Paul Loader recounts the late '70s, early '80s history of Bristol metal band AMAZIAH
One of the strangest subsections of the Christian music industry is the niche market for rare Christian vinyl which exists among American record collectors. Just why oldies enthusiasts are prepared to pay huge amounts for copies of Agape's 'Gospel Hard Rock' (1971) or The Crusaders' 'Make A Joyful Noise With Drums And Guitars' (1966) is to most British minds a complete mystery. It just seems that of the tens of thousands of releases which sell in small quantities, a few are designated "collectable" and fuelled by their rare appearances in album auctions their "value" shoots ever upwards. Mark Allan Powell's book Encyclopedia Of Contemporary Christian Music features an entry for a late '70s hard rock band called Amaziah and concludes with the amazing revelation that "a copy of Amaziah's album with its original cover can sell for up to $1,500." What is intriguing about Amaziah's brief history was that they were British. What is even more intriguing is that their numbers included a young bass player who today, when not working at his day job in Bristol and playing with The Mudheads, reviews albums for Cross Rhythms. So we couldn't resist the opportunity of asking Paul to recall the short but intriguing history of these Bristol-based hard rockers.
It was 1975, I was at the Hartcliffe School West Building school hall and I, a 14 year old boy, was about to witness my very first live concert. The band playing were Amaziah and they blew my mind! I can still vividly recall the shiver that ran down my spine as they hit that very first power chord. It was as if all at once they would lose control of the power that reverberated around the hall and chaos would sweep in. You must understand that I was a good Christian boy, brought up in the church, whose only experience of live music came from folk-gospel trios like The Outreach - nice young men with big acoustic guitars and even bigger moustaches. Amaziah were something different - a rock band, meaning electric everything and with a HUGE rock and roll drum kit. Add to that lights like you would not believe and loads and loads of volume and I was completely entranced. It ignited a spark in me that not only refused to go out but grew brighter and brighter. I wanted to play music like Amaziah, I wanted to be in a rock band. And so it came to pass that four years later I was the lead singer of that very same band. And we got one heck of a lot louder I can tell you!
The origins of Amaziah go back to the early 1970s. Astonishingly, in the light of the heavy metal band Amaziah were to become, they were originally a 13-piece choir with a seven-piece backing band. The original aggregation were originally formed to perform a musical penned by America's Jimmy and Carol Owens called 'Come Together' that was being performed at Bristol's Colston Hall and had originally featured as its narrator American Pat Boone (he had the whitest teeth I had ever seen up until the Osmonds'). Here in the UK, the Bristol 'Come Together' organisers had pulled in musicians and singers from all over the West Country. They put on quite an event. My own father, Graham Loader, took on Pat Boone's roll when the show went on a smaller West Country tour and many Christians were blessed and encouraged by a musical which though sounding rather quaint today was cutting edge for '70s church culture.
The musicians who performed at the Colston Hall had such a good time that they felt that they would like to carry on when 'Come Together' left town. With the name Amaziah they began to play occasional concerts. It must have been one heck of an entourage what with 13 singers, seven musicians (presumably dragging along other halves) and a full road crew, lighting engineers and sound guys! Even a non-mathematician could calculate that if each person connected to the band managed to bring just one other person to a gig, the venue would in all probability be full. Amaziah became well known in West Country church circles. With the size of the entourage it has hardly surprising that relationships developed beyond the musical ones. There was soon an Amaziah marriage (one of the choir married the rhythm guitarist) followed by the first Amaziah baby. The band even brought on board the services of Eric Cribb as band pastor to oversee the spiritual needs of this small community. However, Eric always had an eye for an opportunity and quickly took on the role of band manager and featured largely in the latter end of the band's history. Amaziah performed big production numbers, often written by keyboard player Andy Marshall, and because of the physical size of the ensemble, every gig was a major undertaking. The band's frontman and singer Derek Elliot had a very distinctive vocal that blended in beautifully with the other singers and gave an almost operatic quality to the shows.
However Amaziah's huge personnel was never going to be viable for too long and by 1978 the choir had gone and Amaziah had become a six-piece. By the time I auditioned for the band as the bass player, only two of the original members remained; Derek Elliot on lead vocals and Richard Grinter on rhythm guitar. The other members had become decidedly younger! Jez Coad was a dynamic 18 year old guitarist with a love for classic rock. Dave Steel was an extremely talented and versatile keyboard player and Phil Williams a 16 year old drummer who was a real metal head despite his love for reggae. I had been invited to audition for the bass player's role despite having never played a bass guitar in my life although I insisted that I was a virtuoso. My first foray into Christian music was based on a blatant lie, I'm embarrassed to admit.
Unbeknown to me Dave Steel had heard of the name Loader before. More exactly he had heard that my father was a well known evangelist linked with the Brethren. So although he had never met me he assumed that I must be a straight haircut, corduroy trousered, sandal wearing preacher's kid and that I would in no way join a band that he was in. In fact he was so adamant that he threatened to quit if I got anywhere near his beloved band. Of course I turn up with long blond hair, torn jeans and a scruffy denim jacket and as far as Dave was concerned I was in, it didn't matter what my playing was like. Just as well really as I couldn't play to save my life. Jez, committed to having younger, scruffier members, volunteered to take me on and teach me what to play. Incidentally, Dave and I quickly became firm and loyal friends and remain so today. I had approximately one month to get up to speed, but what a fun month that was. We didn't do a fantastic number of gigs as that lineup, probably about half a dozen, but they were happy times. The four younger members lived almost permanently at Jez's parents' place as we practiced long into the night honing our craft.
In the summer of 1979 the decision was taken to record Amaziah's first (and only) album. To produce it we got Keith Loring, a popular Christian singer/songwriter of the time. The band went into the studio in Bristol and recorded 'Straight Talker'. From my point of view the recording process wasn't the most interesting thing I had ever done. I wasn't the most dynamic of bass players in those days and I was the only member of the band who wasn't allowed to sing backing vocals (a strange decision considering I was the band's lead singer in a matter of months). This experience proved the quality of the band's musicians and that I was never going to be a recording artist. I got bored far too easily and I missed the buzz of the audience.
We did get a hint of the kudos a record can bring you when Phil Williams and I were sat in the huge crowd of the now iconic 1979 Greenbelt Festival, waiting for Sir Cliff of Richard to take to the stage. We were chatting to two guys from Manchester radio about the band that we played in and they quite clearly didn't believe a word we were saying. Then, what did they play over the stage PA, the last song before Cliff took to the stage? "He Is Lord, Pass It On", the final and my favourite track off 'Straight Talker'. We were beside ourselves with excitement. We were well on our way and we lay back and day dreamed that soon we would be playing that very same stage to THAT audience.
With the release of the self-financed 'Straight Talker' the younger members of the band began to get itchy feet and wanted to take Amaziah to a new level. We wanted to go professional. This of course was always going to be impossible with the two older members of the band as they had families to support. Eric Cribb was by now in complete control of the band and was as ambitious as us kids, and with our support he took what I feel now (that I am older and wiser) was a rather harsh decision. We asked Richard and Derek to leave. The fact that they were two of the founding members was immaterial to us as we had mountains to climb and they would hold us back. Thankfully, both these guys are gracious and wise men of God and today neither appear to hold a grudge towards us and I have performed with Richard on several occasions in the years since.
Anyway, the four of us were set to take on the Christian music scene by storm when a bitter blow was dealt us from which, in truth, the band never really recovered. Jez's parents had scrimped and saved in order to give their youngest son a decent education with the hope that he would go on to be a doctor. He had been offered a place in the London Hospital medical school, but had already taken a gap year. When he asked the college if he could have another year out they refused. He would have to start in September or lose his place. Jez was (and is) a dutiful son and was mindful of his parents wishes and decided that he ought to go to college as planned. I was devastated. Not only was Jez the musical backbone of Amaziah and my mentor musically, he had also become one of my closest friends who I'd grown to love like a brother. Even before we had begun, our musical ambitions crumpled.
We took the decision to audition for a replacement guitarist and the advertisements were placed. We only auditioned one guitarist, a lovable Liverpudlian called Alan Tye. It was obvious right from the off that although he was an extremely good guitarist Alan's style (which by his own admission was from more of a jazz background) was incompatible with the kind of music that Amaziah was getting into (rrrooccckk!). However, Eric was now totally in control and we all did what we were told. We couldn't hang about any longer, so Alan was hired. It was a hard six months or so. Firstly we had to say goodbye to Jez having only played two gigs as a four piece, creating a quality of music that we were never able to reproduce again. Then we got into an endless round of touring around the country.
Our problem was, without Jez we had no idea how to produce ourselves and so it became more a matter of the strongest personality holding court musically. The end result was that you had four musicians almost playing as individuals. You also had to bear in mind that we were all teenagers and behaved that way. After about six months the tension within the band became tangible and it was decided that it would be better for all if Alan (who unfairly got the blame for the band's incoherence) left the band. This was quite a painful time as I know this must have hurt Alan badly, and it was never really his fault. At this point a "very" young guitarist was standing in the wings ready to step into the breach. He was Dave Steel's younger brother (one of twins) Kevin and he quite happily chucked his A-levels and ran off to join a rock and roll band. Musically we began to connect again and we really went for it. Kev was (and is) a consummate practical joker and no toilet seat was left unchecked before use and no bed thoroughly examined before climbing into it. Eric went totally up the wall on the eve of a major North UK tour when Kev arrived with his arm in plaster right up to his shoulder. It was of course a fake, but I think he must have taken several years off Eric's life at that point.
I think at this point I need to get back to the fact that Amaziah were from the beginning first and foremost a Christian band. Our raison d'être was to tell others about the Lord. Although I may look back over that year of professional touring and sometimes wince, I cannot deny that God can use even the most chipped and cracked of pots for his service. Over the years I have met people who were blessed, encouraged and even "saved" through the ministry of Amaziah. As the frontman I was called on at gigs to do "the preach". For me that was not a problem, I was the son of a superb preacher after all and preaching was something that came naturally to me. However, as a teenager I was still very much living in the benefit of my parent's faith and did not fully discover the full wonder of God's grace and love until my mid 20s. In truth, the same could very much be said for the other members of the band. All from Christian homes, all Christians, but all very much drawing on the resources of others.
Having said that, a few years back I met a vicar whilst preaching in a church service. He told me that as a young man he had responded to the message at an Amaziah gig, under "my" preaching, and now many years later was leading others to faith in Jesus Christ. Such an event helps combat some of the embarrassing memories of teenage boys in a rock band who were out to have fun and to rock and roll. I remember nearly being sent home from Ireland when we were more badly behaved that the Hells Angels that we had been booked to minister to. Muggins here ended up getting alcohol poisoning in Holland when I discovered the joys of brandy. What a complete twit!
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