An indepth review of Europe's largest Christian music event

Continued from page 1

2.22pm (Tony Cummings)
As my steward friend Craig and I pass the Chapel by the side of Wiston House Craig nods towards the ancient walls as he proclaims, "I was in there last year and God turned my whole life around." As I am to learn later, God is doing similar things this BCDO. Cross Rhythms' Rob tells me of a meeting he had with one of this year's BCDO festival goers. "This lad - a burly bloke maybe in his late 30s - was passing my tent and we got talking. Apparently he'd been a bit of a bad lad in the past but had got saved and was now involved in youth work with a church that had just moved into a pretty rough area. Anyway, this guy decided to drop into the Chapel for 30 minutes. The presence of God was awesome in the Chapel. The chap meant to stay there for 30 minutes but ended up being there for two hours. God was doing amazing things. One bloke had some kind of breakthrough and suddenly started shouting 'Praise God!' Soon many others were joining in. It was awesome, breathtaking."

Planetshakers (photo: Ian Homer)
Planetshakers (photo: Ian Homer)

2.25pm (Ian Webber)
Arriving on Main Stage in bright sunshine, Planetshakers inform the large Main Stage crowd that it has taken over 40 hours to fly to this, their first appearance at BCDO. The Melbourne-based worship collective kick proceedings off with the upbeat, celebratory worship of "This Is Our Time". A fusion of bass-heavy dance and rock pumps from the speakers though on the first song the vocals are lost in an overpowering bass hum. The problem is soon remedied as Planetshakers slip into "Endless Praise" which includes a virtuoso display of bass playing and elements of a Michael Jackson track. The crowd is now travelling with the band on their worship journey and many are dancing along. Halfway through the set the band slows things down and the Australian musicianaries are unexpectedly joined by Israel Houghton. He adds both vocal and guitar support to "Nothing Is Impossible" while "My Soul Longs For Jesus", with its Celtic hymn-like setting, slows things down further and leads into a time of God-breathed ministry. The closer "Put Your Hands Up" becomes a dance off with one side of the crowd pitted against the other. The whole Planetshakers set matches the party atmosphere of Main Stage perfectly.

2.35pm (Tony Cummings)
I'm sat at the Cross Rhythms stand. Suddenly a 12 or 13 year old boy, no doubt egged on by his mates, walks over and sits on my lap and proceeds to tell me what he wants for Christmas. I'm flabbergasted but as it's already too late to avoid the watchful gaze of anyone looking out for young people being taken advantage of, I quickly do my "have you been a GOOD boy" Santa voice which gets him off my lap and he and his mates leave, laughing loudly.

2.45pm (Tony Cummings)
Lily-Jo is an R&B gospel singer from Manchester who in 2014 released an EP and has now issued a five-song EP 'Need To Know'. She's pretty and though she looks a little nervous she's reasonably convincing giving up the funk as she sings about one who brings her back to life. She tells the crowd of 40 (those at the front of the Illuminate Stage seemingly all young girls) that she works as a counsellor and knows something about the painful issues of self-harm and bad relationships so many urban youth are facing today. The title track from 'Need To Know' gets many of her young fans swaying their arms from side-to-side and even joining in the "woh-oh, uh-oh" hook. "Is anyone in love here?" is a rather coy intro to a more pop sounding number. By the time Lily-Jo introduces us to the excellent musicians and backing singer who are on stage with her and sings a ballad called "Show Me" with some Whitney Houston-style phrasing, she has shown herself to be a talent to consider for the future though clearly she'll need better songs to stand out from the crowded UK R&B scene.

3.35pm (Tony Cummings)
I'm walking up the hill towards the Tea Tent but stop, puzzled as a couple in front of me suddenly break away from the path up towards Wiston House and the lady gingerly picks her way through knee deep foliage until she's standing directly under a towering and majestic tree. It's only when my eyes espy her husband taking photos as the lady stands smiling by the gnarled trunk that I understand her detour from the designated path. Back with her husband she explains to me what any good photographer knows - that a sense of scale adds much to a photo. Her husband shyly shows me his tablet pic and indeed it is an excellent pic. As all three of us resume our journey up the hill I realise that such has been my note-taking tunnel vision obsession with Main Stage and Illuminate Stage, the aquazorbs in the water walkers pool or the hurly burly of the Bazaar that I've failed to really look at the breathtaking sights of God's creation. At first this couple's obvious reverence for a beautiful tree seems straight forward enough. Then, as we walk up the hill, the lady says something thought provoking. "Considering how big this tree is and how long it would take to grow to this size, whoever planted this tree did so for future generations."

A few days later an article about another kind of tree, a tamarisk, by the American prophet Dutch Sheets is drawn to my attention. In the article Sheetz points out how the evergreen tamarisk is a symbol of an everlasting covenant with God. Sheets wrote, "As I studied this tamarisk tree, I learned that this tree grows very slowly, but lives a very long time. The taproot goes down so deep it can live in an arid climate and still pull up hundreds of litres of water a day. One lexicon I looked at said that no one plants a tamarisk tree for him or herself becase it grows so slowly they would never reap its fruit or enjoy its shade. Anybody that plants it does so for future generations." I've no idea who planted the proud and ancient tree in Wiston House's glorious grounds. Maybe it was planted by a descendent of Sir Charles Goring or a later member of the Goring family. What I do know is that this towering tree reminds us that what you plant today, physically or spiritually, can have an effect on generations to come.

3:40pm (Andy Shaw)
Gungor have been touring extensively since their third studio album 'I Am Mountain' was released in 2013, honing their skills in providing a dynamic live show. They open on Main Stage with a real statement of intent building up a sweeping soundscape of layered guitars, synths and strings that washes over the assembled crowd and creates a sense of growing excitement. As we all know, it is impossible to musically categorise Gungor as they switch seamlessly from rock to roots to folk to even avant garde jazz while continually pushing the boundaries of creativity. The layers of sound ebb and flow from the roar of "I Am Mountain" to the gentle wash of "Beautiful Things". There are a mixture of songs from their three studio albums and Gungor also introduce new songs previewing the collective's ambitious plan to release three albums this year, 'Soul', 'Spirit' and 'Body'. Lisa moves from keys to harmonium and Michael rips through a bombastic Southern rock anthem on "Retreat". The collective demonstrate their virtuosic talent with Michael ripping out impromptu guitar riffs between songs and trading solos with the cellist. "You Are The Beauty" encapsulates all that is great about the band, opening up as a country-style dance before deconstructing into a mariachi-style breakdown before the guitar and cello are at it again trading blows with intricate, freeform solos showing an amazing sense of timing. The set draws to a close with a beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" with the words ringing as the crowd joins in. A stunning set from a band on the cutting edge of creativity.

Brightline (photo: Ian Homer)
Brightline (photo: Ian Homer)

3.45pm (Ian Homer)
Carrying the schools evangelism torch once lit all those years ago by the World Wide Message Tribe, Brightline are the latest musical expression of Manchester's Message Trust. The modest crowd listening to their dance-driven indie pop here at the Illuminate Stage grows. The group open with the radio friendly "Footprints" from their debut EP 'Above The Noise' (a rather apt title as the Main Stage front of house bass bins could still be heard before Brightline's set began). Portuguese Daniel showcases his beatboxing skills in the next song in a throwback to the '80s, to the amusement of the younger audience members, then switches to keys and proves he has plenty of talent on the ivories too. Meanwhile, singer Lucy gets stuck into supplying some vocals although she struggles to hit some of the higher notes (I later learn that she's having to come to terms with music written for a singer who sang in a range above her natural one). The clubby "Come Alive" succeeds in getting the crowd involved, then Brightline take down the energy levels for the next couple of songs. "I Saw You" is about a young friend who has lost their mum and is very touching and resonates with a good few in the audience. The closer "Turn Your Voice Up" rocks things up with some useful grunge guitar and some more beatbox breaks. Overall Brightline have delivered a pretty good set though as I make my way off to the Main Stage I suspect that they and Message Trust still have work to do to make their set really sparkle.

3.55pm (Tony Cummings)
Even by the head-spinning sights and sounds of the cultural kaleidoscope that is BCDO this is a surreal one. At the Tearfund Tea Tent's open air bandstand, young, old and very old are standing by their chairs listening to a Strauss waltz played by the Kings Chamber Orchestra. At the end of every 16 bars the crowd suddenly leap into the air. It's a sight once seen, never forgotten.

4.15pm (Tony Cummings)
Kevin Potter, the station manager and programme controller at Bournemouth's Hope FM, passes by the Cross Rhythms stand talking with me about God (of course), radio (of course), Bournemouth FC (of course) and Chaos Curb Collaboration (ditto). Before I know it I find myself promising to get down soon to write a new article on the pioneering station. After all, last time Cross Rhythms visited Hope was eight years ago and a Bournemouth visit will give Maxine and me a chance to see Chaos Curb play one of their remarkable spontaneous-worship-in-a-pub gigs.

4.20pm (Ian Webber)
Recognising their roots in bluegrass the Abrams Brothers kick off their second set of the day, at the Tearfund Tea Tent, with Ralph Stanley's classic "I'm A Man Of Constant Sorrow". The harmonies from the lads blend perfectly in this atmospheric setting to highlight some delightfully skilled playing. Arlo Guthrie's "Last Train" provides the opportunity for John to switch between rhythmical strumming and a picked style, but it is not until "Hallelujah" from the brothers' new EP that the usually sedate Tea Tent crowd make it to their feet to start dancing. This is followed by a couple of Irish jigs to keep the momentum going and serve to showcase James' bionic fiddle arm. He also manages a picked solo on the violin that any axe man would be proud of. After a short interview with the compère about their musical influences, the Abrams Brothers finish off with the gospel standard "By And By", providing an opportunity for the crowd to sing along, closing what has been an expansive demonstration of musical skill.

4.39pm (Tony Cummings)
At the Cross Rhythms stand in the Bazaar I talk to a burly American called Will who's come to BCDO specially to serve as a steward. He tells me he's a big, big fan of Cross Rhythms radio which he listens to "almost daily" via the internet. I tell him I'm blessed by his willingness to come thousands of miles not only to hear music live but to serve.
Tony Cummings

4.45pm (Maxine Cummings)
I join the small number of people who have gathered to hear modern worship man Pete James and his band play the Illuminate Stage. This is the first time Pete has been asked to play BCDO and he begins his set with a song about Heaven. Pete, well known for his regular ministry at Spring Harvest, then exhorts us to put our hands in the air as he sings "We welcome you, Hosanna" and tells us to be "undignified for him." There is a lot of foot traffic on the path which runs through the middle of the grassed area in front of the stage. The audience is a little larger now. As Pete and his pop rock band sing out "Your love is never will forever made a way for me" two little girls walk by with their hands over their ears. Next up is "What A Friend We Have" put to a new tune with a driving beat. It's pretty good. The pace slows down with "Talk To Jesus" then picks up again with the following song. Those two little girls come back, this time prancing! A mum walks by carrying her baby who is wearing ear defenders. Baby looks as serenely contented as mum. Finally Pete and co sing "All God's Children", a song inspired by the words "Aslan is on the move." Pete wonders what that would look like, if the Church took into the world what God is doing in and with us. Backing singer Faith sings out a line which we are to follow and the set ends with the refrain "Burning bright, push back the darkness." Good set, Pete.

Watoto Children's Choir (photo: Ian Homer)
Watoto Children's Choir (photo: Ian Homer)

5.20pm (Ian Homer)
The Watoto Children's Choir, who come from a project to nurture and empower orphans in Uganda, has been going since 1994 and their constantly changing lineups has truly become travelling ambassadors for their nation and found an international audience with their dazzling mix of traditional African rhythms, dance and gospel centred vocals. Speed walking back up the hill with my increasingly heavy kit I arrive in time to catch this multi-coloured, fast moving ensemble enthusiastically deliver their opening number "I Have Hope" from their 'Oh What Love' album. Watoto's music is infectious and the beaming smiles on the children's faces would melt any heart. They dance with such energy on "Be Exalted" many at the outside stage at the Tearfund Tea Tent look like they want to join in but the tables and chairs rather inhibit this. The Choir's voices are clear and captivating and many of the children take turns at a solo. The backing tracks are supplemented with some Ugandan drums and rhythmically it's all nice and tight while these shrill voices carry a charm no adult ensemble could ever replicate. "Oh How I Need You" is a less vigorous, more reflective song while the finale "We Are Heirs (Children Of God)" is a particularly appropriate declaration as most if not all these children were orphaned mainly due to their parents succumbing to diseases. These jumping, singing, smiling children are being given an experience of a larger worldview than they once could ever have dreamed.