Oxygen: A breath of fresh air hits the UK pop scene

Thursday 1st November 2001

They may not be getting quite the media hype of Hear'Say but new British pop gospel team OXYGEN have still benefited from unprecedented media interest. Andrzej Iwanowski got their story.


During the summer of 2001, a new term "Christian popstar" entered the vocabulary of the Christian music media machine surrounding the launch of Britain's first Christian popstars Oxygen. Since their launch earlier this year and with the release of the single "One Step Closer" and now their album 'React' Oxygen have been constantly described as the Christian equivalent to Hear'Say from ITV's popular television show Popstars.

Said the band's David Barker, "I wanted to be a musician in a secular band and witness to my faith in that world. So when I first heard about a Christian popstars band I was slightly hesitant. It was only when several people in my church said that I must do it that I decided to audition. But I can definitely say now that it was the right decision. I realise, having seen a bit more of the music business, that being part of a secular rock band would have put me under a lot of pressure and could have proved a real test for my faith."

Hear'Say, whose chart success Oxygen hope to emulate, are genuinely admired by their Christian counterparts. "I think they're really good and they coped well under all the media pressure," continued Barker. "I think they did well to keep their sanity, but whether they'll endure - well, we'll have to see. Most bands have a short shelf life these days."

It remains to be seen what will be Oxygen's shelf life. They were formed through a tie up between Youth For Christ (YFC) and record company ICC. Earlier this year in March auditions took place, where more than 50 potential "popstars" were assessed not only on their dancing/vocal abilities, but also on their character and Christian faith. Oxygen is made up of two girls, Claire Blakemore and Heather Allcott, and two guys, Dave Barker and Peter Cant. Claire, aged 22 from Bath, has worked in the past with YFC's Activate Theatre Company together with her husband Simon and performed in the Soul Survivor band Storm and YFC creative arts team. Heather, aged 21 from Rugby, has also worked for YFC's Activate Theatre Company for the past two years and works as a waitress for a well known restaurant chain. Dave, aged 23, lives in Northampton and has a degree in music and has performed in various musicals/dramas and in his spare time is a supply teacher. Finally, Pete from Reading is the eldest at 24 and turned down his dream job to be a fire fighter the same week he joined the band; and last year he recorded a contemporary worship album.

Oxygen launched their new album 'React' at London's prestigious Rock Garden venue at the end of the summer. 'React' contains 12 pop songs and includes the three songs on the single "One Step Closer", which was written by songwriter/performer Andrew Flannagan, YFC's director of music. Andrew also wrote three other tracks on the album. Veteran songsmith Paul Field wrote several songs on the album. Paul describes the album as "a combination of tight vocal sounds on top of a contemporary pop, R&B mix."

One of the main aims YFC formed the pop band Oxygen is to promote the message of Christ to young people in a way that is culturally acceptable, using music that they relate to and enjoy at the same time. Oxygen are currently on a 10-date non-stop UK tour, supporting the hugely successful Manchester-based Christian dance/pop act The Tribe on their 'Take Back The Beat' tour. I asked the band at their album launch if they would define themselves as a pop band or as a Christian pop band? They replied, "Definitely first as a Christian pop band, we're an evangelism band, so obviously the Christian element is the focus of what we do. To say that we are a pop band would be wrong, it wouldn't be going with the vision that we've been given as a band from God. So definitely, yeah a pop band, but a Christian pop band, first and foremost."

Certainly the band have created a favourable impression in the mainstream media. The Big Issue wrote recently, "They lack the air of edgy desperation of so many wannabes." Their manager Damian Wharton had the final say, "It's been very exciting so far. I think time will show that Oxygen are not a novelty act and our hope is that through their music they will be able to challenge the view that many young people hold about Christianity and ultimately the image they have of God."

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.
About Andrzej Iwanowski
Andrzej Iwanowski is a bit of an expert on sanctified dance music and supports Leicester City FC.


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