David McWilliams

David McWilliams ? Never heard of him.

Pearly Spencer ? Not familiar either.

I must surely have come across this hidden gem from 1967 at some point – maybe. All I know for sure is that Brian Matthew played it on Sounds of the 60s in June, I checked it out properly today, and thought ‘wow’ as soon as I played it.

David McWilliams was born in Belfast and lived in Ballymena. Days of Pearly Spencer was a 1967 song about a homeless man. Part is supposed to be sung through a megaphone – the actual effect achieved with a phone box. It was a hit in Europe but struggled in the UK – the BBC didn’t play it due to issues with pirate radio. McWilliams never profited from the song and died of a heart attack in 2002, aged 56

A tenement, a dirty street
Walked and worn by shoeless feet
In silence long and so complete
Watch by shivering sun.

Old eyes in a small child’s face
Watching as the shadows race
Through walls and cracks that leave no trace
And daylight’s brightness shun

The days of Pearly Spencer,
The race is almost run

Nose pressed hard on frosted glass
Gazing as the swollen mass
On concrete fields where grows no grass
Stumbles blindly on

Iron trees smother the air
But withering they stand and stare
Through eyes that neither know nor care
Where the grass has gone

The days of Pearly Spencer,
The race is almost run

Pearly, where’s your milk-white skin ?
What’s that stubble on your chin ?
It’s buried in the rotgut gin
You’ve played and lost, not won

You played a house that can’t be beat
Now look, your head’s bowed in defeat
You walked too far along the street
Where only rats can run


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