by Craig Borlase
Delirious : My Soul Sings
At first, it was different; Delirious? didn’t exist on paper, but the five guys selling tapes out of the back of a rusting car were carrying the genes for what would grow into one of the most remarkable stories in Christian music. They might well have dreamt it, but nobody took anything other than small, simple steps forward. Life was simply a matter of writing songs that made sense and playing live with the main aim of making the strongest connections possible.
Today, things are different, with recent years’ touring stats regularly seeing them playing in over 20 countries, and to more than 1,000,000 people a year as their albums, live DVDs and compilations are distributed as far as Singapore, the Philippines and beyond. And in Mexico they rerecorded the vocals of some of their greatest tracks in Spanish, a response to the support from South America. They’ve been top 10 in the UK album charts, as well as in Billboard, and have supported Bryan Adams in Hyde Park and Bon Jovi all over the country. It has been an astounding ride, and Delirious? have become used to the sheer numbers packed in to hear them play; crowds of 12,000 in Bogotá, Colombia, are far less daunting when you’ve just played to 250,000 in Mumbai, India.
And now it is coming to an end.
The story starts in 1992, when producer/engineer Martin Smith (vocals and guitars) teamed up with studio owner Tim Jupp (keyboards) and graphic designer Stew Smith (drums) to provide the music for a local event for young people. The blend of Smith’s open hearted lyrics with the rest of the band’s homegrown delivery made immediate sense to those who saw it first hand. Things were rough, yet soaked in the sweat of honest enthusiasm, and the band quickly made a name for themselves as the most exciting thing to come out of a church hall for years.
Within four years the band were full time – joined by Stu G on guitars and Jon Thatcher on bass– and within five they were releasing singles and albums into the UK charts. 1997’s King Of Fools was, for some, a little controversial, but the success was undeniable: two top twenty singles and an album that hit No. 13 on the overall sales chart. The roughed-up guitars and euphoric melodies showed the way forward, with Radio 1 dubbing them “pop’s best kept secret.”
At the same time, the North American market was getting ready to embrace the band as King Of Fools took up lodgings in the Billboard ‘Heatseekers’ Chart for 18 weeks, selling 200,000 copies. Virgin Records USA got on board and headline tours in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as distribution deals under the wings of EMI brought even more attention. But of all the forces at work, none was so vital as their second studio album Mezzamorphis. A big hitter by any standards, the self-produced project captured the most comprehensive Delirious? soundtrack to date. Q magazine called it “dense, ingenious… expansive guitar pop” while Billboard praised the “aggressive edge… but passionate, insightful lyrics.”
1999 onwards saw the band focus on live performances: playing to over 1 million people in a single 12 month period, including fans on UK legs of both Bon Jovi (2001) and Bryan Adams (2002) tours. In between they finished work on their follow-up album, Glo, a nod back to their early days. Then came the skills of producer Chuck Zwicky (Semisonic, Prince, Madonna). Just as Glo targeted a gospel audience, Audiolessonover? crafted a more esoteric vibe. The album was met with praise from the UK fans, and the edgier sound reflected the peculiarities of the home market.
Then came another live album, the Spanish language project and World Service and Mission Bell – both albums that cemented their international appeal. Audiences included the Pope at the 2005 World Youth Day, world leaders at the Athens 2004 Olympics and the biggest crowd of Muslims in Morocco at the 2005 Friendshipfest. Asia, Australia and beyond became short-haul destinations with gigs in Indonesia, India and beyond signaling new adventures and experiences.
Years of travel brought five star hotels across the world, but also time in slums and on rubbish heaps as they met those oppressed by poverty. Returning home to the UK with more questions than ever before, Delirious? recorded its most critically acclaimed album to date, Kingdom of Comfort, in 2008. An album with more grit and mess than any they had made before, it started to unpack the seams of their lives. Honest, raw and uncompromising, at times it is profoundly uncomfortable. And then, in the summer of 2008, the announcement that made sense to all who know them but left many others surprised. The end was in sight. With drummer Stew Smith leaving the band, it gradually emerged that the rest of the band members had new avenues to pursue on their own. Paul Evans stepped up to take over from Stew, and by the time August came around the announcement was made official; Delirious? would be taking no more bookings and finally calling it a day at the end of 2009.
Now, a few months into the long goodbye, the band’s final year is looking a little clearer. Beginning In March 2009, fans will hear the release of their new project, My Soul Sings, the live DVD and album recorded in front of 12,000 of the rawest, passionate worshippers in Bogotá, Colombia. Further concerts in the US, UK, Europe and Asia will follow in 2009, and a few more tricks will doubtless find their way out from the band’s sleeves.
What is absolutely sure, though, is this; at the point when the last chord or pad or crash is struck, it will be the end of an era for Delirious?. But it will be carried on by the sound that rises up from the millions around the world who have learned to sing a better song, to march to the beat of a different drum, to be the historymakers they were destined to be.