The Christians, one of Liverpool’s finest ever bands, will be touring the UK soon with fellow Eighties hitmakers Go West and Hue & Cry. The tour includes two Merseyside dates: Southport Theatre (7 November 2013) and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (27 November).
In the Christians’ Eighties heyday the Daily Mirror declared that Garry Christian had ‘the best voice of the decade’. A quarter of a century later it retains its mesmerising, ethereal quality and can still send shivers up the spine, as anyone who’s seen one of the band’s recent live performances can testify.
The Christians are still performing their best-known hits from the Eighties and Nineties, including Ideal World, Harvest For The World, Born Again and Words. But the band’s creative juices are also still flowing, with a new single (taken from a recently released album) out in late September.
The Christians were originally formed in 1985 by three Liverpool brothers: Garry, Roger and Russell Christian. They were soon joined by keyboard player (and talented songwriter) Henry Priestman. The origin of the group’s name is obvious, but at first it confused some, including Cliff Richard (aka Harry Webb), who’s well known for his religious zeal. Garry laughs as he tells the story. ‘In our early days someone was interviewing him and he was asked what he thought of us. He said he didn’t think a pop act should call themselves the Christians. By coincidence a week later we were interviewed by the same guy and he told us about it. I said, “Well at least we’re using our real names!”’
Roger (who sadly died in 1998) left before the hits started in 1987, and today Garry is the only remaining original member. The six-piece line-up now includes Joey Ankrah, whose father (also Joey) was a founder member of celebrated Liverpool vocal group the Chants, who in the early Sixties performed a few shows with the Beatles as their backing group. [Another member of the Chants was Eddie Amoo, who later joined the Real Thing – for more on Eddie’s amazing career read our exclusive interview with him in Issue 4 of The Merseysider magazine.]
In 2012 the band celebrated the 25th anniversary of their debut album (which yielded five chart hits), with a special show at Liverpool’s Royal Court theatre and the release of a new album, Speed of Life. Garry says a lot’s been happening in 2013 as well, including an appearance at the Liverpool International Music Festival in Sefton Park. ‘That was amazing. It’s incredible to walk out on stage and see an audience of over 40,000 people. I’ve never seen the park so full and it was the perfect venue for the festival. I’m surprised something like it’s not happened there before and I hope they carry on with it.’
During the same weekend Garry made another festival appearance, at Eric’s club. ‘That was great as well. It was an acoustic set with just me, Joey and Neil Griffiths – the three front guys. We sometimes play with that set-up and it works really well.’
The Christians’ latest single is a version of Marvin Gaye’s socio-political protest song Inner City Blues. ‘I think the lyrical content fits in perfectly with what’s going on today,’ Garry says. ‘You know – people struggling to pay their bills while greedy bankers are up there on the top floor, having parties and asking each other how much money they made today.’
Garry cites Marvin Gaye as an important early musical influence. ‘I started listening to him right back in the mid-sixties, when I was a very young kid. I was fortunate because I had older brothers and sisters who had plenty of records, everything from Motown to the Beatles and the Merseybeats. I never had to buy any records myself – I could just go into the front parlour and listen to it all!’
Ray Charles was another hero. ‘Just before he died we supported him at the Liverpool Arena and that was fantastic – to meet my idol, someone who’d been such a big influence on me.’
Inner City Blues is a track on the Christians’ Speed of Life album, which has had some rave reviews. But Garry explains that promoting the release is very different from the old days. ‘We haven’t got a big publicity machine behind us like we had with Island Records, and of course apart from the odd HMV there are hardly any record shops anymore. The album’s downloadable, and we take hard copies out with us on the road to sell at the shows.’ He laughs. ‘It’s like 1958, selling records from the back of a car! In a way there’s something romantic about it, but I think it’s a shame the way everything’s gone digital. There’s not a community of record buyers anymore, with people asking each other, “Have you got that new single yet?”’
The new tour with Go West and Hue & Cry begins in October and includes a show at the Liverpool Philharmonic, where Garry has appeared many times. ‘It’s like a second home and such a great place to play. The acoustics there are fantastic, whether you’re with a full band or just three people with a couple of guitars. As someone who’s from Liverpool it’s also somewhere I’ve always been aware of. As a kid I’d go past and see all these people with dicky bows and tuxedos outside and I’d think, “I wonder what’s going on inside there? That must be a great place.” So when I finally got to actually play there it was amazing.’
Garry still lives in Liverpool and has some interesting thoughts on the city. ‘It’s funny, even going back to my schooldays and before I always sensed there was something special about Liverpool. I travel around the country to other cities but always find myself thinking I can’t wait to get back. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but there’s just something about Liverpool that’s totally different to the rest of the country. Whether it’s in sport, music or whatever, it’s got a different vibe. Like people say, it’s probably to do with being a port, and all the outside influences creating a special kind of hybrid mentality.’
Garry’s happy to be sharing the bill on the new tour with two other household names from the Eighties. ‘We’ve got to know Go West well since playing some Rewind festival shows with them a few years back.’ He chuckles again. ‘Back in the Eighties we all used to hate each other anyway because of the rivalry between bands. But there’s none of that now. They’re really nice people – the same goes for Hue & Cry – and it’s great to be playing with them.’
After the tour the Christians will be heading for Europe in 2014. ‘We’re currently sorting out a tour for next year in France, and some dates in Spain have just been added. We had hits in quite a few European countries, and there seems to have been a resurgence of interest recently so we’re really looking forward to it.’
The Christians remain a class act and if you’ve not seen them before you’re in for a treat. And if you have, go and see them again!
The Christians, Go West and Hue & Cry play Southport Theatre on 7 November and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 27 November.
For more information on the Christians, visit their official website: http://www.thechristianslive.co.uk/
Liverpool Philharmonic Hall: http://www.liverpoolphil.com/12246/events-contemporary-music/go-west-hue-and-cry.html
Southport Theatre: http://www.liverpooltheatreguide.com/southport.htm