On May 7th, 1964 The Blues and Gospel Train took off from Manchester’s Central Station to the abandoned Wilbraham Road station in the southern Manchester suburb of Whalley Range. On board were some 200 passengers who had been fortunate enough to buy tickets to the show of a lifetime.
Organized by Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp, the truly unique concert was an offshoot of The Blues and Gospel Tour, which was touring Europe for its second year running. For this event, the station had been made to appear as if it belonged in the heart of the American South, with bales of cotton, sacks, crates, broken-down farm equipment, washtubs, wanted posters and even some farm animals roaming about. The platform on one side of the tracks was the stage, while the platform on the opposite side seated the lucky audience members.
The thundering of “Blow By Blow” by the legendary Muddy Waters himself greeted the blues fans and set the tone for this incredible show. He would later perform “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had” as well. The King of Chicago Blues was joined a number of other icons, such as the electrified gospel powerhouse Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the renowned Piedmont Blues duo of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Reverend Gary Davis, and one of Chicago’s most cherished pianists, Otis Spann.
A heavy downpour put a pause on the show, but soon they returned with Sister Rosetta. After being ushered in on horse and carriage, she appropriately changed her opening number to the traditional gospel song “Didn’t It Rain.” She then took to the train platform-turned stage as soon as the weather allowed and gave what many believe to be the highlight of the entire event.
Though there were only a select few in attendance, The Blues and Gospel Train was recorded and broadcast on English television at just the right time when the blues music revival that was occurring in the country. Producer Johnnie Hamp was later told by numerous musicians, including Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page, about how inspired they had become after witnessing The Blues and Gospel Train, and it is regarded as massively significant in the culture and history of the blues.