Singer and pastor RAY BEVAN was once blown and buffeted by the restless search for stardom. Then he let Christ in and slowly and painfully learned to go where the Holy Spirit was blowing. Tony Cummings went to Newport to meet Ray.
For the thousands gathered at a Reinhardt Bonnke evangelistic crusade Ray Bevan is the consummate master of devotional songs. For the purchasers of Christian music Ray Bevan is a successful recording artist, his 'Songs Hymns And Spiritual Songs' debut for Word has been in Britain's Christian bookshop best seller lists for almost a year. But for the hundreds who gather each Sunday at the Kings Fellowship in Newport, Ray Bevan is pastor, a man called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to preach the word, heal the sick and love and nurture the flock. There is no trauma or tension in the many hats this 42 year old Welshman must wear. Ray is a fulfilled man; at peace with himself having seen a God Of Surprises open the most unlikely of doors to turn a frustrated would be pop star into an internationally recognised minister of the Gospel. "It's very humbling, Tony. I'm living proof that that event recorded in the Bible where God used Balaam's donkey isn't an isolated incident.' Growing up in Resolven, a village near Neath, one of four children to a working class family, he grew up loving music.
I must have been 11 or 12 when I first saw the Everly Brothers and hearing songs - that we didn't have television till I was about 13 so it was all the radio. We used to get the one or two records we could afford and sing to them, mime to them. The Beatles were the people that changed me. Just after I left school I went to work in an ironmonger's shop and there was a guy there who taught me how to sing and play the mouth organ. He said 'You ought to try to go in a band, you know.' So I put my name 'Vocalist seeking band' up in a music shop. The first group I joined was called Sounds Anonymous.
They were. The band applied to go to the Butlins holiday camp to audition to become Red Coat entertainers. They got half way through the first song before the dreaded cry 'Next please' brought their hopes and dreams to a sudden end. Back in Wales Ray joined a band called Quite A Few.
They were a group of Germans living there in Neath. Somebody had said to them 'hey, there's this guy who is a reasonably good singer, he can sing, R&B - 'Johnny B. Goode, Roll Over Beethoven and all the good stuff. So Quite A Few asked me to audition and I joined them then.
Ray worked as a painter and decorator for 18 months. He used to sing as he worked. One day the emulsion-splattered would-be-pop-star struck something more than lumps in his paint.
I wrote a song on the banister rail of a house.' Suddenly Ray's stocky frame shakes with suppressed laughter. "I wrote this song about this little bird who emigrated but didn't make it, he fell in the sea half way over. One of the lines was I think, when he snuffed it, when he fell in the sea, And now he flies always in warn skies, not here on earth but with his holy maker!' Unable to contain himself any longer Ray explodes in laughter. When he recovers he continues. "Later I was singing the song in the bathroom with my kid brother Robbie. I know the next bit sounds corny but... the windows were open and a local tape recorder buff, right, was passing in his car. He stopped his car and he heard us singing. He knocked on the door and said 'Excuse me, who are those boys singing?' My mother said, 'My boys, they're singing in the bathroom.' He said, 'I'd like to record them because I'm a recording buff.' So she said, 'Oh aye, okay.' And we went over and there was a guy on a guitar and he had this microphone, I'll never forget it. He said I'm going to send it to London. I know this guy in Decca Records; I'm going to send it to him. He sent this thing and lo and behold, three weeks later they were going nuts over it in London. The guy at Decca Records was Ivor Raymond, he was the A&R man. D'you remember a band called Los Bravoss? They had a big hit with' Black Is Black'. He was doing that band. He thought our song was great and the voices particularly worked. And that's how we had our first recording deal with Decca. 17 and 14, that's how old we were. Our mother made us wear suits.' With its dated Everly Brothers-style harmonies and sickly sentiment 'This Little Bird' released in 1966 by Robbie and Ray was not the smash the duo or Decca were hoping for. "It sold 300. My mother was still trying to sell them five years later!' laughs Ray.
But we were caught up in the whole showbiz thing then. We had to get a band together to tour. My brother was only 14 so we had to wait until he was 15 so he could finish school to actually go full time. When he was 15 we did that and from '67 to '71 we did everything, had a number of records out, did 'Opportunity Knocks' (the grizzly TV talent show hosted by Hughie Green. We were big stars in our village. We'd go in the local cafe -we'd just go over to pose. In South Wales particularly we were quite well known. We did a couple of Welsh TV shows and so on. We used to support bands like the Tremeloes on occasions and The Move, and we did a show with Des O'Connor, and The Trogs ah, glory! Ray shakes with laughter again. The singles Robbie And Ray had out on NEMS, Man and Air Records didn't produce a hit, only memories.
I actually sat down at the same piano with George Martin (the Beatles' arranger) to run through a song. I didn't know who it was - he came in with his mac on and said 'Hi' - very low key. We didn't realise who we were rubbing shoulders with 'cause we were so young.
In 1972 Ray to the utter amazement of his friends, with a new recording deal with top producer Mickey Most a contract away, took a step back. "I was 19 or 20 and asking so many questions. 'Why am I here?', 'Where am I going?'. I knew I had, somehow, to get some answers. The boys in the band thought I was going nuts. We were sitting in a room like this, really excited about seeing Mickey Most. Then I told them. I said 'Guys, I want to go home. I don't want any of it. I just can't go on.' So I finished with the band. I stopped believing in it. It just didn't appeal to me anymore. Not only that but I knew I didn't have the talent. Being honest, I really couldn't sing in those days, I could not sing.
Back in Wales the failed pop star continued his search for answers to life's big questions.
"I was going out with a girl at the time; I've married her now, Pat. She used to go to a Pentecostal church and I remember one night we went to see a film called 'The Greatest Story Ever Told', it's an old film. I didn't know what it was; I just went for a snogging session in the back seats, that's all I went to the pictures for. But then this film began, acting out the life of Jesus. I was captivated, totally captivated by this film. When it came to the crucifixion, it got me. When they stripped him, beat him. I couldn't understand why they were doing it - 'cause I was really into all this film - Jesus healing the sick and helping them. 'You people are stupid' I kept saying."
At first it was like any other movie, like Zoro or Robin Hood to me. Then it began to dawn on me that this was a true story. This happened. When they were crucifying him, I said "Come on Jesus, blow them away like, just do something.' While they were beating him and all this stuff he was saying something under his breath and I couldn't make it out and right at the end I got it. It was 'Father forgive them, Father forgive them.' That got to me. Looking back I believe the Holy Spirit began to make Jesus very real to me. What I was searching for. Billy Graham says it you know; If Jesus is who he says he is, the most important thing in your life is getting to know him.' And that's what it was for me. 'This guy is either crazy or he's the Son of God.' Now when the film carried on, see I didn't know that Jesus was resurrected, I thought end of story, the cross; and when I saw that he was alive I thought 'well, I haven't read any book that he's died again. So maybe he's still alive.'
Profoundly affected by the message of the film and the emotions stirred by it Ray and his girlfriend decided to visit a church. Ray recalls that day very clearly. This guy started preaching about Jesus and it was the same feeling that came over me, that I'd felt when I'd been watching the film. The preacher seemed to make Jesus real to me again. But then I heard someone speak in tongues. I thought 'what is going on?' It was really freaky but it wasn't embarrassing 'cause back in the 60s most musicians like me had been taking LSD and dope and were pretty open to the supernatural. I knew it was there.
Ray began regularly going to church with his girlfriend. But still his sense of unfulfilment refused to go away. In desperation he tried to join another band. "I thought, 'it was wrong of me to finish with the band... I'm still empty.' I was rehearsing with the band of a night, after all this church. We were singing a James Taylor song, and the line was 'Won't you help me Jesus, Won't you help me make a stand?' And it got me. I thought 'That's it! I need Jesus. That's it.' I said, Boys, I'm sorry. Pack up and will you please take me to see a minister.' Well, they all thought I was gone - too much acid or something. But they drove me out to Gleneigh, and I knocked on this guy's door and when he heard my story he smiled. He knew. Right there and then I just knelt on the floor and said 'Hello, anybody up there? God, what a mess. Jesus, God, whatever, save me, change me, whatever the word is I need to say to you.' And that was it. I was instantly changed by God's Spirit. I mean instant. Wonderful isn't it? It's wonderful really.