Peter Jennings spoke to Bobby Wood, the leader of R&B gospel team LUMEN CHRISTI
Christmas singles aren't everybody's cup of hot-spiced wine. With the exception of Cliff, the usual mawkish sentimentality that passes for a Christmas lyric means that past Yuletide message single hits have been of scant interest to Christian music lovers. That may well change in 1991 with the release of the double 'A' single "A King Is Born" Lumen Christi' by Britain's hottest new gospel group who also go by the name Christian Lumen Christi (which the academic among you will know means Life Of Christ). The line up of the Caribbean-origin Lumen Christi is Bobby Wood (vocals), Maxine Richards (vocals), Pat Panton (vocals), Peter Simpson (vocals), Paul Reid (guitar), Colin Peters (bass) and Carlton Powell (drums). Explains Bobby Wood: "We want to communicate love, unity and understanding among all peoples regardless of their race, religion or culture. We hope to spread the Word of God through our songs. We want to make Gospel music attractive and acceptable to the vast majority of people in Britain who are not interested in Christianity and never go to church."
Bobby has written the words and music of 'A King Is Born' and 'Lumen Christi'. 'When I write a song, and I've written more than a thousand, it begins with a melody to which I add the lyrics and rhythm. I want the gospel music to penetrate the hearts and minds of everyone who hears it,' emphasises Bobby. Several members of the band backed Cliff Richard when he recorded his special Christmas Show at BBC Pebble Mill, Birmingham, to be shown on Boxing Day.
"I first met Cliff during the 1970s in Germany, where I was working with my own band, Eyes On Fire," remembers Bobby. "When we met in Birmingham recently, Cliff invited me to write some songs for a new gospel album which he is recording next year. I'm working on a few ideas."
Lumen Christi is managed by Tony Silvester, a chartered accountant and former financial adviser to the hugely successful rock team Duran Duran, who now works at the Birmingham office of chartered accountants, Neville Russell. "Duran Duran were my life from 1979 until July 1984 when the band split up," explains Tony. 'Now I'm looking after the affairs of Lumen Christi through a new company, N.R. Sound Management. They are excellent musicians and singers and I think they will go places. I am planning for Lumen Christi to record an album early in 1992, before they start their first tour of Britain."
Bobby Wood was born in Poruss, Manchester in Jamaica. 'I was raised a Christian and surrounded by music in our little Baptist church. Today I worship in a black Pentecostal church in Birmingham. I was brought up with the energy of the Pentecostal style of worship but, because God is everywhere, I feel at home in any church where His presence can be felt. I have friends who belong to many different denominations, including Anglican and Roman Catholic and I am happy to worship in their churches. I've never known a day since my childhood when Jesus Christ has not been the light of my life. I can't imagine life without Him, a true friend upon whom I can totally depend in every situation, however difficult. The members of Lumen Christi belong to several different Christian traditions and we hope that this will open the doors to churches of many different denominations.
"At home in Jamaica my parents and friends would get together and sing gospel songs." Bobby began his singing career in the Sunday School choir. During his late teens he was encouraged to become professional. Bobby has been involved with many different types of music, but it's gospel music that means most to him. In the past he has worked with Eddie Grant, Bobby Womack and Maxi Priest and toured with Musical Youth in Africa. But Bobby knows where his ultimate loyalties lie. "There is a spiritual satisfaction with gospel music. I particularly enjoyed working with Archbishop Desmond Tutu during his visit to Birmingham in 1989 and wrote the song 'Here To Stay' for the black-led churches."
In 1983 Bobby was living in Tel Aviv when he was approached by the manager of Birmingham superstar group Musical Youth (Remember 'Pass The Dutchie' at number one?) 'They asked me to help transform their image for a world tour with Michael Jackson.
"Unfortunately Michael Jackson was involved in a serious accident while filming an advert for Coca Cola. This put a stop to his world tour, but I had already moved to Birmingham, where I was working on songs and choreography for Musical Youth. I was promised a lot but at the end of the day nothing materialized," recounts Bobby. "I was left wondering what plans God had for my future. I spent a lot of time praying and reading my Bible."
Asked about the importance of prayer in his life, Bobby replied: "Prayer is as important to me as breathing. I don't undertake anything without praying about it first. I am a man of hope, because without hope there's no tomorrow. There's no worthwhile future, Hope is a small step that can take you miles and I want Lumen Christi to spread the light of Christ throughout the world.
"My grandmother, Mrs Ethel Coalman, now aged 93, told me recently that her mother, my great-grandmother, Julia Green, who became Mrs Wilson, was a slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica. She used to sing gospel songs under the pressures of daily work which eased the pain of the shackles and the regular beatings of the slaves in the Caribbean."
His voice breaking with emotion, Bobby Wood said: "Whether black or white, slave or free, we are all slaves to sin and we all need Lumen Christi, the light of Christ."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.