Recording “Long Time Sun” – Getting It Wrong and Making it Right

Growing up in the Kundalini Yoga community, the Long Time Sun song was woven into the fabric of our lives.  Anyone who has taken a Kundalini Yoga class knows it is sung at the end of every class.  But in our communities, we also sang it at the end of  birthday parties and community gatherings and sometimes even before going to sleep at night.  We sometimes sing it at the end of meetings and to end large events.  It has become a way to close almost anything in a positive way.  I don’t remember where it’s origin story first became a part of our collective consciousness, but many of us thought that these words were an old Scottish blessing:

“May the Long Time Sun Shine Upon You, All Love Surround You, and the Pure Light within you, guide your way on.”

At some point in my teens, I discovered that the words were originally recorded by the Incredible String Band in 1968.  This didn’t initially seem like it changed the facts of the origin of the words – the Incredible String Band was Scottish, so it seemed perfectly plausible that they would record an old Scottish blessing.

Fast forward many years later, my record label, Spirit Voyage, was producing Snatam Kaur’s album ‘Grace’ with the song ‘Long Time Sun’ on it.  Since the words were an old Scottish blessing (I believed) this would be considered what we call ‘public domain’ in the publishing industry, which means it can be used without worrying about copyrights or ownership of intellectual property.  We recorded the song and released the album in 2004, and it went far and wide and is still listened to by hundreds of thousands of listeners every day.

In 2012, we heard from a large music publishing company’s lawyer.   They showed us that the song had been registered in 1968 by its writer, Mike Heron as part of a song called ‘A Very Cellular Song’.   I was certain they were simply mistaken.  I believed that the rest of the song must have been written by Mike Heron, but this last part was public domain.  But the legal counsel was adamant.   I was so certain this was not true that we hired an Irish and Scottish scholar to research the blessing.  I had seen the words written on the entrance to a hospice center, on church memorial service programs, carved in streets and inscribed on walls of countless yoga studios: it just seemed unfathomable to me that it wasn’t a part of an ancient tradition.

But a few weeks after hiring her, the scholar came back with a response.  First, there is no record of this blessing pre-dating the Incredible String Band’s recording.  Second, the sun is so precious and short-lived in Ireland and Scotland that she believes you would not hear about it referred to as the “long-time sun.”

So we had to face the facts that we had recorded a song written by someone else.  We had to make it right and after much communication back and forth, we made up for years of back royalties for using these beautiful words.

Willem Wittstamm, a Kundalini yogi and author from Germany, did more research about the words and uncovered some very interesting history facts about the song.

This song was the farewell song at the Incredible String Band’s concerts (they played it at Woodstock and ending many of their concerts in the late 60’s and 70’s).

The Khalsa String Band, who played a sort of folk/bluegrass style music at many of the 3HO events in the early years, often incorporating covers of songs with yogic words, were playing this song one day.  After that, it started being played on a regular basis and soon it became a tradition.  With its powerful message and profound words,  it became the practice to end every Kundalini Yoga class with this blessing.

A famous festival in Australia called the Aquarius Festival made it their anthem.  It is carved in the streets of Nimbin, Australia and has been the theme of a migration to an area of Australia called the Rainbow Region.

It’s truly incredible what the creativity of one man gave birth to.   If you are recording a version of Long Time Sun, please be sure to register with Warner Chappell and pay proper mechanical royalties for use of Mike Heron’s words.    He has certainly  earned it.

Source: Recording Long Time Sun – Getting It Wrong and Making it Right – Spirit Voyage Blog

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One thought on “Recording “Long Time Sun” – Getting It Wrong and Making it Right

  1. I would like to clear up a widely held misunderstanding expressed in Michael’s post. Royalties are never paid by artists recording someone else’s works. Recording musicians who use other people’s works usually ask permission as a courtesy. Permission is never required. What IS required is that the re-user register the new recording with his or her Reproduction Rights Organisation (SOCAN in Canada, ASCAP or BMI in the US for example) thus enabling the PRO to collect royalties on behalf of—in this case Mike Heron—from broadcasters and other distributors of the new recording.

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