Story of Keening For The Dawn

(scroll down to listen to title track…)

This project started in the spring of 2010, when I was travelling along an LA freeway with my friend, Greg Leith.  He was trying to sell me me on the idea of attending the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute the following summer in England, when he suddenly blurted out, “you know, you should be singing at that!”  Being a reasonably well-connected fellow (Strategic Alliance Director for Biola University), he made a quick phone call, and a year later I found myself in Oxford and Cambridge, singing at one of the more stimulating events of my life.

It was there that I met and began a friendship with the English poet Malcolm Guite.  Malcolm is chaplain and lecturer at Girton College, Cambridge. He is also a renown C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton scholar whose opening lecture at the conference was electrifying. I’ve never heard someone speak with such deeply resourced eloquence.

Malcolm Guite photo: Lancia Smith
Malcolm Guite
photo: Lancia Smith

At the end of each day, led by a delightful character named Andrew Lazo, attendees would gather in a local pub and take turns reciting poetry until late into the night. Malcolm was the rock star of each evening. His lively, animated recitations of original and classic English poetry robbed me of every last vestige of disaffection and resistance to poetry I may have had. I was utterly hooked….

Jeremy Begbie
Jeremy Begbie

Toward the end of the conference, I mentioned to Malcolm that I had been reading the writings of a fellow named Jeremy Begbie. Jeremy is a Cambridge scholar, whose work in the field of theology through the arts has intrigued and informed me for some time now.    As it turned out, Jeremy was well known to Malcolm, and within a couple of hours, I found myself at the legendary Eagle Pub in downtown Cambridge, tipping a cheerful pint with the two of them.

It was during that conversation, that the word “keening” was used. I didn’t know what it meant, but the word coursed through me like a mild shock of electricity. This sort of thing happens to me often: I’ll hear or read a word or phrase, simultaneously sensing a surge  of energy, and I know there is something I’m supposed to dig for.  On returning home, I discovered that “keening” is an ancient Celtic practice of hopeful lament – a sort of primal wail that expresses what C.S. Lewis called the “inconsolable longing” of the human heart. I started to reflect back on my own life – all the longings, losses and disappointments – and as the season of Christmastide (Advent, Nativity and Epiphany) approached, I began to realize experientially, perhaps for the first time, the deep connection between “inconsolable longing” and the Advent of Christ. The phrase Keening for the Dawn came to me, and I knew a song was coming down the pike.

Early in the new year (2012), I went on a retreat to attempt to do some more songwriting. While there, Malcolm happened to send me a sonnet he had written for Epiphany, which immediately stimulated a song.  Later he sent me a short poem called Descent.  Again, a song was born.  Soon, several more songs emerged, and it became apparent that a complete project was presenting itself.

Malcolm and me
Malcolm and me

Eventually, I realized that I needed to return to England to work on this with Malcolm.  Dear friends provided the funds for travel costs, and in the spring, I found myself back in Cambridge, putting the finishing touches on the songs that have become the content of my new CD.  One of the more satiating memories of my professional career came at the end of my time in England, when Jeremy, Malcolm and I sat around Malcolm’s kitchen table for the better part of a day, pouring over each word and note, wringing every nuance of meaning we could out of the material we had to work with.

Dave (my manager) and I knew right away that we wanted to enlist the creative help of Murray Pulver (Doc Walker and Crash Test Dummies fame) to co-produce the album . We brought in the wonderfully imaginative Gilles Fournier (bass), Daniel Roy (drums), young Joey Landreth (dobro), with Murray on electric guitar. Quite quickly, we found a “sound” that became the backbone of the project.  On this track, we added Brent Barkman (B3),  Roy Salmond (accordion), Rick Lazar (percussion), and the female voice you’ll briefly hear is my beloved daughter, Sarah.



Keening For The Dawn

music Steve Bell   lyric Steve Bell, Malcolm Guite

On and on the night goes on
Brooding dark before the dawn
We are waiting
Worried lips rehearse our creeds
Bellies swollen with your seed
We are waiting
Hardened shards of broken bread
Small consolations in your stead
Soured wine a tonic for the pain
Dutifully we take our fill
Still we long to see your face again
Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of your touch
We are waiting
We are waiting

Hungry work, these endless feasts
Shrivelling as we all increase
We are waiting
Weary eyes take in the sights
Smarting under tinselled lights
We are waiting
Break the too familiar word
Hearing strains we’ve never heard
A double edge that pierces through the pain
All that we shall see fulfilled
The dawning day we see your face again
Keening for the dawn as such
Stirs the memory of your touch
We are waiting
We are waiting


To read a review of Keening for the Dawn by Kevin Belmonte, click HERE

Preveiw and purchase Keening for the Dawn HERE