Stories to break your heart, from an English country churchyard

We went for a walk this afternoon, after lunch in the Giant’s Rest pub, and happened to pass through a churchyard. There a tombstone caught my eye, and I paused in the misty rain to run my hand over the metal, trace the words and read the story. It broke my heart. It does again now, writing this.

Elizabeth lived in these parts, around the mysterious Long Man figure in the Sussex countryside, in the 1700s. She and her husband Thomas had 11 children: four sons and seven daughters. Then, over a period of five years, she lost six of them.

The first was Jane, in 1725. She was three years old. The next was Stephen in 1726, also three years old. That same year, Elizabeth also lost Frances, who lived for only three months.

Three years passed, then Thomas died, age one. Richard was next, in 1730, when he was nine months old. That same year, her teenage daughter Mary died, aged 16.

A year later, Elizabeth lost her husband and their father, Thomas.

I don’t know why any of this happened. I don’t know who they were. I feel the need to mark their existence though, having met them like this. Here’s to them. Jane and Stephen and Frances and Thomas and Richard and Mary, and their Dad Thomas. They were here, long ago. They lived. I also want to honour Elizabeth, who somehow found the strength to go on living for 26 more years.

This is the kind of place where time stretches. The tomb is overlooked by a mighty, twisted yew tree whose weary arms are held up by posts and chains. It is said to be at least 1600 years old, which means there is a chance it was alive when the Romans were in Britain, before the legions withdrew.

Time stretches and time spins.

And in another corner of the churchyard there is a memorial to a pair of sisters, Pattie and Catherine, who died 97 years apart. That feels astonishing to me.

Ninety seven years. Pattie in 1894, aged 15 months. Catherine in 1991, having witnessed the First and Second World Wars, the Nuclear Age, the Space Race and the dawning of the age we live in now. She was 93 years old.

Their surname is Ade, which in Sussex is a contraction of Adam, a name that links us all. Walking away, one of us says they must have been related. I go back and check the tombstone and find that yes, it’s true of Elizabeth and Thomas, who lived and loved and raised and lost their children more than a century before the sisters were born. They were called Ade too.

Now there’s an album …

I’ve been banging on about The Light Keeper novel for a while – and obviously I would still very much like you to get a copy, spend time in that world where the seabirds soar and fall in love with the characters – but now I’d like to mention something else. There’s an album. A collection of songs, written by myself and the musician David Perry in response to the story and the characters of Sarah, Jack and Gabe, the Keeper. This summer we slipped into the Saffron Lounge studio, run by our mighty friend and producer Bruce Pont within walking distance of the cliffs where the story happens, to record the songs as live, playing and singing together. Bruce added voice, drums and keys and Phoene Cave, a very fine singer, gave us backing vocals. Then I recorded extracts from the novel to set up each song. The result is The Light Keeper by The Light Keepers (see what we did there?) and it’s available now on iTunes, Spotify and all the usual streaming services as well as for direct download here. What does it sound like? The best way to tell you is to play you something, so here below is Holding Out For More, a song about the love between the Keeper and his partner Rí in their early days. Hope you like it. Let me know. We’ll be launching the album in the cinema of the Towner, a world class gallery, on Thursday December 5 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available here. The performance will feature readings, the stories behind the novel and the songs as well as images from visual artists who have responded to the same stunning landscape. See you there, if you can make it. If not, settle down, choose your player and have a listen to The Light Keeper. Thanks.

Holding Out For More by The Light Keepers
The Light Keepers performing in the Lantern Room of the Belle Tout lighthouse.

“Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth …”

Seven songs found or re-found in the last seven days, just for fun and the sake of it. This latest weekly list is a little more mellow than the last, or melancholy if you prefer. I do. The lonesome note. A wonderful song about Samson; the aching and longing of a tune you may have heard on Wallander; Luke Sital-Singh’s brand new cover of a Travis banger; Michael Stipe and 1 Giant Leap listening to the silence; Cornershop in a new light; Buddy Rich’s 12-year-old daughter stepping up to the mic for the first time and Sheila Chandra’s chilling take on a very old song. Love is a killing thing, indeed. (That’s Hedy Lamarr in Samson and Delilah by the way. She was also a brilliant inventor who helped create the technology behind mobile phones. Fact.)

Have a listen …

My friend George Luke has a show on Chiltern Voice, playing music from around the world on a Sunday night. It’s really fantastic. You can listen to it here. Inspired by that, for the love of music and the fun of it, I’ve started putting together a weekly playlist of seven songs I’ve found (or re-found) in the last seven days. Here’s this week’s playlist featuring a bit of Doors at the disco, a Welsh language singer making a samba record with musicians in Rio, Afrobeat master Tony Allen going all James Bond followed by a track he made with Fela Kuti and the great drummer Ginger Baker, who died today; then there’s a song about love making you want to blow up like an atom bomb, followed by a real (as far as I know) recording of a radio advertisement from the Fifties, telling American kids what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Duck and cover. That one’s pretty disturbing. Anyway, here it is. Any suggestions for next week? Please do comment and share.

Should the water be up to the windows?

No, of course not. But there I was, singing a song on board a boat on the Thames when I saw the water was undoubtedly, unnervingly, half way up the glass. People were looking worried. They were looking for the exits. I was worried. Wouldn’t you have been? Look at it …

Thanks to Helen Daniels for the picture. This was an alarmingly literal response by the river to the words of the song: “Let your love roll down, like the wave turn.”

We were on the Tamesis Dock, a barge venue moored opposite the House of Parliament, on the day of one of those big crisis votes. No metaphors there about a sinking ship, oh no. All I could think of was to keep singing, with The Light Keepers, the band we formed after David Perry and I wrote a set of songs in response to the novel. Anyway, we didn’t drown. The windows held fast. Stories were told, drink was taken. Fun was had.

There are more events coming up, could you get to one of them? It would be good to see you there.

I promised free stuff, so I’m giving away a pair of tickets to each one, to anyone who can show they have reviewed the book on Amazon, GoodReads or anywhere else. I’ll pick the winners in a week’s time, so you’ve got until then to stick something up somewhere and get in touch. With a bit of luck we’ll stay dry …

Retford, Saturday October 12: Pies Peas and Performance with Paul Cookson

Preston, Friday October 18: The Larder

Salford, October 19: Sacred Trinity

Birling Gap, Saturday November 9: National Trust centre at one of the actual locations of the story.

Eastbourne, Thursday December 5: performance in collaboration with visual artists and album launch at the Towner gallery.

See you there!