The legendary songwriter Sammy Cahn was once asked what came first, the music or the lyrics. He replied…the phone call. These days it’s more likely to be a WhatsApp message or text.
It was late last year that I got an email from Mandy Bayton who works for the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon. 2023 was going to be a special year in the life of the Diocese as it marked their Centenary. Could I write them a new Anthem to be performed at a special event in September to be held at the Royal Welsh Showground in Builth Wells?
Where to start? As always with writing a song you need to find the way in, the key which opens up everything else. I thought I’d better do some research.
The basic track to help people learn the new Anthem
In the Bishop’s message at the start of the year he was keen that the celebration should be one full of joy and thanksgiving. Even though the diocese had had its share of dark days, and even though today there are fears for what the future might hold, the church should remember how blessed it had been during those 100 years.
The Bishop was keen that everyone should get involved. His team had come up with 100 ideas to mark the centenary. Some were aimed at the churches themselves, others for individuals, the children and youth. Ideas included raising £100 for a local charity, plant 100 trees, sending 100 thank you cards to people in the community, taking on a 100 mile prayer walk. It also included smaller deeds like offering to mow someone’s lawn or donating blood for the first time.
It was obvious the Anthem had to be…thankful.
Mandy wanted the Anthem to reflect the whole of the Diocese. The interesting thing about the Diocese of Swansea & Brecon is that it covers a large swathe of Wales right down the middle of the country. It covers from Mid Wales, Radnor, down through the Brecon Beacons (Bannau Bryncheiniog!) ending up in the south at the sea in Swansea and Gower. That means it’s rural and industrial, it covers mountains, valleys and the sea.
The Bible is full of Psalms about going to the mountains and valleys so that’s where I started.
‘I will go to the mountains and ask where does my help come from’ (Psalm 121)
‘I will go to through the Valleys and know that you will comfort me’ (Psalm 23)
That’s the Valleys and mountains sorted, what about the Gower and the sea side?
I got thinking about the way the water means so much to the people of Gower and especially surfing. There’s a Bible story about Peter seeing Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee and asking if he can join him. As soon as he stepped out on the water his faith failed him, and he started to sink. Peter cried ‘Lord Save Me’. Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.
‘I will walk on the water and know that you will help me stand, You Hold My Hand’ (Matt 14:22-23)
I had my first verse…but now comes the tricky part. For any song but especially an Anthem you need a big memorable chorus, not just musically but lyrically as well.
Mandy kept telling me about the Church always being a family, thinking back to the cloud of witnesses who had gone before and who had given so much to the Diocese. Family…Hmmm!
It was as we were talking about the Big Day out in Builth Wells she was planning for September that I remembered years ago, when I was a young man, I had been invited to sing there for a special event honouring Bishop Desmond Tutu. Shows how long ago it was because I was there for the ‘youth’ event on the Saturday. I wondered if there might be something that might inspire me in his sermon from the following Sunday.
I looked online and found out the Service had been broadcast on BBC One on 31st August 1986. Looking at the credits I saw that the Director was an old friend from the BBC, John Geraint. I thought it worth a shot, so I sent him a message explaining what I was looking for and wondering if he had a recording of any sort. He replied almost immediately to say he had just moved house and everything was in boxes, but he would have a quick look. A day or so later a VHS arrived with the full service!!!
The text for Bishop Tutu’s message that day was Ephesians 3:14-21.
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
There it all was…family and generations and thankfulness!!!
I moved things around a little to make the chorus.
‘For this reason, I will come to you, with a thankful heart, you have given me my name
For this reason, I will stand before your face, such Amazing Grace, every day you are the same.’
I sent Mandy a simple demo and the lyrics. She played them to the Bishop and the Dean and having had their approval I started trying to work out how we get as many people involved as possible.
Over the past few years I’ve been involved in a couple of projects like this. The ’Warm Wind’ video to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Swansea becoming a city brought together choirs from Singapore, India and the USA. Last year’s Platinum Jubilee Anthem ‘Rise Up and Serve’ had contributions from all over the Commonwealth. Over the past few years people have become very adept at using technology and the internet means sending songs and videos is commonplace.
To get the ball rolling I asked some friends to join together as a choir and also to take some lines in the song. Steve Balsamo, Kev Johns, Lorraine King, Camille Meskill and Lisa Marie Williams all popped around and sounded wonderful blended together.
I’ve always loved Brecon Cathedral and really wanted the choir and Cathedral organ to be central to the recording. With the help of Andrew and David Griffiths we turned up with some equipment and captured their glorious sound in that wonderful building.
And now the Anthem is open to everyone. We have made the backing track, lyrics and score available as free downloads and encouraging everyone to learn the song and send us their video and audio contributions. Over the coming weeks I’ll try to piece this all together in time to release a finished record and video in time for Builth Wells in September. As I always say at the start of any project of this size…what could possibly go wrong.
For more details www.forthisreason.co.uk