Sydney Carter

Sydney Carter

Sydney Bertram Carter (6 May 1915–13 March 2004) was an English poet, songwriter, folk musician, born in Camden Town, London. He is best known for the song "Lord of the Dance" (1963), set to the tune of the American Shaker song "Simple Gifts", and the song "The Crow on the Cradle", adapted from an old folk song. Other notable songs include "Julian of Norwich", "One More Step Along the Road I go", "When I Needed a Neighbour", "Every Star Shall Sing a Carol", "The Youth of the Heart" and "Down Below".


Life and career

He studied at Montem St Primary school in Finsbury Park, Christ's Hospital school in Horsham, West Sussex and Balliol College, Oxford, graduating in history in 1936. A committed pacifist, Carter joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit on the outbreak of World War II and served in Egypt, Palestine and Greece.

He worked as a lyricist for Donald Swann's revues and musicals in the 1950s and in 1962, produced an album "Putting out the Dustbin" with Sheila Hancock, with the song "Last Cigarette" on failing to give up smoking that became a minor hit.

"Lord of the Dance"

Partly inspired by Jesus, and partly by a statue of Shiva as Nataraja, Sydney wrote the lyrics "Lord Of The Dance" in 1963, as an adaptation of Joseph Brackett's "Simple Gifts", and a tribute to Shaker music. He later stated, "I did not think the churches would like it at all. I thought many people would find it pretty far flown, probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian. But in fact people did sing it and, unknown to me, it touched a chord ... Anyway, it's the sort of Christianity I believe in."

"I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets, there may be other Lords of the Dance. But Jesus is the one I know of first and best. I sing of the dancing pattern in the life and words of Jesus.
Whether Jesus ever leaped in Galilee to the rhythm of a pipe or drum I do not know. We are told that David danced (and as an act of worship too), so it is not impossible. The fact that many Christians have regarded dancing as a bit ungodly (in a church, at any rate) does not mean that Jesus did. The Shakers didn't...
Green Print for Song (1974)

Later life

In 1964, he married his second wife Leela Nair, with whom he had a son Michael, who became a neurosurgeon. He continued to work with Donald Swann writing six songs for the 1964 Donald Swann EP, Songs of Faith and Doubt. In the 1960s, he also worked as a critic for Gramophone magazine. In 1965, Carter wrote the six-song EP album Lord Of The Dance with Martin Carthy on guitar, the Johnny Scott Trio and the Mike Sammes singers. He also worked with Nadia Cattouse and Jeremy Taylor. In 1972, Carter presented a series of concerts in Australia.[citation needed] Franciscus Henri who accompanied him recorded an anthology of Carter's songs and poems (Nothing Fixed or Final) in 2005.

Sydney went to Perth, Western Australia, in 1985 to present a series of lectures and workshops. During his visit he attended a meeting of the Society of Friends. During this meeting, one of the women stood and sang "When I Needed a Neighbour, were You There?" She was unaware, as she sang, that Sydney was present. He was deeply touched and greatly delighted.[citation needed]


  • The Rock of Doubt (1978)
  • Dance in the Dark (1980)

External links


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