Various Artists – All God’s Children – Songs From The British Jesus Rock Revolution 1967 - 1974

Various Artists – All God’s Children – Songs from The British Jesus Rock Revolution 1967 – 1974

For the past 40 or so years, my regular gig as a musician has been as the guitarist for a church band or, as we called ourselves, a Contemporary Christian Ensemble. What set the band apart from others ploughing the same field was our choice of material. We performed music by everyone from Curtis Mayfield and Neal Morse to CSNY and Ollabelle, and more often than not, the congregation was appreciative of our eclecticism. So, imagine my delight when I find among the latest offerings from Grapefruit Records, the three disc set All God’s Children: Songs from the British Jesus Rock Revolution, 1967–1974.  My band called it a day at the end of last year, but if there was ever a temptation to get them back together to tackle a few more tunes out of left field, this is it.

Once more, project manager David Wells has cast a wide net to haul in the familiar, the fringe and the simply forgotten. After the worldwide disillusion of the sixties, the hippie contingent found some solace for a time in the promise of Jesus. In the States, songs such as Ocean’s Put Your Hand in the Hand and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky rose to the top of the charts with messages of positivity and hope for more than what we could see going on around us. Those songs and others of their ilk were more generally spiritual in their outlook than proselytising. That said, they did open the door for an entire Christian music industry which has had varying degrees of crossover success throughout the years.

The songs on All God’s Children cover the early years of the genre and present the wide variety of songs that were part of the Jesus movement: from covers of old spirituals, to declarations of love for Jesus, to expressions of awe at the wonders of Nature, to outright condemnations of organised religion. Presented in no particular chronological order, there are instead other connections that join together groups of songs as a smart DJ might. Disc one opens with a very progish seven-minute delight, Salamander’s appropriately titled Prelude. The organ-led rock band is swept along by grandiose orchestral arrangements which almost create the illusion that there is more substance here than truly exists. Mediocrity is the overriding impression of the first few songs. Where is the fervour in Out Of Darkness’ On Solid Rock? To belabour the point, Bourbon Street Mission’s cover of a song that both the Byrds and the Doobie Brothers hit with, Jesus is Just Alright, is bland and repeats the first verse and chorus ad nauseum. Lindisfarne pick up the quality and begin a set of endearing acoustic tunes with their own Winter Song, dwelling on the concept of social justice. Unicorn “sail on home to Jesus” with a cover of James Taylor’s Country Road, while Paul Brett’s Sage imbue Help Me Jesus with all the passion of a repentant sinner. Gordon Giltrap’s almost-flamenco-style strumming steals the show on Gospel Song, but it’s the ear-worm chorus of Ramases’ Jesus Come Back that makes you want to sing along in glorious harmony. Heron offers a highlight with a hymn to the beauty of nature and the Creator in Lord and Master. Richard Thompson’s short ditty Mary and Joseph sounds as if it were written after witnessing a New Orleans jazz funeral. More prog shows up in the form of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and Magna Carta. The former offer a rocking Prayer that sounds more like a defiant challenge, while the latter spend ten minutes going all woo-woo with lyrics lifted from the Book of Revelations on Lord of the Ages, which takes itself too seriously and overstays its welcome. In contrast, one of the best songs in this compilation is from the short-lived Romany version of the Hollies, lending their impeccable harmonies and solid arrangements to Jesus Was A Cross Maker.

Disc two is the most solid of the three in terms of consistency and enjoyability. Beginning with Strawbs, The Man Who Called Himself Jesus is based on a true story about a man claiming to be the titular Saviour, but whom no one believes. Clifford T. Ward offers a somewhat angrier take on how Jesus might be ignored if he returned in The Traveller. But hope springs eternal, and The Johnston’s sitar-laden beauty Jesus Was A Carpenter offers another highlight, painting Jesus as a rebel threat. The sweet and gentle run of tunes continues with two notable names, The Incredible String Band (Job’s Tears) and Amazing Blondel (Safety in God Alone), both contemplative and affirmative tunes. Gerald Moore’s To Be A Pilgrim is a joy-filled, rollicking take on a Ralph Vaughn Williams spiritual, where Kevin Coyne goes old school Americana on a remake of the Carter Family’s Heaven in My View, a song I would have happily taken to my own band. Sweet Fire by Graham Kendrick is another well played, gorgeous acoustic piece with the sweet lyric, “Nazareth lost a carpenter, but the world has found a friend”. Fairport Convention represent with original tune Matthew, Mark, Luke And John, notable for their trademark accent on the four rhythmic approach and a plea to the title characters to “come down and show us what’s wrong”. The Jethro Tull entry, My God, is a lacerating indictment of organised religion and acts as a sort of adjunct to the final track on disc two, Nigel Goodwin’s recitative First Time I Went to Church, a poem about the church’s irrelevance to the working-class youth of the time.

Matthews Southern Comfort kicks off disc three with their version of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock, reimagining the song in an innovative manner. A couple of buoyant tunes follow, including Wishful Thinking’s cover of Lindisfarne’s Clear White Light, a should-have-been-massive hit, and Roy Wood’s Songs of Praise, originally written for the New Seekers. The latter’s hand-clapping sing-along chorus is happiness personified. Help Yourself keep the good vibes flowing with their cover of 1940s gospel tune I Must See Jesus For Myself. Stray channel the Faces on ebullient rocker Hallelujah while the Strawbs ruminate about dying on Is it Today, Lord? Al Stewart takes a lacerating swipe at organised religion on Gethsemane Again. But it’s a group of convent school girls known as Mellow Candle who surprise with an original tune which sounds like a medieval masterpiece, Heaven Heath. Bruce Spelman takes a page from early Elton John for Hallelujah Sang the People, and strong melodic ideas form the basis of two other fine songs, Roger and Jan’s Three Crosses and Phillip Goodhand-Tait’s Child of Jesus. Even Genesis make an appearance in this set with their Garden Of Eden fable, The Serpent, which alludes to the future development that would flower on Trespass. Pentangle take on the old Americana chestnut Will the Circle Be Unbroken, giving it a more languid reading than usual, but the guitar interplay of Jansch and Renbourn is magnificent. The set closes with what is ostensibly the title track, courtesy of the Kinks. God’s Children is a snarky Ray Davies tune about how man should not fool around with God’s creations, especially with other humans: “We are all God’s children / And they got no right to change us”, especially odd as the soundtrack to the film Percy, about a man who has a penis transplant.

Once again, Mr. Wells and Grapefruit Records have outdone themselves with their detailed research, their ability to find tracks both profound and disturbing, and providing liner notes worthy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. This set is not just for the Jesus freak, but for anyone who is interested in how movements of all sorts find their voice through popular music. Well done, friends. Well done indeed.

Disc One

01. Salamander– Prelude (incorporating He is My God) (7:17)
02. Out of Darkness – On Solid Rock (3:58)
03. Jesus is Just Alright – Bourbon Street Mission (2:54)
04. Parchment – Son of God (4:04)
05. Lindisfarne – Winter Song (5:10)
06. Unicorn – Country Road (4:15)
07. Paul Brett’s Sage – Help Me Jesus (4:18)
08. Moody Blues – Minstrel’s Song (4:35)
09. Gordon Giltrap – Gospel Song (2:54)
10. Ramases – Jesus Come Back (3:59)
11. Quintessence – Jesus My Life (3:38)
12. Heron – Lord and Master (3:52)
13. Richard Thompson – Mary and Joseph (1:40)
14. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Prayer (5:40)
15. Whispers of Truth – Reality (3:01)
16. The Pilgrims – Thank You Lord (3:23)
17. The Hollies– Jesus Was A Cross Maker (3:48)
18. Magna Carta – Lord of the Ages (10:02)

Time – 79:28

Disc Two
01. Strawbs – The Man Who Called Himself Jesus (3:31)
02. Clifford T. Ward – Traveller (5:21)
03. The Johnstons – Jesus Was A Carpenter (5:47)
04. The Incredible String Band – Job’s Tears (6:44)
05. Amazing Blondel – Safety in God Alone (4:21)
06. Gerald Moore – To Be A Pilgrim (4:22)
07. All Things New – Jesus is Coming Again (3:23)
08. Kevin Coyne – Heaven in My View (3:15)
09. Gerry Rafferty – Who Cares (5:09)
10. Wil Malone – Jesus (3:07)
11. Graham Kendrick – Sweet Fire (4:58)
12. Prelude – Dear Jesus (3:50)
13. Fairport Convention – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (3:56)
14. Bill Fay – Time of the Last Persecution (3:54)
15. Jethro Tull – My God (7:11)
16. Clive Palmer – Stories of Jesus (2:43)
17. Nigel Goodwin – First Time I Went to Church (6:42)
18. The Rose Garden – Next Plane to London (2:28)

Time – 78:14

Disc Three
01. Matthews Southern Comfort – Woodstock (4:31)
02. Wishful Thinking – Clear White Light (2:56)
03. Roy Wood – Songs of Praise (4:40)
04. Help Yourself – I Must See Jesus for Myself (4:01)
05. Quiet World – Christ One (2:23)
06. Stray – Hallelujah (3:25)
07. Bill Nelson – Love’s A Way (3:34)
08. Strawbs – Is it Today, Lord? (3:09)
09. Al Stewart – Gethsemane Again (5:26)
10. Mellow Candle – Heaven Heath (2:59)
11. Judy MacKenzie – New Song (4:09)
12. Nirvana – Lord Up Above (4:12)
13. Bruce Spelman – Hallelujah Sang the People (4:15)
14. Roger and Jan – Three Crosses (3:04)
15. Phillip Goodhand-Tait – Child of Jesus (2:43)
16. Medicine Head – His Guiding Hand (4:02)
17. Genesis – The Serpent (3:59)
18. Fickle Pickle – Jesus Christo (2:29)
19. John Pantry – Family of Man (2:30)
20. John Kongos – Come on Down Jesus (3:38)
21. Pentangle – Will The Circle Be Unbroken (4:04)
22. The Kinks – God’s Children (3:18)

Time – 79:35

Total Time – 238:17

Record Label: Cherry Red Records | Grapefruit Records
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 22nd September 2023

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