Thursday, June 5, 2008

Boats: Shipbuilding



Robert Wyatt: Shipbuilding

[purchase]

Elvis Costello: Shipbuilding

[purchase]

It's wartime in a land hit hard by a failing economy. The bad news for one of the poorest areas, once a thriving manufacturing town, is tempered with the chance that an once moribund sector, the military industry, will be revived as the need for the tools of war ratchets up. The irony is the town's young are sent off to fight and perhaps lose their lives in the very same military vehicles the townspeople build. Is this about the effect of the Iraq War on one of the many villages scattered across America's Rust Belt? It's actually about the 1982 Falklands War and the United Kingdom's shipbuilding industry.

Shipbuilding is a song written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer about the Falklands War and its repercussions to the UK. While writing the song for Robert Wyatt, looking to spice up the prose, Langer had brought it to Costello who later described it as "the best lyrics I've ever written."

In 1982, Wyatt's version reached number 36 in the UK charts. The following year, Costello's turn had Cool Jazz King Chet Baker on trumpet. The lyrics are as appropriate today as they were twenty four years ago.

Is it worth it?
A new winter coat and shoes for the wife
And a bicycle on the boy's birthday
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
By the women and children
Soon we'll be shipbuilding
Well I ask you
The boy said "Dad they're going to take me to task, but I'll be back by Christmas"
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
Somebody said that someone got filled in
For saying that people get killed in
The result of this shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls
It's just a rumour that was spread around town
A telegram or a picture postcard
Within weeks they'll be re-opening the shipyards
And notifying the next of kin
Once again
It's all we're skilled in
We will be shipbuilding
With all the will in the world
Diving for dear life
When we could be diving for pearls

7 comments:

Matt said...

This was one of the first songs that popped to my head when the theme was announced, so thanks for posting it... er, them.
I'd never heard the Wyatt version before, so thanks! Er, double thanks!

Anonymous said...

Glad you enjoyed it. What's interesting - Costello covered a song he wrote for Wyatt. It's almost akin to being your own grandpa.

bwrice said...

This was the first song that popped to my mind too. This song is just wonderful, I think. I think Costello's version is worlds better than Wyatt's though. Costello's voice carries so much more emotional power, and he uses pauses and silence so much better too.

Anonymous said...

I enjoy both interpretations for different reasons. I like what my buddy, Doktor Pete, said over at Doklands:

Costello wrote the song for Robert Wyatt, and Wyatt's famous interpretation was released as a single. Pared down to just bass, piano and drums, and featuring one of the most famous syllables in song ("di-VING for pearls"), it's an undisputed classic.

Divinyl said...

Elvis Costello is one of my very faves...nice choice :o)

Anonymous said...

Happy you liked it. What's the consensus in the UK of the war nowadays?

Divinyl said...

Wait for my first post on next week's theme and you'll get the idea!