Christ is often pictured as a shepherd or a king: in Lord of the Dance he is a dancer. No precedent is needed but in fact there is one, a carol called Tomorrow is my Dancing Day, which may be 17th century or earlier. It is printed in The Oxford Book of Carols. The tune of Lord of the Dance is a Shaker melody. The Shakers were a sect founded in Lancashire (1747). They flourished most in the United States and made use of dancing in their worship. Some of the words and music which they used are printed in The Gift to be Simple, by E. D. Andrews (Dover Publications, New York). They also made furniture of Quaker-like simplicity, much admired by designers of today.
Bitter Was the Night is about St. Peter, or about anyone who finds himself in the position of St. Peter. Friday Morning is about the Crucifixion, seen from the viewpoint of a thief who was crucified with Christ. Which thief, the good one or the bad? It does not matter much. It could he anyone, crucified for any thing (or nothing). Son of Man explains itself; so should The Devil wore a Crucifix. George Fox is about the founder of the Quakers, born in 1624. He really did wear leather breeches and was told on one occasion, if not more, that he ought to have his hair cut. Quakers were accused of being pro-Catholic, of blasphemy, of atheism. By their doctrine of "the Inner Light" they outraged authority, both Royalist and Puritan. In England thousands were imprisoned, Fox included. In New England they were treated even worse. Quakers are now accepted, but their views are not. (Ask a Quaker what he thinks about Vietnam). The chorus of George Fox is based upon the tune of a Morris Dance. Monk's March. George Fox may have known it for the Monk in question was General Monk, who brought Charles II back to England. The songs of Sydney Carter are sung in folk song clubs, on television and (occasionally) in a church. They have been recorded by singers as various as Pete Seeger, Sheila Hancock, Donald Swann and Nadia Cattouse. Those who know him by My Last Cigarette or Down Below may wonder if the Sydney Carter on this record is the same. The sewers of London seem a long way from the Crucifixion.
"But they are part of the same reality", he says. "For me there is only one reality, and that is what I sing about. I was brought up as a Christian. I could not believe half the things I was supposed to. But there is a dancing, singing quality in the words and acts of Jesus, as reported in the Bible, which does not depend on whether they are historically true or not. They may be, but you cannot tell without a Time Machine to take you back 2,000 years. 'By their fruits ye shall know them', Jesus said. There is no other way to test the truth of Christianity.
"If to be a Christian is to believe that all the New Testament (let alone the Old) is literally true, I am not a Christian. Once I did try to believe this. Now, I do not worry. To the dancing and the singing part of me, the words of Jesus still ring true. On the rare occasions when they do not, I am ready to believe that they were mis-reported. I cannot believe that the writers of the Bible were miraculously saved from ever making a mistake.
"But if they can be mistaken, so can I: and so I keep on trying to make sense of what they wrote. One way that I do it is by writing songs; for when you write about anything as truthfully as you are able, you will often come to see what you could not see before."