With Riots Over, Band Eyes Rock Thurrock

By   •   August 15, 2011

In less than six weeks, Will Graham and a variety of high-octane U.K. Christian bands will Rock Thurrock in the far-eastern suburb of London.

But this past week, there was plenty of noise taking place around London and other parts of England as riots, looting and arson flared up just north of London and spread to other parts of London as well as Birmingham, Liverpool, Nottingham, Manchester and a handful of other big cities before dying down late last week.

Over 2,000 have been arrested with five people dead as the damage estimates have grown to over 300 million U.S. dollars.

So what would cause such riots?

One Christian rock singer—scheduled to play at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association event, Rock Thurrock, on Sept. 24 and 25—has a few suspicions.

And while Ed Bird, lead man for Empire Nation, is quick to point out that he lives over 150 miles from the rioting epicenter in London, he may be on to something.

“There’s a lack of moral responsibility, especially in young people these days,” Bird said. “I think people don’t have jobs. They’re frustrated and jumping on the bandwagon. They’re trying to get some free stuff. When there’s a bunch of people in a crowd, they don’t feel responsibility because everyone is doing it.”

This man’s opinion may be more than—pardon the pun—just a Bird’s-eye view. Rather, this musician spends much of his free time teaching and talking with students in the Exeter-area schools in southwest England, and the band connects with students during its gigs both in and outside of schools.

“When we play our concerts or in our schools, we try to get the point across that believing in God is the only thing we can rely on or depend on,” Bird said. “It’s something that’s real and exciting. It’s not just for old people sitting in churches and singing hymns.”

Rather, Empire Nation — with its positive lyrics, powerful riffs and quirky music videos — has made a strong impact in just a few short years since releasing its debut album, Airtight, in the spring of 2010.

“Where we’re coming from, it’s really just about trying to relate to the youth generation of today in a new fresh way to bring a message of hope and truth,” said Bird, whose band first released a self-titled six-track EP in 2007. “And really trying to dispel the myths that Christianity, or believing in God, is boring or only done on a Sunday.”

In October of 2010, Empire Nation’s single, “Light My Way” raced up the U.K. New Christian Music charts, topping out at No. 3. And this summer, the band opened for New Zealand’s Parachute Band, “one of the world’s biggest Christian bands,” according to Bird.

“The doors keep opening for us,” Bird said. “Every week, every month, something new is coming. We’re always amazed about God’s provision for us.”

Empire Nation consists of Bird and three different Sams: Drummer Sam Glazebrook (aka Glazy), Bassist Sam Greene and lead guitarist Sam Dransfield (Sammy D).

A wild coincidence, Bird recalls having many school-age friends named Sam while he was growing up.

“I seem to collect them,” he said. “It can be quite confusing. You try to get their attention and either all of them turn around or none of them turn around.”

‘There’s More Important Things Than Work’

At 27, Bird feels like the elder statesman of the band, filled with 22- and 23-year-olds. But he’s cool with that.

After all, he knows the route he took into the music scene was unconventional, at best. At age 16, he enrolled at Westminster Kingsway College in a four-year culinary program that would take him as high as a head chef in a four-star hotel restaurant by age 21.

Working nights, weekends, holidays and relentless 70-hour weeks, Bird finally gave up his apron. “It just came to a point that I couldn’t do it anymore,” he said. “I had no time to commit to my family, my friends, my music. I realized there’s more important things than work.”

So he packed up, took a year off, and cleared his head by going surfing. Bird moved back with his parents and two younger brothers in Plymouth, before heading back north to Cambridge, where he met a couple of Sams, started the band and also met someone else.

“I met Sarah, who knew the drummer and came along to one of the practices,” he said.

The rest is history, as they say. And the two were married a year ago and Sarah now helps Bird write some of the lyrics and he doesn’t hesitate to give a quick shoutout to his bride: “She’s very gifted with words.”

‘A lot of Good Buzz’

The future of Empire Nation and evangelistic outreaches in the U.K. is hard for Bird to pinpoint, but if Rock Thurrock is any indication, there may be more Rock-ing and students coming to Christ on the horizon.

“I’ve heard a lot of good buzz about it,” Bird said. “I’ve heard lots of encouraging things about the training going on, about how many churches are being involved.”

Bird has found that the name Billy Graham has paved the way for church involvement. Graham held many Crusades in England, including five in London (most recently in 1989), as well as Crusades in 10 other England cities in the 1980s.

“There are a lot of positive attitudes from the older generations,” Bird said. “The younger generation gets interested when they hear who Billy Graham was.

“When they speak to their parents, they often times say ‘Oh, yeah, I was there the day he spoke.’ It’s quite easy to find connections with talking to people.”

Playing at the 750-seat Thurrock Civic Hall along with Empire Nation will be Beautiful Remnant and the headline band, LZ7, whose hit single “This Little Light of Mine” soared to No. 26 on the U.K. singles charts recently.

Admission is 10 Pounds with open seating each night, concluding with a powerful message from Will Graham. On Sept. 23, a free event called A Celebration of Hope will also feature a message from Will Graham, following praise and worship music.

 Graham has also been asked to speak at a youth rally, prior to Rock Thurrock, in Exeter.

“Because of these events, there’s a lot of positive vibes going around,” Bird said. “I think the event will open some people’s minds. I think it will open some new doors.

“As a band, that’s our main goal—to tell people about Christ. To get people to become Followers like us.”

Follow Rock Thurrock and Empire Nation on Facebook.

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