Video clip: Michael English

I hadn’t heard “I Bowed On My Knees” in a while, so this clip (via sgblognews) of English with the GVB back in the day was pretty amazing to revisit. The singing is simply in a class by itself, though perhaps at this point that goes without saying. In his prime (now long passed, alas), English was able to thread his lead lines through the ever so fine space between the straightahead melody and overmuch embellishment – without oversinging. Mainly, of course, he could do this because his voice was so supple and well-supported at every register and level (Larnelle Harris is the gold standard here, from whom I’m sure English learned more than a little). I suppose it’s unfair to blame English for inflicting upon the rest of us an entire generation of singers who mistake their ability to ornamentalize their solo lines for star quality lead singing. Still, you can mark the rise of IAG singing almost to the hour of English’s rise in Christian music.

Other random comments: Talk about a fashion time machine. Check out Lowry’s pinstripes and English’s hair. Wowsers.

What’s up with gospel singers chewing gum during a set? I noticed Ray Reese doing this during the Kingsmen’s 30 minutes the other night in Ft. Myers. Is this just another way in which southern gospel lacks the music-school formality of more mainstream music? Some folk-myth about keeping the mouth moistened? Just something I haven’t noticed before that everyone does in any number of genres?

The video captures the GVB and the Homecoming Tour at a curious time, approaching the apex of its popularity when Gaither’s shows required arenas in the round but before Gaither fully inhabited the role of singing impresario that is firmly part of the tour these days. Notice how Gaither spends the entire song at the piano (Terry Franklin is singing tenor and/but Anthony Burger was not yet on board, if I’ve got my personnel history lined up right). He’s not really playing, except to fill in here or there around the track. But he doesn’t try to fill the role of singer, standing alongside the other three guys holding a mic and purportedly singing bass.

People, roles, personalities, and styles evolve situationally – a truism that we’re wont to forget until some archival clip like this reminds of just how much things that seem to stay the same actually change, imperceptively, right before our eyes. I’m just glad prison-pinstripes have gone out of style, assuming they were ever in.

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  1. Tom wrote:

    I had this entire video at one time, I’m not sure where it got to though. It’s a great video, some fantastic singing and Mark is also in top comedic form.

    And isn’t that Jonathan Pierce in the choir?!

    I caught a Michael English solo concert once, actually it was just a few months before “the fall.” He explained he always chewed gum because when he got up in front of people to sing his mouth would dry out.

  2. Brandon wrote:

    “Live At Praise Gathering” is one of the greatest concert videos I’ve ever seen, simply because it captures an era when the GVB would (and could) carry an entire program. Their repertoire consisted of a significantly wider variety of styles, therefore they were capable of maintaining a heightened level of excitement throughout. Here, the Christ Church Choir provides BGVs, and you may spot Tanya Goodman-Sykes as well as the aforementioned Hildreth/Pierce, who was hand-picked to succeed Franklin, perhaps my favorite tenor of all time (see “What A Day That Will Be” from the same video).

    Mike has done demo work for years, most notably for Daywind and in the occasional choral collection. Though his voice isn’t as pure as it was in the late eighties, you can still hear remnants of his old style on even the most recent of these projects, recalling the vocal suppleness he had before he devolved almost exclusively into IAG singing.

    Interestingly, Mike’s acceptance speech during his final year at the Dove Awards included an homage which began, “I’d like to thank my gum…”

  3. MM wrote:

    Still my favorite Gaither video. I believe this is when they first started the “Jesus on the Mainline” routine. Very Funny! To hear Terry Franklin sing “Little Is Much” is a real treat.

  4. MM wrote:

    *Update* I search for Mark Lowrey on Youtube brings three other clips from the same video including the afore mentioned “Little is Much”, and “What a Day That Will Be”. Also, “There is a River” Worth the time to check out.

  5. Brandon wrote:

    Thanks, MM. They’re not easy to locate, so here are links:
    What A Day That Will Be
    There Is A River
    Little Is Much
    … or you could purchase ithere.

  6. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The prison stripe suit was not in style at the time. It was merely Lowry being Lowry.

    That was a great video. I wish they’d release it on DVD. It actually came out after the first Homecoming video.

    The best thing Michael English has done in recent years is his Christmas project. His range isn’t as high as it used to be, but he can still do some impressive embellishments with his voice.

  7. David wrote:

    Ray Reese’s gum is legendary-when The Old Time Way CD came out, it included a song called “I’ll Leave it All Behind.” It was performed in concert around an antique RCA microphone and at some point in the song Ray’s gum would come out and stick to it. Then at the bass solo on the last chorus, Ray would sing, “I’ll leave my gum behind” to the laughter of the crowd.

  8. KB wrote:

    I have used the gum trick in the past. It works to an extent, but I also find that it can hinder your ability with something flopping around in your mouth….

  9. oshwayne rondganger wrote:

    mike is one of my best solo perfomers. for me during the years he just kept growing in his music.
    thi is a very good video.

  10. quartet-man wrote:

    I discovered this old thread while looking for something else. As far as the Jesus On The Mainline routine, they actually did it earlier when Murray was in the group. It was on the Gaither Vocal Band and Trio in Concert VHS released before this. In some ways it was funnier there, but I can’t be sure if it is because it was the first place I saw it, or because the other was more over the top. :-)

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