With the Alliance Tour touching down at a hall near you, no doubt you're saying...where's the interview? Long-time readers will remember Cross Rhythms spoke to Caroline Bonnett (CR6) and Shirley Novak (CR15). Now Jonathan Bellamy completes the tremendous trio with SUE RINALDI.
If you've been into CCM for more that two or three years then chances are you've heard of the seminal pop group Heartbeat. For the uninitiated though, the 80's Heartbeat were key players in breaking down some of the cultural barriers within the Church - showing that God can be praised, worshipped and related to within a musical style young people preferred. They were a voice for Christian youth that the Church, generally, could understand. They even propelled several popular praise choruses into church circulation including "Praise Him On The Trumpet" and "Celebrate". Furthermore, Heartbeat were a much needed evangelical voice who reached young people where they were at, in a way they were comfortable with and with a Christian message that was not 'boring', 'embarrassing' or 'old fashioned' but teenager-relevant.
This message they took to school missions, praise celebrations and youth seminars and such was the groundswell of support in 1987 the band released two charting singles. The most notable of the two was "Tears From Heaven" which the band performed live on Top Of The Pops and which peaked at 32.
For five of those 10 years Sue Rinaldi was a mainstay with the band - a prominent, popular and approachable lead vocalist with a good pop voice, she is probably the most well-remembered member (say that 10 times fast!) of the group, along with Heartbeat founders Ray and Nancy Goudie, who now run the radical New Generation Ministries which includes in its armoury techno-pop band 65dBA. It was a surprise, but somehow expected, that Sue Rinaldi would pursue a solo career and when I spoke to her I asked what had led up to it.
"It was an interesting course of events," began Sue. "Most of the years I would say, 'Where do you want me, God?', because things move on and I think it was in summer of 1990 that I just felt clearly that my time with the band had come to an end. It wasn't an easy decision. We'd released a few albums and a couple of songs had got in the charts and it had produced various television opportunities for me, particularly the Def 2 interview and the A-Z Of Beliefs. But I knew my time with Heartbeat had come to an end so I went to the leaders of New Generation Ministries and explained that to them." In that final year the ministry felt God was saying more than just Sue leaving and in September '91 the Heartbeat members moved on. Sue said, "I think within the ministry many people had grown up and learnt a lot and it was actually time for them to be let out and released."
One event worthy of comment before moving on however is that Def 2 television appearance Sue alluded to. For many people if you say "Sue Rinaldi!" they'll reply, "Yes, did you see her on Def 2?". In CR7 Tony Cummings wrote: "Few will forget her sterling television defence of the faith in the face of a sneering band of aggressive young know-alls circling around their prey like wolves." Following the programme the BBC received a staggering 900 letters. They said they had never had that kind of response from that kind of programme. Solomon would have been proud! Like he says, "The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
To me, the encouraging thing about Sue's boldness is not simply that she 'did us proud' or 'we showed 'em the Truth there didn't we?'. It's not even necessarily the knowledge that people's lives may have been challenged or changed. No, it's more that it gives me hope for my own faith. Sue is someone who is easy to relate to. For want of a better phrase she's a 'normal Christian'. She's a testament to how God uses and wants to use ordinary f people and that in obedience to God and just plain being willing to go for God more than the world he'll do the biz to our character, our emotions and our fears and in the process lead us into true security and real fulfilment.
As a prime example that you don't need a blinding light experience for God to use you is Sue's own testimony: "I came from a family that never went to church. God didn't appear in the agenda at all, apart from in the swearing variety. And so I really grew up a typical teenager who would do typical things. I used to enjoy drinking a fair amount, go to parties, that kind of thing; enjoyed music, enjoyed sport and God really didn't appear at all. But because I was a guitarist and I used to write songs I did used to think seriously about life. On the outside I was a very jokey, sort of leader-of-the-pack person, very carefree; but inside I had a lot of questions, a lot of fears, a lot of searching, not quite knowing where it would end up."
Then a visiting team from British Youth For Christ called at Sue's secondary school in Southampton toting heavyweights like Clive Calver and Graham Kendrick. Remembered Sue, "They came into our school and started to basically talk about God in a very, very different way, totally opposite to how I had viewed him. And then a few of my friends started to become Christians and go to a Crusaders group and really it was through their persistence. To begin with I ran away and was fairly openly rebellious. Inside I was listening but I wouldn't admit it, I was just too proud to admit I needed anything. After a year or so I went to a Pentecostal Church, with the usual thing at the end, and loads of my friends went forward. But I didn't because I didn't know if I could put my trust in something or someone. Then right at the end when all the emotion had gone and the moment had gone, somebody just came up to me and said, Sue, do you want to do something about it, do you want to find out if there's a God?' And I just said, 'Well, actually I do.' So, it was very quiet, just me and this other lady and I just prayed, 'God, if you are there I don't know anything about you. Will you let me know and just show me how to start to live a life that has God in it?' And that was really the start of an adventure."
Sue continued: "In school it was tough. The hardest thing for me was to admit I was a Christian. I used to have this image that Christians were a bit wishy-washy, and suddenly I was calling myself a Christian. So I had to really begin to stand up and admit it and it made me search for the real thing. And I must admit the moment I asked God to really show me if he was there, although I've not always understood how or why he works, I have never doubted his existence. It was quite a dramatic change of faith because I just knew from that instant that God was there. The adventure has been finding out about him and about how a Christian lives but the hardest bit is trusting. It's trusting God, it's putting your life in someone's hands. It isn't just a head decision; it really overlooks everything and embraces everything, the future, what you do, who you are. So once I made the decision I wasn't going to go back on it. It was just admitting it and facing everybody's questions. At the time I was writing songs and whenever I got the chance to sing, you know, the end of school concerts, I'd always throw in one of my songs. And I found that really helped me to overcome a lot of my embarrassment because I would say 'I've written this, this is how I feel about God', and I would do the song, and people would actually be able to take that well."
Sue started off as a solo artist, progressing from school concerts to church singer, evangelist and church worker and spending a small time travelling the country with Ishmael. Then came Heartbeat and now she's a solo artist again. Furthermore, it's taken over two years but due for release soon on Kingsway will be Sue's first solo album, 'Love Eternal'. It's a pioneering work, avowedly praise and worship in intent but taking in unexpected musical elements. The album, produced by Stuart Townend in January and February at ICC studios, has some hefty talent helping Sue" out including fusion jazz keyboard player Mark Edwards (who recently completed a tour with Aztec Camera) and Brit funk veteran David Grant. Stuart Townend told Cross Rhythms recently, "'Love Eternal' is definitely dance orientated, there are a couple of rave-style tracks and a version of Kendricks' 'The Servant King' which features a Soul To Soul type of groove. Sue has the perfect voice for funkier kind of praise. What excites me about 'Love Eternal' is that it challenges all those in the Church who think 'praise and worship' is one particular style of music."
Said Sue about the project, which will be out in time for Spring Harvest, "If someone says 'here's a praise and worship album' people have this ready made thinking of what it's going to sound like. It's become a category in itself. So I'm hoping to kick aside all those barriers and I feel very much what Heartbeat did - to try and bridge the gap between what people say is praise and worship and what people say is contemporary."
Away from pioneering new approaches to contemporary dance worship Sue is also a great enthusiast and powerful performer of the thought-provoking acoustic ballad. She has been influenced by artists such as Joan Armatrading, Annie Lennox and Julia Fordham, "singer/songwriters who have got real heart and real attitude, songwriters who can deliver songs that have that element of pain, element of searching and element of visual images," Sue is currently emulating her musical heroes. Together with her close friends Shirley Novak and Caroline Bonnett the three of them have embarked on a unique tour known as The Alliance Tour. Sue explained its concept: "I guess my vision has always been to be a Christian in the market place, playing to audiences who may go along with your faith but also those who don't. We have a message that is a lot bigger, and music relates to all people and I think...if we can really develop our art then our songs can really communicate to all people from all walks of life.
"The whole concept of the tour is very much we want to be three singer/songwriters who happen to be Christians playing not in church halls or places like that but for people to hire wine bars and hire night clubs and for us to play in those places. We basically just sing songs of issues that have moved us. Some of it is serious, some reflecting the kind of world we live in and other ones are light hearted, and our banter goes from serious to being entertaining. In fact, the best atmosphere would be to hire out a wine bar and for people to bring along their friends, maybe people who have never been to a Christian event, because it's very non-threatening but very honest at the same time."
The Alliance Tour has most of its gigs in February but the girls are having such a good time they're hoping it will run on. In fact, Sue was keen to point out they'd be glad to hear from any promoters keen to put on a night. One thing all you bachelor boys might be interested to note though: all three girls are single! They should rename it The Make-An-Alliance Tour!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.