A Delirious New Sound (Charisma Magazine)
Last modified: 01 Nov 1999

Source: Charisma Magazine
Author: Clive Price
Date: Nov 1999

Their sound is fresh. Their passion for God is raw and vulnerable. The British band Delirious is setting a new standard for worship in the future. When the British rock band Delirious hit the stage recently for a performance at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the eagerness that blanketed the Christian audience was as thick as the humidity in the subtropical air. Staying cool on this hot September night would be no option, but that was of little concern to the 250 or so young people elbowing for position near the stage. For them, "cool" would come in the form of Delirious themselves, a five-piece Christian band that's hopping cultures, denominations and international boundaries with a music and stage presence that communicates unabashed passion for Jesus. Lead singer Martin Smith, 29--dressed black-on-black in the esprit de corps color of cool--paced the stage and took in the scene with a magnetic gaze. Backed by a shuddering burst of volume, the quintet of lads from England's south coast plunged into their set with intense abandon. Smith's signature accent came through cleanly as he belted out the opening song, "I'm Not Ashamed," an elevating rock anthem of dedication to Jesus. "I'm not ashamed of the gospel! / I'm not ashamed of the One I love! / I'm not ashamed anymore / 'Cause I've felt the oil pour down over me / And there's a fire that's burning stronger now / It's burning stronger, much stronger for You / Only for You." Guitarist Stuart Garrard, 36, hammered the point home with molar-rattling volume, distortion and reverb. While Smith stomped across the stage, the rhythm section of drummer Stewart Smith, 32, and bassist Jon Thatcher, 23, got their money's worth from the P.A. system and pounded the breath from the collective chest of an engrossed audience.

For the next 50 minutes, it was the kind of night ear plugs were made for. But it also was a night to glimpse a band that personifies a sound that is shaking the foundations of worship music in American churches, redefining the corporate worship experience and turning the ears of many to the sounds of international revival.

Music to Get Delirious With
Walking a precarious yet artful line between the energy of rock and the passion of praise, Delirious has a popular appeal that makes it one of the hottest properties in worldwide Christian music. The U.K.'s main music and culture magazine, Q, has heralded them as "the hottest thing in Christian rock" and described their faith as "forceful rather than force-fed."

When their reflective songs--usually driven by strong hook lines--are played live, the response is an ocean of arms raised heavenward. On the heavily electric-guitar numbers, crowds of believers and unbelievers alike dance with wild abandon. As one non-Christian told them once: "I'm not into your religion, but I love your music."

Some people claim to have profound spiritual experiences at their gigs, such as miraculous healings or salvation. In more simple yet equally profound moments, others find new hope.

"We have letters every week that say, 'You sung one line, a phrase, and I'd been depressed for ages and contemplated suicide, but your words changed my life,'" Stewart Smith told Charisma. "We're in faith for all sorts of things to happen [in concert]," Martin Smith adds.

Perhaps because of their overtly modern sound, worship leaders in almost every flash point of Western revival--from Great Britain to Canada to Argentina to the United States--constantly include a handful of Delirious songs in their repertoires: "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," "Deeper," "The Happy Song" and "Find Me in the River" to name a few. In some circles, theirs has become the sound of renewal.

The band's diverse musical influences--from heavy, psychedelic, folk and glam rock to alternative music, disco, electronica and punk--all bleed through their sound and have excited a popular shift in focus from status-quo worship music to the sight, sound and spirit of a new generation of God-lovers.

While they've had a loyal following in England since 1992, only last year did U.S. fans start playing catch-up after the group's first three U.K. records released stateside from Sparrow Records. The grassroots support has hand-delivered to record executives a band that is more or less prepared already for popular appeal.

Their new experimental album, Mezzamorphis, which released in June, has been critically accepted, though criticized somewhat by fans who say it's too different from the first three Delirious records. Still, Martin Smith calls it a "worship" album. Garrard defends the record and told Christian Musician magazine that Delirious creates songs that come "from a place of worship within us."

"We have a vertical relationship with God," he said. "We definitely think that worship is a lifestyle that affects everything you do, rather than just a style of music. Obviously some songs are easier to sing in church, but this album wasn't written to be that way. But on the other hand, we didn't think people would be singing [older songs] 'Mountains' or 'History Maker' in church--and they are."

This quintet--who started as a worship band in the "Bible belt" of southern England--say the Holy Spirit is still a full partner as they continue to move from the safety of church youth groups into the wild world of pop music. During a trip from the leafy lanes of their home county, West Sussex, to MTV studios in London for a taping of a Christian program, Delirious discussed the way they convey timeless truth amid a music industry that displays a thin veneer of fad and fashion.

"After being inside studios for a year [to record Mezzamorphis] you wonder: Have things moved on? Have we lost it? Is anyone actually going to turn up?" says Thatcher. "But to get on stage again and realize the X-factor is still there...."

The "X-factor" is what the band calls "that indescribable touch of God." It showed up at Brixton Academy, a rock venue in London. In true Delirious fashion, amid raging rock numbers were songs such as "Kiss Your Feet."

As Smith sang quietly about God, "Isn't He beautiful / Isn't He beautiful," a hush descended on the crowd. One concertgoer could no longer hold back and cried out to Jesus. It became a moment of pure worship.

Delirious views such experiences as "a mark of what we do," says Garrard.

"I think it's part of the Delirious live experience coming from days when we would specifically lead congregational worship.

"It's nice to see that still happening. We don't always consciously try and make it happen. When it does, it's spontaneous, and it's great. And I think we're still hearing the Holy Spirit and flowing with Him on that."

Leaving the Cutting Edge
It is the "Delirious live experience"--primarily its worship facet--that roots the band most closely to its early days. The group started in 1992 as a youth worship band at Arun Community Church, a charismatic congregation on England's south coast. In those days their audiences averaged about 70 in the drama studio of a local high school.

They called themselves Cutting Edge, a spinoff from the title of a hard-hitting documentary series on British television at the time. The name helped to lend a sense of the radical, perhaps even the controversial, to the group's image.

"Young people in our church were just hungry for worship," says Tim Jupp, 33, the band's keyboardist and occasional trumpeter. "They were finding through worship that there was a dramatic way of meeting God. That's what kicked it all off, and I think that's still fundamental.

"There's a deep root there that runs through all we do," he adds. "Whether 'anointing' is the word or not, I think it has been on the songs and is further highlighted when as a team we come together to play those songs."

Their well-known worship songs, such as "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever" or "The Happy Song," which now are sung and played in churches around the world, helped turn Cutting Edge events into a highly popular Sunday nightspot venue for young people across southern England. The group's overall compositions, which leaned more toward an REM songbook than a church hymnal, also helped set the contemporary worship agenda for much of the 1990s.

"I've Found Jesus" has become a theme song at Teen Mania conferences. "Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?" went worldwide after falling into the spotlight at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, source of the Toronto Blessing. The song's crescendo-like chorus became a favorite.

"Did you feel the mountains tremble? / Did you hear the oceans roar/ When the people rose to sing of Jesus Christ, the Risen One? / Did you feel the people tremble? / Did you hear the singers roar/ When the lost began to sing of Jesus Christ, the Saving One? / Open up the doors and let the music play / Let the streets resound with singing / Songs that bring Your hope / Songs that bring Your joy / Dancers who dance upon injustice."

When renewal spread from Toronto, masses of British Christian youth were impacted. Cutting Edge events became a place where they could worship with abandon as they expressed God's new work in their lives.

As word of these dynamic worship experiences spread, the band found themselves in increased demand at Christian festivals and conferences across England. They produced their own low-priced mini-albums so fans could afford to take something of this new music experience home with them. The result was the birth of an underground worship movement that now is being felt in grassroots arenas across the United States.

During the Christian music festivals in the United States this summer, a greater hunger for worship music surfaced among young people. Festival director Bill Graening, whose Alive '99 event in Canal Fulton, Ohio, saw close to a 20 percent attendance increase over 1998, told The CCM Update that "there was absolutely [a greater emphasis on praise and worship]."

"This year, we had a worship team in a huge circus-type tent, and that was packed in the mornings," he said. "I think all the other festivals, too, are sensing that there is a real call to worship and a call for serious commitment."

Unconventional Praise
Now that Delirious has become a globe-trotting band whose albums are carried by Sparrow and Virgin record companies, can the group still be spontaneous when the songs have to fit in with sophisticated stage lighting and visual displays? Can they stay true to their calling?

"When we're talking about the flow of the Holy Spirit, we don't want to be caught in the trap that it's manifested in just being 'spontaneous,'" says Martin Smith. He believes Delirious can "flow in the Spirit" while working hard at presenting a good concert complete with dynamic special effects.

"We believe that technology has just as much a way of evoking a spiritual reaction and is just as soaked in the Holy Spirit as what we are doing," Stewart Smith explains. "They're not two separate things. Hopefully it's all working as one."

However, things work differently for the band when they're in the United States. Multimedia shows are replaced by more overt displays of softer music and passionate worship accompanied by spiritual gifts.

"I think that's a reflection on culture and also where we are," Martin Smith says. "We want to give the audiences something of what we've experienced here in England, and we don't just go in with a full-on rock thing.

"But I think it's a little bit more relaxed in the U.S. There's no interference from the mainstream media, and it just feels like a bit more of a safer environment. Here in Britain you could give a word of knowledge at Brixton, and it might be misconstrued when the media gets hold of it. But in America you can do different things in different arenas."

In some ways, however, they have found it challenging to worship freely in U.S. churches.

"There's a lot of dualism in the United States, and a lot of religion," Martin Smith adds. "It's OK to go mad at a football game, but there's not a lot of emotion allowed in church. So I think that we've maybe provided an environment where kids can worship. This is an all-consuming experience, and I think maybe we've opened the door for that in the States and given people permission to enjoy themselves in church."

Thatcher notes a "great divide" between secular and church cultures in America.

"That's one big difference between England and America," he says. "In England, Christians are trying to blend the lines by getting DJs playing in church and all that kind of thing.

"But in America, DJs are for clubs. The attitude is, 'That's where they should stay; we've been saved from that.' Yet in England we're trying to get them back into our churches."

Thatcher believes Christians need to be "influencing the influencers," which for them now means daring to take on the secular music industry. Other believers have tried the same. When Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman tried it, he ended up being labeled "too rock 'n' roll for the religious people; too religious for the rock 'n' roll people."

Delirious faces similar criticism. But amid cries of "selling out" the band stays focused on their strategy.

"We've received a lot of letters lately criticizing where we're going or why there isn't so much 'anointing' around," says Martin Smith. "But we believe we're in the right place. And we believe that when you come to see us, it's still the same thing flowing that flowed on day one.

"I think there's always going to be a scenario--because of our history--where people don't think there's enough of what they used to feel.

"But I think they're looking at it in the wrong frame of mind. They're seeing it from only one aspect. What we're trying to do is create a more holistic view of it. We can almost create church without people knowing it."

The Plot Hasn't Changed
For those who know them, Delirious remains just a band of regular guys who, with energetic devotion, are raising the bar of worship music to a new level while taking the gospel to a generation hungry for the power of God. Whether they are soft-rocking a church sanctuary with familiar forms of praise music or pile-driving an outdoor amphitheater at Walt Disney World with all the machinery of rock music, they say they are conveying the gospel message in the same way that ignited the fire in British youth seven years ago.

"We're all trying to walk the Christian life as passionately as we know how, with as much integrity as we know how. I think we're still that little worship band that we were seven years ago," Martin Smith reflects. "When we're in private we're still talking about those very same things that motivated us back then.

"What we're about is the challenge to communicate that in a way that does truly communicate to folk outside of the church. To get it across in a way that isn't just limited to language. I think we're getting there." *

Clive Price is the U.K. correspondent for Charisma and regularly contributes to Christian magazines in Great Britain. He has followed the career and ministry of Delirious from the start. Managing editor Jimmy Stewart did additional reporting for this story.

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