Onward Christian Rockers (Vancouver Sun, Canada)
Last modified: 24 Feb 2001

Source: Vancouver Sun, Canada
Author: Katherine Monk
Date: 24 Feb 2001

With a hard enough edge to attract a mainstream rock crowd, Delirious has survived while softer spiritual rock acts have fallen. The first time they played Vancouver, it was before a sold-out crowd at an Abbotsford church. When the U.K. band Delirious returns to town April 8, they'll be playing to a packed Pacific Coliseum. Such an increase in venue size is good news for any band, but when you consider that Delirious made the jump from church to concert bowl without heavy rotation on top-40 radio, a top-selling CD in North America or a single appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman, then the feat is almost miraculous -- and who knows? Maybe it is.

Certainly Delirious wouldn't discount the idea. One of the few hard-core Christian rock acts to survive the meteoric rise and gentle fall of spiritually powered pop, Delirious is now something of an anomaly.

Founded by five young musicians in Littlehampton, England, Delirious grew out of a youth group outreach service called Cutting Edge in the early '90s.

"I don't think any of us thought about forming a band, it just grew out of our work at the church. Martin [Smith, the vocalist] and I would write songs for the kids at Cutting Edge. Eventually, there was a demand for a tape, so we put together a little six-track cassette which we sold at meetings," says drummer Stewart Smith, 34, from a London studio, where the band is busy mixing its latest disc.

"That little tape started the whole thing. People asked about it, we got some airplay and we started getting calls from labels."

By 1996, the five-piece was gathering a loyal following and decided to forgo the standard music-industry contract, preferring instead to start their own label: Furious Records (after all the labels that were infuriated by their decision).

"It made sense for us to do it that way," says Smith. "I had a background in design and the other guys had worked in studios. We had the right skills to make it work. Now, we have 14 employees and we're distributing other Christian records in the U.K."

With Delirious' cumulative domestic and international sales topping the 600,000-mark, the band would seem to be in an enviable position, but Smith says being a Christian act in the secular world of rock 'n' roll is an uphill battle.

"It's a lot harder to break through because the label can make you an outsider. We've found that once we meet people and they realize we're just a bunch of normal guys, everything is cool. But people are a little reluctant at first. That's why we ask the Christian fans to bring their non-Christian friends. We just want to bring the gospel to the most people we possibly can -- there's no pressure, just a good show," says Smith.

"Delirious have a very strong and loyal following -- but without any real crossover in this market," says longtime local rock promoter Paul Mercs, the man bringing the band back to town for their third appearance.

"After they played the Abbotsford church a few years ago, we brought them back to the Vogue and they sold out three nights. We've never put them anywhere so big before, but they play big shows all the time in the U.K. so we're pretty confident the show will do well," says Mercs.

"We've already sold half the tickets and it's still over a month away."

Recently named "pop's best kept secret" by BBC Radio 1 in the wake of their U.K. chart-topper, King of Fools, Delirious has been compared to Oasis, Radiohead and U2 for their grinding guitar work, cycling samplers and layers of hard-edged rhythm. In short, they blow away the jangly rock, country music expectations surrounding the "Christian" label -- perhaps explaining why you can't find the band's latest release, Glo, in the "spiritual section" at your favorite record store.

If you can find the disc at all (the import has been out of stock in local stores for weeks), you'll find it under "electronica" or "pop" -- far away from the likes of soulful country crooners like Michael W. Smith.

While the band's harder edge might seem to be a liability in the Christian genre, Mercs says it's hard-driving rock show is actually its biggest asset, saving it from the scrap heap of has-been Christian acts.

In the late Reagan years and early Bush days, America was in the throes of a Christian revival as the haze of the sexual revolution and the adrenaline rush of junk-bond greed began to wear off. People were seeking something larger -- something meaningful -- and they found it in a variety of places. Televangelism had yet to be stained by Tammy Faye's tears, and music acts such as Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman were riding a wave of popularity so large, it crested into the mainstream.

The Christian music tributary widened and harder acts joined the flow. Before long, the Billboard Hot 100 included the likes of Christian rockers Jars of Clay and dc Talk.

But as the '90s drew to a close with the rise of urban hip-hop, bubble-gum boy bands, Monica Lewinsky jokes and the Ken Starr version of The Crucible, Christian music floundered. Headliners like Grant decided to embrace the mainstream and steered clear of the Christian music label, which was slowly retrenching into a categorical ghetto.

Many believe the movement will rebound with a new Bush in the White House, but Mercs isn't quite so optimistic.

"In the States, there's still enough of a Christian audience to bring critical mass to an event. People will go to a show just because it's a Christian event -- it's a show of support. They identify themselves as Christians. But in Canada, it's a lot different. People won't just show up because it's a Christian event," says Mercs.

"Here, it's almost like people don't trust the label. If you call yourself a Christian in Canada, people have this bizarre reaction -- like they don't trust you. I know, because I'm a Christian," says Mercs, a music-industry veteran who remembers hanging out with Led Zeppelin in the glory days of arena rock.

"I grew up in a Christian environment and for a long time, I sort of drifted away from it. In the last two years, I've rediscovered my faith and it's become a big part of my life. It affects the way I do business -- and the way I deal with other people," he says.

"I mean, it's because I care about supporting the music and the faith that I bring these bands up to Vancouver. It's a very expensive proposition and it's also a very time-consuming one because you can't count on your regular sponsors in radio, print or TV. You have to market it from a grassroots level -- go out to the bookstores and get the posters to the churches. If it works, I'm happy -- but it's certainly not what you'd call a lucrative side of the music business."

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