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Interview with Derrick Phillips from The Pilgrims

Published on september 5th, 2018 | by Anthony Martinez

You may never have heard of Derrick Phillips and his band The Pilgrims. That could be because this band broke up long before we knew anything we could call “Christian Rock”, CCM or Jesus Music. 

What very few people know is that it was in England in the early 1960s that countless Christian bands appeared, a movement predecessor to the Jesus movement in the United States, but unfortunately there was not enough media coverage for all these pioneering artists who are now unknown. 

The Pilgrims is possibly the first Christian Rock band in history, its historical value is invaluable, however, not everyone knows about this important band that made their best performances in the early and mid-sixties. It’s an honor for me to have interviewed Derrick Phillips, guitarist of the first Christian rock band in history, The Pilgrims.

First of all I would like to say that it is an honor for me to be able to conduct this interview with you. Thank you for accepting 

DP: Thanks for your interest and kind words 

Let’s talk a little bit about the times before The Pilgrims. 
How were your beginnings in music?

 DP: I tried many instruments during my school days, but didn’t fall in love with any of them. It was after my conversion and, especially after receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, that I wanted to learn an instrument to use in God’s service. Strangely, it was the banjo that first took my fancy. But I went into a music shop to buy a banjo - and came out with a guitar! I took to it straight away. I loved playing, and soon began to use it as an aid to telling the Gospel story. NB I always loved singing.

I suppose you could have been the pilgrims’ singer then.

DP: It could have been so, and eventually it was so in part, because the second stage of The Pilgrims’ career had John Hubbard and me either singing together, or alternately. 

How did you meet the rest of the guys who would make up The Pilgrims? I read that John and Chris were not Christians during the band’s early days. 

DP: 2 questions there, so I’ll answer them one at a time. Firstly, it was the amazing conversion of Don and Ian, plus 2 other friends, on the same night that provided the 1st impetus. Don’s brother, Rob Sanders, was the one who led them to Christ - and Rob was already a friend of mine. It was Don and Ian who first had the idea of starting the group, but they needed more members - and they found me

So, on to the 2nd question: You are right about John and Chris. John had been playing in a band with Don, so Don had the idea of asking him to join us. John wasn’t a Christian, but one evening, following a gig, he went home, opened his Bible at John’s Gospel and opened his heart to the Lord

 Chris was a different story: I don’t know who invited him in. It must have been Ian or Don. He was good looking, had the ‘right’ sort of voice to be a rock singer - and he had a Christian background. But it became clear over time that his background made it harder, rather than easier, to make a full commitment. 

We’re talking about most of the band members not being Christians, however God had a plan for all of you, I’m sure there was also a plan for Chris. It’s a shame Chris didn’t commit to God like the rest of the boys. 

DP: Yes. Very sad. He enjoyed the singing and he did it well. But we were about much more than the music. 

I’m sure, I hope he has given his life to God later on. 

DP: I sincerely hope so. 

Tell me, What were the main musical influences of the group?

DP: We went through 3 main phases. At the early stage we were modelled on Cliff Richard and the Shadows (hence the desire for a non-playing lead singer). After Chris left, our music was heavily influenced by The Beatles and the other Liverpool bands. By 1965 we were already moving towards a Rhythm ‘n’ Blues style, influenced by The Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and other Blues greats. We changed, because we wanted always to be relevant to our audience. There’s no point in preaching if nobody is listening. 

I agree, how did people react when they heard The Pilgrims? I imagine people saying “These guys play rock and roll, but they’re also preaching?” Was there rejection, humiliation, or any kind of confrontation towards the band? 

DP: There was very little opposition from the secular world. OK, one club manager got angry with us and said “This isn’t Gospel music!”. (Did he imagine we were Mahalia Jackson or the like?). Apart from that one incident, most of the opposition came from Christians. We were stopped several times by Christians who felt that God’s word should never be put together with rock or pop music. We shouldn’t have been surprised. General Booth (Salvation Army) and D.L. Moody had experienced similar responses to the music they used.

1961 - Original Line-up Possibly the first photograph of the band. Perhaps the first photograph of a Christian rock band
It’s a shame that Christians are the ones who are most opposed to making some music different from what is normally heard in churches, but believe in me, it still happens. 

DP: Mind you - we also experienced tremendous support from many Christian leaders who may well not have liked our kind of music - but loved the fact that we were reaching young people for Christ. 

There is everything in life I suppose, we must thank those Christians who although they do not enjoy a particular style of music, they understand that God is the creator of music and through it other people can be reached with the message of salvation. 

DP: Amen!

Get me out of this doubt. When and how were the pilgrims born? I’m still not sure if started in 1961 or 1962. 

DP: 1961. We had our first practice together in a little church hall in Catford, south east London. That was just Don, Ian and me. John and Chris joined soon after. We can’t remember where we played our first engagement (I asked Don a couple of weeks ago) but it was towards the end of 1961. 
We were young and naive. I was the oldest (18) Don, John and Chris were 17. Ian was 16. 

Good to know, since that was my next question lol, I’m sure it must have been interesting. It’s good to know that the joy of their youth was made for God, and something that would remain in history, The Pilgrims.

 DP: I have always considered it a huge privilege to have been in the band at that stage of my life. It was a foundational experience.

. . .And something that will be remembered forever in history. It was very common for other groups to use animal names (Byrds, Turtles, the Animals) How did the name of the group come about? 

DP: We had a quite short debate about what to call ourselves. By the end of that first practice, we’d decided on The Pilgrims. I’m not sure which of us first proposed the name, but I very clearly remember that it was Ian who came up with the tag-line,”Telling Youth the Truth” 

Great, I didn’t know that was his slogan, I thought it was for the CD that came out a few years ago. 

DP: No, that tag-line was on the drums from the beginning. It may sound cheesy, but it expressed what we were aiming to do. 

Believe me, I hadn’t read that motto on the band’s drums, I’m discovering something new. . . By the way, where exactly were The Pilgrims from? 

DP: South east London. Specifically, John lived in Catford, Don, Ian, and Chris lived in Lee, I lived in Lewisham. These districts are all close together. Tony, who joined us in 1966, lived in Orpington, which is a few miles further south. 

I may be a few months out with Tony’s joining. It could have been 1965.

This one was taken in 1962 and shows the band playing in a church service (probably the first time that electric guitars and drums were played in a church)

The First Christian Rock Band in history...

Basically The Pilgrims could be the first Christian rock band in history, as there is not information of any other band before of the Pilgrims. Although The Venturers were formed in 1958, they showed a contemporary sound but far from being considered “Rock and roll”. Were you aware that you were doing something never before seen in the world by combining Rock and roll with Christianity? 

DP: Yes, The Venturers were before us, but they were a folk/country style group. We had seen them. But we’ve never found another group before The Pilgrims playing rock style music. Acoustic guitars were just about acceptable in the church, but electric guitars and (perish the thought) drums was newsworthy - and, from some points of view, horrible!

I think before you just Sister Rosetta Tharpe is the closest thing to being called “Christian Rock”, although she was a Gospel singer, many of her songs had a electric guitar and a rhythm that influenced artists like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and others. In fact, she is known as the Mother of Rock and Roll and this year she will be entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Did you ever hear of her when you started The Pilgrims?

DP: No. I heard about her later. But that’s just my ignorance. There’s no doubt that she was brilliant. 

What can be said about the origins of The Pilgrims is: We were original ( aping pop music, to be sure, but not copied from any other Christian band) We were spontaneous (it was our own idea to start - we weren’t a gimmick dreamt up by an adult promoter or evangelist) 

We genuinely liked the music we played (we weren’t just a accommodating a style as a means to an end) But we were in no doubt from the beginning that our aim was to preach the Gospel. 

We had no model to follow, so we learnt the hard way - by making mistakes! The Pilgrims as the 1st Christian Rock Group - it seems to be true but, even if there was an earlier band we’ve never heard about, we didn’t know about them at the time. However, being 1st is just an accident of timing, and it confers no special privileges. We were setting out on a journey without a map - which presents problems. Thankfully, we had good mentors around us. They didn’t necessarily get our music style, but they understood evangelism, and they understood teams. Thank God for those men.

Principle mentors were: above all, a lawyer called Ted Hubbard. Also, several evangelists, such as Bill Bathman, Gordon Bailey, and Nigel Goodwin - and a number of other unkowns who were just a little older than us, and gave willing, often practical, support. Welcome back - I was in full flow there!

God had equipped them with the right people. It is incredible that even today there are churches that reject the use of certain styles of music simply because they do not like it. Well, anyway. . . Shortly after you formed, another group called The Crossbeats appeared, then the Envoys, Liverpool Ryders, The Joystrings, this had become a Christian beat scene, it was a huge amount of active Christian groups during the first half of the 60s, There had been a revival in Christian music in England in the early 1960s.. Were any of these groups influenced by The Pilgrims? The press and conservative groups had spoken out against the use of contemporary music to express the Christian faith?

DP: We knew The Envoys very well, and Pete Meadows’ band, The Unfettered ( those 2 were later the driving force behind Musical Gospel Outreach, Buzz Magazine, Key Records, and the Spring Harvest annual Christian camps). We met The Joystrings and, later on, The Crossbeats. There was a rapidly growing Christian music scene throughout the 60s and, yes, some of them were expressly inspired by The Pilgrims. The most famous musician who we can claim as having been once a follower and a support band, was Graham Kendrick. 
And, yes, there was a lot of controversy in the press about what we were doing - especially after we played at a service with the Queen’s sister in the congregation.

Was that when you played in the presence of Princess Margaret? 

DP: That’s right. It was a booking that we initially didn’t want to take, because we would just be accompanying other hymns and songs (i.e. not our own music). But the publicity from that event (supportive or condemning) was the springboard that really made our name. 

What year was that? 

DP: It was in February 1963. 

It’s a really historic date. 

DP: Right!

The Pilgrims ‘bandwagon’ ... left -Tony, roof - Ian, on bonnet/ hood - John (L) and Don (R), front - Derrick. The picture was taken in Cambridgeshire 1965
When was your first recording made?

 DP: 1963 - a 45 rpm single with “Heaven’s the place for me” on the A side and “Think of God’s love” as the B side. It was recorded and released by Herald Recordings and did pretty well on the Christian market. There was no chance of getting through with a genuinely Christian message on the secular labels at that stage. The Joystrings did better a littel later, but really only because of the Salvation Army’s efforts. It was Parchment that eventually broke through - but that was after our time. 

Yeah, the Joystrings hit the popularity charts for a while. It is to my knowledge that you played in Scotland, how was that experience? 

DP: That was in the brief period after I left and before The Pilgrims merged into “Out of Darkness” - so I don’t have any recollection of that. I do, however, have strong memories of the time we spent in Ireland in mid-1967. An amazing week. 

Ireland? I didn’t know that, how many countries did The Pilgrims visit?

DP: We had been booked to play at a Christian ‘Coffee Bar’ in Dun Laoghaire (a port just outside Dublin). When we arrived, we noticed a disco club along the street, The club in Dun Laoghaire was not just a disco; it featured live groups – and there was a local group playing that night. The Pilgrims got in to do an interval spot, and we even used the other band’s equipment (amplifiers etc). The other group was good, but the audience liked us even more. It went very well, and the manager even invited us to give an epilogue (!). We invited people to come to our Coffee Bar the next night - and they did - but so did a gang of ruffians who started a riot. The police broke it up, then insisted that we close the Coffee Bar for the rest of the week. Far from being a disaster, that spurred us to visit the beat clubs and discos in Dublin itself. We played at a different venue each night of that week. Our trip was completely different from what was originally planned - but more successful than we ever could have dreamed.”

It was definitely an interesting trip, I think that mutiny changed everything. lol How was John Hubbard’s death? I guess it was hard for you. . .

 DP: Shattering. In those days people were shy of talking about cancer, so none of the group knew that’s what John had. He had been ill for some time, on-and-off but each time he seemed to get better. We found out afterwards that the hospital had  been trying so hard to save him with radio-therapy, that eventually the therapy itself speeded his death. He was aged 22.

Oh God, he was too young, I’m sorry he died that way when he was at one of the best times of his life. We’ll meet him soon. 

DP: A great blow for us all and, if course, for his family. His mother was already a widow. John, by the way, was ‘best man’ at mine and Kath’s wedding. John had also been a prolific songwriter and a major force in propelling The Pilgrims to perform at their best. 

It’s really a shame, but God knows why some things happen, even if we don’t understand, I think we should thank God for John’s life and what he did for his family, friends and the band. 

DP: Amen to that.

Tell me, Who wrote the band’s songs? 

DP: Johnny was the most prolific songwriter. I wrote a few. Later on, it was Tony who blossomed as the major creator. Tony also re-wrote some of John’s songs, changing them from ballads or rock numbers into 12-bar blues tines.

An important place for many Christian groups in England at that time was a Christian coffee bar called “The Catacombs”. Did the Pilgrims ever play there? 

DP: I certainly didn’t, and I don’t recall Don, Ian or Tony talking about it. 

I know The Pilgrims played to over 2500 people at Westminster Central Hall, When was that and how did it happen? 

DP: That was in 1967. It was organised by Musical Gospel Outreach to showcase the best of the Christian bands around at that time (in various musical styles). Nigel Goodwin was the compere and the hall was packed to the rafters! Nigel introduced The Pilgrims as “not only the best, but also the LOUDEST Christian group!” 

Interestingly, I have a man at my church here in Bristol who remembers being at that event. Earlier this year he came across the original ticket and programme for “Sound Vision” and lent it tk me so I could take a scan. “Sound Vision” was the name of that concert.

That must have been quite a show. Did the band appear on tv or record any video of your concerts?

DP: No TV, No video either. But video would have been really surprising in those early days. Even the BBC rarely kept video of live shows because the technology back then was too expensive. 

Well, it’s a shame, it would have been great to have some video of The Pilgrims.

DP: I agree - but that’s just nostalgia? 

They’d be really important historical images, wouldn’t you say? 

DP: I guess so. With only 3 of us left, and all in our 70s, it could be valuable to have those images. I very much agree. 

Have you ever played with non-christian artists?

No. We met a few, and even had one travel with us in our van (Viv Prince, I think) but we never shared a stage.

This is the 45rpm of 1963. When did you release their next disc? 

DP: Wow! I don’t even have a copy myself. There never was a second disc. We made a further recording with Herald, but it was much more bluesey and they were afraid to release it. Our subsequent recordings were privately made at studios in Northampton, Putney, and in the Elim College in Surrey. It’s those recordings that eventually made their way on to the 2004 CD. 

How often did they play The Pilgrims? Did you work full-time in the band? 

DP: The Pilgrims were almost always part-time, although there was an 18 month period when I was full time.

As group secretary I had a heavy workload. We found other ways to deal with that later on. We played most weekends, some weeknights and, from time to time would spend whole weeks working at one venue. Normally, that happened in places around London that we could get to easily - but we gave up our holidays to do some weeks e.g. at Gateshead (near Newcastle), in Ireland and on a South Coast Tour around Brighton and Eastbourne. Weekend trips were often quite distant e.g. Bristol, Gloucester, South Wales, Scarborough (north Yorkshire) We were young and fit! 

You can give up your vacation when you’re passionate about something, they could have written a song called “We were young, we are strong”. Maybe , , , Do you remember any interesting and important storie in the band? 

DP: I’m not sure what you mean. Lots! Try this one . . 

“What’s this string?” 
Johnny’s tidy-everything mood stepped up to disdainful indignation as he held the second-hand bundle of string between fingertip and thumb, and glared at Don.
“This wires box is disgusting!”

Don looked hurt. 
“I don’t like to throw those sort of things away - you never know when they might come in handy.”

 Johnny continued tidying the box while the rest of the band scurried around packing equipment ready for the night’s gig. Three quarters of an hour later, bandwagon fully loaded, they set off on the 45-mile journey to the church hall where they were booked to play. 

The hall was spacious, but the platform was basic. A solid but unattractive plank construction, it jutted out into the hall leaving a passageway on each side leading to the toilets. There was no power point on the stage, so how were they going to plug the amps in? Ian’s methodical search found a socket under the gallery on the other side of the passageway to the Gents. “This’ll do”, he announced, dragging the lead from the junction box, down the Spartan steps and across the gangway. 

“You can’t trail a lead across that passage”, cautioned Johnny, “You’ll trip people over.”
“What else can we do? There’s no other socket… What if we hitch it up so people can walk under it?” 

“If only we had some string”, mused Don.

DP: We had fun together. And we faced some challenges - like hire vans that broke down in put-of-the-way places. 

What was your favorite song and that of the audience at Pilgrim concerts? 

DP: My favourite is the blues standard “Don’t you think it’s time?” Especially Tony’s amazing harmonica solo. “Hey you!” always went down well, as did both versions of “Heaven’s the place for me” (both are on the CD) That was an example of a John Hubbard original, later reworked by Tony Goodman. 

Here’s a story: 

One weekend at Bugbrooke, Northamptonshire, we played an early session where 2 people committed their lives to Christ. We were due to play again in a less formal session in an upstairs room. Between the sessions we met together for prayer with some of the local organisers. Someone prayed, “Lord, please give us a double portion of your Spirit”. In that later session, 4 people made commitments. We didn’t realise God would take ud that literally. (I was reminded of that story by another friend who accompanied the group that weekend)

Wow, that’s a great story, and a true testimony of what God did through your band. 

DP: Playing in the Notre Dame club on Leicester Square, London, we realised that most of our audience was French, so they probably didn’t understand what we were singing about. However, during a break, we went out into the square and realised that the disco music being played inside could be clearly heard outside - so, our immediate audience may not have understood us, but everyone passing outside could hear everything we played. Who knows how many people heard the Gospel that evening! 

Wow, these are stories that have never been heard before, I’m glad to have them and present them for the first time.  Why did you leave the band in 1967?

 DP: I didn’t see it coming, but it was the right move at the right time. From the musical point of view, my role was less needed. Amplifiers and guitars were improving, and a competent lead guitarist no longer needed a rhythm backing to fill out the sound. I think the other guys had been discussing it, but it was Tony who raised the issue (that’s the same Tony as I’m holidaying with right now). What they also saw was that Kath and I had a baby on the way, and our new home further out from London was placing us in a position of greater responsibility in the local church. 
By the way, that ‘baby’ is now 50 years old and is a senior professor at an American university ! 

Then we’ll say it’s a Big Baby. . . I guess it was time. Everything has its time in our lives. Did you try to be part of a new group in the following years? 

DP: No. I didn’t try to rejoin that music scene, but my guitar remained an important part of my ministry and my identity. I took it with me when preaching, and I used it in leading worship at various churches we were in as we moved around over the years. At my present church I was heavily involved in the music almost until I became 70. Now, I only play ocasionally. 

We’ve been in Bristol for 19 years, during which a whole new generation of competent musicians has grown up. 

Buzz Magazine press release 1967

That means there wasn’t any attempt to reshape The Pilgrims either, right? Did you miss playing with your old band at any point in your life?

DP: Although I didn’t anticipate leaving The Pilgrims I never regretted it. Life continued to be exciting! Tony has filled in a few gaps in my knowledge about the transition from The Pilgrims to Out Of Darkness

The group struggled a bit after I left, but there was a vision to form a “supergroup” along the lines of The Cream. Apparently it was Ian who had the clearest vision on that, and he started to recruit musicians for it. Ian gave up drumming and became manager of Out Of Darkness. Tim Anderson was recruited from The Crusaders, because he seemed to be the best drummer around. Carl (sorry, I can’t remember his surname) became bass guitarist (and Don left). Carl’s cousin, Ray Powell, was recruited as lead guitarist, and Tony gave up guitar to concentrate on vocals and harmonica. 

I think the whole transition took about a year - though they continued playing as they went through the stages. Effectively, my departure marked the end of The Pilgrims. 

I think it’s Carl Grant .Anyway, I’m glad they continued to make music for God, Out Of the Darkness is something different, a great band. 

DP: Well researched! 

I know it wasn’t very common back then, but did you and the rest of the band ever think about growing their hair?

DP: I had quite long hair and sideburns. Tony’s hair was so tightly curled (naturally) that you couldn’t tell how long it was. Don’s hair was moderate (it had to be - for his job), and Ian’s was middling. By the way, my baldness began to show itself early - so much for long hair! 

Well, it wasn’t as long as theirs: lol.

When I talked about long hair, I meant this. lol
DP: Yeah! Nice! Glam rock was after our time.

I know , many years  . . .  Do you Remember when John Lennon said The Beattles were more famous than Jesus? Millions of people were angry. What was your reaction at the time? 

DP: It was a classic case of needing to watch what you say when talking to the popular press. In simple, factual terms John Lennon wasn’t far out from the statistical truth. But he didn’t volunteer the statement unprompted. A reporter posed the question in such a way as to elicit a naive response, and John fell into the trap.

Your answer is very interesting, since many Christians make a commotion without analyzing the situation and the context. 

DP: I’ve seen similar traps set for evangelicals. I especially remember Rev David Wilkerson being caught out and given an undeservedly bad press. That was the British press, by the way 

I guess you have to be very careful with the press, especially when you’re a public figure like John. 

DP: Quite right! 

You’re a pastor now, right? And you’ve also written some books, you’ve become a father, a grandfather, What other things have you done in your life that you could share with us? 

DP: No, I’m not a pastor. I’m an ordinary church member in a large, caring, growing church. I’m part of the pastoral care TEAM, and also the Prayer Ministry team. 

I’ve never been a one-man ministry leader. I have started and run a couple of churches in partnership with others. But not recently. 

My business career was in sales and marketing in various industries, but with a “Snakes and Ladders” progression where I would climb the corporate ladder until the next takeover brought ne down again. The last thing I did in business was to create a company called “Ordered Management Ltd”, which was meant to see me through the last 3 years of my working life, but is still going strong 13 years later (one of my sons owns and runs it now). 

As you say, I have writen several books, and I now consider that one of my main areas of service - but my primary calling is to prayer. I also wrote a musical back in 2006, with 12 original songs. It’s called “Bethany” and you can read about it on my website. For what it’s worth, I also used to run marathons, but not any longer! But I still love walking.

Yeah, I’ve seen a couple of online videos of your musical and it’s really interesting. I can see that you have dedicated all the years of your life to the service of God in one way or another. You are definitely a role model for your family and others. 

 DP: Thank you. But I still have a lot to learn. Some lessons are tough (like the tragedy we’ve been through in the last few weeks). But I thank God in every trial, knowing that he will always turn it to his purposes. 

I want to take this opportunity to offer again my condolences to you and your family, God bless you and give peace to your hearts. 

DP: Thank you Anthony

The Pilgrims meeting in 2003

Tell me about the Pilgrims’ 2003 meeting 

DP: That was a lovely time of celebration for The Pilgrims ‘family’. The occasion was my 60th birthday. We spent a lot of time chatting and eating together. 

We had one more get-together after that, when Don’s family put on a secret celebration for his and Brenda’s 40th wedding anniversary. On that ocasion, someone had organised to provide drums, amplifiers etc and we actually played together. A truly historic event. But, within 12 months of that (I think) Ian died of a brain tumour - so it can never be repeated.

The original Pilgrims last performed together in Bradford, Yorkshire at the end of August 1967. But it was a long time since they had all been together in one place. This picture was taken in February 2003 at a reunion to mark a Derrick’s 60th birthday
I’m so sorry about Ian’s death, and that way. But God really knows, on the other hand I am glad that they have continued to communicate even after so many years. How did you get your music out on CD in 2004? 

DP: I received an unexpected phone call early one morning. It was Ed Nadorozny, calling from Tacoma, Washington state, asking permission to create the CD from old tape recordings, which I think he had obtained from Don. I consulted the others, and then helped Ed with the written material and background information. I think the recordings were ‘remastered’ somewhere in Florida. But Ed organised all that, and we just saw the result. We each received a number of copies as a kind of ‘royalty’. 

That CD was played on radio stations in places we never dreamed of going to, and in discos in eastern Europe and - well it got around! 

Must have been great to get a call like that after all these years. 

DP: He said, “Is that Derrick Phillips of The Pilgrims?” and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! 

Did you get married while you were still at The Pilgrims? I want to congratulate you on your more than 50 years of marriage to your wife. 

DP: 54 years this week – that’s why we’re celebrating with this holiday. Yes, we were married during my time in the group. John Hubbard was my Best Man, and made a brilliant job of it. Kath’s bridesmaids were Brenda (who subsequently married Don Sanders) and Heather (Brenda’s neighbour and best friend). 

Kath, Brenda, and Heather often travelled with The Pilgrims, not just for the ride but as an essential part of the team. They didn’t have any role in the music, but they were integral to the work of evangelism. 

Don & Brenda also married during the time they were in the group. They’ve now been married 53 years. Ian and Angela married later during that period. Tony and Sue have their 50th anniversary this year.

Tell me. What’s happened to Don and Tony’s life all these years? 

DP: Dons university degree was in electronics and he worked for a period in the research department of a television manufacturer. He then went to Bible School, and took up teaching for several years. Later he devoted himself to video filming and production for Christian broadcasters and event organisers. 

Tony trained as a Quantity Surveyor (a skill that often proved useful in his later missionary and church work). He worked in that profession for a time, but then went to Bible School and offered himself (along with Sue) for mission work. They trained in Portugal, with WEC, and then went as missionaries to GuineaBissau, where they remained for 14 years. On returning to the UK, Tony had a short spell working again in Quantity Surveying, before taking on the pastorate of a church in Christchurch, Dorset (part of the Vineyard group). After retirement, they moved to a village close to Salisbury, where Tony was asked to become an elder and assist in the work of Salisbury City Church.

Tony has written numerous books on aspects of discipleship. He writes in Portuguese, for Guinea-Bissau (those are normally given away free) and in English (sales of the English versions help to fund the Portuguese ones). More recently, some of his English books have been used in English speaking African countries.

Did you write more songs than appear on the 2004 CD?
We had an extensive and constantly changing repertoire. The CD contains only a small selection of the total output. However, not all the songs were recorded and, of those that were, only a few recordings were of adequate quality to be put on the CD.

Just out of curiosity. Do you think you, Don and Tony could do a little Pilgrims meeting with some guest musicians? I would give my vote so that it could happen :)

DP: It’s unlikely. Don has played bass relatively recently, and my guitar also makes the occasional (but rare) public appearance. But Tony says his voice is ‘shot’. 

You told me you wanted to write a book about the band. What motivated you to write a book about The Pilgrims after 50 years? 

DP: I’ve been thinking about doing it for many years, especially as friends from those times keep reminding me of things they saw when they travelled with the group. I was even more encouraged to do it when Don suddenly discovered a stack of old press cuttings and other memorabilia about thr group. However, I had a couple of other books that I wanted to write first. Now I am focussing on that fascinating and encouraging story. 

When was the first time you heard that The Pilgrims is possibly the first Christian Rock band? 

DP: We had some idea that it might be true when we came across other Christian bands and realised that their histories were shorter than ours. More recently, with the aid of the internet, I’ve tried to test that belief, and it seems to stand up. However, being ‘first’ is a qualified claim – perhaps like claiming to be the fastest person in the world to run a 5 ½ kilometre race on a wet Wednesday carrying a pink rucksac! On a certain definition of originality it seems that we were the first. 

You know that on many websites, and in books that talk about the history of Christian rock and contemporary Christian music, they always say that Larry Norman was the progenitor, and they ignore all the British and American bands that were there before Larry Norman released his first album in 1969. What do you think about this? 

DP: The written and dated evidence proves that the movement started in Britain. However, I’ve seen American television and am well aware that nothing of interest ever happens outside the USA (Is that comment too subtle?!)

Have you enjoyed the music of any particular Christian band? 

DP: I’ve not been one to follow particular bands though, because of personal friendship, I’m always happy to see Dave Bilbrough. 

What do you think of the current Christian rock scene in the world? 

DP: I’m way out of date, because I don’t try to keep up. It’s not that I dislike what they’re doing. It’s just that my attention is directed towards other things, (I’m a hungry reader, normally having 2 or 3 books on the go simultaneously) 

Did you know that there are currently many Christian bands playing rock subgenres in many countries in Europe, the United States, Latin America and some countries in Asia? Today it is something that has generated millions of dollars in profits for many artists and companies, but it has also generated millions of repentant souls who have given their hearts to God.

DP: I am aware that the Christian music scene is now an industry and, for some people, a source of riches. The seeds of that were sown in our time, when MGO started sponsoring multi-artiste tours and Key Records began paying royalties. That’s all legal. After all, creative people need to earn a living. But it’s also a potential snare, which every writer and performer should beware of. Some songs come along which I presume are just written for the market – and it shows. But then, even Charles Wesley wrote some hymns that are better forgotten. 

You are a music legend, an exemplary Christian and human being who has served God and his family for over 70 years. What can you tell those people who still insist that Rock music (or any other kind of music) cannot be played for God because it is from the devil? 

“Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.” Never make judgements based on personal preferences or prejudice. Look at the behaviour, the sincerity, and the motivation of musicians. If you see truth and righteousness, pray for their ministry and, when they start playing gently walk away without comment and pray for them that they may reach people for Christ.

What is your favorite verse from the Bible? 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”

What message would you leave to all those young people around the world who are planning to form a “Christian Rock Band”? 

Examine your motives, count the cost in time, loss of earnings, potential difficulties and opposition and, having decided to go ahead, find yourself several older people who will give their time to praying for you and mentoring you through the opportunities and the challenges you will face.

What would be your final words to share with our readers? 

Any period of Christian service as part of a team will build foundations for your future life of faith. One day you will be old. Don’t let that be a time of regrets. 

Derrick, this has been one of the best interviews I’ve ever done, I must say I’m honored to have been able to interview you. I want to thank you with all my heart for having accepted, I wish God bless your life, your family, and also the lives of Don Sanders and Tony Goodman. 

And finally, I want to thank you for The Pilgrims, you are part of the story. 


This one is probably the earliest picture of the band on ‘stage’, which in this case was the back of a truck at a barbecue on a farm at a country village called Downe. The village is small, but it’s best known for having been the home of Charles Darwin (the evolutionist). - Derrick Phillips

L-R John, Don, Derrick, Rev Jim Ritchie, Ian Gateshead - 1964

L-R Ian, Don, Derrick, John

L-R John, Chris, Ian, Derrick, Don

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