The Road to Frenchman’s Creek
Words and music (eventually) by David Harley
I actually found myself playing with this idea while walking with my wife on that path from Helford. It isn’t really about me, or even Du Maurier and Cornwall, of course. In fact, the glancing reference to C.P. Cavafy’s poem Ithaka is probably the real pivot of the lyric.
In spring a young man’s fancy is supposed to turn to love
An older man takes time to reminisce
He takes the path from Helford on a sunny afternoon
Searching once again for Frenchman’s Creek
Too soon for love-lies-bleeding, too late for love’s young dream
The sun plays peek-a-boo among the trees
By the gate at Kestle Barton, he stops to rest a while
Before following the signs to Frenchman’s Creek
Sometimes we lose our bearings, our love lost in a mist
We glimpse our Ithaka but doubt laps at our feet
Sweet 16 to 70, too many times been kissed
Was that the road to Manderley or Frenchman’s Creek?
Left high and dry so often by the tides of desire
Yet in autumn days a heart may rise from sleep
And still recall with thanks the times love wasn’t such a liar
And the tide may turn again in Frenchman’s Creek
[Listening to this after about a year, I think I feel the need to record it again properly. The tone is quite nice, but some of the ornamentation is awkward. Watch this space. DH, December 2014.)
Ironically enough, given its title, an instrumental version of a 19th century hymn. I’ve been playing it a lot since I started playing serious slide guitar again.
The hymn has its own Wikipedia page, including the first published lyrics and the verse added by Doris Plenn and sung by Pete Seeger. In fact, I first heard it on Seeger’s I Can See a New Day album, a compilation of live recordings released in 1964. The music is credited to Robert Lowrey, as published in his ‘Bright Jewels for the Sunday School’, published in 1869, but the source of the original lyrics is uncertain. The lyrics (apart from Plenn’s) included in the Wikipedia page are apparently as published in the New York Observer in 1868 under the title Always Rejoicing and attributed to ‘Pauline T.’
When I do it live, I sometimes go straight into Twelve Gates to the City, which I first learned from the same source. However, I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone else do either song as a slide guitar piece.
The guitar I used was a Gretsch Bobtail roundneck resonator guitar using an open E tuning.
David Harley Small Blue-Green World ESET Senior Research Fellow