Speaking to founder member Ray Goudie, Tony Cummings takes a long, hard look at Britain's soon-to-be-no-more veterans HEARTBEAT.
The news that Britain's leading pop-gospel band are playing their last gig on September 6th has, no doubt, produced mixed emotions. For Heartbeat are perceived in very different ways in different corners of the vineyard. To a groundswell of Christian youth, Heartbeat were major role-models able to articulate on telly that being born again wasn't weird, while showing the church fuddy-duddies that Christian music could have a dance beat and still be of God. To would-be Christian radicals, Heartbeat were wimpish cultural irrelevancies who'd once hyped an embarrassing pop-gospel record into the pop charts. And to the band members themselves, Heartbeat were spiritual pioneers, pushing back the boundaries of praise music and making Christian faith culturally relevant to a youth generation estranged by the formality of evangelicalism. Beyond all these perspectives is the story of a band which has been used by God to bless tens of thousands of people. The news that the infrastructure that grew around Heartbeat, New Generation Ministries, is to continue working in evangelism, arts training and music is to be welcomed.
Heartbeat travelled a long, and decidedly bumpy road in its ten years in existence. The band's roots go back to 1981 when Scottish-born Ray and Nancy Goudie, who were heading up the music department of British Youth For Christ (a job previously done by Graham Kendrick!), identified the need for a backing band to work with other BYFC - associated musicians like Sheila Walsh and Dave Pope. A loose knit band of musicians were assembled: Ray (drums) and Nancy (vocals) with musicians Chris Rolinson (the keyboards-man later to become a major worship composer), Colin Vallance on bass and Jonny Billingsley on guitar. Sometimes as a backing unit, sometimes as a band in their own right, Heartbeat went into schools, colleges and prisons. But as a worship band they also zigzagged Britain in seemingly never-ending tours. Remembers Ray Goudie:
"We were touring a lot in our days with BYFC because, being their 'ministry band', they would want us to do 'Our God Reigns', 'Prepare The Way', 'Earth Invaders' and various other tours like that. 'Prepare The Way' was like three months of quiche Lorraine, venue after venue after venue. Eventually we were saying "No more tours, no more tours!"
Despite the dangers of quiche poisoning, the hectic tour schedule did ensure that the band quickly built up a sufficient following to warrant a recording contract, so in 1983 'People Of Power' was released by Kingsway. It was not an album Heartbeat look back on with much fondness.
"That first Kingsway album was a disaster", comments Ray. "Firstly, Christian bookshops banned the cover because they said it had a naked man leaping across the sky; in fact, it was a picture of Samson in his loincloth!... Then there was the music itself. When we went to the studio in Manchester we were fairly involved. But they'd had a cleaner into the studio and what happened was that they had switched off the EQ when they were cleaning it. When they had finished cleaning, they put the grille back on but forgot to switch on the EQ system, so what we were hearing was not actually what was on the tape! In those days we weren't wise enough to take tapes and listen to them outside. So when we heard the finished album we all went 'What!! We died."
Despite its un-EQ'd sound, 'People Of Power', heavily plugged by the BYFC/Spring Harvest/Buzz publicity machine, sold quite well and one song on it "Praise Him On The Trumpet" became something of a praise and worship hit despite its thin-sounding vocals and dated beat group instrumentation.
In 1985, things were changing for Heartbeat. The BYFC closed their music department and the band, in a spectacular leap of faith, moved their whole operation: musicians, roadies, technicians, to a new base in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. By 1985 Heartbeat had settled on a fairly stable personnel with Trish Morgan, Dorry Townend and Nancy Goudie (vocals), Dave Bankhead (keyboards), Ian Townend (guitar), Jeremy Jobson (bass) and Ray Goudie (drums). The band's second album, 'In Celebration Praise', recorded in Andy Kidd's studio in Belfast, featured another version of "Praise Him On The Trumpet". It also featured an even more successful praise and worship song: "Celebrate". Ray Goudie remembers vividly how that particular song came about. "What happened was our lead singer at that time was a girl called Trish Morgan and she came with this praise song to us and then she upped and went some place. We were rehearsing in the hall we used at that time for rehearsals and we were playing it over and we said 'you know this song is just crying out for a chorus; this isn't completed? And so as a band, and in particular our keyboard player Dave Bankhead, said 'How about if we did this?' So we put Trish's verse and Dave's chorus together and as soon as it happened we knew we had something. There are certain songs in your history that you know when they come out they have got something that a lot of other songs don't have. And we took 'Celebrate' to Spring Harvest almost straight away. And now there's still some churches just discovering it. And plenty more who are fed up with it!"
1986 was another year of hectic touring, both in small schools work and in local church missions, and scanning through the publicity material and newsletters produced by Heartbeat that year clearly shows the band's priorities. A big mission in Preston with evangelist Gary Gibbs and the Back To Back Theatre brought forth "between 500 and 550 people who made decisions for Christ and between 100 and 150 people healed of various ailments", while their appearances at Spring Harvest achieved "a new release in Holy Spirit praise". But alongside their established ministries of evangelism and worship, another charismatic buzz-word was beginning to pop up in the group's strategy; the prophetic. Ray Goudie explains how Heartbeat's attempts to be a "prophetic voice to the nation" came about.
"In 1966 Nancy and I just felt prompted by God, not in a super-spiritual way, to start praying for our nation. That was something we'd never done as individuals, we'd never bought a book that said it. So we made it a voluntary thing for the team and said 'Look, if you want to join in we'll just be praying for the nation.' And we thought this is something on the edge of our ministry because we keep on doing the schools and the evangelism and everything. But it very quickly came into the very heart of our ministry. At that time we had made a couple of observations: one was that there was definitely a growing harvest in this country amongst young people but that the churches weren't able to hold on to them. Secondly, there seemed to be a new second and even third generation within a lot of the charismatic churches and these young people were bored. We were getting loads of people coming to celebrations where they were worshipping worship rather than actually worshipping God. It was really substituting the concert scene with the celebration scene. So we felt God putting in our hearts. This is boring! God's moved on.'
"So we had those thoughts; but we hadn't crystallised them those feelings were there and we were talking about it when God said 'Pray for the nation'.
"That led to quite a bit of open confession as a team 'cause when we started to ask God how He felt about the nation, which is the way we tend to go about small missions, we say to God 'How do you feel about that area or whatever.' Then He turned it into us and said 'You know there's a reflection of those things living in your hearts'. So there was quite a bit of open confession in the team and it moved to half-nights of prayer and revival prayer meetings. Then one night Nancy particularly got a vision that God was bringing a new move of His Spirit to this nation. It wasn't old-time revival, it was something new; something fresh. And it wasn't that we had to grovel on the floor to God to do it. It was something we felt God had commissioned: but we had to pray and prepare for it coming, so we wrote a song out of that called "Heal Our Nation", which was really just carrying our hearts; God come and do what you've said: bring healing to our nation.
"Just after that, we went to South Africa for a trip. During that time we met Friends First, a multi-racial band over there who've become really good friends of ours. They were releasing songs that were so prophetic to the church and we had written 'Heal Our Nation' and some songs that we felt would say something that God wanted to say to the church. But the thing that we hadn't at that point taken on board was to be a voice to the church, and we thought 'Crumbs! What a fantastic way to speak into the nation. And Friend First were bringing things like anti-apartheid and reconciliation through God. They were prophetic to their nation; the very fact that it was multi-racial and they were having to work out cultural differences because they hadn't really mixed before our time in South Africa had a profound effect on us." The band were going through more personnel changes. Ray and Nancy stepped back from performing with Heartbeat to become pastoral guiding lights. Clive Urquhart (son of famed charismatic Bible teacher and author Colin Urquhart) took over as the band's new drummer. And the weakest element of the band, the bland vocal sound, was overcome with the introduction into the group of Sue Rinaldi - a Southampton-born singer/songwriter with a quality pop voice and Su Reeves-Bassett (who'd previously sung with New Beginnings). When 'Voice To The Nation' was released by Kingsway in 1986 it was striking, not only for the outspoken call to repentance of its theme, but also for its -thoroughly contemporary production values, with Friends First producer Joe Arthur introducing thudding fairlights and surging synth sequences into the pop harmony sound.
Ray Goudie didn't think it missed the point by putting the .record out on a label which distributed entirely within the limited confines of the Christian subculture. "The album was a prophetic voice to the church", emphasises Ray. "The whole message of that album was to the church, not to the media. We had a companion book that went with it was which highlighted the needs of our nation. Some of it written by Clive Calver of the Evangelical Alliance and some of it by ourselves saying: church listen! We've got to do something here, God's stirring us."
By now the band had evolved into a team that was, musically at least, quite commercial. Sue Rinaldi had an expressively immediate pop voice, the synth-pop sound into which they had fallen was flourishing in the pop mainstream and an idea, taking the Christian message into the pop charts, began to germinate. Heartbeat, once the most insular products of the cosy Christian subculture, began to plan a single. "The idea wasn't so much taking the message of Jesus Christ into the Top 50" comments Ray. "It was, 'How can we be a prophetic voice to the nation?' Of course, we wanted to see people saved, but the desire of our heart was to bring a God-consciousness, a framework to the nation because it seems to be that unless there's some sort of God-framework, Jesus doesn't mean too much to too many people. The prophetic, we feel, tends to bring Jesus into perspective. And so we came to look at 'How can we be a voice to the nation?', I have to say that we only felt that we would be a tiny part of the overall church's voice to the nation. We didn't think we were THE voice to the nation; we were aware that the media is limited. However, when we asked God how can we be a voice to the nation, it was just so obvious the media was a tremendous vehicle for us to do that, because people listen to radio, buy records, watch the TV. So we thought: right, let's ask God if we did a single, what would He want us to say on it? Then how can we use some teaching we had done ourselves as a team on the life of Daniel and how he coped in a very foreign culture. In that study it was clear that Daniel co-operated with that society but he didn't compromise. We saw how many Christians were compromising but not co-operating. So we thought well, let's co-operate, and co-operate in that people see us as normal and not trying to bash them over the head. The material will be as good as we can make it and as close to (equally) all the other songs that are going out, but not compromising what we want to say.
"So when we came to invite what we felt God was saying, we co-operated with the kind of language people would understand, that the media would be more likely to accept. I think the phrase "Tears From Heaven" was from Trish Morgan, who used to be our lead vocalist, and because she'd had twins now she was no longer in the band. So she came up with the phrase. Then I wrote the verse because we knew the kind of feelings God had, you know. It says "God sees our land like children lost." People understand when you talk about children; it's actually something a lot of people will pick out and try and group when we're talking about children, and running away and God crying tears from heaven.
"The song was the best attempt; it was the best we could do at that time."
The release of the "Tears From Heaven" single was put together in a deal, typical in its wheels-within-wheels record biz complexity. Word Records MD Ian Hamilton introduced the band to Stuart Ongley, who ran music publishing company, Peer-Southern Music, and Barry Evans, who had had both a promotion company, Bullet plus his own record label, Priority Records. Joe Arthur produced the single and, on its release in 1987, it began to climb the charts. For one exhilarating moment it looked like it was going to go all the way, but, despite an appearance on Top Of The Pops, it peaked at 32 and failed to become the substantial hit hoped for. What wrapped "Tears From Heaven's" chart place forever in controversy was the accusation of 'hype' muttered by many and articulated in print in 'Stait', the Greenbelt magazine. The basis of the accusation was a gushing exhortation in the Heartbeat newsletter, which was by then being circulated to tens of thousands of evangelicals, to buy the record. Some even took Goudie's advice and prayed and fasted for the success of the single. Ray is adamant, however, that hype was the wrong word.
"We talked to secular record companies and said 'Do you think what we're doing's wrong?' And they said 'You're not doing anything that we don't do.' So they said 'Hype is if you instruct someone to go in and buy 50 or 100 copies of a single in a chart shop. What you're doing is instructing what we would call your fan club to go and buy your single.'
"Then we went and contacted a guy from Gallup (the body who compile the charts) and said 'Would you monitor what's happening and do you think we're doing anything that's wrong?' And he came back and said' There's nothing that I can see that you're doing; monitoring all your sales and hearing what you've done I don't think you're doing anything wrong.
"Now I think, in retrospect, there was a couple of things now that we wouldn't have done then if we'd have known. We asked Christians to write in to the radio-stations to request the song. Our promotion company advised us to put on the Radio one address and producers' names and stuff like that. We were overwhelmed by the amount of people who' phoned Radio One; just thousands. They just thought: this is a set up. Another problem was that some Christians in their enthusiasm would go to their youth-group and say 'OK, all sign this petition' type thing, or 'Here's a letter that I've already written out. Would you just sign your name. Again, it looked like something that was orchestrated-which it wasn't. Another thing we did was, we sent the single to all different national leaders. Like the government, the opposition, people in business, the trade unions, people in the media and The Royal Family. Just to say, 'We're Christians, we think God is love and real and He's got something to say. Hope you like the record.' Now, one of the people we sent it to was the Head of the BBC. But it was nothing to do with the promotion of our single. We were sending it to all leaders. Now, unknown to us, Marmaduke Hussey, the BBC guy, took the single to the producer at Radio One and said 'I've been given this, would you take it into the playlist meeting?' Now had I known that was going to happen, I certainly wouldn't have sent the record to him because I don't think the DJ's or the producers responded positively because they felt we were going in through the back door, which is something that we never ever contemplated.
"And then of course we got a few Christian people saying, 'You're hyping' and it started that."
The controversy over "Tears From Heaven" did show, if nothing else, the band's naivety in the ways of marketing. Their publicity blurb to their loyal supporters claimed that the song "would open up clear avenues for the gospel... the first of many more praise and prophetic songs breaking through the media." While the follow-up, "The Winner", which crawled into the outer reaches of the charts before flopping, was described as "a praise song we strongly - believe is destined for the Top 20."
'The Winner' album was a better album than all the flak deserved, an engaging synth-pop gospel collection with one song on it, a pleasant-on-the-ear ballad: "Air That I Breathe", becoming a surprise Top 10 hit on American Christian radio. But, rather than beat the well-worn path to American gospel financial security, the band continued with its touring of schools, missions and conferences. The "Tears From Heaven" mini-success opened up an unexpected door for the band, or more specifically Sue Rinaldi, as a Christian apologist. She appeared on BBC TV's 'Def II' programme directed by Janet Street-Porter. Comments Ray "What happened was Bill Hilary was once the keyboard-player with Moral Support (fondly remembered Irish Christian rockers). Bill was Janet Street-Porter's assistant. Bill phoned and said 'would you like to do the programme? And I said, 'Oh, I'd love to do it. What a great opportunity!' He warned us it was not going to be easy. They wanted us to represent the new churches. So we went to Gerald Coates and Roger Forster and said we were being asked to represent the new churches. 'If we are asked these questions, what would your answers be? What is the new church?' So Roger gave us some stuff, Gerald gave us some."
In fact it was Sue Rinaldi who did the programme without the support of her Heartbeat cohorts. Few will forget her sterling television defence of the faith in the face of a sneering band of aggressive young know-alls circling around their prey like wolves. The programme created a great deal of response. "Sue certainly had a very major input on the programme", admitted Ray. "There were nine hundred letters sent to the BBC. The BBC said they've never had that kind of response from that kind of programme. They sent every letter through to us so we could follow them all up."
In 1988 Heartbeat recorded another album for Word; a praise and worship concept album, complete with songbook, aimed specifically at young people. After the big budget of 'The Winner', wasn't the recording of 'For A New Generation' returning to earth with rather a bump?
"Not at all" responds Ray. "Worship was very much at the centre of what we were doing. 'Songs For A New Generation' was very much born out of a vision. We're still trying to clear the budget on 'The Winner' album so there was no way we could do it as expensively as that. And doing it in our own studio (the band's headquarters in Wiltshire sported its own recording facility) enabled us to spend a lot of time and care on it."
Certainly, 'Song For A New Generation' opened up the praise and worship genre to the pop-dance sensibilities that the band had developed since their tilt at the charts. The theme of locking joyful paeans of praise to pumping dance rhythms was even more developed in 'Songs For A New Generation Vol 2', otherwise known as 'I Will Speak Out', which contained in "The Chant" a piece of fully orbed house music which showed all kinds of exciting directions where Heartbeat might have been taking praise music in the future. But, as it turned out, the 'I Will Speak Out Tour', in aid of the NSPCC Child Protection Line, turned out to be the last major showcase for a band which has achieved a huge amount since its gauche beginnings back with BYFC. Now, with Sue Rinaldi destined for a solo career and various members of the band pushing open doors in arts and media, Ray Goudie is left to look back at ten years of exhausting, but profoundly rewarding, Christian ministry.
"As people, Heartbeat have a heart for worship. We have a sort of principle we have kept with us since we started: what you are on your own with God is what we are as a band and that's what we have been ministering to people. Because we are worshippers and worshippers together as a band, that's always been the focal point of much of our music. However, like Gerald Coates said a couple of years ago, he saw in us prophetic evangelists. I would add that we never said: 'We are prophets', but because we've asked God: 'What do You want us to do, what's in Your heart and will do it', there's been a sense of wanting to speak out prophetically. Therefore that's made me write songs that have driven us onwards to do what we've done."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.