Thanks to an invitation by two friends, I was at a rare screening of two remarkable films by John T Davis.
“Power In The Blood”, the story of country singer Vernon Oxford’s evangelism tour in Ulster in the mid to late 80s was amazing. When he joined in with a local mission hall's open air meeting at the intense heat of an 11th Night Sandy Row bonfire, the Atlantic Ocean just evaporated.
His visit to Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church in Darkley (a place my brother and I have sung at) was deeply poignant – including a rendition of Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb, the hymn which was being sung when the bullets raked through the building that Sunday night in November 1983. The meeting was being taped, and audio clips of the singing being interrupted by gunfire were broadcast worldwide on news channels. Three men were killed, many more injured. Some of the congregation today were there that night.
“Dust on the Bible” is a wide selection of footage excerpts from evangelists in action, from Cornmarket street preachers to wee mission halls to a James McConnell rally at the King’s Hall, at around the same era. There was also a brief flash of the long-gone Fishermen's Hall on the Warnock's Road in Portavogie, a building I used to be able to see from my bedroom window as a wee boy.This page on the Queens Film Theatre website gives some info.
Below are two clips from “Power In The Blood” that I found on YouTube, of Vernon playing at the Prison Officer's Country & Western Music Club at the Maze Prison. Surreal as that concept is, it looks - and sounds - a lot like a tiny bar in Tennessee. His version of Where The Roses Never Fade was superb, but it's not on YouTube sadly. The other clip here is of an event on the Shankill Road.
One striking aspect of the films was the bleakness of Belfast, and the squalor of dereliction and bombed-out shells of buildings. We have come a long way.
These are, in my view, world-class art documentaries. They deserve a much wider audience, 20 years on. I am pretty sure that very few people in the world that the films capture even know they exist.