In the mid-1970s I discovered Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the British supergroup. After listening to all of the Yes albums from front to back and vice versa, I ended up with the famous trio. The phenomenal album Brain Salad Surgery yielded the modest hit single Jerusalem, a contemporary adaptation of a 1916 Anglican hymn by composer Hubert Parry, after a poem by William Blake from 1804. The combination of classical music and contemporary rock produced the symphonic tones that enchant me to this day. I dug deep into the lyrics, an epic tale of building a New Jerusalem on English soil. Wonderful music.
Fast forward more than twenty years, I am part of a group of Britons, mainly expats who spend some time in Holland as a result of work. By coincidence I came into contact with nucleus of the group around the noble game of golf. We gelled really well and I was quickly accepted into the community. Every year we crossed borders to hit golf courses in France, Spain and Portugal. During a lavish dinner after one of those tournaments, a big surprise awaited me: the guys felt that after a few years of complete assimilation, I had acquired the right to go through life as an ‘honorary Brit’. A kind of self-proclaimed honorary citizenship, a special honour. My knowledge and love of/for the culture, language and especially humour had earned me this honorary title. There was only one thing: as part of the inauguration, I had to sing a song in front of the entire company in the Portuguese restaurant, in front of about 30 people.
My brain was racing feverishly, searching for a suitable song. I didn’t have to think long; ancient Jerusalem was the first to emerge. Remembering the lyrics was no problem at all, the number of times I had sung the song was now very useful to me. Standing at the dinner table, I chanted the first line: “And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England’s mountains green?” It didn’t remain a solo performance for long: soon the entire party joined in, followed by a large part of the rest of those present in the restaurant, predominantly elderly Brits on holiday. OK, it took some getting used to, the tempo of the original is considerably faster than Keith, Greg and Carl’s version. But the biblical lyrics provided sufficient guidance for a triumphant rendition. I received a huge applause, well there you are, a simple Dutchman abroad. The evening was a great success, I was happy to have contributed and honoured with my new status.
Afterwards, upon leaving the establishment, I am accosted by a number of senior citizens, elderly Brits who, judging by their tans, had already lived outside their beloved island for a while. With some emotion in their voices, I am deeply thanked for singing this meaningful song: “It takes us back to our childhood and school days, proud as we are of our country.” Wow, goosebumps from the reaction of these emotional Britons. What effect a relatively simple symphonic rock song by Emerson, Lake and Palmer from 1973 can have.
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land