Frances Mary Hunter Gordon: The Woldingham Folk Mass

(1968)

It didn’t take long after Vatican II for new forms of the Mass to emerge.  This not only included the Novus Ordo Missae in 1970 (which is still in place, albeit with the Latinate English translation now in force) but also with new music.  On this side of the Atlantic, we had Peter Scholtes breaking new ground in the South Side of Chicago.  But across the pond–and really on the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum too–things were happening, and this album was one of them.

There is an interesting account of how this album came into being (and it has its own lastfm page too).  Its prime mover, Frances Mary Hunter Gordon, tells us that the motivation for it was as follows:

Before I wrote The Folk Mass, the Catholic Mass was in Latin and all the music was old fashioned, traditional stuff – very beautiful – but – it was not our music. We were the swinging 60’s – the world of the Beatles. So The Folk Mass really broke new ground. The guitar had never been used in church in that way before. We sang the Mass in English for the first time and the style was our style, for our age. At the time it was a big thing, selling to many parts of the world. Meanwhile, I was in my last few years at school, trying to pass exams to get into medical school (I am a doctor), having turned down an offer from EMI to write pop songs for artists such as Cliff Richards!

And its recording pedigree went along with that bold goal:

The Mass was recorded on Saturday 18th November 1967 at Studio 3, Abbey Road, London – the same Abbey Road that The Beatles recorded in. That year the Beatles produced Sgt Pepper. They took over 700 hours at a cost of about £25,000!

All that said, the music style is sparse.  It is simply a harmony of female vocals with acoustic guitars.  With the vocalists coming from an Abbey, one expects a “Nun-Plus” style like this, and the album doesn’t disappoint.  That ethereal style, which the English excel in, would be brought to a different level by Cloud in the next decade.  In addition to Scholtes and the Americans, the Continent was busy pushing things ahead with more adventurous productions like The Mass for Peace and the Beat Mass.  (OTOH, this Mass would fare better in real liturgy use than these two…)

The album also has an “upper crust” feel to it, underscored by the following:

It was a private record pressing although there did not seem to be a charge for the recording. EMI said “we are intending to absorb this ourselves”. This may have had something to do with my uncle knowing Sir Joseph Lockwood (Chairman of EMI)!

Would have been nice if they could have stopped by my home church…but I suppose that stuff like this helped EMI to back its claim that it was “the greatest recording organisation in the world”.

My thanks to Pascual for putting me on to this music.

The songs:

  • Introit
  • In God alone
  • Kyrie
  • Gloria
  • Gradual
  • God My Hope
  • Creed
  • Offertory
  • Sanctus
  • Our Father
  • No not one
  • Agnus Dei
  • Where has the word of God gone
  • Hail Mary

DL

One Reply to “Frances Mary Hunter Gordon: The Woldingham Folk Mass”

  1. I D/L’d the individual songs from their site months ago and it’s really getting in the way of listening to all this other music I have because
    I find it difficult to stop listening to this, to say that it grows on you is an understatement 🙂

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