Skyline Pigeon – Guy Darrell
Turn me loose from your hands, let me fly to distant lands Over green fields trees & mountains, flowers and forest fountains Home along the lanes of the skyways
Dear old Mum. This was her favourite song of 1968 and she played it to death for the next few years because it reminded her of dear Stan, who was with her when she bought it, but who then broke her heart, turning himself loose from her hands and flew back to the distant lands of Australia, flowers and forest fountains, green fields trees and mountains, home along the lanes of the skyways. I’m absolutely certain that Paul, Andrew (4 years old at the time?) and I all know the words off by heart, and all the notes too. We played with the lyrics a bit too, misheard some and deliberately misheard some others. We had to take the curse off of it I suppose. But we loved it too. It was played so much it got warped, a 45rpm single on the Pye label, I think. We didn’t know who Guy Darrell was, and he did nothing else, didn’t need to. He’d done this song, and in a list of songs which I group together as “Mum’s Sacred Songs“, I reckon this one is at number one.
Mum’s Sacred Songs then – I’ve already written about :
“People Gotta Be Free” – Dionne Warwick (My Pop Life #17)
“Days” – The Kinks (My Pop Life #147)
“Games People Play” – Joe South (My Pop Life #63)
“Israelites” – Desmond Dekker (My Pop Life #102)
Do I repeat myself? A little, yes, but then hey. I don’t have to think too hard to think of the others, which would be… :
“Jesamine” – The Casuals
“The Carnival Is Over” – The Seekers
“Part Of My Past” – Simon Dupree & The Big Sound
“Skyline Pigeon” – Guy Darrell
I think Paul and Andrew would agree with me on those. There may be one or two others – bound to be in fact – but these are eight of the top ten. And now that I look at them I realise with strange unease that aside from The Seekers (an Australian close harmony band led by Judith Durham which mum absolutely loved because she could sing the harmonies) whose hit single The Carnival Is Over was released in 1965 – every single one of these sacred singles comes from 1968 !!!
So two things are evident here. One is that they are actually my sacred singles, posing as mum’s. They are from the year I turned eleven, a mighty year for any boy. I’d already seen plenty of life – as a witness, at close hand, the eldest, whose testimony this is. A nervous breakdown suffered by my mum which lasted nine months, babysat by dad and nan, the return of mum, a negotiation with the hospital and the doctor which I was fully aware of somehow, a marital schism, dad leaves and lives in Eastbourne, a divorce, an empty house, a lodger, a love affair, a parting.
Oh this dark and lonely room projects a shadow dressed in gloom And my eyes are mirrors of the world outside Thinking of the way that the wind can turn the tide And these shadows turn from purple into grey
The shadow is actually cast in gloom but I always sang dressed up until – well today really when I discovered that he sings “cast in gloom“. Who is the Shadow Dressed In Gloom ? Slightly scary. But then again. Clearly myself. Or Mum if she was singing it. Whoever sings it is the Shadow. Turning from purple into grey. Then we get the soaring chorus which Paul and I sang as 9 and 11-year old boys :
Projects a skyline pigeon dreaming of the ocean waiting for the day When he could Shredded Wheat and fly away again Fly away skyline pigeon fly towards the things you left so very far behind
Shredded Wheat released us from the Shadow Dressed in Gloom turning from Purple to Grey. And we couldn’t release the scurrilous satirical version lustily in full public view and hearing of Mother because the song, as has been mentioned already, was Sacred. It was about her broken heart. Don’t Laugh. We found it desperately sad of course, but we didn’t really know it at the time. Consciously. It didn’t make us cry at least. Mum would grab a box of tissues. Now I find it unbearably moving.
Projects a Skyline Pigeon was actually ” For just a Skyline Pigeon“
Ocean was “Open“
Shredded Wheat was ‘spread his wings‘, of course. It fit perfectly.
The other song – I’ve just recalled – that was an eggshell song was Freda Payne‘s number one hit single Band Of Gold which I absolutely adored at the newly-sentient age of 13 in 1970 – “Mum, mum, I love this one” I may have bought it – or did she?? And when I played it one day she snapped – “How do you think it makes me feel ?” I was like – er – band of gold – wedding ring – divorce – oh yeah ! Sorry Mum !!
I’ve been about that sensitive ever since I reckon.
Just let me wake up in the morning to the smell of new-mown hay To laugh and cry through the night at the brightness of my day I long to hear the pealing bells of distant churches ring But most of all please free me from this breaking echoing
I was never sure about that last line. I’ll come back to that. The first three lines of verse two though described our little Sussex village – Stephen Criddle and I used to help the farmer baling at harvest time and we actually would wake up to the smell of new-mown hay, it’s a good smell. We did live opposite a farm with all the smells one associates with that countryside feature. The second line is completely wrong but that’s what I always sang. Kind of perfectly balanced crying and brightness – I wasn’t always sad, or happy, I was both. We were a few hundred yards down the lane from the church which stood opposite the vicarage where we were allowed to play croquet now and again. Tutored in the ways of righteousness. Stephen and I (or was it David Bristow??) cleaned off loads of gravestones one summer around this time, sat on the grass and scraped off the moss (but a few of the verses, well it got me quite cross…). Righteous. But the last line was a bit more Freda Payne in the end – aching metal ring – not breaking echoing. That was me – once again – personalising the song to mine own experience. I had trouble going to sleep, saw shapes, heard breaking echoing. Not every night. And Shredded Wheat always sorted everything out in the morning with cold milk and a bit of sugar. And a nice cup of tea. I like a nice cup of tea in the morning, and a nice cup of tea for my tea. I could do with a D. Tetleys Make Tea Bags Make Tea. Brooke Bond. PG Tips. Little picture cards, traded at school, books with the complete set glued in with Uhu. Trees Of Britain. Flags. Butterflies of the World.
Eventually Mum couldn’t stand listening to the song so it stood in the singles rack in its sky blue and white paper sleeve and remained unplayed, long after we all moved out, and Rebecca was born, grew up and moved out, and there it still was, Skyline Pigeon, unplayed and living on in all of our minds as breaking echoing… Perhaps we played it once or twice but I always remember it being a mistake, unless Mum was in a particularly good frame of mind which was Rare. And so rarely played. One day I was helping Mum to move from Polegate to a house in Willingdon where she would live on her own after the third and final marriage broke down and a third and final divorce was agreed, amicably and with great dignity on the part of Alan, who became Becky’s dad. Mum didn’t want anything from her past when she moved, was throwing stuff out with abandon, pictures, books, all kinds of stuff had been lost already in the last hallucination, god knows what had gone into the dustbin so I retrieved some amazing black and white pictures and a handful of 45rpm singles, including this one. It is warped and full of scratch hiss rasp and breaking echoing. But I have it.
Pam & Reg, unknown, Bob & Jessie, my dad & Mum standing, his parents sitting 1965? Paul and I may be the two boys at the front…
As the years went by I searched for Guy Darrell. No news. One song – I’ve Been Hurt, which was a northern soul hit. The only copy of Skyline Pigeon I owned for ages was by the fella who wrote it – Elton John, with lyrics and spreaded wings by Bernie Taupin. It appeared as a strange harpsichord crystalline version on Elton’s first LP which came out the following year 1969. Nobody bought it of course. Nobody heard Elton John (knowingly) until 1970 when he released Your Song : “…it’s a little bit funny this feeling inside…“. Later we all discovered he’d been voicing those Top Of The Pops albums with covers of the top 30, later still I would hear his ‘version’ of Skyline Pigeon, released as a piano solo version on an album of Elton Rarities in 1992, even later I would find him singing it in Rio, just like Guy Darrell did in 1968, the way it should be sung in my humble onion. He didn’t sing the words right though. The last line Elton sings “Open up this cage towards the sun“. It’s pretty good Bernie, pretty good. But from the age of eleven I always sang
Open up this face towards the sun
Guy Darrell has just had a retrospective released on CD last week which kind of prompted this post but I haven’t received it yet. So I’ll leave you with a couple of Elton John performances and when the CD arrives I’ll post the track on Youtube, then on here. TTFN.
Elton John live in Edinburgh 1976 :
Elton John live in Rio 2015 :