Steve Hall, frontman for evangelistic dance outfit THE CALLED, was rescued from a life of heroin addiction. He spoke to Martin Saunders.
I first met Steve Hall in the middle of a field in 1997. He was reading his Bible, as he does in any spare moment (including "the queue at the supermarket"), between seminars at an early incarnation of the Soul Survivor youth festival. Two minutes later, he had exchanged pleasantries with me, told me his abbreviated testimony and spoken in no uncertain terms about the saving power of Christ. He left an impression that I have never forgotten, because a little like the members of the Dead Poet's Society, he doesn't just read the Word of God - he lets it drip from his tongue like honey.
Little did I know, however, when he spoke so briefly back then about "fairly dark times in his past", that the story of what he calls "the old life" is one of punk music, heroin addiction and a seat on the edge of despair. But, by the grace of God, nothing could now be more firmly behind him. Today he is the brains behind The Called, a very up-and-coming dance act which he wants to keep "fully Christian". It's a million miles from his musical roots and plots the latest point on what has been a quite incredible journey. Steve knows what it truly means to be saved better than most and it's fired him towards a commitment to serving God in every way he can.
"I was brought up in a good home," he begins, "but like any youth if you hang around with the wrong people, you end up being wrong yourself until eventually you are the wrong person. About the age of 11 I got into glue sniffing. I wasn't really serious about it; I was just messing around with it. Little do we realise when we think we're messing around that these things have a way of coming back at you later and messing you around." A downward spiral soon took effect, taking in alcohol and cannabis before hitting the rock bottom high of heroin at the tender and impressionable age of 16. At the same time, despite "only knowing about three chords", Hall managed to find his way into the London punk scene. Now a firm member of "the wrong people", Hall's life went from bad to worse.
"I started up a band called The Afflicted," he explains, "which had a bit of a political following that I don't really like to mention too much... a Nazi British Movement following." He protests that he was never a racist, but acknowledges the band's part in the mistake: "It was our fault a bit, because we got ourselves a following and we just thought 'let's run with this.' I guess we did that because we had no morals really, in one sense, and so we went down that road." As a result of that decision, The Afflicted were banned throughout London and a performance on John Peel's radio show saw them receive a deluge of complaints and "very bad press". Eventually he disbanded the group and became The Afflicted Man, a career move that saw no moral upturn; "We toured all around Holland gobbing and spitting at people," being Hall's clearest memory of the time.
The story seemed destined to end in tragedy, but it was at this point that God stepped in. "My brother was talking to a guy at the time," he recalls, "who was sharing to him about the Lord Jesus Christ. I asked this bloke, 'Come on, how do you get this Jesus anyway?', in the kind of way that made it look like I didn't care. But deep down I was interested, because no one could help me out and I was desperate for help. He just said to me that Jesus could live in your heart. And I was riding up the road on the motorbike after that just saying, 'If you're there Jesus...' It was a matter, like it is for all of us, of just taking that first step, and once I had I'd never felt anything like it. I really felt God come into my heart and my life and that's what made me cry. It made me burst into tears, I just could not believe what was going on." Wisely he parked his bike before things got too emotional.
At this point, with Hall still involved in the punk scene with a new band, The Accursed, he felt the need for an entire change of scenery. It wasn't long before he realised that there was no chance that the two lives could co-exist. "At the end of the day I got born again," he says, matter-of-fact, "and I tried to witness to the rest of them, but they didn't want to know. Then I just felt God pulling me out. I played the 100 Club and I was looking across the audience, jumping all over the place, and I just thought, 'What am I doing here?' I came out of there and I didn't go back." Moments later, God began to hit Hall with heavy doses of grace and mercy. "After that I got married," he beams, "and we had three lovely daughters, one of whom, Anna, is one of the dancers in the band. Being saved took me away from the whole drugs scene and the punk music and I really came into Christianity in a full way. I was baptised in the Holy Spirit and started to do God's work. I got involved with the band and now here we are."
Doing God's work didn't begin with his now flourishing dance music
project. From 1985 Hall became heavily involved in evangelistic prison
work in such diverse locations as the Isle Of Wight and what was then
Czechoslovakia. He made history (and a BBC documentary) by being one
of the first evangelists to set foot in Albanian prisons for over 50
years and latterly undertook an historic and strictly
non-denominational Bible run in Northern Ireland's Maze. Hall refers
simply and humbly to the time as "going around just serving God."
Hall's latest effort to do just that, with dance act The Called, was the result of an experience at Soul Survivor at the time of our first meeting. There in his role as youth leader at Bromley Christian Centre, Steve "came away feeling that God had really spoken to me about getting involved in dance music." His first attempt was pretty uninspiring: "A track called 'You Know You Know'. It was just about scraping the barrel really, but I remember Tony Cummings saying, 'Well, if someone can come here from the punk scene and the classical guitar scene (because I do a lot of that as well), this has GOT to be used.'"
Heeding those words, Hall persevered and began to write lyrics that took in the heart of his experience and salvation. "Since then we've done five tracks," he says enthusiastically, "the latest of which is called 'Shout Jesus Saved'. A lot of that's to do with how I was on that bike, shouting out to God when I just said, 'Jesus come into my life1.1 think if we can get across the simplicity of knowing God, that for me is the reason for doing the music." Indeed, there seems to be no ounce of commercialism in a man who happily gives the music away free through his website: www.called.tdmweb.com He's firmly in this to preach the Gospel. "I'm not doing it to make money;" he insists, "I'm really doing it to try to give young people the opportunity to listen to safe music and safe words. Well, they're not really safe, because they can get you saved!
"Where the Christian media has got to be careful," continued Steve, "is that it doesn't become too soft in its approach or too hidden. That's why I'm trying to be more bold with the words. There isn't any other way to Heaven and we've got to say that. I've got a new song coming out now with words like, 'He's the only one, He's the only way, He's the only Son of God/He's the only way that matters, He's the only way that counts/When it comes to eternity don't take a chance; trust Jesus.' They to me are the kind of words that need to go out on the radio."
It's not unlikely, with an album planned in time for the band's
appearance at this year's Cross Rhythms festival ("so that if people
want to take away the Word of God in that way, they can"), that we'll
be hearing a lot more of Steve Hall. For now though we can all take
inspiration from the way that God took a man from the heart of The
Accursed and The Afflicted and turned him into The Called. Perhaps he
captures it best in his final words to me: "When I was fixing up drugs
once I was looking out the window and was pleading with God, 'If
you're there I need help.' I even put it in my song lyrics once.
Friends of mine were dying and I started to ask where it was all
going. I believe that God answered me. There were dark times, but God
shined his light in the end and gave me hope."