Although these Christmas carols were written at various dates and are very different from one another, they have two things in common: they are all quite simple, and they all touch in some way upon issues of our troubled times.
Starlight (1981) takes a space-age view of the Nativity story, and uses a folksy ballad style to call for global peace – not very original, perhaps, but urgently necessary.
The Two Nowells (1999) is a revisitation (and arrangement) of The First Nowell, but with an added bimillennial gloss in the form of The Second Nowell. This time around, it is rich children (but poor in the spiritual sense) who are lying awake in over-excitement at the prospect of the digital delights and computer joys of their presents. Shocked by their greed, the angel reminds them that while one half of the world gobbles its goodies, the other begs for crumbs on the desert floor. In the last verse, old and new Nowells are brought more or less harmoniously together.
Joseph’s Carol (2003) is the Bethlehem story as related by Joseph to his mates in the pub shortly after the birth of Jesus. I think of him as a Yorkshireman, and have written his part accordingly; but he could hail from any place that relishes blunt speaking and dry wit – and performers should feel free to adapt the dialect of the words accordingly.
The Coventry Carol (2005) is a setting of the mediaeval mystery-play account of King Herod’s massacre of children. I have tried to capture the savagery of the infanticide thugs and the anguish of the children’s mothers. Far too many children are still dying every day from starvation, cruelty, and wicked wars. Christmas is a good time to remember these things.