Thursday, June 30, 2005

The lost album

According to John Pac's sleeve notes on Simply Parchment, the band made a third album with Pye that was never released. Pac says he has tried without success to trace the master tracks.

The album would have come between Hollywood Sunset and Shamblejam. We can only speculate what Parchment classics have been lost for ever. Presumably some of the songs ended up on Shamblejam. Would it have included the mini-masterpiece single You Were on My Mind which did not find its way on to an album until the release of the Simply Parchment compilation last year?

It must be one of gospel music's greatest mysteries.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Singles

1972 Light Up the Fire b/s Let There Be Light
Where Can I Find You/ Working Man
You Were On My Mind b/s Rock N Roll Part Time
You Are My Morning b/s Getting Out of This Town

A live version of Working Man, a pure folk ballad, was recorded by Trinity Folk on the Sound Vision in Concert album.

Where Can I Find You was on the Light Up the Fire album.

The third single contains two songs not recorded on any albums until last year. You Were on My Mind was a lost Parchment classic, now available on the simply...Parchment album. The copy I have is described as a promo, not for resale. The b-side appears to be taking the micky out of the one-time British pop star Gary Glitter (now disgraced).

The two songs on the fourth single are both from Hollywood Sunset. I remember the album being released with quite a lot of publicity but do not recall any attempts to promote this single. The title song of the album was in my view the most commercial song. You Are My Morning was a great ballad and may have been released on the back of a fashion for tear-jerker, guitar ballads, notably Terry Jack's Seasons in the Sun. Getting out of This Town is one of a number of terrific, poppy, up-tempo songs on this album.

And here's a picture of the original Light Up the Fire single sleeve, rescued from a second-hand shop sometime in the late 70s. All that hair! At some time I'll try to get a better copy.

When the song topped the charts

By August 1996, Light Up the Fire, by now also known as Colours of Day, reached number two in the charts.

The chart in question was a list of songs sung in British school assemblies.

The chart was printed by The Times on August 29th 1996 and was assembled from details of royalty payments for as many as 120,000 songs performed in schools. Not bad to be number 2!

Top of the charts was One More Step by Sidney Carter and number three, Who Put the Colours in the Rainbow. Carter's Lord of the Dance was number five.

Two thoughts:
First: Do the teachers who put Light Up the Fire on the assembly list have much idea what it is about?

Second: River's third album Shadow and Flame opens with a Sue Mack song that should again become a school standard. It is We Pray for the World and contains the mixture of lyricism, melody and compassion that is expected in a school assembly song.

The Times report apparently identified that the schools pay about £63,000 a year in royalties. It is good to think that Light Up the Fire's creators continued to be rewarded and encouraged at a time when Parchment was virtually forgotten.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Albums at a glance

1/ Light Up the Fire - Acid Folk
2/ Hollywood Sunset - Folk/pop
3/ Shamblejam - Acid Folk/rock
4/ Rehearsal for a Reunion - Folk/jazz/gospel

The hit single

I said Light Up the Fire reached number 31 in the British charts. According to it reached 32 in late September 72 having entered at 40 in mid September. The following week it disappeared from the charts.

These days that might represent a tally of no more than a few hundred sales. In 1972 it was no mean achievement...especially when you look at the competition.

In the top 40 of that week I counted no less than ten pop and rock classics. There were obscure songs by pop greats such as Cliff Richard, Elvis, Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson. The chart was headed by Slade's Mama Weer All Crazee Now, one of the greatest British pop songs of the 70s. David Cassidy was number 2 and T Rex's Children of the Revolution was 3.

Layla by Derek and the Dominoes (alias Eric Clapton, ISTR) was at 22.

Rubbing shoulders with Parchment's 32nd position there were, in ascending order Elvis, Elton John, Hawkwind's Silver Machine, Partridge Family, Peter Skellern, David Bowie. These were pop's greatest years.

Beneath them at 34 was Donny Osmond's Puppy Love and after that 10cc with Donna, followed by Alice Cooper School's Out (somehow missing the summer rush in the UK), Bee Gees, Hollies and Carpenters. Donny Osmond was in the top ten with another song.

Okay, it was achieved by a mass buying campaign organised by the Festival of Light. But it was a great record, a great song performed by a great band and the band was struggling to get air-play. This was not just because of the competition but also because many DJs felt, understandably, that the Festival of Light was getting at them. I understand there was a Top of the Pops appearance.

Here's a picture of the single's European sleeve. Sometime I will post a picture of the British single which featured one of those folk/hippy pictures of the band.

The story goes that the Festival of Light ran a competition for a theme song. The winning band/singer got to record a hit single and the runner up had their song recorded as the B-side. So Judy Mackenzie had her song Let There Be Light recorded as the B-side of Light Up the Fire. Sadly, it was given the sort of production attention that B-sides were given in those days and does neither the band nor the song much credit.

According to John Paculabo's sleeve notes on simply...Parchment the song was written by Trinity Folk and came to the attention of the Musical Gospel Organisation at a concert in Coventry Cathedral in February 1972. The band was encouraged to submit the song to the Festival and renamed as Parchment.

Many school children and young married couples now know the song as Colours of Day - but few of them will have heard the amazing original version recorded as the single by Pye with the aid of the production talents of John Pantry.

At Kamperland

Here's a great picture of the band in their last years together, taken at the Kamperland Festival in Holland in 1978.

John Pac, left and Sue McClellan, centre

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Acid Folk

Another sign of the Parchment mini-revival.

A compilation CD called "Under the Silent Tree" was released last year as the fourth in the series Psychedelic Pstones. It's part of a series collecting psychedelic sounding tracks from the 60s and 70s. Its sleeve bears the slogan "Suddenly the forest was buzzing with weird electronic feedback".

Among its 23 tracks, including the likes of the Kinks, are two tracks from the Light Up the Fire album, Son of God and Love is Come Again.

There's no point in buying the CD to hear these tracks - but it provides an insight into the band's unique sound.

According to one on-line reviewer (and there are several reviews to be found) "Parchment’s ‘Love Is Come Again’ has the same vibe as the Wickerman soundtrack but is shot through with melodies Fairport could've graced their first four albums with. "

Some catalogues classify Parchment's music as acid folk. It was the sitar!

Here's a link to the Pstones series on musicstack:¤cy=USD&find=Psychedelic%20Pstones

Was there another Parchment? attributes a number of other albums to bands called "Parchment".

In one case at least, Mothership Connection, Parchment is a misprint for a 70s funk band called Parliament, led by George Clinton.

Two others, Voice and Ride, are 12" records dating from the early 90s, suggesting they are remixes of Parliament tracks or products of a dance act of the time.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Trademark sounds

Clumpety clump
John Pac's folk club roar
Sue McClellan making new melodies out of old
Sue and the men singing in perfect harmony

Rough chronology

Late 60s - precursor band, Trinity Folk, begin the rounds in Liverpool. Sue McClellan joins aged 16.
1970? - Trinity Folk feature on Sound Vision in Concert album, recorded at a big event in Albert Hall, London.
1972 - Parchment formed with Sue McClellan, John Pac and Keith Rycroft. Light Up the Fire is theme song of Festival of Light. Released as a single, charting at number 31.
Light Up the Fire album released by Pye records.

1973 - Hollywood Sunset released by Pye records.
Keith Rycroft quits the band. Jeff Crow joins the band.
1974 - A third album is recorded with Pye but never released.
1975 - Shamblejam released by Myrrh records with Brian Smith as third member. Also released in USA. By now the band is based in Bristol.
1977 - Rehearsal for a Reunion released with Pete Yates-Round as third member. A new, slow version of Light Up the Fire is the last track. The band embark on a farewell tour.
1978 - Band's last appearance, at Greenbelt Festival, concludes with Light Up the Fire singalong
1976-? - Band form production team for Pilgrim and Grapevine labels.
1998 - River, led by Sue Mack, releases the self-published Praise Him in the Streets.
2001 - River releases Rise Like the Sun
2004 - River releases Shadow and Flame followed rapidly by River LIVE at Riverhouse, a recording of the Shadow and Flame launch concert on October 8 2004, featuring a mixture of their own music, Lennon and McCartney songs and world music.
2004- Kingsway Records, headed by John Paculabo, releases a 3-CD compilation album, simply...Parchment with the sub-heading Light Up the Fire
2005 - Parchment songs Son of God and Love is Come Again appear on acid folk compilation CDs.
2006 - River announces last gig to be performed in December

Introduction - Parchment who?

Parchment's Light Up the Fire album was the first record I ever bought in my early teens. I bought it sound unseen and my older brother played it to me through his stereo.

I listened to the remarkable sounds, amazing tunes, perfect production, raucous folk club humour and sweet voice of Sue McClellan and fell in love - with the music, that is.

In subsequent years I have seen others play Light Up the Fire and rush to place orders for it. But that was because they had never heard of it - despite relatively large sales and a single that made it to a massive number 31 in the British charts (more of that sometime later). The reality was that the band was for some time the brightest star in the British gospel scene but they were distinctly uncool.

For a teenager in the 70s it was a conversation killer. "What's your favourite group?" "Uh.....I'm into folk music, a band you probably have not heard of called Parchment." Folk was a 60s thing. In the world of heavy metal, disco, punk, funk, bop and Abba, Parchment should not have had a chance - yet they nearly made it.

I bought all their albums and saw them perform three times. I organised a school coach trip to a concert in Bristol - where they supported the guitarist Gordon Giltrap.

For years my affection for the band's music was deeply personal, shared by noone I knew, not even girlfriends. It is now shared by most members of my family

Now they are on the brink of a revival. And one key member deserves recognition for her persistence.

Their third album Shamblejam was the only one released in the USA and enjoys a kind of cult status - although still Parchment fans barely talk to each other. It also has the merit of being easy to find on search engines so you can soon see what I mean in blogworld.

Last year a three CD collection of their songs was released. It's called simply...Parchment. One reviewer condemned it as "rather twee". He had a point. The band's four albums all stand alone. Listen to their songs from a ten year period mixed up on a three CD set and you miss quite a lot. So if you want to check them out for the first time try to get hold of "Light Up the Fire" the vinyl album (or CD) - but not the single - or Shamblejam.

By the 80s and the age of synthesised music Parchment sounded dated. Even I rarely listened to them. Now music has come round in a circle and the best musicians, DJs and producers are interested in mixing sounds, using great voices and making the most of simple melodies. The Beatle's Sgt Pepper was one of the first to do this and the Parchment production team were heavily influenced by this and included people who had worked with Lennon and McCartney. Parchment themselves came from Liverpool and were also influenced by the Beatles. There is some evidence of this. So a 60s style folk band ended up being ahead of their time and a stage band ended up being a studio band. Listen to the way Sue McClellan's strong folk club voice became a soft but remarkably volatile and expressive microphone voice. She was 16 when she began singing folk music, I understand.

In the year 2004 I found reasons to enjoy Parchment all over again. There is no nostalgia trip. It is simply great and timeless music. Apparently others too are rediscovering the band as Kingsway Records thought it right to release their songs on CD. Kingsway is headed by former Parchment member John Pac (or Paculabo) but seem to have kept the release low-key.

And so to the really good news. Sue McClellan, now known as Sue Mack, has been recording again and songwriting since 1998. She has an all-women singing group based at a church near London. Their work is brilliant but they totally fail to fit into the current "thrash gospel" trend of 21st century Christian music and are largely known only in the south London suburbs and, apparently, back in Liverpool.

The group is called River and it is possible to download samples of Sue's songwriting at their website If you liked her work with Parchment, the song "you are there" will take your breath away. It had this effect on me when I discovered River last year.

When I first found River they were, again, a little coy about Sue's history with Parchment. Now it is fully declared and the band seem to have added Light Up the Fire, which Sue largely penned, to their repertoire. She has written most of the River songs and on the CDs is lead singer on many of them.

Their first CD Praise Him in the Streets is remarkable as it was released nearly 20 years after Parchment's last album 'Rehearsal for a Reunion' and yet sounds in many ways as if it is a sequel.

I am no expert on Parchment nor on music. I have been frustrated by the lack of information on the internet and what I post here will be gathered from a mishmash of sources and posted when I get round to it. This was to have been a proper tribute site but blogging is a good shortcut. I do not have the time to complete the research or to do the site.

Oh.. and something about Light Up the Fire, the song. It is a great song, especially when performed by Parchment, probably their greatest. It is now among the top ten school favourites in the UK and also appears in wedding books - but not in the most popular church compilation of new music, Mission Praise. And its origins, the way it came to be written and recorded, are a little controversial.