Tony Cummings recounts the long and unusual history of CCM star ADRIAN SNELL.
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If 'Alpha And Omega's' prophetic call to repentance was hardly the thing of which American CCM hits are made, the singer/songwriter's next venture was even more 'uncommercial'. While touring with 'Alpha And Omega' an idea had begun to germinate with Adrian - a musical work which would show the relationship between the Jews and God the Father and the link between Judaism and Christianity. Adrian began to read and study Jewish literature, particularly poetry, and eventually selected six poems from the past 2,500 years of Jewish history. Two were by children from Czechoslovakia, from the Terezin ghetto in Prague, who both died in Auschwitz. Another from the Book of Lamentations. As Adrian recalls, "Working on 'Song Of An Exile' gave me a new challenge, that of staying faithful in the musical interpretation of poems I'd chosen to use, poems that weren't necessarily written as lyrics and which translated from other languages.
"Together with the fact that this is a concept work, this meant I didn't' have to structure everything like a standard A.B.A. song or bring it down to a three-minute, easily accessible format."
The daring sweep of the project was not solely a musical one of course. One of the blackest shadows that has ever been cast over the Christian church in history has been its anti-Semitism. The Church's persecutions and pogroms against the Jewish community are a thing of shame. Now here was a contemporary Christian performer - the most popular one in Europe - prepared to make the Christian audience take an unflinching look at the long years of Jewish suffering and the special place Jews have in God's heart.
In July 1989, four days after Adrian had begun recording 'Song Of An Exile' his father died. Geoffrey Stuart Snell had risen in the Church to become Bishop of Croydon and HM Forces. But to Adrian he was a loving father whose gentle humility and deep love for his children echoed the love our Heavenly Father has for His earthly children. The tiniest germ of an idea lodged itself with the classically trained singer/songwriter in the middle of his grief. It was an idea that was to become an album, which explored the relationship between our temporal and spiritual fathers. But first Adrian, though mourning his father, had to face the reality of tight itineraries and tighter schedules.
"It just felt so inappropriate to be going into the studio to record a new album less than a week after he died, and to have to break off for a day actually going to his funeral.
"I still fight a little bit in my heart over that - whether it would have been best to postpone the recording for lots of reasons. But nevertheless, the last thing I would want is to stay with the feeling that what was a priority at that time was not allowed to happen.
"But what I would say in hindsight, is that the timing of his death was incredible considering some of the issues that 'Song Of An Exile' was moving into.
"This was a project dealing with the work of Jewish poets throughout history and dealing with the Jewish relationship with God and some of the pain and anguish that relationship has involved. "Working on pieces from 'Song Of An Exile' like 'Terezin', 'Fear', 'Roads To Zion' and 'If I Were' was, in its own way, a very deep release of some of that pain and I think it did express itself in different pieces, although I can't remember enjoying the recording process - it was a time of turmoil."
Adrian feels that had 'Song Of An Exile' not been underway the grief he experienced over his father's death would eventually have given birth to music and songs, which expressed similar sentiments.
"But it didn't happen that way", he said. "We began to prepare for the launch of the album in the Royal Albert Hall and then the touring surrounding it. And all during that time I was trying to come to terms with it and realising what it would be like without him in my life."
In any moments he could snatch from his gruelling schedule Adrian began to sit at the piano looking for musical themes to express thoughts about his father. "The question in my mind was how on earth do I do justice to my father, what do I say about him?
What I began to realise was that, in a sense, I couldn't! What I could do was produce a work that reflected the heart of the issue without necessarily trying to write loads songs about him. "Lyrics usually take a long time for me, and writing about something that intense...I was feeling that I was treading on intimate and very dangerous ground.
"I began to work with one or two Psalms and then I came across some lyrics that I'd worked on in previous years and began to realise that some of them were particularly appropriate for this album - particularly 'No More Tears'," he said.
Adrian recounts the story behind one of the tracks selected: "Days before my father went into hospital, he prepared a little list - which he put in his desk drawer - of things that he'd loved to have spoken or sung or prayed at his funeral.