Adrian Snell: Fireflake to Father - The life and times of a UK CCM institution

Sunday 1st July 1990

Tony Cummings recounts the long and unusual history of CCM star ADRIAN SNELL.

Continued from page 2

The album got quite a high profile launch in the UK.

"For several years MGO and Buzz combined to put on an event in the Albert Hall which I performed at several times.

"Quite an ambitious thing to do - with very limited resources and to put together a whole evening with different artists. The first time was after 'Fireflake', and 'Listen To The Peace' was launched at that event. I remember backstage Geoff running back and saying 'We've sold 500 copies of your album tonight!' He was thrilled to bits; a serious launch and they felt that it had all been justified. At one of these events, there was a guy looking after the PA called John Miller and he was part of a production company called Triumvirate, a secular company working with all sorts of things. He'd trained with George Martin. They were working with Gordon Giltrap who'd been on the fringes of the Christian scene; he'd worked with Kendrick for a while. John heard me sing 'Goodbye October', went to Geoff and said "If there's a chance I'd like to work with John..." and as a result Kingsway and I went to Triumvirate and said 'Can you be involved in Adrian's recording work for 'Something New Under The Sun'?"

It was in September 1978 that Adrian began working on this, his fourth album, for a new company emerging out of the old MGO - Kingsway Music.

"The whole feel of the album took a different aspect. Although it was very much me, all the musicians on it were from secular session work - Barry De Souza on drums, John Perry on bass, Kevin Peek on guitar, a professional string section and backing vocals."

The tight, bright rhythm tracks gave 'Something New Under The Sun' a new contemporary edge with Triumvirate's secular production know how obviously benefiting an increasingly confident singer/songwriter. But bigger things, much bigger things, were soon to follow.

"I was almost dragged into 'The Passion' as the least convinced" remembers Adrian. "I'd been working with this original version of 'The Passion', which had been recorded on the second side of 'Fireflake' five songs - piano, voice and string quartet - that was entirely a solo, a very intimate performance lasting about 25 minutes. The response to that in concert was terrific, very deep. Many times with audiences I felt we'd gone somewhere very special together, I wanted to protect that. But suddenly I began to have this excitement both from Triumvirate and from Kingsway suggesting a re-recording of 'The Passion' and it was Triumvirate, under John Miller's direction, who was saying, don't just re-record 'The Passion' but expand it and lets go the whole route and make it a rock oratorio - invite personalities to sing the songs and all the rest of it."

What, of course, was to take the fledgling rock oratorio into the heights of Big Time was the choice of orchestra.

"Triumvirate said, 'let's get a top orchestra," recalls Adrian, "I remember some of the conversations in the office of the studio - John Miller said 'I think we should approach the Royal Philharmonic'. My heart leapt. For an artist with a classical rock background this was fantasy language and I certainly didn't think it would happen. But then I thought, if anybody could pull it off, with his contacts this guy could. It all moved very fast. I did piano and voice demos. John Miller sent the material to one of the managers of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. And eventually they came back and said for this sum we could provide this number of the orchestra. Suddenly there it was on paper, we could do it."

Working with one of the world's best rhythm sections also had a devastating impact on the classically trained musician.

Adrian Snell: Fireflake to Father - The life and times of a UK CCM institution

"Some of the steps we took with 'The Passion' album changed forever my concepts of exploring the possibilities of the rock/classical blend, especially working with Simon Phillips the drummer. I'd heard a lot about him from John, Simon had played with Stanley Clarke and Jeff Beck and a lot more people. John used to say, 'when we've got Simon with us then we'll know what direction we are going in'. And I used to think 'why's he putting so much store on...well...a drummer'. Then came the day Simon walked into the studio. This slight guy, only 18 years old yet already rated one of the world's top five drummers. They played my piano tracks for John Perry (bass) and Simon. I remember watching Simon listening to this very rough piano/voice demo and watching him move his hands and working out rhythms within rhythms. And then we went into the studio and started to work with it. If ever the phrase mind-blown applied to a musician it applied to me. I sat in there with the cans on, Simon in the drum booth and John Perry next to me, recording pieces like 'Judas' Song' and 'Golgotha' and being absolutely devastated by what I heard going on around me. I remember coming back into the control room and listening back to it and being staggered. Without being arrogant, only a musician could really appreciate some of what this rhythm section was doing. But it wasn't just clever. It was profoundly expressive and was increasing the power of this music to communicate something. We finished the rhythm recording and we began to work with Dave Denzil Martin on guitars and by the time we got this excellent stuff down we had a much clearer idea of what we wanted the orchestra to do."

Will Malone, a widely respected arranger who'd worked with the likes of Rick Wakeman did the charts for the Royal Philharmonic. Adrian anxiously counted off the days to the recording session. "Then came the great day. It was one of the most precious moments of my musical life being in the Olympic Studios, London, up in the control room looking down upon members of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra playing my music. It was a wonderful day. Harry Rabinovitz was the conductor, he was absolutely brilliant and even the fact that half of the orchestra were reading the daily newspaper in between takes didn't worry me too much!

It was one of the world's best orchestras adding rich things to the music. It gave me a new confidence in my music, that people believed enough in what I was doing to go to that effort."

Coinciding with the albums' release, in March 1980 'The Passion' had its world premiere at Eastbourne Winter Gardens. The following month BBC Radio One broadcast 'The Passion' to an audience of millions. It could have elevated Adrian to the status of superstar. But factors of time and finance meant the album was only released on Kingsway Records with none of the promotional and marketing resources available to major secular labels. So no crossover to the secular market was even attempted. 'The Passion' began a British and European tour. Within the Christian music sphere however the work was rightly heralded as a classic and audience reaction was enthusiastic. The album too enjoyed consistent sales down the years (particularly following its emergence on CD) ensuring that it has today finally drawn close to recouping its huge recording costs.

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Reader Comments

Posted by PAUL TONKS in KILBURN, DERBY @ 20:20 on Jun 6 2013

i have just read your article on adrian. i thought that it was amazing. so honest and yet so refreshing.
a friend bought me fireflake in the 1970's and i thought it was the most brilliant music i had ever heard. i used to play it every morning before going to work. this friend even took it with him on our holiday to barbados in 1976.
i heard adrian at derby cathedral in his cathedral tour and recently met him at lee abbey in devon.
i still play fireflake today as well as all his other records - his music reaches me like no other.
thank you for such an interesting and absorbing article.
if you see adrian, tell him he is welcome to come for a meal anytime at my house. i feel sure that my wfe would love to meet the man whose music i play so frequently.
paul tonks. tel; 01332 883107

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