Tony Cummings completes his history of UK Christian music 1965-1975 and the huge part Musical Gospel Outreach played in it
By 1973 contemporary Christian music - though it hadn't yet acquired the name - had well and truly arrived. Acts fuelled by the Jesus movement, such as Love Song, Children Of The Day and Honeytree, joined Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and Andrae Crouch & The Disciples in demonstrating the Church had finally come to terms with the popular music of the day. In Britain Musical Gospel Outreach (MGO) with its groundbreaking Buzz magazine and label Key Records had been instrumental in establishing Christian music artists like Parchment, Judy MacKenzie and Graham Kendrick so they could at least turn professional. And even in France Christian music was impacting the youth. The January 1973 Buzz, billed a Special Euro-issue, had a report written in French as well as English on the Spiritual Songs Festival held at Nimes. The event showcased several acts including The Witnesses (from Lyons), The Nathan Trio and The Benjamins (from Belgium). Wrote Buzz's reviewer/translator, "The Family Of Prades opened the show on Sunday evening: these hippies sang their Christian folk songs ('Down By The Riverside') in such a way that one could feel the peace and the strong bond which united them and which made this rythmic (sic) melody so unforgettable to the audience."
The international impact of the Church's embracing of pop, rock and folk was also reflected in the May 1973 Buzz. It reported, "Malcolm & Alwyn paid a flying visit to Barcelona, Spain at the end of March. It was for a Jesus music concert at the end of a week of 'Festival of Light type' events. Almost three hundred - a big crowd for Spain - saw them. The front row were freaking out on drugs and 14 of the audience committed their lives to Christ. Malcolm & Alwyn's first LP, titled 'Fool's Wisdom', is released this month. It was recorded for Key, who negotiated a release through Pye Records."
Malcolm Wild and Alwyn Wall's 'Fool's Wisdom' has long been deemed a Christian music classic. Decades later American Jesus music historian Ken Scott wrote, "'Fool's Wisdom' contains warm acoustic folk-rock sounds, moving harmonies and top-notch musicianship that suggest a British Simon & Garfunkel, made even more appealing by the cascading tones of Malcolm's autoharp. Songs like the title track, 'Growing Old', 'Things Are Getting Better' and the riveting 'Tomorrow's News' (a post-rapture account from those left behind) are stirringly orchestrated with strings. 'Seed Of Corn' and 'The World Needs Jesus' have organ and electric piano augmenting their lyrical acoustic melodies. The opening 'Say It Like It Is' is a strong number that features a propulsive bass line (courtesy of John Wetton), seething organ, and zestful acoustic guitar work. Electric guitar is not excluded as evidenced by the rocker 'Heaven Or Hell', 'You're Always On My Mind' and the psych-edged 'It's Here The Answer Lies', a shimmering blend of wahwah guitar, organ and autoharp (described on the back cover as 'Harrisonesque')."
In May Key Records announced they were launching a subsidiary label, Dovetail Records. The first release on Dovetail was by The Advocates, described by Buzz as a "four-piece 'pop-style' group who are associate evangelists of British Youth For Christ." Years on Ken Scott enthused about 'The Advocates' album, "This British pop-rocking male foursome delivers a fine debut full of hooks and melodies. Lively presentation, catchy tunes, bold harmonies, invigorated with a crisp electric guitar presence. Lots of organ, too, which gives the album more of a '60s sound with flashbacks to the whole British Invasion thing. I'm usually not a fan of horns, but here they're used to good effect, as on their energetic arrangement of 'Rise, Shine'. They get down into some loud boogie-style rock-and-roll on 'No Man's Land' and 'Jumpin' Jeremiah', both of which have blazing guitar solos. 'Alive' rocks pretty heavily as well, while 'Revolution' marches sturdily along in '60s garage-band fashion."
The May 1973 Buzz featured a back cover ad for Larry Norman And The Sheep In Concert to be held at London's Rainbow Theatre while inside was an advert for a rock musical, Lonesome Stone, in the same venue and also featuring The Sheep and set to be held over three months that summer. The Sheep were a product of America's Jesus Movement, being converted hippies from Milwaukee led by Jim Palosaari.
With Christian music having moved out of the era of Christian coffee bars to bigger concert exposure and a steady flow of album releases, Buzz and Key Records continued to be highly influential. Word Records, which had begun in the US and then expanded to the UK to take over the traditional Herald and Sacred record labels founded in the 1950s, had awoken to the changes in Christian music. The June '73 Buzz ran an advert for Word's Myrrh label plugging releases by Garth Hewitt and The Sheep, the July issue had an ad for The Alethians and Dave Pope and the November issue the Water Into Wine Band and Ishmael & Andy.
The major Christian event of 1973 was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's Spre-e '73, based at London's Earls Court Arena and with a final gathering at Wembley Stadium. Again it had MGO at its heart, though not from the start. The then British Director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Maurice Rowlandson, had been inspired by America's Christian youth event Explo '72. He pulled together a planning committee for an event involving a morning training programme, afternoon street evangelism and evening events with music and the preaching of Billy Graham.
The initial launch gained little traction. But after reading an explosive double page feature in Buzz, critical of BGEA's approach, Rowlandson had the foresight to bring in MGO for their youth and music expertise. As a result they handled all the publicity and marketing - though Pete wished they had been engaged before the event was stuck with the name Spre-e '73 - a clumsy abbreviation of Spiritual Re-emphasis and hardly the best brand image.
They also become responsible for pulling together the evening music programme at London's Earls Court arena, with David Payne appointed as Technical Director for this and the concluding Wembley event. The role brought the MGO man face to face with the evangelist instrumental in his conversion - Billy Graham. Remembered David, "We first met at front of stage at Earls Court and it seemed almost surreal to be explaining the programme outline to him. I told him that after the music it was over to him and we had allotted him 45 minutes although, of course, he could take longer if he wished. 'Oh no,' said Billy. 'These young folks won't want to listen to me for 45 minutes after all this great music. Maybe I'll speak for 20 minutes.'" David recalled Billy spoke for 45 minutes and his 17,000 audience was spellbound.
MGO organised a Write A Song For Spre-e competition with Cliff Richard and David Payne among the judges. The winner, "Let's Join Together", came from one Ivan Thurlow who later admitted it was the first song he'd ever composed. Plan A had been for Terry Dene, who had been a UK rock'n'roll star in the '50s, to record and perform it but Plan B was needed when Terry's commitment to Christ was seen to have had a wobble. Enter Welsh singer/songwriter Kevin Gould whose song "Jesus Is The King" had come second. Kevin recorded both songs for a single release, this time MGO negotiating its release through Polydor Records. His single never charted but it was the launch pad for Kevin to become a full time Christian musician.
The final Spre-e event, with a 22,000 attendance at Wembley Stadium, was recorded by Key and an album was released not only featuring Johnny Cash, and Cliff Richard, but Yugoslavia's Aleksander John, Sweden's Choralerna, Malcolm & Alwyn, Garth Hewitt, Graham Kendrick and The Advocates.
In 1973 Dovetail released the eponymous album by a band of country rock evangelists from Blackpool, Canaan. Produced by John Pantry who played keyboards on the project, 'Canaan' impressed Jesus music historian Ken Scott. Years later he wrote, "If you're tired of all those country rock homogenized Eagles clones that proliferated in the '70s you need to check out the British group Canaan. These four guys bring a refreshing progressive element to the genre that is often lacking in their American counterparts. 'They Call Me A Rock And Roll Gypsy' is the opening rocker that sets the stage for the spirited optimistic tone felt throughout the album. Gus Eyre's guitar work (frequently fuzzed) really cooks - 'Follow Me' and 'Lonely Man' both have loud acid leads, while 'Mr. Jones' and 'Jesus Revolution' heavily utilize the reverb effect. Slide guitar can be found on the later, as well as on 'Seek First The Kingdom' and 'Place Of My Dreams'. Harmonica graces a few songs, including 'Seventeen'. The seven-minute 'Death Gave Way - Trilogy' closes the album with more lively guitar action. Bob Fraser's lead vocals suit the style well, while the group harmonies often attain a Moody Blues-like depth."
The October '73 Buzz underwent a bit of a redesign, a short lived new name (New Buzz) and published the first of three columns by Cliff Richard. From the Buzz editorial office in New Malden, Surrey, Peter Meadows cheekily editorialised, "Now that he has moved from North London to Weybridge Cliff's a near neighbour. Perhaps we can persuade him to deliver next month's column by hand - that'll keep the girls here happy."
By now Buzz was confidently publishing some meaty articles. The December '73 issue for instance contained a thought provoking article by Steve Turner (who was to find renown as a poet and later a pop and rock music historian). In New Mindless Christianity Turner wrote, "The difference between a Slade concert and Jesus rallies is negligible. Christians have left the impression of over-zealous supporters of the Christian idea of God as opposed to the Hindu or Muslim idea of God, with all the trappings of supporters - badges, scarves, posters, medallions, theme tunes and even a JESUS CHEER." The same issue also contained an extract from the book New Life, New Life-Style by respected theologian Michael Green; an article by Cliff Richard about his experiences during a Tear Fund-backed trip to Nepal headed I Shall Never Be The Same Again; and the latest piece by regular Buzz columnist Sue Ritter (who was later to go on to front the grassroots evangelistic rock band The Reps). The issue also announced that MGO's full time directors had expanded so that as well as Pete Meadows (Buzz magazine), David Payne (gospel concert management, radio and TV) and Geoff Shearn (Key and Dovetail), Gordon Scutt of Festival Of Light was joining the team.