(click on the pics to enlarge)
I've blogged about Duncan McNeill (also spelled as M'Neil and McNeil) before - he was a Glaswegian Baptist Pastor (of a church in Orr Street near Bridgeton Cross) whose singing ministry in the early 1900s resulted in him recording a few 78s and in writing his own songs and hymns, which eventually became his own self-titled hymn book. 100,000 copies were printed and sold in Britain. People both in Ulster and Scotland have given me old copies, I think I have 4 or 5 of them now (you can see a scanned cover of one at the bottom of this post) and Graeme and I have recorded some of his songs over the years.
McNeill came back to mind recently when I was sent an American edition of his hymn book (cover shown here, published 1928). So I did a bit of desk research and it transpired that McNeill travelled across the Atlantic in 1926 and pastored in Kimball Avenue United Evangelical Church in Chicago from 1928 until 1933. As he says in the foreword "during the two years I have been singing and preaching the Gospel in America, I have received thousands of requests for copies of the words and music of my song testimonies. After singing them over the radio, from different stations, I am deluged with requests thru the mail for the book from which I sing..."
During his time at Kimball Street, the church history says that"...under his leadership the church continued to emphasize evangelistic meetings. Outreach continued with outdoor Sunday evening services at the corner of Kimball and Fullerton prior to the evening service at the church. Fellowship groups developed and thrived during this period. The Kimball Young People's Fellowship, led by church's young adults, provided Bible studies and social activities for the church's young adults. Relationships that formed in that group continued long after many of them had moved from the area. Christian Comrades, a group for women, began under the leadership of Grace Linden and others. The 'Cozy Corner' monthly newsletter continued for years and was sent around country, connecting friends to one another and Kimball Avenue. Other organizations included the Protheons, Philathea Club, Excelsiors (for men), Shipmates, Lifesavers, the Women's Missionary Socity and the Ladies Aid Society. The 40 voice choir, under the able direction of George Underwood and Clyde Barton, performed annual concerts and Easter cantatas. Several men entered the ministry..."
Fast forward to the present day. Last Sunday night at Maranatha Mission Hall in Carrowdore, the speaker was a man from Ahoghill in County Antrim. He brought a soloist with him, who sang the Duncan McNeill song "My New Address", which is more usually known as "Along the Glory Road". It was a favourite song of my grandfather's and is in the American edition of McNeill's hymn book, but not in the Scottish one - the chorus goes:
"My house is Free Salvation, tis on a good foundation
The doors are marked with Jesus' precious blood
My house is Free Salvation, near Hallelujah Station
Just a little bit along the Glory Road"
Also in the 1928 American edition of the hymn book is "Happy Joe", which I learned at Sunday School back in the 1970s when it had the very un-PC title "Darkie Joe" (lyrics here) and which might have been recorded in Belfast in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
• There's a compendium of McNeill's Scots language songs over on my "Sacred Scotch Solos" blog.
• Listen to Duncan McNeill singing on Raretunes.org
• If you know more about him, and if he has any descendants today, please get in touch.