For its poignant first single, Sloane Square Chamber Choir, director Oliver Lallemant, has released Thomas Hewitt Jones’s brilliant new SATB arrangement of Sydney Carter’s visionary anthem When I Needed a Neighbour, recorded in lockdown on iPhones and mastered through the audio wizardry of the composer himself. An inspiring call for compassion, solidarity and renewal, it is a unique reminder of the power of choral singing to strengthen community through words and music in these Covid-disordered times.
Released on 15 August on all major digital platforms.
Written in 1965 for the use of Christian Aid, Sydney Carter’s When I Needed a Neighbour long ago transcended its original purpose to become a popular anthem extolling the embracing unity of our common human needs. Quite a few of Carter’s much-loved songs followed a similar rising trajectory of appreciation – from local use at a moment forgotten except by those fortunate enough to have shared it, to the status of timeless contemporary classic, familiar to many in the way that folksong is familiar, as Carter, a folk-singer himself, would have relished.
Lord of the Dance and One More Step are celebrated examples of this pattern; and it is a truth of Carter’s unique poetic insight – some might call it genius – that his themes in these songs, though inspired by a specific time and function, are truly universal in appeal, thus of enduring impact. In the case of When I Needed a Neighbour, while Carter’s plea for love and understanding amongst people has always been relevant – what subject could be more so? – there is also the paradox that at that unique time and place we are wont to call ‘now’, the need for compassion has always seemed greater than ever.
Though Sydney Carter (1915–2004) was neither by temperament or training a graphic artist, some might draw parallels between his aspirational themes and those of William Blake. Or even of the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. In much of their work there is certainly a shared strain of maverick creativity, seeing new things in the old, old things in the new, and the numinous in the everyday, habitually asking hard questions of ourselves and those around us. Perhaps this is true of all great poets and songwriters. It is definitely the spirit in which When I Needed a Neighbour is offered to a new generation of musicians, at a time of unprecedented challenges to our understanding of one another, and with the call to offer solace.
=== UPDATE – Video now available – UPDATE ===