At the end of yesterday’s Dollop there was a reference to Christian rock. This reminded me of the first concert I ever went to. I was brought up a Catholic and the church youth group organised a trip to see a Christian rock concert. I was about ten-year-old, but even so I found the whole experience unsettling and cringe worthy.
We all travelled to the concert on a coach, and spent the journey singing happy clappy Jesus songs. I hated it. I used to really enjoy the music at church. We had the luxury of a talented organist in our congregation, and a sizeable, good quality church organ. He was able to play the organ properly, including all the pedals, and the sound was incredible. I used to go to church as a child making no fuss whatsoever, because I was spellbound by the music: the power of the organ, the soaring voices of the choir, complete with descants and layers of harmony. Our priest, Father Kennedy, was also a really good singer, and where other priests might have chosen to just say most of the mass with a dry delivery, he would take any opportunity possible to sing the various elements of the service, such as the offertory, and the bit where he tells you all to shake hands and wish each other peace.
But I wasn’t a fan of this kind of happy clappy stuff that we were singing on the coach. Someone had a guitar which they could play in a mediocre fashion, and there was nothing beautiful, mysterious or powerful about the music. No lingering discords, no low, resonant pedal notes, no soaring counter-melodies or spine-tingling choral harmonies; just clumsy guitar thrashing, people lacklustrely clapping their hands and belting out twee lyrics like, “rise and shine and give God his glory glory,” or “he’s got the whole world in his hands,” sang out-of-tune in slight American accents over dull and repetitious three chord guitar strumming.
I especially hated those happy clappy Jesus songs that were meant to be funny. Songs that tried desperately to say, “hey, look, we believe in Jesus but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a sense of humour,” although in actuality, they proved the very opposite point. I can’t remember any of these songs. I’ve racked my brain to try and dredge up an example of one of these songs, but I must have repressed the memories; that’s how hideously bad and painfully nauseating they were. I would try and wrack my brain harder, but I’m on a train, and I don’t want to have some kind of psychotic episode or breakdown by resurfacing such horrors.
Little did I know that the worst part of the evening was still yet to come, and that the happy clappy songs on the bus were nothing, compared to the misery that I was about to suffer. The concert was horrendous. I know I might be depicting myself as a really snobbish, pretentious child, but I don’t care. I loved music, music was my world. I loved the sound of the church organ and the choir. I also loved my dad’s record collection: Mike Oldfield, Cat Stevens, Leonard Cohen, Al Stewart, Harry Chapin, King Crimson … I loved listening to John Peel at night and the incredible array of sounds and styles. But this concert was the most middle-of-the-road, uninspiring drivel I’d ever heard. I don’t remember any of the songs obviously, but they were essentially three chords all the way through, electric guitar, bass, a keyboard playing an uninspiring string pad, and very simplistic drum accompaniment, while the frontman sang things like, “Jesus is great, yeah yeah yeah, Jesus is great , yeah yeah yeah yeah,” and got everyone in the audience to join in and clap along. In fact, three quarters of every song seemed to be him getting the audience to join in with the mind-numbingly repetitious hook, while clapping along. There was nothing of interest or substance at all.
Towards the end of the concert, the frontman shouted to the audience, “OK, are you ready to show Jesus that you love him?” There was a loud and enthusiastic “yeah” from the audience. “OK, everybody stand up. Stand up for Jesus. Let’s show Jesus just how much we love him.”
I was confused by the logic of this idea. Did the man really think that Jesus would be watching and would be thrilled that some people in a concert hall in Newcastle were standing up for him. Baring in mind that Jesus’ father is all-knowing, surely his dad already knew if you really loved his son, and could easily pass the knowledge on to his son. So I think the act of standing up is a bit redundant, but I might be wrong, maybe God and Jesus are up in heaven looking down and getting all excited by what’s happening.
“Oo, Come over here Jesus, there’s a few hundred people in a concert hall in Newcastle who are about to stand up to show their love for us.”
“Oh great. Tell me more father. Who have we got?”
“well there’s Brian Jackson, the welder from Sunderland, he’s just stood up.”
“Good old Brian. He’s a pretty solid candidate for heaven.”
“Yep, and we’ve got Joan Taylor, the baker from Billingham. She’s just stood up. Er, Cliff Bailey, the landlord in Darlington…”
“Ah, so old Cliff’s finally come around to believing in us, has he? Interesting.”
“Well he’s got a lot of catching up to do if he wants to get into heaven, after the whole adultery episode, not to mention that time I caught him coveting his neighbours’ oxen. And you know that’s one of my pet hates, the ox coveting. I’ll be reminding him about that when he gets to the gates.”
I very much doubt Jesus or God are in the least bit bothered whether a few hundred people stand up in a middle-of-the-road Christian rock concert in Newcastle to clap, sway and sing, “Jesus we love you, yeah yeah yeah yeah,” over and over again.
Off course I stood up. Everyone else around me was standing up. So I stood and I half-heartedly swayed and clapped. After another thirty repeats of the “Jesus we love you, yeah yeah yeah yeah” hook, the frontman once again addressed the audience.
“OK, There are a small handful of people in this hall tonight, just a small handful of people, who are not standing up. Now, don’t look round, we don’t want to embarrass them. But I want to repeat my invitation to stand up. Join us, stand up, and show the Lord Jesus that you love him. Come on, stand up for Jesus.”
He then recommenced his singing. “Jesus we love you, yeah yeah yeah yeah,” over and over again, and the audience all joined in, whilst no doubt trying to subtly turn their heads to take a peak at the remaining few people who hadn’t stood up. After another minute of “Jesus we love you, yeah yeah yeah yeah,” the front man’s voice came again.
“OK, bless you my friends for choosing to join us in standing up to show the Lord Jesus that we love him. But, there are still three people in this hall tonight – and please don’t look round, we don’t want them to be embarrassed – but I want to extend my invitation to them one more time. Come, join us, stand up, and show the Lord Jesus that you love him tonight. Come on. Let’s encourage them everybody, clap your hands, raise your voices and let’s sing: Stand up for Jesus, yeah yeah yeah yeah, stand up for Jesus, yeah yeah yeah yeah …”
A minute or so later, the front man shouted to the audience that there were now only two people who weren’t standing up to show the Lord Jesus that they loved him. After another two minutes of this weird and pointless hectoring, the two remaining people stood up. The front man was triumphant and the audience whooped and cheered this apparent victory, and everyone sang over and over again, with even more vigour: “Jesus we love you, yeah yeah yeah yeah …”
My dad also thought it was a bit much and fortunately he never took me to another Christian rock concert. I continued going to church, until the organist left the church to become a priest. They never did manage to replace the organist; instead, they just had someone who would play the starting note, and we would lacklustrely join in, drifting more and more out of tune as the song progressed. But then, a couple of weeks later, the priest announced the good news that we would shortly be getting a replacement musician to accompany the singing. “I am happy to say that as of next week, we will have guitar accompaniment from a member of the church youth team.” I knew it was time to leave, and I had to break the news to my dad that I wouldn’t be going to church any more.
“Jesus, I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news son. We’ve lost David Eagle.”
“What?! Really?! Damn! But he stood up for me in Newcastle only a couple of years ago. Oh, that is a disappointment.”
“And I’m afraid we’ve lost Cliff Bailey, the pub landlord from Darlington. He’s just coveted his neighbour’s oxen again. I won’t tolerate it Jesus.”