This is a classical Al Stewart historical folk-rock song, though more folk than rock. Sir Richard Grenville was born in 1542, and after a distinguished career as a soldier and explorer, he was appointed Vice Admiral of the British Royal Navy. He sailed to Roanoke Island (in what is now North Carolina) in 1586 to fortify a colony established by Sir Walter Raleigh, leaving behind 15 men who disappeared; Roanoke became known as the "Lost Colony."
The song is written from the perspective of the 15 men who were left behind and know their end is imminent:
Go and tell Lord Grenville that our dreams have run aground There's nothing here to keep us in this shanty town
In 1591, Grenville sailed for the Azores in pursuit of Spanish treasure but found himself outnumbered when his ship the Revenge became separated from the rest of the fleet. After fighting 15 Spanish ships all evening and night, the Revenge was surrendered by his crew against his wishes. Mortally wounded, Grenville was taken prisoner and died aboard one of the enemy ships aged only 49.
"Lord Grenville" is the first track on Al Stewart's Year Of The Cat album, recorded at Abbey Road Studios with producer Alan Parsons. With the hit single "Year Of The Cat," it was a breakthrough, and his first album to make an impact in America.
Stewart had a hard time hitting the high notes in the line, "Our time is just a point along a line." In an interview CD for the album, he said: "I sang this for two hours and Alan Parsons kept looking at me and glaring through the glass and I just could not hit this high note. Drove him crazy."