In the mid 1960’s, while the Beatles were touring America, leading gospel and blues artists from America toured the UK and Europe.
One particular famous event, which I saw on TV in May 1964, was the Granada Television Blues and Gospel Train concert. Even now, thinking back to the concert, the stetting was strange, in a disused railway station in Manchester, dressed to look as it was from the deep south of America.
Naturally, being held outdoors in Manchester it rained. That however drew one magical and memorable performance from Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing ‘Didn’t It Rain’. Here it is. The background to the concert is discussed HERE as the BBC looks back to the 50th anniversary of the concert. Below the video I’ve picked out the amusing part of the story, told by the Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp
Mr Hamp himself says the idea for the station set rolled out of an early show he had done, in which he hired three trains as a backdrop for Little Eva’s The Loco-motion.
“Hiring them meant I had a relationship with the railways, so when we decided to do the second blues show outside of a studio, they tipped me off to the derelict station. I asked if they could throw in a train as well, which we dressed with a cow-catcher and such like, and everything fell into place. Of course, the imagery of the trains, the whistle blowing in the distance, is one that is long associated with the blues.”
The station was dressed up to look like one from the American South, but typically for Manchester, the weather did not echo that area’s dustbowl conditions. Shortly after the train which carried the audience the few miles south from Manchester’s city centre pulled in, a storm lashed the station.
Mr Hamp says the downpour would have been his worst memory of the show had it not led to his best.
“Sister Rosetta came to me and asked if she could change her opening number to Didn’t It Rain?,” he said. “When she strapped on her guitar, it was astounding.”