Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

A year ago I set out a number of resolutions for this site and sadly many of them were never fulfilled. But it didn't matter because a great many other things happened and 2008 proved just as interesting a year as 2007.

Let's look first at what I set out to do:
  • I promised to post more material from Buzz. Sorry, haven't got round to it.
  • I called for more reviews of Parchment's work and indeed found an intriguing blog review of Shamblejam. And there were features on one or two of the band's songs.
  • I wanted to continue to find out about the Grapevine label and its artists - and yes, that enjoyable search has carried on.
  • I wanted to know more about Trinity Folk, the first incarnation of Parchment. Maybe one or two clues emerged but there's still a story waiting to be told.
  • And then there was Roundabout 2008, part of Liverpool's year of European culture. We completely missed the long awaited reunion in July, which featured the Rycroft cousins, and I see we've missed a couple more events in the autumn and another chance to hear Keith Rycroft perform.

As I said at the outset of this blog, it's a hobby, fitted into the corners of my life. Nevertheless I hope it continues to encourage others the way it encourages me. It's got going over the last couple of years because people have joined in and shared their memories, their love of the music that has emanated from Parchment and the musicians associated with the band and even how it may help point to God.

Next: so what did we get up to in 2008 and how did I managed to find 28 postings about an obscure band that folded 30 years ago?

Happy New Year and I hope it's even better than yesterday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where the Cross and the Manger Meet

This is a song from River's third album Shadow and Flame.

It's a great song, written by Sue Rivers Mack, aka Sue McClellan of Parchment.

"....A saviour born to show eternal life begins
Where the cross and the manger meet."

Here's a link to the full lyric.


HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Pandora

I've noticed a number of visitors trying to access the Pandora "world of Parchment" radio station we created some time ago. Many will have been disappointed because, for some reason, Pandora's activities have been restricted to the USA recently. The issue appears to be something to do with copyright licensing.

This is sad as Pandora offered an interesting collection of music, old and new, along with quite a sophisticated analysis. It introduced me to quite a number of bands and singers and led to the purchase of a number of CDs, It had just included its first Parchment tracks, from the Under the Silent Tree compilation CDs.

The last.fm radio site contains a Parchment page and a "Parchment" radio channel, largely based, so as I can see, on the Folk is a Four Letter Word 2 CD. Last.fm also has a small "Xian folk" group but the station doesn't seem to have the range of Pandora.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sound Vision in Concert

This 1970 live album is the only live recording I've been able to trace of Trinity Folk or Parchment in concert. In spite of regular appearances at major events over the next eight years, the band were never again captured live on vinyl. Trinity Folk, at the time a four piece, played Working Man and Laugh ("I want you all to laugh") and also feature providing backing vocals and music to compere Judy MacKenzie.

A live album was made of a similar Sound Vision concert a year earlier in 1969 called Alive!. That featured a young Graham Kendrick performing in his beat band Whispers of Truth.

Aside from Trinity Folk (pictured here), the 1970 album has other interesting features, as I discovered when I ripped it to mp3 and listened to it a few times. Among the performers was a young folk trio called Carol, John & Aubrey, who sang folk harmonies, rather like Peter, Paul and Mary. When I first obtained the album in the early 70s I used to think their mid-60s style was rather dated but listening again, their songs have become interesting, if only for the lyrics. I've been unable to find out any more about this trio - perhaps they will stand up and identify themselves!

Their first song Sunday Morning is striking in itself - "He's the man in pinstripe trousers, never goes in public houses...goes to church on Sunday morning". The song describes a middle-aged man of impeccable virtue, especially by modern standards, but "deep inside there's something missing, something he can't explain."

On the face of it it's straightforward evangelicalism - going to church does not make you a Christian. But look at the youth of the performers and listen to it again. It's also a generational challenge from the young to the old. Listen to it now and you realise it is equally a challenge to that self-same generation, now middle-aged, still going to church but have they lost their First Love, their youthful zeal? How have they survived four decades? And where is the modern generation of youth challenging its elders?

Then there's their third song Hands. Here are the lyrics. The song is attributed jointly to the band and Doug Barnett:

Whose hands are these so fragile and white,
playing on Mary's cheek on this cold, lonely night?
These are the hands that flung stars into space,
made mighty oaks, gave the eagle its grace.

Whose hands are these?

Whose hands are these in compassion and care
stretched to the leper bound down with despair?
These are the hands that made all things good;
these hands can feel where no other hands could.

Whose hands are these ripped open by nails,
bound to a cross while the mid-day sun fails?
These are the hands that bought sin and set free,
bring to your life God's true liberty.


Note the third line. 12 years later it was "sampled" by Graham Kendrick (who played backing guitar at this concert) for his popular and evocative song Servant King. A quick google reveals that Kendrick's line "hands that flung stars into space to cruel nails surrendered" is now regarded as one of the most poetic phrases to emerge from modern Christian music. If indeed this is the original source of this striking phrase, it  has never been attributed.

There's a full tracklisting on Sound Vision now posted on the archive pages here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The lost album - full credits

John Pac has supplied the full list of credits for the lost album:

1/ Money Honey (Jesse Stone)
2/ Wild, Wild Woman (John Pac)
3/ I Really Don't Mind/Jet Plane (Sue McClellan)
4/ Denomination Blues (Washington Phillips)
5/ Chicago North Western (Juicy Lucy)
6/ Fast Train (John Pac)
7/ Morning Love, Morning Freedom (Sue McClellan)
8/ How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live (Ry Cooder/ Alfred Reed)
9/ Tom (John Pac)
10/ You Mean a Lot to Me (Sue McClellan)
11/ We're Over Here (John Pac)
12/ People and Places (John Pac/Sue McClellan))
13/ A Matter of Time (John Pac)

Band members: John Pac, Sue McClellan, Jeff Crow

This shows the album had more original songs than I thought at first. Wild Wild Woman and Chicago North Western were to have been singles. I had tracked down several other "wild woman" songs but John's rendering of the concept compared with the best of them.

He says Wild, wild woman was not written for anyone in particular. Fast Train was written for his future wife, who lived in the west of England and Tom was written for his cat Mr Jinx.


There's still uncertainty about what will happen with the material. John's current thinking is that it's too unfinished to publish as a cohesive album. It would be a shame if the band's many fans never got a chance to hear any of it. If you're one of those, why not post your ideas here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Eurovision Entry

John Pac's been in touch about the lost album and revealed a fascinating snippet of information - the song People and Places was in fact written as an entry for the 1974 Eurovision song contest. John says it "did quite well" but didn't make the final six in the Song for Europe contest that was used to select the British entry. If it had made the shortlist, it would have been sung by Grease star Olivia Newton-John, who had been chosen by the BBC to represent Britain that year, and sang all the short-listed songs on primetime TV.

She went on to sing a song called Long Live Love, which, ironically, was a pseudo-gospel number. It didn't win - there was stiff competition that year. The winner was an obscure band from Sweden called Abba with a song called Waterloo.

Resisting the temptation to post a youtube video of Abba, here is the British entry. And here's a link to the sample of People and Places that's available with the Simply...Parchment CD (see left). I know which I prefer - but could Olivia Newton-John have sung the song as well as Sue McClellan? People and Places was, of course, re-recorded by the band for the Rehearsal for a Reunion album.

More on the lost album to follow...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

News from the Grapevine

Grapevine artist Dave Price, half of Dave and Dana, has posted some news on the blog. Dave and Dana recorded one Grapevine album, Morning Star, produced by Sue McClellan, and an earlier album Come on In with Pilgrim and produced by John Pantry. We were so impressed with their quality we tracked down two more great albums, Satisfied, their first self-pressed album, and their fourth album, Right Track, released on a Canadian label.

Dave's now in Mobile, Alabama, and still makes a lot of music, he reports, working in gospel, jazz and praise music. The name of the county, Mobile, comes from a Native American tribe, according to Wikipedia. Full details are here.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Pack Up Your Sorrows

Whilst mining YouTube I've come across an original version of Pack Up Your Sorrows played by its authors Richard and Mimi Farina together with Pete Seeger. It's a great recording and Richard Farina is playing the dulcimer, a much under-rated instrument.

Parchment's amazing version is of course nothing like this! Here's a sample from the CrossRhythms site.



Here's a link to our original posting on the history of this song...

Denomination Blues

Here's a YouTube posting of Washington Phillips' remarkable original version of Denomination Blues, from the 1920s:



The sweet-sounding instrument backing the song was apparently known as a dulceola but nobody quite knows what it was.

Parchment's second version of the song, recorded as the opening track on Shamblejam and familiar to quite a lot of people, is probably closest to this, relying as it does on John Pac's raw vocals and the simple mandolin accompaniment. The version that has emerged on the lost album
is lusher.

Phillips recorded two "parts" to the song. This part is Part I and doesn't include the notable line: if you ain't got Jesus, you's an educated fool.

More samples can be found at one of the labels that has released his songs on CD.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ry Cooder

The 'lost album' reveals the extent that Parchment MkII was influenced by Ry Cooder, who seems best described as a country/blues/folk musician.

The album contains two songs How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live and also Denomination Blues, which he popularised. The first was written in 1929 by "Blind" Alfred Reed and the second by Washington Phillips.

Denomination Blues was re-recorded for Shamblejam. Then for Rehearsal for a Reunion the band recorded Jesus on the Mainline, another song taken up by Ry Cooder.

So here's a great nine-minute video of Cooder performing Poor Man. I promise you the Parchment version is also terrific - and it's nothing at all like this.



And here's Cooder's version of Jesus on the Mainline:


To complete the circle Cooder has recently performed with gospel singer Mavis Staples, who recently headlined for Roundabout 2008 in Liverpool.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lost album - full tracklisting

This is the tracklisting of the copy of the lost album that has surfaced. It might not have been released like this, had it been issued by Pye in 1974/5, and might well not be released in this form finally.

Song authors are attached where known. At a guess I would say You Mean a Lot to Me and A Matter of Time are Sue McClellan compositions:

1/ Money Honey (Jesse Stone)
2/ Wild, Wild Woman
3/ I Really Don't Mind
4/ Denomination Blues (Washington Phillips)
5/ Chicago North Western (Juicy Lucy)
6/ Don't Like Being Away/Fast Train (John Pac/Band)
7/ Morning Love, Morning Freedom
8/ How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live (Ry Cooder/ Alfred Reed)
9/ Old Tom Cat
10/ You Mean a Lot to Me
11/ We're Over Here
12/ People and Places (Band)
13/ A Matter of Time

Band members: John Pac, Sue McClellan, Jeff Crow

I've found several songs with the same name as Old Tom Cat and Wild, Wild Woman but none seem to be the same ones as on this album. So they may be original compositions.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On first hearing the lost album

There have been moments of sheer undiluted pleasure, if not joy, over the last few years.

One of those was hearing Parchment's "lost" single You Were on My Mind for the first time. A second was hearing River's You Are There followed one after the other by that band's CDs.

The first hearing of Caedmon and Whitsuntide Easter comes close to this.

As does the unique experience of being privileged to be one of the first people to hear the lost third Parchment album that was never released by Pye.

It's surprising!

But only when you consider each of Parchment's albums had very different styles. Let's face it, they were one of those bands you never knew quite what to expect with each album, especially once you'd heard Light Up the Fire, the album. You'd listen to each one, waiting for the amazing sounds of the original album and not quite hearing them - yet on further listenings they'd be there, the mandolin, the harmonies, the folkie roots, Sue's backing vocals, John Pantry's subtle, clever production techniques.

And by the second listening you are hooked...

At first hearing, it's very country rock. The rhythm guitar is prominent in a way you don't hear in the band's other albums. By the second hearing, you realise it could be another Parchment great - an album which blends their distinctive sound and talents with bold adventures into a particular musical style.

Side 2 (or the second half) is terrific! We're Over Here sounds like an echo of Trinity Folk's folk-club roots. Old Tom Cat is a great prog folk track. And there's a radically different version of People and Places from the one released, sometime later, on Rehearsal for a Reunion. And the final track is amazing - it's just too short and needs a good fade-out.

Side 1 sounds, at first, a little like a pub band. Quite a lot of other people's songs. There's Denomination Blues, re-released on Shamblejam with slightly different production. Imagine too their  version of Ry Cooder's Poor Man.

What I've heard has an unfinished, bootleg feel - for instance not much of an intro to the album, if the track ordering is correct. Most of the tracks are quite short - few pass three minutes and some of the best songs could do with more fade-out.

I understand a copy was found on a cassette tape - so it's still not the master tape that John Pac had been searching for and may affect any decision about releasing it on CD. To my untutored ear it still sounds pretty good.

No doubt there are other issues affecting a release, copyrights, permissions - it could take a while.

My guess is that John must be thinking of a Simply...Parchment Part 2 - use most of these tracks, leave out the least original ones and throw in classics like Working Man, Zip Bam Boo, Golden Game and Shine on Me that were omitted from Simply..Parchment.

Full track-listing to follow and I hope in due course to get the go-ahead to post some samples of the music. The band for this album was John Pac, Sue McClellan, Jeff Crow.

This was the posting which detailed John Pac's original recollections about this album.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The poet and the elephant foot

A fascinating revelation gives a reason to mention another personality from this era. Our recent link to a review of Shamblejam, Parchment's third album, has thrown up a comment on the other site from punk rockster Bill Mason. Bill mentions that the cover shots for Shamblejam were taken in the London home of poet Stewart Henderson.

The picture shows Brian Smith, Sue McClellan and John Pac in settings which seem to have been lifted from the Victorian age. If you had the US version you probably only had the cover shot - I think it was a single sleeve album. The British gatefold version uses photographs front, back and inside with paraphernalia shots of paraphernalia such as a model elephant and lampstand. As always with this band, the artwork seemed to work brilliantly, reflecting in this case the hippy, folky roots of the music. Nowadays you wonder what they thought they were doing with an elephant-foot stool and a leopard-skin rug on an album which featured songs such as "Green Psalm".

And so to Stewart Henderson. It always seemed he must be closely connected with Parchment. Both came from Liverpool although there is no mention of Henderson having been involved in the Roundabout arts project. Henderson produced poetry similar in kind to the Mersey Beat poets, fun, simple in language, witty, short and thought-provoking. It seemed too good to be true that the Mersey region which had produced Roger McGough, Adrian Henri and Brian Patten could produce another equally talented poet. Yet it wasn't. In 1975 the Dovetail label issued an album of his poems Whose Idea of Fun is a Nightmare, produced by John Pantry . Henderson went on to have a successful career as a journalist, a broadcaster and a poet - although like others of his contemporaries his recent output seems to have been aimed more at childen and the schools market than anything else.

Nightmare was recently posted by the Ancient Star Song blog.

Friday, August 08, 2008

A curiosity



This version of the Light Up the Fire single has just gone under the hammer on ebay from a Spanish seller. There's a curious thing about it - the happy smiling faces on the front are not Parchment. They look like an early 70s pop or rock band. Does anybody know who they are?

Presumably somebody got their instructions mixed up at the printers. An oddity.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Grapevine's first album

Thornill, Thwaites and Coe Ride! Ride! 1976. Producer: John Pac. GRV101
Grapevine's first album was a popular Methodist musical that in 1976 made its London West End debut at the Westminster Theatre - and seems to have quite a story behind it. The musical, based on a story about John Wesley in London was written by Alan Thornhill, a Methodist minister who was also an established playwright. The music was provided by a young Australian musician Penelope Thwaites.

When it gained a place at a prestigious London theatre, the musical was placed in the hands of a notable director Peter Coe, who had been responsible for the first staging of Oliver! Cast members included Caroline Villiers, Gordon Gostelow, Brendan Barry, Richard Warner, Jeremy Anthony, Kim Goody, Raymond Skipp, Abby Hadfield and Jane Martin.

The recording must have been a coup for the new label. Sales were guaranteed and the aim was to reproduce the atmosphere of a West End musical.

And that was when the trouble began. There appears to have been some dispute between Alan Thornhill and Peter Coe over the staging of the show. The album reflects Peter Coe's direction and this seems to have included adding songs to the score. Thornhill's papers have been collected by Wheaton University, USA, and the catalogue gives a flavour of the correspondence that ensued.
More recently a new version of the musical was published and a CD released. The publishers of the new version Bardic Music state: "Recordings and publications connected with the 1976 London production are no longer sanctioned for use and are therefore in breach of current copyright." The copyright issue is being pursued with some seriousness as the Ancient Star Song blog discovered when it tried to post the Grapevine album. Penelope Thwaites posted on the Star Song setting out some of the background. None of this prevents interested listeners from buying second hand copies of the Grapevine album and they are still in circulation.

I'm no great fan of musicals but I quite enjoyed the vinyl version. And was that a mandolin I hear on some of the tracks?

Roundabout reunion

Well, we missed the Roundabout Reunion event.

It took place a month ago on July 5th. Roundabout was the Christian arts movement in Liverpool in the 60s/70s that seems to have spawned Trinity Folk, Parchment, Reynard. Roundabout 2008 has been endeavouring to catch the spirit for the city's European Capital of Culture Year.

The reunion featured Parchment founder member Keith Rycroft along with his cousin Dave Rycroft, who had played with Reynard.

it also featured the reconstituted Roundabout theatre company and local rising star Rachael Wright. She now has her own website and you can sample her music here.

Did anybody attend? How did it go?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

John Pantry

John Pantry was the production genius who worked on all four Parchment albums. He had developed his skills in parallel with the music industry in the 1960s, working with some of the big names of the era, most notably, I think, the Small Faces and the early (pre-disco) Bee Gees and enjoys semi-legendary status amongst fans of the genre.

Undoubtedly he played a big part in shaping Parchment's recorded sound. I've referred to him a few times over the last few years but had avoid a specific posting for fear of getting crucial details wrong. For instance I knew that Light Up the Fire was his first Christian music album but had heard he became a Christian after working on it. John went on to be a key player in Christian music, producing dozens of albums and launching as a solo artist and song-writer in his own right. He then achieved ordination in the Church of England before returning to music as a radio presenter with Premier Radio.

Premier has now posted a fairly full biography and that states that Pantry was converted before working on Light Up the Fire - so I stand corrected.

Other notable productions that he worked on included version two of Water Into Wine Band's Hill Climbing for Beginners - the US version - and several Grapevine albums, such as Unity's Changes, and Salt's Beyond a Song. Pre-Grapevine he had done amazing work on Dave and Dana's Come on In and the couple paid tribute to him with a terrific and passionate version of his song 'Empty-Handed' on their Grapevine album Morning Star.

Another interesting and early example of his work, Canaan, released on the Dovetail label, has been posted on the Ancient Star Song recently. The style of the band was country rock but the review refers to the "acid guitar" of the album. This was Pantry all over and it was a style ideal for the emerging Christian music scene in Britain as well as for the late 60s psychedelic music scene. One of his tricks was to pull out and highlight shortish instrumental rifts, enabling the listener to appreciate great musicianship. Think of all those great mandolin licks on the Parchment albums. Most studios, especially the Christian ones, buried these invidual sounds not having the skills or will to display them in the time constraints of vinyl. The cry of "we can't hear the words" didn't apply as Pantry knew how to balance singing with instruments.

So by the time Pac, Yates-Round and McClellan were producing for Grapevine they had learnt from a master.

Pantry's solo music style was very much man and piano, Elton John style, not necessarily to everyone's taste, but he was/is a talented song-writer. There's a discography and other information here at CrossRhythms, including a link to the Canaan story.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lost album found!

This is today's astonishing news.

John Pac has posted a four word message on this site: "It's 'lost' no more!".

This was the third Parchment album recorded with Pye records and never released. John Pac revealed its existence on the sleeve notes of the CD collection Simply...Parchment and over the last few months has been keeping this site abreast of the search for the album.

In February he told us he had found a cassette tape with "some" of the tracks.

Earlier he had shared some memories of the tracklisting and those details can be found at this posting here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Thursday's Child

MCC Thursday's Child Has Far to Go. 1979. GRV126

I was listening to my mp3 player the other day when a song called Sail Away came on. It was psych folk at its best - an ethereal woman's voice, lots of echo, a simple but haunting melody, grabbing you by the heart strings and twisting them tight. Who could it be? I wondered whether it was some of Judy Dyble's latest work. It was in fact the opening track of side two of this remarkable Grapevine album from 1979.

MCC consisted of Martin Colley, Rob Cox and Chris May and appeared to have been linked to the Reflections label, which had early pioneered the idea of Christians using progressive, cutting edge folk music and still has an on-line presence. The MCC members seem to have been involved earlier in the 1974 Sounds of Salvation album, which can be found here on this download site.

Many of the vocals on the MCC album were provided by other singers, the woman singer being Elga Askew.

This seems to have been a concept album based on the rather mawkish topic of a failing Christian marriage. Quite possibly it formed part of a touring show, using early 70s progressive musical styles to engage with 20 and 30 somethings.

Yet starting with the Moody Bluesish intro with a long fade-in, its production values are amazing. My second-hand vinyl copy came with a deep gouge in the first two tracks but my record player successfully played through it, slipping just a little, and editing software removed the clicks.

Worst failing? Like some other bands of the time they could not resist the temptation to attempt and parody West Indian music on the track Looking Up. It's not comfortable to modern ears.

MCC were responsible for the production. The copyright for the music was attributed to Parchment Music Ltd and the sleeve notes thank Sue McClellan for supervising the lead vocals and John Pac for his encouragement. Sue also helped with backing vocals.

The photo of the cover here, I'm afraid, does not do justice do the quality of the artwork.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Caedmon's Return

There's exciting news today that the band Caedmon has re-formed after a gap of some 30 years. Some analysts have listed Caedmon and Parchment as the two Christian acid folk bands of the 70s. It's probably a false categorisation as their musical styles of the two bands, both British, overlapped with a number of other progressive folk bands such as Reynard, Water into Wine Band, Candle Factory.

Here's a YouTube video of the band gigging together over the weekend:


There are plans for a new album and here's their new website, Caedmon's Return.

This is a link to our original posting on Caedmon where there's been quite a lot of discussion about the band's history and the question of whether their album rates as the greatest acid folk album of all time or not. There's a also an account of an unsuccessful attempt to form a kind of Christian acid folk supergroup between members of Parchment and Caedmon in the early 80s.

Ken Patterson of the band tells us they plan to introduce new instruments such as trombone, accordion and drumkit.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Shamblejam review

Here's a link to an interesting reminiscence about Parchment's third album Shamblejam.

It's an album that enjoys a kind of cult status in the blogosphere. It's unusual name makes it easy to track down references. It was also the only album released directly in the USA by Myrrh so it ended up as an oddity in quite a few collections. Whisky Prajer's comments are typical of what you will find - the listener knew nothing about the band, or even whether Shamblejam was the band or the album, only that here was a unique sound.

I'd find it hard to review the album. As with all the band's albums, my first impressions remain vivid. The first two tracks were familiar ground. The manic mandolin on Denomination Blues, the folk harmonies and pseudo-hippy mysticism on Green Psalm. Then it entered unfamiliar territory, borrowing from other styles and yet still quintessentially Parchment, both cheerful and reflective, even melancholy all at once. Great musicianship, great production, great song-writing and great singing from Sue McClellan. Follow the link for an account that describes this album far better than I can.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Manic Mandolin!

You Were On My Mind was recorded by the band as a single although so far as I can recall it was never released in a general sense.

I'd never heard of it until I spotted it on e-bay a few years ago and obtained a copy. It was then, marvellously, included in the Simply...Parchment CD collection.

Quite likely, the song was recorded because in those days British pop gospel bands tended to latch on to any pop songs with vaguely Christian lyrics. However the Parchment version was anything but reverent!

The original song was written by folk singer Sylvia Fricker, later part of the folk duo Iain and Sylvia, and became a top three hit in the USA in the hands of a beat group called We Five.

You can find both these versions on YouTube. And the Parchment version is nothing like either.

It is frankly, manic. By the time it gets to the refrain: "I got troubles, I got worries, I got crucified" the band is singing in a kind of blues harmony while the mandolin is pinging away. And then there's the fade out with each of the three band members singing parts in a glorious jumble of sound.

It's not on any of the original albums - understandably as it would not have fitted on any of them. If you can hear a copy compare it with Sylvia's original version or We Five. There's a sample at the link to Simply..Parchment on the left or here. Sylvia's original is slow and stately while We Five upped the tempo a little in an artless sort of fashion. The Parchment version is in a different league.

  • There's also a Wikipedia entry on the song.
  • More info on mandolins here.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

RIP Larry Norman

Rocker Larry Norman died a week ago. Larry was the single greatest contemporary performer and writer in modern Christian music, a troubled and radical man of unbroken faith who used his gifts to write great songs that were often as uncomfortable for church-based listeners as for the unconverted.

As many have commented, heaven will be richer for his presence and yet, one feels, Larry will expect to be no more than a busker in the corner of Paradise.

Writing about Hollywood Sunset, we commented on how both Norman and Parchment found themselves, almost at the same time, pushing at the boundaries of what was acceptable, even to those Christian listeners who had enjoyed and adopted contemporary media.

Norman's and Parchment's music were not at all obviously alike. Norman drew on rock and roll, blues and American folk, Parchment on beat, British folk and pop. But as much as any other performers they shared the same vision and challenges.

Keith Rycroft, of Parchment, has posted a tribute to Larry Norman on the CrossRhythms website (this link gives their full obituary). I hope he won't mind us reposting it:
I was in a group named Parchment in 1973 and had the experience of touring with Larry Norman. He was a talented if not a somewhat enigmatic individual. I am not sure what UK christians made of him. He was a larger than life very blond californian christian singer, not singing hymns, but singing 'songs'. Songs they thought they liked but weren't sure they should. He, like us at the time ,was attempting to inject a contemporary musical agenda into 'christian music'. I am sure he will be missed but not forgotten.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Strange Parallel World...

Ken Patterson, of Caedmon, has mentioned a recent programme on BBC Radio 4.

Presented by Paul Bayley, it's entitled The Strange Parallel World of Christian Pop and lasts just 30 minutes. Amazingly it manages to get through 30 minutes without referring to Cliff Richard or Graham Kendrick!

Starting with the CrossBeats in Liverpool, Paul gives an excellent tour of the way gospel musicians in the 60s and 70s pushed at the boundaries of music - and explains why so much has become so collectible recently. And yes there is reference to Parchment and the band's appeal to acid folk collectors.

You can find it here.

Caedmon

Ken Patterson, of the mega-obscure and mega-talented Scottish band Caedmon, has been contributing to an earlier post, from 2006, about this remarkable group.

You can find it all here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Vision

This song from Rehearsal for a Reunion is the first track on the Simply...Parchment CD collection. It's an interesting and significant choice.

I found myself in a car with a tapeplayer the other day and listened to Rehearsal straight through for the first time in ages. It's an under-recognised album, notable for its new songs and in particular for show-casing Sue McClellan's gift for melody and song-writing and her ability to render her own songs in a peerless fashion.

As if by coincidence I'd been in church the day before and we'd had a medley of the new worship songs. Now it's easy to sound fogeyish about new music and the truth is that in each generation, when there's an outpouring of new music, a lot of its dross and a small amount will last for ever. Nevertheless it struck me forcibly how badly constructed two of the songs were. In one case they had a verse and a melody that wasn't too bad but after a few lines it launched into the chorus. To sing the chorus - and I'm no musicologist - you had to launch immediately into a kind of ecstasy, singing in quite a high register. A lot of people aren't willing to do that, certainly not in a forced fashion. Then back to the next verse. And I thought, how much better it would have been if the song-writer had let the congregation build up gradually - singing the first verse, which wasn't too bad, and then just raising the pitch a little, allowing the singers to contemplate the words so they were ready for the grand finale of the final chorus...and then repeat it spontaneously if you like.

And then the next day I had Rehearsal on the tape and Vision came on. In the lyric sheet it seems to have just two verses and a refrain. The melody is driven by the metre of the words:
Slowly I stand, a vision I see

Taking my breath away it's open to me

Streets filled with life confusion and tears

Music so heavenly the heart only hears.

Then, lyrically, comes the five lines of the refrain (or perhaps not the refrain), No more you weep the angel commands.

Then the second/third verse comes in and the way that's treated, with harmony and playing with the melody, you think that's the refrain, building up to its last line.
When Jesus comes again be ready be wise

And it may be ..or maybe not.

For a second rendering of the refrain follows:
No more you weep the angel commands

Light like a mystery shines from his hands

Jesus is here, the waiting is done

Lay down your heavy hearts

A new world has come

Then the second verse is repeated twice, without the refrain, so that the line

When Jesus comes again be ready be wise

is the hook line.

So it's not a classic verse-chorus construction at all. In fact, treating it as if it has three verses, the construction is:
1,2,
3,2,
3,3

That's how you build a song!

Okay, this song would probably be murdered if used for congregational singing - but then I don't suppose anyone has ever tried to use the songs from Rehearsal for this purpose.

I would say that many of the phrases from Rehearsal have stayed with me all my life. They are those kind of songs. It was a good final album. Another example is Talking to You. Simple and to the point lyrics, beautifully rendered:

Talking to You is part of my day

I'm talking to you and all my fears wash away

Talking to You seems to make my dreams come true

And I know that I don't want anyone else but you

Once you've heard it on the album, it's unforgettable.

And the song-craft was later repeated when Sue McClellan wrote a series of songs for River. The same gift for melody and for rendering of songs is seen on the four River albums, probably most notably on the third short one, Shadow and Flame.

There's one other notable feature of Vision. It has a mandolin intro, making it an ideal candidate to kick off the compilation set.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2008

A year ago we set this site a number of tasks, little realising how well things were going to develop!

2007 was a terrific year and it's been a pleasure to hear from members of the band and from other musicians associated with the Grapevine label. Several people have submitted recollections, pictures and reviews. One or two promised them but haven't got round to it...so please don't give up. We're still waiting.

By January we'd worked out that Grapevine was, in effect, Parchment and therefore set out to find out more about its output. Over the year there have been reviews of albums and we've heard from artists such as Kevin Gould and Dave Kelly, who recorded what seems to have been the last album released by Grapevine. The development of music blogs elsewhere has made it possible for some of this music to be shared widely, as well as raising some difficult copyright issues.

We promised to post some of the features about the band from Buzz magazine. So far have three have gone up.

And we'd heard from John Pac. And a few weeks ago John came on the site and posted a number of comments and recollections, including some details of the lost third album. We also heard from the band's last member Pete Yates-Round and from Jeff Crow, who took over from Keith Rycroft and whose output was lost with the third album.

We've also during the year done work on the archive site, posting track listings for the four vinyl albums along with a Grapevine discography (which remains incomplete).

So what would we like to see happen this year?

First of all lots more contributions and photos!

Secondly we've got more Buzz material to post, especially from the Light Up the Fire era. There's probably also scope to mine material on album inserts and sleeves that not everyone has access to.

It would be good to have more detailed reviews and appreciations of Parchment albums and songs. Our posting on Hollywood Sunset led to a terrific analysis being submitted by an anonymous poster.

The search for the Grapevine story continues. There are still albums and bands to find out about and stories to recount - alongside the work the band did with the Pilgrim label.

We'd also like to know more about the band's early years, especially the story of Trinity Folk.

Then of course there's Roundabout 2008 in Liverpool which is already throwing up memorabilia but also seeking to foster new talent and fresh breath in the city of culture. It's already backing one young artist Rachael Wright and I guess a few people are looking forward to hearing her work. Let's pray for more.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Roundabout 2008

Liverpool's year as European City of Culture was launched today and over at Roundabout 2008 there are some developments too.

Of special interest is a collection of archive photographs. They include several taken at the Greenbelt Arts Festival, two of Parchment, one of Reynard, and several of Keith Rycroft.

The photos of Parchment are taken during a marquee performance, not mainstage. It's difficult to make out which line-up it is but it's not the original

Roundabout was - and I think still is - an arts project and drama group, which also provided a focus for some of the talented musicians who came together to form Parchment and other bands, such as Reynard.

The Roundabout 08 project seems to have developed slowly but also seems to be alive. There's one big event advertised so far, a concert by gospel veterans The Blind Boys of Alabama.

While in Liverpool, we should signpost another interesting site related to the city. This is the Crossbeats site which is packed with archive information from the 1960s and is where we obtained one of the pictures of the Trinity Folk that was posted earlier.