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



55 thoughts on “Story of Keening For The Dawn

  1. Hey Steve,
    that is a beautiful song! I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album! This looks poised to be your most poetic! Your songs always bring peace into my world. Thank-you.

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us Steve. Great journey God took you to bring us the album, and great song that He gave you and Malcolm. Can’t wait to hear the whole album.

  3. Love to hear Sarah’s voice again. A perfect harmony. Looking forward to hearing all the rest of your stirred creativity.

  4. Can’t wait for the whole album. So nice to hear Sarah’s voice again (you two really should do another album together). Keep up the amazing work.

  5. Another great one! Love your gentle rhythmic drive with such sweet substantial harmony. I feel it lures me into the poetic message. Wish you much success with this project and look forward to its release.

  6. Thought-provoking! For me as a restless writer, this story left me keening – for something… maybe to go to Cambridge and soak up the wealth of wisdom from these brilliant, tender, charming characters. If I close my eyes, I can taste the beer and smell the warmth of a tweed jacket – a subtle blend of peppermint and pipe tobacco. I feel like one of them MUST be a distant uncle of mine.
    As for the song – it is rich with powerful and beautiful imagery; Catchy, flawlessly produced and performed. I am always impressed and relieved that we still have a few die hards left in this weathered music industry – soldiers like Steve, who will pour tirelessly into the creation of art to the highest standard of excellence on all levels. Thank you, dear brother. Cheers!

  7. Great lyrics – good to hear your voices together again. The B3 saves it from it being too country, not that there’s anything wrong with country … very interesting musically. Look forward to the album. Blessings

  8. Very nice! It moves along nicely and gives you a feeling of anticipation. “look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.” (Luke 21:28)

  9. Wonderful collaberation of very gifted artists. Poetry to music has so much more meaning!
    Thank you for this.

  10. Thank you Steve Bell, for speaking to where my heart is at this morning. When attending your concert in Waldheim, SK this summer, I was the woman on your right side of the audiance, sobbing throughout the evening. As you spoke so fondly of your mother and was worried about her in the hospital, I had just recently lost my father after a short but intense illness. And yes, no matter our age, our parents are still our parents and we miss them dearly when they are gone. Your concert comforted my lamenting soul.
    Now only 3 months later, I am dealing with the loss of our first grandchild. A much anticipated, long hoped for child. Our daughter and son in law had to release their daughter, Quinn, into God’s arms before they had the chance to hold her in their own. What a year of sorrow and ache this has been.
    And yet there is hope in all of this mess.and heartache. A dear friend prayed for our family a couple of weeks ago that our church family would learn how to “keen” with us as we walk through this sorrow.That word piqued my curiousity. I wanted to learn more about what that means.
    And now this morning, I see the title of your newest CD and I know that God is speaking to my heart again. Margaret Feinberg calls this a “sacred echo”.
    So, I look forward to your next concert near Saskatoon and will sit and listen to your newest album this coming season, shedding healthy tears as He comforts me.

  11. p.s. My husband has been told numerous times that he looks so much like Steve Bell. Just curious if you have ever been told you look like Jim? 🙂

  12. Steve,
    The story and the song are fascinating, intriguing and beautiful! (Should we have expected anything less?!)

    This sounds like a wonderful advent series of services! Any chance on the music and possibly charts 🙂 being availble for this advent season?

  13. Thank you for sharing both the title track, Keening for the Dawn, and the story behind the collection. As one with what seems like an inexplicable yearning for Celtic spirituality and locations, I look forward to receiving my CD and hearing more! What a wonderful series of collaborations, with very gifted artists, that are part of this collection. God has been at work for, in and through you!

  14. Thank you for this little treasure this morning, Steve! So appreciated hearing how the album was birthed! With God’s blessing!

  15. Wow, so beautiful. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album. Always so inspired. God Bless You and Yours, today and always.

  16. This is a song for all seasons in my book….. love it! You’re a master at catchy melodies which one can’t help but to sing along too, Steve! Can’t wait to hear the rest of the cd! And I Love that your daughter is singing backup with you… her voice harmonizes beautifully with yours!

  17. Superbly done with the same great level of quality that we have come to love for so long. Thank you for sharing the talent and giftedness that God’s given to you and the others that participated in this project.

  18. Wonderfully done! We are personally in a season of “keening” so somehow brings permission to be in that space, and speaks peace in the midst of it. Looking forward to the concert in Vernon.

  19. Steve,

    Wow! Way cool. Praise the Master Musician/Poet Guide for signalling with energy a creative path. Wonderful to read the delightful way opening/forward from an LA freeway to Eagles Nest, Cambridge to Keening for the Dawn. Loved hearing it, singing a bit of harmony with it (fun to hear Sarah’s voice with you, too).

    God bless and empower you these days before Advent. Peace, Hollis Kim

  20. Steve, I was so thankful for your investment in us at the pastor’s retreat in Saskatchewan. What a bucketful of treasure you brought us. I just thought I would let you know that I would love to help launch the new CD by hosting a give-away on my blog. I will be putting up a link so that individuals can come and buy your brilliant new CD. Blessings!

  21. Hi Steve, Hi Dave, Just a quickie note to say how wonderful it is to hear about the conception and birth of Keening for the Dawn – makes my heart sing just to think of it. (My refused to download it – darn!) So…..I ditto what Kevin Belmonte has said without even hearing this new creation yet. I can sense the sensitivity and joy that Keening for the Dawn has brought to each of you involved and the joy that we will all experience when we hear it. Looking forward to seeing you again at Johnston Heights Church in Surrey on Sat. Nov. 17th. Travelling mercies for all of you, love in Christ, Marilyn Jarvis, Vancouver P.S. Thanks for introducing Micah’s Band, Hope Atlantic and Deserts to all of us – love the name and love the song (yay! my computer cooperated and downloaded it!). Marilyn

  22. this struck a chord with me as I was in Oxford in August, purchased Humphrey Carpenter’s The Inklings at Blackwell’s and began to read whilst having a pint at the Bird and Baby.
    Steve, some of your songs bring to mind words in The Inklings penned by Lewis to the recently widowed Michal Williams after the initial shock of his friend Charles Williams’ death, “My friendship is not ended. His death has had the very unexpected effect of making death itself look quite different … At moments it seems quite tangible. Mr. Dyson, on the day of the funeral, summed up what many of us felt. ‘It is not blasphemous,” he said, “to believe that what was true of Our Lord is, in its less degree, true of all who are in Him. They go away in order to be with us in a new way, even closer than before.’ A month ago I would have called this silly sentiment. Now I know better. He seems, in some indefinable way, to be all around us now. I do not doubt he is doing and will do for us all sorts of things he could not have done while in the body.”
    These words in turn evoked images for me of the home, empty of endless disease, that I truly hone for.

  23. Steve! Brenda and I received the advance copy and we both agree it is a masterpiece for lack of perhaps even a better word.We are getting the word out and plan on taking advantage of the 10 CD pack offer. It is such a blessing knowing you and having the amazing privilege of hearing your music. Please consider coming down our way again. So many people miss you! We shall pray for healing of your wrist and your next visit.May blessings abound! Your friend, Lane Schermerhorn

  24. Have been impressed, in a positive way, –
    Could note how my liking for poetry
    became “instilled” by a good
    drama & poetry teacher, @High School,
    MORDEN, Mnitoba.

  25. Thanks, tis my Christmas album of this year of our Lord 2012. i was waiting for inspiration as to what to listen to to put us in the Christmas spirit. You’ve given it to us Steve.

  26. Hello all@!Steve, I always enjoy hearingf the stories of how a thing came to life for you. As you know God has so gifted you in the story-telling part, that even when you comment on a feeling ( how ” the word coursed through me like a mild shock of electricity. “) I am aware of understanding Spiritually what you mean. Love it. Love you! I hope Dave will share my recent “yearly” note to you. Do you remember meeting a guy on the coast years ago who gave you a ride to Prince George (I believe it was)? Shawn Barden? He is now my pastor. We spoke a bit about you yesterday and hope you’ll be able to come and see us in the not too distant future. Love, Betsy, Fernie, B.C.

  27. I got this CD used for $1.99 at the Sally Anne in Ottawa. Yeah, $1.99. I am absolutely loving it. I guess I am getting older as this music appeals to me. It’s on replay – no more Gangman Style or Lecrae, now it’s you Steve.

  28. bought this CD at your Sherwood Park concert (which was excellent!) and listened today while out and about… Descent made me weep — such beautiful descriptors for our beautiful Saviour! I wish i could share it on FB… Have invited my MB family to attend your Dauphin concert with me, God willing, next weekend when I go home for the holidays. Thank you for sharing your (and Malcolm’s) inspired gifts with us all 🙂

  29. You can certainly see your skills in the paintings you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.

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