Saturday, November 19, 2011

Seth Sykes "Scotch Evangelists, Composers and Singers" and the Ulster link

Every now and again you meet people who are inspirational. One of these is a retired man from Shotts in Lanarkshire (I'll keep him anonymous) who shares all of my interests in old Scottish evangelists and their connections with Ulster. Earlier this year he sent me a box packed with records, books and home-made CDs of old 78s he has digitised, a brilliant collection. One of the things he sent me was a book entitled 'A Great Little Man - A biography of evangelist Seth Sykes', published in 1958. I have met people over the years who remember Seth and Bessie Sykes on their many trips to Ulster, especially to the Shankill Mission and other parts of urban Belfast. They were from Springburn in Glasgow; the famed Jeremiah Meneely of Kells in County Antrim held a tent mission in Springburn in 1884, the aftermath of which saw a number of gospel halls being established in Springburn. Some of the Sykes' songs still resonate with folk of my vintage and mission hall upbringing:

In the sweet bye and bye, in the sweet bye and bye
I have a mansion so bright and so fair
Won't it be lovely when I get there?
In the sweet bye and bye, in the sweet bye and bye
When the battle is done and we hear the 'Well done'
In the sweet bye and bye

Their chorus 'Thank You Lord for Saving My Soul' became world-famous. Their hymn book 'Songs of Salvation' includes the brilliant 'My Sins are A' Awa'. I am told there was a display of some of the Sykes' artefacts, including Bessie's portable pump organ, at the now sadly-closed Springburn Museum in Glasgow.

'A Great Little Man - A biography of evangelist Seth Sykes' has a marvellous photograph of the Sykes' in action at Largs in 1949, and also features two songs they composed specifically for their Ulster missions: 'He's My All in All' for the Shankill Mission, and 'Just Look Up (The Lisburn Chorus)'. It was getting this package from Shotts which drove me to start work on a similar biography of William MacEwan which I've been publishing here.

I have a fair amount of old items about the Skyes' - like the invitation below, showing that the old 'magic lantern' technology was a big part of their work. I think Derg Street was just off the Crumlin Road. Maybe when I get MacEwan out of my system I'll move on to the Sykes next!