I live in Whitehead in Co. Antrim in Northern Ireland/the North of Ireland. It’s a small community with lots of familiar faces. You could almost say that it is a template for the future here. We get along, we see past our differences. Its a quiet wee place. It has its problems like many small towns but, in the main, it’s a positive place to live.
I write and record songs. My forge (like any Gobánsaor), is up in what I call “the Moon Shed”
Up amongst the paper, books and debris of a working art studio. Working here these past thirty years. It’s part of what I do, along with the illustration, poetry and storytelling. It’s the way i’m wired. It’s the way I “RESONATE”.
Five years ago a friend, called Hector Nelson held out an old guitar to me and said “Here, what do you make of that?”. What he was handing me was most unusual. A metal guitar. A National type O’ guitar. A bog standard Resonator of its day. Standard, functional and with a real patina of wear and use upon its neck and body.
I imagined hot sweaty rooms with drink taken, lots of chatter, parties and yo-HO-hoing. I played it for a while. Hector looked at me and said “You take it, that’s for you.” I was gob smacked like a wee boy at Christmas. I didn’t know what to say.
In April of the same year Hector passed away from Cancer. I wrote a song “Hector’s Song” on the Resonator and played it at his funeral. A song with a Gospel feel and Scottish overtones. Hector loved both and even went to a Gospel service in America, while on holiday, just to hear his Black Brothers and Sisters sing this music. For him, and for me, this music transcends any notion of race or skin colour. It’s just part of your soul.
Hector had spent a good part of his life working as a stone mason. He had even helped me and Paddy O’Donnell (our local historian) raise a stone to King Nemed (Nevee) at Rath Cimbaeith (Kimbay), an ancient ritual site, to be found now,on our local golf course.
Over the next few months I decided to get parts of the guitar fixed by re-fretting the neck and putting on new tuners to make tuning it more easy. The repairs were made by Vincent McCusker up in Maghera. Vincent was and is a well known guitarist, who helped to form the rock band “FRUPP” in the 1970s. He really helped the process. A lovely man to work with.
From then until now I slowly got a feel for this guitar. It’s a process but I only recently recorded a song with it. A timely moment which came about one evening, two years ago.
I was watching a documentary on Black culture in America including Slavery, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Civil Rights and the rise of Black Political Consciousness. Towards the end of the programme it talked about the early lynchings, the Rodney King Beating by local police and then I watched as a young man called Eric Garner died under the weight of three or four Policemen outside a shop with his face pressed up against the wall and glass.
He died in front of me. Through the medium of television I was right there with him, beside him but helpless to do anything but to watch. He died in 2014.
I heard him plead for his life, saying eleven times “I can’t breathe . . . I can’t breathe“ until he slipped away. This vision confronted me, took me to task, challenged me, then and there to do something, to write a song containing the words “I can’t Breathe!”.
This was back in 2016. I began the process. Two years passed and in 2020 the George Floyd killing occurred like history repeating itself. I pressed on with the son . . . I pushed harder now . . .
One Sunday I was visiting my daughter and son-in-law. We often talk music. Anyway, I got home and picked up the Resonator and out came “The Yellow Door” song. Written rapidly . . . I don’t understand how these things work but for the song to arrive on this older American guitar . . . well, it just seemed timely. This guitar, made in 1938, moving from hand to hand over many years. Maybe it came here during the Second World War. I’ll probably never know how it came to be here.
Do you ever actually own a guitar or are you just looking after it for someone else?
The idea for the title came from a dream. On a corner, not from Garfield Street, in the centre of Belfast, is a Yellow Door. If you see it and go through that door it will take you up stairs to a really interesting café. Not overly busy with booths and snugs to sit in and talk to the most interesting of people. You’ll know the owner J.C. Rastamann. He knows your name and what you need. Just the usual. You’ll feel welcomed and comfortable. Everyone gets a welcome past The Yellow Door. All colours all creeds, all styles, all sorts of purses are drawn up the stairs to a perch upon life and the busy streets below.
Now, the next time you see The Yellow Door it will just outside a charity shop, By an alley way
but never in the same place twice. You may go for years before you see it again but the joy of walking up those steps will raise your spirits.
On the 27th of September I’m releasing “THE YELLOW DOOR EP”. I’m keeping my promise to Eric Garner. Five tracks. Two songs, two musical poems and one instrumental focused on the colour Yellow and the colour Red.
The tracks include topics like unjust deaths, Black identity, Irish identity, Nature, the importance of the Bee, the Ancestors and following whatever your creative calling is. That’s what “The Yellow Door” is about. That’s how it resonates.
I never plan these things. I just remain open to the moment and ideas that just turn up. I wait for things to resonate. Love, Empathy and Tears bridge all the gaps we have between us.
THE YELLOW DOOR
By Randall Stephen Hall ©
Come along and take a chance.
Black and White a love and romance.
Past the corner shop with the yellow door.
Up those steps to a new dance floor.
Oh, I can’t breathe
Oh, I can’t breathe.
Pick up Hope and don’t be late.
I’ll meet you at God’s garden gate.
For those who give you shall receive.
But can’t you see all those who just can’t breathe?
Oh, I can’t breathe.
Oh, I can’t breathe.
Some mountain tops aren’t there at all
Some mountain tops just have to fall.
Some Mountain tops that scrape the sky.
Some mountain tops they are a lie.
Oh I can’t breathe.
Oh I can’t breathe.
To love your own is not enough.
Love comes down from up above.
To make it real, to make amends.
Each child of God just needs some friends.
“The Yellow Door” EP will be released on the 27th of September 2020.
Five tracks. Two songs, two musical poems and one instrumental