Recording the songs

The performances on this album are heavily reworked versions of 40's and 50's songs, mainly unaccompanied quartet material, but some by soloists like Rev Gary Davis.

In all cases I've chosen material about the certainty of better times ahead, the golden city, the promised land. Where necessary, I've taken extreme liberties with the lyrics to make this message as inclusive as possible.
In addition to the lyrics, the tunes and chords have been altered to better suit the stripped-down format - sometimes slightly, but on occasion the original is barely glimpsed.

From the beginning, I had envisaged the recording as a vinyl album, in keeping with the source material, so the ebb and flow of the "set" is structured over 2 sides. You should have to pause and turn the record over between "Walk With Me" and "I John". Try playing it like that, it's better.

No click tracks or autotune were used in this recording. My vocal and guitar and Nico's string bass were all recorded live at the same time, mainly second take. We then overdubbed Neil's trumpet and Keith's drums, and the odd bit of extra guitar.

Side One

A City Foursquare

I first heard this on vinyl performed by the Mid-South Singers from Detroit. They called it "Will You Meet Me In The Morning?", and their lyric is more evangelical, more about converting the sinner, will you be one of the saved ? My version is more certain about the inclusiveness of the destination.

The Prodigal Son

Again, I found this on vinyl, performed by Birdy Greene with a 40's jazz quartet. I've recorded it previously with a full band and Justin Currie singing it, but I prefer this cooler version with Neil's trumpet punctuating the line. The very hip Blue Note harmony trumpet intro was the idea of the renowned jazzer Phil Cunningham!

Every Time I Feel The Spirit

I was pretty uncertain about taking this well-known tune on, as it's all over YouTube by college choirs with full-on orchestral arrangements. Replacing the choir with Scotty Moore/Hank Marvin and the slap bass does the trick for me though. The vocal on this is the only vocal overdub on the record, I think I was over-tired when we recorded it as track nine on day one.

Maybe It's You

This is the least altered track on the album, and is very indebted to Ira Tucker's version with The Dixie Hummingbirds which I saw on one of those Gospel TV Hour re-releases from 1961. In other words, it's nicked. Apart from the 12:8 pulse in the middle eight, which is entirely my own idea. Apart from Fats Domino's "Blue Monday".

What Are They Doing

. . . . in Heaven Today? is the end of the title of this Washington Phillips song. He did it as a waltz-time almost countrified lament. Somewhere in the garage I've got a cassette of the Jewell Jubilee Singers doing it live, and it was the memory of the apocalyptic distortion and compression of that recording which informed this balls-out version.

Walk With Me

Mississippi Fred McDowell - something about this blues standard resonates with me - I changed "this tedious journey" to "my wicked journey", stuck in the verse about drinking, invented a load of new guitar chords and lines, then Neil ripped it apart first take. You can play this at my funeral.

Side Two

I John

Absolutely everybody in the world has done a version of this, which is why I felt no compunction about changing the tune, the chords, and rewriting three-quarters the lyrics (with the help of Revelation 21-22).
Opens with John the Divine on Patmos and ends with Robert Fripp in Berlin.

Nico's string bass part on this is such a mutha that we stopped for a fag half way through then did a total drop-in which nobody will ever spot. You can do that if you've been playing together for 25 years.

Build On That Shore

Soul Stirrers tune, but who hasn't ripped them off? Where Sam sang "Jesus" I've replaced it with "Kingdom" - keeps the sense intact and makes the song more accessible. It's still the most overtly "gospel" song on the album though.

Samson and Delilah

with apologies to Rev Gary Davis - I first came across this song years ago when I was (trying to) learn ragtime guitar right-hand technique. The irony is that I dispensed with all of that, using a completely different groove, and keeping the lyrics and the hook only. Sorry maestro, not up to your standard.
What really gets me about this song is that it works on so many levels - like Samson, Gary Davis became blind in his late youth, so the story has profound resonance for his personal loss and frustration. And somehow he connects Samson tearing the building down with tearing down an unacceptable social order. It is the universal statement of iconoclastic intent - can't you see Samson between the pillars at the Head Office of the Royal Bank of Scotland?

I'm A Pilgrim

One of the two stories at the heart of this album, the story of the pilgrim/prodigal/traveller on his journey to the River Jordan, which simultaneously symbolizes the passage to a better place and the certainty of death - and for those of us who have spent much of our lives travelling, there's a really personal identification in this. And I get to pretend I can impersonate Paul Foster.

Peace In The Valley

Definitely the best-known, most-recorded song on the album, this 1937 Thomas A.Dorsey tune was originally released to no interest by the Flying Clouds of Detroit in 1946, then became a million-selling number one country hit for Red Foley in 1951. When Elvis recorded it in '58 Scotty Moore ripped off the Red Foley guitar intro note for note, so I feel perfectly justified in doing exactly the same.
The chorus on this tune features an understated part from a mystery accordion player. Well, he was always going to, wasn't he?

Joe Louis

When the Dixieaires recorded this in 1947 it would have been a daring piece of contemporary social commentary with its overt relation of the struggles of the Children of Israel to black champions overcoming white supremacy. It's still a great tune, and the only one where I used backing vocals because that relationship is central to the song.

Something Within

This is the other really important message on the album. I first heard this performed by the Flying Clouds of Detroit, we used that version as the intro tape for the Proclaimers live shows 88 - 91.
I've completely re-written the second verse so that this song becomes the manifesto for the whole album, which is why it's the last tune.
We also recorded it last, (can't you tell by the state of the voice?) and it's the only track where Keith plays the drums live with Nico and I - all in the same room, no mistakes possible gents. First take, of course.

Session notes for the equipment geek:

Nico Bruce used Bella II, a lovely carved bass from China - Like many middle-aged men he replaced his older British model, Bella, with something more exotic from the Far East...

Neil Weir used a hand-made Taylor Chicago Standard trumpet "the best instrument I have ever had the pleasure of playing".

Keith Burns used a tiny Pearl jazz kit with distant mics only.

I used my 1962 Gibson 355 through a Fender Deluxe Reverb or a Fender Excelsior. And a Martin OM-21.

Stuart Hamilton used some of the wildest looking microphones I've ever seen and mic amps and compressors with huge Bakelite knobs.

Phil Cunningham used his ears and what's between them.