Morning Has Broken – Cat Stevens
Sweet the rains new fall, sunlit from Heaven
Like the first dewfall on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where His feet pass…
Hands up who knew about that line “where His feet pass” ? Wedding choir members and choir master not you ! Blimey…
1971. Six long years since my mum’s first epochal stay in Hellingly. So much turmoil in those late 1960s, with more to come. A divorce, more hospital admissions, another marriage, a separation, a nine-month period of homelessness when we were all separated, me in Lewes with Pete Smurthwaite & his mum, Paul in the village with Gilda and Jack, Andrew back in Portsmouth with Aunty Val and Uncle Keith, Mum in a caravan in Pevensey with John Daignault, whom she married in 1969. We hardly saw each other. Some bad stories.
That hole in the family was refilled when we were offered a council house on a brand new estate in Hailsham, right on the edge of town. When we moved in the grass area was still clods of mud and earth with diggers parked on it. It was called Town Farm Estate, but locals dubbed it Sin City. All the single-parent families, dysfunction, prison, drugs and drink lumped together out of town. It was rough, probably. It was home. We were together.
Paul and I shared a big bedroom which overlooked the fields at the back. Just grass. We could see Herstmonceux Observatory a few miles away, and we were horribly close to Hellingly Hospital too, a shadow on our lives. But I was a bus ride from Polegate where I could catch a train to Lewes, a journey of 25 miles which took an hour. I was 15 and established at school (Lewes Priory, now a comprehensive), so the authorities gave me leave to be a “far-away pupil”. Paul started at Hailsham school having been at Ringmer for two years. He had a more difficult adjustment than me. And Andrew went to the local primary school, now aged eight and perfect for playing in goal in the back field while Paul and I fired shots at him. He had his own, smaller bedroom overlooking the “grass” outside the front door – I think it was grass after about 6 months – and the houses opposite. John Daignault didn’t move in with us and we were glad. Mum had met him at a dance in Eastbourne and after maybe six weeks of courting they’d got marrried. He was ten years younger than her and a chef. We went to their wedding but I can’t really remember it. But they’d fought quite regularly in Selmeston, and even more so in Pevensey apparently, so we moved in as Mum plus three boys. It wouldn’t last long – but that first six months in the brand new house was like clear blue sky after a long night of exile. Mum was still wobbly and unpredictable and on tablets of one sort or another, and there were Social Workers involved too and a new GP to argue with. Next door was Monique whose husband was ‘inside’ and her kids Tim and Joanna. Tim was Paul’s age and they became friends. I never made friends in Hailsham. With anyone. All my friends were in Lewes or Seaford or Kingston.
This song was a favourite in our house. Paul and I in particular liked the phrase “on the wet garden” it seemed to us absurd and hilarious. Possibly why I never heard the following line about His feet. The piano introduction is a delight, played by Rick Wakeman, the melody is strong and uplifting and beautiful.
Cat Stevens was born Steven Georgiou, son of Greek Cypriot father and Swedish Baptist mother. He changed his name to make pop music, then changed his music after a near-death experience from TB in 1969. His writing became more spiritual upon his recovery, and he moved from Deram to Island Records with a decent run of classic albums in the 1970s. He would have another near-death experience and another name change – to Yusuf Islam – before the 70s were over, converting to Islam. Morning Has Broken is from his 1971 LP Teaser And The Firecat (occasional sightings in the school corridors, tucked under an arm, usually a girl’s), and is taken from a hymn written in 1931 by Eleanor Farjeon to a Scottish gaelic tune called Bunessan. Remarkably Ms Farjeon lived in Alfriston, not five miles down the River Cuckmere from where we now lived in a fold of the South Downs. Morning Has Broken reached number 9 in the national charts.
It is a simple song about the most profound experience – rebirth, renewal, awakening. Each day of our lives this happens, and it is a miracle every morning. I think I prefer the piano to the lyrics, but the feel of the song is what counts, the brightness, the delicacy of the singing, the strength and poise of the piano.
The song reappeared in my life in a beautiful way. On July 25th 1992 I married my love Jenny Jules in St Joseph’s Church, Highgate Hill to general approval. We had the wedding we wanted, eventually, after two years of planning and changing our minds, and reaffirming, and planning again. We asked the nearest and dearest who wanted to (and were able to!) to form a wedding choir. Dear Felix Cross was our musical director and we held rehearsals in our Archway Road flat on the old honky-tonk stand-up piano. Jenny and I didn’t join in, and neither did my Dad and his wife Beryl because they lived in West Yorkshire, but they were kept in the loop by Felix, and rehearsed on the morning of the wedding, although my recall of this detail is hazy, largely because I wasn’t there. I was putting on cuff-links with my brother and best man Paul. Miles away, Jenny was being princessed, queened primped and sculpted in Wembley.
Holy Joe’s – St Joseph’s Church, Highgate Hill
Morning Has Broken was one of the songs we chose for the service, and our brave and wonderful choir had to sing it in church in front of both of our families and all of our friends. So they all get a proud namecheck here : love and thanks to Felix Cross, John & Beryl Brown, Paulette Randall, Beverley Randall, Sharon Henry, Millie Kerr, Maureen Hibbert, Antonia Couling, Ragnhild & Jens Thordal, and dear Cora Tucker, who sadly died of stomach cancer aged 46 in 2005.
As Jenny and I sat in our finery, shy and happy, glowing within and without, these dear friends sang for us and are forever blessed. Very special.