Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Pilgrims - Telling Youth... The Truth (1962-67)

Rock; Christianity; guitars; church... in the 21st century these words don't seem odd together. But, in 1961 rock meant "devil music" and church meant "boring". The Pilgrims changed all that. Raise among the world-war bombsites of southeast London, the five "Pilgrims" were part of the first generation to be called "teenagers". The swinging sixties had started and it was not cool to be Christian. These full-blooded teenagers with a love for rock music became christians but opted not to conform. They put faith and rock together and changed christian music for good. The Pilgrims were the first wholly electric Christian rock group and shocked the churches of their day. Later bands broke through into mainstream recording, radio and TV, but The Pilgrims were breaking traditions and taboos. After playing at a church service attended by Princess Margaret the group were condemned on national radio by a Countess (no less!). But The Pilgrims didn't want upper class approval; they spoke to their own generation in a language they understood. The group played in churches, to be sure, but their favourite audiences were in beat clubs and dives where nobody was pretending to be holy. When you listen to The Pilgrims you can sense the rawness and enthusiasm of a newfound faith; nut the music is polished and professional. They put heart and soul into their playing and wanted to be the best. At a 1966 concert in a 2,500-seat auditorium opposite Westminster Abbey they were feted as "not only the best, but also the LOUDEST Christian group". 

Here's a real curiosity of the British Invasion: a band who sound much like hundreds if not thousands of third-string groups in England from the mid-'60s, with one crucial difference -- all the lyrics are of a devout Christian religious nature. Christian-themed rock groups of subsequent eras would often be musically mild and mainstream in stance, but that's not the case with the Pilgrims, who play in a pretty raw, R&B-influenced style on most of these 21 tracks. Recorded between 1962 and 1967 (in fairly primitive circumstances judging from the demo nature of the fidelity), they hover somewhere between amateurism and professionalism, though they're closer to professionalism. Most often they favor the early Rolling Stones-Pretty Things-ish style of heavily blues-R&B-influenced British Invasion rock with a naive flavor, in the mold of countless obscure English bands of the time, though some of the material has a strong Merseybeat feel, and what sound like the very earliest recordings have a pre-Beatles Joe Meek-ish vibe. It's actually not at all bad -- and not as derivative (though it is pretty derivative) as some archival releases from U.K. bands with similar influences, as all the material's original. It's not all that great or remarkable either, and while the lyrics -- usually urging putting one's life in the hands of God and Jesus -- are certainly different for this particular thing, they're just as repetitive (and in some respects clumsy) as the basic love-centered lyrics by the standard struggling garage band of the era. Indeed, one's so much more accustomed to hearing lyrics about girls and young love by these kind of bands that the incessant use of words about the Christian faith is kind of jarrin

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