Author: Andrew Fox
Music: Amazing Grace
Composer: John Newton
I was raised a Catholic. I think there are hymns that Catholics sing and there are hymns that Protestants (of all varieties) sing and sometimes ne’er the twain shall meet. At least that’s the situation I perceived in the Ireland of the early 1970s. My mother was in the local choir so I was used to hearing hymns sung around the house all the time. She sang a lot – not just hymns – but Amazing Grace was, as far as I recall (and we now know that my powers of recollection are not to be wholly trusted), a hymn that was never heard in our house.
So the first time I heard it was in 1972 when, somewhat bizarrely, it became a number one hit single in England and was heard on that bastion of pop-ness, Top of the Pops. What makes the story even odder is that the chart-topping version was an instrumental rendition performed by the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – a cavalry regiment of the British Army. Clearly the enmity between much of Ireland and the British Army at that juncture of our history was cast aside for that period since it also reached number one in Ireland. Astonishingly it was only five years later that the bagpipes featured in another huge number one in England – but that was another band and another story.