Peter Timmis reports on the Welshman with over 100 albums to his name ANDREW GRIFFITHS
Andrew Griffiths is one of the most prolific figures in the UK music scene but chances are you won't have heard of this mild mannered Welshman. Over the past 12 years the composer, producer and musician has worked on more than 100 albums, various projects for film, television and theatre as well as somehow finding the time to lead worship at Swansea Valley Bible Church. Cross Rhythms recently spoke to Andrew as he was working on a multimedia project for the Olympic Games. "The project is called Following The Flame," he explained. "It's an exhibition that has been commissioned by the National Assembly For Wales and is to celebrate Wales' achievements (as part of team GB) in the Olympics over the last 100 years or so. The exhibition will launch in June and will tour for three years."
Andrew first started playing music when, as a child, he was diagnosed with asthma. "The doctor suggested that it would be beneficial if I took up a brass instrument, so I began playing the trumpet. I wasn't brilliant at it, but kept trying, until the Lord stepped in when I was about 13 or 14 and spoke into my life. His word to me was to 'strive for excellence', so I did. From that moment I could see a marked difference in the way I understood music. I gave myself to practise and learning and found that I could learn other instruments very quickly. I set my heart to worship the Lord in every part of my playing, I would even worship the Lord with scales."
He continued, "I was brought up in a Christian home, so I had a knowledge of the Lord from the beginning. But it was when I was 12 that I started to realise I could no longer rely on my parents' experience of God. So on September 15th 1984, in a youth service, I gave my heart to the Lord. The great thing is that my two older brothers got saved that night too. There was 'much rejoicing' in the Griffiths' house when we got home. So, there were no flashing lights, no dramatic story, but a story of God's grace, that I have been spared a lot of hurt and trouble that so many others have to go through before they find the Lord."
In 1991, before leaving home to study music at Cardiff University, Andrew and his brothers Paul and Marc released the jazz influenced album 'Inhabit Our Praise' under the name The Griffiths Brothers. "I was still in school and did most of the production in my bedroom on an Atari ST. We then hired a studio to add all the live elements such as vocals and brass. I think Cross Rhythms gave the record quite a nice review too."
How did Andrew's career as a session musician and film and television score composer begin? He responded, "For years I would go around different churches and conferences with my brothers. I would play piano for them to sing or we would play as part of the worship team. I would play trumpet and sax, Paul would play trombone and Marc would play trumpet (some called us The Brass Monkeys). A good friend of mine, Mal Pope, heard about us and called us about doing a session on an album he was working on. We worked so closely as a family, some used to say we were MIDI-linked together. From then we did more and more work in other studios and TV shows around the country. This went on for a number of years, until Paul and Marc got 'proper jobs'. Not long after I graduated Mal and his business partner Peter King gave me a set of keys to their studio and said 'learn how to use it,' and that's how I learned how to be a recording engineer."
He continued, "My first commission as a composer was for the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Someone contacted Mal about writing six pieces depicting different aspects of the life of the singer Paul Robeson. He said that he couldn't do it but recommended me for the job. The music was a great success and I still write for the company. My first film score came about through a series of God-instances. I'd been trying for years to get my foot in the door and found that it was a very closed community in Wales, but had peace that in God's time I'd have the opportunity. One day I was doing a brass session at a friend's studio for a singer/songwriter by the name of Billy Engel. During the session Billy asked if I would have a go at setting 1 Corinthians 13 to music. I went home that night and within an hour it was done. Billy had worked as a TV producer and put me in touch with some friends of his in the USA who needed music for a film they were working on. The film was 2005's Between The Walls by the Staron brothers."
Griffiths was also asked to work on the Staron brothers' second film, 2009's humourous Bringing Up Bobby. "We weren't going to blow the whole budget flying me over to the States so they emailed a cut of the film with a cue sheet of where they felt the music belonged. The studio here at home is connected to the house so I would sometimes work late at night when there would be no interruptions and could be in sync with working hours in the USA. Most of the sounds would be recorded live such as the brass, woodwind, guitars and percussion, I even got away with playing a real cello on that soundtrack. I've never met Chris and Nick Staron. It's amazing how the internet has enabled me to work with people from all over the world."
Andrew has been worship leader at Swansea Valley Bible Church for 20 years. How does this role differ from his day job? "I've learned a lot over that time. For years I wanted to take everything I used in the professional world and implement it in the worship environment, but I've learned that all the Lord wants is a worshiping heart. There are some things that cross over, but not everything should. One important moment for me was when I was playing in the worship team for a large conference. The band was great and musically it was like doing a professional job but one evening after the main service I came to the realisation that I hadn't thought about the Lord once all night. I was so concerned with playing well that I'd lost all focus. Now more than ever, I want to make sure I don't get caught up in the music, but get caught up with the Lord. When I lead, I want to worship the Lord myself, I then invite the congregation to come along for the journey."
In 2004 The Griffiths Brothers recorded another album, 2004's 'Better Than Life', but it looks set to be their last as Marc has now relocated to Australia. In 2009 Andrew released his first solo album 'Big Bangs & Monkeys'. Does he plan to record any more solo projects? "I'm so busy working on other people's songs, it's only when I'm quiet that I get time to write and record my own stuff. There are some new songs in the pipeline, but I never force songs to exist. Sometimes I have to wait for the Lord to do something in me before I can finish a song."
Andrew explained where he finds inspiration for his songwriting, "An idea can come from anywhere. Something someone says, a situation or a musical phrase I hear. I'll sometimes get an idea and that idea will 'cook' for a year before it becomes a song. That was the case with the song 'Three Days'. I had the idea over a year before I even started writing anything. Then as soon as I started writing it, it was done in two days. I record every idea I have either on the computer or on my phone and keep them as a sort of sketchbook. I think there are about 40 song ideas on the go at the moment. Some are musically complete with full melody and production with maybe the hook written. I've learned to leave them until the Lord tells me to take them up. When the time is right, a song can be finished in an hour."
Griffiths currently plays approximately 30 instruments. "I'm always looking for new sounds or if a job comes up that requires something different I have to decide if I can learn it in time. I play most of the instruments myself except drums - having a great drummer helps solidify the groove and locks everything else together. I play mostly the piano or guitar these days, or if it's a brass session, I'll play trumpet, sax, trombone and French horn. I've done some weird sessions though, a few years ago I was on a TV ad for an insurance company, dressed as a duck playing a penny whistle! I love to experiment with sounds and instruments, I'm on the hunt for a hammer dulcimer at the moment."
2008 was a particularly prolific year for Andrew as he somehow managed to produce more than one album a month. How did he do this? "It was quite a busy time. I would have a client in during the day, we'd work from 10 till about five. Someone else would arrive from about six and we'd work till about nine or 10. And then after everyone had gone to bed I'd work on another project till about two or three."
Of the huge amount of projects that Griffiths has worked on, which really stand out? "There are so many albums, some I don't even remember doing. I love doing work for Teen Challenge UK. I've produced every album The Evidence have done since about 1992 or '93 and the albums for the Hope House Girls. I also produced the 'Forever Jesus' series of CDs from 1999 to 2002. Between 2004 and 2006, I produced seven albums working with school children, based on the life of the footballer John Charles. The project was called The Gentle Giant. I had written the soundtrack for the main exhibition and was then asked to work with different schools across Wales to write and record songs in response to what they had seen and learned after visiting the exhibition."
He continued, "There have been one or two secular albums which have been fun to produce as I can afford to be a little more experimental in the production and they also give great opportunity to share about the Lord when we're stuck in the studio for days. Every so often a session will come along for one or two famous(ish) people. I did some brass work for X-Factor star Rhydian Roberts and I also produced for Merrill Osmond. If I'm approached about producing something in a style I don't normally work in, I tend to do a little research first before starting. The easiest style for me would probably be big and orchestral. I don't have to think too much when doing that sort of thing. I also like things to be funky whenever they can be."
It comes as a surprise that a producer with so much work to his name isn't better known. Does Andrew purposefully keep a low profile? "I suppose I do really. I've never had an interest in being famous. All I want to do is be at the centre of God's will and do what I love doing. I've also seen the harm that pride can do in any musician's life. I want to make sure that when it comes to my life, especially as a worshiper, that all the focus is on the Lord. I have learned that he isn't impressed by cool playing or flash arrangements, what he wants is for me to run after him with all my heart and give him my best. The nice arrangements sometimes come as a part of that, but that isn't the goal. To meet with the Lord is my only goal."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.