Trevor Kirk looks back over the decades to highlight important Christian music events
Buzz magazine in January looked at the latest hit musical Godspell, featuring a cast of relative unknowns, some of whom went on to become stars, notably David Essex, Jeremy Irons and Julie Covington. Combining the power and energy of Hair with the religion of Jesus Christ Superstar (according to the article), Godspell was described by David Essex, who played Jesus, as "basically entertainment, but there's a message there if you want it." Buzz's verdict - "Its contents are orthodox, positive and Biblical." - And talking of Jesus Christ Superstar, Bob Hope allegedly asked a Roman Catholic Cardinal what he thought of the show, to which the reply was, "It's not as good as the book." - Front page in February's Buzz, Larry Norman, inventor of the One Way Sign (defined as "a hand raised to the sky, with a simple index finger emerging from a closed fist to point heavenwards"), which had become the trademark symbol of the previous year's UK Festival Of Light. Even as a relative newcomer, the then 25 year old from California had strong opinions on many things, including other Christian musicians - "They are worried - worried if the audience will like them. Worry brings fear and ego into the picture and that separates you from the audience. I think they worry too much." The article coincided with the release of 'On This Rock' by Key Records, which Larry had cut for Capitol Records the previous year, and his first ever visit to the UK for a tour of colleges and universities. - No record reviews in January or February, but one heart-warming story of how the Lord provides. Messrs Ian Smale and Andrew Piercy, aka Ishmael & Andy, fulltime itinerant folk singers spreading the Good News of Jesus with no regular financial income, had need of a new PA system after their old one gave up the ghost. Their local dealer quoted £100, a sizeable sum if you're skint, especially in those days, but he knew the work they were doing, so he challenged them, "Can't your Boss (meaning God) supply it?" After a few moments' thought (and no doubt an arrow prayer or two), the boys said, "Yes, of course he can," and promised to return in six days to pick up the gear. Six days later, they came back with a mass of small gifts totaling £100.50, but the skeptical salesman had already sold the equipment. To make amends, however, he offered them a more expensive set up for the same price, and in return, accepted a Good News Bible.
Things were not going at all well for Paul Field, Mo McCafferty and Annie McCaig, aka Network III (formerly Nutshell). Despite landing a short term EMI recording contract, and doing things with and for Cliff Richard, their plight led Buzz magazine to ask in its February issue, "What went wrong?" Paul was Hi reasonably upbeat about the future, planning a solo album (released by Myrrh Records as 'Restless Heart' later in 1982) with the songwriting and production assistance of Dave Cooke, and an Easter musical (which emerged a year or so later as 'Daybreak'). Annie saw herself moving into mainstream music, although she thought that EMI hadn't put a lot of effort into promoting their singles; and Mo had recently become Mrs Mo Turner, after marrying author, poet and future Cliff Richard biographer Steve Turner. Coincidentally, Myrrh Records had just released a 'Best Of Nutshell' album, featuring the band in both its incarnations, with Paul, Pam Thiele and Heather Barlow on side one, and Paul, Mo and Annie on side two. - The Buzz Readers' Awards for 1981 were published in February, with the Barratt Band scooping Best UK Album with 'Playing In The City'. Best US Album was Larry Norman's 'Something New Under The Son' (recorded in 1977, but only released in the UK in May 1981); best male and female singers were Cliff Richard and Sheila Walsh; best newcomers were the Predators, and Best Live Act (for the third year running), After The Fire. - The upcoming event of the year, and heavily promoted with a double page colour advert in Buzz, was The Banquet, organised by the newly merged Chapel Lane & Kingsway Music group, and due to be staged at the Wembley Arena on the Sunday and Monday of the Spring Bank holiday weekend. Sunday's theme would be praise; leading the worship, Andrae Crouch, Dave Pope, Graham Kendrick, Dave Bilbrough, Sheila Walsh and Heartbeat (at that time they were under the wing of British Youth For Christ), and Monday was to be rock with Larry Norman, Bryn Haworth, Norman Barratt and Mark Williamson with their respective bands, Giantkiller, Sheila Walsh again, and Alwyn Wall. Both days would feature a continuous eight hour programme from 2 pm to 10 pm, with ticket prices ranging from £2.50 to £7.50 for a day ticket, or £4 to £13 for the whole thing.
The cover of issue 10 of Cross Rhythms magazine, covering February and March 1992, featured Carman, who told the mag, "I recognise that in the contemporary Christian music world, it's very popular now not to talk about Jesus." Other features were on pioneering British R&B gospel sisters the Escofferys, those zany Greenbelt favourites Fat And Frantic and an interview with John Francis (before he became a bishop) about his Inspirational Choir. The mag also carried an indepth interview with Eh! Geoff Mann Band. Sadly for the many fans of Bolton's most radical rockin' reverend, cancer would claim Geoff just a year later, but in his article - incidentally titled The Parable Of The Chicken Tikka Sandwich'! - James Attlee commented thus on the band's new album 'Ministry Of The Interior' - "It has a raw feel, complete with off-mike comments and phones ringing, but the playing is of the highest standard." - Amy Grant was planning to visit the UK during the summer as part of a world tour. - Meanwhile, Trentham Gardens in Stoke-on-Trent, just down the road from United Christian Broadcasters, would host a major gig in May, featuring Martyn Joseph, Shirley Novak, Ray Bevan and lona; and the provisional lineup for the 1992 Cross Rhythms Festival, penciled in for July 10-12 at the Devon County Showground in Exeter, included Eden Burning, Gethsemane Rose, Tracey Riggan, Marilla Ness, Jonathan Day & Eye Of The Storm and Sammy Horner. - A short news item on the imminent release of a Kingsway album, to be entitled 'Celtic Praise', mentioned a few of the contributors, including a certain Mr Sam Hill. As I write, Sam's album with Irish poet Robert Stevenson Stockman (under the moniker of Stevenson & Samuel), entitled 'Grace Notes', has just been picked up for distribution by ICC Records. Fame at last?