The River Thieves: From grassroots obscurity to Greenbelt mainstage

Sunday 1st December 1991

THE RIVER THIEVES are a band clearly making waves on the wider musical pond. Tony Cummings spoke to their singer Tim Sherrington.

The River Thieves
The River Thieves

It reads like a Christian Arts Fest equivalent of Boys' Own. A band turned down for all the good spots at Greenbelt, badger the Fringe organisers with typical gis-a-gig belligerence. They so impress the organisers with their demo that they land, not a desirable spot on the bandstand, but a last-minute place on the 'new bands' showcase, The Twilight Zone. They play there and so dazzle a packed-to-the-tent pole crowd that, when there's a last minute cancellation they find themselves stepping blinking onto mainstage: There they dazzle the assembled throng with their blistering anthemic rock music that was Greenbelt '91 for Chichester band The River Thieves. But like most Roy Of The Rovers-style scenarios, there are several sobering facts behind this lightning leap to 'stardom'. The River Thieves aren't some band of wet-behind-the-ears youth club hopefuls but a gig-seasoned band who in an earlier metamorphosis as Home Again had topped the UK Demo Chart. They are currently being seriously looked at by several secular companies. The Farnborough based River Thieves consist of Tim Sherrington (lead vocals, guitar), Steve Bray (lead guitar), Mike Boylan (bass) and Paul Ruske (drums). Tim explains the band's history. "In the summer of '88, Mike, Paul and I formed a little band called The Followers.

By the summer of '89 we'd added a keyboard player, Jo Clyne had become Home Again. In September we began to get somewhere. We won a Battle Of The Bands at the Limelite Club and became pretty well-known on the Oxford club scene. We did a recording called 'Hard Rain City' which we sold at our gigs and which went to Number One in the UK Demo Chart'. But just when things were looking right for a record deal things went badly wrong manager-wise. "We got taken for a ride, very, very badly and it drove the band to a stop. But around November '90 we began to rehearse again. Mike suggested a guitarist he knew, Steve Bray should come to our rehearsal. After one session we all knew we'd found the sound we'd been looking for."

That sound is difficult to pinpoint. It seems to take in elements as diverse as the Celtic stadium rock bands and the ringing guitar drone of certain indie bands. With Timothy an exceptional vocalist with a touch of Mike Peters in his anthemic Celtic soulfulness, it's a compelling sound. Timothy is the only Christian in the band -- 'I committed my life to Christ when I was 17. It was a cry for help after some exam results. Christ is very much at the centre of my life. We're recording a song at the moment 'Sacrifice' which is very much an expression of my faith. The lyric goes 'You're my sacrifice for evermore' and that's exactly how I feel. Christ gave up more than I could ever have. His sacrifice on the cross was absolutely incredible.'

Being the only Christian in a non-Christian band does create the occasional tension. "As the lyricist in the band the situation can create a bit of friction. If I try and write something too blatantly Christian, the guys might say.... 'well, you believe that but we don't'. But really I'm interested in finding that point of mutual expression. Like the song we originally recorded with Home Again, 'Hard Rain City'. We're currently doing a re-recording of that. It speaks of the devastating experiences of homelessness. The third song on our recording 'In The Heart Of Winter', comes out of feelings I had after I went back to Colwyn Bay and felt the longing to be back 'home'; but also the sense of healing there was in knowing I had somewhere else to go.' The band's 3-song tape called 'Winter'; has just been completed (review next issue). It's released on their own label. But now the band are being checked out by secular record companies. Jo Clyne's departure in October has, if anything brought more creative focus to the River Thieves' anthemic, guitar rock sound.

'I believe The River Thieves have some very positive statements to make' says Tim. "Non-Christians clearly relate to our music. So do believers. There's a line in 'In The Heart Of Winter' which goes 'And your love goes deeper than the pain within my heart.' Maybe a non-Christian will just take it as romantic love. But I reckon believers will know who I'm singing about.' 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 Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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