Protest Songs No.1: “Are We Alive?”

(Martin Colyer/Mark Pringle)

We’re taking out the rich – and their acolytes,
It’s the end of the road, and the start of the fight.
Revolution’s in the air, and the time is right,
Why the wait? Let’s go tonight!

In their basement pools and their panic rooms,
They watch the fray, sat on heirlooms…
But are the troops amassed, or scattered blithe?
Did we hesitate, or are we alive?

Are we alive?
Are we alive?
Are we alive?

Mark Pringle: Lead electrical guitar, Strings
Martin Colyer: Electric guitars, rhythm track, vocals

Martin vs Music: Sealed With a Kiss


Recently heard on the soundtrack to an episode of Mad Men, my continuing project of finding songs to cover leads to an attempt on Brian Hyland’s 1962 puppy-love pop classic (#3 on both US and UK charts). It has a naggingly dark/slightly hysterical melody that stuck in my head for days after watching the programme. I thought that a kind of moody, dragged-out beat would suit, and ended up close to an Angelo Badalamenti mugginess. Having roughed it out thus, Mark added his tensile guitar to it at the end of a day when we’d been playing “Next!” – a game where I play Mark tracks in various states of completion and he either responds to them, or doesn’t (and hence “Next!”). He has no knowledge of what I’m going to serve up, and sometimes it hooks him in enough to play multiple takes and work a part out. Sometimes it’s just one or two takes. He played, I think, three passes on this song.

An idea had occurred to me, a while before, to hire a bona-fide musician (Mark’s one, but he works with me for lunch and wine). And I thought of horns on this, so I emailed the wonderful Paul Taylor, who I’d seen with improv outfit the Horseless Headmen. I trepidatiously waited for a reply to my request that he write horn charts for a couple of songs, and was hugely thrilled when he said yes. Paul’s a great musician and a wonderful chap to spend a day with. We discussed a ridiculous range of music, from trad to bebop, from The Bureau via Improv to Trombone Poetry. Having tuned up the part of my brain needed to cope with engineering a live trombone session – we set to. Paul methodically and with great precision overdubbed the trombones that you hear here. It was only at the end that I played him Mark’s guitar part, and it was interesting to find how well the parts meshed. So here it is, folk fans: Sealed With a Kiss.



True fact: Hyland’s In a State of Bayou album found him working with the late and most certainly great Allen Toussaint. Who knew?

Note: The photograph above was taken in Uppsala during a performance of silent movies accompanied by live piano. It’s the cinema where Ingmar Bergman watched films as a child and the theatre hasn’t been updated since. Before the performance there was a selection of eccentric music videos from the late 30s, all accordions and gypsy guitar and very flimsy story lines, as witnessed above.

Credits: Lead guitar by Mark Pringle, Trombones arranged and played by Paul Taylor, Rhythm guitars and vibes played by Martin Colyer, who also arranged the song and sang it. There is no bass.

Retract Larch: Are We Alive?

Inspired by finding a clipping of this fascinating New York Times Magazine article (from its regular feature on words, Lexicon), a song. Mr Mark Pringle on one-take Strat. Now if only I could get a decent singer, say Karen O, to actually deliver it.


Code Name: Retract Larch
If the government’s system for labeling its billions of secret documents seems utterly incomprehensible, then it’s working exactly as planned. By WILLIAM M. ARKIN

No one knows exactly how many secrets the United States government maintains, but by some estimates its safes and secure rooms contain tens of billions of pages of classified documents. In addition to being marked either Top Secret, Secret or Confidential, many of these pages are assigned a “compartment,” a unique code word for whatever surveillance effort, covert operation, special-access program, classified research initiative, military exercise or development effort the document refers to.
Some of these compartments are as old as the cold war: Restricted Data, for instance, was established by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 for information about nuclear weapons design. The euphemism Special Arabic was long used for interceptions of Israeli communications, lest our ally get wise that we were listening in. Some of the newer code names, like ECI and H, are so secret that national security experts outside government don’t know what they stand for.
These compartment names may look like English, but they are in fact a language unto themselves, highly specialized and, by design, almost perfectly impenetrable. Consider the following sampling — and see if you can connect the secret designation with the program that it is used to signify.

1. Inspired Venture
2. Talent Keyhole Byeman
3. Diagonal Glance
4. Noble Shirley/Juniper Falconry
5. Parcae
6. Log Tree
7. Wheelhouse
8. Friar/Desperado
9. Scathe View
10. Classic Owl
11. Credible Wolf
12. Dragon Lightning
13. Iron Hare
14. Classic Trump
15. Coronet Nighthawk
16. Bulwark Bronze
17. Dragon Fury
18. Gypsy Wagon
19. Lincoln Gold
20. Tractor Hike
21. Chalk Poinsettia
22. Retract Larch
23. Cloud Gap
24. Dial Flinty
25. Indigo Desert
26. Keens World

A. Air Force classified system.
B. Imagery-satellite operations data.
C. Israel-U.S. exercise.
D. Classified Middle East exercise.
E. Targeting of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
F. Classified Pacific Ocean exercise.
G. Caribbean counternarcotics deployments.
H. Technical exploitation of a stolen foreign nuclear weapon.
I. Clearance for military-deception information.
J. Air Combat Command nuclear-accident exercise.
K. Navy classified weapons-development program.
L. Operation to retrieve a lost or stolen nuclear warhead.
M. Presidential survival exercise.
N. Classified Middle East special operations exercise.
O. Navy counter-narcotics intelligence collection.
P. Air Force reconnaissance in areas of humanitarian disaster.
Q. Ocean surveillance satellite.
R. V.I.P. communications network.
S. Army classified weapons-development program.
T. Navy submarine computer warfare.
U. Army computer-security alert.
V. Classified South American exercise.
W. Nuclear-war exercise.
X. Computer-warfare demonstration.
Y. Marine Corps intelligence collection system.
Z. Navy special-access program.

Autumn & Winter Songs

Side A: Home For Christmas (Martin Colyer)
Inspired by the Iraq War this was written in 2008 and re-recorded a bunch of times. This version features David V. Miles on hyper-walking bass, and Martin on guitars and vocals.

Side B: The Summer Blues (Martin Colyer/Mark Pringle) The appalling rain this summer led to everyone having The Summer Blues. It features Mark on electrical guitar and Martin on bass and vocals.

Return To Poisonville!