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Perfumes of Arabia

[Maggie Holland]

Maggie Holland wrote Perfumes of Arabia in April 1991 about the Gulf War. It was first published on her 1992 album Down to the Bone.

Later in the year Martin Carthy recorded Perfumes of Arabia with Dave Swarbrick for their album Skin and Bone—are the album names related? An earlier live version sung on 17 October 1991 at Graffiti’s, Pittsburg was released in 2001 on The Carthy Chronicles. Carthy noted on his original album:

Les Barker is far better known as a writer of comic pieces and spoofs whose other side is not so often acknowledged. I put a tune to Such a War Has Never Been which itself grew from the experience of seeing on TV the first TV war, fought with prime time in mind.

Likewise, Perfumes of Arabia, written by Maggie Holland, who since striking out on her own has become a remarkable songwriter.

Maggie Holland sang Martin Carthy’s Company Policy and her own Perfumes of Arabia live in Antwerp, Belgium, at Folk in ’t Stad on 30 March 2012:


Martin Carthy sings Perfumes of Arabia

I was driving on a journey when I turned my radio on
Thinking to hear a story or some old familiar song
But all I heard were voices telling me a foreign war
They were counting Scuds and Patriots, they were telling me the score

I heard the voice of the airman as his plane fell from the sky
I heard the man in the foxhole as he watched his brother die
I heard the last sad song of the dolphin as he drowned in a filthy sea
I heard the mother weep aloud for her dead child on her knee

They say the sands are filled with corpses and the wells are filled with blood
The snows on the distant mountains make many’s the tiny shroud
The clouds are black as thunder, they do not hold sweet rain
There is only death and poison to fall to earth again

I couldn’t bear to hear it so I turned the volume down
Turned into a garage in some little Hampshire town
Filled up my car as I took the air of this green and pleasant land
And then I recognised the smell of blood upon my hand

I’ve tried sandalwood and roses, I’ve tried Eau de Cologne as well
Calvin Klein, Chanel number 5, it cannot ease the smell
I’ve tried in every Body Shop I can find throughout the land
But the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.