Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Greatest Hillbilly Gospel Song of all time

In his great book on the subject, American musicologist Bill C Malone defines the core of old-time country music as "...rural folkways, evangelical Protestantism and political individualism..." Amen to all three!

He also writes about the American musical scholars and song collectors (he calls them "the apostles of high culture") of the late 1800s and early 1900s deliberately ignoring gospel music, and choosing to focus on secular ballads and instrumental tunes. Kinda reminds me of the notion that was dominant in Northern Ireland when I was growing up, which to put it bluntly was "Prods have no culture".

What the people who spout such nonsense really meant was "Prods have no culture that suits my personal tastes or prejudices". These people would feel very comfortable supping a Guinness in the west of Ireland in some country pub, with an aran jumper and a copy of James Joyce. But can you imagine them in rural Ulster, neatly dressed in their Sunday best, with a worn Bible, and a well-thumbed oul hymnbook, and when the meetin is over enjoyin a cup o' tay and a wheen o' egg an onion pieces? (by the way, the egg and onion sandwich is Protestant Ulster's true national dish).

The mission hall / evangelical scene in Ulster even today still has some of the most brilliant gospel music you can experience. Not the U2/Snow Patrol - obsessed jangly over-amplified "praise and worship" bands living out a rock star fantasy, repeating the same phrase over and over and over and over and over again. No, the real mccoy, the "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" stuff where everybody of all ages is jammed into a simple wee hall, singing from their boots, with messages that leave you no millimetre of theological wriggle room and with tunes you'll have stuck in your head your whole life long.

The YouTube clip below shows the perfect example of this - "I Saw the Light" performed by Roy Acuff and Hank Williams. Superb archive footage. Hope you enjoy it.

Trust me, no one in Heaven is pondering the wooly sentimentality and false spiritualised intellectual guff of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For". They're far more likely to be singing with all their might - "Praise the Lord - I Saw the Light"!! And maybe Hank Williams is leading the chorus. (John Killian has a great post about Hank on his blog, here).

"...And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it..." Rev 21 v 23 and 24