Robert Wyatt – Shipbuilding (1982)

“Shipbuilding” is a song written by Elvis Costello (lyrics) and Clive Langer (music). Written during the Falklands War of 1982, Costello’s lyrics discuss the contradiction of the war bringing back prosperity to traditional shipbuilding areas of Merseyside (Cammell Laird), North East England (Swan Hunter) and Belfast (Harland and Wolff) to build new ships to replace those being sunk in the war, whilst also sending off the sons of these areas to fight and, potentially, lose their lives in those same ships. According to Clive Langer, he’d written the tune for Robert Wyatt but wasn’t happy with the lyrics that he had written himself. Langer played the tune to Costello at a party hosted by Nick Lowe, and within days Costello had written lyrics he described as “the best lyrics I’ve ever written”. Robert Wyatt released the song in 1982 and reached number 36 in the UK charts in May of the following year, marking the first ever UK Top 40 entry for Rough Trade Records. On the recording Wyatt is backed by Clive Langer (organ), Steve Nieve (piano), Mark Bedford (double bass), Martin Hughes (drums) and Elvis Costello (backing vocals).

A-side “Shipbuilding”:


B-side “Memories Of You”:


B-side “‘Round Midnight”:


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1 Comment

  1. Reminds me of an old interview with Tears For Fears stating that their “I Believe” (from Songs From The Big Chair) was somehow influenced by Shipbuilding. I can certainly hear the inspiration.

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