Come sail your ships around me

Every so often I hear a song that really moves me. One of the things that makes a song great is when others can sing the same words, the same song yet bring other layers of meaning into their performances. Which is what happens here.

One song that has stood the test of time is ‘The Ship Song’ by Nick Cave. Back in 2001 it was named one of the top 30 Australian songs of all time.

Come sail your ships around me
And burn your bridges down
We make a little history, baby
Every time you come around
Come loose your dogs upon me
And let your hair hang down
You are a little mystery to me
Every time you come around
We talk about it all night long
We define our moral ground
But when I crawl into your arms
Everything comes tumbling down


The version below was recorded in 2011 and features performances by Neil Finn, Kev Carmody and The Australian Ballet, Sarah Blasko, John Bell, Angus and Julia Stone, Paul Kelly and Bangarra Dance Theatre, Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Opera Australia, Martha Wainwright, Katie Noonan and The Sydney Symphony, The Temper Trap, Daniel Johns and the Australian Chamber Orchestra.

To me the lyrics inhabit a place that is somewhere between a dream and a memory. I don’t think they need to be analysed. It more a feeling thing. Let the fragments of the song wash over you with streams of memories of connections from long ago. That sort of thing.

To me the very best music is some kind of time travel. It has the meaning you give it (or not.)

Ever since I heard about songlines I have loved the idea of language beginning as a song first. Somehow we visualise the future and the past in song like terms. Songs and music are incredibly inspiring and how we can nourish our creative edge.

Here is the original by Nick Cave who is some kind of genius in my book. The shop dates back to 1990. This doesn’t mean every song is great. Great writers don’t always have the same level of filtering or editing on their work. That means that sometimes the output is terrible and sometimes it is great.

In an essay by James Sclavunos about The Boatmans Call album Cave is quoted about songwriting.

“I find quite often that the songs I write seem to know more about what is going on in my life than I do,” he confessed.


Back in 1983 I met the band that Nick was in at the time. The Birthday Party came to New Zealand for a brief tour when they were right on the edge of breaking up. I met and interviewed Roland S Howard the guitarist which is a story for another day. The band went on to play in Auckland. Jonathan Ganley took photos and wrote about that concert.

Despite the chaos in 1983 it was very clear that Nick Cave was someone to watch and that has proven to be true.