Throwback Kid: Eastbourne's songsmith aka Pete James remembers the day

Friday 9th February 2018

Tony Cummings took singer/songwriter THROWBACK KID through 17 years of music making

Throwback Kid
Throwback Kid

Anyone who's been listening to Cross Rhythms radio recently will have enjoyed the engaging piece of wistful pop by Throwback Kid called "Remember The Day". And if they've been regular attendees of Spring Harvest they may have thought Throwback Kid's voice is vaguely familiar. The fact is Throwback Kid is Pete James, popular worship leader at Spring Harvest and many other events. Down the years Pete has recorded music in many styles for many purposes and is still at it, recently turning up as part of a children's ministry aggregation for which, at the moment at least, he wants to shroud in anonymity. But taking Pete up on his challenge to "Remember The Day", I asked the Eastbourne-based singer/songwriter to visit times past and put his memory to the test as he remembered most of his recordings down the years.

2000 Pete Cant - 'I'll Run With You'
My friends and I were watching the Cutting Edge movement grow up with Martin Smith and the Delirious? guys. Then there was Matt Redman, Soul Survivor - exciting times. We wanted to get into writing - me and some of my friends in the youth church in Reading. The great guys leading the thing were encouraging us to write and be creative. My friend Paul had made a cassette with a guy called Graham Preston of SFL. Once I had penned six songs and could play three or four chords I wanted to make one too. I went to Graham's studio in his house and he asked me what I wanted to do. I said I've got this amount of money, which wasn't very much at all, and I want to make a six-track cassette. The guy was a legend. He said ok, let's do it, so we plugged in guitar amps in the bedroom and drum kits in the kitchen and we were all packed in around the house. We tracked 'I'll Run With You' in a day with some musicians from Reading.

One of the songs, "I've Fallen In Love", went on to the first Soul Survivor 'The People's Album'. The whole thing was a fun chapter, learning to write songs. You never stop learning but some of the rhymes are fairly obvious in those songs but to actually come out with a product. . .

2001 Pete Cant - 'On A Mission'
There's a song on there called "The Voice Of A Generation". I played it live with Steve Gregory and Raul D'Oliviera on brass; we had a 10-piece band. I remember being joined by Reading University Gospel Choir when we played it live. We launched the record in a hall at the university. I was advised to book the bar which could take about 200 people and I was adamant that it needed to be in this hall that I'd seen Graham Kendrick play in. And I said you must have another venue here; where is it? And they said well, that's our main hall. It takes 700 people, you don't want that. They showed it to me and I said this is the one. So they reluctantly let me book it. Before the launch I was in the dressing room watching hundreds of people arrive and walk across the car park. 550 people came. It was a great night. I was 21 at the time, underwriting it with the money I earned from working in a shop and the support of Graham Preston and Sound Foundation - they put in the rig and all that stuff. Those were fun days.

2001 - Oxygen - 'React'
I was asked at this conference to consider auditioning for a pop group that ICC Records and youth For Christ were putting together called Oxygen. I was applying for the fire service, I was very intent on getting in there and wasn't looking to deviate from that plan. I felt I'd been involved in music stuff for several years but it was time to knuckle down, sort myself a job. I reluctantly went to the audition and to my surprise got through. The BBC were there filming it, making a documentary. It was around the time of Hearsay so this whole way of marketing and structuring pop groups was becoming reality TV at that point so it was modelled on that. Long story short I got through each audition stage until I was offered a place in the band. I was offered a place in the band the day I had my final interview for the fire service. I remember saying to Damian, who was going to be managing it, I'm not going to join Oxygen. And he said please consider it. I said I've got this interview today; I'll let you know. At the fire service interview, the final stage, I didn't think it had gone very well; they rang me that afternoon and offered me a job in Berkshire fire service. So then I had the two things to choose from and I chose the band.

There were two girls, two guys, programmed tracks, dance routines. I tell you what was interesting, I met Trevor Michael for the first time and I'm now on his label, 7Core Music, as Throwback Kid and living in the same town as him and good mates with him. Whereas then, I didn't know him. He was just the studio engineer on the project. I remember loving that side of it. When the band had gone to bed I was up in the studio. With Oxygen I had to learn dance routines. I was usually about a beat behind everyone. It stood me in good stead. I was involved in a project a week ago where I needed to shoot a music video for a new song for a charity, and that had a set of teenagers from a dance school. All that stuff came flooding back as I worked with the choreographer and the producer on the video. Thankfully I wasn't dancing in it but it brought back some of those memories.

With Oxygen a lot happened in a short space of time. We were on the Big Breakfast; there was an article in the Big Issue and in one of the national newspapers. There was quite a lot of interest and we toured with the World Wide Message Tribe. Looking back on it, I had a lot of fun; I learnt things that I would never have learnt otherwise. It got me familiar with bigger venues like Hammersmith Apollo and the SECC, bigger stages. By the time Spring Harvest came along (we played at Spring Harvest), I'd acquired some skills I wouldn't have got otherwise. I acquired studio experience and time with producers, people like Trev, Paul Field; being around other songwriters like Andy Flannagan.

Throwback Kid:  Eastbourne's songsmith aka Pete James remembers the day

2007 Pete James - 'The Blue EP'
'The Blue EP' was the first record I made when I'd become a worship pastor. When I arrived in Sheffield I'd been writing songs for a number of years before that but as I became a worship pastor I realised there were gaps in our repertoire of what we needed to sing about as a church. So I began to turn my hand to writing worship songs. I didn't really know what would come out, as I hadn't done a lot of that before. 'The Blue EP' is a bit of a mix up of styles from different genres that I liked and some songs that I'd written quite a few years before - "Standing At The Cross" is on there but it's a new arrangement. I made it with Paul Burton. The standout song on there for me is "Take Me In Closer" and if you ever get to hear it, the guitar solo was a moment where Tom Mills just played this solo and at the end he held this one note and let it ring. I remember nudging Paul and saying 'Keep recording.' We let it ring and ring. It's one of those Holy Spirit moments where you could just sense the presence of God in the studio as we recorded. Whenever I play that song it's up loud. I'm thinking it's one I need to pull out of my back pocket and start leading with. I'm not sure everyone got it at the time, what it was about but I think I'm probably going to start using it again.

2010 Pete James - 'Dreams, Reality And Everything In Between'
This one was an independent record. It was very kindly funded by two people that I got to know from a Lutheran church in Omaha in Nebraska. Incredible generosity. They knew I'd written this batch of songs but didn't have the means to record them and basically made it possible. I called in Paul Burton and Dave Evans to help produce it and I beavered away in this studio that we had on our campus in Sheffield with the band. We worked on all the arrangements ourselves and set about making it as a record. There's a song on there called "Ready" which I really like; I love the guitar riff played by Chris Davies. He got married in January and I was his best man. A pal of mine who's a great guitarist came up with a really strong riff and it was a different way of writing. You'll know yourself when you are writing songs, the starting point isn't always the same. And for this one all we had was the riff.

2012 Pete James - 'My Heart Is Singing Loud'
'My Heart is Singing Loud' was the first record I put out with Elevation. One of the quieter songs on there is "Jesus Loves Me". That song has stuck with me over the years. Again, I set myself a writing task: how do I write the simplest song possible that says as much as possible? There are few lyrics. I was musing on that childhood song, "Jesus loves me, this I know." I wanted to take the singer, worshipper, listener, whoever back to that childhood song. It features the album title in it 'cos I couldn't come up with a lyric so "dreams, reality and everything in between" appears in the song. There are very, very few lyrics but for me it's one of my favourite songs. Actually, I sing it most nights to my daughter Summer. She's two years old and sings it back to me.

2013 Pete James - 'Live At Spring Harvest'
I think at that point I was probably in my second or third year leading at Spring Harvest. I think we'd just collected the recordings over the years so there was a nice blend of songs that we thought we could put together and make a live record with. I was with Elevation at the time; they were fantastic to work with. So we put that out as a live record and captured some moments. "How Great Thou Art" is on there. It's one of those moments as worship leader you don't really need to sing. You just need to stand and let the people do what they do best. The great hymns are part of our heritage. They're not something to throw away, they're something to build upon and move forward with. There are all kinds of new arrangements that have come out. There's a lot to learn from hymn writing in terms of lyric and structure and imagery. They are just full of life.

I call on a very good band when I play live. I try and keep my head on what I do and sometimes I trust some of the arrangement stuff to them. As long as we've got the agreement then they can read me where I want to go. Arrival days at Spring Harvest are always busy. There are meetings to get to and check in, getting your luggage to your rooms. It was the first time I'd led there and I remember the band had to rehearse without me because I was between meetings and I remember feeling quite on edge as we stepped up to lead because I didn't really know what arrangements were going to come out. I was hoping they'd done their homework faithfully for me. They had.

2014 Spring Harvest - 'Unbelievable: Live Worship From Spring Harvest'
I led worship on the song "Sovereign Over us" which was written by Bryan Brown, Jack Mooring and Aaron Keyes. Aaron is a good friend of mine I've been doing a bit of work with. He's an phenomenal writer. We're running 10,000 Fathers which is a worship leader training school. I work with them helping coach the worship leaders over here and we've got our retreat coming up after Mission Worship which is in a week's time in Eastbourne. The retreat is going to be in Brighton, with lots of worship leaders, coaching them, teaching them how to lead skilfully, use the Bible well, sort character out and all that kind of stuff.

"Sovereign Over Us" is a fantastic tune. It's one of those songs that talk about the kind of things that aren't always talked about; some of the tricky stuff, like suffering. And yet it's not "down is my soul", it's bold and courageous and yet it's not silly. Which is why, I think, Michael W Smith covered it.

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