Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Thanks to everyone who's come along. We'll open our meeting with the words of...
(You might know of us from our time with the Low Country Boys from February 2002 - December 2007. This is what we're doing now)
CAN YOU RECALL a time when gospel music was simple? Following on from the transAtlantic spiritual revivals of the mid 1800s and early 1900s, congregations of people gathered together to worship in small wooden-floored halls all across Scotland, Ulster and America. Their music was sung from well-worn hymn books with soft yellowed pages. Everyone, young and old, knew the words and sang with passion. Their hymns were simple, scriptural and tuneful, accompanied by the old pump organ. Sometimes a local singer or group would bring a message in song - with instinctive untaught harmonies and a guitar.
That's the world the two of us grew up in - rural, Ulster-Scots and evangelical. It's a world that's getting more and more difficult to find today. Only a few people know Bringing in the Sheaves or are Leaning on the Everlasting Arms, are wondering Does Jesus Care? or are looking forward to My Ain Countrie and The Sweet Bye and Bye.
But even in today's global economic "credit crunch", there are parallels with the similar crash of the 1920s when this old music was first recorded - an era that inspired Hank Williams' Wealth Won't Save Your Soul, and the Carter Family's I'm Going Where there's No Depression.
Some of the earliest recorded gospel music in the world was performed by "brother duets" during the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Many of them stepped out of their rural evangelical lives and into recording studios with just a guitar, a mandolin and their voices - making records that are still available today, and that take you back in time like nothing else can do. No fancy equipment, no overdubs or mixing, no reverb or showy effects. Just voices, instruments and sincerity.
Some of you will know us from the "Low Country Boys", where we had an amazing and unexpected amount of success, recording two bestselling CDs and playing many concerts across Ulster, Scotland (such as the Fraserburgh Gospel Music Convention in 2006) and the USA (at the 2007 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC). We had quite a few radio and television appearances too.
Now we're doing our best to do something similar, but simpler - the "brother duet" tradition. We're very aware of how limited our musical ability is and we have no big ambitions or rock star fantasies! What we do is simple, stripped-back and hopefully enjoyable. Thankfully, the people who have seen us play have really enjoyed it (see short article here).
Everything we do is free. When we start recording some songs we'll make them all available as free downloads. And we play live for free too - lots of people have been in touch with us and we're considering a number of interesting offers. We prefer wee halls and small, intimate concerts rather than anything too fancy.
We hope you enjoy this site and that it helps you learn more about the heritage of gospel music and the "brother duets" tradition. We hope that what we do will inspire you to rediscover the wonderful old gospel music that our parents and grandparents were raised on. Throw out the powerpoint and get some oul hymn books!
Mark & Graeme Thompson
Northern Ireland, November 2008
Pic below - inside the People's Hall, Portavogie.
Here's a short article about the similarity of the small churches of Ulster and Appalachia.