Friday, April 19, 2013

Lights of the World

 By Clive Price

As a young person on a seemingly endless search for some kind of spiritual comfort, I found solace in the music of Parchment.

This progressive folk-rock outfit from Liverpool – initially John Pac, Sue McClellan and Keith Rycroft –  had become local heroes in north-west England. They achieved far more than many other acts of their genre at the time, in the 70s. They made the charts at home and abroad, recorded Top Of The Pops, played Wembley, the Royal Albert Hall, Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square. Their song Light Up The Fire became the anthem of a socio-political movement, and to this day is still one of the most sung compositions in school assemblies.


But all of that was secondary to me. I appreciated Parchment because, even though they were part of the religious music scene, they wrote about fear and doubt – words you weren’t meant to mention in church circles. They also understood that not everyone spoke Christian jargon with an American accent, and so their lyrics were down-to-earth, sometimes even mystical and often coloured with Scouse! And they used unorthodox sounds of wailing guitar, sitar and haunting vocals.

My friends and I would frequently travel to Liverpool to see them in concert. We’d also see them at the Greenbelt arts festival. I really liked Sue, with her heavenly voice and mysterious looks. I remember chatting with her once, and I kept thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m chatting with Sue McClellan, in her van!’ Silly, I know, but Parchment had a big impact on me.

Their song Light Of The World is a brilliant example of their craft. A guitar gently weeps George Harrison-style, the bass punctuating the intro, while the track opens with the words, ‘Holy Jesus of the seeing eye, gaze upon me in my dreams’. What on earth? Who else could get away with lyrics like that, in a starched evangelical sub-culture? Only Liverpudlians could manage that! I remember that line captivated me, as there’s always been a part of me that’s been open to mysticism. So for me, a prayer starting with ‘Holy Jesus of the seeing eye’ was a winner. John’s Scouse accent came across as he sang ‘making everythink alright’ instead of ‘everything’. I love that!

Then there was that strange song Green Psalm where Sue proclaimed, ‘I’m a daughter of the earth/Planted virgin at my birth/Like the breeze before it mingles with the dew’. These guys were treading on dangerous territory – how dare they mix spirituality, sexuality and virginity! Some clergymen must’ve surely been quaking a little at that, fearing their youth groups might become rampant New Agers after listening to Parchment.

Perhaps one of the most helpful tunes spiritually was Corners Of My Life, which spoke of our complete fragility and helplessness as we surrender to the Great Unseen, ‘walking where the angel showed’. The lyrics talk of being ‘possessed’ (in a good way!) and ‘casting off this heavy load’. It’s a very powerful prayer. All of these compositions were comforting and assuring, as I struggled with questions of faith and doubt. I warmed to the possibility that God might accept me after all, even with my darkest fears.

And now we’ve been faced with the very sad news that John Pac passed away on 22nd January. I’d met with John at various times over the years. He may have often wondered exactly who this eejit was, bugging him with stories of Parchment’s early days! Later on, we worked together on a project, and he was always fair with me. John not only nurtured and produced other artists – but also led development work in the Amazon basin with his wife Juliet. I can’t believe he’s gone, as he and his music were so much a part of my early search for spiritual fulfilment.

All I can say now is – thanks, John. See you some time. You did well. You did very well.

 With thanks to Clive for permission to use this article he posted first on his blog.