Half a lifetime ago, Michael Ramplin was told to give up drink or it would kill him. Now at the age of 72, Michael hasn’t touched a drop since then and dedicates himself to spreading the Gospel through singing his beloved Christian country music.
He has made albums of his self-penned songs, he’s well known on the New Christian Music scene, and even had the pleasure and honour of sharing a stage in Lancashire with country legend George Hamilton IV, who also duetted with him on Michael’s third album.
Michael has an inspiring story to tell about his life, his adventures as a merchant seaman, his hard drinking days with pals, his descent into alcoholism, the anguish he caused his family, and how he turned his life around after rediscovering the Christianity that had been part of his boyhood in Colne.
Now retired and living in Nelson, Michael will be back in Colne on 7 May to present a concert at St John’s Methodist Church with two Christian musician friends, sharing their faith in song and testimony.
Born in Trawden, Michael was brought to Colne with his family and his mum enrolled him and brother Tony in the Boys’ Brigade at Trinity Baptist Church, Keighley Road, where the family were regular attenders.
He would go to the Savoy cinema in Colne – now a Farmfoods store – where he and Tony would watch the western films and he first heard the cowboy songs of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Later he discovered the music of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. “Even through the rock n roll years, although I liked Elvis it was still country music first for me,” he says.
As a teenager, Michael gained an apprenticeship at Rolls-Royce, Barnoldswick, but packed it in to go to sea and see the world, against his parents’ wishes. Wherever he went ashore, there were
bars where he’d grab the microphone to sing on stage and would try to outdrink the rest of his pals.
On a tough voyage under a brutal Australian boss, he jumped ship at Sydney and found himself with no money, sleeping rough, and after injuring himself working in a flour mill he was deported as an illegal immigrant.
Back in England, Michael married and had a son, but his drinking got worse as he worked with tarmacadam gangs. His marriage broke up, and he ended up dossing in Colne with other alcoholics.
Brother Tony had emigrated to Canada and was living a Christian life there with wife Deane, and they were shocked when they visited Colne. “They said I was 34 but I looked 64.” It was then that a doctor told him he would be dead in 18 months if he didn’t give it up.
His mother offered to take him in if he gave up the drink, and Michael took drastic measures. He shut himself in a room for a week with bottles of water to drink and a bucket in which to vomit. “I just wanted to clean it all out of me. I was in a terrible state, but it worked.”
Michael rediscovered Christianity when he saw an advertisement for a group called Gospel Road – the same name as a Johnny Cash album – who were playing at Elim Pentecostal Church in Nelson. Michael went there with his parents. “At the concert the pastor asked if anybody wanted Jesus Christ to be their lord and saviour, put their hands up. All three of us did. I just felt the peace of God start at my toes and up through my body, and all the grief and garbage just left me.”
Michael still feared he might relapse into drink, and would even cross the road to avoid walking past a pub door. He saved up enough money to visit his brother in Toronto, where they attended a huge gathering at the Queensway Cathedral.
When the minister asked anyone who wanted to be prayed for to come forward, Michael went up. The minister quoted from Isaiah: “He was wounded for our transgressions…” held his hand over Michael’s head and asked the people to pray for him to be freed. “It was like a hidden chain had been taken from me. I was set free from alcoholism.”
Michael has been happily married to his second wife for more than 30 years and worked steadily. After a brief spell back at sea in the early 80’s he returned to the tarmacadam business, until he retired. He has been a prison visitor and has visited Albanian orphanages, as one of a number of Christians who find sponsors for children there.
His concert at St John’s on Saturday 7 May at 7.30pm, admission free but donations welcome, features Martin Dawson on guitar and mandolin and Gerald Norcross on fiddle and bass guitar.
Find Michael’s music on jango.com