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Sings & Strings
It’s been 30 years since The Christians’ heart-stopping blend of divine harmonies and glorious melodies (with an undertow of anger) first entered our lives. Their self-titled album called simply The Christians still remains Island Record’s highest selling album from any debut artist.
Three decades later, Sings & Strings is a sparkling re-interpretation of nine Mersey-Soul Christians classics (eight self-penned and The Isley Brothers’ Harvest For The World), plus You’ll Never Walk Alone.
“It’s pretty much what it says in the title,” says Garry Christian, the recognisable face and voice of The Christians (who originally performed with two of his brothers). “There’s my vocals, the Echo String Quartet from Liverpool - who added some youthful enthusiasm - plus four great singers from the AMC Gospel Choir in Birmingham, Andy Steele on piano, and backing vocals from my band members Joey Ankrah and Neil Griffiths.
The original concept was to record the songs in a really stripped back format and Garry agreed as this seemed like the perfect reason to work with music mogul Dave Pilchilingi and his new label Modern Sky.
“I was in two minds about the idea, and refused to give my blessing until I’d heard the finished result.”
Recording at Liverpool’s Parr Street studio took just nine days.
“Doing my vocals was strange with only me and a piano” explains Garry. “I’m used to singing with a lot more around me but we got through it fine .. I think!"
The major hits, such as Forgotten Town, When The Fingers Point, Hooverville (And They Promised Us The World), Ideal World and Harvest For The World as good as selected themselves, but Garry gave the production team free rein to choose the rest, hence the intriguing selections that are Born Again (the fifth and final single from The Christians album), Happy In Hell’s lead single What’s In A Word, the debut’s Sad Songs and the Top 20 single Words.
Garry’s vocals are as soulful as they were 30 years ago, but in 2017 there’s a new, added layer of experience to that velvet voice. From the beautiful piano introduction that begins When The Fingers Point to the hushed almost gospel take on Ideal World, Sings & Strings breathes new light through old windows.
“You’ll Never Walk Alone was an interesting one, as a lifelong LFC fan and a lead singer on the Hillsborough tribute song in 89 'Ferry Across the Mersey' the song was obviously close to my heart having heard it most weeks of my life. Joey and I had recorded a really rough version which I stumbled upon while with Lance Thomas and he loved it and said 'lets do it' ....so we did”.
Being a pop star wasn’t quite what Garry Christian, his brothers Roger and Russell and their friend erstwhile Yacht, Henry Christian Priestman, had anticipated. “The first days back in 87 were nerve-wracking. I was worried about what the press were going to say although live we’ve never had bad reviews, all of a sudden everyone was interviewing me and they were expecting me to go into some deep philosophy about life when I just wanted to tell them all to disappear and stop asking me complicated questions. It’s always been all about the music for me”
Several pop lifetimes after The Christians broke through, they remain a formidable live proposition.
“We're very personal and always have a drink and a chat with our fans after the gigs. The best thing now is that we’re getting people who were into us all those years ago and they’re bringing their children. It’s wonderful to meet some who’ve been conceived to your music! Our fans really are pretty special - they all help our little machine roll along and many come to up to 20 gigs a year. You can't knock that can you!?'
Back in 87 The Christians soundtracked a year of political turmoil, of the Conservatives winning an election and a complicated relationship with Europe; 30 years on the same could be said.
“That’s true, so maybe it’s not so amazing that these songs are so relevant today. I’m flattered, but I can totally see it too. I’d always looked to Curtis Mayfield and the songs Whitfield & Strong wrote for The Temptations as inspiration.”
The future looks bright. There’s a 30-date tour with Midge Ure and Altered Images in October and November (“it looks like a mismatch but I think it'll work well”), as well as plans for a dedicated Sings & Strings tour in the New Year and a brand new Christians album with a totally fresh body of work penned by Garry to follow.
“People still pay to come and hear us put on a live show and that is what’s most important to me. I'll keep doing it till I drop - that suits me”.