Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Water Into Wine Band - Hill Climbing For Beginners (1973 uk, marvelous folk rock with spiritual references, 2005 reissue)

The origins of the Water Into Wine Band go back to 1971 at Cambridge University when students Trevor Sandford (vocals, guitar, bass), Peter McMunn (guitar), Ray Wright (guitar, bass, bongos) and Bill Thorp (violin, piano) met up and found they had mutual interests in theology and music. Explained Trevor, "We were all at Cambridge doing various degrees and things and we all played different things; some were from a folk background, some rock. Bill Thorp who plays the violin was from a classical music background. We all just met up and it was at the time when folk rock was in vogue and we all got together, we were there at the same time and because we got on quite well we decided to spend a week together in an old vicarage in Huddersfield, just playing music to each other. At the end of the week we did a gig in the local school. The turn out was about 1,000 kids and they liked it. So we thought fair enough, we'll carry on from here. So we did. Because there was folk rock of a different style - Strawbs folky rocky stuff but ours was very much acoustic. One guy in America when we were on tour there described it as gospel chamber music but that's a whole other story."

Although Christian bands such as Malcolm & Alwyn, the Glorylanders and Out Of Darkness were already laying the foundations of a Christian scene in the UK, the Water Into Wine Band didn't consider themselves a ministry group. Said Trevor, "We saw ourselves as a band who were Christian rather than a Christian band. In a way we just wanted to play music, a lot of which had backgrounds in our beliefs and what we wanted to say. But some of it was just fun music. We didn't see ourselves as exclusively kind of promoting the Gospel. The music kind of spoke for itself in a lot of ways. We'd play in folk clubs and so on. It was a much tougher environment to get a Christian message across but we would just do the music and let that speak."

In 1973 as well as the folk clubs Water Into Wine Band were beginning to play gigs in church halls and outreach events. Recalled Trevor, "We got grabbed by what was then the sort of emerging Christian scene a bit. Somebody must have heard us at a gig or something and we were offered the chance to make an album by Word UK. A guy called Bobbie Graham was the producer. We went down to Enfield and made the album there. It was all pretty raw stuff and we were pretty inexperienced at recording."

Trevor remembered the Enfield sessions very well. "I remember I borrowed a long scale bass - I normally played a short bass because it fitted into the car. We had an Austin A40 if you remember what those things are, and the whole band would fit inside the Austin A40. We called it the Tardis. We'd sit in the back with guitars over our knees. For the recording I borrowed a Fender Precision or something and I couldn't play the thing. If you listen to the album you'll hear the fret buzz which annoys me to this day."

Despite its crude production - Bobbie Graham's drums and bongos sound distinctly out of synch - and a lack of dynamics in the arrangements 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' showed the band to be thoughtful crafters of chamber folk. Bill Thorp's violin work was dazzling, some of the vocal harmonies truly haunting and the 11-minute epic "Song Of The Cross" one of the most ambitious works ever attempted by a UK Christian band. With crowd pleasers like "Stronger In The World" and the wonderfully named "I Used To Be Blind (But Now I'm Short-Sighted)" the album definitely had its moments. Then something unexpected happened. The December 1974 issue of Buzz magazine announced the development. "Acclaim from America has come for the acoustic outfit Water Into Wine Band. Billy Ray Hearn, A&R manager of Word Records, has described them as 'one of the most creative and original bands I've heard. And I believe they will make a big impact on the American gospel scene.' As a result the band last month re-recorded their first 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' for release in the USA."

Strangely, the re-recording of 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' for the American market occurred not in the USA but in Britain. Explained Trevor, "We recorded the new version at Wessex Studios in South London with John Pantry producing. The Americans wanted a cleaner sound and a more commercial feel, and more production and so on. So we took the opportunity to respond to that by adding extra instrumentation. So for instance we put a string quartet on one of the numbers and we also had harmonies with that. We added flute, wind and so on so whilst we weren't entirely. . . we wanted to keep it a fairly small, kind of raw group sound and not make it into pop music - we didn't use a lot of drums - we still took the opportunity to do something that we felt made the music more interesting. There were pluses and minuses but on the whole we were able to do something good with it."

The American release version of 'Hill Climbing For Beginners' didn't please everyone. Mark Allan Powell's Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music reports that "critics consider the American version a travesty, while collectors price the original British edition at £250." The release on American Myrrh did, however, get the band out to the States. Said Trevor, "I think we sold a number of albums in the US. But the thing was the American market in the '70s wanted something much more immediate than the music we were making. We did a couple of tours in the US. They liked some of the music we would do that was very straightforward, less complex - they loved it. But then we'd get into some of our chamber style music that was a bit more complex and they wouldn't know what we were up to really. If you look back at some of the progressive rock of the time it did get very creative and it wasn't maybe everybody's cup of tea and that was particularly so in America."

Neither did the band's progressive folk offerings always connect with British audiences. Remembered Trevor, "We were the support act for some Cliff Richard Tear Fund concerts (in the autumn of 1975). To be honest, our music and his was like chalk and cheese. His was mainstream pop and ours was more progressive folk rock type of stuff. But we connected with the audience." 
Trevor Sandford, lead singer of Water Into Wine Band died in Kent on 28th March, 2017.
by Tony Cummings
1. Stranger In The World (Trevor Sandford) - 4:22
2. I Used To Be Blind (But Now I'm Short Sighted) (Ray Wright) - 5:26
3. Jesus, I've Been Walking (Ray Wright) - 6:45
4. Hill Climbing For Beginners (Trevor Sandford) - 3:29
5. The Start Of A Run (Bill Thorp, Trevor Sandford) - 3:35
6. Song Of The Cross (Pete McMunn, Ray Wright) - 11:00
7. I Have Seen The Lord (Ray Wright) - 4:41

Water Into Wine Band
*Bill Thorp  - Vocals, Violin, Piano, Bass, Bongos 
*Pete McMunn -  Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
*Ray Wright -  Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Bass, Bongos
*Trevor Sandford - Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Bass

Providence - Ever Sense The Dawn (1972 us, wonderful baroque folk rock, 2008 edition)


Providence, a six-piece band from the Portland area that was in effect from about 1971 to 1974.  They released a single and an album entitled "Ever Sense the Dawn" in 1972 on Threshold Records
This was a really sweet group, somewhat reminiscent of the Moody Blues, but with their own individual style, very classically oriented.  
1. To Light Your Journey (Bartholomew Bishop) - 0:52
2. Mountain (Andy Guzie) - 4:01
3. Lady (Andy Guzie, Bartholomew Bishop) - 2:47
4. Sketch Number Two (Jim Cockey, Tim Tompkins, Tom Tompkins) - 0:34
5. The Stream (Andy Guzie, Bartholomew Bishop) - 3:01
6. If We Were Wise (Bob Barriatua) - 4:00
7. Fantasy Fugue (Bartholomew Bishop) - 2:58
8. Smile (Andy Guzie, Bartholomew Bishop, Bob Barriatua) - 3:18
9. Sketch Number Three (Jim Cockey, Tim Tompkins, Tom Tompkins) - 0:55
10.Neptunes Door (Andy Guzie, Tom Tompkins) - 2:57
11.Island Of Light (Andy Guzie, Tom Tompkins) - 3:25
12.Behold: A Solar Sonnet (Andy Guzie, Bob Barriatua) - 4:02

*Bob Barriatua - Bass, Vocals
*Bartholomew Bishop - Keyboards, Autoharp, Vocals
*Jim Cockey - Violin, Glockenspiel, Vocals
*Andy Guzie - Guitar, Vocals
*Tim Tompkins - Cello, Vocals, Recorders, Percussion
*Tom Tompkins - Viola, Violin, Vocals