A song saved my life.
Or at the very least, inspired me to keep on living.
Amazing what music can do.
Walking To Santiago, by Colin Bass. A song very few will have heard of, but one that means the world to me.
Bass by name, bass by nature; he of the four stringed guitar. I first got to know of him through his work with Steve Hillage in the late ’70s, before he joined prog rock band Camel. The school days when I spent hours perusing the album offerings in Coventry’s Central Lending Library.
Hillage and Camel, in particular, became part of my musical life. Moonmadness, Nude, Mirage, I Can See Your House From Here with the achingly beautiful Ice, Breathless, with its breathless guitar solo on Summer Lightning.
Colin Bass was a name on an album sleeve.
I left school and continued to grow my record collection, buying now rather than borrowing. Other Camel records followed, until I switched to compact discs. Then a solo offering from Mr Bass. I was curious – and a completionist. Outcast Of The Islands was a revelation. It’s opener, Macassar, was a driving instrumental which saw him teamed with Camel’s main man, Andy Latimer.
So when I saw a crowdfunding effort by Mr Bass for third solo outing, At Wild End, I signed up. Suddenly my name was on an album sleeve, in the ‘thank you’ section. And that of my son, Henry. And on a lovely handwritten postcard from the man himself.
Still the album could have been tepid. You takes your chances, and all that.
It wasn’t. It was full of treasure, some unexpected, some pushing the boundaries, some simply hitting the spot. Well, if you’re a romantic who’s into prog, that is.
And one track, in my descent into depression, stood out.
Walking To Santiago.
It changed my life when I needed it most.
It’s the build in music. The urgency, the passion, the soul-searching honesty in chord and note.
It’s the lyrics. Sheer poetry.
I’d bought a book about the pilgrimmage route through the Pyrenees to the believed tomb of St James The Apostle in northwestern Spain years earlier. How the Milky Way serves as a pathfinder and how the journey is one for the soul.
And this song was good for my soul, despite a deceptive beginning, a chorus singing the old hymn, He Who Would Valiant Be.
Striking a chord? A wake up call?
A little time is all you have before you reach the gate
Better know yourself before it gets too late…
…And no matter where you come from, no matter where you stay
The way is just the journey and the journey is the way…
I’m not sure Mr Bass could be fully aware of the magic he weaves, when the drums kick in and the pace lifts. There’s a persistence about the music, even in the absence of a ‘proper’ chorus. That Latimer chappie appears again, with an excquisite touch on Spanish guitar, and there’s a jumble of brass.
Having been a professional writer across four decades, there’s also a touch of jealousy that he had nails emotion so beautifully and in so few words.
Capturing a situation, an impasse, I knew only too well.
…The clock struck the hour
The birds had all flown
Everyone walking by me
Everyone going home
I went down to the station
But the trains had all gone
No-one was waiting
Standing on my own
Like a fish out of water I jumped out the school
I thought I was clever, but I was just a fool
I never counted my blessings
I didn’t know they were mine
I had to find out that love is
Something deep inside
I was just a bar-room gambler
Shiny as a snake
Eyes sparkling like diamonds
Both of them were fake…
…I was looking for salvation
Someone threw me a line
You ask me how I’m feeling
I’ll say I’m feeling fine
There’s no use to complaining
You only do what you can do
Just do something useful
While you’re passing through
Cos you’re just passing through and the stars are shining and the moon is full…
And the song set me on my own pilgrimmage. To rediscover me. To revive a love. To refresh a life. My life.
I’d never been depressed before. Or since. Cynical? Yes, absolutely. That’s the journalist in me. But this is a song that has me smiling, revelling in the glory of life.
And music and lyrics.
Thank you, Colin Bass.