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Carl Davis RIP

Carl Davis (1936 - 2023) wasn’t only a brilliant composer of film and TV music, he wrote some great songs. In 1972 he provided me with the music for my first gay lyric, We Were In There, about three periods of Queer history; Oscar Wilde, Nazi Death Camps, and Stonewall Riots. In each epoch ‘We were in there’.

Carl Davis

  Carl Davis by Ramdzan Mazian

We Were In There

In the brothels, in the basements,
In the back streets of Soho
They were drifting away
Never expecting the day
When the papers and their scandals
Would snuff out all the candles,
The slum boy lose his Masher or his Swell
For Oscar celebrated
As the policemen congregated
Outside the Cadogan Hotel

Oh, the closet was so dark
When the Empire Held the Square
We were in there (x2)

At the parties in the nightclubs
There was music through Europe
In the short years of peace
The parties never could cease
For with Negro Music drumming
There’s no need to fear what’s coming
As the butterflies still flutter painted wings
But the dance halls will be dripping
With their blood, as flame is stripping
The gilding from those Bright Young Things

Oh the closet door was bolted
When the nerve gas filled the air
We were in there (x2)

In the backroom, in the sauna,
There was weeping on Broadway
On the night Judy died
But from the tears there came Pride
Cos before the wreaths had faded
The clubs and bars were raided
And the Queers were dragged out screaming by the hair
But they turned on their attackers
And the tide of years rolled back as
The sound of Freedom filled the air

Oh the closet doors still stand
But we can smash them if we dare
We were in there
We won’t stay in there
In - there

I gave this to a composer friend and asked him to come up with some music. When I took the music to a pianist, my dearest collaborator David Harrod, he said, “This is by Carl Davis.” David heard everything, and absorbed it, and yes, it was indeed by Mr Davis.

It was from an album written and sung by George Fenton, then going under his real name of George Howe. Fenton is now himself a major TV and film composer, including David Attenborough, Ken Loach, Groundhog Day, and all the Alan Bennetts.

It was called We Were Happy There, and it was an offshoot of Bennett’s first stage play, Forty Years On, in which Fenton played one of the schoolboys. In this music-theatrical LP cavalcade, the songs were interspersed with sonorous readings by John Gielgud, the play’s star. We Were In There and We Were Happy There an entirely fortuitous echo.

So I got in touch with MCA, the record label, and asked permission to use the tune, which was refused outright. I think it was the gayness of the words. Not daunted, I obtained the address of Carl Davis from Who’s Who or some theatrical directory and wrote to him as follows (I paraphrase):

“Look, you’ve written this brilliant tune to some rather wet lyrics for an obscure specialist project which will sell a few thousand and be forgotten. If you let me use it, it will be at the service of a meaningful lyric which will move gay audiences for as long as it can be played and sung.”

He agreed by return of post, and I rejigged the words to an exact fit of what I now knew was the original. Later, the novelist Tom Wakefield told me that Davis had been bisexual in his youth, having relationships both with Tom and the jazz singer George Melly.

I still sing the song, though I have to cheat the high notes. It's still a great tune.

See Eric Presland - We Were In There for more information.

Peter Scott-Presland
August 2023