There are certain events in your life that stick out in your memory, events that maybe change your world. For me one of those events took place in January 1976 at the Afan Lido. A couple of us from my church youth group had been persuaded to buy tickets for a gospel concert at the Lido. It would be hosted by Pat Boone and would feature an American gospel act called Andrae Crouch and the Disciples. I knew of Pat Boone but I’d never heard of Andrae Crouch but I went along not expecting too much. If I’m honest the first half of the evening was spent giggling as one of my friends confused Pat Boone with Des O’Connor. The Swedish choir that were also on the bill were quite nice, a bit like a very good school choir. As we headed for the refreshments at half time the evening was going pretty much as expected.
Then my life changed. Up until this moment in my life, church music had been rather tame. It was hymn singing with a church organ or maybe listening sympathetically to a new young vicar with an acoustic guitar. What I heard and saw that night turned my world upside down. There must have been 9 or 10 musicians and singers on the stage and the one pulling the strings was a little African American guy who played the piano like Little Richard and sang and preached like Dr Martin Luther King. The music was so tight, the rhythm section were like a train, the singers sang heavenly harmonies and for a teenage white kid from Brynhyfryd it was almost too much to take in. The first thing I did when the concert ended was to borrow as much money as I could from my friends to allow me to buy every Andrae Crouch album on the merchandise stall.
Here is a link to a whole televised Andrae Crouch Concert on Norwegian TV
And so began my love affair with Black Gospel Music. That love has taken me back and fore to the Deep South many times as I went in search of the real roots of the music. I’ve been the only white face in the Clarksdale Church pastored by the Rev Willie Morganfield, the first cousin of Muddy Waters, who preached in the same style as his first cousin sang the blues.
In church with The Rev Willie Morganfield , Clarksdale. Mississippi.
I’ve sung with The London Community Gospel Choir, tried my best to copy Andrae’s piano style and even written a couple of songs that have been recorded by Gospel Choirs.
That’s why tonight, I’m so excited to be bringing Gospel Music to Swansea High Street.We have had all types of music at The Hyst, from Badfinger to Texas, from Gypsy Jazz to Musical Theatre. We’ve had a number of events featuring the Morriston Orpheus so I know we can fit a big choir into the venue but tonight will see us welcome 60 singers form the New Hope Baptist Church in Atlanta Georgia for a night of Gospel together with a Bar B Q.
As with so many of the connections I’ve made in life, tonight’s concert came about by accident, a chance encounter. A little while ago I met the pastor of the church in Atlanta on twitter. I’m not sure if he liked something I posted or whether he had heard my early morning BBC Radio show or whether he had posted something about the Welsh in North America but a connection was made and an invitation for coffee was sent out to the States for the next time he came home.
When I eventually spoke on the phone to Pastor Rhys Stennor on the other side of the Atlantic he had one of those Catherine Zeta Jones Welsh accents. It was still essentially British but with a bit of a ‘Yankee twang’ as my grandmother Myfanwy would describe it. It wasn’t surprising that his accent was transatlantic. His family roots were in Wales but life had taken him to America to pastor a big Baptist Church where he had loved for the pats decade. When I say big I mean its on 2 different sites and they both look like small universities and a typical Sunday service caters for 2000 souls.
Anyway, for the past few years he’s been bringing a ’bunch of folks’ over to Wales on Mission, to work in some of our poorest communities and also to give concerts. When we met for a coffee earlier this year at the Hyst I mentioned that we had recently hosted a concert with the Morriston Orpheus. Rhys wondered if we would host a similar event when he came back with his choir in the Summer.
Now logistically getting a 60 strong choir is more than doable as proved by our Morriston Orpheus gigs but where do they all change and freshen up after a long coach journey and how do you feed them all. Thank goodness we’ve managed to arrange with Joan Williams Stage School which is housed in the old Unitarian Church on High Street that they can relax and change there before rocking up at the Hyst in time for the concert followed by a supper of burgers from the Hyst Bar B Q.
Even though I’m Swansea born and bred this week was the first time I’ve ever been into the Unitarian Church. It’s a wonderful old building. Joan Williams told me it was possibly the second oldest building in Swansea tracing its roots back to 1698. It’s been burned down and rebuilt since then but some of the original features are still there which I’m sure will charm the Americans. This week they celebrated Independence day. The church where they will change is 78 years older than America!
If you are free this evening and fancy some food for the soul and maybe a burger for the body why not give the Hyst a call on 01792 654366. It’s a free concert but space is limited so they’ll need to know you’re on your way. Who knows, just like me in January 1976, it could be a concert that will change your life.