In our regular series we bring the lowdown on cities across Britain to discover what is happening in the Christian music scene. This issue Kelly Smith reports on BELFAST.
For the uninformed, Belfast may seem a by-word for sectarian violence but it is still a city overflowing with churches and one which has contributed significantly to the growth of UK Christian music. With the population of the whole of Northern Ireland equalling that of many English cities alone, the number of contemporary Christian music acts spilling out of this six county province is quite remarkable. Belfast, the country's buzzing capital, lies on the eastern coast of Northern Ireland, picking up the breeze from the Irish Sea, and is home to the world's largest dry dock. Growing from a small village in the 17th century Belfast is now a robust, history laced city bursting with vitality. Surrounded by hills, the sea lough and river valley the picturesque radiance has drawn people to Belfast over the years and as it has been the centre for industries like rope making, linen and shipbuilding the town's population has doubled every 10 years.
The City Hall, which is in the focal point of Belfast's city centre, is a great expression of Classical Renaissance architecture and with the words 'We are equal to any city in the world' emblazoned on its marble walls we see the attitude that makes this humming metropolis as thriving as any European capital. Homing in on the capital of Northern Ireland in a bid to reveal the talent lying underneath the burden of violence and cross community tensions which have made Belfast so well known has proved worthwhile. God is certainly making Belfast a light to the nations.
Belfast has long been a musical city. Van Morrison, Gary Moore, The Undertones and Ash are just some of the mainstream acts who owe their origins to the thriving club scene while its grassroots Christian music acts, though seldom getting much of a push from the mainland Christian record companies, have been of a consistently high standard. Bands like Moral Support, Halcyon Days and SCSI released fine albums before disbanding while the current crop of Belfast musicianaries range from old style country and western crooners to cutting edge rock bands. Here then is a survey of the Belfast scene.
STYLE Pop rock
BACKGROUND Booley, born Peter
Wilson, has packed a lot into his 15 odd years in music. In the mid
'80s he played in cover bands in school before relocating to England
where he became founding member and lead vocalist of 65dBA (who later
mutated into dba). He formed a duo with one of his friends, Andrew
Mitchell, and as Booley House recorded a mini album, 'Time Is Right'
(1996) and an album, 'Lemonade' (1997). An excellent singer able to
handle a wide variety of styles from rock to dance music, Peter/
Booley did numerous recording sessions for ICC Records before in 1999
recording his solo debut, 'Bathroom Floor' for ICC/ Medieval Haircut.
For moment it looked like the mainstream big time was beckoning.
"Wilson is the sort of warm-hearted, no-hang-ups bloke that rock 'n'
roll so rarely produces," raved Mojo magazine. A band was formed
called, a little confusingly, Booley who reportedly played some
storming gigs. After a number of delays a second album was released,
'Garcon Pamplemousse', but with a bewildering change of name, Benzine
Headset, it and the band disappeared. Now Booley is back in the studio
recording new tracks. Christendom, and possibly the mainstream as
well, awaits with bated breath.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY Back in CR54 the singer told Cross Rhythms, "For me, what excites me most is just the thought of being salt and light in the industry. I don't wanna make it sound too spiritual or like I'm something special in that sense, 'cause I also wanna be a great entertainer. I wanna write great songs that last a long time and are memorable, but I also want my relationship with God to be obvious and impact other people's lives."
STYLE Contemporary rock
LINE UP Clay features James on guitar and vocals, Ross
on guitar and keyboards, Catherine on vocals, David on drums and Billy
BACKGROUND Marching into the world of Christian rock music just over five years ago James, Ross, Catherine, David and Billy are Clay. This five-piece ensemble have played numerous gigs and even struck a chord or two at the 2000 Cross Rhythms festival in Devon. The band's website announces that "Clay is a documentation of the lives of five young Christians through music, sharing their view of the world through their own eyes whilst mapping out a spiritual quest." Leaving the style of their 1999 debut album 'We Can See' behind them the group move on in their own words "into new territory" with the soon to be released 'Broken' album.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY As the website declares, "Dare to dream..."
STYLE Easy listening, country
BACKGROUND No stranger to Belfast, Ben Forde has been sharing the Christian gospel in word and song for some 40 years now and has recorded more than a dozen CDs, several of which have also been released on video. Ben Forde has also served in the Police Force in Northern Ireland for 32 years during which time he has written four books about his experiences as a Christian in the battle against terrorism. Taking early retirement in 1992 Ben and his wife Lily have since opened their home as a B& B wherein they are able to continue sharing their Christian faith. Health problems in recent years meant Ben also had to retire from the music scene but "With the support of my wife, family and friends God has restored my health to a degree and I have resumed doing public witness again."
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY "I hope to take the summer months off as preparation time for a number of engagements commencing in September. These engagements vary between men and women's groups, musical evenings, Harvest evening and Christmas functions. I have had a lot of publicity over the years and God has protected and spared my life to date so I feel free to share something about my service to the Lord."
STYLE Celtic worship
BACKGROUND Phil Hart trained as a teacher and four
years into his career felt it impressed on him that a career as a
musician was more his calling. Writing music since he was a teenager
Phil floated from band to band offering his talents as a drummer and
guitarist to the then heavier sounds he was pouring out and entered
the teaching profession after graduating from university. "During my
time teaching I was starting to rediscover my songwriting - this was
partly because I was often coming home just fed up and depressed and
so I'd turn to God through my music - it was like an outlet and
pressure release for me. During my last year teaching I really
believed God was impressing upon me that music would play a bigger
part in my life in the future, but just how or when that would come
about I did not know." Phil recorded his album 'Love's Vast Ocean'
almost two years ago with the CD featuring Pete Wilson, Joanne Hogg
and Kristyn Lennox.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY "I guess I'd like other people to be able to use my music to help them meet with God in the same way that I have, or hopefully they can simply just enjoy the music. I've always enjoyed instrumentals and I feel they can be as integral a part of worship as singing words. Music is spiritual and instrumentals can be a useful aid for meditating and drawing close to God."
STYLE Country Southern gospel with a touch of bluegrass and ballads
LINE UP Brothers David and Ronnie Morrison are the original Harvesters members and both sing baritone and now play with Derek Cunningham who sings the tenor line, with Hugh Moore singing bass. Alex Robb is the lead singer and their sound engineer is Philip Maxwell
BACKGROUND Formed in 1972 The Harvesters were "three guys, two guitars and a lot of enthusiasm." 30 years later the group are still going strong in their singing ministry. Having travelled extensively within this time the group have had "great opportunities to sing in various places," says baritone singer Ronnie Morrison who also works as gospel music deejay for Downtown Radio in Northern Ireland. Recently The Harvesters have been involved in a major fund raising exercise to help friends who went to Malawi, Africa to maintain a school and bring missionary relief to the area. Their new album 'The Next Cloud', which is set for a September release in concordance with special concerts scheduled all around Northern Ireland to mark their 30 year anniversary, will see the proceeds being added to the Malawi Relief Fund.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY "30 years on and the Harvesters still look forward and get excited about what they do, the very best in close harmony singing, sincerity, a touch of humour and a concern for people's destiny is the hallmark of the group's ministry." They aim to reach people with the Gospel and to help where they can in fund raising.
STYLE Praise and worship
LINE UP Michael Realoton and Tracey Doyle.
BACKGROUND Commencing their life in 1998 as a four-piece Heavansent originally sang traditional hymns but as the group became a duo in 2001 so contemporary worship songs were introduced. Prior to becoming a two-piece act a demo cassette was recorded in 1999 which was given away at Heavansent worship gatherings and on the agenda for the near future is an EP recording of the songs they perform. Michael and Tracey minister to 3000 people every Sunday also as part of the choir at their church, the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY "We sing praise and worship to glorify our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and to lead others to worship our Lord. We pray that the Lord will use us and make us a blessing, for we only want to bring glory and honour to him."
STYLE In his own words, "kinda folky, rocky, Dylan/ Neil Young/ Springsteenish"
LINE UP "Mostly me with guitar and hamonica."
Occasionally a band is used who are Nicky Scott on bass; Pete Wilson
on keys and accordion; Mark Houston on drums and percussion.
BACKGROUND Eight years of playing the local bar and club scene around Ireland has made Brian Houston a well known name. Taking to the stage with the likes of Van Morrison, Elvis Costelloe, UB40 and Beautiful South has no doubt also added to his acclaim. "I have recently begun to tour outside the country, mostly America and Northern Europe," says Brian. He has had a number of successful albums including 'Crush' (1994); 'Sex Love And Religion' (1996); 'Good News Junkie' (1997); 'In The Words Of Dr Luke' (1998); '35 Summers' (1999); 'Big Smile' (2000); 'Mea Culpa' (2001); 'Hurricane' (as part of The Hudson Taylors) (2002); 'Roller Coaster Live' (2002).
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY "Write songs and play gigs, make albums and entertain people."
STYLE Laura-Anne describes her music as a passionate and intimate journey of self-discovery, liberation and honesty.
BACKGROUND Laura-Anne started out performing solo and recorded her demo 'Writing In The Sand' in 2000. As her sound progressed it was soon realised that a full band was needed to compliment her music. The summer of 2001 saw the "random collection of talented musicians gathered from all across Northern Ireland" coming together and they have a repertoire of both covers and Laura-Anne's original music. She made an appearance at Greenbelt 2001 and began recording the band's debut album in August.
ABOUT HER MINISTRY Laura-Anne works as head of music at Rockport School in Holywood, just outside Belfast. The school is private with around 228 pupils between the ages of three and 16 enrolled. "As head of music, I teach every person in the school and as such have the opportunity to be a part of each child's life. I am privileged to be able to share the love and passion God has placed in me with so many young (and older!) children. I have dedicated my life to the pursuit of God and as we were created to worship him, I have found music to be my area of ministry. Where your deepest passion and the world's greatest need meet, there lies your ministry. My deepest passion is music and the world's greatest need is to know Christ; therefore I have found my ministry in sharing the joy of God through music."
STYLE Rock band "with a very slight pop influence. We like to think that we have quite a unique sound."
LINE UP Dave Hamilton (lead guitars); Tim Grainger (lead vocals); Andrew Williamson (bass guitars); Niall Kennedy (drums).
BACKGROUND The unusually named LemonTwelve joined forces after meeting on an Exodus discipleship team just over two years ago. "Quite simply we love Jesus and love music and we try to be realistic in our music, reflecting the highs and lows of following our Friend and Saviour." Drumming out their tunes at the well known Christian club Exodus in Portstewart on the north coast of Ireland has become a regular feature of the band's ministry and to add to that they even supported the now renowned American Brit-pop group All Star United in December 2001. Adding to their accolade of local success the band have recorded two CDs, the first entitled 'Mistaker' (2000) and the second 'These Four Walls', which hit the shelves in August.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY "We want to be real. We want to tell people about Jesus and find that our main ministry is towards Christians, challenging them, and making them understand that following him is a daily thing that involves commitment and discipline."
STYLE Worship, Irish folk, rock
BACKGROUND Robin Mark has certainly come to be one of
Ireland's premier worship men in recent times. He has had numerous
successful albums including 'Not By Might' (1993); 'Days Of Elijah'
(1995); 'Room For Grace' (1996); 'This City, These Streets' (1998);
'Mandate All For Jesus' (1999); 'Revival In Belfast' (1999);
'Sanctuary' (2000); 'Mandate Men Of Faith' (2001) and 'Come Heal This
Land' (2001). With popularity rising it means Robin lives his life to
a very busy schedule, the summer months proving most exhausting with
the plethora of invites to Bible Weeks, including this year's Summer
Madness at Belfast's King's Hall. Lying in wait is a whole host of
dates in the UK and as far away as America and Canada. Robin's superb
songwriting no doubt has pushed his acclaim skywards and the songs
just keep spilling out.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY Check out Robin's excellent website for a real insight into his ministry and music, as he says on his website about singing songs of praise to God, "Even though our logical minds would say that God knows all these things about himself, and that in a way he doesn't need to be told, yet there is a spiritual dynamic in singing songs of ascription which perhaps we do not fully understand."
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