Trevor Kirk looks back over the decades to highlight important Christian music events
The cover story for the August 1973 Buzz was two page feature on Welsh singer/ songwriter Kevin Gould. Under the heading A Chart Smash? the mag was all a tiz about Polydor releasing Kevin's "Let's Join Together" single, the winning song in a "write a song for Spre- e" competition. The article gushed, "How would you like to see the name of the Lord in the charts on the lips of a Christian?! Your answer could mean the difference between a hit and a flop." History tells us it was the latter. July's Buzz showcased Great Britain's first (and at the time only) full time gospel band, The Advocates. Dave Kitchen, Stuart Bell, John Hindmarsh and Keith Howard first met in the Sunday School Infants' department of West Parade Methodist Church, Lincoln, and at the time of the article's publication, had decided to give up their day jobs and take a leap of faith and trust and join British Youth For Christ as associate evangelists. Their eponymous debut album for MGO's Dovetail record label had just been released, one track was called "All That You Need Is A Miracle". Other new releases by Dovetail included what was described as "a very contemporary album with an eternal message" from northern rock band Canaan, and a self- titled album by Australian- born singer, songwriter and probationary Elim pastor Len Magee. MGO's other label, Key Records, released Graham Kendrick's follow up to 'Footsteps On The Sea', entitled 'Bright Side Up'; and Word Records had followed up their first releases by The Sheep and Garth Hewitt with 'Time To Take Account' from Dave Pope, and 'RSVP' by The Alethians. Canaan I know about, Dave Pope is still boss of the Saltmine Trust, Len Magee is back home on the Gold Coast in Australia, and every man and his dog knows who Graham Kendrick is, but any information on The Alethians would be gratefully received. News of a partnership dissolved End Of The Road For Ishmael & Andy was the headline in Buzz in August, announcing to the world that Messrs Ian Smale and Andy Piercy had, after two years on the road, decided to disband. The reason? Christians wanting to be entertained were (in their own words) "crippling" their outreach ministry. Another news item in August was headlined Kris Joins The Family", reporting that American singer and songwriter (and later actor) Kris Kristofferson had come to know the Lord. Evidence cited for his conversion was a song he had written and recorded, "Why Me?" (later covered in 1978 by Cliff on his 'Small Corners' album) which had been a big mainstream country music hit in the USA.
Something that both Buzz and CCM magazine in the States covered extensively was more speculation about the spiritual state of Bob Dylan, after reports from New York that he had linked up with an ultra- orthodox Jewish sect. Dan Wooding had spoken on behalf of Buzz to the Vineyard pastor in California who had counselled Dylan in 1978, and he asserted that he, Dylan, was still serving the Lord, but didn't go to church because of the problems he was having with people who couldn't cope with a superstar as one of their congregation. Greenbelt was celebrating its 10th birthday in 1983 and Buzz in August printed some "highs and lows" quotes from the previous nine festivals. These included a high from 1977: "After The Fire guessing the next chord as they backed Ishmael in a praise and worship session"; another high from 1980 "Graham Cray wraps up the entire history of rock 'n' roll in two hours, and gets it right!"; and a low spot from 1982, and I quote "Peter Powell and his roadshow, because according to him, all that Christians are into musically is U2 and Cliff - and they're not." Some good news for Greenbelt 83 punters was that Radio Greenbelt had finally been given the go- ahead and would be broadcasting on the 963 AM frequency starting Friday at noon and closing at noon the following Tuesday. Buzz reported that this was the first time that any organisation had been granted a special event radio licence. Programming would feature artists, speakers, poets, campsite news, weather forecasts ... oh yes, and music. Also in CCM magazine, disco diva Donna Summer bared her soul in an interview headed Prodigal Daughter. Donna had always considered herself a Christian, despite the suggestive lyrical content of some of her hit records, and her appearances in the notorious musical Hair, but in the last few years she had cleaned up her act considerably, no longer using drugs or booze or tobacco. Her latest musical project was, according to the article, a gospel album produced by Michael Omartian, with the vocal and songwriting assistance of 2nd Chapter Of Acts' Matthew Ward. What happened to that? Meanwhile, in the UK, one year after his untimely death, Keith Green's 'Songs For The Shepherd' was solidly at number one in the Buzz album chart, and Tony Cummings was raving about Michael W Smith's debut album 'Project' ("... an extremely impressive album... a gem.."), and the latest from Randy Stonehill, the Terry Scott Taylor- produced 'Equator' (".. buy this album, it is superb.").
Just as Buzz published a nostalgia piece for Greenbelt's 10th birthday in 1983, Cross Rhythms did likewise in 1993, celebrating Greenbelt's 20th, and confirming its confidence in the festival's status as the premier showcase for Christians involved in the arts, despite rumblings of discontent from some quarters. The line- up for GB93 Field Of Dreams had been confirmed as including Cliff Richard, The Resurrection Band/ Rez, Iona, Martyn Joseph, The Electrics, Anointed, Guardian, T- Bone, Pray For Rain (aka PFR), Out Of The Grey (as it turned out they didn't make it to the fest) and Julie Miller. One of the headline acts at Greenbelt 93 had also recently celebrated an anniversary. Glenn and Wendi Kaiser, Stu Heiss, Roy Montroy and John Herrin, otherwise known as The Resurrection Band, The Rez Band or simply Rez, had played their first, rather shambolic, gig in December 1971, and 'Rez XX Years Live' had been released in 1992 to celebrate their 20 years of music ministry. Over all that time, according to Glenn, the band's aims had not changed "Win people to Jesus, disciple the people who are already Christians, and challenge people to care..." Another high profile conversion was reported in Cross Rhythms magazine, that of Messrs Joe Simmons and Daryl McDaniels, aka Run DMC. The pioneering hip- hop team, who shot to fame with "Walk This Way" in 1986, which featured Steve Tyler and Joe Perry of legendary hard rockers Aerosmith, had seen their fortunes decline by the end of the 1980s, and both Joe and Daryl had battled personal problems (depression and alcohol abuse respectively). Whilst asserting that they were in no way a Christian band, their latest album contained a full on gospel song in the title track, "Down With the King". Disturbing news concerned Larry Norman, who collapsed and was rushed to hospital in June after a concert in Holland. His ongoing heart problems led him to announce that he didn't expect to live for more than another two years, and it was reported that, when he was well enough to leave hospital, he went into a recording studio to record some material that could be used later for a farewell album. Two of the tracks were "Goodbye" and "One Foot In The Grave". Equally disturbing was the report that a pipe bomb had exploded in the mailbox of Amy Grant's home in Nashville back in May. No arrests had been made, but local sheriffs were keeping an eye on the situation. And if you ever wanted to know what Cross Rhythms magazine was really on about, Karl Allison enlightened us with a few translations of well- used words and phrases on the letters page of issue 16. To give a few examples "Budget What British Christian music albums are recorded without"; "Crossover Leaving the Christian music scene in an attempt to sell albums"; "Cutting Edge A band that's playing music that's so culturally relevant, few Christians understand it"; "Festival Any event held outdoors with more than two bands"; and "Reviewer Someone arrogant enough to believe that other people are interested in his/ her opinion." (Ouch!)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.