"For Absent Friends" as written by Peter Gabriel, Anthony Banks, Steven Hackett and Michael Rutherford....
Sunday at six when they close both the gates
A widowed pair,
Still sitting there,
Wonder if they're late for church
And it's cold, so they fasten their coats
And cross the grass, they're always last.

Passing by the padlocked swings,
The roundabout still turning,
Ahead they see a small girl
On her way home with a pram.

Inside the archway,
The priest greets them with a courteous nod.
He's close to God.
Looking back at days of four instead of two.
Years seem so few (four instead of two).
Heads bent in prayer
For friends not there.

Leaving twopence on the plate,
They hurry down the path and through the gate
And wait to board the bus
That ambles down the street.


Lyrics submitted by Demau Senae

"For Absent Friends" as written by Michael Rutherford Anthony Banks

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, CARLIN AMERICA INC, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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For Absent Friends song meanings
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5 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentOne can imagine the scene in the nursery ending with little murderess Cynthia fearfully clutching her Nurse and watching for signs of life within the broken remains of the Musical Box scattered upon the foor. Were this a series of connected films, we could pull back from this scene and float out the window into the unassuming and idyllic English countryside and down the lane towards a village church. We would pan past a clock-tower who's face lets us know it was 6 o'clock p.m. We have travelled from the complex darkness of The Musical Box where a spirit haunts (and attempts to rape!) his killer, to a simple life where two people visit a church to remember and pray for their deceased friends with love and respect.
    Sunday at six when they close both the gates
    a widowed pair,
    still sitting there,
    Wonder if they're late for church
    and it's cold, so they fasten their coats
    and cross the grass, they're always last.

    Passing by the padlocked swings,
    the roundabout still turning,
    ahead they see a small girl
    on her way home with a pram.

    Inside the archway,
    the priest greets them with a courteous nod.
    He's close to God.
    Looking back at days of four instead of two.
    Years seem so few (four instead of two).
    Heads bent in prayer
    for friends not there.

    Leaving twopence on the plate,
    they hurry down the path and through the gate
    and wait to board the bus
    that ambles down the street.

    This simple scene is such an interesting counterpoint to the Musical Box. Who is this little duo, and who have they lost? Why are they always last? Why does the Priest look back at days of four instead of two? Does this indicate the Priest's knowledge of the larger scope of things? Also in this song are some great words that are decidedly British.
    Widowed is the past tense of the verb form of the noun "Widow" - to make someone a widow, and doesn't need to apply to the death of a husband. It can mean to deprive of anything cherished or needed: "A surprise attack widowed the army of its supplies". This young pair have lost some friends.
    Roundabout is an interesting British word that describes a playground carousel.
    Pram is always an interesting British word. It means "baby carriage," and is from 1884 - a shortening of "perambulator". Perhaps influenced by pram "flat-bottomed boat" (1548), from O.N. pramr, from Balto-Slavic (cf. Pol. pram "boat," Rus. poromu "ferryboat"). One great line from the song "Camelot" in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail is "I have to push the Pram alot". It seems they were hard-pressed to disccover things that rhymed with "Camelot".
    The first twopence was a silver coin issued for Charles II in about 1660, but was undated, as used to be the normal practice. This was a hammered coin, and there were three slightly different issues of twopence between 1660 and 1662. From 1668 onwards, milled (machine made) twopences were issued almost every year. Charles II's was the reign when the production of hammered coinage finished, and was replaced completely by milled issues, although machine production had started during the reign of Elizabeth I. In 1971, the year Nursey Cryme was released, the decimal twopence or two pence became legal tender, although it had been available for some time before as part of a five coin familiarisation pack issued in a blue wallet.
    Madpropheton December 05, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is a song in which Phil's influences as a lyricist are quite evident. Whereas most of the lyrics on the Nursery Cryme album are filled with literary references and seem like mythical stories from times long gone, this one song has an immediacy that would come to set the tone for Phil's extremely successful solo career. Two widows go through the ritual of visiting a church, their way of honouring the memory of their absent friends. Although a big part of their life seems to have been lost, they notice that life goes on around them and that they are not alone. A simple song about loss and hope.
    mrKLMon October 05, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMadprophet's interpretation is interesting, but utter tosh at the same time. Talk about over-simplying a self explanatory lyric.It's about two people who are widowed. They are regular church goers, who used to attend church with their now deceased partners. Both are lonely and now find solace in each other's company. They observe life going on around them and look back longingly at their youth as a little girl passes by with her toy pram. The roundabout is a children's play thing with the children's pay park area. They notice it's still turning as the the child/children who were playing on it have left The pair are nostalgic for the days of their youth when life was happier and so much simpler. They then enter the church for that day's service.
    Kelticon February 13, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentNot much one can add to Madprophet's analysis. The song reminds me of the village I spent the first 13 years of my life in. The church, children's playground, the bus ambling down the street, small children pushing prams. Had they referred to a chip shop, a cricket pitch and a pub I would have assumed that they had been there before it was written... The unquestioning assumption that Christianity is the ultimate truth and that twopence a week can reserve you a place in heaven still held sway back then but times were difinitely changing.
    proggieon November 29, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSteve Hackett wrote the music, but was too shy to approach Peter Gabriel, the main lyric writer as he had just joined the band (it was the summer of 1971). Instead, Hackett approached Phil Collins, who also recently joined and the two of them finished the song together. Collins sings it. It was included on the album to encourage the newbies, I think. Tony Banks later said he didn't particularly like it.
    The story is very simple: two widowers (we don't know if they are male or female) leave a park on a cold Sunday afternoon and then go to church, all the while lamenting their lost partners and seeing reminders of their younger days in the playground and the young mother. Straightforward and tender after the violent histrionics of the Musical Box, the previous track on the album.
    darlomundayon October 23, 2017   Link

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