Gospel Roots: Joystrings


In our continuing series documenting the roots of Christian music we look at Salvation Army hit- makers the JOYSTRINGS.

Before Delirious? and Mary Mary demonstrated that Christian music could make the UK charts, even before the era when California's converted hippies were making their Jesus music pop rock; a bunch of British Christian musicians were climbing the pop charts and appearing on national TV. The Joystrings were, for a blink in time's eye, a national phenomenon - a group of Salvation Army cadets who in 1964 made the national pop charts, appeared in full uniform on the groovy Ready, Steady, Go TV programme and were besieged by bemused newspaper journalists intrigued at the idea of a religious group playing "beat music".

The group were formed almost by accident. In 1963 Commissioner Clarence Wiseman of the Army's Training College in London was asked to get together a group of cadets with guitars to appear on the BBC's hugely popular Tonight news programme presented by Cliff Michelmore. The cadets, fronted by a classically trained keyboard player and singer called Joy Webb, caught the TV audience's imagination. Joy recalled in her book Bridge Of Songs, "I waffled on about how the Army hoped to use this new approach to evangelism. New approach to evangelism? We didn't really have any approach to evangelism and we most certainly did not have the music. But God had decided that my life was to go off at a right angle and that the Salvation Army was going to pioneer the first use the Church in Great Britain would make of the Sixties music culture."

This quickly snowballed. A second Tonight appearance occurred a week later, this time with two male cadets Peter Dalziel and Bill Davidson and this time their appearance was watched by a top executive at EMI Records. Within weeks, the Joystrings, with their line up of Joy Webb (keyboards, vocals), Peter Dalziel (bass guitar, vocals), Bill Davidson (guitar), Sylvia Gair (tambourine, vocals) and Wyncliffe Noble (drums), were in the studio. Their first single, released on Regal Zonophone, an ancient EMI label which had become the home for Salvation Army brass band projects, was a Joy Webb song "It's An Open Secret". It became a chart hit peeking at 32 in the UK Top 50 in February 1964. Although their follow up "A Million Songs" didn't chart, a second minor hit (number 35) occurred with a Joy Webb Christmas song "A Starry Night". International touring and albums 'Well Seasoned" (1966) and 'Carols Across The World' (1967) followed. Joy went on to become a major figure in Salvation Army circles writing numerous popular congregational worship songs and pioneering the Salvation Army's Christian drama training facility. The album 'The Songs Of Joy Webb' by the Chelmsford Citadel Songsters was released in 1997.

'This article was published in Cross Rhythms magazine and is used with permission. For more Christian music features and news visit www.crossrhythms.co.uk'