Tony Cummings and Rebecca English chronicle the life of KEVIN GOULD from his first full time gig in 1973 before 22,000 people to his work today as a pastor in Alaska.
A singer/songwriter enters a talent search. His dreams come true as he's plucked from the throng of young hopefuls. He gives up his day job, is signed to a major record label and plays his first live gig before 22,000 people. No, this isn't a thumbnail history of the latest winner of The X Factor or American Idol. It's part of the life history of a man who today serves God as a pastor of a church in Alaska. It's been 30 years since Welshman Kevin Gould talked regularly to the media. But Kevin's contribution in helping pioneer Britain's Christian music scene in the 1970s has brought Cross Rhythms to his door (or more precisely, his computer) with a pile of questions. Kevin was born in the Welsh mining village Pontlottyn in the Rhymney Valley in 1948. Hitting his teens in the '60s, like tens of thousands of others his imagination was pricked by the music scene. "My great interest was trying to write songs, I loved the idea of creating songs. I never saw myself as any sort of a performer, I wasn't a great guitarist or musician and I wasn't a very good singer. I wasn't a bad drummer but I really enjoyed writing songs. As a result of that interest growing through listening to people like the Beatles, I formed some little bands at school, which were not very good, but we enjoyed it."
On leaving school Kevin began playing in a contemporary folk group playing some folk clubs in Wales. Kevin remembered, "One of the guys that we worked with, Colin McGregor, he was kind of our manager. He was a bit older than we were, and he was interested in what we were trying to do, and so he got us some gigs, and we became good friends. We were in our early 20s and he was 35 or 36, something like that. And one day we got the news that his son had died. He had been married for 16 years and he had one son who was only six years old. They didn't have any children for 10 years, and then little Andrew came along. We just heard the news that he was out playing on his bicycle and he fell off and hit his head on the pavement, which resulted in brain damage, which caused him to collapse later in the day. They rushed him to hospital, but tragically he died on the way in the ambulance. As you can imagine, that was a devastating blow for this man that was our manager, and more than that, he'd become a good friend. We went to visit him a few days later to express our condolences, and then didn't see him for about another three or four weeks. The next time I saw him, he started telling me about some Christians from a local church who had come by to see him and talk to him, and how he had really appreciated that and was finding great comfort from their prayers and interest in him and his wife. Then the next time I talked to him, he started to share with me how both he and his wife had become Christians, as a result of the influence of these people from the local church. Although I didn't fully understand what he was talking about - I didn't understand it at all, really - I could see that he had a real peace in his life, particularly after having gone through such a terrible, terrible tragedy. It sparked my interest in finding out what sort of power there is that makes such a big difference after a tragedy like that. So I asked if I could maybe go along to meet the pastor and talk to him and ask him some questions. It was more for me at the time a kind of intellectual exercise, it was that '60s thing - searching, looking for something, anything new - 'Okay, let's check it out,' you know, that attitude. But I found from talking to the pastor that the answers were very powerful. When he talked about being sure of going to Heaven and that I could actually be certain of a salvation, I really took notice and that truth began to sink into my heart. It was something I had never known before. It was going through that time that I came to know the Lord. I actually made the commitment to Christ in my car, after one of these meetings with him and the pastor. I was driving home and I knew that it was time for me to step out and do something. I prayed in my car, and at that point Christ came into my life. That was the day, that was the time that I can say I was actually born again and it was the start of my life in Christ."
A couple of years after his conversion a series of events occurred which were to dramatically affect the direction of Kevin's life. "I'd started writing some pretty simple songs that expressed my faith in Christ. I had this one song called 'Jesus Is The King' which I thought somebody might like. I sent it to a music publisher, the only publisher I knew, which were people that dealt with more traditional songs. I got a letter back from this publisher saying that they didn't do this kind of music, but they did know somebody who did, so they had taken the liberty of sending this tape of mine to a company called MGO, Musical Gospel Outreach."
MGO were a grassroots organisation which had been formed by Peter Meadows. Its initial venture, begun in 1966, was the publication of a cheaply printed magazine, Buzz, which attempted to be a mouthpiece for the first wave of gospel "beat groups" which were playing church-run coffee bars and outreaches across Britain. By the early '70s MGO had expanded to be an organiser of evangelistic and teaching events, the parent of a small Christian music record label Key Records (which was eventually to become the foundation stone of Kingsway Music) while Buzz, taking over the publication of an ailing British Youth For Christ magazine, had developed into an influential Christian discipleship publication and the only Christian magazine targeted at UK youth. In 1972 Maurice Rowlandson, British Director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, had been profoundly challenged by Explo '72 - a vast gathering of young American Christians at Dallas, Texas. Back in the UK Rowlandson pulled together a planning committee of British Christian youth leaders and after months of intense planning Spre-e '73 (a rather clumsy abbreviation of Spiritual Re-emphasis) was announced with more than 18 practical training sessions at London's Earls Court Arena, "inspirational gatherings featuring Dr Billy Graham and many leading Christian music people" and a huge final gathering at Wembley Stadium on 1st September. One of the offshoots of the enormous Spre-e initiative was a Write A Song For Spre-e competition organized by MGO.
The judging committee assembled to deal with the torrent of demos sent in by hopeful songwriters included pop star Cliff Richard and MGO's David Payne. The winner the committee decided on was a song titled "Let's Join Together" by one Ivan Thurlow who later admitted to Buzz that it was the first song he'd ever written! The committee felt the chorus of the song ("Let's join together, join hands together/Lift up our song to the Lord/What he has given we've just got to share/The joy that is ours through the Lord") "captures perfectly the buoyant, joyful mood that is expected at the evening Spre-e gatherings." The runner up in the competition was Kevin Gould and his song "Jesus Is The King". Explained Kevin, "About six months before I had talked to one of the people at MGO about Spre-e 73 just to find out about it. When my song arrived at their office they listened to it and liked it. I got a letter from them, because I didn't even have a phone at the time in Wales. So I got a letter from them saying that they liked my song and to give them a ring. I went to the phone box and called them. They told me that they liked my song and that they were running a competition to find a song for Spre-e 73 and they would like to consider my song as an entrant. They said, 'We think it's one that we can use.' So I said that would be fine, go ahead and do it. So they did - Cliff Richard was one of the judges and he listened to my voice and liked it, he said it was 'different'. I don't know if he liked it but he said it was different."
One thing led to another and Kevin was offered a recording contract by Polydor Records to record both "Let's Join Together" and "Jesus Is The King" for a single release. He was also asked to sing them both at Spre-e. Kevin remembered ruefully, "There I was being asked to take part in this huge Christian event and I'd really never done any singing, I'd only ever done a few songs at a local church and I wasn't very good at that. But I was too young to know any better, really, so I agreed to do it, and that's how it opened up. Because there was going to be a lot of opportunities for ministry after Spre-e they asked me to go full time, and I made my full time debut in front of 22,000 people at Spre-e 73. That's how it all started. I was completely out of my depth, but the Lord kept me."
Spre-e 73 left an indelible impression on Kevin. The remembrance of his initial entry into the public arena is of being overwhelmed by the vastness of the experience. He recalled the youthful crowds, the atmosphere of beautiful fellowship, the street witnessing. Opportunities to meet musicians such as Cliff Richard and Graham Kendrick and to see and hear Billy Graham in a personal setting made the memories rich. "It was a wonderful time, really," he recalled, "and I look back on it with great affection and gratitude that I was there. There were people considerably more talented than I was who could have been doing what I was doing, but the Lord opened a door for me. I'm grateful, because it started me in ministry. My overriding memory, apart from the hugeness of it all and the great, great, atmosphere and the fellowship, still has to be listening to Billy Graham."
Despite Kevin Gould's "Let's Join Together" getting some embarrassing hyping from Buzz ("How would you like to see the name of the Lord in the charts - on the lips of a Christian?! Your answer could mean the difference between a hit and a flop.") the Polydor single didn't chart. But it and the whole Spre-e event did open doors for Kevin. Remembered Kevin, "When Billy Graham did the Spre-e 73 his film company Worldwide Pictures - they did The Hiding Place and a Johnny Cash testimony movie, and did a few things with Cliff Richard - did a documentary on Spre-e 73. They wanted me to be in the opening and closing credits. So I spent a day being driven around London to different sites like the outside of the Parliament, Big Ben, and they had me walking up and down singing the song while they filmed it. So that was the movie experience that I had. It was actually a lot of fun; it was very interesting to be with a film crew for a day. Another thing that happened was that I was asked by the BBC in Wales to do a weekly Sunday contemporary Christian music spot. I would play the latest music - I'd get all these albums from the record companies for free because I was on radio, and then I would play them, you know, just a clip, and then say a little bit about them. That ran for about three years."
In 1974 Key Records released Kevin's 'Let's Join Together' album. Produced by John Pantry (later to become a CCM star in his own right and who is today a broadcaster with London's Premier Radio) the album featured one or two outstanding Gould compositions including "Dai", about a retired Welsh miner ("He sings only in dreams now/And he dreams only in vain/He sleeps only in spasms/And he wakes only in pain") while another standout was the fine guitar work of Idris Jones, who despite his Welsh name was in face an Australian who'd hit big in the '60s with "The Pushbike Song" by the Mixtures.
Kevin's second album 'True Stories' was recorded for Word UK in 1976. Kevin had mixed feelings about the album. Said Kevin, "I think at the time I did that album there was a trend toward trying to make Christian songs a little bit more thoughtful with the lyrics, and that's what I tried to do. Looking back on it, I think some of the songs were quite good. Unfortunately, I listen to it and I think, 'Oh, man, I just wish the production was better.' It was a bit of a rushed album, really. Norman Miller, who was then at Word Records, was the executive producer. He had a budget and he didn't want to go over it, so that album was a bit rushed. I look back at it and think, 'I wish we'd had more time, I wish that the production was better.' We had very good musicians on it, actually. We had Dave Markee who is now a Christian - he wasn't then - at the time he was the bass player for Eric Clapton. We had Cliff Hall, who was Cliff Richard's piano player. Barry Bynum (the American guitarist from Liberation Suite) played guitar on that album. And we had some crazy guy playing drums, a union guy who was a real nut case. He was complaining all the time 'cause Norman wanted him to do an album in the time (five days!) that he normally took to do a single!"
Kevin recalled the hard realities of being a touring gospel musician. "I loved it though it wasn't easy. There were some hard times, particularly in England. It wasn't financially very profitable and sometimes you wondered whether you were going to make it. That happened a few times when I was in the States, too, 'cause sometimes there would be periods where there wasn't much work coming in. But the satisfaction that I got from being in that ministry was tremendous; I loved doing it. I loved the traveling, I loved doing the concerts, meeting new people, seeing the Lord at work in people's lives. I even loved all the driving. I was well received, wherever I went. It was a very memorable time, and I miss it. I'd love to do some more of that now, if I could, but it's probably not feasible anymore. But I did, at that time, love it. The thing that was hard was my wife had to stay at home a lot on her own. We couldn't travel together - we had a young child, and then two years after starting in full time work we had another one, so she didn't travel with me that much. However, when we'd moved to Los Angeles in '77, a year before our son was born, we did travel together, the three of us, me and my wife and my daughter. And that was a very special time, 'cause we'd travel all over America by road. It was just the three of us in the car going all over the States."
In 1979 Kevin recorded his third album 'Clear Vision', released on Pilgrim Records subsidiary Grapevine. Said Kevin, "I think I developed more as a live performer than anything else. I could communicate, or I learned to, anyway, and that was always my strength. My strength was never as a musician or a great singer, or even a songwriter particularly, though I loved trying to write songs and still do strive to write better and better songs. But as a communicator I could hold my own with most of the guys that were out there at that time. I learned to be able to tell relevant, and when necessary funny, stories during my concerts and always had great responses from live audiences. I had a repertoire of songs and stories that I would use in a one-hour concert and it always went down well. It bore very good fruit. Of the albums I did I particularly liked ' Clear Vision'. It was a good album; John Pac produced it."
Over the next few years Kevin and his family spent periods in Waco, Texas and in Sheffield, Yorkshire. But bit by bit his music ministry began to peter out. He spoke about it candidly. "My interest in music was less. However my interest in studying the Bible and teaching the Word of God had become passionate. Plus, I'd had enough of traveling at the time; I wanted to be home, my wife wanted me home more, and it was just time. It was a new direction and it was the right direction. And it's been my direction ever since."
Full-time church leadership was the focus of the next nine years after which another ministry change came into view. During the years of traveling and singing, Kevin had developed a relationship with Clover Pass Community Church in Ketchikan, Alaska. He performed his first concert there in 1978. After entering the pastorate he maintained ties with the church, even exchanging pulpits with their pastor, Arne Halvarson, during the summer of 1984. By 1989 the Ketchikan church was without a pastor and Kevin spent several weeks with the congregation, filling in temporarily. During that time he was asked to consider taking the pastorate at Clover Pass. Though heavily involved at his church in Stocksbridge, England, at the time, he remained open to considering the request. One year later he was again approached, and receiving what he felt to be very specific confirmation from the Lord, accepted the position of senior pastor there.
His family relocated to Ketchikan in 1991, where they live today. Kevin has ministered as senior pastor at Clover Pass for 16 years and has watched many young people grow into their own ministry under his leadership. When asked about highlights of his years in Alaska, he spoke of the development of various works over the years: a young family who became missionaries in Mexico and have recently completed their first church building; evangelism and service to the cruise ship crew members who come through the city of Ketchikan each summer; five new churches that have been planted on nearby Prince of Wales Island.
In 1997 Kevin unexpectedly took a little time off from preaching and teaching duties to record a CD, 'The Wind And The Flame', with long-time musical associate Barry Bynum. It was released independently. Said Kevin, "I liked that album, it had a Celtic feel. Actually it all started when a lady in my church came up to me one Sunday and told me that she felt the Lord had impressed on her a word to give me. Basically it was that I shouldn't lose sight of the fact that I could use music in my ministry just because I was not doing it full time anymore. That was an encouragement to me as I had been thinking about working on some new songs and looking for an opportunity to do something with them. I'd heard that Barry Bynum was living in Northern Ireland and that as well as doing concerts he was working at a Christian studio as a producer. I called him up and asked him if he would be interested in working with me on a new album and I was delighted when he said yes. Barry is an incredible musician."
Kevin still finds time to do the occasional concert. He commented, "We've got some good female singers at our church, actually, not that many good guy singers but some great girl singers, and we've got a few really good musicians, including my son David who is a fine guitarist. He loves Phil Keaggy and does some of his really difficult instrumentals. He has developed a very tasteful style and I love playing with him. We put a band together every now and again and do some concerts particularly at Christmas time. There's a new album coming out called 'A Wineskin In The Smoke' and we'll be doing some concerts that feature the new songs later in the year. These days I really prefer doing concerts with a band or with my son than just doing them on my own like the old days."
A consummate lyricist Kevin isn't very impressed with the direction some modern Christian music has taken. "I'm a lyricist, more than anything else, and though I'm not the world's greatest musician, my lyrics will stand up anywhere and next to anyone. The lyrics today are just so shallow that most of the time I just turn it off. I can't listen to some guy repeating the same line over and over again, particularly when it wasn't a good line to begin with. The thing about the '70s is that there were some really good lyricists around. You were held to a pretty high standard and we all really worked on getting the lyrics right. I mean, Larry Norman was incredible. I don't want to give the impression that I'm stuck in the '70s, you know, but at the same time I can't be very positive about today's standard of songwriting in comparison, at least lyrically. I actually think there's a lot of pseudo worship going on today. I believe that much of what is passed off as worship today has become a learned behavior by many; Worship Music has become a money-making industry. And that's never what was supposed to happen. There are some good songwriters today, obviously; people like Matt Redman write good songs and there are others that do also. But I'm not thrilled with what's happening. There is a dumbing down that is taking place in the modern Church which is very worrying."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.