People often ask me where my songs come from – what inspires them. I wrote The First on my first trip to Jerusalem. It was that ancient city, torn into quarters and built on even more ancient stones and stories that breathed its inspiration right into my body and soul.
I began the day by walking up Mount Zion, which put me in mind of great reggae bands like Culture and their joyous song Behold. I wandered into a Catholic church and in the crypt there were eight nuns singing plainsong in the most amazing harmony – the sound literally burst my tears and I had to leave my companions to be alone with the unexpected force of emotion.
I walked through the ancient Roman roads and gazed in wonder at the Wailing Wall. I found myself on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has a Coptic church on top of the dozen churches in the main body of the building – next to this is a collection of African buildings and the oldest Christian church which I learned was Ethiopian. I listened to a guide talking fast and forcefully about the history of this church – when, from out of the darkness, stepped forward a priest in white robes. He held up his hand slowly, but firmly and the guide stumbled and was silent. The priest spoke in, what I assume was Ethiopian, none of us understood a word and yet we were all held still and full-focussed within the sound of his voice for a good quarter of an hour.
Back on the roof, by the Syrian church and its beautiful green door, I watched the afternoon’s sunlight playing through palm leaves on the hot yellow stone walls.
It was there, filled with churned-up emotion, that I wrote The First. The lyric and melody came as one and all I had to do was keep it in my happy heart until I could get back to my hotel room and record it on my ‘phone.
Magic Doesn’t Happen By Magic
Tom Van Can