This year I challenged myself to do something new, to realise an idea I’d been toying with for some time.
Upon moving back to Fleetwood in the winter of 2015, I began attending my home church again. I was surprised to hear all of these new songs in the run-up to Christmas, new things from all the big worship leaders of the moment.
At the time I wasn’t really in good enough mental health to write anything of my own, but I kept a pin in the idea of writing an original Christmas song that ( if I could clear it with all the essential people) I could perform in church during the Advent season.
Two years later, I took that idea down from my mental pinboard and it became a reality in the song, First He Came To Her.
|Released||20th December, 2017|
I wanted to write a song that would focus on the things Mary went through and how she might have been feeling during those times. Of course, there are already such songs as Mary Did You Know? and Thorns in the Straw, but I knew there was a lot more to explore in the story and wanted to tap into that.
Since becoming a mother, I’ve gained a little more insight into these parts of the bible than I had before. It made me grateful that I was able to become pregnant within a loving marriage, much later in life than the young Mary, and with the support of a fantastic team of midwives and doctors. There was no shame attached, everything was very socially acceptable.
By contrast, Mary didn’t have any of the luxuries I did, but she did have the God of heaven looking out for her, making sure she had the people in her life that she needed. And in the times during and just after my pregnancy when I had complications, I had that same God on my side making sure my daughter and I would be okay.
There are some parts in the lyrics that have an extra layer or two of meaning, so let me take you through a few of my favourite lines.
“Was she ready for the blood and water?”
The first meaning for ‘blood and water’ is going into labour and giving birth. Of course, your waters break, and often there’s some blood involved, but I also wanted to hint at two other things.
The first, when Jesus was crucified and appeared to be dead, they put a spear into his side and ‘blood and water’ gushed out, indicating (as in one theory) his internal organs had ruptured and he was indeed dead. So I was also asking, was Mary aware she would live to see her first born son die? Was she ready for the gruesome way he would be punished?
The other meaning points even further into the future. Jesus cleanses us by his blood, and gives us ‘living water’. Was Mary ready to see her son grow into the man who was the messiah, the Christ? Was she prepared to one day accept him as her Lord and Saviour?
“The physical price that she paid, like a shadow of her son’s affliction.”
I was a little more theologically daring in these lines (don’t worry, I consulted a pastor!). Pregnancy and birth take a lot out of a person, but you endure the pain and discomfort because you know you are bringing a life into the world, and it is your responsibility alone to do this. Similarly, Jesus went to the cross knowing he was the only one who could take the punishment meant for us and save us. He was, in a sense, birthing the kingdom of God, bringing us to life and starting something entirely new and beautiful.
As always when it comes to producing a new song independently , there will be problems.
1. Getting it together
I did all I could to make sure I’d still be able to deliver the song and single on time, so I started drafting my lyrics mid October, and was able to show them around to some trustworthy people by November. Towards the end of the month, I sang a sort of stumbling rendition, accompanying myself on piano, at the end of a worship practice. The response was generally positive, but I felt like I had to reassure everyone that I would have a backing track by the day I was due to perform it, so I wouldn’t need to concentrate on playing an instrument while singing.
2. Mixing for large systems
The following week I had the bones of the backing track together and was able to test it on the PA system at Emmanuel @ The Mount. Bear in mind, I’d never really had one of my self-produced tracks played on a system that large before, so there were a lot of unknowns regarding things like bass response and how the high-mids and highs might sound. I was lucky enough to be able to test the track twice, at different stages in completion.
There was an added challenge when I was also asked to perform the song at the evening service at Emmanuel Lofthouse Way, so I convinced my brother to let me test the track there as well. The system was a lot more similar to how my monitoring headphones sound, so that made me feel quite a lot better!
You can hear a little of that in this little clip from my Instagram.
3. A particularly inconvenient cold
Lastly, I had to record the ‘studio version’ of the song for release. The timing was right so my little girl was visiting her Other Grandparents and I had some time for bedroom recording. I banged out all the guitar parts one night, but then the following morning… SHOCK! HORROR! The dreaded sore throat had descended!
So, I did the most sensible thing I could. I began layering up the backing vocals first, starting with the lowest, being careful not to push my voice too hard. Then I sang the verses.
I ended the session with a stab at the lead vocal, but it wasn’t great, so I told myself I’d re-track it tomorrow. I did so, and it was… acceptable, but not great. Unfortunately, my cold was only to get worse and didn’t clear until the day after release. I was so glad I’d tracked what I could when I did, because I couldn’t have done it at all if I’d waited.
With a LOT of editing magic, and some tasteful reverb, I was able to make a decent sounding last chorus, allowing the ‘Caryl choir’ to carry the sound.
Artwork & Visuals
All my art assets and promotional materials were actually based on one blurry picture of a faux flower on my vanity mirror, back-lit with fairy lights. This is what it looks like most of the time:
I wanted it to look feminine, and also festive, but without being too on the nose with a traditional Christmas red and green colour palette. I added a little snowflake graphic to sit behind the title text, and BOOM: Christmas single artwork!
Go to the discography page for the single on my official website to read more about this song, or go to the lyric page to read the lyrics in full. You can stream and download the track for free from my Bandcamp page. Click the embedded lyric video below to listen to the song and read along with the lyrics.
I really hope you enjoy the song, and more than that, that you’ve had a wonderful Christmas.
Here’s to a musical 2018!