Andy Baker: Sheffield's production maestro sings a song of his own

Sunday 6th December 2009

Tony Cummings met up with Sheffield-based producer and singer/songwriter ANDY BAKER

Andy Baker
Andy Baker

The release this summer of the independent album 'Far From Over' by Andy Baker brought into the spotlight one of the most talented behind-the-scenes figures on the British Christian music scene. As a producer Andy has almost single handedly put Sheffield on the Christian music map with his fine studio work for The Gentlemen, Philippa Hanna and GoldDigger. Now his 'Far From Over' album is bringing in critical acclaim, the Cross Rhythms reviewer awarding it 10 squares and commenting, "I can report that this contains some of the best songs you may never hear."

So who is this studio maestro who has seemingly set out to make the Yorkshire steel town Britain's answer to Nashville? Born and raised in Sheffield Andy has lived there all his life apart from the three years he spent in Preston doing a music degree. Andy grew up in a happy Christian home. "My Mum and Grandma would tell me the Christian story and I was encouraged to go to Sunday school as a youngster. But by the time I was eight or nine I wanted to play Sunday league football and after requesting and requesting and requesting I was allowed to skip church on a Sunday to play football. God wasn't really something I was massively interested in until I was about 12 years old and I got dragged along to a Delirious? concert by my sister who had experienced a real awakening in her faith through going to events like Soul Survivor. She was telling me all about what God was doing in her life as a teenager, she dragged me along and I had an encounter with God and made a decision that I wanted to be a Christian. That was in 1996."

Only a few weeks later the young believer had a dream which could only have come from God. "I had a very clear dream and I woke up with this feeling in my head that I was going to get a phone call at 7 o'clock that evening. I didn't know exactly what was happening and I spoke to my sister about it and explained I had this dream and told her about it. At 7 o'clock that evening the director of music from the church where my sister went and where I had just started attending phoned up and asked me to join the worship team. I was only 12 and only knew three or four chords at the time but that was the start of God calling me into music. So I started getting trained there and started to write songs and found I had a desire to lead people in worship. As I started getting involved in church I met quite a few very enthusiastic young people and we wanted to really look at ways we could share our faith and take the Gospel out into our world, into our schools and to our friends. I started a band with a good friend of mine, Nicholas Noble, who today is the frontman of The Gentlemen. The first band didn't have a name, we didn't do any gigs, I think we jammed a few Oasis covers and had a go at writing a few songs.

"After that we started to get a bit more focused and started more of an indie band, performing all of our own songs. I think I played acoustic guitar and sang with Nick playing lead guitar which was an interesting thing to do as he didn't really know what he was doing, but he was great nonetheless because he is a great showman. Then after our drummer left and we couldn't find a replacement so we thought we would start getting into produced music, so we started up a band called Elevation which we actually ended up doing for four years. Lots of exciting things happened through that, we made a couple of albums, travelled round doing gigs at weekends and saw a number of young people became Christians through our concerts. It was a great thing to be doing."

The pop dance sounds of Elevation were released on two albums, 2001's 'Psalms From The Third Floor' when the group were a five piece (Andy Baker, his sister Mandy, Andrew 'Sumo' Hawley, Katy Nyman and Nick Noble - then sometimes known as DJ Raphael) and which produced the Cross Rhythms turntable hits "In Your Arms" and "Many Times", and 2002's 'Stuck Between Floors'.

While at university and during his holidays Andy was still investing a lot of time into church work. "I was working with Nail The Truth Ministries in Sheffield where we did a couple of worship projects. The first album we did was called 'We Are Yours', a collection of songs from the youth ministry. We started doing our own conferences in Sheffield and we ran those over a few years and out of the youth ministry and the music ministry came The Gentlemen: they all formed in and around playing in the worship band."

During Andy's last year at university the singer/guitarist recorded an album, 'On A Journey', of his own self-written songs. He said, "I actually did the album as part of my degree, and then a subsequent launch event, which was fantastic to be able to do through university. Got a first, sold some albums, had 300-400 people in the church to come and see me and the band play. It was very exciting because it was the first project I had got Philippa involved with."

Finishing at university Andy took the ambitious step of starting his own studio. He remembers rather ruefully, "I went freelance as a producer and did things to keep the cash coming in - music teaching, whatever I had to do to get the ball rolling so I could support myself and begin to invest in projects and equipment. Indeed, I have steadily invested from when I started an interest in producing at 13 years old. I've always saved up money to invest in gear, I'm a bit of a geek, I do enjoy playing with new gear but it is expensive if you want to do it at a good level and keep up with what's happening. It's a very expensive hobby and it can be a very expensive career to get into as well."

The breakthrough project for Andy was the 'Smile Back At Me' album by The Gentlemen. Andy admitted, "The Gentlemen's album was actually the first rock album I had ever made. I had grown up in more of a pop production world where I had worked with Zarc Porter and Innervation (thebandwithnoname, TBC), that kind of stuff. I did quite a bit of work with Innervation's schools teams' tracks and a remix for the first TBC album which was good. But shifts in the industry meant there wasn't a lot of interest in track bands while rock seemed to be where there was interest. It was a great experience working with some really good people on the recording [of The Gentlemen's album]. They are a fantastic band and it's great fun making an album with a good band."

Andy got The Gentlemen signed to Authentic Music. Then he began working with Philippa Hanna on what was to become her Authentic debut. Andy recalled how he and Philippa first made contact. "We met when I was in Preston at university. The guy who still plays guitar for her, Roo Walker, had just become a Christian and started to come to my church in Preston. He mentioned he met a girl called Philippa at an open mic night and he was raving about her, saying she was the best singer he had ever heard, and he started to do a bit of work with her. Also at the same time Philippa had just been into Steelworks Studios where I had done lot of recording and a bit of engineering for the studio as well. They had Philippa in to record vocals for Emma Bunton and S Club Juniors at the time. So I had not actually met her but I had edited her vocals and then I was talking to someone else who knew her and it seemed like I needed to meet this girl. We actually met in Preston and became friends, we wrote a couple of songs together then myself and Roo took her along to church, to a Godfrey Birtill prayer and worship evening and she made a decision to be a Christian there."

The release of Philippa Hanna's debut 'Watching Me' with its abstract time signatures and soul-tinged vocal stylings was some way from production line pop but it still attracted the attention of the critics. With Philippa's second album 'Taste' released this year the singer, through constant touring, has built up a following on the British scene. Said Andy, "When I made Philippa's first album it was a big, big, faith step in that we didn't really have a band, we had not done many concerts with Philippa, we wanted to make something that we could then present to people to say 'this is what we want to do'. It's been good working on the 'Taste' album because we've been in a position to take time out to do it and not have to record it completely in our spare time. There have been a lot of long days and a lot of extra work that's gone into it but Philippa has been able to take time out from the other things she's doing to focus on it."

Another recipient of Andy's production work are all girl trio GoldDigger. The group's two independent EPs 'Doll Factory' and 'Very Own Life' got enthusiastic reviews though it's their new download-only songs, "Hanging On" and the Cross Rhythms turntable hit "Emotional War", which really catch the ear. Enthused Andy, "'Emotional War' is one of the best things I've ever done. Actually, my sister Mandy is one of the girls in GoldDigger and we write songs together. Mandy was once a member of Elevation way back!"

Andy is currently working on an album with a new artist, Carlos Lopez. Said Andy, "Carlos is a Spanish guy who lives in the UK, who works doing HIV and AIDS awareness through music and various other forms of communication."

But it's Andy's own album which has brought the studio maestro particular satisfaction. "I write songs very naturally, it's a big part of who I am and how I express myself. I collaborate with a lot of people, I enjoy doing commission work but I wanted to basically take a lot of the songs I've written and put them into a format that people could listen to. 'Far From Over' is a collection of songs I've written over the past four years. I just got together with some friends, put the tracks together and put it onto a CD."

One of the most talked about tracks on the album is "In The Garden". Said Andy, "It's looking from the perspective of Adam and putting yourself in Adam's shoes in the Garden of Eden and this idea of how sin separates us from God and the feeling of letting God down. It kind of explores those themes and brings it back to a positive slant that we need to know as Christians that we are free, God gives us freedom and that is a good freedom. It's a real favourite of mine, it's had lots of very good feedback and features the best guitar solo in the world, ever!"

Andy's tongue-in-cheek hyperbole about the "In The Garden" solo draws attention to another great Christian music talent, Roo Walker. Said Andy, laughing, "I can't take the credit for the solo. I worked with Roo Walker, who's a fantastic guitarist. He kind of co-produced the new album for Philippa, he's her electric guitarist and he also does a lot of session work for me in collaborations. He is someone to look out for, he's got an EP coming out at the end of this year and there's a lot to come from him. I worked closely with Roo on arrangements and he did all the electric guitar work."

Another standout cut on 'Far From Over' is the downbeat acoustic song "Beautiful". Commented Andy, "It's more finger picked style, some very nice arrangements with mandolins and classical guitars. I wrote that song for a time of ministry at my church a couple of years ago and I just kind of reminisced to when I first became a Christian and the feeling of just coming to know God. It's kind of a love song and I wrote that as a means of trying to help people who are just getting to know God. It's a quite personal song but I think people will relate to it as they are on that journey."

The last track on the album is "Adoration". Admitted the singer, "It kind of snuck on there as it was written after most of the songs had been recorded. I co-wrote it with one of the worship leaders at St Thomas' Crux in Sheffield, a guy called Nick Law, a very good friend of mine. Nick had written this verse which I just thought was a fantastic verse but he couldn't take it anywhere and he brought the song to me. We came up with some ideas and I'd got a melody on the chorus and we chipped away at the words. It is a worship song and we wanted to make it congregationally accessible. It's about bringing adoration to God and I think it's a really beautiful song. Hopefully we will be re-recording that for Nick's album which is going to be out at the end of this year." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.


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