Glasgow in the early seventies was a very different place to it is today. While it wasn’t the same place as portrayed in No Mean City, Glasgow was still a tough place to grow up. The second was still part of Scotland’s industrial heartland, where people worked hard and played hard. However, Glasgow was a city divided.
Dividing Glasgow in two were religions. You were either a Billy or Tim, and people weren’t shy about asking which side of sectarian the divide your loyalties lay. Usually, the question was “what school did you go tae son?” More often, it was which team do you support? There were two answers, Rangers and Celtic. If you gave the right answer, it was handshakes and drinks all round. However, if you gave the wrong answer, either get ready to run, and run fast, or risk finding yourself on the wrong end of a Glasgow kiss. Ironically, in a city where religion played seemed to play such an important part in daily life, Glasgow in the early seventies wasn’t really religious city.
Most Glaswegians were never near a church or chapel. That’s apart from hatches, matches and despatches. Instead, they worshipped at weekends at Ibrox and Parkhead, where Rangers and Celtic played. Then on Sunday morning when the church bells rang, many Glaswegians were sleeping off the hangover of the previous night. If the truth be told, many Glaswegians were neither God fearing, nor church going people. The members of White Light realised this, so when they played in Glasgow, they played in pubs and clubs. There was a reason for this.
Glasgow based White Light were no ordinary rock band. To the casual observer their fusion of rock, heavy metal, psychedelia and blues sounded no different to many other bands who played in Glasgow. However, when the audience listened more closely to White Light’s lyrics on songs like Prodigal and Pretty Big God, the picture became much more clear. White Light were a Christian rock band, who rather than play in churches, played in pub and clubs the length of Scotland. That had been the case since the early seventies.
That’s when White Light were born in Glasgow. In the early days, band’s lineup was fluid. Members came and go, but eventually, White Light arrived at a settled lineup. This included the rhythm section of drummer Alex Smith and bassist Dave McRoberts. They were joined by keyboardist David Murdoch and lead guitarist Doug McRoberts. With a settled lineup, White Light began touring not just Glasgow and the West of Scotland, but further afield.
Eventually, White Light were criss-crossing Scotland, playing it seemed everywhere from Dumfries to Inverness. Each night, White Light unleashes an impressive wall of sound, as they combined rock, heavy metal, psychedelia and blues. White Light’s inspirations were John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers, The Who, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, and it showed. Soon, they were attracting larger audiences. It seemed that the Christian rockers were a popular draw.
Partly, that was because people were able to listen to White Light’s music on two levels. They could enjoy a hard rocking group, as they enjoyed a night out with friends. Other people listened to White Light’s message, and this lead to them discovering their faith. That was what White Light were hoping. However, by 1972, success had come White Light’s way.
Each year, Melody Maker magazine arranged a competition, which rock groups from across Britain could enter. White Light decided to enter, and made it to the final.
At the national final, other groups played a either their own material or cover versions. However, when White Light took to the stage, they were determined to things their way. They showcased their mini rock opera Prodigal, which was based around the parable of the Prodigal Son. While White Light didn’t win the Melody Maker competition, they were buoyed by getting so far in what was a prestigious nationwide competition.
Following the success at the Melody Maker competition, White Light returned to touring Scotland. They continued to tour until 1974, when White Light decided to record their debut album. This was a logical progression for them. They were an experienced band, with a loyal following.
Having made the decision to record their debut album, White Light decided the album should be a mixture of original material and cover versions. David Murdoch penned Mighty Big God. Then he cowrote Prodigal and Now I Realise with Doug McRobert. The cover versions included John Mayall’s Where Did I Belong; George Harrison’s Awaiting On You All and Edwin Hawkins’ In My Father’s House. These six songs became Parable, which was recorded in the nearby town of Paisley.
To record Parable, White Light decided to brave the journey along the M8 to bandit country, Paisley. That’s where they met Peter May, who nowadays, is better known as an author and purveyor of critically acclaimed Tartan Noir. However, back in 1974, Peter May it seems, had ambitions to become a record producer. He eagerly awaited the arrival of White Light, and was ready to produce their debut album, which became Parable.
Once White Light had unpacked their impressive array of equipment, White Light waited for Peter May to press record. Then, the rhythm section of drummer Alex Smith and bassist Dave McRoberts joined forces with keyboardist David Murdoch and lead guitarist Doug McRoberts. Soon, White Light were in full flow, recording six songs. This included their mini rock opera Prodigal. There was, it seemed, something for everyone on Parable. Blues, heavy metal, psychedelia and rock could be heard on Parable. Surely it would appeal to agnostics, atheists, Christians and rockers?
With Parable recorded, White Light listened to the playback of the album. Quickly, White Light realised that Parable was not unlike one their live performances. Somehow, Peter May had captured the same raw energy and power of one of White Light’s live performances. Surely, this would appeal to White Light’s fans?
When Parable was released in 1974, it was on the Scotia label. The album sported a lysergic cover designed by producer Peter May. It was quite unlike what most people would’ve expected a Christian rock album to look like. If ever there was a wolf in sheep’s clothing, it was Parable. Its cover should’ve drawn attention to the album. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
There were very few reviews of Parable published. Those that were published, praised White Light’s debut album. However, when Parable went on sale, the album flopped. Hardly any copies were sold, and the album flopped. This would have ramifications over forty years later.
By then, Parable was a real rarity. Copies were literally impossible to find. Anyone wanting a copy of Parable was out of luck. Then a couple of years ago, an American record collector saw a copy of Parable for sale. The only problem it was advertised at $950.
Despite this, the record collector didn’t baulk at the $950 asking price. When word eventually got back to the former members of White Light, they were almost speechless. Parable was now one of the rarest and most expensive records. That’s still the case.
Nowadays, only one copy of Parable is being offered for sale. It’s not in as a condition as one that was sold a few years ago. Despite this, the copy of Parable will set record buyers back £370, $555 or €480. Luckily, then, that recently Sommor Records reissued Parable of CD and LP. At last, anyone who wants a copy of White Light’s debut album Parable, will be able to afford one. However, what does Parable have in-store for record buyers?
Opening Parable is Prodigal, is a near nineteen minute epic, based upon the parable of the Prodigal Son. It finds White Light are at their hard rocking best. They combine elements of blues, psychedelia and rock. There’s even a brief nod towards progressive rock. Mostly, though, White Light are rocking, and rocking hard, during this dramatic, epic musical Parable. It’s the first chapter in White Light’s mini rock opera.
The second is Mighty Big God. Although machine gun guitars opens Mighty Big God, White Light, are soon rolling back the years to the fifties. Suddenly, a slice of good time rock ’n’ roll unfolds.
Originally, the John Mayall penned Where Did I Belong was a moody blues. However, the song takes on new meaning in White Light’s hands; and fits perfectly with the rest of White Light. The song takes an almost spiritual sound, as emotion and drama combine on this slow blues. It’s a tale someone at a crossroads in their life, looking for answers and rediscovering their faith.
George Harrison wrote Awaiting On You All for his 1971 album All Things Must. Again, the song fits with the rest of Parable. It’s a akin to joyous slice of Christian rock in White Light’s hands, as they spread their message.
Now I Realise is the second song penned by David Murdoch and Doug McRobert. As the song unfolds, the songs roots are in the church. Soon, though, White Light are jamming and giving one of their best performances on Parable. There’s a nod to The Who, especially in some of the guitars and briefly, the bass. From there, the lyrics take on a celebratory sound on what becomes another tale of rediscovering faith.
Closing Parable is a cover of Edwin Hawkins’ In My Father’s House. It’s best described as a slice of uplifting piano lead gospel, with the merest hint of psychedelia added for good measure. After just six tracks lasting just thirty-nine minutes, White Light take their leave.
Forty-two years after White Light’s one and only album Parable, was released on Scotia, at last the Glasgow based band’s album is now available for everyone to enjoy. Parable was recently released by Sommor Records. This has resulted in an upsurge in interest in the album. Radio, press and television interest in White Light has been considerable. However, they’re very different to the band they once were.
No longer are they the young men that featured on the cover to White Light. They turned their back on music, and enjoyed careers as a commercial valuer, mortgage adviser, computer programmer and in Doug McRoberts’ case, a minister. The four members of White Light also have children and grandchildren of their own. They’re bemused that their father and grandfathers were once in a band. That’s the case though.
What’s more, White Light were a popular band, who played the length and breadth of Scotland. They took their message into pubs and clubs. In many places, this would’ve been like entering the lion’s den. After all, it wasn’t just Glasgow that was a tough place. So were other parts of industrial Scotland, where people weren’t shy about voicing their opinion. So to take to the stage and deliver a mini rock opera like Parable took guts. However, White Light survived to tell the tale forty-two years later.
Maybe Parable will find a more appreciative audience this time around; and White Light will enjoy the critical acclaim nor commercial success that passed them by in 1974?