The Grand Old Duke of York

“The deep sound and performance were amazing.” Niche Music

The second release from our forthcoming collaboration Maxim is a brand new take on The Grand Old Duke of York. Tom (aka No Spinoza) and I had actually worked on varying versions of this a fair bit in the year leading up to our studio session in Summer 2021. These experimental takes had never quite gelled into the coherent track we were looking for. At the end of Day 1, we were back in the artist apartment above the studio with friend and drumming extraordinaire Phil Wilkinson who worked up a gallop beat as a new starting point. We liked the beat as a nod to the military heritage in the song without it being too ‘on the nose’ as a marching snare beat. A few minutes later we had laid down a simple guide track with intertwined picked guitars and a melancholic melody line. Tom stayed up into the wee small hours working up some fuzzy swelling synths and bass to envelope the track in warmth and texture.

The next day all the parts were recorded live in studio, and within hours we had our finished track. It is an outlier on the record, the one track of ten recorded exclusively in the studio, and not as a work up of the demos that Tom and I had been crafting in our ‘question and answer’ style renditions sent to one another during lockdown. It’s also the one track featuring the triple vocals of Tom, Phil and myself in the outro chanted refrain. Squint, and the mingling of Phil’s Northern Irish brogue, Tom’s Yorkshire burr and my more southerly intonation could be those of Prince Frederick’s eighteenth century British militiamen, marching their way to Flanders.

Whether the Grand Old Duke really is Prince Frederick or not is anyone’s guess. The oldest printed version dates back to 1642 as ‘Old Tarlton’s Song’ (attributed to Richard Tarlton) with the lyric,

“The King of France with forty thousand men, Came up a hill and so came downe againe”

Other contenders for our indecisive Duke include Richard Duke of York and his ill-fated jaunt up and down Sandal Castle, and James II‘s 1688 march to, and subsequent retreat from, Salisbury Plain. It turns out aristocrats really love marching people up and down hills. Go figure.

Finally, I’m very happy that the track was premiered on BBC Introducing and has found a home in this lovely Spotify Playlist ‘Mountain Air‘. Go give it a listen.

A reference in a strange 1787 book with the catchy title, “A Few Serious and Seasonable Observations on Some Matters that Engage Now the Public Attention: In Which, the Subject of Tithes, the Disturbances in the South, and the Present State and Conduct of the Established Clergy in Ireland, are Fairly Considered. By a Curate”