When I wrote the song I was living at home with my parents – not the most rock and roll of locations! I was playing about on my grandmother’s piano and came up with a particular refrain I liked and kept coming back to. A little germ of an idea had been planted in my head, but one that didn’t come fully into fruition for about the next five months.
The first lyrics I thought of were actually ‘can you stop the gallantry’, about the gallant soldiers of the Crimean War and especially the charge of the Light Brigade. This later became Stop the Cavalry and I widened the perspective of the song to be about all wars and all soldiers. There’s even a reference to nuclear fall-out shelters in there. I imagined the soldier in this song being an eternal soldier, rather like the eternal flame that burns under the Arc de Triomphe. ‘I have had to fight almost every night down throughout these centuries’ he complains at one point.
The central image of the song though is the soldier at the front during the Great War. All the generals and commanders have been out to cheer the poor soldiers on, but once they’ve returned home the soldiers are left alone at the front. Christmas Day itself is so cold and so particularly miserable that he wishes to himself that he was back at home, in the warm, with his girlfriend. It’s at this point he makes the vow to himself that if he gets home alive he’ll stand for election as world president and, ‘If I get elected, I’ll stop - I will stop the Cavalry’. Most unlikely subject matter for a Christmas song I’ve always thought. And to be honest, it was always intended as an anti-war song rather than a Christmas song. It was mainly in this country that the Christmas aspect was picked up as a marketing hook; in France it went to Number 1 at the height of summer!
Sometimes I feel pretty distant from it when I’m out trying to get my Christmas shopping done as I’m concentrating on the mad rush to get everything; other times I hear it and I think, ‘wow! this is amazing’.