With a new single "I've Been Blessed" destined to be a huge Christmas hit and their hot new album The Power Of A Woman' selling by the sack-load things are still looking great for Croydon superstars ETERNAL. Tony Cummings and Chris Cole spoke to the group.
This Christmas one single certain to be in the British charts is "I Am Blessed", a beautiful ballad from pop hit makers supreme Eternal. It is pulled from the group's second smash album The Power Of A Woman'. The lyric of "I Am Blessed" begins, "Here in the silence/I say a prayer/Though I've never seen you/Somehow I know you're there/You're in the faces/Of the people that I meet/You're as solid as the earth beneath my feet."
The group's Vernie Bennett spoke about the song: "Our manager found it and as soon as we heard it we wanted to record it." Vernie agreed that the song, a lush ballad with almost a Whitney Houston sound is a long way from some of the perky young teen pop of 'Always And Forever' megahit debut. "What you have to remember is that we've grown up since that album. Our sound has got a bit funkier but also a bit more soul-based." Were the group aware, I asked, of the criticism particularly from within the Church that the group were now promoting a 'sexy' image? "I find that kind of funny. The truth is we are more mature; we aren't kids in baggy clothes any more. I don't agree that we're doing anything particularly sexy on the video. We're fully clothed for a start! And we wouldn't do anything that could be construed as sexually explicit. We're aware that we're a beacon to Christians. We're not a gospel group but we would never sing anything that was ungodly."
I asked Vernie what her pastor mother thought of Eternal now. "When we started out she didn't want us to do it. She perceived the music scene as being all sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. But now she sees us coming home at night, not all drugged up, not abandoned to lust, she's changed her mind. Her special song so far is 'Amazing Grace'. She loves us singing that song."
When Cross Rhythms last spoke to Eternal (in CR26) there were four of them. Now as millions now know, Louise Nurding has departed from the group. Kellie Bryan commented: "Louise left the band to pursue a solo career. She's very happy; we're still in contact with her. We're good friends with her and everything, she's fine. Despite a lot of rumours there wasn't a break in friendship or arguments or anything like that. It was a personal decision by Louise. We hope she does very well and we're still here to support her every step of the way."
With the hits still coming, Eternal have been subject to a huge amount of press coverage not all of it good. Comments Kellie, "Some of it's accurate and some of it isn't. It depends who you speak to and what they choose to print at the end of the day. You can give an accurate account of what's going on in your life and they will then write it in a different way. It just depends on the time of day and who it is and what they feel like printing. But on the whole everyone's been quite fair to us."
Unlike many Christians out in the mainstream, Eternal have close local church links. "Our church has been very, very supportive. They don't think we're doing a bad thing," Kellie assured us. "They think we're doing a good thing, being successful. We're happy with what we're doing and at the end of the day we are getting the message across very subtly in the way that we live. Our fans do question us, they say, 'How come Esther signs "God is love" on our autographs?' and that causes a question, and then it gives us an opportunity to talk about God, which is very important to all of us."
The 'Power Of A Woman' album with its more sophisticated soul-based sound was recorded in Los Angeles, Atlanta and the UK using a bevy of the world's top record producers. Comments Vernie, "Originally we'd planned to take some time over it. But because of the Take That tour and the Brit Awards it had to be done in six weeks. We were much more creatively involved than on 'Always And Forever'. Seven of the songs were done with the producers Dennis Charles and Ronnie Wilson and we had a hand in the writing of the material. My favourite song on the album though is a beautiful ballad we recorded with BeBe Winans 'It Will Never End'. BeBe has this amazing ability to write songs that speak of God's love for us but which non-Christians can relate to on another level."
Eternal have worked phenomenally hard to get to the top. They are continually on the road and have played Australia, Japan and a dozen more countries. The gruelling pace demanded by a clamorous pop industry can put spiritual pressure on the group. "Sometimes we'll miss church for months on end because we're away," commented Kellie. "That can be hard, but we're a group that pray together before every performance. Whatever's going on in each other's lives we ask for help and things. So it can be hard, but at the end of the day we pull together and we know that all of the church is with us. We get letters from people saying, 'I'm praying for you,' and 'I wish you all the best.' All those kind of things keep you going and inspire you to keep going and be strong and stay strong in your faith."
Eternal won't be
singing and dancing quite so much on British TV sets in 1996 because
for six months the group have decided to settle in the USA to break
the American market. Vernie: "We've already scraped the surface in the
States. Our single 'Stay' got to number four in the R&B charts and
13 in the main charts. And that was without us ever going there. When
we did get across to America people were amazed when they heard us
speak! We'd walk into a radio station and the deejay would say, 'Oh my
God, I thought you were American!' They were amazed by our English