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
2 thoughts on “Recording “Long Time Sun” – Getting It Wrong and Making it Right”
Warner Chappell notwithstanding, I would venture a bet that Mike Heron is pleased as hell that his song, “Long Time Sun,” has entered the canon of folk music. The folk process is a magical centrifuge into which songs of all kinds are thrown. The passage of time and the dipping into the collection of music by following generations brings out what we, perhaps unthinkingly, call Folk Music. None of these songs wrote themselves.
In the nineties my wife and I were travelling in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. At a village concert—perhaps it was Inverness or Mabou—a fiddler by the name of Rodney MacDonald played a set that contained “Jack McCann” a tune I had written and recorded in the 70’s with Barde. I thought it was a little odd that he didn’t name the composer, but I just went up to him and thanked him for playing it so well. “Oh my god,” says he, “Everybody around here plays it. We all thought it was a traditional tune. So you made Jack McCann? ” “Well, yes, I did.” “My god”, says Rodney, “I just recorded it on my latest album but your name’s not on it. Now, Oh Jesus, I suppose you’re going to put me in jail!”
I laughed and told him that such mistakes were common and that I’d been guilty of the same thing in the past. We had a good chuckle and that was that. What I didn’t know that day was that Rodney MacDonald was not only a fine fiddler and champion step dancer, but also a lawyer who went on to become the Premier of Nova Scotia about ten years later. Good thing I didn’t put him in jail!
The folk process is how our creative work enters the web of our cultures, allowing folkies to settle into tune after tune in pubs the world over and, just for a moment, feel a part of the creative collective unconscious. Call Mike Heron and I wager he’ll tell you the same thing.