Gospel songs…


I grew up listening to a kind of music that almost certainly will not have any place in your collection. Even then it was not something I could ever share with my peers. They were listening to The Clash, the Sex Pistols and then all that New Romantic Gush. I on the other hand had no interest in the pop superstars that seemed to have such power over people around me. I could not tell you even now what the Bay City Rollers sound like. The music I was listening to then was primarily white gospel rock.

There I have made my uncool confession. Please do not judge me too harshly.

If you don’t know what white gospel rock was all about then I will give you a bit of history from a UK perspective. Of course, the Americans did it all bigger and better- it remains a mass market across the Atlantic, but it was the British kind that I listened to most.

Put simply, the music it was an attempt by people mostly on the fringes of organised Christianity to deliver a Christian message using culturally relevant language and styles of presentation. It was trying to ‘sell’ Jesus. It all kicked off (for me at least) around the 70s with folk-rock-for Jesus-groups like The Sheep and Malcolm and Alwyn (Alwyn went to School with my Mum.) Then there was the early folk recordings of Graham Kendrick (long before all the Shine Jesus Shine stuff). There were lots of others along the way; Dave Pope, the Dave Williamson band,  Bryn Howarth, Jesus punk from Moral Support, Heavy Rock from Stryper and a many others. A lot of this music was gathered together at the early Greenbelt Festivals, and this was the soundtrack of my early teens.

(There was another stream of this music too, in the form of contemporary worship music. This spawned a whole industry of its own, but this is another story…)

This music has remained more or less my guilty secret for lots of reasons. In part because this is not what might be described as ‘good’ music. It was never kissed with mass approval, and critics, if they noticed it, would savage it for its derivative amateurish efforts.

It also forms part of the story of my own dysfunction; growing up in the way that I did meant that I needed to lose myself in something, and often this was this music. I have grown beyond this now however- there is now lots of other music! However…

That music was always more than just Christian geeks trying to be cool. There was something else underneath it all. At the time, I might have used spiritualised language to describe it- as if the words and tones of the songs somehow contained something heavenly. Jesus was on lead guitar and the Holy Ghost could sure pump out a deep groove.

Perhaps, but what I understand most about that music now is that it stood for something. It had something to say that had heart, spirit and soul. It was only meaningful when it moved you. Beyond all the cheesy ‘Jesus saves’ kind of messages, these white boys (and they mostly where boys) were singing Gospel.

One of my mates, who often introduces me to new music, has often questioned whether there is any decent Christian rock music. I think he is missing the point though- it is not really about music, it is about soul, meaning, passion. These things may be subjective, but they are also universally recognisable.

I was reminded of this when watching a documentary of Mavis Staples, who grew up singing with her family in the Staples Singers. They sang their way through the protest movement alongside Martin Luther king, then became one of the first Gospel super groups in the USA. Commenting on the music that was made, someone said that “…the music was not worth a shit unless it made the people shout.” This music was measured by the visible effects it had on the audience; people would dance in the isles, faint in the Spirit, be carried out unconscious.

We in the UK did not go in for such displays of religious emotion on the whole, but still I get this. For music to matter, it has to mean something. It has to have something to say. It has to seek to connect with that part of me that I can only call soul. And the chances are that even now, the kind of music that is sure to split me wide open will be the kind that brings raw passion and spirituality together. In other words, Gospel music, in its broadest sense.

I may well have grown up listening to what was mere imitation, so here a slice of the real thing;

Individualism, inequality and your mental health…

Reversing poverty requires a more progressive tax system and a shift in the political mindset

It is an old theme this, the relationship between societal inequality and the mental well-being of those who live there.

A sample of some of these issues can be found on these links;

I was reminded of some of this over the past week in relation to two different issues. The first came to us in the form of the so-called Panama Papers, which have shown us something of how the super rich have organised the world to ensure that they remain super rich, and avoid paying taxes for services provided to those who are not.

Perhaps some real change may yet come from the Panama Papers- certainly the debate it is stimulating is refreshing in that for once, the targets for media indignation are not those whom we scapegoat at the bottom of the pile.

However, my fear is that it has already become one of those media-driven righteous crusades in which we let a little blood for public consumption, but change very little. The real sobering truth is that inequality is not just to do with Billionaires who stash their booty in tax havens; rather it is tall about US. OUR lifestyles, OUR consumer choices. It has more to do with the fear that stalks us that we might lose what we have, particularly the stuff that our peers are continuing to enjoy.

Meanwhile inequality in the UK is growing. Some of this is generational, in that those of us who bought the Thatcher idea of home ownership (and unwittingly also bought the slavery to the market forces that came with it) now are so fixated on the security and value of this property that our kids can not even begin to afford to buy their own version of the same.

Some of it is regional, in that the wealth of greater London is like a black hole that sucks people in and never quite spits them out.

Its greatest effects can be seen internationally however, in the way that our wealth is not just in contrast to that of poverty elsewhere, but entirely dependent on this.

trickle down economics

But back to the point of this piece. The other thing that brought home to be the realities of inequality this week was some reading I was doing in relation to ‘Formulation’- a psychological term describing the process by which we come to an understanding of the nature, cause, story and meaning of mental distress. Part of this meant reading this guide, and in particular this section;

There is a careful balance to be struck between acknowledging the very real limitations and pressures that people face, while not diminishing their sense of hope or agency… The community/social inequalities/human rights perspective is often poorly integrated into practice. Recent research underlines the importance of this dimension.

Wilkinson and Pickett (2009) have presented compelling evidence that a society’s level of social inequality is causally related to its rates of mental illness: ‘If Britain became as equal as the four most equal societies (Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland), mental illness might be more than halved’ (p.261). Particularly relevant to formulation is their suggestion that inequality has its most damaging impact at least partially through its personal meaning to the individual, in terms of feeling devalued, shamed, trapped and excluded. This underlines the importance of being aware of the wider contexts of formulations and clinical work. In the words of a World Health Organisation report on mental health: ‘…levels of mental distress among communities need to be understood less in terms of individual pathology and more as a response to relative deprivation and social injustice’ (WHO, 2009, p.111).

That sentence concerning how inequality results in people being ‘devalued, shamed, trapped and excluded’ should not be read as something just aimed at the super poor, but rather something that applies equally to us all.

Although perhaps some are more equal than others.