At this time of year, with Switchfoot having toured here this same week in both 2015 and 2017, I’m unavoidably drawn into the memories, reliving all those powerful experiences. There are two experiences within all of that that really stand out; one, really connecting with Jon for the first time at the end of the 2015 tour, when for the first time I felt my fan-love was accepted. The other, that dark night in 2017, the shadow that proved the sunshine of the rest of the year, when I missed Jon play an impromptu solo show at BCDO South, because it happened at 10pm in the chapel, and I wasn’t allowed onto that part of the site till 10:30pm, and depression and anxiety won out.
Add in Switchfoot’s current hiatus, and that was a heady mix of feelings to be carrying when the opportunity arose to go to BCDO South again this year. To begin with I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. It’s previously felt a bit of an odd evangelical Christian bubble, isolated from reality in more ways than one. There were artists I did want to see, but did I want to see any of them enough to cross the country for? It’s a long way, and the costs would add up. And then, no Switchfoot. It would be the first time I’d gone there without them. Would I want to be faced with all those memories in their absence?
However. I have a second favourite band.
I could never really claim to have ever been a megafan of Delirious?; nonetheless, they’ve been a really big deal to me right from my introduction to them, at a signing in a local record store in early 2000. I ended up front row as they played, lead singer Martin Smith climbing onto the gear cases I was squashed up against and even standing on the CD of theirs I had just bought in the process! I was hooked by their engaging and energetic performance and big sound, and let’s admit it, those dark eyes..! The CD thankfully survived, so I lined up for the signing. I was 16, had never met anyone famous before, and they’d made quite an impression on me; I was starstruck, and they didn’t really have time for me. Ah well. It was amazing!
That was the beginning of the journey. Delirious? were immediately my second band (first place initially going to another band before Switchfoot well and truly won my heart), and over the next few years I followed them avidly. At the time I knew no greater high than the Delirious? post concert rush. In those early days I’d not learned what to do with my heart; I gave it all to my top two bands, obsessing to a crazy extent, finding out everything I could about them, and yet not really giving them a lot to show for it (of course, pre social media, that was a lot harder anyhow…). It wasn’t long before I figured this was unhealthy and that I needed to get things in perspective and focus on God. As a result, I reined it right in. As my love for Switchfoot grew, I swore I’d not be the same with them, that I’d pay them as little attention as possible, and just enjoy the music and focus my heart on God. I didn’t know their names, I wasn’t on their mailing list, I avoided their website, and I never saw them play live. Yet, I loved them more and more, and found God at work through what they do.
Delirious? and Switchfoot fitted perfectly together in those days for me: Switchfoot are American, Delirious? British; Delirious? I used to see a couple of times a year, and yet I never dared see Switchfoot till 2011; my Switchfoot obsession is centred around Jon Foreman and his lyrics and vocals, Delirious? It was always Stu and Stew and their amazing guitar and drums. Delirious? had a cheese-factor Switchfoot never did, yet soloed in a way Switchfoot at least never did in the studio. I’ve long felt almost as at home in Stu’s guitar tones as I do in Jon’s voice. Over the years their respective songs Come Like You Promise and Dare You To Move have both jostled for the position of favourite favourite song (Dare’s been ahead for some time now, but the former holds the endurance record!). Both bands inspired and challenged me with their lyrics (though Switchfoot more so), and I loved their music. Delirious? met my need for a band I could follow, ‘get to know’, and enjoy live, since I’d begun that way with them, whilst something even deeper was at work with Switchfoot.
I got hold of Switchfoot’s Nothing Is Sound and Delirious?’s The Mission Bell at the same time in 2005; I remember being struck straight away by the similar feel of even the cover art, but even before playing them I read through the lyrics to both. Goosebumps. These were powerful words that engaged with the world in all its brokenness, met me where I was, and inspired me to act to make it better. It excited me, and I knew I’d found my place musically.
And yet somehow something went wrong. As I journeyed into megafandom of Switchfoot, and then Jon Foreman more generally, somehow I began to take Delirious? for granted. They were always around. I didn’t even have to make the effort, sooner or later they’d be playing near me. There’d be the same old songs, the same amazing solos, the same goofing around and forgetting lyrics by Martin, that same high afterwards… The last time I saw them was at Greenbelt festival in 2007. I was tired after a long day, and they were playing a similar set to the last few shows of theirs I’d seen. I left half way through to get some rest.
To this day I don’t know what happened*, but the next thing I knew of them they were finishing their final tour. All that time I’d followed them, and been on their mailing list, and known everything about them, and somehow I’d missed their final album, split and last tour. Stew Smith had even been the first to leave the band some time before the end, and Stu G had emigrated to the USA. I was shellshocked and heartbroken. When I got hold of that final album, Kingdom Of Comfort, and discovered it to be up there with my all-time favourite albums, full of the most powerful lyrics, and made for the big stage, I was even more devastated to have missed that closing chapter. I had been a truly terrible fan!
Delirious? left a hole in my heart – both the pain of that bad ending, and the lack of a band to follow. The result? Throwing myself full into my love of Switchfoot, knowing now what I stood to lose, and embracing the megafandom for what it was. The rest of that story I’ve already told of course.
So, here I am in 2018. A decade without Delirious? and though time had softened the pain, I still felt their absence from my life and all my regrets. Meanwhile, I’d spent the past few years learning what it means to love (verb!) an artist, how to be a good fan whilst keeping things in perspective, how to give back, what it can mean to them too to do so, how to build connection. After what Switchfoot’s 2015 tour taught me, I realised I needed to learn from that with other artists too, and that included seeking out what Stu G was up to these days, getting onto his mailing list and social media, and finally showing up as a fan there too.
And now – Stu was coming to the UK to play BCDO (the festival spearheaded by Delirious? keyboard player Tim Jupp), and Martin was also on the programme, along with a few other artists I also liked, including Verra Cruz, also up there amongst my favourite bands. Ok, no more terrible fan. I booked, I went!
We arrived Saturday morning, pitched the tent in blazing sunshine, picked up a programme, and discovered that Stu G was playing almost immediately, so dashed over to catch his set. And oh wow! We arrived just as he started playing Delirious?’s Bliss, and despite him playing at the very civilised Tearfund Tea Tent, with most of the rest of the crowd sat at tables enjoying cream teas, we ran to the front and danced like it was 1999!
Although there as a solo artist, he had a band with him so was able to give us the epic, atmospheric rock he’s always done best, all smiles and clearly in his element. Bliss was followed by the moody solo hit King Of The Stars, the first time I’d seen this live and it was stunning. He then talked a bit about his Beatitudes project; for the past few years he’s been exploring, both practically and through musical collaborations, what the blessings of Jesus mean for us today, resulting in an album, book and film, all of which I can thoroughly recommend. He said that he had found the beatitudes to be less a list of targets to strive for, more a set of promises about how ‘God is on your side at the bottom of life’. And he played the opening song of the project, Oh Blessed, on acoustic guitar, having us sing the title lyric with him. It sounded lovely. Then switching back to electric we were treated to In The Middle from the same project, lyrically powerful and with the kind of heavy riff that Delirious? had been known for. And then, a precious gift – he played the song Kingdom Of Comfort! It sounded as amazing live as I’d always imagined it would, but never thought I’d get to experience. After effectively giving up some of my favourite songs for lost, to finally hear one of them was very healing. And he ended with Delirious?’s Investigate, as epic and soaring as it ever had been, Stu producing a killer solo and reminding me that he is still one of the very best guitarists out there. He looked really happy to see us enjoying it all, throwing a lot of smiles in our direction. Wow! What a way to start a beautiful weekend.
Afterwards he was selling CDs and his new book about the beatitudes Words From The Hill, so I thought I could make up for a lot of missed opportunities and bad fandom by getting hold of them. So I did, and he came out to meet us, and I got the book signed! It was so good to finally meet him ‘properly’; I got to tell him about how I’d been a massive Delirious? fan, had really missed them, how special it was hearing those songs again, and especially Kingdom of Comfort, and told him he was still my favourite guitarist. He was so touched both by our rocking out and my story! And whilst I was speaking, he signed the book:
Oh my gosh! I may actually have put things right finally…
We saw another couple of bands, and then it was time for Stu G’s second set of the day, also at the Tea Tent. As he was setting up, Martin Smith came up and chatted with him, and there were smiles and hugs between them, and he even helped Stu set up the stage. That made my heart happy! This time Stu kicked off with Delirious?’s Sanctify, which sounded huge. There was a funny moment at the end as he had to sing the line ‘The cloud’s getting bigger now’; he paused, looking up at the perfect clear blue sky with a grin on his face, and sang it with a questioning tone, which made us laugh! Then he gave us Inside Outside, a Delirious? song that he’d always taken lead vocal on, it was great to hear this one live. Then we rocked out through Bliss and King Of The Stars again before having to leave and dash over to the Illuminate stage for the awesome Verra Cruz, whose set clashed disastrously with his! Seriously, that guitar work..!
We got word that Kari Jobe, on Mainstage that evening, would have some special guests 😉 So we rounded off an amazing day of live music at her set. And yes, something precious happened; part way in, she invited Stu and Martin up on stage together to play the old Delirious? worship hit Did You Feel The Mountains Tremble with her! She took the second verse, but it felt like old times, as though I was a 17 year old again at Alton Towers… I was struck by both the immediacy of the memories, and the power those words still hold.
Finally, we also found out that Stu was rounding off his time at the BCDO by showing a premier of his beatitudes film A View From The Hill… At 10:30pm, by candlelight, in the chapel!!! :O
I was so torn. I had sworn to myself and my friends that I wasn’t going to go near that chapel, leave last year’s memories where they were. Of course I wasn’t going to go there. But now… I really felt I should go, as support for Stu, and I felt God wanted me to, that somehow this had been deliberately set up…
So. I did.
I picked a flower to take with me on the way, giving a kick to the gate that had barred my way a year before, as we passed straight through this time. My first thought was that I was taking the flower for Jon, as a way to sort of say ‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m here now.’
Then I thought it was like laying flowers at the site of a tragedy to remember and leave beauty in its place…
The chapel was beautiful. I laid the flower by a pillar when we arrived. Stu saw us come in and recognised us and gave us a huge smile!! The film was so deep and powerful. I loved it almost as much as 25in24 and the messages and atmosphere of both fit really well together. It’s gorgeously shot, and follows his journey of discovery with Jesus’ words as he met those living them out and experiencing God’s presence in places of suffering, marginalisation, stories of mercy, or as they sought to bring peace and justice or stand in solidarity with the struggling. Interspersed, it also showed the creative process he went through with a host of other artists (including Audrey Assad, Matt Maher, Martin Smith, Propaganda and Michael W Smith) to craft an album of songs inspired by each blessing.
It occurred to me – that flower was also a thank You gift for God!
Far from feeling like a place of pain, I felt so much peace and presence and healing there. It was such a redemptive experience being there with my next favourite artist, showing him support and being inspired. God was definitely in it.
Stu took questions at the end, and M asked him about his experiences of challenging consumerism in the church, ‘holy troublemaking’ with the messages of songs like Kingdom Of Comfort, when it so often seems like consumerism must never be questioned, even within the church where people seem as trapped by it as anywhere else, when Jesus calls us out of it and to speak truth to power. Afterwards I went over to Stu and thanked him for being there and all he’d done that day and over the years, told him how much I loved the film, and we were able to thank him for being the highlight of a wonderful day. And everything had come full circle. We walked back to the tent with storm clouds flashing dramatically on the horizon.
My heart was content and my mind buzzing. This day had been such an unexpected story of healing and redemption! I’d arrived missing Switchfoot, missing Delirious?, and carrying the pain from both the previous year’s trauma and my unresolved ending with band #2. Suddenly all was well, and God had brought me face to face with it all and met me right where it had hurt, and made something truly beautiful out of it the way God excels at doing best.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’
The following day we saw even more great music, and enjoyed even more hot sunshine. The previous day we had met Marc from Verra Cruz after their set and I’d got to thank him and tell him that their album Emancipation Day was one of my all-time favourites too, and today a band new to us, Trinity, made the first move, coming to meet and greet their audience as we arrived for their set. They turned out to be great fun, interacting with the crowd to a Switchfoot extent, and showing themselves to have big hearts, so again we bought a CD and got to meet and thank them too.
Finally, the weekend was rounded off with a Mainstage set from Martin Smith. Accompanied by members of his band Army Of Bones and his daughter Elle Limebear, he opened with the refrain from Delirious?’s Our God Reigns. He got us all going with God’s Great Dancefloor, it seemed like everyone was jumping from the front to the back, and just when it seemed like it had finished, he decided to do it all again, pulling a group up on stage to dance, and from his grins it was clear he was having a great time with it, it was so much fun! Elle lent her beautiful lead vocals to Waiting Here For You, then Martin ditched his jacket and launched into Oh Praise The Name, spliced with Army Of Bones’ Love Song For A City and some powerful yelling. Oh how I’d missed those Martin yells! Then another special moment; Martin thanked the man whose dream had created BCDO in the first place – former Delirious? key player Tim Jupp, bringing him onstage to big applause and playing their very first song (and the song I had at my baptism), Thank You For Saving Me, together once more. Martin and Elle sang their latest single Jesus Only You together, which was stunning, before moving into a truly epic Come Holy Spirit. Finally, having given us Delirious?’s first song, Martin ended his set with their last song, My Soul Sings. Wow. Oh wow. Another from Kingdom Of Comfort, another I thought I’d never see live. And this song…
I tear up almost every time listening to Kingdom Of Comfort; I hear them signing out all the way through it in the lyrics and the music. It feels like a triumphant climax of an amazing career, finally embracing themselves for who they really were and telling it like it is, but also saying goodbye. And what a perfect ending that song is. If you don’t know it, give it a listen here so you can see where I’m coming from here; in my head, what happens in the music at the end of the song, and album, and band, is this: They are worshipping away, when the clouds part, and heaven opens and smiles down on them, and then they are lifted up and ‘fall into the sky’, and for a while the whole sky resounds with the song of heaven… up and up, and eventually they are lost from our sight, and the clouds roll back in… and then we hear the heavenly portal close behind them. The End. Fanciful perhaps, but there’s closure in those closing bars, and it still gives me chills. And for this old Delirious? fan, there could be no better way to close out such a special weekend, reliving the journey, than this soaring worship epic. It moved me to tears.
I’d intended to stay for Matt Redman rounding out the festival, but that was enough. I felt like after all these years I’d finally got to see another Delirious? concert. Sure I’d known that three of them would be there, it was even the main reason I’d been there, but I hadn’t anticipated anything like this. I totalled it up; we’d seen them play 9 different songs between the three of them over the course of the weekend, one song off each album bar my least favourite, and two from Kingdom Of Comfort. Deliberate..? Certainly healing. And it occurred to me; Delirious? the band are no more, and yet the music is still alive. I can trust God with it. I can trust God with Switchfoot, through all the current uncertainty. We headed off for some tea, hearing Matt’s set drifting over the site as we did, and then the sky was lit up both with celebratory fireworks, and God’s own fireworks from distant storms on the horizon once again. What a weekend!
No regrets. That was perfection.
I even wonder, did I enjoy it more without having to worry about bumping into Switchfoot, finding VIP check-ins or missing aftershows, or even having every performance after theirs feel like a beautiful letdown in comparison?! Maybe so…
So, my take-home message from my adventures in fandom? Artists matter, and God loves fan-love. Don’t take them for granted. Don’t allow yourself to fall so heavily into an obsession they obscure your view of God or get in the way of your personal relationships or the important work of your life, don’t become stalkerish (give them space, and stay out of all parts of their personal lives unless they themselves choose to share with you), don’t develop a reliance on them. But don’t run the other way. Enjoy what they do, go see them, support them, buy their music, their tickets, their merch, let them see your support, create a real, healthy artist-fan relationship; the blessings run both ways. Yes, I still make mistakes and probably always will. But I’m learning!
*Ok, somewhere in there I failed a PhD, got married, and discovered Verra Cruz and Jon Foreman’s Seasons, but even still, no excuse!