Having released a fine debut album at the end of last year, West Midlands five-piece AUDACITY are taking their message out on the road as Lins Honeyman investigates.
Working within The Saltmine Trust, Audacity are fulfilling the dictionary definition of their name by being bold and daring in their approach to spreading the gospel in pubs, schools and universities. Guitarist and songwriter Calvin Hollingworth explains, "When you are a musician in a band you love to entertain people, but we find it also gives us an opportunity to explain our message. Our main focus is to play in secular places, and we're trying to encourage people in the church to think about putting on events in these environments. When you think about it, you're more likely to meet people there who would never darken the doors of a church."
In the four years since their formation, Audacity have played to audiences ranging from prison inmates to school assemblies, with the constant aim of meeting people on their own territory to communicate Jesus' love and its relevance in their lives. "There is a connection with the Holy Spirit that happens when we play in these places," explains lead singer Lynne Fray. "It feels right and it has God's approval. It's about how we are with other people and each other that really talks to folks. Gone are the days when people will accept just being preached at - they want to see hard evidence in our lives. God can be seen in our lives more in what we say."
In potentially hostile and difficult circuits, Audacity seem to have flourished. "We expected a lot of opposition but the reverse has happened," Calvin reveals. "People are amazingly open, their attitude is that everyone has a message in their music so let's hear yours. People are intrigued more than put off. We also found the more places we played the more a demand for an album grew," reflects Calvin. "We were keen to consolidate our identity, and the album is a great tool to leave our songs with people who have heard them, and as a result the words and the message will stay with them." The result is the skilful and mature 'Entertaining Angels' which lists CCM veterans Chris Eaton and lona's Terl Bryant amongst its musician credits.
The band have had some changes in their personnel down the years. Their current line up is Lynne Fray (lead singer, who's been with them four years); Calvin Hollingworth (guitar, three and a half years); Rachel Taylor (keys, three and a half years); Ian Grizzle (bass, one and a half years); and Matt Rogers (drummer, the new boy who's been with Audacity six months).
Audacity's sound, with Lynne Fray's arresting lead vocals, isn't easy to pigeonhole. Said keyboard player Rachel Taylor, "We've always found it hard to define the sound. We sometimes use the phrase pop rock but even that doesn't quite cover it. In the past we've been likened to Deacon Blue and our influences include Peter Gabriel and Sting."
One of the most intriguing and memorable tracks on the album is "Jesus Plays Guitar". "When I worked in a music shop," recalls Calvin, "this guy came in and told us he'd been to Heaven and that Jimi Hendrix and Adolf Hitler were there and that he was building a rocket to go there again. All he needed were a 1000 Rolls Royce engines. He also said that Jesus played guitar and was trading licks with Hendrix and weird stuff like that. The bottom line of the song is that we live in an age of supermarket religion where you can make up things as you like and get rid of the bits you don't. This song says there's more to life than that and the real truth is out there."
I asked Lynne what the recording sessions were like: "At the start, we were visited by a friend who prayed for us, and stressed the importance of praying and seeking God at every point along the way. He made us realise that the potential for God to use us in getting through to the listener is immense. Recording the album also made me face up to a lot of insecurities, and I also became-more and more involved in the project and having a part to play in the arrangements. God made me realise that I can be more creative as a singer. The Holy Spirit was so apparent when we were recording. I was singing like I'd never sung before, and I was able to put down my inhibitions and really worship God as we recorded."
Aside from the release of 'Entertaining Angels' and the almost constant touring, Audacity are committed to acting as a resource to churches through taking part in services and encouraging them to use the band in their own local communities. This work, although primarily UK based, has taken the band to a diversity of countries ranging from Bulgaria to India with the aim of supporting local churches. So why is music such an effective tool in these situations? Calvin explains, "Music is one of the greatest languages that God invented. It goes much deeper than words can and people remember it. It has the power to move, challenge and lift people. Part of my coming to Christ was through a song by a band who played in my town, and I'm very moved and challenged myself by God through music."
"With regard to the CCM scene, I do believe it is very healthy and it's good to see more barriers being removed. Our music must not have an artificial wall around it," Calvin continues (i.e., being propped up by remaining in the Christian "ghetto"). "I really feel those of us involved in the Christian music industry need to make sure we're channelling our energies in the right way, and that we are doing what God wants us to do. If God has told you to write or play, then you must go for it, but we also need to be objective and critical in a positive sense to maintain high standards in a professional world."
The sense of peace in knowing that they are where they are meant to be has enabled each member of Audacity to see God at work through their music. The most memorable gig for me was in a pub in Leicestershire and we felt the Holy Spirit working in an awesome way on that night. God was saying to us 'this is where I want you to be,'" recalls Lynne. "After we played, an evangelist called John Marshall spoke which is unusual for us at a pub gig and amazingly, one by one, everyone in the pub stopped talking and began listening to what he had to say. I believe God has told us what to do and we're at peace serving him in this."
Audacity's plans for the future are clear. Calvin says, "This year our schedule is freer to develop work in secular venues, especially in the West Midlands area, so we can build up regular contacts. We're also going to be promoting the album with 'tour style' gigs around the UK, including an appearance in the Spring Harvest After Hours sessions. We know we're in the right place at the right time at the moment and it's basically one day at a time!"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.