Dark Rose For Christmas
A Christmas album with words by Carol Ann Duffy

‘Dark Rose for Christmas’ is now available to purchase from our online shop £12.99 plus p&p. The Album can also be downloaded from Amazon,iTunes  and CD Baby.

Subscribe to our newsletter for information about the release and our Christmas shows with Carol Ann. Read more about the ‘Dark Rose’ project.

Read the review of Dark Rose in OXHC magazine

Read the review of Dark Rose in Write Out Loud

Dark Rose For Christmas CD art

Dark Rose For Christmas CD art by Tom Duxbury

A Blackbird Sang

A Blackbird Sang CD cover

A Blackbird Sang CD cover

Our WW1 collection is now available from our online shop
Listen to tracks from ‘A Blackbird Sang’ 


At long last, here it is! ‘Madam Life’.. our second album.
You can download individual tracks or the whole album from all these online retailers:
Amazon MP3
7 Digital
If you have time please review it or ‘rate it’ on those sites – we’d love to know what you think!
Here’s Bruce Dessau’s review from For more press comments check out our ‘Press’ page.

Or you can order a CD copy from our own online store or simply send us a cheque payable to LiTTLe MACHiNe for:
£14.09 – This includes £1.10 postage and packing for delivery in the UK
Or, if you live outside the UK £16.49 –  This includes £3.50 postage and packing

Send cheques (payable to LiTTLe MACHiNe) to: Hotel Zulu Records, 30 Natal Rd, Streatham, London SW16 6HZ, UK

Read on to find out more about Madam Life


Madam Life CD cover

Madam Life the latest album from LiTTLe MACHiNe

The album contains settings of:

‘Madam Life’s A Piece In Bloom’ (W.E.Henley 1848-1903) – Listen
‘Adam Lay Y’Bounden (Anon 14th Century AD) – Listen
‘The Moon and Pleiades’ (Sappho 6th Century BC) – Listen
‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ (Dylan Thomas 1914-1953) – Listen
‘A Hymn to God the Father’ (John Donne 1572-1631) – Listen
‘Bright Star’
(John Keats 1795 – 1821) – Listen
‘The Rain It Raineth Everyday’ (William Shakespeare 1564-1616) – Listen
‘The Dug-out’ (Siegfried Sassoon 1886-1967) c/w ‘Anthem For Doomed Youth’
(Wilfred Owen 1893-1918) – Listen
‘This Be The Verse’
  – Listen
‘High Windows’ (Philip Larkin 1922-1985)  – Listen
‘Blue Remembered Hills’ (A. E. Housman 1859-1936)  – Listen
‘Fear No More The Heat Of The Sun’ (William Shakespeare 1564-1616)  – Listen
‘So We’ll Go No More a Roving’ (Lord Byron 1788-1824)  – Listen

All the music was written arranged performed and produced by LiTTLe MACHiNe and recorded at Steve’s ‘Hotel Zulu’ studio. Additional percussion and drums were played and recorded by Martyn Barker at his place in Lewes – Thanks Mart. We are also endebted to Ed Sanderson for his violin on the title track and Lily Rae for ‘parental advisory’ vocals on ‘This be the Verse’.


‘Poetry is philosophy’s sister,  the one that wears makeup’, (American poet, Jennifer Grotz).  So by nature she is not shy and retiring, she wants to get out there to be seen and heard. The roots of poetry are in performance, in the creation of distinctive and patterned language that can be sung and recited and so remembered. ‘A poem is a little machine for remembering itself’, (Scottish poet and musician, Don Paterson). We’re just egging her on a bit.

A poem (as opposed to most song lyrics) stands by itself and needs no music, but if you can find a complementary melody, rhythm or musical genre it can lead to a new reading of the text which will bring out something new.

One distinction between song and poem is the lack of a refrain in most poetry. We sometimes need to repeat a verse or pick out a hook line to make the poem sing, but beyond that we try to keep the poem as intact as possible.

It’s the complementary paradox. A poem is complete as it is. We just make it more complete.

The poems we use have stood the test of time and so are bona fide, precious gems – all we’ve done is put some black velvet underneath them to show them off. When people see these beauties they can’t help but go ‘Wow!’

There is some cheeky subversion at work too. A punked up Larkin or a funked up bard makes the audience feel part of the satisfying naughtiness of demystifying / demythologising  poems, of reclaiming them from classrooms and funeral parlours. These poems have got to earn their keep as entertainers once we take them on, they can’t just lounge around in books being revered and unread.

And the reaction from the poets themselves has been one of delight and enthusiasm. Well, from the few that are still capable of getting to a LiTTLe MACHiNe gig anyway …

And now the poems, a commentary from Chris and Walter:

Madam Life’s A Piece In Bloom – W.E.Henley (1848-1903) – Listen

MADAM Life’s a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.
You shall see her as a friend,

You shall bilk him once and twice;
But he’ll trap you in the end,
And he’ll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason–plead–protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she’s heard it all before,
Well she knows you’ve had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.

A Victorian Poem about death (or life and death) by a man who had more than his share of suffering and understood the subject matter very well. Strange and rather modern in its way, as there is no hint of religion about it, no mention of the immortal soul, no flights of angels, grief and glory but rather a grim, almost comical, fatalism. Henley uses a sort of ‘cockney’ vernacular, slang terms and common words such as ‘dogging’, (sniffing around, stalking) which did not hold the specific (voyeuristic) connotation it does today, also ‘bilk’, (thwart, confound) and referring to the lady as a ‘piece’ in the first line which would have suggested to the Victorian performer that he should recite it in his best Bill Sykes voice. We went for full-on Victoriana on this one, choosing the style of a melodramatic ‘parlour’ or ‘music hall’ song for the setting with a lugubrious slow march feel in a minor key and Ed Sanderson’s violin wailing mournfully over the top; break out the top hats and black plumes.

Adam Lay ybounden – Anon (C 14th century) – Listen

Adam lay ybounden,
Bounden in a bond;
Four thousand winters
Thought he not too long.

And all was for an apple,
An apple that he took,
As clerkës finden
Written in their book.

Nor had one apple taken been,
The apple taken been,
Then had never Our Lady
A-been heaven’s queen.

Blessed be the time
That apple taken was,
Therefore we moun singen
Deo gratias!

Chris found this medieval lyric in a big anthology of British poetry. Medieval religious music was often rousing and noisy, and we think this arrangement restores some of that vulgarity and vigour. It brings to mind medieval monks revelling in carnal excesses. Raw English folk harmonies combine with a tough backbeat to give a flavour of a rocked-up Carmina Burana with Chris’s earthy blues-guitar licks summoning Old Nick to the party –  (even though the Devil lies behind this story he is not mentioned, and Adam gets the blame not Eve). For the musicologists out there we throw an irreverent augmented 4th into the bridge section – a sound banned by the medieval church as the ‘devil’s interval’, (used by Jimi in ‘Purple Haze’ – Chris).

The Moon and Pleiades – Sappho (C 6th century BC) – Listen

Tonight I watched
the moon go down
and then the Pleiades,

night and youth
are now half-gone
and here I lie alone,

With his venom
that loosener of limbs,

Love’s reptile
like a snake,
strikes me down.

When we were working on our show “EPIC! – a mad dash through the history of poetry” we needed to add a poem from the pre-Christian era. These fragments by Sappho fit the bill perfectly. Written nearly 3000 years ago Sappho’s lyrics sound as though they could have been written yesterday. Beautiful simplicity, framing emotional truth… Like the best Country songs should be.

Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953) – Listen

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

This famous Villanelle is relatively long for us but it was one we knew might work if we could find the right musical setting. Steve’s ‘Blade Runner’ synth intro gives way to a driving four-on-the-floor beat which underpins the relentless urging of Thomas’s exhortation to ‘rage rage against the dying of the light’ the repeated lines returning and building in intensity like a ritualistic chant, a spell to rekindle the fight and fire in the soul of his ageing father; hypnotic and intense, full of anger and pain.

A Hymn to God the Father – John Donne (1572–1631) – Listen

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by thyself, that at my death thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, thou hast done;
I fear no more.

None of us are ‘men of faith’ but John Donne’s message to his maker is inspiring in both its sincerity and boldness… Donne starts out by asking forgiveness for his sins and ends up challenging the Almighty to do right by him if he would have his soul. Donne called it a hymn and we stayed true to the concept by going for a modern ‘Gospel’ feel with the intimacy of the confessional in the verses offset by the choir-like harmonies in the middle section.

Bright StarJohn Keats (1795 – 1821) – Listen

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.

Also known as ‘The Last Sonnet’, and written on Keats’s winter voyage to Rome when he knew he had left England and his beloved for ever, this plea for immortality in the arms of his love, from a man who would die of Consumption at the age of 25 a few months after completing it, was a poem we had ‘looked at’ without success a few times over the last 2 years until, serendipitously, Chris came up with a guitar part of meandering chords over an unchanging bass drone that fit the atmosphere of the piece perfectly. The melody floats above, varying in pitch and intensity as the poem develops but always over same ‘steadfast’ low E. Mystical, dark and haunting. Keats was a dead man walking and he knew it; it has always brought to mind those vampire romances so beloved of teenage girls these days.

The Rain It Raineth Everyday (Twelfth Night) Wm Shakespeare (1564 – 1616) – Listen

When that I was and a little tiny boy,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man’s estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
’Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas! to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our day (play) is done,
And the rain it raineth (we’ll strive to please you) every day.

Theatre was open-air in Shakespeare’s day…. He would have been no stranger to the concept of ‘rain stopped play’. LiTTLe MACHine has always soldiered on through rain and shine not least upon the no-man’s land of Glastonbury 2011. Folk roots are showing big time on this arrangement of a traditional setting of the oddly up-tempo though world-weary, (again comically fatalistic) song that ends 12th Night with Steve’s mandolin cutting capers around our beery harmonies. Sir Toby Belch would doubtless approve!

The Dug-outSiegfried Sassoon (1886 – 1967) – Listen

Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled,
And one arm bent across your sullen, cold,
Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you,
Deep-shadowed from the candle’s guttering gold;
And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder;
Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head…
You are too young to fall asleep for ever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

Anthem For Doomed YouthWilfred Owen (1893 – 1918)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, –
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Steve found the recording of Siegfried Sassoon reading ‘The Dug-out’ (recorded by a Dennis Silk) on the Poetry Archive web site, and edited it onto the opening of his arrangement of the Owen’s ‘Anthem’. It was a perfect pairing but obtaining permission from the copyright holders involved some detective work by Chris who, after some inquiries, received phone call one morning from Diana Silk. Her 80 year old husband was busy trying to get a bonfire going in their Somerset garden but wished her to tell us that he was very happy for us to use his recording on our CD. She said that her husband, as a schoolboy cricketer, had been introduced to Sassoon by another great World War One poet and memoir writer, Edmund Blunden. She explained how Dennis became a professional cricketer, and bought a tape-recorder from Alec Bedser – another famous figure from long ago. Every time Dennis visited Sassoon at his country house he tried unsuccessfully to get him to read his poems into the microphone until one night Sassoon said, ‘ Go and get your infernal machine’ and this marvellous reading was captured – it sounds as if it is coming from beyond the grave. This extraordinary conversation was like getting hold of the end of a thread that reached right back to a heroic age of war and literature, to Blunden, Sassoon, Graves, and of course Owen.

This Be The Verse Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985)  – Listen

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

High Windows Philip Larkin (1922 – 1985) – Listen

When I see a couple of kids
And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
I know this is paradise

Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives–
Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
Like an outdated combine harvester,
And everyone young going down the long slide

To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
And thought, That’ll be the life;
No God any more, or sweating in the dark
About hell and that, or having to hide
What you think of the priest. He
And his lot will all go down the long slide
Like free bloody birds.
And immediately

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

This be the verse –
‘They fuck you up your mum and dad’,  Lily Rae (Walter’s daughter)  sings this one…. Like she means it… And she does! Larkin’s poem has been waiting for a treatment like this since he wrote it in the sixties – he’s never been hailed as a punk poet and would probably be appalled to think he formed part of the evolutionary chain that resulted in John Cooper-Clarke. We went for a balls-out punk vibe on this but with a big dose of 60’s melody and backing vocals to honour the context.

High Windows –
Larkin again, full of melancholy voyeurism bemoaning the fact that he arrived too early for the sexual revolution, reflective, intimate and eccentric; the combination of Larkin’s words with Steve’s piano part, and the descending bass-line in the verses, brought to my mind the intriguingly surreal songs on David Bowie’s masterpiece ‘Hunky Dory’ to which my vocal performance on this track is an unashamed homage.

Blue remembered hills (A Shropshire Lad XL) – A. E. Housman (1859-1936) – Listen

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

We wrote this especially to play at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. A poem about how the beauty of life and the world is given a bitter edge by our human awareness of loss, and death. It makes an interesting companion piece to the Sassoon and Owen poems painting a picture of the England so many of the young men who fought in WW1 dreamed of and believed they were fighting for. The nostalgia and longing for a place to where ‘I cannot come again’ are beautifully framed in a melody which evokes the polished pews of country churches and the homespun harmonies of village congregations heard faintly across the mists of time.

Fear No More The Heat Of The Sun (Cymbeline)  Wm Shakespeare (1564–1616) – Listen

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun;
Nor the furious winter’s rages,
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.

Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dread thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan;
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

A second Shakespeare, this time from Cymbeline and a funeral oration. Swampy drums and percussion from Martyn Barker and Chris’s slide guitar lend this track a slinky ‘voodoo’ edge which reinforces the feel of the track as a magical incantation. The lines are often delivered in a resigned, reflective mood but we like to think Shakespeare also meant his poem to express anger and defiance in the face of death.

So We’ll Go No More a Roving – Lord Byron (1788–1824) – Listen

So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

This is our signing off song; a poem that invites a tune and has been set to music before. A beautiful, elegiac piece, written when Byron was exhausted after, as he wrote in the letter this poem first appears in, ‘putting it about’, but it is more than the ladies of Venice he is saying farewell to.