53. ALL GOOD GIFTS/ON THE WILLOWS -from ‘Godspell’ (Stephen Schwartz)

 

I thought I heard, recently, that there was going to be a new national tour of this classic old 70s musical –perhaps I dreamt it, or if I did hear it, I might have now missed it –still, just the rumour got me a bit excited!  Though of course, nothing can possibly match the first time…

And the first time I saw ‘Godspell’ (a Tuesday night in the New Theatre, Cardiff –I’m guessing 1976) I was so blown away by it that I went back nearly every other night that same week, (I even sneaked in during the interval in the Saturday matinee where my wife to be – who coulda thunk back then – was watching it with her one-day-to-be-bridesmaid), to see it again and again. Mr Obsessive, even then.  Even today, i’m not exactly sure what Stephen Schwarz had intended as the effect of his musical (apart from money in the bank, obviously), but the impact upon me was pretty momentous –despite what it might be easy to see as crass, irreverent, flippant, gimmicky-hippie interpretations of gospel narrative, ironically I found that, with searing freshness it brought to life not only the narratives and teachings of Matthew’s gospel, but even, in some weird way, the person of Christ himself.  I can remember writing a (very bad, cringingly prosaic) poem about this, called ‘The Man’, the idea being that the musical had somehow helped to flesh out his reality for me in a new and unexpected way.

The other impacting effect of the musical is akin to hearing  gospel narrative all in one sitting –as I experienced most powerfully in one Edinburgh festival seeing Alec McCowan performing/reciting ‘The Gospel According To Saint Mark’ –it’s the shock, the unusual experience of seeing the arc of Jesus’ ministry from its beginning, the calling of the disciples, through to the end – betrayal, crucifixion (and of course, mysteriously, gloriously, what follows!)

These two songs are kind of book ends in that respect.  ‘All Good Gifts’ is sung, initially, by one of the disciples in the excitement of the early days of following the master, and intersects passages from the sermon on the mount.  It is, of course, that old chestnut of favourite harvest hymns, ‘We Plough The Fields And Scatter…’ – originally 18th century German, and translated into English in the 19th century (and mercifully cut down from its original 17 verses) –and given here a great new stirring melody.  As soon as I could, I taught it to our congregation for our own harvest celebrations!  In the context of the musical, the disciples are still bubbly, anticipatory and confident.  In the third verse they join in glorious harmony while the soloist improvises soulful responses of gratitude –“I really wanna thank you Lord…” etc.

Within an hour or so of dramatic action, and in theatrical terms in the second half of the production, the mood has slipped to a more realistic awareness of conflict, threat, impending suffering.  ‘On the Willows’ seems a strange insertion –an old testament psalm of exile in a minor key, sung ‘out of action’ by (at least every time that I have seen it) the musicians themselves rather than the actors, while on stage, there is a stylised re-enactment of the Last Supper with, most affectingly, Jesus embracing each disciple with some unique gesture reminiscent of their own story or actions from earlier in the narrative.

The mournful psalm captures just the right tone for the occasion –‘but how can we sing/Sing the Lord’s song/In a foreign land?…’ It’s Psalm 137,isn’t it, and it’s inspired lots of interpretations and versions -there’s the ’round’ that Don Maclean used to do; there’s a Leonard Cohen song based on it; my old house-mate Tim wrote a great song based on it, I think. (yes, Tim?) And..should we mention Boney M? But this version is lovely – all acousticky like an early Paul Simon song, all minor chords and sweet sad harmonies.The song symbolises the end of more naive idealistic rejoicings; or at least it signals significant grief-times, sobering times when those kind of songs must give way to more plaintive dirges.  Perhaps a repetitious cycle of experience most communities of believers must necessarily encounter, if they are also to know ‘reviving’ experiences and rediscoveries of resurrection joy and hope.

The movie version was…worth avoiding, but theatrical performances of it still give me a buzz, and yes I still find the music , admittedly  ‘of its time’ but despite that, compelling- for me, these two songs especially; I am glad to have become acquainted with it.  It’s now – for good or bad – a part of my internal musical fabric.  [smiley face signifying acknowledgement of pretentious phrase]

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46. A SIMPLE SONG – from Leonard Bernstein’s ‘Mass’

Started singing this, this morning, while I was showering and changing after a swim at Merthyr Leisure Centre. What triggered it I can’t imagine. I haven’t thought of it in a long time.

Its place in the timeline of my music-life is easy to pinpoint: 1976, I’d just started my PGCE teacher’s training in Cardiff University and bought the LP in a wander-about-town, one lunchtime, on a total whim. The purchase of such an item hints quite strongly at a complex confluence of attractions: not just the exotic and (at that time, for me) alien appeal of a liturgical Eucharistic mass (as opposed to the distinctly low-key non-conformist ‘communion’ services) but also – what seems an incongrous alliance – the excitement of performance and of experimental  musical ‘theatre’– after all what I mainly knew of Bernstein was that he had created the great score for ‘West Side Story’. The liner notes suggested, too, an attempt to blend a variety of musical styles and traditions in this enterprise of re-interpreting ancient liturgy. And even then, 40 years ago, such attempts at a kind of artistic synchretism always appealed.

This song sort of opens the performance, or..no, it kind of breaks across a grander, more traditionally choral ‘false beginning’ to the Mass, and it speaks to yet another internal impulse within this worshipper. I’m not sure whether, by this time, we’d discovered the simpler worship music songs of John Wimber and Vineyard; I’m pretty sure I hadn’t yet discovered Taize or (even later) John Bell/ Wild Goose Worship chants, but the longing for less-cluttered expressions, to balance wordier, more cerebral hymnody, was certainly there. [Of course we were becoming familiar with songs emanating from the house-church movement, many of which meditated on single phrases: ‘Jesus/ He died/He rose’.. etc.. And many of the songs coming from the charismatic movement eg. Fisherfolk/Church of the Redeemer songs were both ‘simple’ (Consider their famous ‘8-fold Alleluia’) and frequently open-ended in a way that encouraged improvisation (‘Come into his presence singing’.. and Max Dyer’s work song ‘Pulling the Weeds’, and  Diane Davis’s artless-timeless’Thank you Lord’ and many more…)]

So yes, this song eloquently addresses that need: along with ‘simplicity’, an invitation also to  improvisation. ‘Sing like you like to sing/God loves all simple things/For God is the simplest of all.’ There’s truth in this. Of course, there’s a quaint and obvious irony  in the song’s premise – ‘Sing God a simple song/Lauda laude/Make it up as you go along…’ – that this is a constructed casualness, only apparently improvisational (ars celare artem!): this ‘simple song’ is of course exquisitely and consciously crafted by a master musician’s skilful artistry.

I’ve only ever seen Bernstein’s Mass performed on one occasion (in Cardiff’s St David’s Hall – beautiful but often criticised for poor acoustics) and found it on the one hand a bold and exciting project and on the other a little awkward in overall construction and ultimately not totally satisfying. Still, the ‘simple song’ has stuck with me, as a song and I suppose as a concept – and it was a nice surprise to find, since it came popping up out of my head this morning, that it must have taken some kind of root in this little brain; and this heart still thrills to ‘make it up as you go along’ and sing out semi-improvised Laudas and Laudes to its God.

37. I’D LIKE TO SIT YOU DOWN – The Fisherfolk

Well, yes, Fisherfolk, but also in a special way Patricia Allen of the Fisherfolk. There are two possible approaches here: I could start by writing about Pat Allen, but this feels like holy ground, and I need to tread carefully and thoughtfully.

So let’s start anecdotally, with my first – miraculous? life-changing? – flesh and blood encounters with the Community of Celebration. It was the summer holiday in between leaving my two year job with the civil service and starting PGCE Teachers’ Training, 1976, and I decided to travel around Scotland for three weeks on a ‘Freedom of Scotland’ Rail Card. There were several exciting, beautiful, funny and interesting parts to this journey – but, arriving at Edinburgh, I encountered for the first time the amazing Festival, and decided I could spare the city a few days , at least! Even then (!) the variety and breadth of Festival and Fringe events were overwhelming – my first Chekhov – RSC’s ‘The Three Sisters’ (with Ian McKellan, I recall!) , part of the ‘official festival’, blew me away. In amongst all the posters on the Golden Mile, I chanced upon one (or more?) for ‘The Fisherfolk’ – featuring in a variety of events  – a cafe/bar concert of songs; a Eucharistic celebration featuring one of Betty Pulkingham’s Eucharistic settings; and…a brand new musical entitled ‘Ah! There’s the Celebration!’

So indeed and of course, I soaked up whatever of these events I could – discovering in the process that, news to me, the Community of Celebration had relocated to Scotland, a little island called Cumbrae, just off the West Coast. The musical, held in a church  just off ‘the Mile’, featured some great songs built around the concept of a ‘family’( ie a community of Christian believers) refusing to conform to life-as-a-game-of-monopoly, subverting it by resisting opportunities to act acquisitively or competitively, instead offering sharing and kindness. Memorably the Games-master ‘Dev’ (played by David Gustafson) shouts in frustration ‘Jesus Christ! Read them the rules!’ at which point Mikel Kennedy – present throughout the action , with his guitar, as Jesus-on-a-stepladder, begins to recite some of the Sermon on the Mount. If I’ve made it sound crass or comical, it wasn’t. It was, in fact, powerful stuff. Pat Allen (and Martha Barker)’s song ‘I’d Like to Sit You Down’ beautifully exemplifies this non-competitive subversively compassionate behaviour. It’s both a reflection of Christ’s compassion for the world and a manifesto for the servant heart of a Christlike church – ‘Your feet are so weary/ From walking through problems much too big for you/ I’d like to sit you down/ Gently wrap a towel around/ And bathe your feet with my tears..’This song, like so many of Pat Allen’s, is a unique hybrid – part Broadway musical song in structure, part holy anthem. Nothing derivative or formulaic or stereotypical about this kind of Christian song; and I was deeply moved. Later in my journey I  chased up the Community to their home, centred around the Cathedral of the Isles on the Island of Cumbrae, got to meet Bill Farra, spent a night there, and was hooked for life. The following year I spent a whole week there.

Pat Allen, Pat Allen… Even on a purely vocal level there was something special there. While she seems to have been around quite close to the start of the music ministry (check out the late sixties’ ‘Keyhole’ albums, from the Houston coffeehouse ministry) her voice seems to have been used fairly sparingly – one of the earliest I recall is Betty Pullkingham’s ‘Bless thou the Lord’ psalm setting, where Pat sings the verses; then there’s her chillingly incisive rendition of the traditional ‘Mary had a Baby’ on a rather more choral album. It was a voice that uniquely melded both purity and warmth.

Her compositions, though, as I’ve said, were unusually theatrical – the still haunting composition ‘They have no Wine’ was probably our first taste of this, on the ‘On Tiptoe’ album. Then ‘The Carpenter’s Song’ (also featured in that same Fringe Musical in 1976) – a boldly human love song to the God-man Jesus. But she also had a deft touch with psalms – her setting/interpretation of ‘The Snare is Broken’ and her achingly beautiful setting of Daniel Berrigan’s rewriting of Psalm 131 – ‘May I to my Lord Hasten..’. All gorgeous.

If I ‘met’ her on my two visits to the community at Cumbrae, I never got a chance to chat. I do recall, however, a luminously peaceful smile; I also recall her giving someone a friendly back massage during one of the community meetings.. In the regular newsletters I began to receive from the Community in the late seventies, early eighties, it became clear that Pat was obeying a perceived call to a more solitary, contemplative life – within the community (I believe some kind of hut was discovered and employed within Cathedral grounds, where Pat could entertain visitors who came for prayer,  counsel, spiritual direction.) Sometime later I read she’d felt a call to live in Israel. Later still that she’d joined a Catholic Order of sisters there, and, just a couple of years ago, that she’d died there.

The existing Community of Celebration (with help, I suspect, from those many who’d left, been dispersed to other fruitful lives, but who cared, and wanted to honour how Pat has touched their lives) had the good sense to release a posthumous collection of her songs, and truth be told, I treasure this CD above most in my voluminous collection. And alongside the many new-to-me treasures unearthed, and amongst the old songs, this one, (co-written I believe with Martha Keyes-Barker) shines brightly as a statement of her own giving heart; and as a clear, quirkily unique colourful testimony to the Father’s goodness, the sacrificial grace of the Son, the mysterious and life-giving energy of the Spirit.

30. SWEET JESUS – The Keyhole/The Fisherfolk

Stumbling, as one might, across Isaiah 12:3 again recently, reminded me of this wonderful song.  And now I’m rediscovering it, and being refreshed by it all over again.

Its provenance, I think, is an interesting one, and I am going to indulge in a little informed guesswork, to work through its tangled origins.  I’m actually not sure if I first heard the song on the vinyl album by The Keyhole (the Church of the Redeemer’s coffeehouse worship and ministry team), a group incidentally that seemed like a ‘second generation’ Keyhole, since the core of their original team had already relocated to the UK to become the base of The Community Of Celebration and of its touring music and creative ministry team to be quickly dubbed ‘the Fisher folk’; or was it in fact from that very same ministry team that I first heard it, when Colin drove us to the Woodcroft Christian centre in Chepstow?  [ More about this in my blog on ‘I am a Rock’ from July’s postings] Diane Davis took the lead vocal in this small team and the bright clarity of their delivery highlighted, in a startlingly fresh way, the song’s poetic appreciation of the Spirit’s potentially dynamic effect on our lives.

I note that the song’s composers are David Lynch and Grace Krag.  For anyone fascinated, as I am, in the history and development of ‘intentional’/experimental Christian Communities, I heartily recommend reading the extensive account of a community called The Symphony Of Souls, and later The Trees, recounted with helpful detail and eloquent selection, in a blog (though its dozen or so sections comprise something easily book length) by one of its founding members Katheryn (Shishonee) Reutenik, under the title of ‘the Seven Story Bus: the story of the Trees Community’ http://www.thetreescommunity.blogspot.co.uk/  It is one of the most fascinating accounts of the development of a spiritual community which I have ever read and more than repays the patience of sticking with it.

This small, hippie-ish, counter cultural community, with its own rhythms of worship litanies and liturgies, and diverse experimental music styles – with an emphasis on a range of instruments that would now signal ‘world music’ – found themselves, at one stage of their windblown itineraries ‘parked up’ for a while at Houston’s Church Of The Redeemer,  going of course through its own emerging radical and life changing renewal.  As is the way of these things, there seems no doubt that there was both friction and blessing in the mix, mutuality of influence between the communities, and mutuality of effect.  ‘Symphony of Souls’ songs show up in early Redeemer/Keyhole/Fisher folk recordings –‘The Bell Song’ (most notably), ‘O Jesus How I Love You’, ‘He Was Wrapped In Flesh’, on a Christmas album, and, I’m guessing, this song.

Certainly David Lynch was a member of the Symphony Of Souls.  Katheryn’s narrative names this as a song which their team performed .  She also comments about Grace Krag considering and praying about the possibility of joining their community –though clearly she didn’t: she turns up as a flautist on recordings of the Woodland Park Fisherfolk in the early eighties.  It would seem that she stuck with the Redeemer/Celebration model.

So maybe this song was a collaborative outcome from the mingling of the two communities?  Perhaps Grace wrote a poem which David put to music, adding the Isaiah verse as a chorus? [Since starting this,my ‘researching sources’ have confirmed my guesses are not far off the mark. Grace’s lyric is in fact part of a poem she wrote originally as a student assignment; another Symphony of Souls member David Karasek suggested inserting the Isaiah verse as a refrain; the whole was presented on a birthday card to David Lynch who almost immediately  ‘heard’ a tune for it.] However extraordinary the collaboration, the result is whatever the spiritual version of ‘magical’ is.  The five verses focus on Biblical images and keywords for the Holy Spirit –fire, power, love, breath, water – handled with a light but freshly poetic touch, and with a personal perspective – i.e.  Lord, this is what your spirit does, not just generally, but in me … And the images are not twee or overly-gentle, if you know what I mean.  While the fourth verse highlights the Spirit as wind/breath ..’gently breathes, bringing peace, freeing me… the opening verses are much more shockingly dynamic – ‘Your fire purely sears a clean hollow within me..’ and ‘ Your spirit…breaks through me…/ Constrains my fragile will…’ Grace says her tutor compared her poem to Donne and suddenly, yes, now I see the distinct  parallels to Donne’s sonnet  ‘Batter my heart, three-personed God’!

The use of the Isaiah verse as refrain is inspired, masterfully appropriate – launched from the springboard of each verse, it presents something at the same time a response (‘Therefore, with joy..’) and a promise (‘..shall ye draw water…’) and an affirmation of mysterious depths to the sources of the Spirit’s power/love/life (‘..out of the wells of salvation’); the melodic contrast which the refrain  offers sounding like a peal of confident bells.

The original Lynch/Krag composition contains a prefaced vocative/invocation ‘sweet Jesus’, given slow, rich harmony  on the album to which it gives its name. While on the surface it may seem a dispensable and incidental bit of preparatory throat-clearing, I believe there’s sound theological justification for it – acknowledging Christ as the ‘giver’ and conduit for the Holy Spirit’s indwelling of those who follow and love – ‘Your spirit within me…’. Interestingly, when, a decade or so later, another recording team from the Fisherfolk stable (largely a British one from the community’s interaction with the Post Green Community in Dorset)made a fresh stab at the song, they dropped the invocation, changed the title to ‘Wells of Salvation’ and –though surely not necessarily because of that- produced something which, while valid in its own way, doesn’t for me match the exhilarating zing of the original.

I’m loving the song all over again. And I’m feeling that even at 62 there’s more re-re-rediscovering of the mysterious third person of the Trinity to be experienced – (which is probably the pattern more or less of two milennia of church history!) . Grace and David’s song makes the connection between the Isaiah verse, and John 7:38 (Jesus’ extraordinary public pronouncement on the last day of a significant temple feast); and the subterranean connection between those verses still excites. I more than suspect the well’s still full, and deeper than we can imagine!

18. AS THE RUIN FALLS – Phil Keaggy

I stumbled back onto this, a few days ago, after a gap of 30 years or more, and it stirred up a lot of thoughts.  (Also, I was rather surprised about how well I remembered it, and could sort of sing along, despite its fairly intricate construction.)

Here are some of the thoughts it brings to mind.  I’ve already and elsewhere touched upon the winds of change in the 1960s: renovations, reawakenings and renewals in the global Christian church, and the inevitable innovations it brought to forms and expressions of music both in ‘worship’ and in reflective/performance/message-conveying formats.  For bad or good, this spawned a new industry in the 60s and 70s –the ‘Christian music industry’.  Mostly bad, it began to seem, since capital-minded corporations suddenly discovered a new niche market to exploit, and surely that couldn’t be good?  Initially excited by what was being produced –and I’m talking mainly ‘performance’  output here – I soon sort of lost track of what the industry was all about, and sadly felt that in many ways the industry itself had, too.

While the interest lasted, we were listening to, and awaiting the next albums of (in the UK) artists like Graham Kendrick, Malcolm and Alwyn, Garth Hewitt, Len McGee; and (in the U.S.) Chuck Girard, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Keith Green, Michael Omartian, Annie Herring et al.  It’s easy now to dismiss it as a bit of a sad business.  To underline my dismissal of if, I’m remembering too a concert I attended in Cardiff about…eight years ago, with Pierce Pettis and Julie Lee (see my blog posting on ‘You Did That For Me’), two artists I discovered at Greenbelt Festival.  It was a very poorly attended gig, so there was plenty of opportunity to chat with them.  While both were fervent believers, they had also both resisted being drawn into the world of the U.S.Christian music industry.  The murky world, they implied.  The wonderful Julie Miller, also, had started her recording career in that world, but had managed to escape it to eventually disseminate her great songs more widely.  It was Richard Hines (fellow teacher at Colegio San Andres) who taught me that we do best to resist creating sub cultures –Christian poetry, Christian art, Christian diets, Christian music industry etc.  –and instead, try being ‘salt’ in the world.(Hmm. Discuss)

So, as I’ve said, it’s been easy to dismiss those early seventies Christian albums.  But this is what hearing Phil Keaggy again reminded me: that there was much within that industry that had both quality and integrity.  Just think, for instance, about the earnest and honest anthems of Keith Green; think too of the exquisite vocals of Matthew Ward –while several of his songs suffered from cliché, there is a handful in his canon that stand any stringent test of time –his ‘psalms’, ‘Love’, ‘Summer Snow’, ‘Noah’ (isn’t that a Keaggy song too?).On this side of the pond, real craftsmanship in such as Adrian Snell…

And Phil Keaggy himself: so, let’s get back to this song.  Keaggy was/is a consummate guitarist, and the exquisite guitar-work on this track attests to that too.  But most interesting too is the ambition of actually attempting a musical version of this sonnet by CS Lewis!  Its fluid syntax, its enjambements, its condensed and complex images do not lend themselves easily to musical adaptation!  But this is as brave and close to brilliant an attempt as you can get, and the 40 years since its composition only confirms that for me.

While there may be several levels of explicit and implicit meaning in the sonnet, at the very least it’s about an awareness that much of what we are and do is motivated by self gratification.  CS Lewis clearly highlights (and Keaggy underlines) that this often leads us into mere delusions of knowledge, our ‘flashy rhetoric about loving you’ keeping us from the true experience of the real thing – ‘I talk of love – a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek…’ Like many good at-the-core Christ-infused creations, there is the hint of the end-of-self and the divine redemptive mercy and grace that rescues us from that state.  We get this in the final lines and Keaggy captures the note of hope in the final couplet (‘For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains/You give me are more precious than all other gains’) with a minor to major change mirroring the gratitude of the rescued.

Speaking as someone who has dabbled with “collaborations with CS” myself (!! –songs for my ‘Pilgrim’s Regress’ dramatic adaptation, pale little efforts by comparison!)I recognize what an impressive achievement this lovely song is .  I’m very glad to have stumbled back across it, after far too long.

16. THE DONOR – Judee Sill

Any Britisher of my generation who remembers the late Judee Sill will also then probably remember the first of her two appearances on ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ where, off-script, she made a direct plea to the viewing audience to buy her debut album so that she would not have to open for any ‘snotty heavy rock bands’ anymore…  then proceeded to play and sing the tender, deftly crafted and intriguing put-down song that is ‘Jesus was a Crossmaker’.  The next day I went to Pete’s Record Shop in Bargoed to buy the aforementioned album.  “You’d be surprised how many people have come in as a result of her appeal,” he said, or something like.

While critics praised the way that mystical, religious imagery metaphorically charted her love life and inner conflicts, to me, my ears and eyes youthfully starry with Jesus  – many of the songs sounded simply and authentically Christian in their language –‘the Lamb ran away with the crown’ comes to mind- but perhaps I too easily saw Jesus where there were just strange mixed-up pictures from the biblical teaching in the correctional institutions to which her teenage addiction/prostitution horror stories had consigned her.  Still, here was a strange, talented girl, whose (reportedly) messed up background had nevertheless led her to a place where the iconic symbols and images of Christian theology, and of Christ himself, had somehow captivated her to a point where they informed and inhabited her creative responses to life.  So yes I liked it; I liked her songs.

When I went off to university, Judee Sill took her place in the lineup of the many singer songwriters (several ‘girls with guitars’ among them) that was never far from my vision, though her limited output –just that one great album –perhaps meant that she was not in the forefront, either.  Until I came upon her second album – ‘Heartfood’.  I snapped it up, and was delighted to find that her spiritual language, her obliqueness, her unusual perspectives were just as alluring and potent.  There were even songs that felt like ‘straight’ Christian anthems e.g.  ‘When the bridegroom comes’.  And then there was the 7 minute extraordinary treasure which is ‘The Donor’…

If ever there was a song whose meaning was conveyed impressionistically rather than through lucid lyrical content, then it was this one. First that long introduction itself seems eloquent: a sequence of ponderous piano notes quickly becomes built upon with what sounds like xylophone accompaniment, and then with a repeated chant of wordless musical phrase (like Hey Jude but at the beginning not the end!), growing in intensity and tiers of sound; from this wordlessness ‘kyries’ begin to emerge with increasing distinctness. At a climactic point, when the kyries have reached unequivocal clarity, the voice begins the song ‘proper’, to a starker piano accompaniment. There’s a profound, elemental feel to the song; and inevitably and instinctively I assumed that it was about the Great Donor, Jesus, with the great ‘donation’ of himself implicitly referenced in typically indirect, esoteric Sill-style.  I think that it was the first time I had ever come across the phrase ‘Kyrie Eleison’ (hard to believe now, but bear in mind my spiritually sheltered background of Welsh nonconformity); and its use as a refrain in this song is haunting, plaintive, the layering of voices accentuating the utterly appropriate aching dolorousness of the prayer.

There was no lyric sheet with this second album, and it’s only now, 40 odd years later, that I come to look at them…and find them, like water, hard to hold, without any obvious linear coherence.  Take the opening –‘I’ll chase ‘em to the bottom/Till I’ve finally caught ‘em/Dreams fall deep…’ Like I said, sort of, the meaning is more in the sound than the lyric –but what you can say about the lyric is that everything leads to the Kyrie.  The hints and implications seem to be that inner impulses (the voices ‘Moaning and a-rhyming/…Ringin’ and a-whining’) and the profundities of human experience (‘Songs from so deep/while I’m sleeping’) and the sadnesses of life (‘Sorrow’s like an arrow…  Reaching to the marrow’) all lead us to this prayer –Lord, have mercy.  ‘So sad, and so true…’ – and Judee, bless her, on what level of consciousness I don’t know, helped to highlight the bedrock necessity of that prayer. Well, for me, at least.

11. YOU DID THAT FOR ME – Pierce Pettis

I’ve deliberately tried not to make these essays a ‘Desert Island Discs’ book, But I do believe that if Kirsty Young were interviewing me today, this track may well be one of the eight I take with me on my famous BBC Radio marooned experience.

Pierce Pettis did this song in the set he performed the first time I heard him, in, I think, the Christian Aid tent in Greenbelt Festival, late nineties or early noughties. Also in the set was another stunner – ‘Alabama 1959’, possibly the best song about ‘benign racism’ ever written. When he introduced ‘You Did that..’ I seem to recall that he said he hadn’t recorded it himself since Sara Groves had recorded it and done such a great job. (After hearing the song and the rest of the set, I went and bought the Sara Groves album – ‘All Right Now’ and – yes, he wasn’t wrong.)

It’s quite simply a great contemporary song about – pardon my language – the ‘substitutionary atonement’ – and the ‘gracious releases and exchanges’ from which we benefit because of that once for all Lamb of God sacrifice. Silly and inadequate, of course, to talk in such legalese jargon about the history-pivotal event, the supreme act of self-giving love…! The song gets it: fleshes out the theology, makes it human, and in a gutsy, unsentimental way sings out and celebrates appropriate gratitude and wonder at how we experience the benefits of this gift.

I’ve never learnt to play it – but I have used the song whenever I could or whenever it felt appropriate: at a Church retreat I ran; in an ‘All-Age Service’; at staff Monday-morning prayers in my old workplace… And here’s my favourite Pierce Pettis story coming up.

First, I need to say that following that Greenbelt, I pursued whatever Pettis recordings I could find on ebay – and I have them all now except for that tricky first album, ‘Memories’, only available on (deleted) vinyl as far as I know. Rare indeed. This song finally did get recorded by Pettis a few years after that initial hearing – on his ‘Some Kind of Love’ album. His ageing voice gets growlier, Nashvillier. It’s great.

Anyway, I also watched out for any UK tours and performances – and, though there have been none in recent years, in the year following that Greenbelt, I was privileged to see him twice. The second of those occasions was in the strangest of places – a pub in Tregaron, West Wales. I drove there straight from work. Juliet Turner was his support act – another great performer and also someone I’d first encountered at Greenbelt. I managed to have a five minute chat with PP, asking him why he opened each album with a Mark Heard song. “ Because they’re such great songs” he said. Fair enough; and true enough.

But the first of these two performances was even more memorable – a weeknight gig at a small basement venue just at the end of Queen Street, Cardiff. This time the lovely Julie Lee was the support act – but actually ended up doing the whole evening, since PP had developed laryngitis and couldn’t sing publicly! The other curious thing was that the audience numbered…seven, I think, and there was lots of hanging around and lots of chance to chat. I told Pierce it was a shame he wouldn’t be performing since I was going to request ‘You Did That for Me’.

Graciously he said ‘well, maybe I could give you a quiet croaky personal performance..’ We found something like a toilet/changing room ‘backstage’ and indeed, true to his word, croaking his way painfully through it, he did that for me. Magical moment. Blessing/jewel of a song.

7. I AM A ROCK by Diane Davis Andrew and the Fisherfolk

I could write a whole book, of course, just about my relationship with Fisherfolk songs, my enchantment with which defined possibly a whole period in my life, probably my whole approach to worship and my own predilections in contemporary worship songs; and probably still informs who I am today.

Fisherfolk: the touring/performing/recording arm of the Community of Celebration, which in turn emanated from the renewal of community/worship in Houston’s Church of the Redeemer in the 1960s.  I was fascinated from the word go –from Michael Harper’s book about the church (‘A New Way of Living’), and my first LPs obtained through Fountain Trust –from their ‘Keyhole’ coffeehouse ministry.  Diane Davis would have been one of those singers.

No space here to discuss the far reaching extent of my interest (some might say obsession).  Let’s focus on this song.  It appears on an album which –unlikely, now –is a recording of an Anglican eucharist service using a liturgical setting composed by Betty Pulkingham, ‘Celebrate the feast.’ This song turns up as one of three or four in the ‘free’ section which presumably accompanies the actual communion time.

When I think of the song now, I think of listening to it while I was living in Aunty Jan’s house (when Graham and Gail went to live in my house, in the early months of their marriage), in the front room, with a record player.  That fluidity in our living arrangements and the sense of shared life and community they represent are entirely apposite of course to what I/we were soaking up from the Community of Celebration; or what we were replicating from our own experience of the Spirit’s wind sweeping through us.

For the first of many listens, I got a frisson of excitement each time I heard this song.  There was the bell like clarity of Diane’s voice, of course; there was Max Dyer’s always sensitive cello accompaniment;  but there were so many other elements blending together too: there was for instance a dangerously bold prophetic voice to the lyric –presuming to speak out the Lord’s words to his people rather than the(more usual) people’s cry to God –in supplication or praise.

Some of the verses were more conventionally acceptable symbols – ‘I am the bread of life/my blood is the wine…’; ‘come to my marriage feast/I’ll remove your tattered garments of sin…’ but the opening verse, repeated with rich harmony and descant at the end, seemed entirely fresher, more original…  And of course there were the obvious resonances with Paul Simon’s song of the same name, a more angst ridden celebration of romantic isolation.

But this wasn’t about isolation, this was a stirring voice promising solidity, and together the verses offer a healing invitation to experience divine grace, and life, from the source and foundation of all goodness and love.

A post script of sorts: the first touring performance of the Fisherfolk I ever saw (after this disc?) comprised Diane Davis, Jon Wilkes, Maggie Durren, and Louise Jolly, a pared down travelling team, but still effective.  Strangely, (as well as the much reduced but still vitally existent Community of Celebration in Pittsburg), Diane Davis and her husband Bob Andrew are perhaps the most active even today in keeping alive the heritage of blessing gleaned from the multifaceted ministry and creativity streaming outwards from that historic source, compiling as they do the ‘Celebrate the whole of it’ website.