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
). Both of these charities are partners of Embrace the Middle East, formerly known as BibleLands, the Christian charity which has been working on humanitarian projects in the region for over 150 years: www.embraceme.org
'Star Over Bethlehem' tells the story of the Nativity through the eyes (or rather, mouths) 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 kind of religious musical instead!
I began recording the album in April 2013 with Joe Brown at his house in Melksham. When we started we had no idea it would take us eight months to complete the record. I thought I'd given myself plenty of time for once. Some of the tracks I recorded at home on my Tascam DP-01 FX. 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 have tried to do is weld a late sixties/early seventies rock vibe (heavily influenced by the original cast recordings to 'Jesus Christ Superstar' and 'Hair') with middle eastern instruments and sounds. Lyrically, I attempted to emulate Jake Thackray by concentrating on the feelings of the protagonists, particularly Mary and Joseph. As well as being a tale about God coming to Earth as King, the Nativity story is also about the reaction to Divine events by ordinary human beings.
Reading about the life of Vittorio Arrigoni was the inspiration for my previous album, 'Stay Human', and was the starting point for familiarising myself with the history and politics of the 'Holy Land'. Opinions about the conflict in Israel and Palestine are polarised in the extreme. What is certain is that great, great suffering is being experienced by many people, particularly - and this needs to be acknowledged dispassionately as a fact - on the Palestinian side. I visited the Holy Land in summer 2014 having been invited to perform at the Bet Lahem Live Music and Arts Festival by its organiser, and founder of the Holy Land Trust, Sami Awad. Sami is a Palestinian Christian and believes that a solution to the conflict and a just peace can only be brought about through forgiveness and reconciliation via the transformation of fear into love in people's hearts. The star in the nativity story - the light shining brightest in the darkness - is the sign guiding people towards the source of peace and love. Jesus said 'Blessed are the peacemakers' and, consequently, I am donating half the proceeds of sales to Musalaha, an organisation working for peace and reconciliation in the region based on the teachings of Jesus, spearheaded by Sami's friend Salim Munayer of the Bethlehem Bible College. The nativity story tells the remarkable tale of God coming to earth as a helpless baby. The other half of the proceeds are going to the SIRA (Swedish International Relief Association) school in Bethlehem demonstrating love in action for the most vulnerable children in the West Bank.
As well as producing the album, Joe played on most of the tracks. I can't thank him enough for his patience and his amazing musicianship. I was blessed to have Beth Evans singing the Mary parts - her voice really is angelic - and my lovely friends Helen and Richard Bousfield, Chris Scrivens, Richard Kilbey and Paul Kench all generously donated their time and skill. Thanks guys. The album was mastered by the fab Mr. Andy Rowland at Gatehouse Studios, Swindon: www.gatehousestudios.co.uk
A live recording of the Star Over Bethlehem launch concert, which includes fourteen of the seventeen tracks on the album performed live (with Amy Jarvis singing the 'Mary' vocals), is available to listen to here: www.mixcloud.com/thisisblake/blake-star-over-bethlehem-live-full-album-launch-concert/
This special Extended Edition of the album was released on the first day of Advent 2014. I didn’t have time to finish recording all the songs I had written for Star Over Bethlehem when the album was first released at Christmas 2013. The eleven new songs I have added complete the telling of the story. The new tracks are just acoustic sketches as I have not had the time or money this year to enable me to record them in the studio. They were assembled in my front room on my Tascam Portastudio from the original demos I had made in snatches of free time – mostly after the kids had gone to bed. However, you can now hear the full album as it was originally conceived.
This Edition 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 in the studio last year. Instead Beth's sister Amy has now contributed a gorgeous harmony vocal and the song was released on 1st December 2014 as a single with all the proceeds again donated to the charities mentioned above.