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In the spotlight this week is a song I wrote in my student days in 1987. Napoleon’s Nose was a deliberate attempt to add a “happy” song to my repertoire. Many people complained that I always seemed to be singing sad songs. Maybe learning Dick Gaughan’s A Different Kind of Love Song would have been a more appropriate response, as the sad songs are the best, aren’t they? But secretly I longed to sing the odd happy love song and I also thought it would be nice to have a happy song that was a celebration of my home town, Belfast, in some way. And so, Napoleon’s Nose was born.
They Might Be Giants
So of course for listeners not familiar with Belfast’s landmarks, the last verse causes some puzzled looks – “Nose of Napoleon? Eh?”. If you make the climb up Cave Hill past the castle, through the trees, past the caves and clamber up to the summit, you’ll be surveying Belfast from Napoleon’s Nose and a great view it is too. It’s easy to see how the profile of Cave Hill from most of North Belfast resemble the face of a giant lying down and therefore to understand how it is said to have inspired Jonathan Swift to write Gulliver’s Travels.
I’ve no idea where the musical inspiration for the little riff in this song came from – it was one of those songs that just sort of came together all by itself and the verses have remained constant since inception. I’ve made one amendment in its lifetime, adopting a variation in the last verse that I noticed my friend Alex Maclean was using in his rendition: instead of And the sun it was shining / Over sweet Belfast town, I now generally sing in a reprise of the last verse And our love it was shining / Over sweet Belfast town. Oh p-lease, pass the cheese!
I’ve really enjoyed performing this song down through the years and it generally gives me a warm feeling – not for any romantic reasons, but mainly when I remember how a friend Eoin McMichael use to crack up every time he heard me sing Our hearts were on fire. He reckoned I was singing notes that aren’t actually in the scale.
Live at the Tommy Burns Supper 1989
Just to finish, I have a wee recording of this song from a Tommy Burns Supper (an annual Celtic Supporters Club event in Edinburgh) in January 1989. Very poor quality recording and some right croaky vocals in places, but it’s nice to have the whistle (Chris Walshaw) and fiddle (Andrew Hennessy) accompaniment. Great night that, ‘cos I got to meet Packie Bonner.