Obituary: Salvation Army drummer was part of one of Britain’s first Christian pop groups

published on 10 May 2017

Wycliffe Noble OBE, was the drummer for one of Britain’s first Christian pop groups The Joystrings and an architect with a legacy of making public buildings accessible.

He was born on 12 June 1925 in Greenock to Salvation Army Officers Charlie and Mabel. During his formative years he followed his father during visits to people in need, and the poverty he witnessed had an acute effect on him.

An accomplished musician, Noble played in a Salvation Army brass band for most of his life. When General Frederick Coutts, the head of the world-wide Salvation Army, suggested in 1963 that the organisation should capture the sound of the Beatles, Noble was an obvious choice for the band, joining lead singer Joy Webb, Peter and Sylvia Daziel and bassist Bill Davidson.

 With Wycliffe Noble keeping up with the sixties beat behind his drum kit, The Joystrings were the first group to take the good news of the Christian message into the charts with hits such as It’s An Open Secret and Set The World A Singing.

The trailblazing Sixties chart pop group gave all its royalties to help people in need. The Christian musicians also played a controversial concert at the Playboy Club in London, and were asked to join Cliff Richard on tour, making numerous TV and print-media appearances, leading them to be the most-recognised Salvation Army members of the time.  

Sir Cliff Richard, in a foreword to The Joystrings book, acknowledges: “It was back in the days when guitars in church, let alone music with a beat, were for many a definite no-no. But there, in the forefront of Christian evangelism, even with a track in the secular charts, were The Salvation Army’s Joystrings, proving that the Devil certainly didn’t have all the good music!

“Thank you to all those who dared to go where others were much too cautious, for making it easier for me and for countless other Christian musicians who have come since, to minister musically in the only way we know how.”

After the group parted ways towards the end of the sixties, Noble returned to his architectural practice where he pioneered the introduction of disabled access to public buildings.

The seeds of this project were sowed when he and his wife Elizabeth were running a Salvation Army group for people with disabilities in Paddington in the late-1950s. Over time they realised for many in wheelchairs their biggest problem was not disability, but access. When asked to deliver a Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4, Noble chose accessibility as his theme which quickly led to hosting an exhibition of his drawings of buildings designed for people with a disability. This is credited by The Times as a “milestone in accessibility awareness and over the next few years he ‘practically wrote the rulebook’ on accessible building design.”

The most notable buildings he redesigned to be disabled friendly were Somerset House, the Royal Albert Hall and the Houses of Parliament. In 1983, Noble was tasked with the conversion of Park House on the Sandringham estate, the childhood home of Diana, Princess of Wales after the Queen donated it to the Leonard Cheshire charity for use as a hotel for people with disabilities.

“It is very bad theology to think that Heaven could ever be improved upon,” Commissioner Keith Banks told The Times on the news of Noble’s death. “My guess is that he may have started redesigning the place already.”

Wycliffe Noble was a beloved member of The Salvation Army from his first to final day. He was promoted to glory on 1 April 2017, aged 91.

“The Lord’s true faithful soldier, has been called to go from the ranks below, to the conquering host above." - Herbert Booth

[Watch Peter & Sylvia Dalziel and Joy Webb talk about what it was really like being in a chart-topping band]