440) Alex Harvey — “Roman Wall Blues”
Exquisite B-side and title track from Harvey’s ‘69 solo album, with lyrics courtesy of W.H. Auden. Yes, a sonnet by W.H. Auden about a Roman soldier! Why didn’t Pink Floyd ever give this a spin? All in all you’re just another brick in the Roman wall blues. Or Dylan? Stuck inside of Jerusalem with the Roman wall blues again.
Alex Harvey was a British journeyman rocker who enjoyed a brief period of widespread popularity in the mid-’70s after decades of struggle. Growing up in [Glasgow,] Scotland, he turned to music in his late teens . . . . In 1969, he released Roman Wall Blues, his first solo effort in five years. Up to this point, none of his musical efforts had attracted much attention. But in the early ’70s, he recruited the Scottish band Tear Gas . . . christening the resulting quintet the Sensational Alex Harvey Band.https://www.allmusic.com/artist/alex-harvey-mn0000617929/biography
And the rest is history.
Richie Unterberger says of the album that:
Roman Wall Blues was an awkward though intermittently interesting effort that still found Harvey in the midst of his long, halting transition from soul-blues artist to a more original songwriter who fused satire and hard rock with R&B. . . . [On] the uncommonly grim title track . . . Harvey plays the part of an actual Roman soldier on patrol.https://www.allmusic.com/album/roman-wall-blues-mw0000846204
Harvey recorded a starkly different, but equally stunning, version of the song in the early 1980’s, shortly before his death. As Dave Thompson relates:
Completed just a month before [his] death in February 1982, Soldier on the Wall is generally regarded as little more than a career afterthought, the last sad recordings of a man whose golden years were now seven or eight years behind him. Part of that, of course, was due to the circumstances of its posthumous release, a barely publicized appearance on a tiny northern England indie label that went out of business within the year; but it also reflects upon the distinctly underwhelming nature of Harvey’s own last two albums . . . . Yet [it] is actually one of Harvey’s most fulfilling albums ever. . . . [T]he somewhat low-budget feel . . . perfectly matches the deliciously downtrodden glamour of both its maker and its contents. . . . [Songs including] . . . the late-’60s “Roman Wall Blues” epic have a dynamic sheen that catapults matters straight back to [his] glory days . . . .https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-soldier-on-the-wall-mw0000330111
“Over the heather the wet wind blows. I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose. The rain comes falling out of the sky. I’m a soldier on the wall, I don’t know why. The mist is lying on a hard grey stone. My woman is gone and I’m sleeping all alone. There’s somebody else hanging ’round her place. I don’t like him, I don’t like his face. I saw a Christian worshipping a fish. There would be no kissing if he had his wish. She gave me a ring, I gambled it away. And I want my woman, and I want my pay. When I’m old with this only one eye, I’ll do nothing all day but look up at the sky. I’m a soldier on the wall and I don’t know why. Over the heather the wet wind blows. I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose. The rain comes falling out of the sky. I’m a soldier on the wall andI don’t know why.”
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Here is the version from Soldier on the Wall:
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