"Fourteen Days" by StylusboyReview
Stylusboy (aka Steve Jones), whose latest single, "Fourteen Days" is out today on his own Tortoise Recordings (it is taken too from his forthcoming EP ‘Back in the Day') will not, I hope, mind my suggesting that some of us (well me at any rate) regard his "signature song" to be his deeply affecting "For The Souls Of My Brothers" (which you can find on ‘Hot Music Live Presents Volume Two' if you've yet to hear it). This song derives much of its power from its roots in his family history & the content refers specifically to the emotional events in & behind the story it tells so well.
Regardless of the value of that song, it would be bizarre to suggest that Steve is some sort of specialist in writing World War Two themed material: he isn't. He just finds interesting stories which reveal deep emotional truths & uses them to write emotive tracks. Nevertheless, we are back with that conflict for the subject matter of "Fourteen Days", as its protagonist is "... an amazing man called John who is 102 years old. John is blind and unable to walk anymore however his story is a hard hitting one of survival and this song tells his story of being shot down behind enemy lines in World War 2 and how he survived for 14 days on wild fruit and vegetables before getting back to safety. Ironically, when he finally made it back, they thought he was a spy and then nearly shot him!" So you can see what drew him to the tale & that stands entirely on its own merits. Nevertheless, as a reviewer, I hope you don't mind a little speculation as to how he might see this song relating to, or complementing his earlier one.
In fact the key to his songwriting, inasmuch as it relates to "Fourteen Days", is less a desire to chronicle the experiences of people who lived through the Second World War specifically, but as part of his several community engagement projects & enthusiasms which lead him into contact with those who possess compelling stories which he can then share with others through the medium of song.
This particular one is something he carried out last year (with National Lottery Community Fund support) with the Coventry based charity Good Neighbours who support lonely & isolated people over the age of fifty. He met six people through this project & created a song, based upon their lives, for each of them, so I look forwards to hearing the other five in due course.
Essentially a solo recording (at his home studio The Truffle Room) playing all instruments, you'll also hear harmonies sung over from the USA by singer-songwriter Alva Leigh.
It can't be remotely easy to capture stories like this one, in song: especially when the subject is still around to hear the results. Though the narrative is probably relatively easy to nail, it must be all in the tone: does the song as a whole chime with them emotional memory of something which must have been traumatic & possibly still painful, despite the ultimate survival. I think we can safely say that since we are listening to it, that it must have passed that test: so what line did he take?
It's actually quite tricky (at least for me) to define.. but I'll do my best. Respectful, Steve favours as much factual lyricism as possible in order to be objective: in fact I read into it that he appreciates the wartime sense of stoicism which must have got the person concerned through the events: by focusing on the practical & not letting fear intrude into decision making too much. As they sometimes say, they don't make them like that any more (and I'm guessing that on the balance of probability, he was a person who signed up for service from a previous civilian background, rather than being a professional from before the war). I imagine that this is what got him through so that we are learning the story at all and certainly Steve has honed in & reported a strong streak of optimism flowing through the concerns & worries (I don't want to use the word "fears" as this seems to be a song about someone who needs respecting for conquering fears).
Musically this must have been a considerable challenge: this is not a song of loss like "For The Souls Of My Brothers", nor one of dread or even really of triumph (despite what some of us might think of his eventual return), so there simply are not the obvious emotional buttons for Steve to press while composing. What he therefore has come up with is a rather brisk, matter of factual tune, which I think fits nicely with the "stiff upper lip" tone of the story. It's great to hear artists needing to rise to unusual challenges especially one which if narrated about an equivalent set of adventures in our own times would almost certainly require a much more emotionally garrulous approach, such are contemporary takes on our emotions.
Ultimately of course, community based music occupies a very particular special place: it's wonderful that projects like this exist & that artists of the calibre of Stylusboy can encapsulate remarkable stories like this when the generation which lived through such times is dwindling: it's living history in action, but only for a few more years & then we'll need songs like this even more to educate & to inspire us in the absence of those whose stories they are & who'll not be around to speak directly for themselves.