Our music review of BIG CHURCH DAY OUT, Wiston House, 24th-25th May 2014
For a brief moment some spectacularly heavy rain showers at the start of the sixth Big Church Day Out threatened to spoil what has become Britain's largest Christian music festival. But after early flooding problems with one entrance being temporarily closed, the threatened sea of mud didn't quite materialise and by Sunday sunshine ensured that the 20,000 attending this year's event, held in the beautiful grounds of West Sussex's Wiston House, had a hugely enjoyable experience of some of the world's finest music acts, heart-stirring worship, richly creative children's work and an atmosphere which more than any other event in decades showed that the multifarious parts of the British Church are able to demonstrate a unity in Christ. Cross Rhythms sent a small team of reporters to the two day festival.
Saturday 24th May
FOUR KORNERZ - Mainstage - 12 noon
Torrential rain showers and mud were hardly the ideal start for any fest but there was still a sizeable gathering made it Mainstage for the London-based Afro funk veterans, now back on the scene after a lengthy sabbatical. The sinuous rhythms of songs like "This Love Is Gold", "Superstar", "Dance Floor" and their new single "Lean On My Shoulders" were all received enthusiastically and their wiley blend of electro pop-fused funk, laced with a tinge of Nigerian instrumental knowhow, was a lively start to the festival with the crowd indicating their approval of the four brothers' energy-driven performance.
DAUGHTERS OF DAVIS - UCB Stage - 12.45pm
Two white girls, one playing acoustic guitar and the other beating out some rhythms on a cajon, may not have led you to expect sweet soul music but the Daughters from Winchester are adept at bringing something powerfully invigorating to the table. With a very earthy feel featuring their stridently expressive voices, they gripped the smallish crowd prepared to stand in the pouring rain to hear them and even overcame being interrupted halfway through by a full marching traditional Scottish band. The duo sang songs from their album 'To The Water'. If you're into acoustic soul or if you simply want songs with a real emotional intensity, Fern and Adrienne Davis definitely deliver.
MATT MAHER - Mainstage - 2.25pm
"We Welcome You With Praise" rang out across the large Mainstage throng, enjoying some much needed sunshine as well as the presence of God. In recent years Matt has done more than any other worship leader in bridging the divide between Catholic and Protestant Christians and this consummate Canadian songsmith, now based in Arizona, accompanied by a full band, was leading us in worship and judging from the visible responses I could see it wasn't a difficult task. The third song featured some enjoyable slide guitar from a band member while Matt's rendition of his classic "Your Grace Is Enough" was intro'ed by a testimony explaining how he was inspired to write it after reading about St Paul's notorious "thorn in the flesh" and God's response. Matt switched to keyboards for one song and by the time he got to "There Is Power Here In This Hour" there was a rousing response from the audience-cum-congregation. By the time the set closed with the timeless "How Great Thou Art" it was clear that many were joining in with Matt's worship.
JAHMEME - Mainstage - 3.45pm
At least for the foreseeable future it is likely that wherever the name Jahmene is mentioned, it closely followed by the phrase "X Factor." It was clear that the runner up to the 2012 TV talent search is now a highly professional performer of modern pop soul and the songs he sang from his Sony Music debut 'Love Never Fails' got an enthusiastic response, particularly from the teenagers in the crowd. However, I felt that he was trying too hard to show that he could hold the high notes while the problem of some talent contest soul - where performers throw in so many grace notes and octave leaps into a song that it becomes more akin to a vocal technique exhibition rather than a meaningful interpretation of a song - sometimes reared its head. Surprisingly Jahmene also lacked a little stage presence. However, his covers and renditions of some old classic gospel songs went down well.
TWELVE24 - UCB Stage - 3.45pm
Twelve24 have been doing sterling work carrying on in the tradition of The Tribe to take urban sounds evangelism into Britain's classrooms. This was the first time I'd ever seen them and I wasn't disappointed. Ryan Griggs (from Connecticut, USA) and Josh Green (Manchester) are both powerhouse rappers with mesmeric flows while Christina Otoo-Anakwa (originally from Ghana) has the kind of soul-stirring voice most TV talent search entrants can only dream of. The trio sang songs from their 2013 free album 'Tell The Truth' and exciting they were too. Right from the off a healthy section of the crowd were prepared to respond to Ryan's suggestion and "jump, jump, jump" though it being decidedly sticky underfoot I declined the offer. Their mix of hip-hop, dubstep, R&B and everything urban might not have seemed the most appropriate sounds for the picturesque grounds of a stately home but with an urban artist doing some impressive graffiti in dayglow turquoise next to the stage any incongruity was soon forgotten as Josh roared out "you blew me away like a hurricane." Near the close Josh gave a short testimony about finding Christ in a police station and this skilled trio of gospel communicators finished with a more acoustic groove "Tell The Truth". All in all, very impressive.
THIRD DAY - Mainstage - 5.05pm
The crowd was vast, the ground was soggy and the music from one of CCM's longest running talents was exceptional. Kicking off with "Otherside", it was instantly clear that Mac Powell's gritty, bluesy voice had lost none of its vitality while the band, beautifully presented by a top PA, had all the Southern rock swagger and, on slower songs, subtle acoustic embellishments which make every line of their songs rich in impact. On "Tunnel" with Mac on acoustic and Mark Lee providing some electric licks complete with facial contortions was an entertaining sight. By the time the band got to "Revelation" Scotty Wilbanks got his moment in the spotlight with some dazzling, finger-flying keyboard work. "Blessed Assurance" had the crowd singing along followed by their powerful prayer for healing "Cry Out To Jesus". After that, Mac related a story how, after a concert in New Jersey, the band were approached by a couple whose son had been suffering from depression and addiction. Determined to put an end to his life, the son had driven to a remote forest where he planned to kill himself. Before he did it, he wanted to play some music but found that the car CD player was broken and that the car radio was picking up very few stations in such a remote spot. Finally the young man found a station which he could clearly hear. The song being played was Third Day's "Cry Out To Jesus", which is exactly what the young man did. Using this tale of deliverance, Matt and the band then went into a heartfelt rendition of "I Need A Miracle". The band closed to huge applause with "Come Together" which had everybody jumping. Rock music has seldom been as moving.
DIVINE DIVINE & TARA BROWN - UCB Stage -
Despite the billing in the programme, former X Factor contestant Annastasia Baker didn't perform. But no matter, there was enough vocal talent and soul power with Divine Divine (Neresa Maye, David Balogun and Nadine Caesar) and London-born singer/songwriter Tara Brown to carry the show before a smallish (100 or so) but appreciative crowd. Divine Divine have not exactly been in the public eye since winning that much-hyped Time To Shine talent search but in Neresa they have one of British gospel's outstanding voices and performing tracks from their 'Edge Street' album, their's was a classy performance. Tara was pretty good as well, offering some worshipful tracks before Divine Divine joined her for a couple of classic worship songs. Tara finished the show performing her single "Bitter Pill" along with other tracks from her album 'Disappear Imperfect'.
IONA - UCB Tea Tent - 7.45pm
With the name UCB Tea Tent I was expecting an intimate venue rather than the vast canvas arena a long walk from Mainstage. At first there were one or two sound problems, Joanne's strummed acoustic completely inaudible though that was hardly surprising considering the maximum volume the soundman chose to give us. By the second song though, with Dave Bainbridge playing some tasty mandolin and Joanne's pristine voice soaring skyward before adding an effective piano riff, all misgivings were forgotten. By the third song with Martin Nolan's free flowing flute followed by some eerie uillean pipes were locked into a sound that could only be described as Celtic funk. It certainly affected the audience as all around the tent, men, women and children were rising from their chairs to join the Lord of the dance. The title track from 'Another Realm' was as hauntingly emotive as ever as Joanne sang "A place of miracles and wonders/Is for us if we dare to believe." The sense of God was clearly affecting the place and during an expanded version of their song inspired by the prayer of St Patrick I momentarily glanced at a man at the table next to me, his hands raised in worship. More musical and mystical delights followed. Frank van Essen sat at his drum kit as he played "Ruach" (the Hebrew word for breath), an achingly lovely violin instrumental and as the band moved into "Divine Presence" Joanne's angelic voice perfectly captured the tangible mood of reverence as she sang, "But deep within my soul, Your Spirit speaks/With words that I could never find." On "The Island" Joanne denounced the spirit of this age ("Break the chains on this land/Free the spirit of man") complete with hand gestures indicating breaking free. The long 75 minute set seemed to pass in a moment but there was still time for a careering Celtic jam with Martin Nolan showing he is a world class piper so that half the audience took to their feet to dance exuberant jigs and reels around the plastic tables. Call it prog, call it Celtic, call in jazz fusion, call it wonderful.
REND COLLECTIVE - Mainstage - 7.45pm
In seemingly no time at all the fivesome from Bangor, Northern Ireland have become Britain's most popular ministry band and the huge throng gathered at Mainstage were there to acknowledge their heroes as well as worship God in a manner which was a cross between a hands-in-the-air worship service and a ceilidh. Mainly centring on songs from 'The Art Of Celebration', the sheer joy they communicate is utterly infectious while their wiley blend of Irish folk, rock bombast and driving rhythms not only got the crowd up and moving from the first song, it kept them there throughout.
WORSHIP CENTRAL - Mainstage - 9.10pm
It takes a determined crowd of worshippers to stand in pouring rain to bring their voices in praise of the living God, but a large crowd did just that as Tim Hughes, Luke Hellebronth and the other members of the Worship Central team played on. As the evening darkened and the effective light show in various shades of blue brought atmosphere to the line of musicians strung across the stage the songs that rung out, many from the pens of Hughes and Hellebronth, gave a spirit-stirring close to a wonderfully uplifting day at the festival.
NEWWORLDSON - UCB Tea Tent - 10.30pm
Canada's Newworldson have come back for a third BCDO and have already built quite a following and with their charismatic frontman Joel Parisien dressed in a dapper suit and hat they soon got feet tapping under the plastic tables in the Tea Tent. Their approach to songwriting is distinctly old school laced with a fair amount of funk and thanks to some fine tenor sax blowing, some fiery jazz and most of the packed crowd had soon left their tables to dance to the music. Most of the songs came from their albums 'Salvation Station' and 'Newworldson' and the good time vibes they engendered ensured that the crowd went off to their tents in a happy mood.
Sunday 25th May
GUVNA B - Mainstage - 12 noon
The MOBO-winning emcee's blend of old school hip and contemporary modern tracks wowed the crowd and the throng down the front were soon jumping and gyrating like they were in a Brixton nightclub. The Guvna knows how to work an audience and they responded excitedly as he performed tracks from his hot album 'Odd1Out'. Excitement reached its peak on "Send A Wave" which with its mesmerising flows and driving groove showed exactly why Guvna B is today one of Britain's best rappers, Christian or non-Christian.
WE ARE LIONS - UCB Stage - 12.45pm
Among the 200 odd festival goers who gathered before UCB's small stage few could have heard of We Are Lions though if the programme had explained that the Seaford-based band was fronted by Tom Logan of the gone-but-not-forgotten Tom & Olly no doubt the audience would have been bigger. As it was, Tom was embarrassingly described by the UCB compere as "devilishly handsome." Their opener, "Light A Fire", shot off staccato drums from Jack Greenwood, ably assisted by Jake White on a single snare plus a fine bass guitar line from Dave Harding - check out the Youtube video. "Winter Come" echoed Jesus' promise of a heavenly mansion with "You build a house for me, that no one else can see" with a very useful electric guitar opening line from Oli White. A lyrical highlight was "Little Love" - 'A little love can save a soul from a breaking wave' and the resolute 'I'm never giving up.' There was a great Harding-White vocal duet on a re-vamped "Be Thou My Vision" before "Lifted" - "I'm a little bit lifted, I'm a little bit light," led by Tom on acoustic guitar, driven by Greenwood's percussion and featuring some good four voice harmonies. Finally, Logan led on "Home" to a resonating crowd dancing and hand-clapping - "Hey, hallelujah, me and you are home." Astonishingly, this was We Are Lions' first ever gig. Many more will surely follow.
Dr A T Bradford
UNITED PURSUIT BAND - Mainstage - 1.10pm
It was a shame that Michael Ketterer, the featured singer and songwriter on the collective from Knoxville, Tennessee, wasn't able to come to this BCDO particularly as his performances are featured so heavily on the band's last album 'The Wild Inside'. But no one could question that the musicians who did perform on Mainstage are top rate and able to bring an eclectic mix of sounds and influences to their worship music and the crowd were soon responding by entering into worship. All in all, a professional performance playing songs off their albums.
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