Christian Rock Picking up a Flock of Fans (The Guardian)
Last modified: 21 Jul 2002

Source: The Guardian
Author: York Membery
Date: 21 Jul 2002

A Christian rock band from a tiny seaside resort has eclipsed both Oasis and Blur to become one of Britain's most spectacular music successes in the United States.

While most British bands struggle to make an impact with American audiences, the Littlehampton-based Delirious have sold more than 300,000 copies of their most recent album in the US, outselling stars such as Michael Jackson and R.E.M.

But despite playing live to more than 600,000 people in the past six months alone and supporting Bryan Adams on his current UK tour, they have made little impact in Britain. Their fans blame the refusal of British radio stations to give Delirious airtime.

Delirious are the latest addition to the Christian rock market, which has exploded in the past two years. Last week EMI signed a five-year worldwide distribution deal with the band's label, Furious Records.

'The Christian rock scene is getting bigger all the time, although that's not really reflected in media coverage,' said Tony Patoto of Furious. 'For instance, Delirious have sold one million records in America alone over the past four years. That's why we've been pursued about setting up this deal.'

The five-piece group, who have been compared to Ireland's U2, play loud stadium rock to huge audiences - a far cry from the early Nineties, when they performed for church youth groups. In 1996 Delirious turned professional and set up the Furious label.

The popularity of bands such as Delirious and Payable On Death (POD), a US heavy metal band, has made the Christian rock scene worth up to £20 million a year, according to one music business estimate. Crucial to the resurgence of Christian rock is a more youth-conscious approach. In the Eighties, Christian groups such as the garish Stryper - whose members wore yellow-and-black uniforms and released albums such as In God We Trust - played concerts in churches, where they threw copies of the Bible at the audience. But these days groups like Delirious and POD no longer force hellfire down fans' throats. POD even featured in the Bible of teenage cool - the New Musical Express.

But for all their desire to be viewed as a rock band, as distinct from a 'Christian rock band', it would be hard to mistake Delirious for the likes of the badly behaved Oasis or the laddish Limp Bizkit. Outside their rehearsal room, a poster proclaims the Christian message: 'Love God. Love One Another. Love the Lost.' Their songs have titles like 'Deeper, Promise' and 'I Could Sing of Your Love Forever'. One of their live favourites, a catchy punk song, includes the lyric: 'I'm not ashamed of the Gospel, I'm not ashamed of the one I love.'

However, as both sales and plaudits stack up, the group continue to struggle against a music industry that fails to recognise their success. Since turning professional, the band's sales have not been reflected in the Top 40 because most sales are made in Christian bookstores and are not taken into account by compilers of the UK's pop charts.

'Historically, few Christian groups have managed to break through,' said Delirious vocalist Martin Smith. 'There's a stigma attached. People think our music will be either second-rate or clappy-happy. But we don't have a specific agenda. We're not solely about bringing God into the charts.'

But despite the overwhelming lack of radio attention, the Christian message seems to be getting through. The band now claim to have a swelling fan base outside the Christian rock scene. One of their biggest fans is Men Behaving Badly star Neil Morrissey.

At the same time, Arundel-based Furious is thriving. It now has a turnover of £3m a year and has signed up new Christian acts - including a Scottish band called Superhero whose debut album is being produced by Alan Branch, best known for his work with Primal Scream and Bjork.

Whether Christian rock can succeed remains to be seen. Pat Gilbert, editor of the rock magazine Mojo, said: 'Many people in Britain still feel incredibly uneasy seeing guys with guitars leaping around on stage singing about Christian worship and advocating things like no sex before marriage, which are so completely at odds with the whole rock 'n' roll aesthetic of sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll.'

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