Band on the run with rock'n'roll in their blood
Raised in a cult by their rock star dad, Jynxt tell Tim Cooper how they broke free to make music.
Following in a famous father’s footsteps has always been a tricky path, and never more so than in pop music. A number of offspring have done it with varying degrees of success — Jakob Dylan, Adam Cohen, Jeff Buckley, Hank Williams Jr, Julian Lennon, Kelly Osbourne, Rufus and Martha Wainwright — but it’s hard to escape the parent’s shadow. For the children of the founder of Fleetwood Mac, Jeremy Spencer, that was the least of their problems.
On the afternoon of a Fleetwood Mac gig in Los Angeles in 1971, Spencer left his hotel to go shopping in a nearby bookstore. Five days later, after frantic investigations by the police, Interpol and the FBI, he was discovered, shaven-headed and answering to the name of Jonathan, in a warehouse used by a religious cult called the Children of God. Spencer has devoted his life since to preaching the group’s message and raising a large family.
All but one of his eight children have now left the cult, and four of them — Jez, Ben, Nat and Tally — have formed their own rock band, Jynxt. Spending their childhoods in religious communes scattered across the globe, they grew up banned from listening to rock music, with no radio, television or books except those with authorised religious themes. Contact with the outside world was limited to missions aimed at bringing new converts into the fold. Sweets, chocolate and sugar were forbidden, let alone drinking and smoking.
Music, though, was in their blood. They were woken each day by a guitar-playing member and sung to sleep by their father. “All our earliest memories are of singing and performing,” says Nat. “We were made to learn harmonies so that we could go out and sing in the street, spreading the word.”
Each of the band was born in a different country as a result of a childhood that took them to communes in Brazil, Peru, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, Greece, Eastern Europe and the US. Living in barns and tents with anything between 20 and 200 members, their lives were devoted to religion and prayer in the shape of the teachings of the group’s leader, David Berg. He told young female members to offer sex to outsiders in return for donations or religious conversion, and also encouraged children to take part in sexual activity.
“He had the belief that children are adults from the age of 12 because that is what it says in the Bible, apparently,” says Ben. “Though I don’t know where . . .”
The sect is now known as The Family International, and has publicly renounced Berg’s more controversial teachings, including under-age sex. In accordance with Berg’s instructions to raise large families in order to boost membership — currently estimated at 10,000 — each of the four Spencer children in Jynxt was married shortly after their sixteenth birthday; all now have children of their own.
Tally, the singer, says: “Growing up we did not realise how different our upbringing was because that’s all we knew. We had home schooling and never went out. There was no TV and radio, and we only saw movies that were approved within the beliefs of the group, which meant watching Jesus of Nazareth and The Ten Commandments over and over again. We didn’t have any outside friends, unless we were trying to convert them.
“Part of our daily routine was to proselytise — they call it witnessing. We were sent out to show people ‘the truth of God’, so we would knock on doors and sing in the street and even on the subway to get people to come to our meetings.”
Not that they were altogether successful. “I didn’t manage to convert a single soul,” admits Nat. “I was more fascinated by their lifestyle than they were by mine.”
Tally also confesses to being a failure. But Ben managed to convert a group of five girls in Czechoslovakia. “I sang them a song in the park and smiled a lot. Then they started coming around for Bible classes. Two of them are still going strong, apparently — which, to be honest, means that I’ve pretty much ruined their lives.”
When he was 18, Jez, the oldest of the eight Spencer children, became the first member in the Children of God’s history to leave. Aged three when his father joined up, Jez is the only one of his siblings who can recall life before the cult.
“I can remember sitting backstage at Dad’s Fleetwood Mac gigs, leaning against the speakers,” he says, “When we started our new lives, I resisted at first. I had not made a choice and I didn’t know what everyone was so happy about, or why they were always smiling. I was not converted and I wanted to leave from the first time I went outside, when I was seven.”
At 16 he was caught plotting his departure and punished. “They locked me in a room and made me fast,” he recalls.
The second time, accompanied by his wife and their baby daughter, he was more careful. “We were living in the Philippines and I had been planning it for some time. Their entire foundation was shattered because they did not understand why anyone would leave. They believed that the good tree cannot bear bad fruit.”
Shockingly, they told Ben, who was 14 at the time, that his brother was dead. Little surprise, then, that he began planning his own departure when he learnt the truth. “It was hard to get out because after Jez left they held our passports to stop anyone else leaving. And we had no money of our own because we were not allowed to earn any. They believed that work outside the commune was evil.”
His first attempt to leave, in Bulgaria, also ended with a punishment. “They locked me in a hotel room for three days with an older fellow who read scriptures to me every day and played tapes every night of songs that I had heard a thousand times, trying to convince me to stay. But when I was still adamant, they gave me back my passport and handed me $10 to get to the airport. My mum met me in England and gave me £100.
“It broke her heart that we had left, especially when Jez went. But now that seven of us have got out she’s over it. We still see her and Dad, because they want to see their grandchildren, though we always do it on neutral ground.”
Adjusting to life on the outside was hard at first, especially for Jez. “I lived opposite a multiplex cinema at first and I would go to every single film every day. That’s how I learnt about real life,” he says.
He later returned to England and enrolled at university in Southampton, where Ben joined him after he left the sect. “I had no social skills at all, and would talk to people about the end of the world because that’s all we did on the inside,” Ben recalls. “I remember going to the supermarket for the first time and buying two big bottles of Coke and some Mars bars and getting really sick. Then Jez took me to a party and after two pints of lager I was smashed. The only alcohol I’d had was at Communion — though I always used to take an extra gulp.”
They also had a lot to learn about pop music. “It was hard to catch up as the only music we knew was what we had heard our neighbours playing,” says Nat. “In the cult we all had Walkmans with tapes of the scriptures, but we used to tape music from the radio in the middle of the night and put that on the other side. That way we could switch them over whenever anyone ever asked to hear what we were listening to.”
“When I got out I watched Top of the Pops and I enjoyed seeing Take That — that’s how out of touch I was!” adds Ben.
Today, the four live near each other in North London. Despite having day jobs — Jez is a bus driver, Nat is a graphic designer and Ben is a painter and decorator, while Tally looks after her two children — they formed Jynxt two years ago, finding a ready-made audience among fellow former cult members.
“There are about 200 of us in and around London alone,” says Nat. “And obviously we know each other as most of us grew up together at one time or another.”
“And it’s amazing how many of them found their English roots when they learnt that you can sign on and get housing benefit here,” chuckles Ben. “Which is important with such large families, because the cult did not believe in contraception and encouraged us all to have children.”
They chose the name Jynxt because of the various misfortunes that followed them around during their days in the cult. “When we were in Greece they had the worst earthquake in 60 years,” recalls Jez. “Then we left and went to Sri Linka and got evacuated when a civil war broke out — the flashpoint was right where we were living. Three weeks after we got to the Philippines the opposition leader was shot at the airport, and then President Marcos was overthrown. And, to cap it all, while I was training to be a bus driver a bus from my garage was blown up in the terrorist attacks on July 7.”
Naturally, they have spent much of their lives trying to analyse the appeal of the cult, and its attraction to their father. “It’s an escape from reality and I think some people need that,” says Tally.
“But they should be in an insane asylum first,” adds Ben. “My Dad says that he was lonely and searching for the answer, but we think that he was just high. He said that the music was like a demon, that the blues was Satan’s music — that sounds like LSD to me.”
Was he brainwashed? “Oh yes,” says Tally. “That’s exactly what they did. But it’s so subtle that you don’t notice it happening. David Berg himself called it brainwashing — he said that people have dirty minds that need to be cleaned.”
Jynxt’s first single, Electric Knives/Perverted Mind, is out now (http://www.jynxt.com)