It’s a long, strange road.

If that starts the deja vu alarms a-clanging, it’s because it’s a phrase that’s slipped into a blog before. It’s a reference to a song that’s been a long time coming.

Yes, gentle reader, prepare yourself for a jolt that might even shake you from whatever medication they have Layers fans on in the Keith Richards wing of the home for distressed musos: we’re aiming to début ‘Bratislava’ at our upcoming engagement on 10th June. We were planning to give it an airing at the royal wedding next weekend but MI5 got wind of our plans and drafted a sternly-worded warning. Then sent heavily armed men to our houses and stapled said warning to our foreheads. Curse you, Twitterati.

Those of you who are unfamiliar with our past adventures (or who’ve successfully managed to blank memories of anything Layers-related through expensive counselling and painful electroshock therapy) may not know how the song came about. Ignorance can indeed be bliss but into every life a little rain must fall so here for fans, stalkers, insomniacs and the staff of GCHQ combing every byte of the Internet for security threats*, here for your amusement… well, at least a moments’ diversion from work/suicide plans/tiring Internet onanism** is the skinny on Bratislava.

Back in the Halcyon days of 2008 when the economy was still teetering on the edge like the bus in ‘The Italian Job’, diesel was less expensive than black-market human blood and Japan had a flourishing nuclear industry, The Layers set out to tour Europe in an RV that was slightly too long to fit into Lichtenstein in one go. Following a heavy lifting incident in Vienna (helping a nice elderly gentleman with some building supplies for a basement conversion) Roo hurt his back. This may be putting a gloss on it – this was no middle-aged tweak; bits of prolapsed vertebral disc were visible from space and we were left with no choice but to get Roo back to the loving arms of the NHS before some Tory dickhead dismantled it and sold it to Tesco. A trawl of the Internet revealed that the only real choice of flight required a trip to Bratislava at some speed and so, with all the grace and restraint of a blind demolition derby driver on a three day PCP bender, we headed off to Slovakia. Roo’s pain, physical and emotional, was all too palpable and the drive back to Vienna that evening was a more sober affair and in that reflective quiet, the germ of a song was born.

We were incredibly lucky on that trip to be surrounded by such amazing people. Not just the other guys in the band but the other musicians and CouchSurfers that we met – three years on and I’m still in touch with people that I met in that time and I count some of them as good friends.

That’s what Bratislava is about; bonds of friendship that reach across the world; being able to laugh with friends in dark times; trust and love and brotherhood. As a song it’s taken us a long time to do justice to and I think that the version that we play in June will be the third or fourth version and several iterations into that. Version 3.12 or something. We think that we have got it right, though and we hope that it’s worth the wait because it’s dedicated to some very special people – to Rupert for his courage, to Caleb and Paul for making hard times easy to bear, to Duke for getting us out of a jam and to all of the amazing people that we were privileged to play with and to in Europe. So here’s what we’ll be singing:

It’s a long, strange road filled with signs that I don’t recognise.
We bear such a heavy load hiding pain beneath a mask of smiles.
The road slides away below as the satellite counts off the miles –
it’s almost time to say goodbye

But what we’ve made will not break easily,
what we can’t say out loud is in our hearts.
What we’ve made is glimpsed in between
the spaces in the laughter.

Making room, there’s always space for one more at our table –
someone to keep time; to bear this heavy load of laughter shared.
You’re not alone at home: we’re reaching out across the miles to you –
it’s almost time to say hello again
hello again

Because what we’ve made…

So there you have it. If you get along to the gig, we hope that you’ll take that opportunity to raise a glass with us to all of the people that have made for some really memorable moments for The Layers.

Layers out.

*…which reminds me: factions alpha and gamma – the operation begins at midnight on Thursday, explosives and disguises in the third locker from the end, targets in code B in the small ads of ‘Bondage Knitwear Monthly’. Arise my people, death to the infidel etc…

**All three, if you work in IT.

Lyrics Ramblings

Magic Lantern Show

With apologies to friends who’ve read this – I thought it worth mentioning on the band blog as we’ve been working on this as a band and, all being well, we’ll be giving it a Layers début at a gig soon.

If you’re famous, fascinating or just fucking charismatic, you may be able to get away with telling the story of how you came to write the song. Once or twice. Most of the time your listening public would just as soon listen to the songs and if they want to know your life story they’ll buy your autobiography.

So I offer this in writing now so that if you give a damn, you can read it and I can spare you a minute’s rambling at a forthcoming gig.

In the sepia-tinted, stove-pipe-millinered days of my youth I had a friend whose girlfriend had fallen asleep at the wheel of a car and tragically suffered a fatal crash. He’d wandered by as I was presenting a radio show, seen me through the window and popped in. This wasn’t unusual as it was the habit of ‘Ranting’ Joe and mine to pick up a bottle of bourbon en route the studio and use it to render the coffee from next door’s cafe drinkable enough to keep us awake through our graveyard shift. Friends who knew this would often drop in to share a ‘coffee’ and an off-colour story.

On this particular evening, as I was flying solo and a little busier with the sliders, there was a lull in conversation where my visitor picked up the sleeve to the record I was playing and started reading the lyrics which were, as luck would have it, about losing someone dear[1].

I thought that this might trigger some sort of collapse but instead, in a calm and mildly amused voice, he started telling me how he’d been in town that day and impulse-bought a tee shirt that he thought she’d love, only realising when he got it home and laid it on the bed to fold and wrap that he was never going to get to give it to her. Then he drained his coffee (about 30% by vol), gave me a sad smile, got up and went.

There’s funny on-air stories and there’s that. If only someone had been listening it might have made great radio. Those particular radio waves are now 21[2] light years or so out into space.

An experience like that (plus a litre of coffee tending in increasingly large ratios to Canadian Club) will keep you awake at night and in the small hours of the morning that followed I had one of those cathartic lyric-writing moments that were sometimes the only thing, in those days, that would finally summon Morpheus.

The song’s called ‘Magic Lantern Show’ and we’ve been reworking it with The Layers. It became something that I found myself returning to, in the years that followed, when someone died; my Tralfamadorian ‘so it goes’. I wrote this post on my own blog originally because it just occurred to me that it was almost exactly eighteen years since a dear friend of mine had passed and I found myself playing and singing in the living room – this song just rushed back to me.

So I won’t bore you with the intro if you come to hear the song played but for all of my lost friends and because of when this thought hit me, especially for Jez: here are the lyrics to Magic Lantern Show:

Forgotten dreams… lost poetry,
pinwheel through the corner of my mind
as I sit, adrift in contemplation.
Unspoken words to lost love:
A magic lantern show
in desolation

Raging at blind Fortune
for snatching future seconds
but lost and impotent without you here.
Unstoppable, unmerciful –
time’s river thunders on.
Awake, to drown in loneliness and fear.

Not the purest of their priests
not the wisest of their teachers
could ever hope to bring you back to me
but not the darkest thief of night time
could steal the love we shared
could steal away our past from memory.

[1] For the curious, the song was ‘Afterimage’ by Rush

[2] At the time of writing. The year in question was 1991.