Sydney Carter, probably best known in the United States for his composition,
“Lord of the Dance,” died on March 16. He was 88.
Carter wrote Lord of the Dance as an adaptation of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts,
saying that he saw 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.”
A Londoner, he was educated at Montem Street School before winning a scholarship
to Christ’s Hospital at Horsham, Sussex. He loved community singing and later,
as a bluecoat boy at Christ’s Hospital school, he enjoyed the hymns in chapel.
He then read history at Balliol College, Oxford.At the outbreak of World War II, as a committed pacifist, he joined a Friends’
Ambulance Unit, serving in Egypt, Palestine and Greece alongside Donald Swann,
the future musical partner of Michael Flanders, who became a lifelong friend and
It was while they were in Greece that Carter came under the influence of the
traditional music and dance of the Peloponnese. It was in the aftermath of this
that Carter’s interest in English folk music was fuelled at a lecture given by
the folksong collector A L Lloyd on the transmission of songs between
generations in Romania.
He played a leading role in the folk revival of the 1960s and 70s, and it was
then that he wrote most of his songs, composed both to please and to shock. In
1965 Carter recorded his greatest success, the six-song EP, Lord Of The Dance,
with Martin Carthy on guitar, the Johnny Scott Trio, and the Mike Sammes
singers. In the sleeve note, he cautions purchasers about the religious content,
in case they should be misled by such earlier songs as “Down Below” and “My Last
Carter’s creative output touched many fields: he produced work for the London
revues for Flanders and Swann; performed with the Rev Denis Duncan’s Late Night
Songs during the early years of the Edinburgh Festival; and wrote songs for ABC
Television’s religious satirical series Hallelujah and its sequel Don’t Just Sit
He remained a regular contributor to Christian journals, including the Roman
Catholic Tablet, where his wise and often humorous contributions were much
appreciated. Life, as he embraced it, was for dancing.
[Courtesy of the