In 1988 The Shamen faced down religion with a loaded statement that implied that Christianity was built on deceit and deception.
The incident is now merely a footnote of history, and a thorough web search found precious little information. However, I recall it quite vividly and, to be honest, rather fondly, as it was a very clever put down of religious fundamentalism.
Early that year an evangelist bookseller from Southend-on-Sea, Paul Slennett, who clearly was not short of a bob or two, paid the British Post Office tens of thousands of pounds for a postmark that would be franked onto millions of letters in the run-up to Easter. With Thatcherism in full flight the Post Office turned to other methods of raising money, even it meant being in league with fundamentalists. The postmark featured the words “Jesus Is Alive” in bold capital letters, with a cross.
The Associated Press reported that Slennett did it because God told him to.
It provoked a barrage of criticism, including some from the moderate wing of the church – Bishop Ronald Gordon, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie’s chief of staff, described it as inappropriate and insensitive.
In stepped The Shamen who called their national tour the Jesus Is A Lie tour. The slogan was a simple but evocative re-working of the postmark, with an inverted cross as part of the promotional material. It was clearly a call-to-arms for those who found the postmark and the ideology of certain elements of religion offensive.
“We’re into psychedelic experiences and certain sexual practices,” said The Shamen’s singer Colin Angus. “And we certainly don’t go along with the hypocrites who peddle this form of organised religion.”
Those people were largely the Jesus Army who they branded as “fascist paramilitary Christians”. In an article in the Northampton Chronicle from June ’88 the paper attempts to portray a “devil of a row” between the two groups although it is clearly the Jesus Army that picked up the first stone. Twenty-four hours after their Birmingham gig, the Army destroyed as many Shamen records as they could find during an evangelical rally. “We are opposed to the anti-Christian stance that this group has adopted,” said Army spokesperson Liz Donovan, adding that The Shamen were “in favour of Satanism” and “they are in the hands of evil.” The claims were rubbished by the band with Angus telling the newspaper “we are into forms of spiritualism and don’t like the pseudo-Judaism that they pump into people.” See also the interview that’s part of the video below.
The Shamen formed in 1984 in Aberdeen and were initially a sixties influenced psychedelic band, a long way from the acid/ dance crossover act they would become. By 1988 their stage show had led to them being booted off the bill of the Glasgow Mayfest for a clip played during Knature of A Girl that was deemed pornographic. Their espousal of drugs also resulted in them losing a beer commercial. And later, of course, came the heat from the Ebeneezer Goode single that was No.1 in the UK. (“Eezer Goode, Eezer Goode, he’s Ebeneezer Goode.”)
The Jesus Is A Lie tour was not the only occasion The Shamen took on organised religion, and in the same year, they released a single called Jesus Loves Amerika, which nailed their hatred of religion quite succinctly. “These are the men who break the right in righteous/ Such hypocrisy, stupidity is out of sight, yes/ Jesus loves Amerika but I don’t love neither.”
The Shamen went on to sell millions of records, Christianity in Britain has been dwindling in influence and numbers for decades.