“Why should the devil have all the good music”
Singer/songwriter Larry Norman, quoting William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army
Having learned to play the guitar, it wasn’t long before I started to look at ways I could fulfil my promise to ‘use my guitar playing for Jesus’. No Christian born after the 60s and early 70s can understand how it was, to be trying to share faith or worship using more contemporary music, in those far off days. Today we take it for granted (although in some quarters the controversy rumbles on) but back then, using guitars and drums in a Christian context was pioneering and controversial to say the least.
It wasn’t long before my teenage-self got together with others to form a ‘beat group’. At first it was just a couple of acoustic guitars and five singers, then adding drums and an electric lead guitar, members coming and going and, much later, adding bass guitar (our bassist was a complete novice., but willing to learn. Although early bass parts were taught by rote he soon picked it up for himself).
We took our music to schools, prisons, youth groups, beach barbecues, harvest suppers and occasionally churches. We played our self-penned songs and talked about our own faith stories anywhere we were offered an opening.
One of the elders at my church, Bill, took me on one side after a Sunday service and started to harangue me about using pop music in a Christian context, telling me it was dishonouring to God and would do harm not good. I remember telling him about the opportunities to talk about Jesus in places where Christians seldom ventured. I told stories of lives influenced and changed. He would not have it!
Fortunately the rest of the church leadership made their support for what we were doing evident in a multitude of ways. I owe much of the ministry that I’ve been involved in over the years to the open-handed, encouraging environment of the church in which I grew up.
Band line-ups came and went, and eventually I spent a long time working as a solo singer/songwriter, before eventually giving up my day job as a teacher to work for British Youth for Christ as a member of their national staff band ‘Alphabet’.
When I left the band to work first of all for The Message and then for Ivy Cottage Church in Manchester I continued to do the occasional concert, but increasingly used my guitar in the context of musical worship, which I still do, occasionally to this day. Promise kept, I hope!
The picture with this article is of a band called “Access” which I played in in the early 70s. When my 12 year old daughter saw it she said, “Dad, you looked like one of the Beatles!” I was reminded of a much less complimentary comment, delivered after one of our concerts somewhere in the UK in the late 60s, when one of our audience caught me afterwards to say, “I could listen to John Lennon’s voice for ages, but your voice…”
The voice was rough, the song lyrics primitive, the arrangements predictable (all sounding very amateur compared to today’s professional Christian musicians) but we were young, and as we pioneered something new somehow I believe we made a difference to many lives. We shared the story of our encounter with Jesus in unlikely settings to often very receptive audiences.