Original Cast Recording

A Man Dies

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The origins of this album and the production behind it could probably fill a book, with some justification. Toward the end of the 1950s, religious leaders in England, as in a major part of the rest of the industrialized world, became increasingly concerned with what they rightfully perceived as a falling away of younger people from the attendance of church, and a belief (or the seeming need to believe) in God. In 1959, the Reverend Ernest Marvin, minister of St James' Presbyterian Church in Lockleaze, a suburb of the English city of Bristol, and Ewan Hooper, a newly arrived actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, decided to try and do something about it by devising a version of the gospel that young people could relate to -- the result was a modern passion play in which younger performers would participate, in modern dress and using modern music: rock & roll. In America such an idea would have been considered blasphemous in most locales, but in England there's always been a willingness on the part of at least a major portion of the population to adapt and experiment -- it might go back to that whole business with Henry VIII and the English Reformation -- the result, eight years before Hair went on the boards in New York and a decade prior to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ, Superstar, was the first Christian musical and, arguably, the first rock musical. Originally called Man in Time, it was presented in 1960 and again in 1961, this time with television cameras running for a broadcast special from Bristol, and a single record of two of the songs, "Go It Alone" b/w "Gentle Christ," performed by Valerie Mountain and Ricky Forde, two Bristol-based singers, was released by EMI's Columbia label that year. This new rock "Passion Play" became an annual event and quickly picked up a national following, sufficient to justify it being performed at Royal Albert Hall in London in 1964, accompanied by the cast album; and it was broadcast as a four-part mini-series on British television. Although its influence ultimately paled next to the impact of the Merseybeat boom and the cultural influence of the Beatles, which extended far beyond England -- and chanced to intersect with some of the same concerns that had motivated the composers of the original work, when John Lennon remarked on the Beatles being "bigger" than Jesus -- in England the work was performed regularly at least through 1966. And it was remembered with sufficient fondness to result in reunions of the original participants, both in Bristol and in Carnoustie, a Scottish seaside town where another production had taken root in 1962, some four decades after the fact. This album contains most of the music from the 1964 production, some 24 tracks featuring Valerie Mountain, Ricky Forde, et al.

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