Gladdie is the only song of mine that I had to really work at to be able to sing it without bursting into tears. I had visions of reviews that said: “being so moved by your own song is more than a little self indulgent and is not what the average audience wants to see”. Maybe I was just feeling a bit tearful and vulnerable at this precise point or maybe it's the background of the song. Not least the fact that if this young man hadn't died in such tragic circumstances then I, and much of my family would not be here.
Either way, I thought I'd write a little bit about the song to explain what inspired it.
Playing and singing in folk clubs during 2014 naturally meant I heard a lot of songs about World War 1. There was also a lot of media coverage of events to mark the centenary of the start of the 1914-1918 conflict. That got me thinking about my own family history. I knew of the existence of some letters from the trenches that had been received by my Great-Grandmother, Gladys. She had kept these until her death at 93 years old in 1985 so they obviously meant a great deal to her. I'd seen the letters before; I even took copies into school when we studied the subject of trench warfare in history. This time I re-read them specifically with the idea that they might just spark an idea for a song.
The thing that particularly struck me about letters sent by the young man, Leslie, from the front was that he told absolutely nothing about what was going on. This will of course been partly to do with the censorship of letters, but even the tone was quite bright although nostalgic. He said he wished that it would soon all be over and that they would walk in the park again and down City Road.
We also have a letter that was written by Gladys to him. This is most strange as I'm sure the letter would not have been returned to her after his death as they weren't yet married. The conclusion I came to was that it was likely written but that she heard the news before it could be posted. Somehow this thought made it all the more poignant. She did actually ask him why he didn't tell her what they were all doing out there. Gladys heard of Leslie's death in 1917 through a note sent to her by his sister.
It is, of course, a familiar story of lost love in a time of war. There must be countless similar tales. The difference for me is not just that Gladys was my Great-Grandmother but that I actually remember her. She lived with us for the last year of her life when I was 4 or 5. I remember she could peel an apple in one long continuous strip and she would have white bread toast with butter and Bovril, a real treat that I could have too. (Usually we had wholemeal [Whole Wheat for you Americans] bread with sunflower margerine.) I also remember that she would forget that she was completely deaf and turn the television up really loud. My parents had installed a bell so she could call them if she was ill in the night. The one time she used it was to tell us that my hamster had escaped. The enterprising creature had got out of his cage and traveled the length of the house to the kitchen where he gnawed through the middle of a carrot so he could carry it back to his cage. We found him outside the cage with his trophy, I seem to remember he was allowed to keep the carrot for effort. But I digress...
Gladys later married a Canadian officer named Jesse Lenicar Moss and they had one daughter before he died of pernicious anaemia as a result of an infection he picked up in the trenches. Gladys lived for another 60 years after he died.
It gives me such a funny feeling to think that had Leslie lived she would probably have married him and the family she went on to have would have been entirely different. I suppose it's the same with all aspects of life.
Chance meetings forge the identity of future generations.
So I have worked hard to sing the song with enough feeling to make it meaningful but without actually sobbing. The rest of my family are a different story. I've had emails from cousins who said it made them cry. I have accepted that making someone cry with a song is acceptable. The first time it happened I was mortified!
The digital single will be released through iTunes on 28th September. It features the beautiful violin playing of my old school teacher Naomi Hitchings. The video version is from a live performance and also includes a slideshow of relevant photographs and letters expertly put together by Brian Kutscher who is also producing my second album.
Amy's Note Book.