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Musical battle in urban sunshine

Website: Northampton Chronicle and Echo
Date: 29/05/2009
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In the built-up back gardens of Semilong's terraced streets, sunshine is rationed to certain times of the day even when it is blazing hot. It goes over, finds a gap between the houses, then moves on.

I was outside enjoying our portion when from somewhere a heavy bass line vibrated through the air, accompanied by vocals, too loud and distorted to hear the words.

Something about the way they were being delivered told me I wouldn't have understood them even if I could hear them properly.

I stretched out and grappled with the fuzzy lyrics again: a young bloke singing about himself . . . everyone else is a bit rubbish . . . but he's good, he's pretty excellent but everyone else is so pointless they should be shot . . . sing-along everybody.

I'm not saying I have decoded the lyrics verbatim but that was the tone and sentiment as far as my grumpy-old-man, what-is-that-racket, style critique was concerned.

It didn't upset me that much however. Intrusive music is part of the soundscape of modern life: thrown out of passing cars, slopped out of open windows, sprayed over you in shops and leaked into your ear while you are on hold. It would be weird if the noise wasn't there.

What I didn't expect was a counter blast.

It began with an apparently innocent trickle of acoustic guitar music. This is a sound so natural to a sunny day you don't even wonder where it comes from . . . you just assume that the sunshine has woken up a hippie in someone's back garden.

In fact, it would be an ideal representation of sunshine in a musical weather forecast. The experts can predict temperatures and conditions but we want to know how the weather is going to feel. Music is the perfect language for that.

It is also the perfect language for singing and that is what followed the acoustic guitar: a chorus of voices singing about God. He's good. He's pretty excellent . . .

It was our neighbours in the back garden of the Jesus Army communal house. The whole Jesus Army community suffered a bereavement recently, with the death of their founder Noel Stanton. It was somewhat cheering to hear them on good form.

I don't know if they had been hearing the gritty urban sounds I had been hearing and started singing in response. It makes little difference. They have as much right to belt out a couple of songs about God as da gangstas have to belt them out about themselves.

It was livening up the afternoon.

I imagined some gangsta MC pacing up and down in front of a wall of speakers, screwing up his face as the angelic vocal riposte reached his ears. He's got the tech, the talk and the bling . . . they've got acoustic guitars and flip-flops. It was a sing-off pitting modern hardware versus ill-equipped human beings. You're right, it was Vietnam all over again, or Iraq, or Afghanistan.

To be honest, the Jesus Army started stronger.

The opposition's bassline was a bit erratic and tended to cut out just as the vocals were starting, as though someone was switching it off just as the MC was getting going.

The singing, on the other hand, was building in power as increasing numbers of voices gained in confidence. Hand clapping started.

They were feeling it, no doubt.

I shifted my seat to make the best use of the retreating sunlight and waited for rap to strike back. There were some brief bursts of noise but nothing that troubled the singers or me before the sun moved on.

You can view this as God drawing proceedings to a close, or a shadow falling across the block in Semilong or even an opportunity to change the mood in the musical weather forecast of life . . . however you choose to see it, at the end of the day we all ended up indoors.