The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

Sunday 14th November 2004

The news that THE TRIBE cease to be a functioning band at Christmas brings to an end a little slice of UK Christian music history. Producers Zarc Porter and Matt Wanstall look back over every release by The Tribe to bring a unique inside story.

(ZARC PORTER) Every band has its own story but looking back over the years it's not hard to see that God's hand was at work on this project from the very beginning. It always seemed to achieve far more than any of us could ever have imagined. Mark Pennells and myself had previously been in a band called Except For Access, trying to get a mainstream record deal. We'd had lots of interest from various labels and managers but nothing solid. During our time with the band we did some schools evangelism where Andy Hawthorne would come and preach at the end of our gigs. Mark was feeling that he wanted to focus more on schools work and I wanted to support that by working on tracks for him with some recording gear we had used for the band. I had a very basic recording studio set up in my flat in Cheadle Hulme, near Manchester, which we called Perfect Music. We recorded a schools tape, essentially Mark's solo project which he performed in schools around Manchester during 1990-1991. As we progressed, I started to work with Andy on some rap tracks, which he began using as a support set for Mark's gigs. We realised that Andy performing his own tracks was giving him an extra rapport with the kids and creating a natural set up for him to preach. It was as we began to work on a second schools tape that we thought we should merge Andy's rapping and Mark's singing and call it a band. We added a couple of other singers Elaine Hanley and Lorraine Williams who were friends of ours and Andy came up with this name, The Massive World Wide Message Tribe which we shortened to The World Wide Message Tribe. That schools tape was called Take A Long Hike (With The Chose Few).

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1992: Take A Long Hike (With The Chosen Few) released in CD form as The World Wide Message Tribe
LINE UP: David Mark Pennells Jr (I'm not quite sure why Mark called himself that!), Zarc Porter, Andy "The Heavyfoot" Hawthorne, Lorraine Williams, Elaine Hanley
(ZP) I remember a huge feeling of relief as we worked on this album, we just kept saying let's not care what anyone thinks in terms of whether it's deal worthy or professional, but let's just communicate the Gospel through tracks that the schools kid will like. Andy came in one day and said we've got to do a track about the Hebredian Revival and make it our prayer for Manchester. I started to work on this kind of raga/rave groove (which was current in the clubs at that time) and it gradually turned into the track "Revival". It was during the recording of Andy's rap on this track that he earned his nickname "The Heavyfoot". Whenever he recorded his raps he would bang his foot really loudly on the floor thus making unfortunate loud booming sounds go up into the mic. In the end we put a big squashy cushion under his foot, but we never quite got rid of the problem completely. The rave scene was crossing over into the mainstream during this period and we did "The Return Of The Queen Of Sheba", which was essentially Handel's "The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba" over a rave track so that the guys could use it as an intro to the Friday night concerts in schools. However, we did do some absolute clangers on this album, for example the song "It's A Short Life" should have had an even shorter life and never existed! We quickly found that during the concerts with so many 140 BPM tracks and everyone frantically leaping around for the entire show, we really needed a song to bring the kids down in preparation for the preach. We wrote the song "The Cross" and included an instrumental middle section based on Debussy's "Claire De Lune" so that the guys could talk or pray over it in the concerts. A few months later almost by accident, this album got a deal in the States with N-Soul Records, the company owned at the time by deejay Scott Blackwell and the only Christian company releasing dance-orientated music. "The Cross" became our first US CCM radio hit (although at the time we didn't have a clue what that meant).

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1994: Dance Planet
LINE UP: Andy Hawthorne, Mark Pennells, Sani, Elaine Hanley
(ZP) We originally released six tracks from this album, on a school's tape called 'Dance Planet (Part 1)'. Once the N-Soul deal was in place, we added some more tracks and turned it into a full album. It was just after we'd done 'Part 1' that Sani (an amazing singer from Swaziland) joined the band. We gave her the nickname Sani-Flo, which she thought was a compliment until someone told her what it meant - she wasn't best pleased! We thought it would be a good idea to try and do a worship track, but with a really manic groove and an army chant type chorus that everyone would get straight away. This was how "Alleluia" came about and it was always amazing to see these halls full of kids really going for it singing a full on worship lyric. Mark and myself are both massive Beatles fans and we always slipped into Beatle mode when nobody else was listening. The song "In My Life" was a case in point. We added lots of farmyard noises and an '80s style synth hook to try to cover it up a bit!

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1995: Jumping In The House Of God
LINE UP: Andy Hawthorne, Mark Pennells, Sani, Elaine Hanley. Plus guests: Simon Jinadu, The Jumping Crew, Jim Overton
(ZP) A typical schools week would consist of Monday to Friday doing lessons, assemblies and possibly a lunchtime concert followed by a Friday night gig where the Gospel would be presented. Often the band would then go into the local church (who would have maybe hosted the schools mission) and help take a Sunday service. This immediately led to an alienation problem. The kids that had made commitments at this booming gig with lights, PA and a dance act were thrown into what was sometimes for them a bizarre environment. This was when we came up with the idea of doing the 'Jumping In The House Of God' series. The idea was to do a worship album that could help bridge the gap between a Tribe concert and a church service. The band could lead worship themselves with songs that were already well known in the churches. Of course when it came to actually doing existing known worship songs it was much harder to make them sound current and fit into the Tribe's remit than if you started a totally new track and I don't think it ever quite fully worked. We did learn a lot from going through the process though. The guests who contributed to this album included Simon Jinadu, a singer I'd met through Matt Wanstall and Jim Overton who we'd known from being in a band called The Dive. The Jumping Crew were pretty much everyone on the album!

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1995: We Don't Get What We Deserve
LINE UP: Elaine Hanley, Andy Hawthorne, Mark Pennells, Sani
(ZP) We were trying to get hold of a recording of Duncan Cambell who was the evangelist involved with the Hebridean revival of the late 1940s. I remember saying to Andy, I hope it sounds characterful and interesting thinking we could possibly sample it and put it in a track. Sure enough when it arrived, his voice was definitely a bit unusual but it also had this incredible anointing about it. Just hearing a first hand account of what happened was gripping and incredibly inspiring. I immediately chopped it up into sections and put some beats behind it. That became the track 'Re:Revival'. On another occasion I remember putting down this weird jazz/swing thing and we had always wanted to do a track about prayer so we wrote 'We Talk To The Lord' over it. The sound of the track was a bit comedy so Andy did these tongue in cheek raps for the verses and we had the dancers doing a routine with Kenny Everett style huge hands on stage. It was very memorable, but as with any novelty track they don't last that long before they turn to cheese! As was to become the custom with all Tribe albums, we once again wanted a slow song to end the set with. Mark and myself were at a party opposite our church one day and as we needed this song, we decided to pop over to the church and see if we could write something. As I sat down at the piano I noticed that the music book on the stand had been left open to the hymn "There Is A Green Hill". I began doodling some chords and we started to sing a tune using those words and within a few minutes it had all just slotted together. That song later became our biggest US CCM radio hit (and by then we just about knew what that meant!)

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1996: Jumping In The House Of God II
LINE UP: Cameron Dante, Elaine Hanley, Andy Hawthorne. Plus guests: HOG, Jim Overton, Doug Walker, Shine, Lynsey Berry
(ZP) As we had reservations about the idea of doing another album containing just existing worship tracks, we decided to broaden the brief for the second Jumping album. We still made sure every track had worship lyrics but we included some more contemporary tracks that would not necessarily be performable in a church context. The first song we wrote was "The Real Thing" which was done partly for a BBC Radio One special we had been asked to do called the Midnight Massacre. This was when Cameron Dante (who I had got to know from working with on another project) joined the Tribe and give it a massive new lease of life. Cam was a hugely experienced DJ and knew exactly how to carry a crowd from the stage. I felt we should try to capture some of his live hype onto a track so I just put this loop on and got him to MC over it for about five minutes. That became the opening track "Kik-Start", his vocal was pretty much just done live. We also developed a middle vocal section for Elaine Hanley who was heavily pregnant expecting her second child at the time. She came in the studio and had to sit on a stool as she couldn't stand for long, I had this rough idea for her to sing, but to my surprise she started to sing it an octave higher than I'd intended which nearly blew my head off! It was amazing as she was spanning more than a 2-octave range in that section so we just recorded it there and then.

We had got to know Lee Jackson and Justin Thomas who at the time were doing the hip-hop duo HOG. We thought it would be good for us to have a go at working together in the studio, which they were up for. Mark and myself had already written a chorus for the track "Holy" and had left some gaps for raps. I was absolutely blown away by Justin, his lyrics always have this incredible depth about them but the weird thing is that he can write them in about five minutes flat. I still don't know to this day how he does that. During that session, Justin suggested that he thought we could do a title track for the album, which I was well up for doing. He basically just recorded a load of his rapping into the mic over a loop, which I then just chopped up into sections in order to structure it into a song. In the end what became the second verse didn't quite have enough lyrics to make it a complete verse but we didn't have enough time to get Justin back so I just repeated the last line to make up the length. I then programmed some beats behind it and it turned into the track "Jumping In The House Of God". That track was originally credited and intended as being a HOG track, but when Andy heard it, he loved it and wanted to make it WWMT vs HOG so the Tribe could perform it which Lee and Justin kindly let us do. With hindsight it was a real blessing they allowed us to use it, as it became a kind of anthem for the Tribe. Other guests on the album included Jim Overton and a very early incarnation of Shine. Then there was Doug Walker, who was working at YFC and was featured on an Activate album that Matt Wanstall was recording at Perfect Music. The other guest we had was Lynsey Berry, who had an amazingly pure, angelic voice and who was working with Breakspear at the time. In the States, Warner Alliance released the album and (although it wasn't strictly a Tribe album) it ended up being the biggest selling album we ever did.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1996: Revived
LINE UP: Mark Pennells, Andy Hawthorne, Sani, Elaine Hanley, Cameron Dante
(ZP) This album was essentially a compilation containing some new tracks and a few different versions of old tracks. It was released in the US to support a summer tour where we went around some of the big US festivals. I was travelling with the guys doing the live sound mix for them and I remember one day setting up some gear by a sound desk at a particular festival. A huge selling American CCM band who will remain nameless were performing and I accidentally dropped something and made their backing track CD skip which the band were not too happy about. A few weeks later we were at this huge gig in Dallas (in fact the biggest ever Tribe gig) where there were about 80,000 people present. The sound guy from the other CCM band turned up and "accidentally" dropped a big flight case on the floor in the sound area making our CD jump to a completely random place in the track. The band understandably completely lost the plot singing everything in the wrong place. That was a real stomach churning moment, 80,000 people looking bemused as to why this odd English band were such a shambles! The organisers did however let us go back on later and do "Jumping" at the end of the whole gig, which made up for it.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1997: Heatseeker
LINE UP: Cameron Dante, Elaine Hanley, Andy Hawthorne, Deronda Lewis, Tim Owen, Colette Smethurst
(ZP) I'd started working with a band from Tulsa in the US called Raze and they had an amazing singer called Donny. We found out her mum was also an amazing singer called Deronda so we very quickly snapped her up for the WWMT. I think because we'd done what became spearhead tracks for the band on the 'Jumping II' album we began to feel the pressure to try and make better tracks. The Tribe had always been about what was best for the school kids but I think with hindsight we began to lose that a bit with this album. It received great reviews but didn't sell as well as the previous albums and it didn't contain enough schools friendly tracks that worked live. We did have some good moments though, Andy came up with the topic for "Hypocrite" which Cam further developed, it was a real breath of fresh air and worked well live. Both Andy and myself had copies of an old Bob Dylan album called 'Slow Train Coming' which contained a great song called "Precious Angel". Deronda came in and sang a cover of that which worked well. We also did a track on which one of the dancers Colette Smethurst sang called "Cuckooland". She did an amazing job on that track and I always regret that she didn't sing more. The American label didn't understand the title "Cuckooland", they kept calling it Cookieland! In the end they renamed it "Without You" on the US release.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1998: Jumping In The House Of God III
LINE UP: Cameron Dante, Andy Hawthorne, Deronda Lewis, Tim Owen. Plus guests: Shine, Justin Thomas, Minds Of Men, Raze, Lucy Britten, Delirious?, Matt Redman, Storm, Bliss
(ZP) By the time we came to do this album, Mark had left the Tribe and both of us were feeling that we wanted to begin setting up other projects further afield drawing on everything we'd learnt over the years. 'Jumping III' was a bit of a free for all in the sense that there were lots of different people involved on different tracks, but it kept it very fresh and it was a joy to work on. The first band we set up after the Tribe was Shine who featured on the track "I Believe In You". As with the Tribe, they were focussed on schools work (this time in Milton Keynes), but again they unexpectedly ended up getting a record deal in the US and having radio hits. Justin Thomas came over once again and wrote the raps on the track "Lift It" for the Tribe. He also wrote and performed the raps for the track "Thank You For The Rain". On "Nothing Compares (With Your Love)" we worked with Lucy Britten (now Lucy West) who later became a member of V*enna and is currently in BlushUK. I'd got to know Matt Redman after doing some work on one of his albums and he kindly contributed a vocal for 'Be In My Life'. The Delirious? and Minds Of Men tracks were basically remixes of "Revival Town" and "Promised Land" respectively. By the time we had done this album, I was starting to feel that it was time for me to hand over the bulk of the Tribe production to my friend Matt Wanstall who could bring a fresh angle to it. Meanwhile, myself and Mark began to set up the Innervation Trust which focuses on doing exactly what the Tribe did in Manchester schools, but in different areas around the country. As part of that we also set up thebandwithnoname, which helps to recruit people for the schools bands.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

1999: Frantik
LINE UP: Cameron Dante, Deronda Lewis, Tim Owen, Emma Owen
(MATT WANSTALL) Everything about 'Frantik' is a little bit hazy for me, mainly because it was quite a while ago but my honest memories are that it was okay, but a bit of a mish mash! Dance music was starting to wane credibly and commercially at the time, and this, combined with the many influences of the band, made it difficult to pitch stylistically. Additionally, from a production point of view the WWMT was very much Zarc's own sound, so it was kind of weird to be working on his baby! Cameron Dante was also about to leave the group, which made it difficult to know how much to use him, and it was definitely a band in transition. The resulting album (Zarc and I produced roughly half each) skipped about a fair bit style-wise, and there were quite a few tracks that would tend to feature one particular band member. Of the tracks I worked on two were penned by Doug Walker ("Got To Be With You" and "I Give You My Life") and both featured Deronda vocally. One of the highlights of working on the Tribe stuff has been meeting and working with Dee, a truly amazing singer. Most of this stuff was recorded in the glamorous setting of my Salford council flat, which did at least mean (that since the vocals were recorded in the bedroom) that I couldn't see Dee rolling her eyes at me when I asked her to redo a take! I also worked on two tracks that were ideas of Cam's, "Love Is The Message" and "I'll Be There". The latter proved to be a legal nightmare, as it used sections from another song and one of the writers had disappeared off the map in South America somewhere. Since no one could find him to get permission, the publishing company couldn't allow us to use it, so at the last minute we had to quite literally cut the chorus out of the song. Needless to say it sounded quite different without the chorus, which was a real shame. I think the track I most enjoyed working on was "Joy Dayz", simply because it was a track that just came together so quickly and easily, and had such a great vibe to it.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

2001: Take Back The Beat
LINE UP: Lindsay West, Quin Delport, Jorge Mhondera, Emma Owen, Tim Owen
(MW) 'Take Back The Beat' brought quite a few personnel changes, a shortening of the name, and a bit of a stylistic shift (more R&B pop and less dance-orientated). One of the aims for me was to try and include all the band members in each of the songs in some way, to try and make a new band/collective sound as opposed to the sound jumping around each track as someone different took centre stage. This worked on some tracks better than others. The Tribe had a whole list of subjects that they wanted to cover and these were the basis for quite a few of the tracks, and as a result they're quite focused lyrically. (Having said that I've just looked at the track list and seen "Nah Nah".) There was a great vibe to the writing and recording sessions with everyone getting involved in the process so that it represented what was essentially a new band. Creativity can be exhausting however, and Jorge, Quinn and Lins became famous for their afternoon power-naps! The album's opener "God Squad" was originally a track written with Justin Thomas, and one of many attempts to answer the endless demands to come up with a 'Jumping 2' (which ironically was never really a Tribe track anyway). This never really happened, so the album ends with the simple solution of redoing "Jumping" and re-recording it with the new line up, which seemed to keep everyone happy! The whole album was written and recorded in a relatively short space of time, and was very pressurised, particularly towards the end. The last couple of weeks are particularly hazy as I was often up for two or three days at a time, developed a colossal caffeine addiction and gave everyone the sharp end of my tongue a couple of times! This was probably the Tribe album I most enjoyed working on though. The fact that Zarc produced three of the tracks ("Generation Rising", "Take Back The Beat" and "Fit To Burst") and mixed the whole album helped tie it all together and link the album with what had gone before.

The Tribe: The inside story behind all The Tribe albums

2003: Raise Your Game
LINE UP: Lindsay West, Quin Delport, Jorge Mhondera, Emma Owen, Tim Owen. Plus guests: The 29th Chapter, Andy Hawthorne
(MW) 'Raise Your Game' was written and produced over a much longer period of time, tracks being produced for various videos, events and singles. As a consequence it is probably the longest Tribe album, and the only one I worked on where there were enough tracks to be able to choose to leave some off (I wouldn't have lost any sleep if "House Of Love" and "Hey Girl" hadn't have made it on either though!) I really liked A.skilz' (otherwise known as Adam) production on "Raise Your Game" and "Shake The Floor", particularly "Raise Your Game" as it was a track I'd started working on with the Tribe that kind of stalled, and it was great to see what someone else could do with it. Although she'd left the band by then it was great to get Deronda back in on BVs for "Supernatural", one of the tracks I most enjoyed, and I loved Quin's "Talk" with him sounding very JT-like. This was so simple to record because the song sounded great, most of the parts are just from the first time we put the idea down. Doing "As One" was quite a challenge since we had to somehow fit nine vocalists onto one track, and they were never all there at once! Guests, London hip-hop crew The 29th Chapter were very un-precious about the cheesing up of their raps, and definitely a group worth hearing. It was good to get Andy Hawthorne on the album when he performed a cameo role as a ranting preacher on "Let It Go", although we had to take it a few times as he overloaded everything! One of the less conventional tracks is probably "Avenue", another track that came together in no time at all. This is not so named for any deep lyrical meaning, but simply because it sounds a little like The Streets! 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.
 

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