The music played on BBC Radio 6 Music is nothing if not eclectic. Responding to a request this evening, Steve Lamacq played Nina Simone’s New World Coming.
The opening lines might be those from any popular song of the 1960s or 1970s. those of a certain age might compare Simone’s lyrics with those of songs like Roger Whittaker’s New World in the Morning:
There’s a new world comin’
And it’s just around the bend
There’s a new world comin’
This one’s comin’ to an end
There’s a new voice calling
And you can hear it if you try
And it’s growing stronger with every day that passes by
There’s a brand new mornin’
Rising clear and sweet and free
There’s a new day dawning
That belongs to you and me
Yes there’s a new world comin’
You know the one I’m talkin’ about, the one we’ve had visions of
And it’s comin in peace, comin’ in joy
Comin’ in peace, comin’ in joy
Come in peace, come in joy, comin’ in love
The song might have passed by unnoticed, it might have been background noise to the washing up, if the lyrics had not changed from being the sort of lines found in a folk ballad to being words from the Book of Revelation, the last book in the Bible:
And I saw another sign in Heaven
Great and marvellous
Seven angels having the seven last plagues
For in them is filled up the Wrath of God
And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire
And them that had gotten the victory over the beast
And over his image
And over his mark
And over the number of his name
Stand on the sea of glass
Having the harps of God all around them
Steve Lamacq’s listeners are plentiful. Radio 6 is a digital-only station, not something that can be casually found while scanning the FM waveband, yet he still attracts a daily audience of around a million. How many of those would have recognised the source of Nina Simone’s words? Perhaps the song seemed no more than a piece of easy listening, but, if it did, then it lost its power.
The Book of Revelation is a strange book. When the early church was considering which books should be counted as “scripture,” there were questions about whether Revelation should be included at all. It is a book which has provided diverse groups of Christians with quotes to support their own ideas. It is a book that has led to churches claiming their truth is the only one and to them condemning to Hell those who do not agree with them. Ultimately, though, and the reason why it would have inspired Nina Simone, Revelation is about triumph over evil, about the persecuted being rewarded and the persecutors being punished.
It doesn’t seem likely that many of those listening at six o’clock were aware that they were listening to a song about heaven and hell.