension see that "themmuns" didn't have cloven hoofs and forked tails). This last point is valid, I think, given the cross-community appeal of Horslips during the darkest days of "The Troubles", as referenced by Jim Nelis in the ROTDS documentary.

(Interestingly, the line about "bid men move out to die" could also be read as a reference to the paramilitary habit of exiling people from their homes for real or perceived crimes.)

So there we have it, a complete about-turn on my original theory, but what are you gonna do? Eh?



First Posted: January 28, 2008
Last Revised: February 16, 2008