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 3

In August 1980, Adrian's first son Jamie was born. But by then the singer was inveigled in unexpected controversy. The tour of 'The Passion' had suddenly met stiff evangelical opposition when it was discovered that some of the cast were not in fact Christians. Fuelled by rumour, stern denouncements were made by conservative evangelicals and some concerts were cancelled. At the time Adrian was deeply hurt but today he is more philosophical.

"In evangelicalism there is a protectiveness which tends to be very exclusive and often can't see the extent to which God wants us Christians to discover the creativity and the part of a persons' life which may not stem consciously from being a follower of Christ but has great value. There is a point of contact which can happen between non-Christian artist and Christian audience which will enrich both lives without there being a massive compromise."

After the orchestral trappings of 'The Passion' Adrian produced possibly his most rock-orientated album the following year with 'Cut'. Then, in August 1981 BBC Radio commissioned Adrian and Phil Thomson to write a new rock-opera, this one based on a Christmas theme.

"It was David Winter (then head of BBC's Religious Broadcasting Department) who came up with the title 'The Virgin'. As soon as I heard it, I loved it. I suppose it was a little bloody-minded of me, after what I'd been through with some evangelical circles over 'The Passion' I knew a title like that would be a red flag to a bull! But theologically I think it's a great shame that because of what Protestants perceive as Roman Catholic excess they have completely dismissed Mary, mother of Jesus, and failed to see the beautiful picture of faith contained in her story.

" 'The Virgin' was not altogether a happy musical experience. The work did get a number of raised eyebrows from conservative evangelicals. But with no tour, a new record company (Marshalls) who failed to do much in the way of promotion, and a rain-spoilt debut performance at Green-belt, it passed out of sight and earshot pretty quickly despite its BBC broadcast. At the beginning of 1983 Adrian began recording his second Marshalls album. It was his first recording in the USA. Yet despite being surrounded by the cream of US session men it was not a particularly successful album.

'"Midnight Awake' was for me rather a transitional album. I was going through a few difficulties, and for that matter so were the record company," Adrian comments.

But there were sparks of gold in the dark clouds. A successful Thames Television performance of 'The Passion' sparked new interest in the work, while his second son Ryan was born in 1983. Then in June Adrian signed a recording contract with Word Records and a new surge of creative energy resulted in one of his finest albums 'Feed The Hungry Heart'. Nothing could quite reach the dizzy heights of the title track, a ballad of haunting beauty and a spectorish Wall Of Sound production but it clearly indicated Adrian's willingness to experiment with contemporary instrumentation - synthesizers and drum computers - and contained in its final song the same kind of seed of a larger musical vision that 'Fireflake' contained for 'The Passion'.

"I was beginning to look more and more at the prophetic dimension of our faith and had written a song called 'Alpha And Omega' which appeared on 'Feed The Hungry Heart'. In 1985 I'd visited the Bergen Belsen concentration camp, which had an absolutely devastating effect on me. When I got back I began working with Phil (Thomson) on songs." When it emerged in 1986, Britain's best selling Christian monthly magazine called 'Alpha And Omega' "a powerful and, at times, breathtaking vision". 'Alpha and Omega' was so much more than a recording and a musical tour, so much more than even that convenient phrase used to identify works where a coherent theme is echoed in music and speech, the 'concept work'. 'Alpha And Omega' was indeed a breathtaking vision.

At the time of its release the singer/songwriter tried to articulate what he was striving to achieve with the project.

'"Alpha And Omega' is a vision, a prophetic cry to look and see the desperate conditions of our world - violence, materialism, oppression, famine, pollution - and how only by turning in repentance to the Author of Life will we escape the whirlwind of judgement." The album was a clarion call to the Church, a call to bring every Christian to that point of personal brokenness and repentance: at which God could bring forgiveness. Musically 'Alpha And Omega' was a dazzling work. Layers of synthesizers, percussive drum computers and uplifting choirs intermingled in a glorious mix, often demanding much from the listener but rewarding the effort while Ireland's Joanne Hogg turned in a haunting vocal on "Child Of Darkness".

The Word premiere of 'Alpha And Omega' took place, with telling significance, in Jerusalem. But it was the British premiere in Hammersmith Odeon, in September 1986 that alerted the Church to the enormity of the work. Performances in Norway, Spain, Holland and Sweden followed taking up much of 1987 and continuing into 1988 while in May 1988 Adrian and mime artist Randall Bane began the 'Alpha And Omega Cathedral Tour' organised by the Church Army.

Comments Adrian, "The Cathedral Tour of 'Alpha And Omega' helped to confirm what I believed...that there is an enormous audience out there even within the more established church networks that is open and wants to hear. Hundreds of people who came to see these tours had never heard of us. They were Anglicans, good faithful Anglicans, but they'd never heard of Adrian Snell though, and I'm an Anglican. Coming to their local cathedrals hearing something like 'Alpha And Omega' was a unique experience for them."

The 'Alpha And Omega' album sold phenomenally well and went on to become the best selling European-origin Christian music album ever. But in the big market place for Christian music, America the LP was largely ignored. Adrian was not particularly surprised.

"As long as I'm with Word UK and as long as the deal is that Word USA have first rights to an album of mine then it is always going to depend on the American company's belief in the product. If Word Inc. don't want to put the time or the marketing energy or the real commitment into something, it won't happen. That is an enormous frustration, because I feel especially with works like 'Alpha And Omega' that what people are not doing in American Christian circles is looking beyond their understanding of what the contemporary Christian music public wants to listen to. Often if an album doesn't fit a safe formula it's ignored while the message in a work like 'Alpha And Omega' is never even considered. But of course as the artist I can't say that. I can't go out there ranting and raving. But it frustrates me that by perpetuating that limited view of 'Christian music' they are perpetuating a bad view about art and music and failing to go deeper into things."

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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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