Who Was The Poor Girl from Dublin?

This is the story of a collaborative songwriting effort over the last six months or so between Gerry Callaghan and myself. The result was a three-song album -an EP if you will – which we’re selling to benefit SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Four Little Leaves – the beginning

Early in 2018 I had an idea for a song, just a few chords and a few words. The words were ‘four little leaves’. I don’t know where they came from, but I’d been working with Gerry on a few songs and know that he works faster than me, so I sent him the tune and the words to see if he could do anything with them.

Gerry doesn’t mess about.Two days later he sent me a complete song, Four Little Leaves. It described the breakup of a relationship, between a songwriter and a singer. At one point the songwriter mentions ‘I wrote Four Little Leaves for the poor girl from Dublin’. I asked him what was going on there and he handed me the challenge of writing the actual song ‘Four Little Leaves’ that the songwriter mentioned, about the poor girl from Dublin, whoever that was. It was only in conversation with Gerry that I made the connection with Ireland – four little leaves describes a four leaf clover. That hadn’t dawned on me.

We had a session in Gerry’s studio where I added bass and a little extra guitar and backing vocals to Gerry’s arrangement and lead vocal.

During the process the other songs emerged Four Little Leaves became A Slip and a Slide.

A Slip and a Slide

There was a time
All things being equal
When you and I
Rose above the clouds
We couldn’t fly
But that didn’t matter
It was all in our minds
All in our minds

You sang the blues
I would write country
But you wouldn’t sing
The songs I wrote
I wrote Four Little Leaves
For the poor girl
From Dublin
You shed a tear
On our way home

But we didn’t walk
The whole road together
We didn’t talk
For most of the way
You turned off
Before we got
To the station
Just a slip and a slide
And you walked away

There was a time
When all things were equal
Just a slip and a slide
And you walked away

Four little leaves
Just a slip and a slide

Just a slip and a slide
And you walked away

Who was the girl? What were the leaves?

True to form, I sat on the idea for months afterwards. No creative ideas about the poor girl from Dublin. Then one day I was listening through some of the many many unfinished recordings on my PC and I came across an instrumental I’d recorded using the Robert Fripp tuning CGDAEG. I started singing ‘four little leaves’ along with it and that gave me the way into the next song. It’s as far as you get from ‘I would write country’ in Gerry’s song – in fact it’s almost chamber music – but it’s what I could do at the time. I wanted to describe someone at rock bottom, who finds a four leaf clover and gets the courage to go on. It’s about a frozen moment in her life. We still don’t know exactly who or where.

Four Little Leaves

Four little leaves
Here in my hand
I got lucky
Right here where I stand
Four little leaves
Four little leaves

Me I have nothing
Came from nowhere
I don’t have dreams
I wouldn’t dare

Now I have something
This blessing I’ve found
Only because my eyes were cast down
Only because I was on the ground

Four little leaves
Four little leaves

So we had two songs. It was easy to conjecture that the poor girl from Dublin might be pregnant, and we didn’t set a time period so it could be any time in the difficult history of women in Ireland. (With the last song it became more modern.)

From a title to a song

The third piece of the puzzle came at the Bridge of Orchy songwriting weekend that Gerry and I set up with several friends. One exercise was to write a list of song titles. One of mine was ‘The Last Thing She Said at the Airport’. Over the following weeks I began to wonder if this could be the same poor girl, leaving Ireland. But what was the last thing she said? That became a block to actually writing the song. I decided to go ahead and work up a piece of music from scratch.

As a starting point I picked a MIDI drum loop from a set of Latin rhythms. I sat with an electric guitar playing with hand-dampened arpeggios like those Paul Simon uses on a lot of his recordings. Soon I had the basics of the song and using copy and paste, put together a structure.

Lyrically I was still stuck – what was the last thing she said? The breakthrough came when I realised we didn’t have to hear her actual words, we could imagine them. The rest of the song was just to describe the sights and sounds of the airport and the sense of freedom as she leaves. We don’t know where she’s going or what she’s going to do there but we know it’s an escape. This song is much more a pop song than the other two. As with the previous song, Gerry didn’t contribute to the lyrics but contributed a lot to the arrangement and production.

The Last Thing She Said at the Airport

The last thing she said at the airport
Was quietly under her breath
Spoken to no-one listening, no-one there

One hand on her belly
One had pulled her case
Clattered across the floor to the gate

Last and final call
Last and final call
Last and final call
No more

Sticks and stones
Bricks and bats
The scratching wounds of online chat
The life below
The life you know
The seed you sow
The life that grows

The last thing she said at the airport
I wish I’d heard it then
But I couldn’t face goodbye

Last and final call …

She scanned her boarding pass
The gates flapped to let her through
I wonder if she looked back
I think not

Maybe she looked down on us
From a window seat up there
Watching the chains of country
Fall away

Last and final call …

A loose conclusion

So there we have it. It’s been a joy and an education working so closely with Gerry. We have a country song, a piece of chamber music and a latin pop song. We decided the second song was ‘Four Little Leaves’ so the first became ‘A Slip and a Slide’. And we have a story, however vague. We hope you enjoy them. If you decide to buy the tracks, all the money will go to SAMH, the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

Get it here

Who’s Gerry Callaghan?

Gerry Callaghan
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Gerry was the producer of our album In Another Life. He’s also a stunningly good singer-songwriter. You can find lots of his songs on Soundcloud as Gerrybhoy.

1 thought on “Who Was The Poor Girl from Dublin?”

  1. What a great piece of work, you have brought together all our efforts over the last couple of months and presented them beautifully, it was and remains a great pleasure to work with you Norman.

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