19. Singer/songwriters called Gregory

Posted on 23/01/2017


There is no particular reason for choosing Gregory other than that I have come across a few singers of that name. This post discusses Greg Brown, Gregory Porter and Gregory Page. The first is a forthright folk singers; Gregory Porter is a more vigorous voiced jazz vocalists. The final member of the trio is a bit less American than the others as he is partly Armenian and partly Irish and was born in England. The Armenian part of him must have come via the USA.

Armenia, you should know, is very proud of being the First Christian Nation (in about 404 AD) about 10 minutes before the Eastern Roman Empire (aka Byzantium) achieved that feat under the Emperor Constantine. Armenia has had a rough time in the past century both at the hands of the Soviet Union and Turkey. But it does have two popes (or had in the 1980’s when I was in the USA and traveled in a posh limousine in which one of the Armenian popes had traveled in the week before. He was the Lebanese one, and a bit freer than the then Soviet one.

Just as you thought I had drifted away from my topic, I shall cunningly bring the focus back onto Gregory by mentioning a Popes of that name. I wasted part of my youth reading a splendid book called the Larousse de poche: a small volume (of 1,300 pages) packed with vast amounts of irrelevant information about famous names of the part (a typical entry, about somebody you’ve never heard of would say: ‘ecrivain: 1803-54’ without explaining why this nonentity justify an entry.

But the popes are good, there are lots of them scattered about the book (and the Byzantine emperors are even better). But, resisting the temptation to do a few Byzantine emperors I shall point out only that the first Pope Gregory (the Great) lived from 540 AD (ish) until 599 AD. There wer a lot more: ending in number XVI who was pope 1831 to 1846. Now thats what I call a good run of popes!

And so to my three non-popes. I love Greg Brown‘s lyrics (and his guitar playing). I cited it in Post 15 when talking of ‘Mose Allison played here‘: one of his lesser songs but notable for the club owner’s splendid put down: ‘Brown, oh yes, your people all drink water: surprised youre still around’.

I did not quote the previous lines which have the club owner telling Brown that he had not advertised the gig because it costs money, so there will nobody coming tonight and then suddenly ‘what guarantee’ when Brown had quietly reminded him  that there was a minimum payment in his contract. A nasty shock for the club owner and hence his put down.

Gregory Porter is in the mould of large jazzy vocalists who have a huge female audience. However the song I am going to discuss is ‘dont lose your head of steam’. The song is addressed to a younger man and is telling him to keep fighting the good fight. The imagery of steam engines is surprisingly old:

‘Sitting on the top of the roof, the bridge is all mine

steam engines roll by, the bridges fall down and so do my dreams

…if the bridges fall down dont lose your head of steam’

The imagery is of the passing of time and the appeal is to the younger man to keep going: a vivid and unusual image.

By comparison with this Gregory Page is a bit limp, but entirely charming. His song ‘Bon Voyage mon Cheri’ is about the charms of Paris:

Motor scooters chase/all the cars that race/as lights turn from red to green

at twilight , its the time/out of fashion is a crime/the most beautiful women I have ever seen’

this reminds me of Laurence Sterne’s ‘Sentimental Journey’ written in the 1740’s. He says that French women, however poor, always have one fine dress that makes them look great (unlike the English equivalents). So the French have led in that respect for upwards of three centuries.

Unlike the virile Porter, Page majors on quiet charm. Brown is great for vivid nd touching images. His ‘hey, baby, hey’ is about his love and how it makes him cry, but tries not to let her see. It ends:

‘I want to plant a little garden with you now/take care of a piece of the earth somehow

and tend it when we’re old an gray and/and try to straighten up and say, well

I’m so glad to see you today/hey baby hey baby hey’


All of these Gregories are well worth listening to. Especially as there are no more Popes of that name.

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