Excerpt from Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story
[Dave] Robinson had a keen ear for a hit and he had immediately earmarked ‘Kitchen At Parties’ as a single when he’d listened to the rough demos Lewie had brought in after being signed. However, he‘d dismissed ‘Stop The Cavalry’ as “just an anti-war song”. On the cassette recording Robinson heard, Lewie had accompanied himself on the piano, giving the song a rather sparse feel. Convinced it had promise, Lewie went away and tried again using an eight-track recorder he had at home. This time Robinson heard a single.
‘Stop The Cavalry’ was a reflection on war from the perspective of a solider, his girlfriend waiting anxiously and missing him at Christmas, while the bombs drop all around him in the freezing trenches. Desperate to get home, he pleads with political leaders to end the conflict and dreams of being elevated to power so he can end the bloodshed himself. ‘Hey, Mr Churchill comes over here to say we’re doing splendidly,” he sang in the opening line, although the song was not specific to World War II and the term cavalry (‘gallantry’ in the original lyric) suggested the Great War. The former sociology student’s inspired decision to ditch the original piano accompaniment in favour of a Salvation Army-style brass band and sleigh bells gave the song a festive feel and his lyrics an unmistakably English setting.
“Looking back, I can’t remember if ’Can you end the gallantry?’ was just a way of fitting in the notes,” says Lewie. “I thought, ’That fits’ and then perhaps it mushroomed from there. Maybe it was that which turned it into a song that was referencing various war scenarios, and from there it went into how it would feel for a soldier as a person being in the situation. A horrific situation where you are daydreaming in your trench, waiting for the next period before you have to go out and fight again for another 10 yards. It happens to be in December and you’re cold and hungry and fed up, and your girlfriend is back home. The family are going to be having Christmas dinner soon and you think, ‘I’m pissed off with all this. If I survive, when I get home I’m going to become the Prime Minister, not just of Britain, but the whole world. And if I win the election, I’m going to stop the cavalry, because none of the others seem to be able to do it’. That’s sort of what he’s saying to himself in his daydream.”
Bob Andrews co-produced the song with Lewie and an initial mix was completed by October. But Robinson wasn’t satisfied and with the lucrative Christmas market looming large, he demanded they go into a different studio to get it right. He hailed the reworked version a triumph, as did Clive Calder, whose company Zomba published the song. Although never intended as a Christmas song, its release towards the end of November and the lyric, ‘I wish I could be home for Christmas’ made it one. A poignant video interspersed real photographs of war with shots of Lewie in the trenches and, in a dream, back at home in the arms of his girl. Stiff employees provided the army band.
On 6 December, to the delight of Lewie and everyone at Stiff, it went straight into the UK chart at number 15. The next week it jumped to number three, one place behind St Winifred’s School Choir’s ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, with Abba’s ‘Super Trouper’ at number one. However, with Britain still in mourning for John Lennon following his murder on 8 December, it was ‘ (Just Like) Starting Over’ that topped the charts in the week before Christmas. ‘Stop The Cavalry’ did, however, top the charts in France, Belgium and Austria and made him a star in other countries around the world.