Gold Frankincence & Myrrh' cover]

CD - Park Records PRK CD59
(UK, 2001)

Sound bits are available at
the Samples Page.

Maddy Prior
& The Carnival Band

Gold Frankincence & Myrrh

  1. Melchior [3:25]
  2. Caspar [2:21]
  3. Balthazar [4:54]
  4. Journey to Jericho [6:01]
  5. Melima [3:16]
  6. Journey to Bethlehem / Song of the Animals [3:21]
  7. Welcome Stranger [3:30]
  8. Song of the Angels [1:44]
  9. The Oxen [2:50]
  10. The Carnal and the Crane [4:14]
  11. Rorate Coeli de Super [3:10]
  12. Entre le Boeuf at l'Ane Gris [3:13]
  13. Hark' Hark What News [1:45]
  14. Bethlehem Down [3:40]
Musicians: Maddy Prior - vocals
Bill Badley - renaissance and baroque, lutes, guitar, mandolin, vocals
Steve Banks - djembe, talking drum, saz, violin, vocals
'Jub' - modern and baroque double basses, percussion, vocals
Giles Lewin - violin, viola, recorders, flute, shawm, vocals
Raph Mizraki - 'ud, saz, darabuka, balafon, percussion, vocals
Andy Watts - shawm, recorders, clarinet, turkish clarinet, bassoon, vocals
other credits: Produced by John Dagnell
Recorded at Warehouse Studios
Engineered by Steve Walkins
Sleeve design by Chris Sands
© 2001 Park Records

N o t e s   a n d   L y r i c s

Gold Frankinsence & Myrrh

       In all religions there is a gathering of folktale and fable around the principal events, a magnification by countless people to help in understanding the lessons held in the sacred texts. The story of the birth of Jesus has attracted several legends concerning the Wise Men, or Magi, who were thought to have been present. We have tried in this cycle of songs to encapsulate some of these. The Three Kings, as they have become known, are generally envisaged as being of like mind, whereas in fact that is quite unlikely. In our version the three are from different backgrounds and have different temperaments. The words of this sequence were written by Maddy Prior. The music was created by combining material drawn from Middle Eastern, African and medieval sources (to suggest the origins and development of the Magi tradition) with original music developed through collective improvisation. It was first performed in December 2000.


      Melchior, the bringer of gold, is a rich Nabataen Arab from the sophisticated city of Petra. A man made wealthy from trade with the Arabs to the south, his caravans of precious gifts move from the Yemen parallel to the Red Sea, up through Judea and North to Damascus.

I have come with all my riches,
Jewels, silver, gold.
All the world delights to offer,
Precious gifts unfold.

From Petra he has come,
Melchior the merchant man
Perfumes from the Orient,
Fine silken raiment
Spices and precious golden gifts.

Bringing bounty of the herdsman
Milk and meat so rare
Pomegranates from the garden
Exotic fruits his fare.

Trade routes South and East,
Caravans a moving feast,
Travellers tales and legends,
Farther from his homeland
For a truth that he will never lose.

Those more able have directed him,
Those more wise advised,
Those more pure, they have blessed him
Bid him now arise


      Caspar is an ascetic Zoroastrian priest, a scholar of the movement of the stars. He is looking for the birth of the son of Zarathustra who was to be born posthumously to the prophet. He is a puritan man of ceremony and ritual bringing frankincense as a sign of holiness.

I am shriven for this task.
Purity is required.
I have studied for this moment.
Knowledge is essential.
I have prayed for strength.
Devotion is the way.

The stars are moving in conjunction.
Mercury and Jupiter give portents of a birth.
A mighty king.
A divine child.

Sirius gives us our Lord.
The Son of the Sun
He reappears before us,
To remind us, to return us,
To bring our hearts toward the sacred.


      Balthazar is a young chiefs son from Axum, the ancient empire that became Ethiopia. Our Balthazar has been sent on a journey by the elders of his village, and he joins one of the caravans of Melchior as it heads north, buying from him some myrrh that he has brought from the Yemen. There is a tradition among the Ethiopians that the Ark of the Covenant was taken from the Temple in Jerusalem by the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (Queen Makeda), and is still thought to be lodged in the church of Maryam Tsion in the city of Axum.

My tribe has bid me wander,
to seek and find my fate;
A trial to prove me worthy,
in the stars my future waits.

A journey open ended,
without a time or plan;
To find what I did not seek,
and then I could return.

Riddles to confuse me,
to find my trusting heart;
They send me on a journey
to show where I must start.

I will need their wisdom
to inherit in my day;
To learn to lead my people,
to find the perfect way.

Beyond the rivers of Cush I come
Tis Abay, Tis Abay
To the land of King Solomon
Konjo, Konjo,
Tis Abay

Oh Na Axum
Na Hyak Tana

The lover of the Queen of Sheba
Our mighty Queen Makeda

Oh Na Axum
Na Hyak Tana

She bore to him a little son
Who brought us the Ark of the Covenant

Oh Na Axum
Na Hyak Tana

The Ark is kept in a holy place
In the land of Axum we keep it safe

Oh na Axum,
Na Hyak Tana

Journey to Jericho

      Jericho is on the route from the South and East towards Jerusalem. King Herod spent much time and money putting aqueducts in place to provide the fortress he had built with water. The groves of balsam and dates grown there were very valuable and all owned by him. Our travellers would have travelled from here up through the Volley of the Shadow of Death to Jerusalem, up on the plateau.

From the deserts we have journeyed
Parched and weary we are come.

Jericho, a sweet oasis
in this dark and barren land;
Jericho, your name like soft breezes
warm against my hand.

Cool groves of dates, and balsam,
A king's ransom they are surely worth,
King Herod owns this fertile earth

And he tends it well, from dry desert
carefully he has changed all this land,
It is watered now by his command.

A place of ancient battles,
A fortress darkly brooding and taught,
Grimly it watches while we walk.
Through the Valley of the Shadow
of Death we solemnly wend our way,
Before the closing of the day


      'Melima' is a Middle Eastern archetype, roughly translateable as a 'boss woman'. This is a strong and positive image and doesn't have the Western negative connotation of 'bossy'. Herod's main negotiator was Nicolas of Damascus, who had previously been the tutor to Anthony and Cleopatra's children. He perhaps brought some girls with him from Egypt. Herod is said to have tried to gain news of the business of the wayfarers, and we have introduced the idea of a woman being asked to get the information.

Catch your heart,
Catch a smile,
Perfumes and henna, catch all the men
A whirling Et twirling Et laughing Et swirling

I can make men feel, Life's breath I steal
My body shines, Hips talk to men's minds
They may hold the power of death
I the power of life
I can stir their senseless loins
Better than a wife

Old man like a hawk, watches as I walk;
Catch him with a sway, guilty looks away,
The rich one pleases, teases me,
Connoiseur I'd say,
And the boy is just a boy,
Good for an hour's play

Herod wants to know where it is they go
Men are easy prey; eyes give them away
See I can control them,hold them
Without any talk;
Herod sets me to the task
So I go to work.

Journey to Bethlehem & Song of the Animals

      Legend has it that on Christmas Eve the animals are able to speak (cf. track 9 'The Oxen'). Ours ore even more talented - they sing a catch!

Ox: This is my stable so cosy and warm
Sweet hay and straw and a shelter from storm. Mooo!

Ass: A break from travelling carrying my load.
Heavier still as we follow the road. Eeaaw!

Sheep: Down from the hills in the dead of the night
Fled from the hills from the blinding light. Baaa!

Camel: It's cramped and cluttered and crowded
and crushed,
pokey and smokey and small.
No room for me and my master,
no room at all. Sheee!

Welcome Stranger

      Mary sings a lullaby to her newborn son.

Welcome little stranger, little joy
Welcome darling stranger, darling boy.

Tiny toes and perfect fingers,
snuggled down;
Milky scent that gently lingers,
swaddled round.

Welcome little stranger to this world;
Wrapped in my arms, far from danger you are curled.

Growing so close, for so long,
yet unknown
Hidden within, silent, but so strong
in my womb

Future's promise lies in the cradle
with a tiny thing
Blessing me with his calm eyes,
I will sing.

Welcome little stranger, meek and mild
Welcome darling stranger, darling child.

Song of the Angels

      As the wise men kneel at their journey's end, angels sing praises to the tiny child that is ultimately more powerful than any king.

They are gathered to pay homage, praise him
Strangers prophets of the word, praise him
They are come to see a child
So powerful and small
Ey! Ey! Ey-a! Nova Gaudia

He will live to show the way to glory
He will be a teacher for our story
Hail to the Almighty Saviour
Pure and undefiled
Praise them in your blameless hearts
The Mother and the Child

Verbum patris umanatur 0! 0!
Dum puella salutatur, 0! 0!
Salutata, fecundatur viri nescia.
Ey! Ey! Ey-a! Nova gaudia

(The Word of the Father is made human When the maiden is greeted Being greeted, she conceives not knowing a man. New Joy!)

Creatures and Kings

       Neither of the two gospels (Matthew and Luke) which contain accounts of the nativity mention animals at all - shepherds yes, but no sheep. Since Jesus was laid 'in a manger' the presence of a few farmyard animals seems perfectly reasonable but this does not fully explain the menagerie which over the centuries has crowded into the dark stable. Ox, ass, and sheep are joined by camels, horses, doves and in the case ofAlison Merry's illustration on the cover of this CD even a cat and a mouse! It does not end there. Other parts of the Christmas story are embellished with talking birds and a friendly lion, while the poet Dunbar exhorts fish and fowl to sing for joy. Apart from providing welcome roles for school nativity plays (many a six year old has been devastated by being told to play a sheep instead of a king, a donkey rather than on angel) why are they there? Perhaps there is on echo of Isaiah's prophecy of peace 'The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: and the calf and the young lion and the fatting together; and a little child shall lead them.' There is also a sense of the whole of creation rejoicing over the new born king. In addition these creatures have enabled pointers and poets to put their own slant on the Christmas story, from a comic ballad telling how King Herod is outwitted to a sentimental French 'pastorale'. We frame our exploration of creatures and kings with two 'modern' viewpoints - Hardy's regret for the loss of a childlike belief in the old tales and Blunt's and Warlock's reminder that the cosy nativity scene will give way to a bitter outcome. Above all, the animals help to offset the strange remoteness of the other onlookers in the stable. Few of us can be kings, and none of us angels. Animals and shepherds bring the Christmas story down to earth.

The Oxen
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock
'Now they are all on their knees',
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
'Come: see the oxen kneel

In the lonely barton by yonder comb
Our childhood used to know,
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

The Carnal and the Crane

      A shortened version of a ballad which contains four legendary episodes from the childhood of Christ. 'Carnal' is probably an old term for a crow.

As I passed by a riverside and there as I did reign
In argument I chanced to hear a carnal and a crane.
The carnal said unto the crane "If all the world should turn
Before we had the Father but now we have the Son."

There was a star all in the East so bright it did appear,
Into King Herod's chamber so brightly it shone there.
The wise men soon espied it and told the king on high
A princely babe was born that night no king could e'er destroy. "If this be true," King Herod said "that thou tell'st unto me
The roasted cock that lies in the dish shall crow full senses" three."
The cock soon freshly feathered was by the work of God's own hand
And then three senses crowed he in the dish where he did stand.

Then Jesus ah, and Joseph,
and Mary oh so mild,
They travelled into Egypt
to the land of the Nile.

And when they came to Egypt's land
among those fierce wild beasts,
Mary she being weary
must needs sit down to rest.

"Come sit thee down" said Jesus,
"Come sit thee down by me.
And see how all these wild beasts
do come and worship me."

First came by the lovely lion,
which Jesus grace did bring.
"Of all the wild beasts in the field
the lion shall be king."

Then Jesus ah, and Joseph and Mary all unknown
They passed by a husbandman just as his seed was sown.
"Go speed thee man" said Jesus, "Go fetch thy ox and wain
And gather up thy corn again which thou this day has sown.

If anyone should pass by and enquire for me alone
Tell them that Jesus passed this way just as your seed was sown."
Then after came King Herod, with his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman whether Jesus had passed by.

"The truth it must be spoken, the truth it must be known,
Jesus he passed by this way just as my seed was sown.
But now my corn is reapen and some laid on my wain,
Ready to fetch and carry back into my barn again."

"Oh back then," said King Herod, "Our labour's all in vain,
It's full three-quarters of a year since he his seed has sown."
And so he was deceived by the work of God's own hand,
And further he proceeded then into the Holy Land

The truth it now is spoken, the truth it now is known.
Even the blessed Virgin has now brought forth a Son.

Rorate Coeli de Super

Rorate coeli de super! *
Heavens distil your balmy showers;
For now is risen the bright Day-star,
From the rose Mary, flower of flowers:
The clear Sun, whom no cloud devours,
Surmounting Phoebus in the east,
Is comen of of his heav'nly towers,
Et nobis puer natus est."

Celestial fowles in the air,
Sing with your notes upon the height,
In firthes and in forests fair
Be mirthful now at all your might;
For passed is your dully night;
Aurora has the cloudes pierced,
The sun is risen with gladsome light,
Et nobis puer natus est.

Sing, heaven imperial, most of height,
Regions of air make harmony,
All fish in flood and fowl of flight
Be mirthful and make melody:
All Gloria in excelsis cry,
Heaven, earth, sea, man, bird, and beast;
He that is crowned above the
Pro nobis puer natus est.

* Drop down, heavens, from above
** And for us a boy is born.

Entre le Boeuf e l'Ane Gris

Entre le boeuf et I'ane gris,
Dors, dors, dors le petit Fils.
Entre les deux bras de Marie,
Dors, dors le Fruit de la Vie.

Mille anges divins
Mille seraphins,
Volent a I'entour
De ce Dieu d'amour.

Entre les roses et les lys,
Dors, dors, dors le petit Fils.
Entre les pastoureaux jolis,
Dors, dors, dors le petit Fils.

En ce beau jour solennel,
Dors, dors, dors Emmanuel.
Entre le boeuf et I'ane gris
Dors, dors, dors le petit Fils.

Between the ox and the donkey grey
Sleep, sleep, sleep little Son
In Mary's arms
Sleep, sleep, Fruit of Life.

A thousand divine angels,
A thousand seraphim, Fly around
this God of Love.

Between the roses and the lilies,
Among the jolly shepherds

On this wonderful, solemn day
Between the ox and the donkey grey.

Hark! Hark What News

      This eighteenth century hymn survived in the oral tradition well into the twentieth century.

Hark! Hark what news the angels bring:
Glad tidings of a new-born King,
Born of a maid, a virgin pure,
Born without sin, from guilt secure.

Hail mighty Prince, eternal King!
Let heaven and earth rejoice and sing!
Angels and men with one accord
Break forth in songs: '0 praise the Lord!'

Behold! He comes, and leaves the skies:
Awake, ye slumbering mortals, rise!
Awake to joy, and hail the morn
The Saviour of this world was born!

Echo shall waft the strains around
Till listening angels hear the sound,
And all the heavenly host above
Shall join to sing redeeming love.

Bethlehem Down

'When he is King we will give him the King's gifts
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes, said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When he is King they will clothe him in grave sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here he has peace and a short while for dreaming
Close huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

[previous CD]     [next CD]