STUART BARBOUR AND THE POWERHOUSE are getting accolades not normally enjoyed by grassroots rock gospel evangelists from Surrey. Neil Brennan reports.
The gravelly vocal tones are an instant giveaway, a brogue of an accent belonging to a man who would no doubt be taking a lead role in the Sticky Music revolution had he remained in his native Scotland. Instead Stuart Barbour came to settle in Guildford, Surrey where with a team of gritty rockers known as Powerhouse he has emerged as one of the most incisive creative voices in Britain's burgeoning rock gospel scene.
Despite being brought up in the faith as a bairn, a passionate love affair with rock 'n' roll ensured that the guitar-playing young Barbour was never far from controversy within his deeply conservative home church. Of the many pubescent skirmishes with his spiritual peers, the most monumental followed the then 16-year-old Stuart's TV debut on BBC Scotland's Untied Shoelaces Show.
"My minister publicly denounced rock music and what I was doing," recalled The Powerhouse's now 27-year-old frontman. "I found this difficult to understand and although I still believed in God, it made my faith very rocky."
With his teenage confidence understandably in tatters, a swift move to Guildford became the start of a successful healing process in which Soapbox founder, the rocking Rev Steve Flashman, played a prominent part.
"When I first came to Guildford, I joined Millmead Baptist church and that's where I met Steve," remembered Stuart. "I worked with him for a year and slowly began to understand that my love for music was not evil, but a gift from God."
Millmead inspired such feelings of comfort within him that it remains his home church to this day (alongside others in The Powerhouse line up) and his friendship with Steve Flashman blossomed to such an extent that Stuart Barbour is now a proud Associate of Steve's parachurch organisation-cum-record label Soapbox.
After a brief bandless spell, Stuart was soon up and running again, forming Sivan and touring on a double decker bus (all very "Summer Holiday"!) with a team working schools and universities. Sivan's first and only recording, 'The Playroom Collection', was followed by a solo effort, 'All Or Nothing'. Changes in both the band's style and personnel then led to the rebirth in their present Powerhouse guise.
Stripped to the bare bones, The Powerhouse are essentially a four
piece, Stuart (vocals, guitar) teaming up with Mark Green (drums,
percussion), Geoff Hayden (bass) and last but by no means least, Thuy
With the greatest respect to the others, it's Thuy's early life story which is the most compelling - a tale you will no doubt hear being retold countless times as the good news about The Powerhouse spreads.
Vietnamese by birth (and blind to boot), Thuy was evacuated during the war with Uncle Sam's boys by 'mistake'. Thuy himself prefers to look back on this as a matter of Godly intervention rather than military gaffe. Adopted by a Christian family, he settled in Horsham where he works as a music teacher and also with the New Frontiers church.
There's a temptation to describe sightless Thuy as the baby of the band. He's 25 - or is he? "Thuy chose his own birth date," explained Stuart. "There were no official records of his family or his birth. Doctors reckoned he was nine or ten years old. He chose 10 to be older than his stepsister so she couldn't boss him about. Apparently, it didn't work!"
The band cite their only specific influence as the writings of C S Lewis, heartily endorsing 'The Problem Of Pain' as an antidote to the widespread injustice and human suffering of the present age. Stuart pens their stuff himself, but is quick to pay homage to Thuy, acknowledged by the others as "a valuable inspiration to the band."
As for their debut album, they might well have credited Thuy for putting the "art" into "Heart And Soul". It's more than just a laudable first effort - it's become a benchmark for them barely a year after coming together and something they will find a hard act to follow (expect the new album around March).
It's a veritable feast of "gospel funk rock" from a band who would be equally at home sharing a stage with either Whitesnake or the Winans! They are already established as a popular act on the continent, witness their demand in Germany, Holland, France, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Corfu and Guernsey.
Mentions of Stuart's native Scotland in such despatches are, however, conspicuous by their absence - and their loss it is too. Having been exiled in semi disgrace, he's long since served his penance and is now more of a prodigal son who deserves a homecoming covered in glory.
An ignorant ex-minister would be pleasantly surprised for a start. "Heart And Soul" lives up to its name, while the arrangements and production are as scrupulously polished as a suburban housewife's doorstep (though I suspect they have someone in to "do" for them down in Guildford).
"'Brother Sister', the album's opening track, provided the highlight of our career so far at a large club gig in Germany," Stuart confided. "It was the last song in our set, with everyone singing along with us. After we came off and were in our dressing room, we heard the audience carry on singing it at the top of their voices for ages. That was a great feeling."
After a response like that, you can appreciate why The Powerhouse will forgive the Germans nicking the sun loungers should their paths cross again in sunny climes.
Neil Brennan is a 30 year old, musically talentless sceptic, his motto being "those who can, do, those who can't, review!"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.