I bet you didn’t know that I grew up with a band? Well, kinda. When I was a very small child, we lived in a three-bed end terrace in Liverpool 4, which has since had a two storey extension added to the side, and is probably a four or five bedroom terrace by now. The house was just around the corner from the church that we went to. The church has always been inextricably linked with my family, for generations. Even now, I have aunts and uncles and cousins, and who knows what else, there. At the time, my parents were part of an evangelistic group called Agapé, along with my dad’s sister, brother, brother’s girlfriend/fiancée/wife, cousin, and a whole range of others, who were involved in various ways, to various extents, and for various periods of time. My mum was in charge of The Bookings, the money, and of not being allowed to go to things because of the children. My dad used to preach, I think, and Neil, and Jan, and Carol and Eric used to sing.
Mostly they sang songs that Neil had written. They used to call it “gospel”, but it wasn’t gospel in a black sense. If anything, it was black gospel meets seventies folk. They even made a couple of tapes which they distributed… well, I’ve no idea how widely they were distributed, but we had half a dozen, on the off-chance that we met someone who wanted one.
The first tape was called Reason For Living, and this is the one that was an integral part of my childhood. Other children pretend to be pop stars, or cartoon characters. We used to play the tape, and pretend to be Aunty Jan.
We were children, and children don’t analyse things. They certainly don’t analyse for lyrical quality, or musical depth, or significance of meaning. Listening to it again, now, I’m struck by how Neil’s lyrical style probably benefited enormously from the first time he bought a modern bible translation – some of the songs are taken verbatim from scripture, which I’m all in favour of, I just don’t understand what they’re saying. That speaks of my lack of education, I suppose – I bet they knew what the songs meant. More than that, though, I’m bowled over by the sheer optimism of the songs. The open-hearted naivety.
I don’t know how Neil and Carol and Jan look back at Agapé. I suspect that they’re the tiniest bit embarrassed, in the way that everyone is embarrassed when they look at their creative efforts of two or three decades ago. Times have changed, styles have changed, and more importantly, they’ve changed – mellowed, matured, not to be any better or worse, just to follow the normal and natural development of life. They’re no more the teens and twenty-somethings they were then, than I’m the four-year-old.
It’s not mine, so I don’t have to get embarrassed by it. My Agapé tape is a huge part of the backdrop of my childhood, and I hold it in great affection for that reason. I also admire the courage, the vision, and the desperate desire the please God that led them to make it – they had more passion and motivation when they were little more than kids themselves, than I’ve ever had.