Mike Fearon went to Watford to catch ASCENT in rehearsal.
As the hoards streamed away from mainstage after the Amy-Michael-Gary two-hour marathon a handful stopped to listen to a strumming young hopeful making her pitch with an imromptu busk. Soon the crowd grew. Here was a talent raw and undeveloped maybe. But as the eery, tremulous voice of the slim, dark-haired girl blew on the night breeze more than one discerning star-of-tomorrow spotter made a note of the name Alison Eve.
No Word contract, and certainly no stardom, followed Alison's Greenbelt debut. But maybe now is the time. For Alison, now married to drummer Paul Cudby, has taken her hauntingly poignant voice away from the singer/ songwriter angle and fused it to a gale-force of crackling rock'n'roll.
Ascent is the name of the band and with a name like that how could they fail to reach the top. Certainly this sparklingly imaginative band, even in rehearsal at the Watford church that is their base show they have the chops.
The first thing that catches you is the whiplash from the rhythm section. Just when I thought I would never hear bass and drums lock together in an original manner again - all the possible combinations must surely have been used by now, I thought - along comes an off-the-wall blend of melodic throb and crisp percussion.
Then there's Paul Davis's guitar growling atmospherically over the top, evoking Hendrix one moment and The Edge the next. Finally Alison's stylish vocal make its appearance, joined occasionally by bassist Emma Bray's harmonies to top the whole lot off with rare panache.
"Ascent began life at Greenbelt '88, where I began sharing a vision I had with a drummer, Paul Cudby," explains Alison. 'The vision was for a rock band with a radical and prophetic message. I knew I had to live out the calling God placed on my life several years previously.
"Paul and I were 'just good friends' then. We celebrated our first wedding anniversary at the beginning of June! He plays a double drum kit, using two bass drums to create interesting rhythms. He's always wondering what new gadget to add to his kit next!"
"It's the minimum I need to do what I do," explains Paul, claiming that four toms is 'fairly standard'. He doesn't use the whole drum-showroom on every number, but to introduce variety from song to song. He began playing the skins at 16 - the year after he became a Christian - largely because of his lack proficiency on keyboards.
At times in Ascent's music, the drums become almost the lead instrument, particularly in some of the band's trademark passages that feature just drums and vocals.
Emma, the bass player, was classically-trained on double bass from the age of 12. At the age of 15 she went to baby-sit at her music teacher's house and began tinkering with a bass guitar lying in the corner: 'Yep, I'll go for that,' I thought. 'So I bought a second-hand bass from a shop in Harrow.'
She gets very bored with conventional rock bass lines, and invents counter-points as much for her own interest as anything. In some Ascent songs, the bass plays melodies and riffs that one would normally expect to hear from the lead guitar, while the guitar is actually filling in with keyboard-like atmospherics.
"Many of the guitarists I admire are very 'effect orientated'," admits Paul Davis - he of the sizzling fret-board. "I like colouring, rather than straight chugging."
The two Pauls have previously played together in an outfit called Paradigm Shift, a name which they claim John Wimber stole from the new agers!
Several of Alison's older songs have been re-worked for the Ascent sound and much of the band's newer material is written with the whole band chipping in.
"It was strange at first to hear someone else playing guitar on the old songs, but then I get paranoid about being the girly at the front of the band, so it's nice," says Alison. She plays amplified acoustic on some songs, and occasional tambourine through most of the set:
"Provided enough time is available, we usually have a break in the middle when I remain on stage to do a few songs with just my guitar. This makes a good contrast to the rest of the set; and, if led by the spirit, it's a time to communicate the gospel."
Ascent are looking for a recording contract, particularly with a secular label. Gigs have largely been confined to the church circuit, and they have experienced a wide variety of audience response. Now the wide world beckons, and Ascent sound equal to the challenge.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.