Children's worker JIM BAILEY has become a surprise success amongst teenage dance music buffs. Tony Cummings spoke to the Worthing-based musicianary.
One of the surprise turntable hits in UCB Cross Rhythms short history has been the latest CD by Jim Bailey. Why a surprise? Firstly, 'The Stonkin' Christmas Mix' is a Yuletide offering and, as everyone knows, most Christmas albums are grizzly excursions into sleighbell cheesiness. Second, Jim Bailey makes albums directed at children as well as teenagers and as any reviewer who has had to endure a Cedarmont Kids album will tell you, kids albums featuring squeaky-voiced tots are often the musical equivalent of the Chinese water torture. In fact, Worthing-based Jim Bailey has gained a deserved reputation for making children's albums with exemplary production values. His previous 'Children Of The Cross' album got the much sought after 10 square Cross Rhythms review. Now with his latest offering, on which he was crucially assisted by mixer/producer Mark Edwards, Jim has moved into dance music territory and in doing so, has utterly transformed creating Christmas evergreens like "In The Bleak Midwinter" and "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen".
Jim told me how 'The Stonkin' Christmas Mix' album came about. "Well, to tell the truth I had a bit of a phobia about carol services -I really did hate them. Yet every year I would get drawn in to sing the same old stuff. About a year and a half ago I started really getting into dance music. The young people in my church were listening to the World Wide Message Tribe and stuff like that and the idea of doing dance versions of carols and Christmas songs began to emerge. My mate Mark Edwards is really into dance and we began working on it at Christmas '91. We actually recorded it in June. The response to the album has been phenomenal. I'm pretty experienced now in the concept of all age worship - I'd found I could get the four to 11 year olds involved, and I could get adults praising God but teenagers... no way. But with 'Stonkin" I've even seen teenagers getting involved a bit."
Such has been the response to 'The Stonkin' Christmas Mix' that another volume is already planned. "We've got some great things we want to do to 'While Shepherds Watched'," laughed Jim.
Though today Jim Bailey is acknowledged nationally as one of the major children's ministries, it has been a 10-year spiritual and creative journey to take Jim to his present position. Jim became a Christian at 18 at the Elim Bible Week. "My mother became a Jehovah Witness when my dad died when I was 13. She'd take me along to the meetings and I hated it. The music was provided on vinyl. If the record was scratched we'd get the first verse six times!"
Jim became a Christian after his mother got born again and started praying for him. "I got saved and filled with the Holy Spirit at the Elim Bible Week when I was 18. I also met a girl there, Helen, and the day after I met her I asked her to marry me! I said to myself, 'As God is this mega I've really got to give him everything.' So when I got back I went to the church and told the pastor God had called me to go to Bible school. I was put out when the pastor insisted on testing God's call on my life! But eventually I got to the Elim Bible College."
Jim had been playing guitar and keyboards in pubs and clubs in local bands. But first God had to deal with Jim's heart. There followed a year away from music.
Jim joined the Elim Bible College in 1986. His first church placement at Southport Elim church was hardly amazingly successful. "I took up a post working with teenagers and saw the youth group go down from 60 to 10! But at the same time I started working with children. I began writing these songs and a whole concept developed called Kingdom Kids - kind of Enid Blyton's Famous Five get excited about God. It took off."
Adult worship was also very much a part of Jim's activities. He recorded a praise album 'Refuge And Strength'. "It was a bit of an Ian White rip off, based on the Psalms." Things were looking good for Jim in Southport. "I was about to be ordained and there was a nice house and a nice car waiting for me. Then suddenly I got a phone call from a friend who told me that his church in Worthing was looking for a worship leader and did I know anybody. The church had 120 members and was very lively and unconventional. And suddenly I remembered a word I'd had from the Lord. It was so specific and came so out of the blue that I wasn't even certain it had been God speaking and not a bad curry the night before. But I'd kept it on a bit of paper. And there it was: 'A church in Worthing... 120 members...very lively and unconventional.' I KNEW God was calling me!"
When Jim got to the Worthing Elim Fellowship he was like "a bird released". There was a rock-orientated worship band, 40 per cent new converts and senior pastor Dave Cottrell, one of the wisest heads in the Elim movement. The Kingdom Kids concept really began to take off, not just on a local church level, but nationally. Links were forged between Elim and New Frontiers - who were looking for a kids ministry to develop - and suddenly Jim found himself ministering at the Stoneleigh Bible Week. "It really was an amazing experience. There I was with my acoustic guitar, stood on a platform in a cattle shed, with 1,500 kids in front of me. As soon as my plectrum hit the E string the power of God came and kids starting hitting the floor. I'd never seen anything like it, an amazing work of God." One particular experience is indelibly etched on Jim's memory. "I went to pray with a batch of kids. There was one little one, Ruth. She was eight years old and she was breaking her heart, tears running down her face, great wracking sobs. I went to her and asked what was wrong. She said, 'I'm sad.' Well, I could see she was sad! So I asked her what she was sad about. She said, 'I'm sad because of my sin.' The power of God was so tangible that I had to move back. I was physically pinned to the floor."
In 1994 Jim's album 'We Are Kingdom Kids' was released to high acclaim. That and 'D'ya Wanna Be In God's Gang' - where an old Gary Glitter hit was transformed into a raucous kids anthem -became big bookshop sellers and paved the way for 'Children Of The Cross', the most expensive kids Christian album ever recorded in the UK with superb musical contributions from such muses as Dave Clifton and Ben Castle. "There's been a lot of rubbish released into the Christian music field and I really felt the need to raise the standards. I wanted music that kids and adults could enjoy together."
Now Jim is planning his next project, tentatively entitled 'Extreme',
which will be an all age worship album. About the future this most
gifted singer/songwriter is very positive. "Being an influence on
children, seeing them come into an awareness of God is an incredibly
humbling thing. When we do a song in our roadshows like 'Colours Of
Salvation', which is a Celtic-type number, which we do with these huge
flags and I see the effect it has on kids, it's very humbling. In 100
years' time, when I'm pushing up daisies, I'd like to think that there
might be people somewhere still singing a Jim Bailey song."