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Lord of the Dance

[ Roud - ; Ballad Index DarN259A ; Sydney Carter]

This is the best known of the songs written by Sydney Carter. He recorded it on the EP Lord of the Dance (Elektra EPK 801, 1965). Martin Carthy was session musician on this EP,but I don't know if he played on this song. The 1981 album Lovely in the Dances - Songs of Sydney Carter was one of the first tribute albums to contemporary songwriters.

Lord of the Dance was sung by Martin Carthy on his 1968 album with Dave Swarbrick, But Two Came By. This was reissued on This Is... Martin Carthy on the compilation album with The Spinners, The Corries and Martin Carthy, Focus on Folk, and on the definitive Martin Carthy anthology, The Carthy Chronicles.

Martin Carthy commented in his original album's sleeve notes:

Sydney Carter is probably the most prolific song writer in the revival, and never seems to be satisfied with his work. He is forever chopping verses around and altering them, sometimes going through torment over single words, but it seems to work well. One song which, as far as I can tell, he seems satisfied with is Lord of the Dance, set to a tune which is adapted from a Shaker hymn, The Gift to Be Simple. It reflects, I think, his attitude to life and natural processes in general, an attitude which, as it so happens, I share.

There are lots of other versions of Lord of the Dance e.g. by the Corries on the Fontana compilation Shades of Folk, by The Dubliners and by The Spinners. For more recordings see the Lord of the Dance web page.


Sydney Carter sings Lord of the Dance

I danced in the morning when the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun,
And I came down from heaven and I danced on earth,
At Bethlehem I had my birth.

Chorus (repeated after each verse):
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance, said he.

I danced for the scribe and the pharisee
They would not dance, they wouldn't follow me.
So I danced for the fishermen, for James and John,
They came with me and the dance went on.

I danced on a Sabbath when I cured the lame
The holy people, they said it was a shame
So they whipped, they stripped, they hung me high
They let me there on the cross to die.

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black -
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back.
Oh, they buried my body, they thought I'd gone,
But I am the dance and I still go on.

They cut me down but I leap up high
I am the life that will never, never die;
But I'll live in you if you'll live in me -
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.