"Travel on, travel on to the flower that is growing — the flower will be with you all the way."
TO many people the songs of Sydney Carter are an enigma. They try to fit them neatly into one of the accepted categories — perhaps folk, religious, or protest — but one always feels that the analysis is superficial, that nothing worthwhile has been said. Certainly Carter's songs owe a debt to the heritage of folk music, a debt evident throughout in the integrity of the words and often in the melodic structure as well, but this is only a starting point. And to term them "religious" is even more dangerous, for we would then be using a traditional word to describe something quite new …
Classification of Sydney Carter's songs is self-defeating. It is only when we forget our preconceived ideas about what these songs should say that we can fully experience their depth — when we allow their poetry to dig beneath our surface reactions and touch that part of us that we so often fight to hide. And it is the genius of Sydney Carter that his songs have this ability to make us face and question our innermost thoughts and conflicts.
We used the word "poetry" deliberately, for many of these songs started life as poems, and even now the powerful melodic lines that bear them along never take over from the words. THE PRESENT TENSE was just such a poem and here it sets the scene for the stark contrasts in powerful emotions that follow. Not without reason was the mushroom cloud chosen to symbolise this collection, for the irony and symbolic threat so vividly portrayed in
THE CROW ON THE CRADLE are never far below the surface, even in moments of immense tenderness (JUDAS AND MARY), firm faith (EVERY STAR SHALL SING A CAROL) or ultimate triumph (LORD OF THE DANCE).
Sydney Carter provides no easy answers to the vital questions posed in his songs; and the rejection of the man STANDING IN THE RAIN or the bitterness of failure in BITTER WAS THE NIGHT can only be softened by the listener's own reactions — and action.
Sydney Carter can carry a living past right into the present (WHEN THEY SHOUTED HOSANNA). With FRIDAY MORNING he reaches the realms of genius when he introduces a novel human reaction into the most sombre moment in history. Even the comedy of GEORGE FOX and THE VICAR IS A BEATNIK is deceptive — the derisive fingers are pointing both ways.
Reflection have lived with these songs for a long time, and on this record have tried to preserve the flavour of a man's music as they have experienced it. The front of this sleeve reminds us of the most recent past tense, and our future now rests on the way that we react to the present tense. All we can ask of any man is his help on our way to the future. As Sydney Carter has written elsewhere:
"To keep running with the truth — that is our destiny."