Saturday, 24 December 2016

Song for Advent #28: Coventry Carol - Trinity College, Cambridge

This may seem a strange carol to select for Christmas Eve but I make no apologies. The Coventry Carol comes from the 16th century and was originally part of the mystery plays performed in Coventry. The carol commemorates the 'slaughter of the innocents' following the birth of Jesus as recorded in Matthew's Gospel. I've chosen it because it reminds us that God came to us as a vulnerable baby into a world of threat, danger and death. As we celebrate this Christmas, across our world children are being born into situations no less deadly. If our Gospel cannot speak into their situations and if we have no room for them in the midst of our festivities then it really is not Good News for all.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Song for Advent #27: Whenever God Shines His Light - Van Morrison and Cliff Richard

Thinking about the shepherds in the fields when the birth of Jesus is announced, I was going to go for Manfred Mann singing Blinded By The Light but opted for this instead. Van Morrison has been a favourite artist for many years and I was pleased Springsteen listed him in his Desert Island Discs. I've had a love/hate relationship with Cliff down the years. He was my mum's favourite and didn't fit into my early 70s obsession with Led Zeppelin, The Who etc. Still I have to respect his place in the development of rock n' roll and his longevity. I also respect the grace with which he has handled his appalling treatment at the hands of the police and media over the last couple of years. Above all I respect his witness as a Christian and his tireless support of Tearfund over decades. For many years every other tour Cliff did was dedicated to raising money for Tearfund long before other musicians found supporting charities the thing to do. Anyway, here it is, Van the Man and Cliff singing Whenever God Shines His Light.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Song for Advent #25: Will Jesus Be Waiting For Me? - The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi

A lot of the Advent songs I've chosen are on the theme of waiting; are we ready and waiting for Jesus' return? This song turns the question on its head; will Jesus be waiting for me? If you don't know the answer this is a good time to start thinking about it.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Song for Advent #24: Magnificat in E - Sydney Watson (Merton College, Oxford choir)

Watson's setting of The Magnificat sung by Merton College choir. Mary's response to the message delivered by Gabriel. Anyone who says that you need to keep faith out of politics just needs to reflect on these words.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Song for Advent #23: A Christmas Song - Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)

Anderson first recorded this song around 1972 with Jethro Tull and it has appeared in various forms since. The question underlying the song is how does the way we celebrate Christmas today relate to the life and teaching on the one who's birth we remember?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Song for Advent #22: Thorns in the Straw - Graham Kendrick

Thorns in the Straw, a gorgeous Christmas song from Graham Kendrick written from Mary's perspective reflecting on the future of her child. Appropriate for the Fourth Sunday of Advent when we remember Mary's obedience and faithfulness.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Song for Advent #21: Marley and Marley - Muppets Christmas Carol

What a great film based on a great story with an Advent challenge to focus on what really matters because one day there will be an accounting. Now where did we put the DVD?


Friday, 16 December 2016

Song for Advent #20: Meet on the Ledge - Fairport Convention

Richard Thompson, who wrote the song when he was seventeen, says that he isn't sure what this song is about. Meet on the Ledge is the song that concludes most Fairport Convention encores and the underlying theme is of looking forward to a reunion. The song is often played at funerals expressing the hope of being reunited with loved ones. Wishful thinking? Our hope as Christians is not wishful thinking, but a sure and certain hope founded on the Lord Jesus Christ and we look forward to that day when we shall be raised to new life with him.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Song for Advent #19: Little Drummer Boy - The West Wing

O.K. I'm cheating here. Having posted Bowie & Crosby yesterday singing Little Drummer Boy here is another version of the song which I think is used brilliantly in The West Wing T.V. series. The episode is In Excelsis Deo and juxtaposes the West Wing staff listening to a choir singing the song while a military funeral takes place for a homeless war veteran who had been found dead on a park bench. Aaron Sorkin at the height of his powers. My eyes start to leak each time I watch these scenes.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Song for Advent #18: Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth - Bowie & Crosby

I make no excuses for today's song. It is tacky, schmaltzy, dated and awkward but who cares? This recording from 1977 reminds me of Advent and Christmas as a teenager when we would take anything we were offered for a glimpse of our musical heroes on T.V. in the days before YouTube and videos.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Song for Advent #16: Are you the one that I've been waiting for? - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Nick Cave's songs are riddled with Biblical and theological allusions and this song is a great example.  It's a beautiful, gentle love song and the lyrics of the final verse reference the words of Jesus and an echo of the question that was asked of Jesus by John the Baptist:
There's a man who spoke wonders though I've never met him
He said, "He who seeks finds and who knocks will be let in"
I think of you in motion and just how close you are getting
And how every little thing anticipates you
All down my veins my heart-strings call
Are you the one that I've been waiting for?

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Song for Advent #15: The Cry Of A Tiny Baby - Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn's brilliant The Cry Of A Tiny Baby, starting with Joseph encountering the angel and having to seek Mary's forgiveness. Cockburn mixes theological significance with the everyday events of pregnancy like the baby kicking in Mary's womb.

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph gets upset because he doesn't understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says God did this and your part of his scheme

Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says, forgive me, I thought you'd been with some other man
She says what if I had been, but I wasn't anyway
And guess what, I felt the baby kick today

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything

Cause the governing body of the Holy land
Is that of Herod a paranoid man
Who when he hears there's a baby born, King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two

But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and getaway clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

And there are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to sheperds and street people, hookers and bums

And the message is clear if you have ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fears
It's a Christmas gift that you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eye

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe
Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Song for Advent #14: Mary Did You Know? - CeeLo Green

There are various versions of this song around but I've gone for CeeLo Green's version of Mary Did You Know? because his voice is so rich and soulful.

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered
Will soon deliver you

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with His hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You've kissed the face of God

Mary, did you know?
The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

 Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know That your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding
Is the Great I Am
Oh Mary did you know?

Friday, 9 December 2016

Song for Advent #13: I believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake

Yesterday came the sad news that Greg Lake had died. That's two members of the mighty ELP we've said goodbye to in 2016. Greg Lake wrote many great songs and then there was the ubiquitous I Believe In Father Christmas his rather jaundiced take on the Christmas season. Interesting to note that when the film About A Boy came out in 2005, with the premise of a central character who lives off the royalties of his father's Christmas hit, someone wrote to The Guardian asking if it was possible to live off the royalties of such a song. Lake penned the following reply:

In the film About a Boy, the man played by Hugh Grant never has to work another day in his life because of the proceeds he receives from a Christmas single his father released. Could one really make a living in this way?
In 1975, I wrote and recorded a song called I Believe in Father Christmas, which some Guardian readers may remember and may even own. It was a big hit and it still gets played on the radio every year around December, and it appears on more or less every Christmas compilation going. So I can tell you from experience that it’s lovely to get the old royalty cheque around September every year, but on its own, the Christmas song money isn’t quite enough to buy my own island in the Caribbean.
I’m on tour at the moment and the Christmas song is as well received now as it was 30 years ago – maybe even more so. If Guardian readers could all please request it be played by their local radio stations, maybe that Caribbean island wouldn’t be so far away – and if I get there, you’re all invited.
U2 did a cover of the song a few years ago and tweaked the lyrics, changing the song into a more positive affirmation of faith by altering a couple of lines. You can hear their version here. On hearing the cover Greg Lake approved commenting

In some ways, “I Believe in Father Christmas” is a very quirky song. It was never written with the intention of it becoming a hit single but was written, rather, as an album track making quite a serious comment about how Christmas had changed from being a celebration of peace on earth and goodwill to all men, into one huge and disgusting shopping orgy.
Although the basic song is very simple, the internal musical structure is actually quite complex and contains elements of classical music and folk music, and just about everything else in-between. It is not an easy song to cover without sounding either as if you were vamping out the original version but not quite as well, or doing some kind of “out there” arrangement purely for the sake of being different. In a way you are sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
The clever thing about the U2 version is that it manages to capture both elements, the original and the inventive without really falling on one side or the other and in this way it is definitely unique. The guitar part is very clever and the vocal, as always with Bono, sounds sincere. That is the mark of a great singer.
Well done chaps! It is great to see the song serving such a worthy cause.
Here are the original lyrics with the U2 changes alongside in italics:

They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the virgin birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winter's light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire
They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a silent night
And they told me a fairy story
'Till I believed in the Israelite (But I believe in the Israelite)
And I believed in father Christmas
And I looked to the sky with excited eyes
'Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise (I saw him through his disguise)
I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave new year
All anguish, pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there'll be snow at Christmas
They said there'll be peace on earth
Hallelujah, Noel be it heaven or hell
The Christmas we get we deserve

Here's Greg Lake performing the song with Ian Anderson accompanying on flute around 2006.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Song for Advent #12: People Get Ready - Beck & Stewart

This is Curtis Mayfield's classic People Get Ready performed by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart. I've gone for this version because of Beck's virtuoso guitar playing and also because of his reaction when Stewart joins him on stage. Again there's the Advent call to get ready and Mayfield described his inspiration for the song in the following words:
"That was taken from my church or from the upbringing of messages from the church. Like there's no hiding place and get on board, and images of that sort. I must have been in a very deep mood of that type of religious inspiration when I wrote that song."
People get ready, there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket you just thank the Lord

So people get ready, for a train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board them
There's hope for all among those loved the most

There ain't no room for the hopeless sinner image:
Whom would hurt all mankind just to save his own, believe me now
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place against the kingdom's throne

So people get ready there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin'
Don't need no ticket, you just thank the Lord

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Song for Advent #11: Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth - Ambrose of Milan

I'm grateful to Revd Richard Coles for drawing my attention to this beautiful piece of music 'Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth'. The words are from St Ambrose of Milan who we remember today in the Church's calendar. This setting is by Praetorius and sung by King's College Choir.
Come, Thou Redeemer of the earth,
And manifest Thy virgin birth:
Let every age adoring fall;
Such birth befits the God of all. 
Begotten of no human will,
But of the Spirit,
Thou art still The Word of God in flesh arrayed,
The promised Fruit to man displayed.  
The virgin womb that burden gained
With virgin honour all unstained;
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in His temple dwells below.  
Forth from His chamber goeth He,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now His course to run.  
From God the Father He proceeds,
To God the Father back He speeds;
His course He runs to death and hell,
Returning on God’s throne to dwell. 
O equal to the Father, Thou! Gird on
Thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.  
Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.  
All laud to God the Father be,
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee;
All glory, as is ever meet,
To God the Holy Paraclete.


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Song for Advent #10: I still haven't found what I'm looking for - U2

At Advent we look back to the coming of Christ and all that he has done for us but we also look forward in longing and anticipation for what is to come. U2 capture something of the 'now and not yet' of Advent in 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for' from the classic Joshua Tree album.
I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you.
I have run, I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you. 
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for. 
I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.
 I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone. 
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for. 
I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I'm still running.
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it. 
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Song for Advent #9: When He Returns - John Lee Sanders

This is one of my favourite covers of a Dylan song, When He Returns by John Lee Sanders. A great voice and beautifully judged piano playing delivering Dylan's anticipation of the return of Christ from Slow Train Coming. Interviewed in the mid 80s Dylan spoke about his faith in the following terms:
'What I learned in Bible school was just ... an extension of the same thing I believed in all along, but just couldn't verbalize or articulate ... People who believe in the coming of the Messiah live their lives right now, as if He was here. That's my idea of it, anyway.'

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Song for Advent #8: Waiting in Silence - Carey Landry

Another Advent song on the theme of waiting. Waiting in Silence  by Carey Landrey. This is one I'm using in our Meditative Advent Service at St. Mary's. I particularly like the images of waiting in the video accompanying the song. An important reminder that while for some waiting is in joyful anticipation for others it means waiting in desperation and with a sense of hopelessness. Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Song for Advent #7: Prepare Ye (the way of the Lord) - Godspell

Of the various musicals made about the life of Christ my favourite is Godspell, not least because I've played drums for it on occasions. At the time Godspell was seen as controversial because it portrays Jesus as a clown but it is much more faithful to the gospels than say Jesus Christ Superstar. In this opening scene John the Baptist calls for people to prepare for the Lord's coming and although the film is very dated I love the exuberance of both the song and the baptisms in a Central Park fountain. The figure of Jesus is glimpsed briefly on the edge of the action. John the Baptist is one of the key Advent characters calling on people to get ready for the Lord's coming. John's call to prepare was radical, challenging and dangerous as Luke chapter 3 makes clear.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Song for Advent #6: Waitin' On A Sunny Day - Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen wrote The Rising album in response to 9/11. Waitin' On A Sunny Day is a note of longing and optimism in the midst of the bleakness and despair of much of the rest of the album. The song looks back to simpler, happier times and the longing for a reunion with a lover. I saw Springsteen perform this earlier in the year at Wembley when he was joined on stage by a young girl who almost stole the show when she took over the mic for the choruses. The song continues the Advent theme of waiting. 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Song for Advent #5: Are You Ready? - Bob Dylan

From Dylan's second overtly Christian album Saved, Are You Ready? is Dylan asking the ultimate Advent question. This is a live version with a lengthy introduction, the band are red hot and the groove is sublime with Jim Keltner on drums.
Are you ready, are you ready?
Are you ready, are you ready?
Are you ready to meet Jesus?
Are you where you ought to be?
Will He know you when He sees you
Or will He say, "Depart from Me"?
Are you ready, hope you're ready
Am I ready, am I ready?
Am I ready, am I ready?
Am I ready to lay down my life for the brethren
And to take up my cross?
Have I surrendered to the will of God
Or am I still like the boss?
Am I ready, hope I'm ready.
When the destruction cometh swiftly
And there's no time to say a fare-thee-well
Have you decided whether you want to be
In heaven or in hell?
Are you ready, are you ready?
Have you got some unfinished business?
Is there something holding you back?
Are you thinking for yourself
Or are you following the pack?
Are you ready, hope you're ready
Are you ready?
Are you ready for the judgement?
Are you ready for that terrible swift sword?
Are you ready for Armageddon?
Are you ready for the day of the Lord?
Are you ready, I hope you're ready?