Then you must promise me
That you won’t leave me when you leave
This world that didn’t believe.
(“I Believed You, William Blake” ~ Frank Turner, 2019)
It’s been a while since a Frank Turner song – or any song to be honest – has left such an impression on me as this one has. And it’s quite astounding that a song which isn’t about any personal relatable experience, impressed me the way this one did. I didn’t even know anything about William Blake and his wife Catherine. Nor did I care to be honest. I just love everything about this song. The music. The arrangement. The lyrics. The way Frank puts so much emotion into his singing, making the desperate pleading to William and the rage against the world quite palpable to me.
I (still) lack the ability to properly analyse, understand or describe the various elements, which make this song so so so perfect to me. “Perfect” feels like such a general and generic term, but at the moment it’s the best I can think of to describe it. Because while all the elements – melody, arrangement, lyrics, performance – are beautiful in their own right, they complete each other in such a way that they create an incredibly beautiful…. perfect piece of music. And even though I lack the knowledge and vocabulary, I’ll try to describe why this song is such a pleasure for me to listen to. To be honest I think I need to shout it from the rooftop to just finally stop thinking about it and get it out of my system :-)
Let’s start with the music and instrumentation / arrangement. I love that Frank picked a simple melody and an even rhythm for the song – or rather for both parts of the song – and hardly strays from it. There is such beauty in simplicity and regularity, even more so, when it’s accompanied by an adequate rhythmic sound; from the bass and the steady percussion in the first part and even more so when the strings (kudos to Matt Nasir for the arrangements on the whole album) and heavier percussion come in in the second half to so wonderfully underpin the desperate pleading and emotions in words and voice.
To me the melody and arrangement contain echoes of a classical piece of music, but I can’t really narrow it down any further, as I’ve forgotten most of what I’ve learned in school about classical music and the various periods. But this song reminds me of it, because among other things the finger picking guitar accompanied by some drums in the instrumental section conjures memories of the harpsichord for me, as weird as this might sound. Maybe I just imagine it, but it would suit the 18th century feel the song has for me. To me one of the amazing and wonderful things about this album is, that the music of each song often fits or at least echoes the time and place, when and where the woman in the song lived. Here the music and song structure doesn’t only remind me of classical music from the 18th century, but also of a religious hymn sang in church, which also fits the narrative of this song or rather the life Catherine must have lived at William’s side.
There is not just beauty in simplicity and regularity of the music, but also in the lyrics. Even more so for me, who knows more about words than about music. I absolutely adore the inherent rhyme & rhythm in this song and that includes the various sonic repetitions in so many of these lyrics. Call me a nerd, but the abundance with which Frank uses all of those here is such a joy for me to listen to. There is the classic end rhyme in the even lines of the verse and chorus
had – mad / see – me / shake – Blake…
There are assonance and consonance
known around Old London Town
time with the divine
earth and faith
comfort to your wife
the great and good, they never could
and my absolute favourite
That you won’t leave me when you leave
This world that didn’t believe
To me all of this once again shows what a great songwriter Frank is. Telling a compelling story in lyrical form is one thing. Doing so in verse form with such beautiful, resonant, pleasing sounds is quite another. What can I say, I’m a fan of his art. To me this song is a masterpiece of songwriting and I can’t wait to hear it hopefully a few times during the four shows I’ll attend of the No Man’s Land UK Tour later this year. In advance I now apologize to my seat neighbours, for when I’ll be singing along to the most powerful moment of this song “this world that didn’t believe, be a comfort to your wife”. Most probably from the top of my lungs and off key, but I can’t help it, I need to sing along to that one. Loudly!
Even though I consider this song a well rounded perfect masterpiece, I do have two favourite moments in the album version, I want to mention here to round this up:
1. The brief mandolin tremolo, that sets in when Frank sings the word “Jerusalem”, which is such a neat little addition for two reasons. Because to me it brings a bit of byzantine / oriental atmosphere to this and highlights that Jerusalem is and always – i.e. even during Blake times – has been a holy city for more than just one culture and/or religion. While at the same time this sound also very much reminds me – agnostic Catholic, that I am – of the altar bells used in Mass, and that also goes well with the religious undertone of the song, based on Blake’s theology and the whole point of “Believing”.
2. Jess Guise is singing backing vocals on various songs on this album, but it was the chorus of this one (#3 on the album, so not that late) when I first realized how well Frank’s voice and her voice harmonize together. Their voices together are a lovely sound all through the album (“A Perfect Wife” is another great track to hear that), but what stands out for me here is a moment in the 2nd chorus – “And on my grave…”, when Frank’s voice sets in a beat later than hers and thus she gets her moment to shine and it sounds beautiful.
Have a listen for yourself….