Stephen Deal: A tone deaf songwriter who's won TWO Ivor Novello Awards

Sunday 22nd February 2009

Paul Loader tells the unlikely tale of his friend and schoolboy band mate STEPHEN DEAL

Phase One
Phase One

You all know what it's like; you are 14 years old and you are going to become the greatest rock star this world has EVER seen. There were four of us, growing up in Bristol, with that hard and fast belief. First off there was Gary. All the girls loved him, so he had to be the in the band even though he couldn't play a note on any musical instrument of any kind. We might just attract girls by default if he were around. Darren, as hopeless with the girls as I was, lanky with unmanageable hair but fancied himself as a bit of a drummer.

Me, face full of spots and mocked by all for being the "the preachers kid" and yet I owned an acoustic guitar and was known to be able to hold a note in tune and so I was going to be the singer. And then there was Steve, or Dylan as we all knew him (yes, just like the rabbit from the Magic Roundabout). He actually owned a three quarter length bass guitar and an amp and speaker to plug it into so he had to be in. From this unholy rabble Phase One was born upon an unsuspecting world. It wasn't that we were rubbish; it was just that we didn't have a clue. I was the only one that could play a single chord at that point. Well, when I say single, I mean about four and it would take me the best part of a week to get from one to the other.

We didn't have a drum kit, so we used Steve's mum's sofa, no PA (that's probably where my ability to scream my head off came from) and Gary used Darren's black Les Paul copy without any kind of amplification and not even an inkling as to what to do with the thing. Steve was able to make the most noise because he was amplified. The more power, the more volume, a concept I grew to lust after over the years. However, he barely knew which way round to hold his bass guitar, and in that his favourite bass player of the time was Paul McCartney from Wings (and he plays a left handed bass), confusion reigned. The only thing that we could bang out (and I use the word "bang" advisedly) was the opening riff of "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones. And I belted out the only lyrics we knew, "I can't get no. . . Satisfaction," over the top of that riff. We didn't know any more than that and as not one of us owned the record in any shape or form we couldn't even consider what might come next.

To say that we were truly awful would have been an understatement. Even the early punks would have turned their heads in disgust as we polluted Darren's mother's garage with a row that could have wakened the dead. It didn't last long, mainly because one of Darren's neighbours called the police. As Steve had the only amplification, it had to have been down to him; even I couldn't make that much noise without a PA. I don't think that the officers that arrived were particularly narked by any of this, more wildly amused by the sight of these lanky, scruffy and acne riddled teenagers making more noise than a cat being stuffed through a garden shredder. . . slowly. . .!

By now we had been booted out of all our practise spaces for crimes against domestic peace and quiet by our parents and had even tried the school music rooms. Trouble is at that point the head of the music department was heavily into the swing big band sound and our particular brand of unpolished rock and roll was anathema to him and so we were duly and unceremoniously kicked out. By this point I think it became transparently clear that we were going nowhere fast. Gary was going out with way too many girls to be able to spend the time and commitment to take our band stratospheric and we discovered that although he was becoming a mighty fine writer, our suspicions were being confirmed that Steve was probably tone deaf. Apart from that he had aspirations of becoming a literary giant as opposed to anything as crass as a rock star (writers command a more refined and educated groupie. I didn't care at 14 years of age; all they needed was a pulse and be into scruffy, skinny, spot-addled preachers' kids (and before you ask, no, none of them were).

So musically we went our separate ways. Gary did one last musical leap and played the lead role of Tony in the school's production of West Side Story (blast his good looks). Darren and I went on to be those rock gods we dreamed of. . . hang on a mo, I mean we continued to DREAM of being those rocks gods. . . and still do. However, our tone deaf pal went on to much greater things, if only by accident. More of that later.

Steve and I had always maintained that we were going to hell together until he went and really let the side down my giving his heart to the Lord and becoming a Christian at the age of 14 at one of the Bristol Christian Youth Camps. I wasn't far behind and from that point on we were going to take on the world for Christ. Well, we thought that we would with our teenage excitement and passion. I remember that we had gotten ourselves into the mind set of the disciples that if Jesus was going to return any day, what was the point of bothering with things like school and homework and the like? Our youth leader pointed out that some of the disciples were under the same opinion and one or two had been in serious danger of starving to death. Christ will return at any time; however it many not be in our life time. Back to school then.

Steve was always a good mate, and we had many great times together. He was always there for me, through the tough times as well, like when my parents were going through a particularly rough patch and I had difficulty making sense of it all. Anyway, times move on and as Steve was the only one of us to complete his A-levels he was the one that managed to get to University and earn a degree. It was at university that Steve began to develop his passion for writing, especially scripts. He became of all things a playwright. And a pretty fine one too I might add. Fusing that talent with his Christian faith, he formed the Christian Theatre company Stripes. Stripes may not have had the success of Riding Lights, but they did manage to do fairly well for themselves and toured the UK, Europe and the United States.

Stephen Deal, Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Field
Stephen Deal, Sir Cliff Richard, Paul Field

As the company members began to get involved in different projects Steve began to spread his net wider afield and struck up a close friendship with the late Rob Frost for whom he wrote sketches and several major touring productions. He was involved in writing the script for one such production called Hopes And Dreams that contained several songs, and in order to fulfil a particular point within the production Steve and former Nutshell frontman Paul Field took the New Year's Eve perennial "Auld Lang Syne" and put the words of "The Lord's Prayer" to it (you have a sense of where I am going with this haven't you?). Well, the production was a great success having been performed in front of more than 40,000 people and spawning countless amateur productions around the world, and then nothing more was thought about it. Until, that is, Steve got a call to say that one "Sir Clifford of Richard" wanted to take this song from the production and make it his BIG single of the decade, his Christmas number one that would ensure him a hit in heaven knows how many decades.

And that was it. Cliff Richard released "Millennium Prayer" at the end of 1999 and, as you know, the outcry was massive. Cliff parted company with EMI over it. Radio stations refused to play it and George Michael described it as "vile" (which, coming from somebody who was caught having gay liaisons in public toilets the same year, was a bit rich).

More serious, there was litigation over the rights of "Millennium Prayer". By the end I guess Steve had begun to wish he had stayed with trying to play the bass guitar. However, good Christian people everywhere went out and bought the single by the truck load (I did, but only because my mate had written it) and it became the number one hit everyone had predicted. Once the dust had settled, there were enough writer's royalties left for Steve to buy a shed for his son to keep his push bike in. What a rock and roll life style! The Sir Cliff Richard Millennium Shed still stands proudly in the corner of his garden. Oh, and just so we don't diss Cliff too much, he gave Steve a big bottle of quality champagne and a personal donation to compensate for the legal hassles and royalty payment delays.

Once the dust had settled even further it was revealed that "Millennium Prayer" had become the biggest selling single for 1999 and Steve and Paul won two - yes, TWO - Ivor Novella awards and flippin' heavy blighters they are as well. I have often sat in Steve's living room cradling the statuettes, day dreaming of what might have been.

Meanwhile Steve didn't just dream; he's written stuff for radio and TV and a series of Christian comedy sketch books of which Sir Cliff said, "Stephen Deal is one of those comparatively rare Christians who have the knack of effective and contemporary communication of the faith. His writing is genuinely funny but never loses integrity. His sketches provide a great tool for the Church. Make use of them!" And author Adrian Plass enthused, "These sketches are unusual in that they are immensely user-friendly and extremely funny. A real gift to the Church."

Steve doesn't write so much these days as he is not in the best of health. He suffers with a condition called Muscular Dystrophy, which has left him in a wheelchair and very dependant on the care of his wife and carers. I certainly do not mention this in order to get Steve the sympathy vote. Steve doesn't do sympathy and he is as determined (and bloody minded) as ever he was. The reason that I mention it is that Steve is helping to raise the understanding and often plight of the disabled community in this country by writing a blog about his day to day life of living in a wheelchair, often at the mercy of bureaucracy and, quite often, morons. If you want an informative, but often hilarious, read then go to

For me, I have my own vision. That of myself and other members of that very first school boy band carrying our good friend Steve up onto that New Testament roof, ripping off the tiles and lowering him down in front of the feet of Jesus for healing.

Steve has had his fair share of well meaning Christians leaping on him and, no matter how inappropriate the situation or unwanted the sudden attention, laying hands on him and demanding healing. Although he has often found this situation highly embarrassing he will openly admit that he is not averse to some divine help from above. So for my part I will continue to rip those roof tiles off. I love my old friend and school mate and I want him around for a good while yet. You never know, there may be another best selling record in him yet! CR

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.
About Paul Loader
Paul Loader lives in Bristol, leads worship at his local church and plays in The Mudheads.


Reader Comments

Posted by Aunty Barb in Bristol @ 12:12 on Feb 16 2015

I was just talking with my friend, Jo Fisher, one of your teachers at Hartcliffe. I couldn't remember Dylan's surname (having know him through you as 'Dylan!) so Rick looked this up. Mrs Fisher remembered Steve and Mark G being lanky 'sweet boys' and that he was ill, AND that he had something to do with writing the Millenium prayer, so Rick went on t'internet and found your blog about Steve which I have copied off to give her next week. We still pray for Steve, and the rest of you, even if we don't see you that often. we need to change that, especially now Rick is retired and not falling asleep every evening! Love to you all. Barb x

Posted by debra griffiths in knowle. bristol @ 20:34 on Aug 20 2013

Paul that was an excellent write up for your friend Stephen. I feel priviliged to have been in the same class as you and stephen and to have known the both of you. Best wishes Deb x

Posted by Greg and Alli in West Wales @ 00:00 on Aug 22 2010

Thank you for enlightening our understanding. Both Alli and I have had the privilige of providing care for Stephen and by proxy helping his family. We do not always get to know our clients for a variety of reasons your words have opened doors, thank you. A special thanks to Steve and his family too.

Posted by Michael in Midsomer Norton @ 13:54 on Mar 28 2009

What a fine write up Paul, both you and Stephen almost had a misspent youth!
Stripes were a very under estimated group! I well remember seeing them first in the Wimbledon Circuit, I think they did something for a Circuit Youth event.
Shortly afterwards the four of them came to our house to discuss accountancy and other aspects of organising the group, so that must have been "before they became famous".
Over the years it has been great to have watched and taken part in a number of the productions for which Steve wrote the scripts.

Posted by Catherine in Surrey @ 02:45 on Feb 27 2009

How lovely to get a flavour of Steve's youth....and the boys. I won't be able to look at the shed in the same light. Nor Roof tiles, for that matter.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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