From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us.
There’s a fine line, sometimes, between a curious dream and a terrifying nightmare. The flimsy tissue-paper barrier between benign and malignant worlds, between the familiar and the unknown, is conjured up perfectly for us by Kevin Ayers in his song Lady Rachel.
At first it could be a lullaby. A gentle strumming of electric guitar leads into a flute motif – soft, familiar sounds for a baby in the cradle. But soon boisterous brass instruments add an incongruous flourish and the feeling of familiarity evaporates; we have entered a curious realm. Kevin’s deep baritone voice begins to sing of a lady carrying a candle up the stairs. It must be night and a time long ago.
We can not see the lady’s face as she goes into the upstairs room. We can not discern her demeanour as the door closes behind her. But it’s a door with no handle. Is she trapped, locked in by her evil uncle? Has she bolted herself in against the creatures of the night? Or is she at the mercy of whoever or whatever may come, unable to secure the door against intruders? Kevin only tells us that she says a prayer …
And then in her bed clothes she hides.
The brass section provides a bellicose accompaniment again and the flute trills away while the narrator’s voice continues …
Now she’s safe from the darkness,
She’s safe from its clutch.
Now nothing can harm her, at least not very much.
As the guitar strumming continues an organ wheezes ominously and the bass pounds slowly like the tolling of a funeral bell awakening the fear of a little girl deep within a woman’s breast. Lying there awake she is safe but what will sleep bring?
What will you dream of tonight, Lady Rachel?
What will you dream of tonight?
The dream, when it comes, is strange, as all dreams are. To the sound of strings, Lady Rachel climbs up a hill and is handed a parcel. Inside the parcel she finds a castle. The drawbridge is open and a voice from the water says, “Welcome my daughter. We’ve all been expecting you to come.” Kevin doesn’t tell us whether Rachel finds this frightening or just weird. Perhaps the Lady crosses the drawbridge, enters the keep, lights a candle and climbs the stairs to her bedroom to start the whole sequence again. Perhaps it’s all a dream.
Who will you dream of tonight, Lady Rachel?
Who will you dream of tonight?