November 14, 2020

The Only Gift (A Lynn Carol) by the Phezant's Tail - Christmas single

The Phezant's Tail used to sing carols around the village on Christmas Eve, including this one, and the idea is that you open the door on hearing the Book of Margery Kempe (early 15C) at the start and these carol singers' voices float in on the night air. 
Since its publication as the final ballad in Gareth Calway’s “Doin Different, New Ballads from the East of England” (Poppyland, December 2012) The Only Gift has been set and recorded by no less than five different composers and enjoyed performances all over East Anglia, including a 50 voice rendition in Lynn Minster in 2018. The carol is as much about music and where it comes from as it is a celebration of Lynn mystic Margery Kempe, whose visions were auditory as well as visual and who writes compellingly in her Book about the music she heard in heaven. On this album, The Phezant's Tail sing, play and arrange the carol themselves, adding new musical material to folk musician Andy Wall’s score to confront “A Covid Christmas on the cards.” In the process, the duo reference the message and meaning of Christmas as an enduring hope amid trial, bereavement and despair from 1420 to the present. Coronavirus - corona meaning 'crown' - has certainly contextualised the mortality in the first verse, with its the opening line "A crown of thorns to freeze your breath." But it doesn't get the last word.


"This creature had various tokens in her hearing. One was a kind of sound as if it were a pair of bellows blowing in her ear. She – being dismayed at this – was warned in her soul to have no fear, for it was the sound of the Holy Ghost. And then our Lord turned it into the voice of a dove, and afterwards he turned it into the voice of a little bird which is called a redbreast, that often sang very merrily in her right ear." (From the 'Book of Margery Kempe', early 15C) 

‘A crown of thorns to freeze your breath 
The berried holly brings; 
Through snowing sunlight chaste as death 
The silent barn-owl wings 

But now the ghostly holy dove 
That bellows in your ear 
Is tuned to robin-song by love 
And cheerfully made clear.’ 

The only gift left on the shelf 
That nothing else can rise above 
Includes all treasure, lasts forever, 
And grows when shared with others: love. 

Now starry angels on the tree 
Grow larger in the dusk 
To heaven-blue and Eden-green 
And gold and reindeer-musk. 

And what was heard by Margery, 
The Visionary of Lynn, 
Rings out on tills for checkout girls 
Who hear that robin sing. 

The only gift left on the shelf, 
That nothing else can rise above, 
Includes all treasures, lasts forever, 
And grows when shared with others: love. 

A sacred Ouse of honeyed sound 
Above her dreaming bed, 
She wakes as one in paradise 
And leaps as from the dead. 

A thrilling robin in her ear, 
A rose that’s heaven scent, 
A man divine to earthly eye, 
All music from Him lent. 

The only gift left on the shelf, 
That nothing else can rise above, 
Includes all treasures, lasts forever, 
And grows when shared with others: love. 

God coughs; the Cosmos catches cold; it's Marge upon our Holy Bread. 
A Covid Christmas on the cards to feed our emptiness. 



released November 13, 2020 
Main ballad lyric © Gareth Calway first published in 'Doin Different' (Poppyland, 2015) 
Additional words © Gareth Calway 2020. And from the Book of Margery Kempe, early 15C. 
Main ballad melody composed by Andy Wall with harmonies written by Vanessa Wood-Davies. 
Arranged, performed and with additional music composed by the Phezant's Tail (Gareth and Melanie Calway). 
Twinned with


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