'Star Over Bethlehem' tells the story of the Nativity through voices of the prophet Micah, Mary, Joseph, the Magi, Zechariah, Gabriel, the Innkeeper, the shepherds and Herod the Great. I wrote the majority of the songs in the run up to Christmas 2012 inspired by Jake Thackray’s beautiful songs ‘Joseph’ and ‘Remember Bethlehem’. (I uploaded live versions of these songs to YouTube around this time: www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwXA-azFBjw)
Apparently, Thackray wrote the songs when he was working as a teacher for his school’s nativity play. I originally thought that I would try and do a similar thing but the songs turned out to be a bit too grown up for a children's nativity and I realised I was writing a sort of rock opera instead.
I began recording the album in April 2013 with Joe Brown producing. It took eight months to complete the record. Some of the tracks I recorded at home on my Tascam Portastudio. The drums were recorded at Nam Studios, Holt, Base Sound Studios in Stroud and, in the case of the song 'Star Over Bethlehem', in my lounge.
What I tried to do was weld a late sixties/early seventies rock vibe (heavily influenced by the original cast recordings to 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Hair') with middle eastern musical influences. Lyrically, I attempted to emulate Jake Thackray by concentrating on the feelings of the protagonists, particularly Mary and Joseph.
The bonus tracks include eleven songs which complete the telling of the story but that I did not have time to finish by the time the album was released on 13th December 2013. Also, the album would have to have been a triple to accommodate them! These tracks are just acoustic sketches - I have not had the opportunity to properly record them in the studio. They were assembled from the original demos I had made. However, you can now hear the full album as it was originally conceived. You can programme the tracks as follows to hear the album as it was originally intended:
1. The Prophecy
2. Marry Me
4. Follow The Star
5. Incidental Music #1
6. The Lord Is With Thee (Annunciation)
7. I Believe (Magnificat)
8. On Earth as in Heaven (Benedictus)
9. Sit Down
10. What Can I Say
12. Incidental Music #2 (Harmonium Interlude)
13. Now I Must Leave Her
14. The Best Thing In Your Life
15. Run To Meet You
16. Shout It From The Rooftops
17. The Olive Trees
18. Go and Be Counted
19. Don't Worry, Mary/No Room
20. The Prophecy (Reprise)
21. Jesus Gonna Turn Your Life Around
22. Fear Not
24. Praise His Name (Hallelujah)
25. Lay It Down
26. The King Is Here
27. Into Your Hands
28. Star Over Bethlehem
This edition of the album also includes a new mix of the song 'Star Over Bethlehem'. This track was always supposed to be a duet between Mary and Joseph but I did not have time to record a vocal from Beth Evans, who plays the role of Mary, in time for the original release date. This new mix features Beth's sister Amy (Jarvis) contributing a gorgeous harmony vocal. The song was released on 1st December 2014 as a single.
In addition, three of the songs from the Star Over Bethlehem launch concert (with Amy singing the 'Mary' vocals), are included as bonus tracks. The complete "Star Over Bethlehem Concert" is available as a free download on Bandcamp: thisisblake.bandcamp.com/album/the-star-over-bethlehem-concert
All profits from the sale of the album go to Musalaha Ministry of Reconciliation, a Jersualem based non-profit organisation that seeks to promote reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians (www.musalaha.org
) and the SIRA school in Bethlehem - a school for children with special educational needs (sira.se?page_id=48&lang=en
) via the British charity Embrace the Middle East, formerly known as BibleLands, which has been working on humanitarian projects in the region for over 150 years: www.embraceme.org
Cross Rhythms review:
Reviewed by Oscar Hyde
"Blake is a rising UK talent, a true conceptual auteur. Here, he's set his compositional skills and five or six instruments to work to create a rock opera version of the Nativity story. It's a corker of an adaptation. Blake incorporates traditionally Middle Eastern scales into his neo-psychedelic rock; he's one of the few modern Christian musicians I've heard who can make minor keys properly jaunty. He hits all the major story points - a haunting rendition of Micah 5.2 to open, a mysterious annunciation, a joyful proclamation at Christ's birth - but what I find far more distinctive is the human element he emphasises. There's an anachronistic-but-adorable courtship between Mary and Joseph, a very real sense of Mary's fear at having to tell Joseph of the pregnancy, and so forth. At first, I considered the album too low-key; "Mary's Magnificat", for example, takes the form of a very simplistic '60s pop revival tune, not the massive anthem into which Hillsong adapted it. But, in truth, the Nativity WAS a low-key story from the perspectives of much of the wider world, and it's lovely to hear it as it must have at first been perceived. A final note: all proceeds from this album go to charities working in Israel and Palestine - this isn't just an album about the birth of the Prince of Peace, but a project that still cares about the meaning of that title today."
released December 13, 2013
All songs written by Julian Pugsley.
Blake - vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, mandolin, harmonium, harmonica, drums, programming
Joe Brown - vocals, keyboards, bass guitar, Spanish guitar, programming
Beth Evans - vocals
Amy Evans - vocals on 'Star Over Bethlehem'
Chris Scrivens - drums on 'Nightmares', 'What Can I Say' and 'Lay It Down'
Helen Bousfield - flute, recorder on 'Marry Me' and 'Nightmares'; bass guitar on 'The Olive Trees'
Richard Bousfield - bouzouki on 'Don't Worry, Mary/No Room'
Paul Kench - lead guitar on 'Lay It Down'; Resonator guitar on 'Star Over Bethlehem'
Richard Kilbey - lead guitar on 'Jesus Gonna Turn Your Life Around'
Original seventeen track album produced by Joe Brown and Blake and mastered by Andy Rowland at Gatehouse Studios, Swindon: www.gatehousestudios.co.uk
Expanded Edition tracks and bonus material recorded and produced by Blake.
All songs Copyright Rockhopper Records 2013/2014