Gavin Drake went to Cleobury Place, the headquarters of BYFC, to find out about TVB.
Deep in the English countryside, halfway between Worcestershire and Shropshire, nine musicians gathered in what seems like a village in the American Wild West to pray, rehearse and prepare to spend ten months on the road. The musicians were this year's TVB, not so much a band as a vision for youth outreach. TVB are one of the high profile initiatives administered by British Youth For Christ to take the gospel to young people.
TVB is led by Colin Hearn, musical director of BYFC. Cross Rhythms readers may recognize his name as one of our esteemed reviewers. Colin Hearn has been around for a while. Trained as a singer at the Guildhall School of Music in London, Colin had previously taken part in 18 tours of four or five countries with those skilful practitioners of teeth-glinting wholesomeness, the Continental Singers and today describes himself as a freelance musician. When I caught up with him in Cleobury Place, Colin had just finished playing the Emperor in a professional pantomime just outside London.
But there's nothing of the back-end-of-a-pantomime-horse about TVB. Their business is life-and-death serious. "We see that our strategy is to reach every young person with the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Colin Hearn said emphatically, "and music is a tremendous communicator. It breaks down so many barriers: cultural barriers, ethnic barriers; you can do so, so much to communicate the Gospel through music and we felt that this would be a great idea for going out and reaching people."
TVB was the brainchild of ex-BYFC worker, singer and expatriate American Fred Heuman (now back in the US of A). Commented Colin, "Fred comes from the part of the States where Christian workers can't get into schools to explain what Christianity is all about. When he was over here he saw the potential to get into schools and minister to young people - he recognised a great opportunity. He also recognised the need to relate to young people with the music that they relate to. By doing that the young people having related to good, punchy, relevant music may want to think about the claims of Christ."
As last year's flock of new Christians proves, it's a scheme that the Holy Spirit is prepared to bless. But the scheme doesn't stop there. TVB is the ultimate Christian Youth Opportunities scheme. A key part of the TVB vision has been to keep it an initiative that gives Christian musicians short-term ministry experience with a band going out into schools preaching the gospel through music. So, in September 1993, TVB will re-birth itself for the third time. It is this vicissitudal existence which will make the band always fresh, exciting and, at the beginning, a tad raw.
But there is nothing amateurish about the band this year. TVB contain a crop of young people from around Britain and overseas too. Alex Cook from Watford plays drums, Walsall's Paul Hewitt is on lead guitar, Paul Lancaster of Reading plays bass and keyboards are provided by Birmingham's Judith Jarvis. Vocalists are Louise Hunt, Crawley; Angella Millie, South Africa; Naomi Laurence, Norwich and Uriah Werner of Colorado, USA. Billericay's Digby Shaw is this year's technician.
Two of last year's band, Charlie Ingram and Garry Brown have gone on to join top indie outfit Eden Burning, Charlie stepping into the void left by the departure of Neill Forrest and Garry as full time sound engineer. But Colin and BYFC are loath to promise would-be TVB members that their year spell of schools work slog will be the start of a wonderful music career. "We hope, if that's what God wants, that it can be a springboard to other things. But the music business, as you know, is very up and down. So we can't say 'come on this and then launch your career', that would be a crazy thing to do and we don't ever tell people that that is ever going to be the case," emphasised Hearn. Classically-trained string player 18 year old Naomi Laurence joined TVB this year as a vocalist. She isn't under any illusions about what the future offers. Naomi gave TVB a year not because of the doors that she thought it might open, but because she felt it was something that God was calling her to.
"About two years ago, while I was studying for my A levels, I went to Spring Harvest. There was an altar call for anybody who felt being called to Christian work," explained Naomi. "I felt that God was calling me to do that, but I didn't really know what I could do other than my music - I've always been quite musical. I went up anyway. I really prayed that God would use me and the next day I went to the main hall and found some information about TVB and felt this was what God had for me. So I prayed about it and here I am. Next year I've got a place at Nottingham University, but my heart's desire is to serve God, and if it involves using music then that's great, but if not I'm prepared to do other things. But I see that God can use my music in a big way."
This is 19-year-old Paul Lancaster's second term with TVB. He stayed on for a second term because of what he saw God do during his first year. "I didn't think I'd be back for a second year," Paul said. "But I felt so strongly about all the good things that had happened -how God used me and was shaking me up as a Christian. I really felt that God wanted to use me within TVB for another year. I really would like to be in a full-time Christian band (here's a brother with faith. Ed), whether playing bass or singing. At the moment that is where my heart is - serving God in music. I love it, I think music is so, so powerful you can get across an excellent message of our beliefs as Christians."
It is music hack's Cliché Number One to say "pigeon holing this band's style is difficult". But with TVB it really is. Singing a mixture of pop covers, CCM tunes and their own material TVB touch a lot of stylistic bases. As Colin Hearn said, "Musically, it will vary with the people in the band. In any type of music a lot of it is going to be your individual aesthetic sense, your taste, what you're expressing from inside. And while you grow together as a group your style is going to develop. So we haven't said we're an indie band, or a metal band or a funk band or anything like that, because we want to reach all across the musical spectrum. To closet ourselves in one sort of musical style would be unhelpful in view of our aims. People in the audience who like other styles of music will be left out. But middle of the road would be the wrong term to describe TVB because that has the wrong connotations. I don't know the word to describe TVB's music! We hope it would have all the musical styles."
Colin Hearn is careful that this 'all things to all people' approach to contemporary music doesn't compromise a biblical world view in the lyrics the band sings. He scours the lyrical content of the band's pop covers before they pass into TVB's repertoire.
At Spring Harvest, TVB will be running the youth worship in all the weeks at Minehead. It will be a welcome spiritual respite from the evangelistic blackboard jungle. Said Colin Hearn, "There's nothing like Spring Harvest. Every musician I know loves working there. It's exhausting and spiritually very demanding. But it's a unique event God blesses in a unique way."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.