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 5

"One of those was the song 'Goodbye October'. I knew he loved it but I didn't know that he wanted it to be played until then. Of course that was a very moving situation. In a situation like that you begin to see the song in a totally different light. Apart from it being brought back into focus through someone else's eyes. And I began to think about the lyrics and the song from my father's perspective-a father at the end of his life."

Adrian left for an Orientation tour of India and Nepal with the Leprosy mission at the end of 1989 and found time to consider the album more deeply. On his return home he decided it would need some material written expressly for his father.

One of the difficulties he had in writing the lyrics to 'Father' was the consciousness that other people, even members of the family, might criticise it for one reason or another. "Once you have committed such deep feelings to tape that's are exposed, vulnerable.

"It's a song I could never ask somebody's opinion of because I couldn't bear it if they didn't like it," he admitted.

"There are specific moments in the recording which are cathartic but one of the lovely things for me about the album is that I have dipped into the past as well as the present with 'Goodbye October' and 'Within Me'," said Adrian. The latter track included a guitar part, which he had written years previously but had not used.

"I didn't know when I would use it, I just knew it was something I felt very strongly about. It was a deep expression of something in me that I wanted to say, and I remembered it! It came back to me in a flash the August after he died, up in the Cumbrian Hills, and I felt very close to God and very close to my father. This piece of music was somehow associated with that, so I've included it on the album."

The 'Father' album is unquestionably one of Adrian's finest artistic achievements. Where other Christian music performers seem happy to regurgitate endless evangelical clich├ęs for lyrics, Adrian both searches for poetic images while being continually prepared to expose the nerve ends of experience in his quest for good art. The album's musical syntheses of old and new elements is almost a commentary on Adrian Snell's particular musical pilgrimage, classical instrumentation (cellist Luca Genta and cor anglais player Bill Balmain are outstanding) interlocking superbly with shimmering synthesizers and, on occasions, ricocheting drum programming courtesy of co-producer Stephen Boyce-Buckley.

Over the years Adrian Snell has experienced quite a few creative and spiritual highspots and lowspots and carries his share of wounds inflicted by the evangelical establishment. Yet he remains a gentle-spirited man with much of his father about him, unembittered by the past, and hopeful about the future. If there is one sad irony about the life and times of Adrian Snell it is that though he is the European Christian subculture's most popular musician there isn't a hint of cultural insularity in his music. His albums are not the stuff of Radio One hits maybe. But they are surely lyrically truthful and artistically imaginative enough to reach an audience way, way beyond the church-going public, let alone the evangelical ghetto. Whether he ever will get the opportunity to reach such an audience remains the question. For the moment Adrian Snell is still prepared to slog across Europe (a revival of 'The Passion' with local choirs is about to commence in Holland while in the UK he'll be touring for the Leprosy Mission) and make excellent albums.

Asked whether his art was also a ministry the Christian music veteran left his reply nicely open-ended: "My background has ensured I can't see validity of artistic performance being necessarily tied to the number of people who profess Christian commitment at the end of a performance. I have never been comfortable with that attitude as an artist. For me the communication was something beyond words - from the heart to the heart, from the soul to the soul." 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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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

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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