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Another Sleepless Night: My songs with Breakdown and About Time

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Neil Morton

After six years of writing about songwriters I admire for Here Comes The Song, I nervously introduce you to a collection of compositions I wrote or co-wrote for two contemporary folk and blues bands on Merseyside in the 1970s and early Eighties.


Some of you may have heard of Breakdown and About Time and even bought the album and/or cassettes but those years generally have remained a treasured time only in our memories. A lost golden era, but not quite. Over to you, Bandcamp, for the unveiling.


What prevented a resurrection of much of that material was a fire which destroyed the master reels of the two About Time albums, Burning Out Of The Blues and In The Evening, recorded in late 1981 and early ’82 and released at the same time. All we were left with were the cassettes which, as we know, deteriorate over time to the point where they are unplayable.

Thanks to the daughter of a friend, Siân Williams, a sound archivist, and my guitarist pal Ian Tasker, those tracks have been rescued and can live again. Siân’s digitisation skills recovered sonic layers from the wreckage of the distorted, stricken cassettes before Ian got to work with his remixing magic. The sound quality is remarkable in the circumstances though there are gremlins and glitches that we will just have to live with. No AI was involved in the making of this collection.


The limited edition Breakdown vinyl album, Meet Me On The Highway, is still intact and highly valued on Ebay and second-hand record listings. For this retrospective, however, I have chosen mostly other versions of the songs I wrote for that album. We were asked to record a number of tracks for the BBC on the stage of an empty theatre in Manchester shortly after the album’s release in 1977 for a later radio show, and the quality unsurprisingly surpassed our home-made efforts.

My heartfelt thanks go to my old bandmates John Pearson on lead guitar and Raphael Callaghan on harmonica and slide guitar for transforming these songs into something memorable. John’s sadly departed brother George Pearson, a superb bass player, and the late Brendan McCormack, who co-produced and played on the About Time tapes, deserve my gratitude too. John and Raphael, whose musical projects I have written about on this website, are still busy playing and recording – this lightweight isn’t.


Another Sleepless Night is the title track because it is probably the best I’ve written and a ballad of deep personal significance. As I say in the Bandcamp liner notes: ‘This was an About Time song written as my wife and I were exploring the idea of working abroad. Do we play it safe and maintain our steady jobs or take a gamble? We are at the crossroads of a life-changing decision, with many restless nights to follow. Thanks to John for his beautiful guitar accompaniment and his brother George for the dreamy bass.’

Wanderlust was a pet theme in those heady days as well as social justice. Moth To A Headlight (‘I’m rolling with the flow/ Where I’m going I don’t know’), Slice Of Moon (‘Trapped by the trappings of life’), Stowaway (‘Regrets are just an old man’s blues’) and Gypsy Eyes explore that terrain. The young woman in the latter song feels trapped and is desperate to travel. She will soon live her dream but for now that suitcase remains on familiar ground. Gypsy Eyes, like the title track, the harmony-soaked Bird Of Love, Moth To A Headlight and the country-tinged Sweet Mystery Lady, is begging to be covered.

I haven’t written many story-telling songs but Burning Out Of The Blues is one, capturing the key moments in the genesis of Breakdown. The liner notes explain: ‘An homage to the exciting period leading up to the formation of Breakdown in the 70s, though the song became the title track of About Time’s debut cassette. John and I were running a Saturday folk-blues club in the garrett of a pub in Dale Street, Liverpool, called the Mitre. Raphael’s duo with bass player Mick Rimmer were playing down the road at the Temple Bar on Tuesdays. We would each attend the other’s gigs; a friendship and a musical alliance were being forged.’

The only new song in the 21-track collection was a collaboration with my Here Comes The Song and ex-Guardian and Independent colleague Ian Tasker who asked me for a pandemic-related lyric for his first album Losing Track Of Time. World That Cannot Touch, with Ian’s haunting melody and impressive guitar work, was the result.


The lyric has its sombre side, understandably: ‘Love at a distance, how cruel the glass’ and ‘Memories have never meant so much/ Leaning on the past like a crutch’. The first verse might be a phone conversation between a doctor or health care worker and a friend. There’s anger at the missteps by our leaders and the human cost which will surely lead to a reckoning: ‘Listen to the wise, was it too much to ask?’ But the song ends in hope – that the world can safely touch again.


I keep listening to Raphael’s harmonica on Slice Of Moon and Bird Of Love, John’s guitar on Another Sleepless Night and Meet Me On The Highway, and their otherworldly harmonies on Short On Time; this singer-songwriter was blessed. A lapse of 40 years has been bridged. Who knows where that time went.


These songs are now older than I was when we wrote and performed them. As Burning Out Of The Blues put it: ‘The blues shone bright out on Dale Street/ Now we’re watching the colours drain through Memory Lane.’ Ah, music and memories.


Another Sleepless Night: The Songs of Neil Morton

 



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