Martin Smith on Radio 2's Good Morning Sunday (Radio 2)
Last modified: 20 May 2007
Source: Radio 2
Author: Aled Jones
Date: 20 May 2007
Aled Jones: It seems obvious from the letters and e-mails we get that the most successful British Christian Rock band of all time is Delirious? The band formed in the early 1990s as part of a small youth outreach project run by a community church in Sussex. But today their shows sell out arenas across the United States and Europe. Why oh why the British mainstream media seem to ignore Delirious? is a mystery, especially when acts like Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi asked the band to be their support act. We regularly play their wonderful worship songs. I'm delighted to welcome the lead singer and one of the principle songwriters of Delirious?, Martin Smith, to the studio. Welcome to Good Morning Sunday.
Martin Smith: Thank you very much, it's good to be on the show.
AJ: Have you flown in from somewhere glamorous just to be with me?
MS: No, I came on the train from Littlehampton. I got my ticket this morning, I thought I was going to be late, but I'm here just in time, so thanks for having us.
AJ: Do you remember those early days when you were playing to a very local audience?
MS: I do yeah. We started by renting a small drama hall in a school. A tiny little box like building. We'd turn the lights off so the kids wouldn't be embarrassed singing together and all that sort of stuff. It was fantastic. We had 70 kids to the first one we put on. Then every month we did that and it built and built. So they're great memories.
AJ: What prompted you to want to do that?
MS: Well, all the boys in the band were all church boys and always have been, so it's part of our DNA to want to put events on locally that can encourage the kids there. Some were church kids, some weren't. But the music rocked, well it didn't really rock in those days, but I think we thought it did! We were cutting our teeth and writing new songs, so that's how it developed really.
AJ: Did you always know you wanted to perform that sort of music or not?
MS: No not really. But when I was 12 I started playing the guitar and at that point started writing songs and I thought "yeah, maybe there's something in this".
AJ: Were you doing that because you weren't keen on the traditional hymns?
MS: I always remember there was a moment I was sitting in church as a kid and thinking to myself that I'd really like to write some music that my mates at school would enjoy. I remember specifically thinking that at the age of 13 or 14, thinking "this really isn't happening at the moment". So I did set about thinking, maybe we could revamp this a little bit. But little did we know that it was going to actually happen.
AJ: There was a pivotal moment in the band's development when you suffered quite a serious car crash. How did that change things?
MA: We were running this event every month and we were doing jobs, running businesses, and also then traveling around the country because people were inviting us to play at different places. So we were on the edge of "should we being this full time, professionally?" Then I had a car crash, my wife was with me, and it could have been fatal, but thank God it wasn't. That led to a real soul searching time, being in hospital for a while. All the lads would come and visit me. "What do you reckon boys? Stuff the money, stuff whatever, let's just go for it". And in fact we did do that, thinking we'd just do it for a year and see how it works out, and that was 15 years ago!
AJ: Do you think that was a message from God?
MS: Well I think that God has a habit of getting your attention at times, whether it is some sort of tragedy or even a joyous occasion and that probably was happening at that time. I was sitting on my back for two weeks doing nothing, thinking "OK what am I going to do with my life?".
AJ: Does God and music go hand in hand for you?
MS: I don't think anybody that's involved with music, even bands like Razorlight and Kaiser Chiefs, would deny that God is involved in it in some shape or form. It's a spiritual thing. I think even those guys would say, there's a moment on stage or in the studio when it all comes together, there's a chemistry.
AJ: Let's talk about Delirious? Are you on a mission? Are you trying to evanglise? What is it?
MS: That's a big thing isn't it? People don't really like bands on a mission do they? We're simply being ourselves. We're passionate about what we believe in and passionate about encouraging a generation of kids also, to help them go on. We're happy being who we are.
AJ: Has the message within your songs changed over the years? How has the music changed?
MS: I think lyrically it's definitely changed. You're a bit more naive in your early 20s and the stuff that I was writing then, just to sum it up "I love you, I love you, aren't you wonderful God", it was great for that time. Then you start thinking how can you engage in changing the world the older you get, it's sort of a part of growing up. In a less naive way, but still hopeful.
AJ: Are you reaching out to more people now? Do you get the e-mails or the letters that say "I'm not a Christian, but I really like your music"?
MS: We do, every now and again. We do get loads of letters from people that came to the gigs with a friend or they felt something amazing in the room...
AJ: ...are you a Christian band or are you a Rock band?
MS: I think we're all of it really. You know, are you a 'Christian' or a 'Christian Doctor', I don't know really. God is in us, God is working through us and to answer the question we had a letter from a BonJovi fan once who was in the front row of the gig at Glasgow Arena. She loved the music, she loved what we were about, brought a record and in the end went on and had this big conversion experience and went to church and all that. So it's pretty cool really.
AJ: And that's when you were supporting BonJovi? So I suppose what you're saying really is that the rock music and the Christian music should go hand in hand.
MS: I think what people in the world hate about Christian music is the dishonesty in it. Christian music to me, if I took a snapshot, is all highs and "we're all happy". But of course life's not like that. I think that people want to hear what's really going on. That I think would be part of Delirious' mission, to try and reflect in our music the stuff that doesn't go too well also.
AJ: That God's with you through the good and the bad?
MS: Yeah. If you read through the Psalms, it's pretty serious stuff isn't it? "God you've left me", we don't really have too many songs like that on a Sunday morning.
AJ: More gloom and doom! That's what we want.
AJ: There's a real family aspect to the band isn't there? Three of you are married to sisters of the bassist.
MS: Yeah it's pretty weird isn't it. That's probably why the band has lasted so long. You can't just get in a huff and strop off, because you've got Christmas time coming up and you've all got to be there. Yes three of us married three sisters, and then the younger brother of that family is Jon the bass player.
AJ: You guys have to be in each others pockets. I'm in the studio quite a bit recording music and you do have heated disagreements with musicians. So how does that work?
MS: There is a lot of tension, but someone did tell me once that if there's no tension in your relationships there'll never be any creativity. A lot of stuff comes out when you hit a brick wall, and then you have to talk about stuff and find a solution. We've managed this far and we're all good mates. I think it's a minor miracle really that you can be on the road with people so much of the time and still get on, it's fantastic.
AJ: Are you all of the view that God's put you on this path to be together?
MS: Yeah we are and there will have to be something like God in the middle of it to have kept it all together, because in the natural it's hard work. With that passion and that mission in the middle of it all, it's definitely been the glue.
AJ: Here in Britain we get the impression that you're always on tour constantly. You take your kids on tour with you as well don't you?
MS: Yeah we've just been to America. We just try and once a year take all the wives and kids away and we do a month traveling around America on three big busses. There's 12 bunks on a bus and you hire a driver and they drive at night. The kids just think it's like one big camping trip for three weeks.
AJ: I bet that bus driver is on counseling for about a year afterwards.
MS: It is funny actually, we never see them again! So yeah we've just come off that tour, we did 26 dates and we are now trying to get the kids to go to bed on time which is a struggle.
AJ: Have there been any real highlights. You know the moment when you're on stage where you do think "this is it, it's not going to get any better".
MS: Yeah there are several moments like that. We definitely are privileged to see quite a lot of stuff. We did four cities in India in January. They were large crowds and I think the highlight for me was when we played in Mumbai. That day we'd been out to the red light district and we were visiting a feeding project and a little school there. To see these kids faces come alive and in the end we put a coach on brought them out to the gig and brought them on stage to have a dance with us and to see their eyes light up. They'd never been to the end of their street. Moments like that you think, this is bigger than Top of The Pops and Radio 1 and success. These are really defining moments. I'm pretty glad to be alive right now.
AJ: Do you ever feel you want that kind of recognition in this country as well? Does it frustrate you in a way?
MS: The honest answer is yes, sometimes. I think that every artist would like to have recognition for their work. It'd be great to do a Jools Holland show and have recognition in that respect, but we haven't given up on that. Our time will come.
AJ: I definitely think it will. I don't understand it at all myself to be honest with you and I think it's those sort of programmes loss. I'll get off my soapbox now shall I?
Your biggest song 'I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever' is also the title of a new book, it's the stories behind the songs. What's the thinking behind the book?
MS: There was a book publisher in America that came along and offered to buy us all a Porsche each if we wrote it. No, that's not true! They came along and said look we think this book would be great in America especially, and we thought great lets just put it out around the world. We've never done this sort of thing before. The first couple of chapters we wrote were painful, I remember thinking "this is like homework at school". But we got into it and I think people will love it.
AJ: Song writers are often asked about their craft, how they go about writing these songs. I won't ask what makes a good song, I want to ask you what makes a good worship song?
MS: That's a great question. I think there's a sense where if you're leading a crowd or a congregation that are wanting to sing a God song, it's got to be something that they feel they want to sing: "This really encapsulates what I'm going through right now". If you look at all the great worship songs, they have that thing about them that "wow you've put into words what I'm feeling right now". So it's got to have that element, it's got to have an easy tune. You've got to be able to do it a couple of times and people catch on very easily. Artistically that's a struggle sometimes because you want to push the boundaries to make it a bit more clever. But all the big songs are very very simple, almost cheesy. I mean 'I Could Sing' is almost cheesy but it took off so it's great.
AJ: Thanks so much for coming up from Littlehampton this morning. Good luck with everything, not that you need it.