Thou Shalt Not Suffer a Witch to Live: A Song

Click on Keith to hear me.

This tune – with its overtly religious language – is based on a book called ‘Pavane’ by Keith Roberts. I can’t tell if it’s a good book, but for some reason, it absolutely hit a nerve with me, and has become one of my favourite novels ever!

It is an ‘alternative history’ novel in four parts (I know!) with the depature point that Queen Elizabeth the First is assassinated by a Spanish spy, the armada beat the English, and consequently, the Roman Catholic church remain the dominant European power throughout history.

We then cut to the alternative 1980s (I know!) in which the church has suppressed all technological invention. People travel by sail cars, goods are transported by steam road-trains, and messages are sent up and down the country by giant semaphore towers.

The story follows four different, interrelated characters on their journeys (I know!) around this alternative Britain.

I bought this book at a car boot sale (I think), so my expectations were low, but I read it over about three weeks of bus journeys to work in South East London, when I was at a particularly low ebb. And in that way that fiction sometimes gloriously can, I was offered solace!

Musically, it’s pretty straight forward. It uses a tuning of DADF#AE (with a capo on the 3rd fret). Me on guitar, Tom French on bass, playing a very complimentary and interesting bass line, I think.


In this, the year of out exodus, bestow rules and regulations upon us. Give us a sign; bring forth the marrow, barbed and snared with a hundred prayer arrows.

In the heat of a guilty sun, what will happen when the signals have gone? Take it all back; the fields lay fallow. Our heads are fully fledged, our hearts remain callow.

But this above all things, do in remembrance of me.

Ischemic beat of a muffled drum is sounding louder than it’s ever done. Grasp at the reins; avatar come closer, the coast is clear for another grey dagger.

On the cliff top you faced the hun, and told the crowd of the world to come. Look at the sea; the tender life you gave, your cowl rippled, you embraced the wave.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, the old ways are dead and they’ve got nothing to give. Semaphore towers are holding us back, ivory castles are ripe for attack. Fortified Corfe gleams in the sun and on the heath Lady Margaret burns.

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, drawn of the rack ‘till every sinew gives. Semaphore towers are holding us back, ivory castles are ripe for attack. Cow tow to Rome and levy tax, work the stone and break your backs, dream of all your country lacks, the kiss of peace, the iron pax.  

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