Tony Cummings went to the Manchester Apollo to experience the tweenie phenomenon that is TBC
Four lithe young ladies in white trouser suits stand behind oversize black umbrellas, their backs to the audience. As the ensemble of backing musicians sock into the first notes of "Brighter Day" the girls turn, lower their brollies and let their voices soar in a batch of spiritual questions pitched at the Manchester Apollo audience. "Do you know where your heart is? Will you ever believe? Is the way that you're living, all you want it to be?" The cacophonous response from the scarf waving, arm flaying tweenies clearly demonstrate that the eight to 11 year old girls who, with a smattering of parents and brothers, are packing the famed Manchester venue do indeed know where their hearts are. The November 2007 Apollo concert put on to launch tbc's 'Talk Of The Town' album is the kind of throng which boldly contradicts the stereotypes of a lost generation of spoilt, Saturday morning TV besotted mini-materialists. These gyrating school girls may be excitedly throwing themselves into the pop party atmosphere as they try and reproduce the slick, choreographed dance moves of their on stage mentors, but it's Jesus not tbc who gets the loudest shrieks of support. And where the percussive pop anthems, non-stop aerobics abandon and deftly executed costume changes momentarily give way to a ballad sung with the girls perched on stools while behind them telling clips from the Jesus movie underline the tale of a beautiful love, the audience is visibly moved.
Tbc have come a long way since their beginnings in 2004 when Shell Perris, Natalie Trueman, Laura Moseley and Liz Roberts regaled us with a single "Mind Your Head" followed by the 'TBC' album. Their sound and their perceived audience was "teen pop" and their passion was evangelism in schools. But when the original group broke up, with Shell becoming a solo singer/songwriter, speaker and author, the group kept the evangelistic thrust but rethought their musical direction and their potential audience. Earlier in the day of their second album launch gig tbc Mark 2 (Natalie Trueman from West Sussex, Megan Howard from Essex, Lucy-Jayne Wells from Atlanta, Georgia and Rachel Holmes from Glossop) spoke about their change of direction. Said Natalie, "I think when it was the old band it didn't seem to work and take off with the older teens. I think when there was a new launch Mark Pennells and Zarc Porter, who are our bosses, had a rethink about everything and decided that there was a gap in the market with the pre-teens. It was more the younger people, at Spring Harvest and places, the little kids who were buying the albums more than the teenagers, and the little kids who were coming to the concerts so it was quite obvious from then that it was going to be more for the younger kids. And maybe the parents too more than the teenagers."
Natalie continued, "In a way it's kind of seen as a bit uncool to be doing music for little kids. You kind of want to be credible and you want to be cool. But as soon as we started doing it for the little kids we realised how much they love it. I've suddenly got a massive passion for tbc because I've realised how much it's affecting these kids, it's actually changing their lives. They're excited about it whereas when we were doing it for a much older audience we didn't tend to get that much of a response."
Tbc's 'Talk Of The Town' album is another songwriting triumph for Pennells and Porter, crammed full of catchy, hook-laden songs of faith and devotion to Jesus. Megan's favourite song on the album is "I Will Always Love You". She said, "I love R&B so I love that one, particularly towards the end. We performed it at a gig in Southampton a few weeks ago in front of 5,000 non-Christians pretty much. We were just worshipping on stage."
Prior to the Apollo launch tbc had a particularly gruelling schedule. Explained Natalie, "We've done 44 primary schools in eight weeks. It's been really good and the teachers have been quite surprising really. We've got some really positive feedback from the teachers. It's been excellent."
The group have had some striking responses to their schools work. One in Hull particularly stands out. Remembered Natalie, "We did an end of week concert and there were about 200 people who came, and most of the kids tend to come with their parents. There was a whole family who came and none of them were Christians and they all became Christians that night and are now going to the church that we were based at. It makes you want to cry. We did cry at the end of the day. I think our love for the kids is just growing. For us to be able to stand on stage and tell someone that actually you are loved beyond what you can believe is amazing for us. It's a great opportunity that God chose us to do this. We're evangelists first and foremost, that's actually our passion. We use the singing and the dancing as a tool."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.