As well as being the title of this year's Cross Rhythms Festival, "Walk The Talk" is also the name of the new line dancing single by DAVE CLEMO. Steve Norman spoke to Britain's country gospel ambassador.
Country gospel music has mushroomed in the States. The likes of Bruce Carroll, Jeff Silvey and Susie Luchsinger have joined committed Christians in the country mainstream like Ricky Skaggs and Rick Van Shelton to produce a buoyant scene in Nashville. And with country music being an international musical language, the British scene has its fair share of performers -Irish superstar Daniel O'Donnell recently topping the UK Christian music charts with his inspirational album, Midlands band Balaam's Donkey soon to record an album with veteran country man Jerry Arhelger producing, and Yorkshire-born Charlie Landsborough last year making number one in Ireland with the gospel ballad "My Forever Friend".
But the man who's possibly done the most to take country into British CCM consciousness is a 47-year-old Cornishman named Dave Clemo. His 'Going Back' album for ICC produced by Paul Field was a delight, while his appearances at countless British church hall gigs and Christian festivals have won him a growing following both with an older Mums and Dads audience and youth who find that you can dig country and still be cool.
Dave had his first contact with Christians in London in 1962. He still remembers the day vividly. After being pounced on by some youth evangelists in the street he was persuaded to attend a meeting in a nearby church. "I must admit to being moved by the experience, but when we left the church later that evening, there was nowhere to go but down the pub!" However, a seed had been sown that would slowly begin to germinate. Dave then left London and moved to Northampton in 1974. "Throughout the wasted years, when I was taken in by the whole sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll lie, I always had a hankering to play gospel music on the guitar." Since the late '60s Dave has played guitar, bass or mandolin in every style from funk to punk, rock to country (have you ever heard a punk play mandolin?!). Dave was one of two Englishmen in an Irish traditional folk group -the other members were Scottish! In the late '70s and early '80s Dave led a successful club/covers band called Conspiracy and also performed with a Beatles tribute band.
Having married Sue and retired from music, Dave moved to Somerset to manage a newsagent shop. Whilst there, a Christian lady came to work for him. "Her witness, her aura of peace exposed a longing in my soul. It took a long time for me to admit that I'd run away from Northamptonshire to Somerset, and there was something or someone calling me back." When the opportunity arose Dave, Sue and their son, Chris, moved back to Kettering.
Shortly after the move there was a knock at the door. On answering it they found a Christian standing there conducting a faith survey. Sue completed the survey and accepted an invitation to church. Soon after Sue was part of a house group which met in their home. Dave recalls, "I was indifferent to religion. I was cold hearted with a wicked temper, angry, frustrated and always ready for an argument especially with Christians!" Dave joined the Bible study: "If you're going to have an argument you might as well know your facts, right?" It didn't take Dave long to realise that Jesus had died for him and that the Bible was true. In 1990 Dave committed his life to Jesus.
Excitedly he announced at a works meeting one day, "I'm a born again Christian." Four of six students he had hired for Saturday work replied, "So are we!" On becoming a Christian Dave started to write songs again. Unlike his earlier attempts without much direction or success, these songs just flowed. In 1993 the songs took on a different direction. Having heard an album by Bob McLeod (Bug Zapper) he began writing country songs. Dave was encouraged in his local church to share some of his songs which were, more often than not, used to illustrate sermons and minister to people. The songs just kept on coming and after a series of circumstances Dave's first album 'Change Of Heart' was recorded in 1994. This got into the hands of ICC who wanted to hear more. In the spring of 1995 a second album was recorded with ICC doing a third in spring 1996. He is now working on a line dancing single called "Walk The Talk" and hopes to release a fourth album toward the end of the year to coincide with a tour. Recently Dave has worked alongside Carolyn Stilwell of Loose Goose in some intriguing country meets Celtic concerts as well as playing with a group called Seeds Of Unity and doing the odd spot of session musician work.
Besides all this, Dave is busy with prison work (both Dave and Sue are Chaplaincy volunteers at Gartree Prison), worship leading, preaching, PA hire, etc. Dave and his family fellowship at Praise Community Church, Kettering which is part of the Pioneer group of churches.
Three years ago someone came up to Dave and told him that he should work with Jerry Arhelger, who is presently compering a show which draws an average of 13,500 people a night over 40 weeks of the year and features such mainstream country luminaries as Charlie Daniels, Hank Williams Jnr and Travis Tritt. Dave and Jerry performed together in some prisons before Easter and God reminded Jerry that three years earlier, before Dave had even recorded a song, someone had come up to him at a church and given him Dave's name telling him they should get together! Dave and Jerry are now putting together a two-week UK tour starting on December 1st. The preference is for sit down venues where people will be given a mix of gospel and secular country music at its best, together with a clear message of God's love.
Dave was recently inspired by a quote by William Carey (Baptist Mission Society founder): "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God."
"I pray that churches everywhere will wake up to the need to reach out to people like myself who went to Sunday school or church as a youngster, but have got caught up in the pressures of life and have forgotten, lost sight of, or ignored the spiritual dimension to their lives. I pray they'll know there's something missing, something more and start seeking answers."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.