Charles Wesley: willing to learn from modern hymn-writers.
Eccles: Charles, nice to see you here, today. I was at the Tablet Christmas party last week, and the guests joined in with a version of your hymn that began:
Hark! The Tina Beattie sings: "Blame the Pope for everything!"
CW: Thanks for inviting me here, Eccles. In fact, my original version began:
Hark! How all the welkin rings: Glory to the King of Kings,so I'm quite used to people altering the words.
E: Alas, welkins have been done to death in that famous song Whelk, whelk, whelk in the light, by Damian Lundy.
A whelk in the light.
CW: So, in our improved version, shall we stick with Mendelssohn's tune? After all, it's the one used throughout the whole world.
E: Except in Portsmouth, apparently, where some local chap has got the hymn banned in favour of his own repertoire. Sing me a few lines, so that we can see what it's all about.
CW: Hark! The herald angels sing: "Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled."
A herald angel, off duty.
E: Stop, stop, stop! I can see what you're doing wrong. You've got at least one new idea in each line, and none of them repeated. Why, Graham Kendrick would have started off with Hark, angels, hark and spun out the first line to a whole verse.
CW: It's good of you tell me this, Eccles. We can all learn from modern masters.
E: Let's give the Hark! motif more prominence. How about:
Hark, hark, hark! The angels sing. Hark, hark, hark! The newborn King! Hark, hark, hark! We're meek and mild. Hark, hark, hark! We're reconciled.
Hark, hark, hark! We're meek and mild.
CW: I see, what you're doing there. Cutting out most of the theology and making sure the song is really about us, not God.
E: There's still something wrong, though. "Reconciled" won't do. It's a long word, and might distress the congregation.
CW: How about Hark, hark, hark! We won't go wild for the fourth line?
E: Yes, that's much better. The only way the song could be improved now would be by changing "Hark" to "Ho". Nobody says "Hark" these days, especially not post-Vatican II angels.
CW: So we arrive at the final version, which is much more Christmassy!
Ho, ho, ho! The angels sing. Ho, ho, ho! The newborn King! Ho, ho, ho! We're meek and mild. Ho, ho, ho! We won't go wild.E: Perfect! Well, you can finish it off, Chazza.
"Ho, ho, ho!" The true message of Christmas.