DAVID WOODMAN, MAX and DOUG WALKER are all Manchester-based musicians who in years past have worked with The Tribe. Tony Cummings investigates.

David Woodman
David Woodman

Down the years that the World Wide Message Tribe (later called simply The Tribe) were recording a number of musicians and vocalists were drafted in to contribute to the albums. Cross Rhythms asked three of these session-seasoned musos, guitarists David Woodman and Max and vocalist Doug Walker, to answer a few questions about their past Tribal history and their current musical activities.

Tony: How did your involvement with the World Wide Message Tribe begin?

David Woodman: My connections with WWMT go back before the band's birth, as a roadie for the Christmas Message events held at the Apollo Theatre, Manchester. Zarc Porter and Mark Pennells were the house band, so I helped lug their gear in place. In terms of musical involvement, Breakspear recorded and mixed some tracks at Zarc's studio, and through that Zarc asked me to play on 'Jumping In The House Of God III', and later, 'Frantik'. "Thank You For The Rain" and "Frantik" are probably the best-known riffs that I've added to the WWMT canon.

Max: I met Zarc Porter in approx 1987 and we quickly became good friends. I became a Christian, largely as a consequence of meeting Zarc, in 1991, and started going to the same church as him and met Mark Pennells there. By this time I was doing various guitar sessions for Zarc in his new studio. They were setting up this new schools ministry called Message To Schools (this eventually became The Message) and asked me if I would play a support slot on the Friday night concerts as well as playing on recordings. The Friday night concerts initially featured Mark as a solo performer. The WWMT happened a year or two later.

Doug Walker
Doug Walker

Doug Walker: I first met Zarc Porter in early 1996. I was touring with Youth For Christ band TVB when I was asked to sing on a couple of tracks for that year's 'Spring Harvest Praise Mix' album. It turned out that those two songs were being produced in Manchester at Zarc's studio. Although the rest of the album was being recorded with a live band in Eastbourne, Matt Wanstall had been hired to produce two dance tracks to give the album a new dimension. At the end of the vocal session Zarc appeared and asked me if I could come back and record a track the next week. He said he was working on a new album ('Jumping In The House Of God II') and he had this song ("Holy") which he'd asked The Wades to sing. For some reason or other it hadn't worked out with them and so he asked me to do it. Yeah, I know - how did that happen? From four cool black dudes to one seriously uncool white dude in one foul swoop!?! HA, HA! All I know is that Zarc had to finish that album really soon and I was in the right place at the right time!

In July, I moved to Manchester, working in a bar by day and doing church youth work by night. I started to sing in the worship at the Tribe's monthly youth service, Planet Life (I was part of the Planet Life worship team for about four years) and then they asked me to be their support act at every Friday night concert at the end of a week in schools. Because I was there they thought I may as well come on during their gig and sing "Holy", with them acting as my backing singers! I ended up going to really big gigs with them just to sing that one song. Seriously - I got to sing at London's Earls Court, the Sheffield arena and even went to Norway and Germany just to sing that one song! I had a great time.

There have been a few times when I've been called in like the SAS to help the Tribe out of some nightmare situation. The first was soon after I'd moved to Manchester. Beth Vickers (now Redman - who was at that time in charge of schools work) called me at about 6pm one night and explained that the Tribe were booked to do two school assemblies the next morning. The only problem was that Andy Hawthorne, Sophie Woodward and Cameron Dante were all in the USA! She then informed me that she wanted me to "fill in for Cameron" and do all the raps in "The Real Thing" at the said assembly! She reasoned that they HAD to do THAT song as it would be a surefire hit with the kids. There were six hours 'til midnight (I had to get SOME sleep!) and I only had the song on cassette which made learning the numerous lyrics of what is blatantly one of the fastest raps of all time(!) even harder owing to the time it took to rewind/fastforward every time a got a word wrong! Anyway, the first assembly went by without a hitch with me doing my best Cam impression and amazingly remembering all the lyrics! The second time however, did not go so smoothly. Somewhere in the middle of the song I completely blanked and forgot the words! I made some poor attempt to cover up by, if I remember correctly, making the sound of a telephone ringing! This of course made the girls in the band almost wet themselves with laughter and we only just walked out of that assembly with anything resembling dignity!

I remember once getting a phone call asking me if I was free the next day. I said, "Yeah, why?" and Tim's voice on the other end said, "Great! We need you to come to Norway! Basically Deronda is sick and can't do the gig so we need you to fill in for her - you gotta learn her songs tonight!" I learnt the songs in the remaining hours before our plane took off and did the gig, but let's be honest: for anyone familiar with the wonderfully talented big, black gospel diva that is Deronda K Lewis - there is NO WAY that any other human being, let alone a white MAN could ever fill in for her! Another time, more recently I got "that call" again. This time George and Quinton couldn't get visas to travel to some gigs in Holland. So, once again I had to learn a bunch of songs before the plane took off. My favourite memory of that trip was messing around on a scooter in a school uniform during the song "God Made Me Funky"! What a laugh!


Tony: Apart from compilations, which World Wide Message Tribe albums have you played on?

David: 'Jumping In The House Of God III' and 'Frantik'.

Max: I'm pretty certain I played on all of them apart from the last three.

Doug: I sung "Holy" on 'Jumping In The House Of God II', wrote "Gotta Be With You", "Eat The Word", which I sung on and also did a tiny bit of programming, wrote "I Give You My Life" (plus backing vocals) and I even wrote a bit of "Girl Of God" which is quite amusing if you think about it. I sang on 'Planet Life: Live And Large' and featured on 'Raise Your Game' as the American announcer at the start of one track...is it "B Boys, B Girls" or something? I don't even have a copy of the album to find out! Lastly, I was NEARLY on the 'Heetseeker' album. I originally recorded the slow song at the end "When The Day Is Over" but my voice just didn't suit it and so my pal Mr Mark Pennells Jr was pulled out of early retirement to sing it in his own, legendary style!

Tony: Now that The Tribe have become a fond memory, what things are you doing musically?

David: I lead worship at Heywood Baptist Church and have played with Breakspear and Elaine Hanley. I've released a CD of worship songs 'Audience Of One' as a way of having the songs I've written for use in worship at Heywood heard and used elsewhere. UCB Inspirational played it quite a lot last summer, particularly "Father We Praise You". I've recently contributed to the new Breakspear CD; as with every other Breakspear release, it defies description, but we've continued to stretch ourselves musically to communicate the message. I think there are two threads that link the songs together - going deeper into our relationship with God, and as a consequence of this closer walk with him, standing up for what you believe, whatever the cost.

Max: I played guitar in a band called Bliss for a number of years. I have done various session work including V*enna, Shine, thebandwithnoname, tbc, collective. I have been writing, recording and performing as a solo artist. I lead worship at my church. I have also been playing recently with Wellspring in their worship band and their jazz band. My new album is called 'Closer' and was written and recorded between 2000 and 2003. It's all me at home in my studio apart from one track which was written and recorded with my good friend James Overton at his place. The songs are about life from a Christian perspective covering a wide range of subjects. You name it, it's probably in there - love, death, new born babes, armchairs, etc. I'm relatively happy with the end result and it's got me fired up to get on with the next.

Doug: In the last couple of years I have done bits and bobs musically. A real variety of stuff. From singing on kids albums for Spring Harvest to singing one of my own songs with a 90 piece orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall! I sing as part of a trio for BBC radio on their live Daily Service, a Christian programme which goes out around the globe on long wave. That is quite scary to do - I'm always terrified that I'm gonna break wind or something else completely inappropriate! I've been doing voiceovers for TV and radio for about five years, but I've had the chance to sing some ad jingles recently which is really funny. I was part of the choir who sang with Russell Watson at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and had been singing the lead vocal during the rehearsals. The creative director of the opening ceremony had visited and heard me sing the song. At the dress rehearsal he'd quietly asked my choir director if he thought I could perform the song at the actual ceremony if Russell had to pull out at the last minute. Now that really would have been scary - I think there were a million people watching it!

I've written songs for other bands and artists, including The Tribe, Shine (I co-wrote a song "Bad Love" with Jim Overton on Shines' second album), Tomorrow's Girl, Elaine Hanley, Deronda K Lewis and a Saltmine band, Exalt.

Tony: What would you say The Tribe have contributed to the scene down the years?

David: The Tribe have been a great example of a group of people who have clearly understood the vision and call of God on their lives and committed themselves to that vision. Because of that, the Lord has blessed the work. In terms of recordings and live shows, there is a desire for excellence, rather than professionalism, that comes across. Professionalism says "look at us, aren't we fantastic." Excellence says, "We have put on the best show we can. Now we've got you're attention, let us tell you about Jesus." If every Christian musician in the UK had the same attitude, the spiritual landscape of this country would be transformed.

Max: I would say they reached a generation that were largely un-reached before. They were prepared to go out and meet the kids where they were. They have consistently communicated a positive message which I am convinced has had a huge impact on many. They have also relentlessly been pioneers in pushing the boundaries within the Christian music scene, whilst maintaining credibility as anointed evangelists.  CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.