Andy Flannagan: The Luton-based songsmith who played at Merseyfest

Thursday 6th October 2005

The huge mission to Liverpool MERSEYFEST had an effect on tens of thousands of people. These included singer/songwriter Andy Flannagan who filed this report.

Andy Flannagan: The Luton-based songsmith who played at Merseyfest

To say that an event was a "life-changing experience" is a potentially dangerous and over-used phrase in our instant culture. But recently I've started to wonder whether or not I should be embracing the concept. I think something in our proud "seen it all before" selves stops us admitting that we are affected by the people we meet and communicate with. I think I am resolving to let every encounter that God brings my way be a "life-changing experience", as I'll be better and softer for it.

With my band I had the privilege of being part of Merseyfest in August. The memories that stick out are not playing on the mainstage as 25,000 people streamed through the park or entertaining the campers late at night, but the small gigs we were part of on the weekday evenings with local churches - phenomenal local church folk who for the last few weeks and months had been busting their guts to let their local communities know that they were loved. You didn't have to be in such churches for long to realise how much prayer and elbow grease had gone into these events. Whether it was bouncy castles or beautifully decorated tables there was much evidence of folks going the extra mile.

Our first night was at Wirral Christian Centre which along with Wirral Youth For Christ serves some pretty deprived areas on that side of the Mersey. I really struggled while telling some of the emotive stories that I normally tell during a gig as I could just feel this wave of brokenness coming at me from the folks assembled - single mums, homeless folks, people who had just wandered in straight off the street, rowdy eight year old Everton and Liverpool fans proclaiming their allegiances with face paints (sitting side by side!), and scared looking 80 year olds. Quite a crew for an andyflan gig, but a very real crew. We had some banter during the early sections with some of the kids coming up on stage to sing "You're Beautiful" at top of their voices. The prize for the first person on stage was a CD, but all the kids that piled up decided that they deserved a CD, so my pile was quickly disposed of! What can you do when you have a guitar hung round your neck, and are stuck behind a mic stand.

It felt as if we had really connected, as people began to hang on every word, spoken or sung, and you just knew God was communicating with people. It felt as if healing was flowing to people in abundance. The song of mine that has had most impact on folks in the last nine months is one called "Why Does Life Have To Be This Fragile?" that I wrote about some kids we met in India who died in the Tsunami. That night it hit home especially powerfully. There were plenty of tears in eyes as the people in the audience encountered a God who knew of their own personal suffering and actually chose to suffer on their behalf.

One lady came up to me afterwards and explained that my song about the Prodigal Son had hit very close to home. She had had no contact whatsoever with her son for many years. She had been praying and praying that her son would come home for Christmas. I won't explain all the heart-breaking details, but there was God ministering right into the midst of a pain that I couldn't even guess at.

Some folks became Christians, but to be honest the numbers weren't important. I will never forget sitting on the empty stage with the band after all the people and gear had gone, praying and crying for these beautiful, but broken people.

The next morning we had the privilege of singing to all the campers at the tent city who were involved in all the community projects. Each morning they got together for worship, teaching and inspiration for the day ahead. We had intended to just sing the Prodigal Son song, but as I was explaining to the speaker Bishop James Jones of Liverpool what kind of song would be preceding his talk, the presenter on stage mentioned that the theme of the morning was redeeming God's creation. I stopped for a moment and said "Actually perhaps it would be better to sing my song about the stars." I went on to explain to him the content of a song, and the bishop's eyes lit up. He said "Yes. Do it. In fact do both." I don't normally need an excuse to sing extra songs, but when a bishop is telling you to do it, you kind of feel you better! So we did sing "See The Stars" with the accompanying visuals. Then the good Bishop preached a blinder and I spent the next 72 hours talking to an army of people whose passion for God's creation had been re-awoken. There was much lying out by tents staring upward apparently. I could almost feel God smiling. It highlighted for me the vital role of the minstrel that I feel is being lost from our gatherings at the moment. All music presently seems to be reserved for worship. Music is such a powerful tool for communicating truth to people in a way that words cannot. Musicians can be teachers and preachers as well as worship leaders. I'll happily travel 100 miles just to sing one song in a worship gathering or church service. Single songs can be like little depth charges that explode in people's minds and, often more importantly, their hearts.

That night we headed for All Saints' church, Childwall, which couldn't have provided more of a contrast to the previous night. This was leafy suburbia! The folk from the church there had put on a supper for inviting friends. It felt much harder work than on the previous night, and that we were really having to fight something, so much so that the band disappeared into the backstage room to pray at every opportunity. In the second half, a crowd of "lads" who some of the team had met during the work project that afternoon landed in and made themselves at home. This involved plenty of noise, aggro and general attention-seeking behaviour! But they sat and listened to most of our second set, and I went to sit near them when Roy Crowne (Youth For Christ's national director) got up to speak. I just sat praying that they would stay. It felt like any moment that they would get up and leave, and as had already happened once, once the "main man" got up to leave, everyone else would too. (A bit like Bagpuss!) They were looking around at each other constantly, obviously uncomfortable at Roy's challenging words, but somehow drawn to them as well. The "main man" got up. I thought "Nightmare. Here we go." But they didn't all leave. Some did, but crucially not all of them. And not only did they stay, but they prayed and became Christians in that place, right then and there. The rest of their mates at this point were busy getting away from the Police who had arrived after they had smashed a window in the pub across the road on departure. The younger lads weren't the only ones who made commitments either. The folks from the church were really emotional, and actually (I'm sure they wouldn't mind me saying this) a bit shocked. They were stunned that God had taken them at their word and moved into their neighbourhood and done something miraculous. Two separate members came up to me afterwards and with tears in their eyes said "Tonight has changed our church forever." Phew. I like my job.

We met another beautiful young girl called Mary that night. All the band commented afterwards to each other that something had broken our hearts for her especially, while she had been chatting to us before and after the gig. There are nights when I sing the Prodigal song and I just know that powerful stuff is happening, but I'm not one of those hyper-spiritually-sensitive people that knows exactly what! There were big hugs on departure, and then we got this email a few days later:

"Your songs just speak the truth. About a year ago I didn't want to know about God, I hated him for taking my dad in the cruellest way. He hanged himself. But God stayed by me when I was tempted by suicide myself and Merseyfest just blew my mind completely. I just wanted him to leave me alone but he kept his arms around me and stopped me doing a lot of stupid stuff. Your song "Open Arms" just reminded me of the fact that I've returned to him and I've been accepted so much so that I'm about to be baptised. I can't wait."

I like my job. What a privilege to be around when God is so busy. Sometimes we just need reminding that the good news of Jesus really does work. Sometimes we just need reminding that it really is GOOD. Merseyfest did that for me.


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.

Reader Comments

Posted by Ellie in Ipswich @ 16:14 on Jul 16 2006

Everyone should buy Andy's CD! I have seen him twice in concert and both times i have been reduced to tears because of the passion he pours into his songs. Rock on!

Posted by ? in liverpool @ 21:16 on Jan 5 2006

That song certainly helped me out and if you havent heard it or of andy flan then find his album because its so powerful and full of the truth

Posted by Simon in Wirral @ 05:43 on Nov 13 2005

Intersting piece. I've never heard of Andy Wossisname or that song he talked about. But it sounds like he helped some people out.

I wonder what happened to those lads though? I hope they're okay. It's easy to put your hand up for God, it's another thing putting your life up for him. Still, whatever they did and however long it lasted for them, I'm a firm believer in the long road.

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

Add your comment

We welcome your opinions but libellous and abusive comments are not allowed.

We are committed to protecting your privacy. By clicking 'Send comment' you consent to Cross Rhythms storing and processing your personal data. For more information about how we care for your data please see our privacy policy.