BY ALL ACCOUNTS, over the next two days Britain will be subjected to the worst storms it's seen since The Great Storm Of 1987. We here at MOJO will be hoping that everyone makes it through unscathed and when we're huddled in our tornado cellar with our billycan of hot beans we'll be keeping our spirits up by playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe's May 7, 1964 performance of Didn't It Rain.
Filmed at the abandoned Wilbraham Road rail station in Manchester's Whalley Range, Blues And Gospel Train was Granada TV's brave attempt to bring The American Folk Blues Festival to the north of England. With an audience of 300 beatnik teenagers seated on one railway platform, the space "across the tracks" was designed to resemble a rail station in the American Deep South, complete with horse-drawn carriages, hessian sacks, wooden crates, rocking chairs, and even a few goats and chickens. The line-up on the day featured Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, The Reverend Gary Davis , Cousin Joe Pleasants and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGee, but the performance that truly stands out, nearly fifty years on, is that of the 49 year-old sharecroppers' daughter from Cottonplant, Arkansas.
Dressed for church, in dinky red wig hat and bright white diamante housecoat (with matching shoes and electric guitar), Tharpe captivates from the moment she strut-strides across the platform with "Uncle" Joe Pleasants, telling the rain-sodden crowd "how happy I am to be here".
Schooled in Chicago's Roberts Temple Church of God In Christ, as well as the lewd blues of Harlem's Cotton Club, Tharpe was at home singing for a Tall Skinny Papa as she was belting out the spirituals, and her performances walk a playful knowing line between barrelhouse sauce and stomp-down Christian evangelism.
Tharpe went electric in 1947, and her finger-picking and string-bending playing style was a significant influenced on Chuck Berry, while her on-stage guitar wiggle reputedly influenced the young Elvis Presley.
You can learn even more about Tharpe's remarkable life - including a public wedding at Washington's Griffith Stadium that predated Sly Stone's own live nuptials at Madison Square Garden in 1974 - by watching Mick Csaky's top-notch Tharpe 2013 documentary, The Godmother Of Rock & Roll. Watch it on YouTube, then buy the DVD.
PHOTO: Getty Images