The Quail Song

The Quail Song is by Michael Kelly Blanchard. It’s a reflection on Exodus 16. The people of Israel, rescued from slavery in Egypt, were now wandering through the wilderness towards their promised land. All was not going well. They were afraid and hungry, and more than a handful for Moses to lead. Without wanting to spoil the end for you, ultimately God sends them ‘bread from heaven’ in the form of a flaky stuff that settled on the camp every morning that they could make into bread. They called it ‘manna’ – literally, ‘what is it?’ And in the evening God sent quail into the camp so they’d have meat too. They were fed like this for the rest of their forty-year journey.

MKB released the song in 1977 – the same year Heather and I were married and, coincidentally, the same year that the Uniting Church was inaugurated. It’s been part of our personal soundtrack for most of that time. I learnt the song from Peter Campbell, who learnt it from Noel Paul Stookey. There’s along back story to that. I’ll spare you. I’ve been singing it since 1982 – in all sorts of seasons.

MKB gave me permission to record his song and share it. Some years ago, I emailed him a recording of it with some extra vocals and harmonica. He said “Nicely done. The harmonica at the end reminded me, in evoking camp fire memories, of a clever intro Noel Stookey gave to the Quail Song years ago. He enjoined the audience to remember the worst camping trip they’d ever been on then multiply by forty years to give some pertinent human context to the song he was about to sing. :-)”

Anyway, the song came back to me when we were launching my new book Angels in This Wilderness: Reflections on the Journey of the Uniting Church in Australia last Thursday. The Quail Song is a good companion piece to that I think.

And, of course, in this season of “La Peste” with all this self-isolating, quarantining, anxiety about vulnerable loved ones and neighbours, panicking mobs , hoarding etc., I think The Quail Song has a hopeful resonance.

So, I’ve followed the lead of musicians great and small everywhere and used my tablet to capture a performance of the song in my home. The sound’s pretty awful, but the intention is kind. That seems to be an essential part of this particular genre. Enjoy the song, and stay safe and well.

Angels cover


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