Lady Rachel

Lady Rachel - with candle

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?

6 thoughts on “Lady Rachel

  1. Hmm. Odd song, I kinda like it though. Ayers’ name was not at all familiar to me and I had to look him up to find he was once a member of Soft Machine. I remember that band but I don’t think they either they or Ayers had much impact on this side of the pond. Or maybe they did and I just didn’t know anyone who was listening to them.

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    • I think Soft Machine were much better known in the UK and western Europe than the U.S. They were part of the Canterbury scene based in south east England and none of those bands made much of an impact in the States as far as I know.

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  2. Great imagery in this song, one of Ayers’ best. I’ve been a huge fan for many years, and even met him when he played Cleveland, Ohio back in ’93 (on a very low-key tour with Daevid Allen of Gong). You’re right, both Ayers and Soft Machine only achieved cult status here in the states. Some older hippies remember the Softs for their tour with Jimi Hendrix in ’68. Solo Ayers is even lesser known. Unless your town had a cutting edge “free-form” radio station (like WMMS in Cleveland) in the early ’70s, or you were a rock “detective” (like me), you would never know such great music existed. But the entire Canterbury Scene (Soft Machine, Ayers, Caravan, Gong, Egg, Hatfield and the North, Robert Wyatt etc.) was some of the best Progressive Rock around. These artists had a sense of humor and adventure that many of the bigger names were lacking.

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    • Thanks for confirming that Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers and the rest of the Canterbury scene bands didn’t make much of a splash in the US. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of those bands as some of the best progressive rock around – then and now. Perhaps posts like ours will prompt a greater appreciation some 40 years on. Who knows?

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