Directions and Influences - chapter 1

Earliest Influences from Paul Robson to Elvis Presley

The earliest influences in music for me were hearing my father and mother sing gospel hymns. They were religious folk who sung in the choir of one of the local assembly halls in Belfast. They were members of 'The Brethren' which is a particularly 'bible thumping, fire and brimstone' style branch of the Protestant faith. TV wasn't allowed on Sunday. No songs were to be sung only hymns; women did not wear any make-up lest they become 'Jezebel's'. It was a very strict, tight, red faced working man's religion similar to that found in 'The Bible Belt' of the USA. We became Baptists a little later and they were thankfully somewhat more relaxed. Sunday TV was OK, thank God... (the Baptist one that is).

Mum liked to sing harmonies and she would get me to sing the melody while she practiced her parts. This was my early education in part singing and those times really helped develop my ear. My grandfather, George McNeil, had an old pedal organ in the front parlour of their Sandy Row house in heart of Belfast... I used to spend hours in that parlour pumping on those old worn pedals and pushing and pulling on the organ stops until George would yell at me in his thick highland Scottish accent 'Don't you brrreak those bloody pedals again ye wee monkey or I'll have yerrr life!' Then he would come in and play for me. He and my mum used to sing duets together and I have fond memories of family gatherings around that old organ.

We had an old gramophone that played 78s and I can remember the scratchy yet dulcet tones of Slim Whitman and his 'singing guitar' singing 'My China doll' and Jim Reeves with 'He'll have to go'. But the biggest buzz was when we got a gramophone that played 45s and LPs and Mum got into Elvis Presley. The sound of the guitars sent me into a spin I was about 9 at the time and I couldn't get enough of it... Elvis Singing 'A fool such as I' and 'Big hunk o' love', The Everley Brothers with 'Dream', 'Wake up little Suzie' and 'Claudette'. I was in Rock& Roll heaven. My dad on the other hand was listening to Paul Robson who sung hymns and Negro Spirituals as they were called then, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and all the crooners. Needless to say I gave my mum's collection a fair beating. I finally talked my father into buying me a guitar and at the age of 11 started taking guitar lessons. Carol Archer, a girl (from the local Baptist church) who taught me was by no means a great player but she had a great method of teaching right hand rhythm technique. I have never been much of a soloist on the guitar but I reckon my rhythm playing is pretty tight and I have Carol to thank for that.

Next: Chapter 2 - Lonnie Donnegan and Skiffle