Dark Ages (Empty Stages)

29 June 2020 — Investigating Imperialism

 Dark Ages (Empty Stages)

Copyright William Bowles & Cheryl Byron

August 1977

Cheryl byron

Cheryl Byron

This is the first song I ever wrote, actually co-wrote with my dear friend and musical colleague, Cheryl Byron, (1947-2003) in August 1977 following the Blackout in New York City, in my little ‘railroad’ apartment on Madison Avenue in East Harlem. It was Cheryl who actually encouraged me to write songs, I actually had no idea how at the time. We recorded it on a 4-track but unfortunately I’ve lost it! The amazing Cheryl died in 2003 and there’s a very strange story to this that I’ve appended at the end here. Here is the site of Cheryl’s group, ‘Something Positive‘, still going after all these years!

DARK AGES (empty stages)

Were yer-sittin’ in an uptown bar?
Or-jus’ cruisin’ in yer car?
Takin’ in a movie?
Or getting’ down an’ feelin’ groovy?

Refrain: Who were you when the lights went out?
Who were you when the lights went out? (Repeat 2 times)

The streets transformed as blanket spreads
Settlin’ on eight million heads
Dark ages empty stages
Across the city freedom rages

Chorus: But the fat cats got their own power
Sittin’ in an ivory tower (Repeat 4 times)

Shutters crack an’ plate glass smack!
Gatherin’ ‘round on littered ground
People laugh an’ people cry
An’ somewhere some shall die

Refrain:

Who were you when the lights went out?
Who were you when the lights went out? (Repeat 4 times)

Can yer see your way in the dark
Every block like Central Park
We don’ need no arc light
Pretend yer blind don’ get behind

Refrain:

Who were you when the lights went out?
Who were you when the lights went out? (Repeat 4 times)

An’ fer some a chance to have some fun
For others run an’ get a gun
Stockin’ up at the local mart
Laughin’ as they push the cart

Chorus: But the fat cats got their own power
Sittin’ in an ivory tower (Repeat 4 times)

Pedal Bass central section)

An’ who’s to blame
For the following flames?
For eyeless streets?
An’ rotten meats?
For gilt-edged candles?
An’ city scandals?
For social cuts
An’ concrete huts?
For welfare alms?
An’ useless charms?
For media lies?
An’ human stys?
For breedin’ crime?
An’ wastin’ time?

Chorus: But the fat cats got their own power
Sittin’ in an ivory tower (Repeat 4 times)

An’ all the while we look aroun’
Our words they fall on stony groun’
The people-milling on sultry streets
Who’ve lost all faith in future feats

Chorus: But the fat cats got their own power
Sittin’ in an ivory tower (Repeat 4 times)

The streets transformed as blanket spreads
Settlin’ on eight million heads
Dark Ages Empty Stages
Across the city freedom rages

Refrain: Repeat 4 times

Chorus: Fade


Cheryl Byron

Preamble: I was reading a story by the writer Ed Curtin last week, ‘The Messenger‘ and this memory flooded back into my mind, triggered by his essay:

When I lived in New York City, for a couple of years I worked with a Trinidadian choreographer/dancer, theatrical director, and Professor of Theatre at City College NY, Cheryl Byron, playing bass in her group ‘Something Positive’, a band with dancers, congueros and so forth from all over place. It was Cheryl who got me into writing songs for the first time, something I didn’t even know I could do. In fact we wrote my first song together, in my little apt on Madison Av in E. Harlem, after the Blackout in NYC, in July 1977 (it was called ‘Where were you when the lights went out?’ Wrong! I forgot, it was Dark Ages).

Cheryl was an amazing, multi-talented person. She won an award for her poetry in Trinidad Carnival, Play Mas and just a beautiful human being. We worked together on different projects, including a Reggae musical written by Max ‘War Inna Babylon’ Romeo (which didn’t happen unfortunately, Max couldn’t get backing).

See See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheryl_Byron for more on Cheryl’s amazingly creative life.

Then of course, we parted ways very amicably, moving onto different things but staying in touch until I left the US and moved to Johannesburg in 1992.

In 2002 I moved back to the city of my birth, London and about a year later, whilst working with someone on a project, Cheryl’s name suddenly popped up in my mind, completely unbidden. Curious, I found an old, battered address book from my Big Apple days and there was her number. So on a whim I phoned, not expecting to connect to Cheryl and I didn’t, but I did get the same answering machine message! So I left message for her with my contact details.

The following morning I got a phone call. It was from one of the musos in the band I’d worked in (I think he played congas or perhaps he was one of the dancers?). Sadly, I’ve forgotten his name so I’ll call him Tony and we had the following conversation (obviously not verbatim):

Tony: ‘Bill, this is Tony, what made you phone Cheryl yesterday morning?’

Me: ‘I don’t know, her name just popped into my mind so I found her number and on the off-chance that she was still at the same address, phoned to say hi’.

Tony: ‘Cheryl died yesterday morning and as she lay dying she called out to you and sent you her love’.

I was staggered. How could this be? I hadn’t spoken to her in at least 15 years. Cheryl was two years younger than me, so not that old (then). Tony told me she died of cervical cancer, at home surrounded by friends in her little, one-room apt on E. 87th Street, in Manhattan, that I knew so well. Crazy white boy that I was, she used do my hair in corn rolls and braids. It took hours. I used to call her, CB Radio.

Like you, I’m not religious, I don’t believe in the ‘supernatural’, but I can’t explain it. So, as you say, synchronicity?

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