14. An Instumental

‘There Will be a Happy Meeting in Glory’ – Joseph Spence

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This is the first time since Day 1 that I haven’t been able to find an online recording of the song, but it doesn’t really matter. While Happy Meeting in Glory is my favourite song by the Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence, really any of them will do here. Any, at least, where Spence doesn’t sing.

What’s so striking about these recordings – apart from Spence’s agility and the syncopation of his improvisations – is his extraordinary groaning. Spence’s playing is accompanied, not by singing, nor even quite humming, but by a constant track of involuntary grunts and moans.

At first it can be quite distracting – the same effect as when you first hear it on a Glenn Gould record: What was that?! The sound engineers in Gould’s recording sessions would try everything from microphone placement to lowering certain frequencies in the mix in an attempt to minimise the pianist’s involuntary wailing. But now it has become part of Gould’s cult, a sense that these recordings contain – in a literal, corporeal sense – the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotion.

I suppose this is true for Spence too. Or perhaps, since a large part of these recordings is improvisation, we might think of those involuntary noises as the whirring of Spence’s brain, an audible version of the browtapping or pencil-chewing we do when working out a problem.

Reverend Gary Davis does it too from time to time. But Davis – the consummate showman – is far too canny a performer for us to take these gestures at their face value. Passed through the filter of Davis’s caustic wit, a grunt becomes a mockery of grunts, a sniff a sly joke about performance and authenticity.

13. On Interpretation 31 Songs Home 15. Song from an Album I Liked Less over Time