With a fine CD as proof, BOYCE & STANLEY are pushing back the musical boundaries of the renewal within the Catholic Church. They met up with Pippa Rimmer.

Boyce & Stanley
Boyce & Stanley

There is something stirring in the Catholic Church. Worldwide, it is birthing a generation of singers and songwriters who are using their music to influence people of all Christian persuasions. In America, renowned Catholic singers such as Margaret Becker and John Michael Talbot are respected for their ministries; in Ireland, rock band Emmaus blend a radical mixture of Catholic and Protestant musicians, pushing aside the boundaries of religious prejudices. And in Birmingham, GM Music is ringing the bell for Catholic singer/songwriters.

GM Music, combining the talents of Mike Stanley and Jo Boyce, is an independent music company with two functions. Firstly, it involves ministry, music and work with young people. Secondly, it publishes a whole range of services and products aimed at equipping and resourcing the Church into the new millennium.

With a brand new album, entitled 'In The Company Of Angels', hitting UCB's Inspirational Album Of The Week slot earlier this year, Boyce & Stanley offer an album which crosses the divide between traditional Catholic liturgy and Christian pop and has a musical flavour appealing to all denominations.

Mike and Jo are an intriguing mix of traditional Catholic and evangelical and their sphere of influence stretches beyond Catholic circles and Birmingham as other churches invite them to come and minister - some as far as London. Their day-to-day work is varied and hectic. As well as their schools work, they also serve their local diocese and even manage to find time to prepare for the National Millennium Mass at Birmingham's NEC and a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes where they will lead worship.

Jo and Mike first met in 1992 and Jo remembers her first impressions of Mike: "Mike ran my training week at Solly House and gave the input on music and worship. He turned up with his guitar and leather jacket and I looked him up and down and thought, 'Yeah, right!' Little did I know that we'd end up as business partners and good friends a few years later."

Thankfully, their friendship has survived Jo's initial response! Mike takes up the story: "In those days there weren't many people around who were Catholic who you could stand next to and play a similar instrument to but who were also writing and creatively expressing their faith through music. When we look back on how we did come together, it's partly because there was no one else doing what we were doing."

Boyce & Stanley were originally a trio including in their midst Chris Rollinson, one time member of Heartbeat, producer of the 'Electric Praise' albums and something of a keyboard maestro. Chris is no longer with the ministry. The three of them met at Solly House in 1992. Jo and Mike, both self-taught musicians, had already teamed up when Chris, a trained musician, provided the "missing link" they needed to take their music and creativity up a gear.

Jo describes herself as a "cradle Catholic" and cannot trace one particular time when she got saved. "I've grown in the Lord slowly over the years, as I have as a human being," says Jo. "It's a gradual process and each day there's a little bit of conversion happening. Sometimes the steps are backward and then I have to find him anew. I can look back over my life and see the milestones where God has spoken to me loud and clear and pointed me in the right direction. Being confirmed as a teenager in Trinidad was a key time. When I was in the desert as a student and trying to find out what I was called to do, I look back and see the hand of God pointing me in the right direction. All those experiences have convicted me that for him I am made and for him I live."

Although she was born in Birmingham, Jo received her secondary education in the West Indies before returning to the UK to study biochemistry - a strange opening to her present career! Jo explains how she made the roundabout journey into music. "I felt I was being called into medicine but my A Levels weren't good enough. Halfway through studying for my degree I could feel it wasn't quite what I'd been created to do. People talk about vocation and a sense of each person being made to do one particular thing for God in this world. I could tell biochemistry wasn't it for me. I'd been very involved with the Chaplaincy at University and after my finals I'd been offered the opportunity to work as a volunteer at Solly House, a residential retreat centre for young people in the West Midlands. They'd come away in groups of 40 or so to have a special experience of faith. The young people who worked there would evangelise in a way that's not possible in school."

Jo's "year out" with Solly House lasted four years, during which time she met Mike and began to understand what God had called her into. He was busy cultivating her musical gift alongside her love for young people - experiences which would equip her for the ministry she and Mike would later enter.

Mike is a Staffordshire lad, having started life in Burntwood, near Lichfield. Like Jo, he was brought up in the Catholic tradition, although his mother and her parents are Methodists. He describes his unusual upbringing: "I grew up with a nice creative tension. I didn't quite know the difference for most of my life. I knew that I went to church with Mum and Dad. When my grandparents came to stay they went to a different church and I sometimes went with them. There didn't seem to be much difference and I still hold to that today."

Like Jo, he also cannot put his finger on a particular conversion experience and is very aware of the daily salvation in his walk with God. "I much prefer talking about what's happened since then and the gradual steps that bring you into an encounter with God every day of your life," explains Mike. "We've had so many 'coincidences' or rather God-incidences. I really began to ask questions while I was at college. I'd been brought up a Catholic and worshipped at a Catholic and a Methodist church and at college I began unpacking what everything meant. I joined the Christian Union rather than the Catholic Society and I was the only Catholic in it. My friends began asking me questions about what I believed about Mary, praying for the dead and other issues that theologians had struggled with for years. I suddenly found that I was struggling explaining it all to my friends and it made me want to go deeper into my faith."

With albums such as 'Imagine A World' and 'Born For This' under their belt, CJM are breaking new ground in the Catholic church and are pushing the way forward into newer methods of worship without abandoning the old. Many would be curious about the Catholic traditions which influence their music and may wonder whether their worship differs from Protestant worship which leans heavily towards the familiar praise and worship sound.

Mike clarifies the matter: "I think there's very little difference really. If anything, we tend to have a structure where we put certain songs into certain places which we call liturgy. Even the more free churches usually have some sort of liturgy. So there's a 'gathering' song and a song which announces that the Scriptures are going to be read and a mission song which makes us want to go and proclaim what we've heard. I think that the two traditions that supply music (Catholic and Protestant) are crossing over so much more than they ever did before. I worked on a mission in Northern Ireland and I had Catholic mums and dads asking me where the music was coming from and where they could get hold of it! In truth, the music was coming from the bookshop down the road that they had never heard of! There are places in our liturgy where songs by Matt Redman and Martin Smith are ideal, such as Communion. There are places where the music we are writing can be used as well."