THE GLORYLANDERS have a new CD out recorded live in Germany. It's their first album for 18 years. Tony Cummings investigates.
Scene 1. Three young men with Mormon-short hair, identically dressed in freshly pressed slacks and blazers, stand hunched over their instruments singing the final phrase of "Jesus Met The Woman". As their neat, folk-tinged harmonies die away the crowd filling the hall burst into sustained applause.
Scene 2. Three middle-aged men, two with greying hair, dressed in crumpled slacks and open-necked shirts, stand hunched over their instruments singing the final phrase of "Jesus Met The Woman". As their neat, folk-tinged harmonies die away the crowd filling the hall burst into sustained applause.
Eighteen years have passed since the Glorylanders were one of Britain's major gospel groups, a trio who packed halls in every part of Britain, appeared on TV and did shows with Cliff Richard. Unlike Cliff the Glorylanders had no secret of perpetual youth. 1991 finds Glorylanders grandfathers, thicker of waist and not unwrinkled. Ian Moore (guitar, banjo, vocals) working in computers, Arthur Pemberton (guitar, vocals) a vicar in Manchester and Bill Simmons (double bass, vocals) working in an electrical business. Yet, far from resting with their memories of distant achievements and staying at home with their scrapbooks and carpet slippers, in 1990 the Glorylanders began the most stunningly unlikely comeback in gospel music history. Two sell-out tours of Germany, a new CD and now a forthcoming concert in Britain all demonstrate that, even in 1991, there is still an audience for artfully-played acoustic instruments, folk harmonies and the message of Jesus. Says 57-year old Bill Simmons:
"In many ways the music scene has come full circle. Alongside the synthesizers and house music and whatever there's a move back to folk music. When we were in Germany we were astonished to find our gigs packed with young people. To them our music is relevant."
The tour of Germany which wrenched the grizzled veterans of rock-gospel's prehistory out of musical retirement was through the unflagging efforts of Lutheran priest Johnny Jawoski. What happened was that Bill, Arthur and Ian were invited to the 25th anniversary of Children's Christian Crusades, a beach mission organised by Ralph Chambers and Irene Wardle on the Isle of Wight. Bill explains.
"When Ralph rang he asked whether the three of us could sing a few songs. I told him we were just about ready for oxygen masks and walking-frames but I'd ask the lads, and to my surprise they were both keen. When Johnny Jawoski, who'd been a curate in St. Stephens in Bremen when we played there in 1974 and was now the parish priest, heard we were going to sing he decided to fly over. Before the concert we had a 20-minute practice, our first for ten years, then did four songs. Johnny took us for a curry afterwards, said 'Well, you can still play a song', pulled out his diary and asked 'When can you come over for a tour of Germany?' We were completely gob smacked."
The tour in October 1990 was a hectic blur of activity, 10 concerts in eight days in towns such as Bremen, Munster, and Bochum. "It felt strange entering a town land seeing 'Glorylanders: Live In Concert' posters up on the advertising hoardings." recalls Bill. "We played to packed halls, cafes, folk clubs, the highlight being the famous '26' club in Herne. Johnny said it would be full but what we didn't expect was for people to be stood outside on the pavement trying to see the concert through the windows! It was a special evening with people sat on the stage, on the tables, on the bar. When we sang the last of our 17 songs we were deafened with people chanting for encores. It was a real revelation to see a video taken at the club. When the camera panned to the members of the audience nearly all of them were in their teens and twenties and the majority were singing the words of the songs! Johnny explained that nearly all the Glorylanders' songs had been included in the Lutheran Song Book!"
A live recording, 'Live: After All These Years' was made of the Glorylanders German tour. After a piece of impeccably-played Mozart (Ian is a fine classical pianist) the album settles down to fluid re-creations of traditional songs like "Jesus Met The Woman" and "Morning Train" alongside self-penned songs like "Stop" and "You Are Going My Way", which were a ministry of the Glorylanders set back in the early '70s. Interspersed with songs from the likes of Noel Paul Stooky, Bob Dylan and Judy McKenzie their nimbly played acoustics and plaintively precise harmonies (at times a ringer for the fondly-remembered secular folkies The Kingston Trio) make an undeniably pleasant musical sound while their lyrics, usually graphic Biblical illustrations, penetrate with incisive evangelistic thrust. "We always saw evangelism as a key element in what the Glorylanders were all about" says Bill Simmons. "It astonishes me when I think that there are literally hundreds of people walking around who made their commitment to Christ at a Glorylanders concert."
The group formed originally in 1966 after Arthur and Bill, who'd sung together in the church choir in Manchester, met up with Ian Moore at a concert in Preston. The Glorylanders began to play at Christian coffee bars, including the famed Catacombs in Manchester where songwriters like Judy McKenzie would drop in "with their new songs almost written on the back of old fag packets."
A steadily growing reputation encouraged the Glorylanders to seek a recording contract, but they were told by one record company "When we want Walt Disney cartoon music we'll send for you". So, in 1969 they made a recording - a four song EP - off their own bat. Comments Bill.
"It was called 'Volume 1' - snappy title, eh? It was no big thing but it was top of the Scripture Union sales charts for two years!" Another EP ('Volume 2' of course) followed and in 1971 they released their first full album. 'Living by Faith' the group had gone full time in 1976 and toured every part of Britain as well as Germany where, as we've heard, they built up an extensive following. Bill Simmons remembers one particular concert in Glasgow.
"We were the warm-up group for Cliff Richard, there were 2,000 people laying for their hero and we were told just before the start that Cliff was ill and couldn't make it! We were almost tying blankets together to escape out the window! It was absolutely terrifying having to go on stage and tell Cliff's fans their man wasn't appearing and all they were getting was us! Amazingly, the audience responded wonderfully. It was a great concert."
Great concerts continued up until 1974. "Our last concert was in 1974 at St Paul's Cathedral. Arthur wanted to go into the ministry and I had a son and daughter growing up I wanted to see. Anyway, I thought we'd outplayed our usefulness as a Christian group - synths were in, folk music was out... I never had the vaguest inkling that one day we'd be back making music again."
Now, having completed their second tour of Germany and preparing for a Christmas concert in Oldham Civic Centre with the Saltmine Band, the Glorylanders still have no desire to recommence zigzagging Britain in the back of a transit van. Yet they haven't ruled out more musical activity in the future.
"Clearly the Lord can still make use of old fogeys like us" comments Bill. "That's really what its' all about. We all love the Lord and we have a lovely opportunity of ministering Jesus in song. As to the future... Well, after what's happened in the last year anything is possible!"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.