THE IDEA FOR the chorus of this song came to me, in true songwriter fashion, in the middle of the night in a hotel room in Nashville, on my first ever trip to Tennessee. They had put us up in the very plush surroundings of the Hermitage Hotel. After a 14-hour journey, we still found energy to hit the honky tonks and have some beers. I was convinced it would knock me out, but I remember going to sleep around 1am on the first night and waking up again at 3.30am, wide awake and buzzing with jetlag.
I seem to remember sitting propped up in a vast bed, facing a giant blank TV screen where I could see my own reflection. I had my little Moleskine notebook and just started scribbling. At one point there was the sound of a train whistle, way off in the distance. That might have been my imagination, though.
(I also remember that the same writing session – very brief but intense - was the one that generated the line ‘hope the days outnumber the nights’ that became the central line in the song ‘Well Well Well’)
As usual, I was feeling grateful (it’s my default mode these days, I think) – here I was in this wonderful hotel, propped up on heavy pillows, with performances to look forward to and my creative juices flowing. And my head was filled with images of dark and light, day and night, negative and positive - the idea of the light shining below the door, and being positive in your approach to what might lie on the other side: ‘If there’s a light below the door, you should open it for sure...’
(Incidentally, I just remembered that I came back to the hotel early one night on that trip, and Ryan Adams was standing in the lobby, talking animatedly to a roadie... he looked rather grumpy about something, and I figured it probably wasn't a good time to interrupt)
The chorus ran around in my head for a couple of years – and the song didn’t make it onto the last album. It was only when the little John Prine-ish guitar figure (the first thing you hear as the track starts) fell under my fingers one morning that I realised the two parts were meant to be together.
The verses were a kind of warning to an old friend of mine not to listen to the bad advice she’s been taking from so-called friends for a number of years: ‘It’s your heart – and nobody knows it more than you.’ As it turns out, she doesn’t know her heart as well as I thought she did. Despite our confidence, most of us probably don’t.
Recording it was a joy – with Eilidh adding such grace with her harmonies and John McCullough playing gorgeous piano, it remains one of my favourites on the album.
The musicians on this track are:
Anthony Toner – vocals, guitars
Clive Culbertson – bass
Eilidh Patterson – vocals
John McCullough – piano
Paul Hamilton – drums and percussion
GRATEFUL - lyrics
You don’t mind drinking, but you hate the coming round,
and you don’t mind flying, but you hate the coming down,
you’re glad to land - anywhere that ain’t too hard.
Your broken heart’s a perfect crime, and you go looking for clues.
But you turn up nothing, and it gives you the blues,
you should know - you catch yourself red-handed every time.
I know the story of love,
and as for eating humble pie, I’ve had a plateful.
If there’s a light below the door,
you should open it for sure...
And if it’s luck that saves your ass,
just be grateful.
Your friends mean well, but there’s always a price,
you get to pay for all this free advice,
it’s your heart, and nobody knows it more than you.
They get a secret little kick from your hard time-
they like reading the cards on the roadside shrines,
and they say, ‘there but for the grace of God...’
Stand tall and hold your hand in mine