Ringing The Mission Bell (Cross Rhythms)
Last modified: 24 Nov 2005

Source: Cross Rhythms
Author: Mike Rimmer
Date: 24 Nov 2005

Martin Smith, frontman of DELIRIOUS?, gives an in depth interview to Mike Rimmer.

The lounge of the Hilton Hotel in Heathrow airport is a buzz of activity with efficient waiters serving drinks and taking orders. There's the constant tinkle of a water feature somewhere close by and the whole place has the feel of a minimalist meeting place with open spaces and comfy sofas. As I arrive Martin Smith and Tim Jupp are concluding a business meeting with some American record company executives before Tim has to fly out to the USA. Martin gives him a hug and then sits down to join me on a sofa.

"I know it's very posh here isn't it?" he says with a grin on his face. "We're having expensive cokes and lattes that we really can't afford but we're living the moment aren't we?" We are! And it's a good moment! We're talking a couple of weeks before 'The Mission Bell' is unleashed on the public. The single "Paint The Town Red" has done reasonably well as a mainly downloaded single but not charted as high as they would have liked.

However the band are upbeat as Martin shares, "It's always a big year when you're making a record. We went into the studio in February, so that was when we started the red light. But of course there's months before that - writing and trying to work out what the record should be. So by the time it comes out it's a good year. We're over the moon at the minute. This is our eighth studio record and we are expert tinkers.tinkerers I should say! The other side is we are quite disciplined in what we do. We know what we're doing when we're in a studio so we use our time wisely. We can't just go off on a tangent and lose ourselves in the esoteric air of creativity. As you know we've all got responsibilities, dad-wise and all that sort of stuff. So when we're in there we work hard but you can't just drift off into another world for three months."

In the past the band have organised a recording routine that fits in with their domestic arrangements. For the new album, they initially spent two separate weeks at ICC in Eastbourne. "We did a few late nights where we stuck some candles on." Martin adopts posh voice, "Stick some candles on darling!" He continues, "We got the atmosphere going, it was the right thing to do and we got the main stuff down at ICC. Lots of drums, bass and guitar parts. And we then went to the back of my house and finished off the whole record. That was a whole nine-to-six type of thing."

On "Love Is A Miracle", the band enlisted the help of a small group of gospel singers. Surely they couldn't have recorded them round the house. But they did! Martin explains, "We've got this lounge. One bit of our house was built in 1587 so it's this old country-type affair. So we did the strings in the lounge and the choir. But the choir was only seven singers. We grouped them up and we double-tracked them. That was courtesy of David and Carrie Grant who are great people to work with. We always manage to get that choral thing on our records. I think we've hit it the most powerfully on this record."

As well as producing their eighth studio album this year, the band continue to produce children. Martin shares, "In April we had another little girl - Ruby. Then Jon and Kristen have had a little boy in September - Jackson. So it's made it quite busy for Anna and myself because I get into the records when we're making them. So we've delivered a couple of babies this year." That makes the grand total of 16 children between the five members of Delirious? In the past the band have taken the whole entourage on tour with them when they have visited America. Martin explains how that still happens. "We try and do a month in America every year. We take them out of school for two weeks plus their Easter holidays. Other than that, we try and tour on our own. It's just easier and quicker and in the long run actually, it's more economic. Everything works. You've got six fly dates in a row and if you're going to fly to New Zealand and back in a week you can't really do that. So we try and consolidate the times to five or six days, 10 at the most, 12 if it's Australia, and spread it out through the weeks so that we're back for two Sundays a month - two weekends - and then we'll have time off to do other things. It's a good rhythm but I'm not saying it's always easy. We don't have easy lives but they're great lives! I think we're all aware of the privilege of what we're doing. But of course, you've got five families, lots of children, and it's a real effort to try and keep it all going at a great pace. Everybody struggles with different things at different times as you can imagine."

Away from the recording and the touring, the domestic lifestyle in the Smith household varies. Inevitably it's busy but Martin confesses, "When I'm at home, things are a little bit more relaxed. So we'll sit there late at night and watch Lost together! We love it! We love all those American programmes! We're busy though. We're busy people anyway whatever we're doing. Whether it's having the youth group round in the house, or speaking at some other event, or leading worship at church - as we did this Sunday, Anna running her dance teams at church. Our house is sort of a mini hotel so we've got people in and out all the time, staying. But we love it. That's the life that we've chosen and our children come with us on that journey. So life doesn't just switch off. We had some visitors this weekend. An older couple called Helmut and Elizabeth Kaufmann, who run ICC Studios. That was my last proper job! He was my boss when I worked there as an engineer. He took me on; gave me a chance!" And look where it led!

Inevitably, the recording of 'The Mission Bell' was preceded by the usual round of band soul searching, discussions and praying as the theme for the new album emerged. "We've been saying that 'World Service' was about grace and I think that theme permeates that record. But this record is about mission, stirring the pot again and to quote a line from 'Now Is The Time' - 'I want to follow but what does it mean?' I think it started with asking myself that question, 'I want to follow God but actually let's get real, what does that really mean in this world that we live in? Does my Christianity actually change anything for me, for the people around me? Does it change the world?' Just big questions, 'Actually, let's not kid ourselves here. What am I doing in this world to really make a difference?' And really asking all the questions again like, 'What am I doing with my days while I am here?'"

He continues, "So that spilled over into the songs. I actually wanted to nail a few issues as a band. We've been going a few years now and wanted to nail our colours to the mast a little bit saying, 'We're a band on a mission.' We've dabbled in a few things; the mainstream thing, singles.none of which I regret at all. But our heart really is to touch the world with great music and see people stirred and motivated and changed."

Most people looking at Martin Smith's life would observe that, of course he's making a difference! Think of all that the band have achieved so far. There are thousands of people that have come to Delirious? concerts and been inspired. Is that not enough? Evidently it isn't and Smith is still spiritually hungry. He observes, "It always comes back to home doesn't it? Anything you write about or say from the stage, it always has a habit of coming back and biting your bum as they say. Because those are the things that come out of your mouth that God always holds you to. So if I'm going to say, 'We're going to be history makers in this land. Come on people, let's go for it!' For me, that's a daily challenge.still. And I've got another 40 years left to live, God willing, that I would still like to be that. Every day is a challenge and there are new things, new steps of faith. There're bigger things that God is calling you to that require bigger leaps of faith than 10 years ago. So it never ends does it? And I'm excited about that. Lots and lots of things buzzing around."

I observe that there aren't that many pure worship songs on 'The Mission Bell' that could be sung by a church congregation. Smith immediately disagrees and states, "Well actually in church we've been doing 'Now Is The Time', 'Paint The Town Red' and 'Miracle Maker'." Cue Cross Rhythms journalist with puzzled expression on his face! "Paint The Town Red" is so NOT a worship song?! But apparently I am wrong. "We've been rockin' it out! I mean, if you read the lyrics and then imagine them on a screen in church it's just a revival song. 'We're going to take this city'..that's probably what most churches in this country are saying in conversations, 'How are we going to take our towns? We're going to storm the gates of hell.'" So I wonder, is he saying it is "Revival Town: Part II?"

Apparently it is! "We often confuse people," he observes, "with the style and the production. Probably in a year's time people will start picking these songs up and actually read the lyrics and say, 'We'd like to be able to sing that.' 'Miracle Maker' we actually did on Sunday. It's just a church song." Excuse me while I butt in here and again look at Smith a bit sceptically! Maybe I'm just being very narrow-minded but I always think of church songs as being the kind of thing where a worship group somewhere can pick it up and play it and everybody sings along in church? Isn't that a worship song?

Smith agrees, "Yeah I suppose so," but then offers evidence to disagree! "'History Maker' was never like that. In the early days people never did it. It came out of seeing us play it live and now people do that in church. I think in 10 years that has changed a little bit. Okay admittedly not in some small Anglican church with an organ but I think time changes things and people get a bit more adventurous. But maybe I've just 'lost the plot!'"

Hmmm. now wouldn't that make a great banner headline. I can see it now! "Martin Smith Admits: Maybe I've just lost the plot!" He laughs, "Yeah, I've forgotten how to write a worship song!" Somehow I doubt it's anything to worry about. I encourage him that it'll all come back to him.

Back in the '90s when the band began dabbling with making a mainstream impact, there were always fans who were disappointed that the band had abandoned their worship roots. The band itself were working out their identity step by step along the way. The tension between their two different identities seems to have lessened these days. Martin agrees, "I think it has become less of a tension because I think we've grown into that skin. I think we're really comfortable in the skin that we're in right now. If God chose to take one of these songs and explode it on mainstream radio in Australia, that would be absolutely brilliant! It would be fine. We would chase after that and we would live whatever that meant us doing. But also we're really happy doing three weeks at Soul Survivor and taking some of these songs and hopefully pushing the boundary a bit. Inspiring some of those kids hopefully."

He continues, "So I think we've become all of those things funnily enough. And really love it all. I guess we're just unique in that sense. We've done some huge mainstream festivals in Germany last year and then we've done some church things, where people actually give altar calls and come forward while we're playing 'What A Friend'. So I can't work it out, who we are, but we're loving being who we are. It feels like God is in the middle of it all."

It's time for me to test out a theory on Martin. "Delirious? are a great worship band but not a great rock band." Discuss. You haven't quite cut it as a rock band have you? Smith ponders for a second, "Well that might be true." He responds hesitantly before getting into his reply, "That might be true. I think the problem with us is that we want to see the presence of God too much. So just doing a full-on rock and roll show, actually we would come off a little bit dissatisfied. So I think we've got the numbers in the songs to rock for 90 minutes and everybody jump and it'll be a great rock show. I think we know how to do that. Although I've not got an incredibly great rock voice! You know, it's not Liam Gallagher is it?! But I think the thing is, we're always searching for that moment where God can come in the midst of it all and touch people."

Flashback to August 2005. Delirious? are playing a Sunday afternoon show at the Grapevine event but unlike many artists, they don't simply arrive, play a set and travel on. The band have brought their families and are wandering around the site, taking part in the event. I find Martin and his family eating in the refreshment tent and we have a brief chat. Later the whole band and their kids wander past me heading to the skate park on site to have some fun. It's sunny and relaxed and a million miles away from events 12 months before.

On August Bank Holiday 2004, the band were leading worship at the Sunday evening celebration, the band were halfway through their set when the bleachers collapsed and many people were injured. I observe that it must have been a horrible experience for the band as well. "Yeah it was terrible," he recalls. "I remember it was possibly the most extraordinary example of switches of emotion that I've ever experienced within a second. Being completely caught up in that moment of the presence of God being there and you being outside of yourself, to suddenly Bang! And I have some guy running up and saying, 'You've got to stop right now!' It wasn't even a fadeout. It was just, 'Stop right now!' The house lights go on and oh my goodness, there's 50 people over there that could be dead! Now amazingly no one did die but from where we were on stage it really honestly looked like there were people that had died. There were legs coming out here, there were arms, there were people crying, people shouting and screaming. I think we were in shock. We had to clear the stage. Suddenly we're back behind the curtain and thinking, what on earth's going on? We're leading worship and some people might have died! So it was extraordinary and thankfully no one died."

Looking back over the band's journey, I wonder whether there have been times when Smith has found himself in situations where it all seems slightly surreal. "Yeah, especially with some of the kiddies' programmes that you go on," he admits, "like Saturday Morning Live or whatever they call it. You just think, 'What am I doing here? I'm promoting a tin of beans really, into a market that just sees it as a tin of beans! They don't care about me in the slightest!' You've got a product and to them it's a product they're buying and that is it. Next week they get someone else in. So I think there was a period where it was a bit soulless. That whole promotional stuff that we did, traipsing around the country doing this and that. And at times I think we used to ask ourselves, what on earth has this got to do with the Kingdom of God?! But it was a means to an end at that time and we knew we were playing someone else's game. I couldn't necessarily say it was wrong or I couldn't say it was right, but it was just something that season was about."

He continues, "I regret spending money on some of the things we spent money on. Like adverts in the Daily Mirror." He shapes his fingers to indicate a tiny sized box, "A box like that to advertise the single coming out and it's costing huge amounts of money, I think we struggled with that. It's just a machine and you get caught up.'Ahhh! I've got the Daily Mirror! You've got five minutes to decide and it's X thousand pounds. But this is the thing that could actually make the difference of a Top10 or a Top 5. It's amazing the difference it'll make. You just wait and see!' And you just do a few of these things and realise it makes no difference and realise you got suckered a few times. But who cares? It's just money isn't it really? And you live and learn."

'The Mission Bell' is completed and the band are gearing up to do a small tour in the UK before Christmas. As the band take the new songs on the road, they'll inevitably change as they play them each night. Also, the way Martin feels about the songs will change, deeper meanings will emerge. He explains, "The songs do truly become what they are over a year when you're playing them more and more. Some songs that actually sound great on the record, sometimes you get them out and there's just not that connection with the people. That doesn't mean the recording is bad, the bit of art on its own can be fantastic but sometimes there's just not that same connection. And that sometimes works the other way as well. Songs that you didn't really nail on the record, you get out there and then all of a sudden everybody is singing along. It's the ones that they love. But I think we've got better at that, knowing that the stuff we put on the records is going to translate live. You learn a bit earlier on what you think is going to work. I think we've got 12 songs here that, every one of those would work live really well."

Observing the response to 'World Service' it felt like the band were actually gaining a new younger audience again. For them, this is almost like a second Delirious? album that they're experiencing. It must be exciting to carry on winning new fans. "Yeah that's interesting. We've noticed at our concerts that the first two or three rows are 15-16 year-old kids again. And amazingly looking a bit dumbfounded when you do "History Maker".'So what's this song?'.which is extraordinary really, but knowing every word to the new record. They sing along to "Every Little Thing's Going To Be Alright" and then the older people at the back are thinking, 'Oh, what record's this on? I bought 'King Of Fools' and then I had kids and just didn't buy music again.'"

Martin has an important observation to make. 'About a year ago I remember thinking to myself, where on earth are the leaders? That 20-30 age group. There's a huge void of leadership. We call it the 'travelling decade'; the generation that rather than get a job and settle down, chose to travel round the world and do a year out. I think that's had a knock-on effect. People are less committed and don't want to take responsibilities so much. It seems that, without overstating the point, that the 30s-40s age group are being asked again to lead the 15s-20s because there's a gap in the middle. I felt that God said that to us guys - ' This wasn't the intention but I'm giving you another generation. Here's another shot. And now you're a bit older and wiser I'm going to entrust you with these people.' So it's an honour and it's a bit disappointing as well that nobody's come through really. I think our dream was that there would be five or six Delirious?'s come along in all shapes and sizes that would take over. At the moment that doesn't really seem like that's happening in the same dynamic, especially with The Tribe going. So we'll carry on."

With thanks to Cross Rhythms

Related Pages:
Albums: The Mission Bell