Alton Towers annual event review by Susanne Martin.
The Ultimate Event is now something of an institution in the UK Christian music calendar which can't help but pull in the crowds. This year a near-record-breaking 9,400 throng piled into Alton Towers theme park to hear some of the best artists in Christian music and on this blisteringly hot day the event lived up to expectations, even for those who could resist the thrills and spills of Air or Oblivion.
As the place started filling up thebandwithnoname's Chip K welcomed the audience in his own madcap style, setting things up to be a brilliant night. Chip's fellow youth evangelists then exploded onto the stage with "Reach For The Mic" to get the crowd worked up and draw in the flow of people that were still coming in the entrance gate. It worked, and their energetic opener was just what was needed to get the atmosphere sizzling. I had caught up with them an hour before the show to find out what expectations they had for the evening. Straff commented, "Mate, we've been coming to the Ultimate Event for like five or six years and it's amazing every time. There's amazing bands, amazing rides, it's just amazing. It's ultimate!"
Next on stage were RPM, the youth culture worship ministry from Abundant Life Church in Bradford. Earlier in the day, I sat down with Jock James, Mike Harvie and co in the artists' marquee for a quick chat about what to expect. "It's going to be fun, it's going to be quite rowdy on stage and there is going to be a lot of shouting and jumping around. But we'll glorify God." And glorify God they did. The crowd jumped with RPM as they bounded about the stage, while Harvie did his own screamo thing to such songs as "Now Or Never" and "Give My All", both with God-focussed lyrics that couldn't be sung light-heartedly. After that excitement they toned things down for a few minutes with the reflective "Thank You For The Cross", which was sung with impressively beautiful vocals from RPM's lead female singer. At this point I could feel a few spots of rain coming from the thin layer of cloud above and I was reminded of something the guys told me earlier. "We came here two years ago, when Rebecca St James was headlining. It was great but it rained," Harvie had said. Jock chipped in, "That was a weird experience. I remember saying, 'Come on now, let's lift our hands,' and we lifted our hands and you could see all these umbrella's go up!" For a moment I was concerned about a repeat experience. But RPM finished up their powerful set and fortunately the rain never came.
America's This Beautiful Republic graced the stage next with their guitar slashing tunes. Lead singer Ben said on stage that he realised many of the audience may not know their tunes, being American and all. So these Ohio-based rockers decided to play their own souped-up cover of Gnarls Barkley's smash "Crazy". It sent everyone wild.
Chip K and gang then reappeared for another two songs, including their rip roaring crowd pleaser "Amazing Grace", and did their solos from the top of a short ladder. It was bizarre, but entertaining, and completely in line with the zany foursome's usual improvised mayhem.
After that performance we were ready for the debut UK appearance by America's Sanctus Real. Of all the groups they impressed me most and got the crowd learning songs from their new album 'We Need Each Other'. "Face Of Love" and "I'm Not Alright" were two belting rock tunes which got the audience jumping, waving and singing. Earlier I'd squeezed into their trailer for a five minute chat. Lead singer Matt Hammitt told me how excited they were to be there. "When we got the offer to come play we just had big grins on our faces. We were really excited to come play because not only is it great to come to an event like this, but we've never been to England before." Sanctus Real almost didn't make it when their flights were cancelled and only managed to arrive within a couple hours of the start of the show. But when I asked if they thought it was all worth it they chimed a big, "Oh, absolutely!" almost in unison. Their powerhouse, crowd-impacting rock ensured the large crowd agreed.
So finally there came the much anticipated headliner. Delirious? made their entrance with "God Is Smiling" from 'Kingdom Of Comfort'. They didn't disappoint their legion of fans and delivered powerful versions of classics like "History Maker" and "Rain Down". I interrupted guitarist Stu as he strolled past me backstage before the event for a few words on what Delirious? enjoy about the Ultimate Event. He responded, "It's a good gig to do in the UK. We like the event and the location. It's all about playing in front of people and the whole experience of getting good music, getting to God and getting excited." After being in the business for over 15 years now, these veterans showed they've still got it with a class performance. Their song "Kingdom Of Comfort" was a thought-provoking anthem that gripped the audience and made many minds turn back to the short films we'd been watching in the intervals for charities Compassion UK and Urban Saints. Delirious? finished the night off with an encore of "Give What You've Got" and sent us home buzzing with adrenaline from an unforgettable evening.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.