Tony Cummings goes to Manchester to meet members of the new line up THEBANDWITHNONAME.
2005 was the year when rock/breakbeat evangelists thebandwithnoname nearly became the band with no future. With first The Bobsta and the Presha leaving the group, American-born Chip K remained the sole band member left. Then Lindz West agreed to join thebandwithnoname before, at the last moment, pulling out to instead metamorphose as LZ7. But now finally thebandwithnoname have come bouncing back with a brand new line up and, to demonstrate that they've lost none of their street level savvy, have weighed in with an iTunes download single "Justified"/"Pull Up The Vinyl" of pummelling power. In a spacious meeting room in the building on an industrial estate in Manchester which today houses Innervation (the schools evangelism ministry founded by songwriters Mark Pennells and Zarc Porter who mastermind thebandwithnoname) I spoke to the all new line up. First up into the interviewees hotseat came newboy J, from Wandsworth, South London. Known to his mum and dad as Jonathan Moore, J's dad was a Sunday school teacher. "Although we all went to church together as a family there were very few young people in the church. That was why I left when I was 16 because my brother and I were the only teenagers there. I always believed in God but the difference was I would say, back then, I didn't have a relationship with him. Obviously a relationship is a two way thing and you've got to talk to the person. I always used to say God never talks to me. I mean it's hardly surprising when I never spoke to him, apart from when I needed a bit of help with my course work or something."
The spiritual lights came on for J when he was 18. "I had just left school that summer. I was just about to go to university and I went on a Christian holiday with my parents and my little brother. It was actually just like the church I left two years previously. There were no other young people there at all - I couldn't believe it. It was really, really boring and I had a lot of time to just sit around; you know, sit around on the beach doing absolutely nothing. When you've got so much time to yourself you can't help but think. Especially when you are hearing disciples teaching every single day! So obviously at night time when normally I would have prepared to be going out or whatever with my friends, instead I was sitting down on the beach just thinking about my life, reflecting on different stuff. I believe it was then that God started talking to me about my life and certain areas that weren't to his liking and when I really looked into it they weren't to my liking either. I wasn't a very nice person at all. From then on I think I really made a decision to kind of, not only just believe in God but actually talk to him and make the effort to actually have a relationship with him."
J got involved in a local church at university and then began teaching the youth group. In 2003 he went with some other church members to Spring Harvest. It was there he saw thebandwithnoname. "I was like, wow! At last some decent Christian music! It kind of blew me away! I was actually in the Big Top and then Chip and the others came on to do 'Amazing Grace'. That was the first time I ever saw them performing. It was brilliant, cos obviously you had really old people there but really young people as well and the response was just the same. Everyone was really getting into it. And I loved it!"
Having studied drama, J at one time thought he would go into acting. Little did J know that in August 2005, after gruelling auditions, he would be asked to join the band. J has taken to thebandwithnoname's gruelling touring schedule like a duck to water. "It's brilliant, the best job in the world! Like when I wake up to go to a gig, to go on tour, I still get really excited in the mornings, apart from when it's really, really early when I just feel tired, I don't even feel alive! No definitely, it's the best job in the world. Only thing that's missing is the salary!"
Next up to be questioned is new band member Straff. Straff (real name Dave Strafford) was born in Dartford, Kent. Like J, Straff grew up in a Christian home. He can still vividly recall an early childhood memory. "We had a balcony at the back of the church. I can remember some light coming through the window and I can remember staring at the sun coming through the window. Then the guy at the front said if you want to become a Christian then come down to the front. I remember the moment I decided to become a Christian, that I can remember and I knew that God spoke to me and it wasn't an audible voice but I just knew that my "dad" was calling me. My actual heavenly dad was calling me and that's something which has always stuck with me. It was even before I understood what it was all about."
Even with that experience Straff began to step away from spiritual things until problems at school led to a crisis and a turning back to God. "I think the moment I decided to go full on, live my life for God I think that was about around the age of 18, near my 18th birthday in fact. I gave up. I had some bad habits I had built up during my teens. I decided just to cut them off. I just literally stopped them all one night. I just said, right, all these things I'm into, smoking, drinking, things like that, I just stopped it all on one night and I just went, 'God, I have to give my life over to you. I want to go full time for you, like my whole life. I don't care what I do, what job I do as long as it's for you.' That was when I knew I had to do something for him. I've always known that God has called me for a purpose."
Straff has always been a keen rock music fan. A chat with a youth leader led the young man to apply to NGM, the Bristol-based Christian arts training ministry. At NGM Straff was in a band called Standby Heroes. After a year at NGM Straff began to feel restless. "I felt God was saying push doors and I'm glad he said that because I probably wouldn't be here. I pushed Innervation. I just thought I had a friend who was in it and it was like ok I'm going to audition and see if that door opens because I was thinking it isn't necessarily what I would love to do because I love rock music but I'm going to push the door. For some reason I felt like I should. So I did, I went for the audition and I didn't end up doing anything for Innervation at the time but I built up a bit of a friendship with Mark and Chip and few of the other guys in Innervation.
"I got a 'phone call, I think it was a 'phone call, from Mark Pennells just asking if I'd consider auditioning. I was like man, to be honest with you I don't know if it's my sort of thing. That was me being honest and I was really confused. I went away and prayed about it and ended up going to Soul Survivor again. That is my place of retreat, I love it. I was there again and anyway Mark just tapped me on the shoulder one night at a gig. It's quite scary when you get tapped on the shoulder by Mark and you turn round and see his face staring at you! Anyway, he tapped my shoulder and I turned around and he said do you want to chat about this. I ended up chatting to him and the next day we sat down and talked about it and it really hit me, you know, that I've got a gift of being able to dance. I had a real passion for rock music but I knew God had given me rhythm and God had given me a passion to dance and sing and I knew I had to do something in my life with that gift and I got really challenged by it. I read the Bible and there was a scripture saying use your gifts, even if you don't necessarily like your gifts use them. God has given them to you for a reason. So I was like, I got to do this, not just out of obedience but because it's part of who I am. It's part of how God wants me to be and now I am doing it I found a joy I would not have had if I hadn't obeyed God. I have such a joy in dancing, such a joy in singing and just because of that, wanting to do what God has made me to be I've found a hidden joy. So now I'm just so excited to be doing this."
Leon Henderson reckons he's sometimes known on stage as "cute kid". He was born in London and grew up in Milton Keynes. He went to church as a kid but freely admits it was the free lollipops that kept him coming back. But at the age of 18 Leon really began to commit his life to Christ. Leon was always musical. He got drum lessons from a guy called Andy, who today is a member of Seven. Later he began rapping. "My brother was the youth leader and we had an open mic every month and what they would do is they would get the decks out and let everyone do what they wanted and me and my mates just started rapping. One of my mates started deejaying and at first we were just copying other artists' lyrics but as we got better and we progressed we made up our own lyrics and started to write as well. Then one time we were asked to perform in our church in front of the whole church on a Sunday morning. We did this one song called 'Unstoppable' and then it happened that we were allowed to open up for thebandwithnoname at Soul Survivor with the same song and then we just took it from there really."
It was at New Wine 2005 that Leon auditioned for the group. He remembers, "I was doing the Children's Club in Rock Solid with the seven to 12s and I was the games master. I was in charge of all the games. I didn't know if that was a good job or what. I was getting bullied by all the kids! TBC were there all week and they were performing each night. I got speaking to Shell and then she just happened to mention that thebandwithnoname were looking for a new rapper and at this time I didn't even know. I heard Presha had left but didn't know they were looking for anymore people in the band. Then I spoke to Mark who was there with TBC and he sort of said yeah mate I would like to listen to you. Then we went to a back room in the crafts' area and he just sat down on the chair and just said to me, 'Rap!' I said, 'Ok! Fine!' I did this 30 second rap and sort of free styled it a little bit. I think he really liked it because he got me back up to Manchester and then I had another audition. Actually I had two auditions up in Manchester so all together three auditions really."
Like all the band members, Leon is loving every minute of his new role as musical evangelist. For the rapper it really is seeing words in his life fulfilled. "When I was 14 it was prophesied over me that I would be an evangelist and up until I joined the band, I never really did anything about it. But suddenly when I joined the band I realised that is actually true and what I'm doing now really is amazing cos I'm getting to do what I love and what I want to do but also as well as God's work so I think putting those two together is just the best job in the world and I really love it. I hope that I can spread God's word to thousands of people, I just want to get all over the world and tell everyone about Jesus Christ."
It's now left to thebandwithnoname's last founding member to wrap up this lengthy interview session. I began by asking him what was with the bizarre photo that heralded the new line up and the launch of "Justified" and "Pull Up The Vinyl". "Well, we decided to do a photo shoot in a stately home where they shot Pride And Prejudice. So we all dressed in Pride And Prejudice costumes because it sounds a bit pompous, but the message of the song is that we have been justified by God's love, you know, come together, stand by me, all we need is real salvation. I mean, how often do you get a lyric in a song that is pompous? But that's the idea. The idea is making use of the music to get that message across."
The lovely ladies in the photo are thebandwithnoname's dancers who gig with the band at larger events though not, it seems, prison gigs. ("We've tried it with the girls but there was almost an attack!") So who are these ladies? "Helen and Tina have been with us since the start of 2005 when Presha was still with us. But Clarissa is an American girl we found out about when we went off to the States in January, February, March this year (2005). She saw what we were doing and came over here to be in a school's band. We ended up kinda doing a bit of a fiddle around and asked her if she would consider joining thebandwithnoname as one of our dancers and that's what she's doing. So now we've got the three female dancers and the four guys in the band; seven of us on stage - that's a real blast!"
Chip is very aware that there's now a new pressure on the band. How to bring the new line up and make them appeal to the fans who bought 'The Blitz' (2002) and 'Schizophrenix' (2003). "God will lead us through. I think it's great that Leon was inspired by Presha but Heaven forbid that he should try to fill Presha's shoes because he's his own person. This is a cute kid, this is Leon and I want to see him reach his full potential. Same for J, same for Straff. I want to see all these guys reach their full potential musically and spiritually as well, I want to see them functioning as ministers of the Gospel. So I think there's always going to be that tension of what do we do, how do we keep thebandwithnoname so people don't think hey this is a whole other band who are just putting the title thebandwithnoname on; but at the same time we have an amazing producer in Zarc Porter."
Even as you read this thebandwithnoname's new album is taking shape. One theme the album will touch on is the theme of "the roar". As Chip explains, "You know, there's a lot of different directions you can bring out of that - how God roars, how a crowd roars. Lion of Judah - yeah. One thing I said last night, by the way the reason I made that comment about Amazing Grace last night is because all the music cut out half way through the song. "Amazing Grace" and it's like Thebandwithnoname, wait a second we're waiting for that one! The music just died and the mics died and everything died! I grabbed a megaphone and I started chatting to the crowd through the megaphone and then J comes out and starts singing Happy Birthday cos it was my birthday yesterday and so he's doing this whole big thing about that. Anyway, by the time we finished Happy Birthday they had the song back up and running. One thing that I said during the "Found And Lost" piece, I said; it was a prayer to Jesus and I said, 'Jesus Christ you are the Lion of Judah and you're not a tame lion, just to refer back to that. God you have complete freedom to do whatever you wan,' and I said to the crowd if you agree with that then let me hear you roar! God is a lion, he wants to have a lion to roar back at him too."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.