Husband and wife duo DAVID AND CARRIE GRANT have delivered a sizzling R&B gospel album. Pippa Rimmer quizzed the couple.
David Grant may have often winced at pop pundits' description as "Britain's Michael Jackson" but certainly in the early '80s he was one of British black music's most consistent chart makers. Starting with the duo Lynx he cropped up six hits including the biggies "You're Lying" (1980) and "Intuition" (1981) while his solo hits included "Stop And Go" and "Watching You Watching Me" (1983) and his smash duets with Jaki Graham "Could It Be I'm Falling In Love" and "Mated" (1985). In more recent times David had some club music success, on 4th And Broadway, with "Life" and "Keep It Together".
David's Christian conversion and his highly visible work with London's Kensington Temple and their School Of Creative Arts meant the pop/R&B star has made guest appearances on numerous Christian albums for the likes of Ian White, Dave Ellingham, Raul D'Oliviera, Asia Worships and, of course, KensingtonTemple. With his wife singer/actress Carrie now very much part of the act, a fully orbed gospel album was long overdue. It has now emerged, viaICC. 'Watching And Waiting' has brought forth more than its share of accolades even being described by Hardzone's Bim Babatunde as "The best British gospel album ever."
It was in 1984 that David first began to focus on spiritual things. "I'd had about four years of making records, then about four years of success. It was a really odd thing - so many things I wanted in my life I had, so many of the material things, and the recognition, and yet with all that it wasn't as though I was filling the gap I knew existed in my life. It wasn't enough. I was brought up going to church and it's funny, because when you've been brought up on a dose of religion, as opposed to faith, you tend to feel when someone addresses an issue of faith, 'I've been there, I've done that,' even if you haven't. Even if you thought you had something that was a force of habit, something you do on a Sunday, that doesn't actually impact the rest of your life. I used to think that as a child I did all that, and it hadn't actually made me any different. I'd kept rules and followed regulations, and I'd done the right things, and it hadn't made me feel any more secure, any more real. It hadn't really made sense of my existence."
It was a 'chance' meeting with ex-Kajagoogoo member Nick Beggs, who had become a Christian, that made David take a second look at his life. They had a few chats about God and even though David thought he knew the Bible, he realised that he lacked what really mattered. So the quest to find out more began. He continues, "It was great, because I bumped into some guys at a church that I'd sort of stumbled into, and they said, 'You know if you ever want to talk about anything, or if there's something you want to know, whatever time of day, just give us a call.' So the first time I tried to call them was about half past 12 at night and they convened around one of their houses within three quarters of an hour, and they all got out of bed and left their wives and we got together and chatted till about three in the morning. We'd do this on quite a few occasions, for about nine months. At the end of it, I realised that what I'd had before was the Bible, which was great. I'd had teaching, which was great. What I'd never had was a personal relationship with Jesus, and having seen the way that he'd affected the lives of the people that I knew, I wanted to have what they had."
Making that commitment to God seemed almost easier than the public scrutiny he had to endure. After several appearances on Top Of The Pops he was now famous. But did his fame make it difficult for him to enjoy being part of a church? David chuckles. "It was a bit like that. It was odd - you could go into a church and sit down but at the same time I always felt as if I was on duty. It was quite hard to completely unwind and let myself be myself. In the first period prior to becoming a Christian, when I was just going to church, there were times when people would say things from the platform and I would feel that God was really speaking to me, but I would feel too embarrassed to do anything about it because I'd know it would go beyond the walls of the church. When you have an image, and out of the reality, it becomes very difficult to separate the two, having to maintain the image, and finding it hard to be myself, and saying, 'I don't care what people say,' coming forward to the front of the church, for whatever reason, even if nobody there knows you, it's always hard. I'd convince myself that if I was a plumber it would be alright, but I was trying to find a way out of having to step forward and say, 'Yes, I'd like to have someone pray for me,' or 'Yes, I have a problem that I'd like to discuss with anybody.' I'd go in there, think I have a problem and I can deal with this, but then it was, 'Blow, I can't really', and walk out, and it was almost like it was my cop out, until one day I felt I couldn't cop out any more."
Despite the embarrassment, David continued to attend church in the hope of finding what he was looking for. In the warm up to becoming a Christian, was there a specific time where everything made sense, and he decided to take the plunge? "Yes, there was," remembers David. "There came a time when having looked at the way things were and looked at my life, and accepted that I believe now that Jesus was who he said he was, it came to a point where I thought, 'If he's really God, if he's God incarnate, and he really died for me, what am I going to do about it?' The incredible thing about faith, particularly with the Christian faith, particularly with the relationship with Jesus, is because you can't be born into a relationship with Jesus, you can only be born into people who have that relationship. The onus is always on a commitment. It can't be, 'Well, I've never even thought about it, I've just always been a Christian.' I know people who've had that experience, but certainly I was never one of them. I grew up in a Christian home, with praying people who really believed, but they made it clear to me that that was their belief, their faith. All they could ever do was share that with me and that ultimately that decision would be mine."
It was about this time that David was going out with Carrie, who wasn't a Christian. She was a TV presenter on Freeze Frame and David was one of the guests. Not backwards in coming forwards, he asked her out on the train back to London! What did Carrie think of David when they met? "He was very interesting," Carrie confesses, laughing. "But that probably shows more where I was at than him. I was a real weirdo when I met him! I was quite a heavy character, into loads of things. I was basically into a mish mash of every religion you could think of and when I met David he was trying to work his way back to God, but I don't think he had been born again. I think he was just interested and knew it deep in his heart that that was where he was going. When he met me, he was trying to witness to me, but I was saying, 'No, Buddha is Lord,' all these weird things! I was very strange and his witnessing didn't really have any effect on me. I think because he was really backslidden and he really didn't have that born again experience himself. It was only when he sat with Nick and I sat with Boo (Nick's wife) that I actually met with someone who had a really deep relationship with Jesus, and who really showed me the love of Jesus. It was so interesting because I was desperately searching for the truth, but to be honest, it was the truth of Jesus. But more than that, it was the love of Jesus. God actually displays love and the truth within this whole loving thing is what appealed to me."
That night Carrie was born again and began to understand the true meaning of repentance and faith. But while she was busy giving her life over to Jesus, in another part of town David was once again seeking the advice of Nick Beggs. This time, it involved Carrie. "I told Nick," says David, "'Look, I'm going out with this girl and she's not a Christian, and I'm sort of teetering on the edge. If I go along with this relationship, I'm not going to commit my life to Jesus, because she's not that interested. What do you think I should do?' Nick said, 'I think if you want to go God's way, she's going to have to go.' So I said, 'I think you're right, okay.'"
Despite his amorous affections towards Carrie, David was preparing to lay down all his dreams in order to get things right with God. Meanwhile, Carrie was experiencing new life as a Christian and preparing to tell David the good news! David tells the ironic tale, "They (Carrie and Boo) were sitting at one table, I was sitting at another with Nick saying, 'She's going to have to go,' Carrie was sitting at another saying, Tell me about Jesus.' I went off home, prayed, said, 'For the first time in my life I'm going to trust you, going to commit my life to you. This relationship is getting in the way of me and you. I'm going to do what's right.' I went to pick her up that night and lo and behold, she'd decided that she wanted to give her life to Jesus. She knew nothing of what I was going through, she knew nothing of the decisions I had made, that I was making, and for the first time I thought, 'Yeah, God actually understands. He really cares.'
"I felt a bit like Abraham. Killing your son and giving up your girlfriend of six weeks, are not quite comparable experiences, but I felt like saying I will sacrifice everything. I'd sacrifice something that had become in a very short space of time the most important thing in my life; I'm willing to sacrifice, because I want you more. It was like God was saying, 'You don't have to sacrifice her, you just need to know that you want me more.'"
Carrie is no stranger to showbiz, having been a dancer, a TV presenter and a singer. And it's the last bit that interests me, for Carrie has a deep, dark secret that, until now, remained covered. It's confession time. Carrie represented Great Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1983! Sadly, it was "nul points" all the way, but that TV appearance was instrumental in leading her into a four-year TV career where she first met David. As well as doing some session singing together, she and David have founded a choir. Carrie explains, "The Grant Choir is basically like a resource in the industry for people who need choirs, like Diana Ross, or Gary Barlow, or Sting, and so on. We now take upwards of about 40 people for TV stations, radio and live work."
It's clear that God has brought the Grants together for a purpose, not just to make music but to affect the lives of people around them. Seeing as they mix with plenty of showbiz celebrities, I guess they combine the music element with their faith and use both as a platform for evangelism? "Definitely!" Carrie enthuses. "That's really the whole point of the choir. If the choir was meant to be a church choir we'd be called the Jesus Saves Choir! The reason why it's called the Grant Choir is because we go out there into the world and we live the gospel. We have seen some amazing things happen. When we get together at Top Of The Pops, we just get together and worship and that's normally how things happen. We worship together before we go on stage and before we know it, people start knocking on the door. You get people coming in and saying, 'Excuse me, I'm on stage in a minute but can I come in here for a minute and just listen,' or 'Can I come in here and join in' or 'Can I pray' or 'Can you pray for me.' We have the most incredible conversations and most incredible experiences with some of these people and it's a real privilege to be in that situation. And David and I really feel called to the whole market place area. We don't feel we're called just to the Church, and for us to really share our faith in that whole context is a real privilege."
On to the album 'Watching And Waiting'. It's an experimental concoction of R&B, gospel and worship. One of the most interesting tracks is "The Word", an atmospheric blend of music and the Word. "It was something I really wanted to do for a long time - to use a really contemporary beat and put some Scripture to it, because a lot of people read the Bible and it's really dry to them, so let's put it to something that people will listen to the groove, and go, 'Wow, this is great'. A lot of people who read it won't even know it's the Bible until they read the album sleeve and go, 'Wow, that's the Bible,' and then they'll want to read it. So we said okay and we went in there, Carrie read from the NIV and I read from the Message. We just looked at each other across the studio and did it in one take."
The track has had a huge effect on non-Christians who have been surprised that the Word of God can be so relevant in a cynical, selfish age. "Because we've read it so often, we overlook the fact that there are hidden treasures in there. Because of a real familiarity with the words, sometimes reality breads not only contempt but also real disregard. Certainly for me, when I hear something again in a fresh context, suddenly I'm struck again by how wonderful it is, how powerful it is, and that's what we hope the effect of The Word' will have on people."
It hasn't escaped my notice that "He Will Be There" has a bit of an Al Green kick to it. David comes clean. "We're both lovers of Al Green and we wanted to do something with certain songs on the album. One of the things we love about the '70s style of music is that the stuff sounds real - it sounds organic, stripping away a lot of the programmed stuff and a lot of the computers and just making it real. Having real people playing, and not saying, 'This is what you do, this is how I want you to do it,' is great when you're working on stuff, particularly gospel stuff, with Christians, and you use the instruments to express how you feel, to express your relationship with God, to express the gifts he's given you. What happens is you end up with something that's so organic, so natural, so real, which lets you do all those things you wanted to do on records but were always afraid to do."
Over to Mrs G as I wonder what was Carrie's favourite memory of making the album? "I think two things really stand out for me. One, the reason why we made the album was when I was out in Sierra Leone in Africa. My father, in the last few years of his life, became a Christian and went on to be a missionary in Africa. He died out there from malaria last year. I went out there to bury him and while I was out there I saw his life and what he'd achieved in so few years. I just said to the Lord, 'God, what can I do with my life to have this kind of impact? I live on the cutting edge of showbiz - what's it all about? What can I do?' And I really felt God say to me, 'Make a gospel album, it's time for you to do it.' We'd known we were meant to do it but we didn't know whether it was the season. I came back and said this to David and he said he'd been thinking the same thing. So we decided we'd do this whole project for God and I think that was a very profound moment in the whole birthing of the album. But I think in terms of recording, it was just the 15 days together with our band, and the producer, and just the amount of funny stories and particularly all the West Indian stories of the black churches. It was hilarious! I think we spent more time laughing than we did recording! We were just on the floor of the control room laughing for most of the day and it would get to about 11 o'clock at night and we'd say, 'I suppose we ought to do some recording then'. We had some great times and it was great, because we just worshipped. We just got up there and said, This album is not for public consumption.' Of course that's what we'd like now we've finished it, but we were just doing it for God, because we wanted to do it, because that's what God said to do."
The joy and sense of fun come over in the album, as does their faith and love of God. Having straddled both Christian and mainstream arenas, the Grants have seen both sides of the market. They have both seen God work powerfully in their lives, weaving the loose strands together for purpose - to affect a change and to bring their dynamic blend of fun and faith to touch the music world with the gospel of Jesus.