Thou, His Image

by James Walton

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about

Songs for Christmas; Songs for my daughters.

Five wee bits of sound for Christmastide. By no means polished, but sincere and full of heart. Four of the tracks are arrangements of well-known Christmas carols and one is a little, jolly instrumental.

The first track, Sleep, is based on Silent Night; it was improvised in one take with guitar and voice recorded together - 'live' (and a tiny bit of vocal overdubbing for the Jeff Buckley reference). I think it's turned out well.

The second track, A Midnight Mouse in the Toymaker's Workshop is a starting point for your imagination. I'm looking forward to hearing my daughters' interpretations, but what can you see in the Toymaker's Workshop? I love xylophones and glockenspiels; they are so ancient and earthy and magical and whimsical. There's also a little guest appearance from my good friend the tuba. Wait for it...!

The third track, Coventry Carol, was tricky to get right. The original song is from a 16th Century mystery play and recounts the anguish and cruelty of the slaying of the innocents by Herod after the birth of Christ. I find the story overwhelmingly sad and couldn't bring myself to resolve the music with the traditional Tierce de Picardie cadence that the piece is well-known for. Instead, there is an intermittent dialogue between the minor and major third throughout the piece, so perhaps all hope isn't lost. I was going to leave out the verses of the song altogether and just let the refrain and the guitar tell the story, but I really didn't want to distance the listener from the weighty truth of the story, even if my primary audience is my little girls! Perhaps I'm a bad father...

The fourth piece, Song of Old, is for two harps. On one hand, the harps recall the heavenly hosts of angels that sang throughout the first Christmas night (although I'm sure they'd have a tighter sense of timing), but for me the harps also point toward the eternal voice of peace that dwells in and around us, in our consciences, in our stories, in the words of good, wise people. It's always there. The words are from three stanzas of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. If you read the words carefully you get this sense that the poet (and perhaps the angels too) are getting more than a little frustrated with humanity's persistent warring and wasting. The angelic message of peace needs constant renewal in each century, each generation, each day, each thought. The harps fade on into eternity, and hopefully into the listener's heart.

The album ends with a new mood, a new palette of timbres and a new genre! Guiding Star for double bass, piano and voice is my take on As With Gladness Men Of Old. It's relatively long because it's sort of two pieces in one. The first half is inspired directly by the carol's most well-known musical setting - if you listen carefully you can hear the re-moded melody in the piano. The second half is where the singing kicks in and this bears no resemblance to the original tune at all, ha! I spent hours trying to get the drum kit just right for this but it wasn't good enough and since you won't catch me using loops in a hurry, the piece has turned out percussion-less. On the other hand, it does lend itself to some audience participation - play along with your favourite jazz brushes!

It's all been a bit of a rush; I've spent barely two days on the album on and off between enjoying time with my girls and getting some Christmas shopping done in soggy Lancaster. I hope to record similar volumes each Christmas for my daughters, so let me know if you've any suggestions. Enjoy!

The title of the album, by the way, is taken from William Blake's A Cradle Song from his Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1794. The theology of the poem (for me at least) bears a resemblance to the sentiment of my dissertation, so it feels at home in my imagination. I've tried and failed to set the poem to music these last couple of days but it just isn't happening. I'm terribly impatient. Maybe next year! Full text below:

A Cradle Song by William Blake

Sweet dreams, form a shade
O’er my lovely infant’s head!
Sweet dreams of pleasant streams
By happy, silent, moony beams!

Sweet Sleep, with soft down
Weave thy brows an infant crown!
Sweet Sleep, angel mild,
Hover o’er my happy child!

Sweet smiles, in the night
Hover over my delight!
Sweet smiles, mother’s smiles,
All the livelong night beguiles.

Sweet moans, dovelike sighs,
Chase not slumber from thy eyes!
Sweet moans, sweeter smiles,
All the dovelike moans beguiles.

Sleep, sleep, happy child!
All creation slept and smiled.
Sleep, sleep, happy sleep,
While o’er thee thy mother weep.

Sweet babe, in thy face
Holy image I can trace;
Sweet babe, once like thee
Thy Maker lay, and wept for me:

Wept for me, for thee, for all,
When He was an infant small.
Thou His image ever see,
Heavenly face that smiles on thee!

Smiles on thee, on me, on all,
Who became an infant small;
Infant smiles are His own smiles;
Heaven and earth to peace beguiles.

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released December 24, 2013

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James Walton UK

James lives in Lancashire with his wife and four daughters.

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Track Name: Sleep
Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Track Name: Coventry Carol
Lully, lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Lullay, thou little tiny Child,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
O sisters too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling for whom we do sing
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Herod, the king, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day
His men of might, in his owne sight,
All young children to slay.
That woe is me, poor Child for Thee!
And ever mourn and sigh,
For thy parting neither say nor sing,
Bye, bye, lully, lullay.
Track Name: Song of Old
It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heaven's all-gracious King."
The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
Track Name: Guiding Star
1. As with gladness, men of old
Did the guiding star behold;
As with joy they hailed its light,
Leading onward, beaming bright;
So, most gracious Lord, may we
Evermore be led to Thee.

2. As with joyful steps they sped
To that lowly manger-bed;
There to bend the knee before
Him Whom heaven and earth adore;
So may we with willing feet
Ever seek the mercy-seat.

3. As they offered gifts most rare
At that manger rude and bare;
So may we, with holy joy,
Pure and free from sin's alloy,
All our costliest treasures bring,
Christ! to Thee our heavenly King.

4. Holy Jesus, every day
Keep us in the narrow way;
And, when earthly things are past,
Bring our ransomed souls at last
Where they need no star to guide,
Where no clouds Thy Glory hide.