01 : God Bless the Master
02 : While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
03 : Windham
04 : Heavenly Aeroplane
05 : Christian’s Hope
06 : The Bitter Withy Mike
07 : Emmanuel Lal and Norma with chorus accompanied by Gabriel’s Horns
08 : Idumea
09 : Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy
10 : Come All Ye Faithful Christians Norma
11 : Green Fields
12 : David’s Lamentation
13 : Morning Trumpet
14 : Joy, Health, Love and Peace
First released in the UK 1977 by Topic Records 12TS 346 (vinyl) and KTSC 346 (cassette)
Re-issued on CD with remastered audio 2007 by Topic Records TSCD564 (alternative artwork used for digital download edition)
Mike, Lal & Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy: vocals
Gabriel’s Horns are Steve Heap cornet, John Adams trombone, Alex West tuba and Tony Engle C melody saxophone
Produced by Tony Engle
Recorded by John Gill at Riverside Studios, London, April / June / September / October 1977
Production, design and back cover photograph by Tony Engle
Front Cover: A Village Choir, from the painting by Thomas Webster, RA. courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum: Photography by Valerie Wilmer
This is a record to remind us of what we’ve lost since the flood of Victorian hymnals, notably Hymns, Ancient and Modern (1861), pushed out so many noble traditional melodies and replaced them with sanctimonious dirges, genteel but of small spirit.
The move towards a truly popular kind of hymnals had started at the outset of the eighteenth century with the young aggressive Isaac Watts and his Hymns and Spiritual Songs, and as the number of dissenting & evangelical groups grew so the use of folksong-based melodies increased, till by the time of the religious revival called the Great Awakening there was a mass of believers prepared to ‘take the Kingdom of Heaven by storm’ with forthright folk hymns to match their militant faith.
In this movement, Britain and America were inextricably bound together. A pioneer of the Great Awakening was George Whitefield (1714-1770), an English Calvinist (his famous chapel is in the Tottenham Court Road) who campaigned along the American seaboard among poor dissenters – many of them Quakers and Shakers of British origin – while a brother-preacher, Shubael Stearns, was stumping through the hill-settlements of the Central Appalachians. George Pullen Jackson has remarked that ‘practically everything these evangelists did was highly offensive to instituted religion. They romped over all denominational lines, preached wherever they could get a crowd, held extravagantly emotional revivals, spread salvation for all through faith and “believer’s baptism”‘. And notably theirs was an exuberant singing movement.
The Baptists and later Primitive Methodists were among the strongest promoters of folk style melody for pious use. Not the Wesleyans, who got off on the wrong musical foot. Influenced by Luther’s example, John Welsey – who perhaps despised British traditional tunes – filled his hymnbooks with German melodies, with airs by Handel, Giordani and other composers fashionable among the London elite. But other compilers of dissenter hymnbooks, particularly John Gennick (1718-1755), a reading-born lay preacher who broke away from the Wesleys to join ‘wildfire Whitefield’, were devoted to folky religious song, and their effort became specially powerful among American frontier communities.
This kind of song reached its highest pitch of enthusiasm when the camp Meeting movement began in Kentucky at the end of the eighteenth century, and expanded quickly through the eastern states and across to England, where ‘Crazy’ Dow and other revisionists spread the word of Primitive Methodism, whose followers were nicknamed Ranters because of their unrestrained singing.
Many of the songs in use among the Ranters were set to originally British melodies, transformed into camp meeting spirituals in America, and now returned to their homeland in new and powerful shape. Incidentally, the Primitive Methodists were so strong in the Industrial areas of the Midlands and North that many pioneers of the trade union movement learnt their oratory and organizational skills from experience as lay preachers. On the Northeastern coalfields in the 1830s and ’40s, local revival hymnwriters were also the makers of strike songs.
It should not be imagined that the users of homespun hymns were all rampant revivalists of Holy Roller type. Most were sober folk with a deep feeling for independence in their religious ways, and their hymns reflect their spirit firmly in text and tune. Noble as many of the melodies were, the Victorian hymnbook compilers seemed to consider the folky hymns not fine enough, not respectable enough, and they scornfully pushed them aside. We know some of these pieces from their frail survival in oral tradition among a few country choirs. We know many more through their appearance in hymnbooks used among gatherings of country dissidents in America (some of these, particularly the Southern Harmony of 1835 and the Sacred Harp of 1844, printed in a kind of patent music notation called ‘shape notes’ for the sake of quick learning, are still much in use in the upland South). On this record the Watersons give us a panorama of sacred song, from the deep folklore of wassail songs and vernacular carols, through various folky kinds of meeting-house hymn, and on to exuberant camp meeting pieces. Some pious folk songs or near folk songs that we’ve lost, or that have become unfamiliar, but all well worth restoring to life.
A. L. Lloyd. 1977
Tracks 1 and 6-11 appeared as extra tracks on the Topic CD issue of the 1965 pre-Carthy era Watersons album “Frost & Fire”