Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Babylon is fallen, to rise no more!

Easter Day! Yay! Wooo! Babylon is fallen, and He is risen!

There has to be a Greater Narrative, and the Christian narrative of Redemption is the greatest. So we construct our own small narratives, and at a certain point they break through, make contact with the reality of the Thing Itself. What starts in a garden ends in a city, and the City of God is Babylon recreated, made new.

In the car I’ve been listening obsessively to Babylon’s Fallen by The Trumpeteers, which turned up on a cheapo golden age gospel compilation in the wreckage of the HMV Blue Cross sale. It’s on YouTube, here. After about 30 seconds it takes over your brain completely.

Seems to me that this is essentially a survival of the chorus of Babylon is Fallen, a Shaker hymn that went into the four-part shape note (Sacred Harp) repertoire, as revived here:

Tune your harps ye heavenly choirs, shout ye followers of the Lamb.
See the city all on fire, clap your hands and swell the flame.
Now’s the day of compensation, hope of mercy now is o’er.
Babylon is fallen, is fallen, is fallen.
Babylon is fallen, to rise no more.

Though in a ‘seventies beardy folk version by Swan Arcade, it’s claimed that the song originated with the Parliamentarian armies and passed across the Atlantic. Apparently it used to be sung at Sealed Knot re-enactments. If so, it’s impressive that something first sung by the Levellers eventually found its way into the context of deliverance from slavery. Interesting though that while the white version is triumphant, the black version is simply joyful.

The modern Sacred Harp revivals are wonderful, but somehow don’t quite touch the Alan Lomax archive recordings, like this. (Though the image here is out of period, and not of the singers.)  Listen and tremble!

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