SOME YEARS AGO I heard about a school party – some end-of-exam celebration - that had gone out to one of the bars in Coleraine. Alcohol is an accelerator – it can make happy people giggly, tired people fall asleep, affectionate people can get horny. Deep thinkers develop frowns – they lean on the bar and they tell their life stories. They invariably have some kind of important message for you, if they can only get to it.
But alcohol can get angry people into all kinds of trouble. And under the happy-go-lucky exterior, some of our kids are carrying heavy burdens of anger around with them.
Half way through the night, one of the girls came out of the washroom with her arms all criss-crossed with wild slashes and deep scratches.
It was pretty obvious that the injuries weren’t life threatening, but in a matter of minutes, they had all suddenly become actors and actresses in her self-created melodrama. It seemed like the only appropriate thing to do was follow the opening act with the second. So they rushed her to casualty, where she wailed and wept about her life and her ongoing predicament, and the rest of them stood out in the car park with her bloodstained mobile phone and tried to get hold of her mother.
The image never left me, and as I was writing this song, I embellished it with other stuff I’d heard over the years. Every generation has its own share of the wild-eyed and the luckless. And poverty and lack of opportunity and loneliness still do the same things to people as they’ve always done.
On a lighter note, as for the wonderful guitar playing on this song, it’s my dear friend Ronnie Greer. The first time I met Ronnie I was a fan – I’d gone to see his band on a number of occasions, which at that time featured Kenny McDowell on vocals, and I was always blown away by his playing – he swings mercilessly, has great tone, great licks, and never wastes a note. He’s always had a great band, too – Alan Hunter on bass and Colm Fitzpatrick on drums.
A few years ago, John ‘Doc’ Doherty and I opened for Ronnie’s band at a blues festival in Antrim. A few months after that, Kenny left the band, and Ronnie decided to do a series of gigs with special guests. I was delighted to be asked to sit in as guest on slide guitar for a gig in Bryson’s. I went along for a rehearsal with the band and things locked together so neatly that he asked if I would consider joining permanently. I delightedly accepted, and I’ve been there since - and it’s a joy to be part of that line-up. I get to hear this dazzling guitarist - for free.
I’d been thinking for ages that I’d love to have him playing guitar on one of the albums, if I had a track that was appropriate. ‘Way Too Dark’ seemed to call out for his approach. Arriving at Clive’s studio, Ronnie admitted he didn’t have much studio experience, and was unsure if he could deliver what we needed. He went into the recording room, set a Fender Champ on the floor, tuned a Telecaster, plugged it in and selected the neck pickup. Clive set a Shure SM57 microphone in front of it and we rolled the tape. He was perfect, and he was done in about 25 minutes. Good as he had been from the start of the track, Clive and I stood with our mouths open as he pulled out those sliding jazz chords at the end. Every lick went higher and more interesting. Also funky and fantastic on this track is John McCullough on electric piano.
As I insert the lyrics for this track, I’m reminded of that teenage girl with bandaged arms.
We should be talking to our children. Constantly. About everything. Giving them as much time as we possibly can. Because I believe this is a terribly hard time to be young. Forget all that ‘you never had it so good’ bluster. Kids are adults with L plates on, and they’re lonelier, more frightened and lost than they’ve ever been. You can send a million texts and Facebook posts and give them a million gadgets – it doesn’t fill the darkness. They’ve grown up in a media-saturated world that continues to show them untold wealth, fame, glamour and success – and pushes them to measure up to it, over and over and over. And when they’re in their bedrooms and the screens go dark and they take the headphones off, they’re even more lonely and scared than before.
The musicians on this track are:
Anthony Toner - acoustic and electric guitars
Ronnie Greer - electric guitar
John McCullough - electric piano
Clive Culbertson - bass
Paul Hamilton - drums
WAY TOO DARK - lyrics
Your little friend from school has got the flat next door,
and there’s a baby, but the boyfriend doesn’t visit anymore.
He went to London, like it was the land of milk and honey,
now he lets it go to voicemail when she’s tapping him for money.
She sees people on the TV holding champagne glasses,
with their teeth and their nails, and their perfect little asses.
And she looks out the window at the blocks of flats,
and wonders what you have to do to get a life like that...
Sometimes she lights up like a Christmas tree,
sometimes she’s here and gone, just like a spark.
Sometimes she twinkles like a little star,
when it’s already way too dark.
She gets low and she gets high, and it ends up in a crash.
And she shows up at your door with her wrists all slashed.
She’s wired and she’s wild and in tremendous pain,
but she’s way too cute to actually open up a vein.
They told us all we had potential if we just stuck to the tracks,
but it’s hard to concentrate when all your luck slips through the cracks.
She always thought her family was living with a curse,
When she opened up her eyes that’s what she whispered to the nurse.