In our ongoing series where we bring the lowdown on cities across Britain to discover what is happening on the Christian music scene, John Baugh reports on Reading.
Reading - not quite a city, not much of a light. Former night-time ghost town now transformed by 150 plus new pubs into the place where up to 25,000 plus go to enjoy themselves of an evening, Reading has become the booming heart of the Thames valley. Each year it hosts Britain's biggest rock festival while world music lovers can enjoy WOMAD.
But what about Reading from God's agenda? The location of an abbey, which before it came a cropper at the hands of Henry VIII, was known for worship, hospitality and pilgrimage, in modern times the town-wide Church has hearteningly begun to work together particularly since a groundbreaking Ed Silvoso conference in 1997. Today a new prayer focus is coming from the 24/7 Boiler Room. On July 13th the most significant initiative of all, TheCall England, to be held at the town's football stadium, will involve every church in Reading worthy of the name and make Reading the centre of attention for every praying Christian in England.
Reading has played its part in the development of grassroots Christian music ministry. For a while during the '90s it hosted its very own festival, JAM (Jesus And Music) and is now enjoying an increase in youth worship events such as Lifted and Radiant. The rise of the new pubs has not led to an increase in places for live music with a recent example of the need to "do it ourselves" shown in the new Delicatessen acoustic evenings at the 21 South Street arts centre. We lifted the lid on the Reading scene and as well as the usual 'City Lights' questions asked 'Why Reading for TheCall England?'
STYLE: Generally pop-based but hard to pin down. Sometimes acoustic trio, sometimes with added bass weirdness, sometimes a full band.
LINE UP: A loose creative collective built around three core members: Prod Pritchard (vocals, guitar), Harv Jessup (guitar), Jules Seal (vocals). Joined on occasion by keyboard player Adam Carpenter, bassist/weirdness-generator Steve Lawson and drummers Mike Simpson and Si Saunders.
BACKGROUND: Prod and Harv played in Flow, who cut the spectacularly good indie pop album 'Sense' (ICC) in 1996 and played lots of gigs together before splitting in 2000. In 2001, Prod and Harv started playing a few acoustic gigs just for fun, playing mainly old Flow songs, realized they enjoyed it and liked what was coming out, so carried on. Last year they released a mini-album, 'UnseenForces', which captured the band's acoustic persona (see CR 67). The first full-band gig was at Greenbelt 2001. Currently Airstar are demoing new material.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY: Harv Jessup: "Our gigs are all in mainstream circuit venues and our audience isn't predominantly made up of Christians. That's where we want to be. In terms of what we're saying, T Bone Burnett said, 'If Jesus is the Light of the World, there are two kinds of songs you can write. You can write songs about the light, or you can write songs about what you see from the light' We mainly do the latter. Everything we do as artists, as musicians and as people will hopefully reflect our faith."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: As one of the organizers said, why not?
TERRY BURGESS/FABULOUS BINGO BROTHERS
STYLE: Pop, rock, folk/roots
LINE UP: Presently just Terry (acoustic guitar/vocals) but the Bingos were a full band.
BACKGROUND: Formerly with '70s gospel rock combo Broadside Outcasts, Terry went on to write songs for Snuffles The Hedgehog in the '80s, as well as forming Fabulous Bingo Brothers for Greenbelt Fringe duties during 1985-1986. The band was intended as a project to be a more creditable carrier of his songs than if done purely solo but seemed to take on a life of its own for a few years. Even now post-Bingos Terry continues to find time to write although recording time has been squeezed out. His most recent being with "Three more demo songs... do you think that's wise". In February 1999, Cross Rhythms reviewed the tape and gave it five out of ten, which with the tone of the review pleased Terry.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY: "Well, I'm sure some teenagers may like my stuff but my songs all (I think) reflect life as it is for me (or has been) and mums, dads, husbands, wives, ex-husbands, ex-wives, middle age crisis victims, 30-something go-getters and so on may find something in my material they can identify with. And I just want to say to them, 'Hey, look, you are not alone...' Obviously I think my stuff has a Christian slant to it, but I don't think it's always obvious."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "Reading is such a 'nearly' town. So nearly a city... and the end of season situation for the football team was typical when people kind of expected to 'almost-but-not-quite' get automatic promotion and end up in the play-offs. Yet the town is really quite a live, thriving and throbbing thing with a town centre that is quite transformed from the 'ghost' town of several years ago to be a real nightlife magnet. But, this nightlife is totally aimed at satisfying short-term needs and desires. So many people come to the area to work for a couple of years and then move out. No real roots are put down and everything about the place is so short-term and today... not tomorrow or beyond. Maybe, just maybe, God sees the town and the people and young people of it as something that symbolises so much of the way things are these days and as such the town is the ideal place to start giving people something more than the short-term wine-bar experience, the temporary 'security' of high-tech jobs, too expensive housing, fitness clubs, lunch-time squash, BMWs, a serious but hidden drug culture, aimless and disenfranchised young lives and so on."
CAN'T PLAY WON'T PLAY
STYLE: Rock and blues
LINE UP: Paul Alexander (bass/vocals), Brian Waite (guitar/vocals), Joe Nallon (guitar/vocals), Stuart Tanswell (keyboards), Matt Alexander (drums)
BACKGROUND: This wonderfully monikered band was formed in 1997 as part of a youth group production of Joseph And His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. They enjoyed it so much they stuck together to play their own material and provide music for musicals such as Hopes And Dreams and Joseph (again). They also got to play at very public events such as at the London Marathon and at the Docklands arena for the Millennium celebrations there. In February 2001 they got to record their first CD -a mini album of four original songs
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY: Joe Nation: "We are a rock and blues band who do worship and mainstream. We do write our own material as well as cover all the favourite worship songs although we don't do any worship leading ourselves, there are lots of people better suited to that than us. We have tried to keep a foot in both camps, but most of our time at present seems to be doing events with a Christian connection. What I hope we do is build bridges between the different branches of Christianity. Our ongoing contacts and friendship with many local churches in providing the band or PA and lighting for shows and events is something that I am very pleased about." WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "Why not, with the other festivals that are held in Reading, this could just be the start of something bigger."
LINE UP: Adam Bones (guitar), Andy Wilson (bass), Ray Driscoll (drums), John Peddie (vocals) (with the occasional trumpeter!)
BACKGROUND: The band have been together three years and have been working on the secular scene in and around the south of England playing alongside bands such as Vex Red, Halo, Reuben, Lightyear and Caffeine as well as playing festivals like Greenbelt. The band have recorded three independent EPs, 'Happy Go Loser' (1999), 'Fool On Show' (2001) and, on April 26th, 'New Wave'.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY: John Peddie: "We believe Jesus as well as being the Son of God was in fact a punk as his message stood out against what society was saying. Our vision is to see the message brought to people in the secular music scene through God's greatest creation punk rock!"
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "Because Reading is the centre of all God's plans, isn't it?"
STYLE: Roots/acoustic with rock overtones
LINE UP: Paul (Guitar/vocals) backed by bits of Rendered (see below) plus Colin Green (bass)
BACKGROUND: Although Paul has played guitar from his youth, when he became a Christian the worship sounds of Matt Redman and Delirious? inspired him to put his playing to good use in writing worship songs. He was once a member of local band Rendered but his path took him more to worship songwriting - although they still back him when a larger band sound is needed. He has played the town's events Radiant and Lifted mainly in worship, which is where his heart remains. His first proper set of songs recorded at Reading's Wired Studios is now set down on the CD 'Shine So Bright'.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY: "Although it has been a varied road to where I am now, worship has become my main focus. Collaboration with other local musicians in a worship setting is where I would like to go but am not quite sure how."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "I wish I knew! It seems there is a lot happening with different people doing different things. Maybe Reading needs something like TheCall to bring all these threads together."
EVE AND THE GARDEN/ENYGMARTYR
LINE UP: Phil Rainey (bass, woodwind), Paul A Davies (guitars, bouzouki, percussion), Alison Eve (vocals, guitar, brass, percussion, keyboards), Paul Cudby (drums, percussion), Alyson Rainey (violin)
BACKGROUND: It has been a long road stretching back to 1984 and via various bands that brought this band together. Taking inspiration initially from the Celtic Church then mixing in acoustic instruments from around the world has given them a singular sound. The first album 'Quiet Earth, Shining Stars' was a celebration of the revelation of God through creation. "Unfortunately it also managed to get us pigeonholed as a New Age act by some quarters of the Church," commented Paul Cudby. Since then a second album has been a long time coming. Among the delays has been the building of the 'project' studio Tollbooth, which once completed has proved popular. Artists like Helen Turner, Elan, Miles Cain and Airstar have used the facility. Paul A Davies has also used the studio to produce a solo project 'Postcards From Aunt Cordelia' (October 2001). In the writing of the second album 'Sandance' a second set of songs with a distinctive 'larger' sound emerged which will be released under the name Enygmartyr.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY: Paul Cudby: "We do what we do simply because God has given us abilities to put our lives' experiences into a musical framework. We hope that we can communicate something of what the Christian life is."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "I think it's a little difficult to know. I suspect that it's likely to be a combination of factors. Firstly, it seems to be that people have responded to God's call and are acting in response to the Holy Spirit. It's not impossible that the Father has tried elsewhere without success, and since we are the Body of Christ on earth, he has to work with those who respond to him. It's also a good place strategically since it's easily accessible by road and rail. And ultimately, well it may be none of these things. God chooses the foolish to shame the wise, so perhaps he chose Reading because it looks like a foolish thing to do! The important thing is to realise that all mission is the mission of God, and we are simply participants in the work God is doing. Let's be grateful that he feels he has people to work with in Reading."
BACKGROUND: Peter plays bass for secular band Pendragon who play what was once called "progressive rock". They are in the mainstream stage and came close to a major record contract n the '80s. When that fell through they set up their own label Toff Records in 1989 which has since provided an outlet for the bands various projects. Peter has also been able to release two solo albums in that time. Presently, apart from Pendragon he has two sets of new songs on the way, one a third solo album and another a set of worship songs. The solo album will in time emerge on Toff Records but he hopes to find a Christian outlet for the worship album. He is also involved in worship at his church, St Peters, Maidenhead.
ABOUT HIS MINISTRY: "Well, I would say that faith is in the albums but it's not obvious."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "I think I must plead ignorance, although it does sound exciting."
STYLE: Guitar/electronic fusion
LINE UP: AN Clewer (drums), Tom Derrett (bass), Barry Ramsey (vocals), Nat Baker (guitar)
BACKGROUND: The band came to life in 1998/99 when, simply enough, one of the members wanted to start a band and pulled people together from those he knew. Over the years they've gigged all sorts of events around Reading and the Thames Valley. They also have a five- track EP 'Anonymous' to their name. At the start of the year a couple of band members got married so the band decided to leave a bit of space. Still in contact with each other the band may get their heads together and write new material later in the year.
ABOUT THEIR MINISTRY: Nat Baker: "It is different for each of the members but for me the band is there to show the credibility of Christian music - that it is not the stereotype that many people still have."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: Nat: "Not sure but I've always thought there was something special about the town."
BACKGROUND: Louise started from leading worship in her church. Then whilst traveling and writing songs she felt God call her back home. In the UK she was able to record her first collection of songs, Translucent' with the help of French Gavin. Although it wasn't a massive success she is now working on demo songs for a second album. In between these recording activities she has been playing live, mostly at church venues in the UK and the USA and will be at the Grassrootz festival in Kent this summer.
ABOUT HER MINISTRY: "Worship is my heart and passion."
WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "It has a lot of students and there is a lot of opportunity for God to work in that age group. Reading is already on the map for the secular festivals, so why not for TheCall? God can choose wherever he wants to work although sometimes it's hard for us to fathom why God chooses anything. Let's see what happens."
HELEN JAYNE MCKELLER
BACKGROUND: Born in Wales, Helen made four independent recordings before signing a major record deal with Nelson Word in 1994. Her 'Safe' album led to appearances at numerous festivals and TV before chronic fatigue syndrome/ME struck her down and she disappeared from the scene. Helen returned in 2001 with the critically acclaimed independent album 'Give Me Life' though another occurrence of her illness means that she is taking things easy for the time being.
ABOUT HER MINISTRY: (Helen spoke in the Nov/Dec 2001 CR) "I don't get angry, I tend to get emotional and cry out to the Lord in prayers. How can we get angry if we base our lives on God's promises to us in his Word? I think if we all asked God to help us see life and think of our lives in eternal terms we would get things into perspective." WHY READING FOR THECALL ENGLAND?: "To be really honest, we have no idea why the Lord chose Reading to host TheCall! It is very accessible though, from most directions and the Madjeski stadium is certainly a top venue!
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