Author Archives: Henry Sparks

About Henry Sparks

HENRY SPARKS lives in England, plays guitar, writes and sings songs. His music is informed by experience as a farm hand, pizza slinger, carpenter, architect and lecturer.
 Folk - English and American - and a fascination with song-writing have driven his playing and creativity. Henry was a founder of DIY punk innovators Longport Buzz and roots pioneers Bootfare. He now makes music locally with Canterbury legends The Country Counts, and stateside with The New City Wates and plays in or out at any opportunity.

While we were building Jerusalem

The kitchen videos continue!

Jerusalem: words and why…
Executive Summary: It is about the struggle to try to make this world a better place for all, not just the few.

The Long Version: I hope you have time…so here goes…
While we were building Jerusalem
While we were building Jerusalem
While we were building with our tired hands

This is past history…
How did I come to write this song in 2014 and what is it about? As usual these things are never simple and ideas creep around the door post when you are not looking. Those are usually the best things because you did not ‘think’ of them, they just arrive.
There are two main drivers here:
1) Psalm 122 verse 3.
2) Blake’s Preface to Milton: And did those feet / Jerusalem
I refer to Jerusalem as: a place, the idea of a place or a philosophy, a poem or a hymn. The roots of the name/word(s) are complex and I shall not go there!
I will start with the psalm… The Psalms: Possibly some of the oldest writing still in use today. They are an interesting and at times hair-raising read with no concessions to anger management, political or gender correctness. They have been attached to music since Old Testament days.
The psalm says that we shall go, presumably on a pilgrimage, to Jerusalem, which is spoken of as an idealized place.
I was glad when they said unto me: we shall go into the house of the Lord
Our feet shall stand in thy gates oh Jerusalem
And verse 3: Jerusalem is built as a city: that is at unity in itself.
This is the Book of Common Prayer version based on Coverdale’s Great Bible of 1539 and is a translation of the Galican psalter based on Greek text.
The statement always struck me as being ridiculous as Jerusalem must be one of the most fought over cities in the world with 3 major religions, Muslims Jews and Christians, claiming it as an important spot for their particular belief system. These types have all had major disagreements with one another throughout history.
At the time of writing, 2014, Isis were rampaging across the Middle East which put this in the forefront of my mind.
Hubert Parry, who set Jerusalem to music as a hymn, also set part of the Psalm 122 as an anthem called: ‘I was glad’.
The Authorized version (King James Bible) of 1604 Says:
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together.
 ‘In other words,’ as my late father said in a lecture – ‘a real slum!’ But at least it makes some sense. This later translation is based on Jerome’s translation of the Hebrew text.
Blake wrote the poem ‘Milton’ 1804-8 and Parry set the preface Jerusalem (and did those feet) 1916 as a hymn.
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy lamb of god
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem      (Important line)

In England’s green and pleasant land.
I had been annoyed about what I perceived as the appropriation of Jerusalem ‘as their song’ by the political right, the Conservative party, women’s Institutes etc and even the jingoistic last night of the proms. I have since discovered that it has been used by all stripes politically: Suffragettes /unions /Labour party as well. Though I somehow feel that Blake would revolve in his grave if he heard the jingoistic uses of the piece. So I felt that I might try to write something which pinned down better for me the struggle to make the world a better place or at least to stop wrecking it.

My song is in two verses like Parry’s setting of Jerusalem.
While we were building Jerusalem
The idea of labouring, the action and process of building…making a better place as an ongoing activity.
Whilst our backs were turned (we were labouring)
A roofer up and switched the plans
That is Thatcher and the neo liberals. I’m sure that she never got close to a working building site except as a photo op!
The pattern books were burned
The pattern books which showed how to make things better.
Because of the large number of people involved the process of trying to build a better place it tends to become a hide bound and prescriptive activity… The stuff of pattern books which were the design schools of the 19thC. If disjointed these pattern books were a democratisation of the mysteries and magic of design, and yet their flaw when used by lesser constructors was incoherence.
The burning of books has a special relevance. When a society starts burning books rather than reading them it is heading for trouble. It is also odd that books, like bodies,  are so difficult to burn and you have to be pretty persistent to do it.
The architects of Jerusalem
They are dead and gone

This refers to the people behind the Beverage report of 1942. Adequate income, health care, education, housing, and employment for all, which was enacted in the post 1945 Labour government. My mother was a young teenager after the second world war. She went to the festival of Britain and has books from that time which show great hope and determination that war should not happen again and that the world will be a better place for all to live in. That hope in some forms persisted until the election of Thatcher in 1979.
In bitter days and twisted ways
It’s hard to carry on.

This relates to the repeated description of evenings in the Oddessy. For instance: Chapter 2.388:‘The sun went down and all the ways grew dark’. I do not know how many times this (or similar) occurs in the Odyssey to signify the evening of the day, but it is a reminder that the story was oral before it was written in that these repeated phrases form punctuation points in the telling of the story.
Bitter days and twisted ways relates to how I feel our lives are distorted by the concepts of ‘work ‘ and selfishness. At times it just seems easier to go with the herd.
Hello can you hear me
Hello can you hear me
Hello can you hear me
Anyone in the darkness

This started off as ‘Holly can you hear me?’ Holly was a visiting second year art student from the US who spent a term in first year BA Architecture and was particularly resistant to taking on board, or even trying out, ideas which might aid her improvement. But it soon morphed, as ideas do, into something else…
I will not cease from mental fight
This is a line from Parry and Blake.
Which is followed by a turnaround in that instead of ‘Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand’ it is:
Nor shall peace slip through our tired hands
A IV II7 V I run leads into the chorus just as it occurs at the end of the chorus.
While we are building Jerusalem
While we are building Jerusalem
While we are building with our tired hands

Now we are in the present.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem
Derived from Verse 6 of psalm 122. Somehow a hopeless case I feel, given the mixed occupancy both religious and tribal.
Princes and thieves have other plans
I was thinking particularly of the thugs of Isis who were at the time engulfing the middle east. I considered it a male escapade but revelations since show that women were not just victims but also participated.
Those men will wake one day to find
They have all their temples burned

Jimmy Webb says in his book on song writing that using old English constructions is a copout but I defend myself here on the grounds that it is probably how the psalms would speak through the translations I know.
This refers particularly to the demolition of artifacts and buildings by Isis at Palmyra and the beheading of Khaled al-Asaad the Curator of the site. If you demolish everything on the map then you do not know where you are, who you are, where you came from, and where you are going. A ‘New Babylon’ (Constant) or ‘Superstudio’ situation….
The flaw in the city of Jerusalem
Is enmity itself

This is invented and a parody of the city at unity in itself. It also refers to the verse in Genesis 3.15:
‘I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.’
The end of days the darkening ways
It’s hard to carry on

The first line has a double meaning to both the evening as mentioned in the Odyssey and also the sense of an approaching day of judgement or the day of doom. Remember Isis were still on the rampage. I think it now particularly relevant to the climate crisis.
Hello can you hear me
Hello can you hear me
Hello can you hear me
Anyone in the darkness
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall peace slip through our tired hands
While we are building Jerusalem
While we are building Jerusalem
While we are building with our tired hands

I do not think I would do anything different if I was trying to write this today. Close analysis of a work after creation is an important part of creation. This applies to writing, songwriting, architecture, or any artistic endeavour. It is a difficult and often salutary task to analyse and criticise your own work
Philip Guston was unhappy with a painting that he had just finished…he erased one side and repainted… then the other… then he erased both. He commented: ‘It felt to me as if it were additions, this and that and that and that. What I am always seeking is some great simplicity where the whole thing is just there and cannot be this and that and that and that.’