Friendship and the story of Sea Glass

The song ‘Sea Glass’ touches on many things that are important to me but perhaps the most significant, is friendship. In an era when most of the post that arrives through the door is either from utility companies or the bank, it was a joy to receive an exquisite necklace made of Devon sea glass from my dear friend Miranda – along with this lovely card written on the day the track was released. We have known each other for about 20 years, and that’s just the kind of thoughtful thing she does.

We’ve both had a lot of ups and downs in that time – but despite being in different parts of the country for most of it – and swathes of time when we haven’t seen each other for months – we both know we are there for each other when it matters. Be it broken hearts, family troubles, health problems, or the trials of being a professional musician, we have talked, laughed, and witnessed each other’s journey through it all. Apart from a brief period when we both lived in Bath, the occasional visits and the tour stop-offs made our time together even more special. A chance to break out the Bombay Sapphire, cook our favourite food and then get our diaries out to make sure we caught up in full.

For those who don’t know, Miranda Sykes is the wonderful singer and double bassist with Show of Hands, described by Peter Gabriel as “One of the great English bands”. Not long after we first met, Miranda came to audition for the band I was in at the time, ’Madigan’. It was decided we couldn’t really afford a bass player. More fool us.

But Miranda heard me perform some of my own songs in the Club Tent at Cambridge Folk Festival and liked what she heard and came down to Bath to play with me. We ended up doing some short tours together – expertly packing double bass, my big harp and three guitars into a small car (not forgetting the obligatory basket of bananas I carry everywhere that she always complained about!) – and became great friends.

Sea Glass.

In early 2017, Miranda was recording her solo album ‘Borrowed Places’ which chronicles many of the places she has lived, but she didn’t have a song about Devon and asked if I would write one for her. It all happened very quickly. A few days later she arrived with her double bass and we got to work… actually, we didn’t. We spent the evening talking, eating and drinking wine and sometime around midnight I played her a voice memo of an idea I’d had. She loved it, and the next day after one of our legendary lazy breakfasts we wondered into the sunny living room and Sea Glass was born. It flowed so easily we wondered why we didn’t do this more often. Miranda made the song very much her own and it has since become an audience favourite. It was the beginning of March and having had a difficult start to the year, that day still shines brightly in my memory.

The song is based on a true story. Miranda had lost a friend to cancer, but due to illness could not attend the funeral so instead she put a message in a small wine bottle (along with her home address) and threw it out to sea. A week later she received an unsigned letter berating her for both her ‘beach litter’ and for being ‘over-emotional’! Unromantic as it may be to admit, I was inspired by a discussion about this on social media. Whilst opinions were mixed, one angry friend commented; “Sea glass is f#cking beautiful”. For a songwriter, that was gold dust, and presented a challenge and a very modern dilemma: the age-old tradition of sending a message in a bottle out to sea, juxtaposed with our current concerns about ocean pollution. I fall down on the side of the beauty of the gesture and, as ever in my writing, I fumble for glimmers of hope. Hope that we can begin to turn back the tide on climate change, and that heartache and loss can be transformed in time into something beautiful: like sea glass. Glass is made of sand after all.

A new layer of meaning has appeared since the current pandemic, with many people experiencing separation or grief and are unable to say their goodbyes in person… and with a new sadness. Earlier this year I received news that Miranda has breast cancer. In ordinary times that is hard enough, but now with weakened immunity, having to make hospital visits, as well as all the cancelled gigs… I wanted to do something (albeit in a small way) to help my friend.

So I am offering my version of the song for free here on BANDCAMP

And asking, if you are able to do so, to please make a direct donation to help MIRANDA here. 

Thank you.

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