Astrolabe

by Anne Lister

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    Bonus items: six "archive" tracks, recorded in 1973, not otherwise available.
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about

Astrolabe: An instrument used by early astronomers to measure the altitude of stars and planets and also as a navigational aid.
C13: via Old French and Medieval Latin from Greek, from astrolabos (adj), literally: star-taking, from astron star + lambanein to take.

It’s been a long time coming—Anne Lister’s ninth album, with twelve songs, all unrecorded elsewhere until now.
It’s been a long time coming, because Anne has been busy with a number of very different projects, from storytelling and writing to researching a 13th century Occitan story of King Arthur for her PhD at Cardiff University.
It’s also been a long time coming, because of the huge, sad loss of Liv Elliott, good friend and recording genius, when the recording was almost complete, and many other more trivial interruptions along the way.
But now, at last, here it is!

Twelve songs, like the astrolabe of the title track, measuring time and space. One song written in 1970, another written in 2019. A ring found at the extraordinary Roman archaeological site of Vindolanda, a box of memorabilia belonging to a grandmother, a WWI battle, an olive branch for a former lover, the near-death experience of rats, a farewell to a dear friend, and an angel in the form of a starving polar bear. Amongst others.

credits

released December 28, 2019

Musicians and allies involved were Mike O’Connor, Barbara Griggs, Matt Crum, Steafan Hannigan, Mary Mc Laughlin, Helen Vincent-Tibke, Steve Purbrick, with studio engineers Liv Elliott in Boscastle, Dylan Fowler in Stiwdio Felin Fach, and Anne’s very talented nephew Rhys Fletcher, who did some mixes and mastered the whole album. Many thanks to all of them.
Huge thanks too to John Bedford, without whom this would not have happened, and to Steve Marper, whose discovery of a recording made in 1973 was the starting point for it all.

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Anne Lister Wales, UK

Anne is best known for her song "Icarus", recorded and performed by a number of different singers, including Martin Simpson and Nic Jones. "Astrolabe" is her ninth solo album.

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Track Name: Astrolabe
You cannot steal the stars but you can measure time
See things as they are and draw a careful line
It is no mystery that shows my simple soul
Through all history earth and sky are whole.

You cannot steal the stars, but you can plot their course
High above the bar, an undefeated force
With any gods or none, with no belief at all
We live beneath the sun and watch the darkness fall.

This knowledge isn’t new. Hold this old device.
A good line straight and true. Together we are wise
Together we are wise

You cannot steal the stars, though you may steal their shine
Travelling near or far you hold this heart of mine
And should you calculate the setting of the sun
A final closing date—then all my joy is done.

I cannot steal the stars - you are my sun and moon
I’m Venus, you are Mars, the poem and the tune.
And with this now I see that we are heart and soul
It is no mystery. Earth and sky are whole.
Track Name: Wolf Moon
It doesn't have to be a blue moon
When thunder comes from a clear sky
It doesn't have to be a wolf moon
There doesn't have to be a reason why
You have to wonder what is happening
When people do such cruel things
When people speak with rage and hatred
When people put their faith in kings.

It doesn't have to be a hunter's moon
When people die before their time
It doesn't have to be a snow moon
You can't blame the moon for the reason why
We are not foolish slaves of planets
Our fortunes are not written in the skies
We are do not need to follow madmen
Who preach such hatred in their lies.

It doesn't have to be a halo moon
For bad weather or the twists of fate
It doesn't have to be a black moon
For us to wake up to the truth too late.
We can find truth, we can find justice
We can find peace, we can find love
We can make every life an equal life
If we look on earth and not above.
Track Name: Small Ways To Beat the Devil
The devil walked into London disguised as a foppish clown
And because he seemed such a loveable rogue
They made him mayor of the town.
He preached division and hatred, made us look for who to blame
We forgot all the lessons of history as he played his artful game

The devil walked into Europe with a smile and a laugh and a snarl
Told us all why we didn’t belong, told us why we shouldn’t take part.
And we watched all of his antics, misdemeanours and crimes
Never fooled all of the people but fooled many for much of the time.

And hell doesn’t mean fire and brimstone, doesn’t mean pitchforks and smoke
It means fear, loss and pain, and heartbreak, treated as some kind of joke.
Don’t think of the devil with horns on, temptation that comes in the night
He can appear however he chooses, he can make even wrong things seem right.

The devil is good with the media. Conspiracies, half truths and lies.
Tells us how we must be democratic, although now we can’t trust our eyes
We’re living with smoke, dust and mirrors, no longer trust experts or facts
Disagree and he’ll call you a traitor, and he’ll point somewhere else to distract.

An angel walked into a city, disguised as a starved polar bear
Wondering if people would notice, concerned whether people would care
And a young girl picked up a loudhailer to remind us we’re all going to lose
Such small ways to fight with the devil—which side are you going to choose?
Track Name: Vindolanda
Because her fingers were so small it was a tiny golden band
It must have taken half his pay to put the ring upon her hand
The maker tried with all his skill to write the words that he was told
And now it shines across the years, the words carven into gold
Anima mea, anima mea, anima mea – it means my soul.

They must have been living there, near that windy northern wall
Who they were we’ll never know, if it was their home at all
A craftsman or a merchant or a soldier on patrol
But now it shines across the years, the words carven into gold.
Anima mea, anima mea, anima mea—it means my soul.

Did the ring slip from her finger one day as she worked at home
Or did she lose it in the luggage as they packed to go to Rome
Was it still a sign of love or had the passion long gone cold
Although it shines across the years, the words carven into gold.
Anima mea, anima mea, anima mea—it means my soul.

On my finger there’s a ring, put there on our wedding day
A symbol worked into the gold, saying all we need to say
I look at this museum piece, lying there alone and old
And it shines across the years, words carven into gold
And suddenly a door through time opens, tears come to my eyes
Instead of archaeology there’s love fresh with each sun rise
In another thousand years will someone find my wedding ring
See the way it’s been engraved and hear the love between us sing.
Anima mea, anima mea, anima mea—it means my soul.
Track Name: 10,000 Miles/Heroes
All my heroes have grown older, the excitement couldn’t last
And the nights are growing colder and I think the summer’s past
It’s far too late for dreaming. It seems a long way home
Standing straight instead of leaning but it’s tough to stand alone.

The highway’s full of stories and the streets are full of ghosts
I’m walking down the byways where I used to walk the most
They’ve pulled my old school down where my friends and I once played
And they’ve built upon the waste ground where my love and I once lay.

Last night we sang the old songs with our voices still as clear
Although some were far from strong and some others were not here
Old age is just a burglar with no compassion in his soul
And we wake one sunny morning wondering how we got so old.

So now the heat of summer has turned into autumn’s chill
And all those spring time blossoms have turned to compost fill
Time has destroyed so many, so many now dead and gone
Their memory is all that’s left in the echoes of a song.

I lean against my lover, the man that I love best
His arms are warm around me and I know that I am blessed
Let’s raise a glass to friends now gone and those who still remain
I’ll set my sights on what’s to come and start to sing again.
Track Name: Llanwenarth
Down beside the growing wheat, on a summer’s morning
Honeysuckle, meadowsweet, on a summer’s day
Down beside the growing corn I met a lover all forlorn
Lamenting that he’d ever been born, on a summer’s day.

I saw his sorrow and saw his pain on a summer’s morning
It brought back memories again on a summer’s day
Here’s heartsease and here’s camomile, and St John’s Wort to help you smile
You’ll feel much better in a while on a summer’s day.

I gave him rosemary and rue on a summer’s morning
Cornflowers and poppies fresh with dew, on a summer’s day
I told him false love is here and gone, like a rising skylark’s hopeful song
But true love lasts the whole year long not a summer’s day.

You might need to wait I told him then, on a summer’s morning
For true love hides like a cautious wren on a summer’s day
But it’s worth the wait and worth the pain, the days of sunshine, snow and rain
True love dies back but flowers again on a summer’s day.

Love isn’t just a hothouse flower, on a summer’s morning
That blooms and fades with in the hour on a summer’s day
True love’s like grass and trees and weeds, strong and healthy, spreading seeds
It’s simple and it’s all you need on a summer’s day.
Track Name: The Summerlands
What road will you take to the Summerlands
And how will you recognise the turning
It’s not a map anyone has ever seen
But I know there’ll be beacons burning

When you set your feet on the rainbow bridge
And you leave this place behind you
Remember that we’ll be following some day
And some day for sure we’ll find you.

We know for us all a time will come
And a bright light will show the way home
Don’t be sad for the ones who are following the flame
But be sad for the ones left alone.

Your head will be full of new sights and sounds
Don’t look back – it’s time to be leaving
Let the wind and the sun guide your feet as you run
Put all your hope into believing.

And they say that a rat at the end of its life
Will see heaven shining gold as the sun
There’s much more to this world than our living eyes see
And there’s hope in this world for each one.
Track Name: Grandma and the Wolf
Never trust a wolf, my godmother said
He’ll blow down your house, he’ll climb into your bed
He’ll eat up your kin, he’ll dress as a sheep
Never trust a wolf, he’ll just cause you to weep.

Why not trust a wolf, my grandmother said
He’ll make you build firmly, he’ll warm you in bed
He’ll never be safe, you might get hurt
Why not trust a wolf – he’ll keep you alert.

Then you came along with your shaggy grey pelt
With your wide toothy smile, which made my heart melt
Your deep amber eyes looked deep in my soul
When I am with you I feel cherished and whole.

Don’t let me down now, because trusting was hard
I’m gambling on you with my last precious card
I know I can’t change you, inside you’re wild
But you’ve captured my heart and my soul is beguiled.

Never trust a wolf, my godmother said,
He’ll blow down your house, he’ll climb into your bed
He’ll eat up your kin, he’ll dress as a sheep
Never trust a wolf, he’ll cause you to weep.
Track Name: Photograph
In the photograph she’s laughing with her sister by her side
Walking down the promenade in the sunshine
Nothing like the miserable old woman when she died
Nothing like my memories of Grandma.

And here again she is with a feather in her hat
Dressed in her finest togs with her brother
I’ve seen my father and sister smile the same smile as that
Never knew it was inherited from Grandma.

And now here’s a clipping and a telegram folded small
Folded close to hide the bad news of her brother
And a note to say her husband had been wounded in the war
One year apart for these two blows for Grandma.

Here are the cherished photos of her darling first born son
As a baby, as a toddler, as a schoolboy
And here’s a stack of papers to show how soon his life was done
And now I think I understand my Grandma.

So that was why she spoiled my Dad and treated him as she did
Like a volcano hidden anger grief and sorrow
If I only had the chance to tell her now how well she did
I’ve had to change those memories of Grandma.
Track Name: Mametz
Those who want to lead processions, those who want the power and glory
Those who boast with proud professions, did not take part in the story.
If you think we should remember things that cannot be denied
If you think the dead all heroes, remember this – the winners lied.

The winners lied to save you learning of the horror, fear and pain.
They lit a flame that is still burning so we might not go there again.
They were no heroes, made no choices, followed orders, dreamt of life.
They had hearts and minds and voices, loved by a mother, sister, wife.

The soldiers died and are still dying in peaceful woods, on growing corn.
Their blood was shed to help the living, for peace for babies yet unborn.
And still they send our troops to battle, still spend resources on more arms.
When what we need are crops and cattle to turn the battlefields to farms.

If you want to honour soldiers who died fighting for a cause
Let’s go against our human nature. Let’s not glorify old wars.
Let’s find a way to use our thinking so that in future no one dies.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – still just lies.
Track Name: Camelot Revisited
Go and tell King Arthur Camelot is found
And Avalon has no apples, or caves underground
And all of chivalry is just a romantic dream
Lancelot was no knight at all, Guenevere was no queen.

Oh I’ve sought the Holy Grail, mile after mile and yard after yard
And everyone just said to me, you know you needn’t look so hard
The lost innocence of time, that’s what it represents, oh yes I know
And is that why when I stretch out my hand I touch the Grail and let it go.

Gawain, Perceval and all, where is the cave where you lie asleep
For faith and charity are words we use, but somehow no longer believe
Merlin now we need your wand to turn time back again and round and round
Now that time is all twisted up, twisted up and upside down

Excalibur was a magic sword. By using it you’d make injustice cease
But now we’ve all come to realise you can’t have a war for peace
The lost innocence of time, that’s what it represents, oh yes I know
And is that why when I stretched out my hand, I touched the Grail but let it go.
Track Name: The Mountains of Mars
Come to my wedding and I'll dance at yours
Time's a great healer and truces end wars
When hearts are broken they're mended with gold
There's more than one way for a tale to be told.

I've seen Pluto's kingdom far down in the dark
Where hope and light fade to the tiniest spark
I've walked in the darkness, I've sobbed in the night
It's a long and hard journey back up to the light.

And you I know find it so hard to understand
I've come halfway downwards to offer my hand
Just half way downwards for fear of the climb
You'll see the steps upwards gleam in the moonshine.

The road from the valley winds up and winds high
My heart flies above it, soars up in the sky
My soul dances freely between all the dark stars
From the lakes of the moon to the mountains of Mars.

You drink to your love and I'll drink to mine
Love's purer than water and sweeter than wine
A spell can be broken, a captive walk free
There are no more chains, my friend, between you and me.

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