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27 August 2011

From Bill Mason Band to Dalit Candles

From Bill Mason Band to Dalit Candles

Three decades after playing to 20,000 people on the mainstage at the Greenbelt festival with his punk band, one man has returned to Cheltenham with one very different aim.

In the late 1970s, Simon Hawthorne played guitar in the Bill Mason Band, one of the seminal acts in early Christian rock.

Writing in his book, In The Furnace of Clay, he writes: "The Christian music scene was keen to progress its credibility in the world's eyes, and after only a couple of gigs in local churches we found ourselves at the Greenbelt Festival… playing to 5,000 people, along with fellow punk bands Giantkiller and the far more successful After the Fire.

"The following year, when Cliff Richard headlined, which coincided with his number one hit, 'We 'don't talk anymore' topping the charts, we played, knee trembling, on the main stage on Saturday night to an audience of 20,000 people."

But this year, Simon is back. And there are no punk hairstyles in sight. Instead, he is at this year's Greenbelt Festival representing his company Dalit Candles - which seeks to raise awareness of the plight of the Dalit 'untouchable' community in India.

There are an estimated 250 million Dalits living on the lowest rung of India's ancient caste system. Global research reports regularly site the Dalits as the largest number of people categorised as victims of modern-day slavery. 

Says Simon, who heads up Life Association, which has been working into the Dalit community for the past 20 years: "As a Dalit, you start off living life thinking you are not made by God.

"It is such an oppressive system and, because of the sheer numbers of people, it's the biggest human rights issue today. But in the message of Christianity you were made in the image of God. There is nothing more opposite to the message of Christianity than the Hindu caste system."

Dalit Candles is selling handmade, blended beeswax candle pots made using the finest ingredients with all profits going towards working with the Dalits.

The Bill Mason band will be reforming on October in a charity gig to raise money for the charity. Visit the Life Association website for more information.

Visit Simon at his Greenbelt stall.