Coastal Dune: Heroes of the Students' Union

Saturday 1st April 2000

They've been written about in The Guardian and tipped as "the next big thing." Mike Rimmer caught up with COASTAL DUNE.

Coastal Dune
Coastal Dune

The small meeting room in the Students Union at Birmingham University is packed with praying students. The Vision event is about to take place in Berlin's, a bar venue in the bowels of the Union building. The band that will be playing in this pre-evangelistic setting is well used to hanging around with students because Coastal Dune are all final year students at Durham University. Ahead of their Birmingham appearance, there's plenty of prayer and encouragement and as they hit the stage they quickly demonstrate that their live show has been carefully honed by many evenings playing at the nightspots in their university town.

Although Coastal Dune have already recorded two EPs and a single, their live show is more energetic and electric than their recorded music might suggest. The band are only just beginning to venture out of their home city but the signs are strong that Coastal Dune are a band to be reckoned with in the future. Their newest single "Til We're Old" is a jangly, catchy, pop tune which was commissioned by the organisers of National Marriage Week.

My first encounter with Coastal Dune came via The Guardian newspaper last autumn where they wrote a feature about the upsurge of Christianity in Britain's universities. The reporter visited Durham and consequently wrote glowing prose about Coastal Dune. The band themselves were amazed. Nick Drake remembers, "We were absolutely amazed and excited about it. The whole article was based around us and how it was bizarre that this Christian band was successful. It was just really great and unbelievable. It was a really big boost because it was no less than a week after we'd chatted and decided to go full time after we finished university. It was a real reassurance from God."

Such mainstream press attention fits into the band's overall direction as they seek to work in the mainstream. Keyboard player Andy explains, "I don't think we want to be pigeonholed into a Christian music pigeonhole because I think we've already shown that we can have a really powerful effect as Christians, who are musicians, who write about Christian things and write about their faith. It's just exciting when you get a call from Newcastle University asking you to headline a band night they're having, never having heard us. But here we are, Christians, having that opportunity. I don't quite know why. It's not like everyone's talking about us but there is a bit of a buzz. The more we do, the more it feels that we're called to it."

The band are well known in their local area in the clubs and pubs; they played at every summer ball in the colleges across Durham but working in a mainstream environment isn't without its difficulties. Nick explains, "Our greatest challenge in a non-Christian environment is to know when to say stuff and when to stay quiet and to know how much to say and what to say. That's our biggest problem, knowing exactly how to do it, how to be a band of Christians but also a band of people there to entertain people and not to preach at people. At the end of the day we're there because people have booked us to entertain them and give them a good time, so it's very hard to get that balance. One time when we were playing in a bar and it was our third time there, we hadn't said much up to that point but this time I really felt that we should say some blatant stuff and I did and half the room just left. Then we went on and did a cover of a secular song and as soon as we did that all the people came back again. I still believe it was right to say that then. It's hard to know whether you did it right or not but I'd rather say too much than too little."

The audience in Berlin's at Birmingham University don't look in any danger of walking out! The band's set includes some covers but mainly the band's original material. They're a bit nervous playing tracks off their newly recorded single since this is the first time the songs have been aired live. In the end, they go down well and there are sighs of relief all round. Towards the end of the set, the band head off into a couple of their humorous songs. The second Nick in the band plays drums and displays a rather dry sense of humour. When I reviewed their If And When' EP, I correctly identified that "Gratified" was obviously a live favourite and so it proves. The la la la la Smurf-like chorus is soon picked up by the audience in singalong fashion. In Durham, the song has proved so popular that a local death metal band have devised a cover version of the song. Encouraged by their success at Berlin's Coastal Dune quickly continue with another song penned by their drummer, this time celebrating the fact that Australians appear to have problems with constipation. (I know it sounds bizarre!) The song featured on their debut EP which sadly is no longer available!

Watching the band work, it seems like one of their main desires is to break down the stereotypes of what people think of Christian bands, Christian musicians and Christianity. Nick Drake is emphatic, "Definitely. Our overall aim, as every Christian's aim has got to be, is to glorify God in how we live and to draw people nearer to him and the reality of that. I think that's a simple aim that explains what we're about. We want to glorify God and to draw people nearer to him. Everyone has to find out who they are and what they're good at and go for that. It's just that we happen to be good at music. Well, that's what we think!" He laughs and continues, "The opportunities have come and we're just going for that. Not focused just on the music but trying to really excite people about God and excite people about what we're about. We try and convey that in songs which are really connecting. We're trying to write about real issues as well as spiritual stuff. On If And When' and the new single, some of the songs are very much spiritual, God orientated, blatant songs and then there are songs which are just down to earth songs that don't mention God. Our whole framework is to try and say something about God but without just being cheesy or going over people's heads." CR

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.

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