Pop sessioner, R&B rock gospeller, and now praise and worship leader, BRYN HAWORTH has packed a lot into his 43 years. Gavin Drake reports.
In a British music scene still populated by ageing rock gospel dinosaurs, Bryn Haworth at least holds impeccable 'sec cred' credentials. Christendom's guitarist extraordinaire has worked with a myriad of star names including Eric Clapton, Cliff Richard, Joan Armatrading, Gerry Rafferty and Fairport Convention. Bryn's own solo recordings too have been milestones in the evolution of British Christian music. His driving rhythm 'n' blues-style gospel albums for Chapel Lane, Word and Kingsway bring him critical acclaim if not fat royalty cheques. In recent times however the 43-year-old rock gospel veteran's ministry has taken a rather unexpected turn with an emergent praise and worship ministry. Bryn's latest album 'More Than A Singer' is a collection of 14 mainly self-composed worship songs. Bryn sees praise and worship as being a multi-faceted ministry. "In praise and worship there are so many potential areas for ministry," said Bryn when Cross Rhythms met up with the singer before a concert in Walsall, West Midlands. "Salvation, deliverance, dedication, consecration are all covered by praise and worship music. There is potential for these areas of ministry in a contemporary concert, but there is more potential in a praise and worship setting."
For the last three years, Bryn's contemporary workload has diminished somewhat, while there has been a significant increase in his praise and worship engagements.
Phil Bacon, Kingsway's head of marketing, explained the reasoning behind the title: "In the past Bryn has concentrated on being a contemporary music artist, and contemporary artists are singers. But with praise and worship, Bryn's ministry is more than that of a singer."
Bryn's last three albums have all been praise and worship and for the last two years he has been employed by his church, South West London Vineyard, as worship leader. I asked Bryn if this change was in response to the criticisms he has received for using praise and worship in his contemporary concerts. "To me, praise and worship is a part of my daily life, as well as playing rock and roll, or folk, or reggae, or whatever. It all blends into one. I don't see that you should have your praise and worship in a little box or a little corner or in another event, then you have your rock and roll event. For me it's all one. Like you'll see tonight, I just slip in and out of contemporary songs into worship songs; there's no big deal - that's what I do all day. I praise God, I talk to him, then I dance or sing. But I don't see this as a change.
"It's the way I've been writing for a couple of years. I've been working in my church, leading Sunday worship, and so I've built up a collection of worship songs which needed an outlet. It's all part of my environment. While I was gigging constantly, I had to write contemporary songs and now that I'm leading worship it's worship songs that I write. I've been doing worship for some time though. My all time favourite album is 'Wings Of The Morning' - that's a worship album from 1983."
Bryn is excited about the release of 'More Than A Singer': "I've got a really good feeling about the album. Les Moir produced the album and it's been nice to have a good producer, someone who was as into the album as I was. And I think the album's good value as well because there are 14 tracks on it, and I currently only do three of the new ones in my concerts. These are "On The Streets", a contemporary "Make Way"; "Teach Us To Pray", a reggae Lord's prayer; and "Go To All Nations", based on the great commission."
The album also sees the fans favourite: "La Hallelujah", based on the old Mexican folk song "La Bamba", recorded for the first time. "Andy Park put some lyrics to 'La Bamba' and I do it at my events because I just feel it's so good - 'La Hallelujah' said Bryn.
Bryn is a pioneer in moving praise and worship beyond the 'mushy-peas praise' stylings of many praise and worship albums. He comments: "It's wonderful to worship with different styles of music." 'Not Just A Singer' is testimony to that, featuring ballads, latin, reggae, pop, African and of course Bryn's unique rhythm'n' blues stylings. Bryn would welcome the opportunity to tour 'More Than A Singer'. "I'd like to do it with a full band. The musicians on the album were good, Les Moir on bass, Henry Spinetti on drums and Howard Francis (Inspirational Choir) on keyboards, but I'd like a bigger band with brass and wind instruments as well.
"I think Contemporary Praise is particularly relevant to young people, because you can dance, celebrate and "just go for it." 'Just go for it' about sums up Bryn's unique attitude to life. Always musical, by age 17 Bryn was already showing a huge musical gift. He left native Darwin in Lancashire and moved to London to get gigs. "I went with a band that was local to us - Wynder K.Frogg (anyone remember their hit "Green Door"?), who were signed to Island Records. I slept on their floor in a flat in London and hung around until I got a gig with some band. I toured with bands in England in the mid to late '60s. In '69 I met an American musician called Leigh Stephens who had just left the acid band "Blue Cheer" who were in the Guinness Book Of Records at the time as being the loudest band in the world. I started playing with him and he decided to go back to California and asked me to go with him. In those days they were prop planes not jet planes - you landed in Iceland and refuelled, then went to New York and refuelled. It took a long time. We smoked dope on the plane. Things were so much looser then than they are now. We landed in California, and I lived with Leigh and played with his band in California, where I met up with other musicians."
Leigh Stephens' band fell apart and Bryn joined a new band called Wolfgang, managed by legendary impresario Bill Graham. "Wolfgang was a hard rock band. Two guitars, 15 minute solos and a good rhythm 'n' blues singer. Being managed by Bill Graham we got to play in San Francisco in all the big gigs like Winterland, with Led Zeppelin and all those guys. It was the real Rock ln' Roll period - late '60s early 70s. "Living in the rock 'n' roll fast lane, Bryn had an unexpected spiritual experience."I went to bed and had a very vivid dream. I had a lot of childhood memories come back to me. It was like a video or re-run and at the end of each memory a voice would say "did you understand this?" and I would either say yes or no, and I would go on to another memory. I woke up the next day and I was so distraught. I just knew I had to go back to England and get right with my dad, because my father and I had a bad relationship. We'd had strong words and I left home. I didn't get on with him and he didn't get on with me. I knew I had to get right with him. So the very next week I went back to England, which was really strange because we had a good manager, a great band and everything I wanted was in California. But this dream was so powerful that it turned my life around. I went back to England, went up North, knocked on the door and said "Eh Dad, do you want to go to the pub? Let's go and have a drink," and I tried to get right with my Dad and from then on my direction changed. I went to live in Wales in a cottage in a very remote district. I had also met my wife by then; Sally. She wasn't my wife then, but we went to live together. There I started writing songs. I wrote an album. Well, it wasn't an album at the time but it became one called "Let The Days Go By" which Island Records took up."
So far we have a story of a fairly successful musician who decided to change direction to make peace with his dad, however, as Bryn explains, that dream had another significance that was not immediately apparent.
"I made the first album for Island in 1973 and was waiting for it to be released. In the meantime Sally and I, we had been living in London, moved down to Sussex where we rented a really nice cottage. I was waiting for the album to come out and I couldn't settle. Sally said "Why don't you try something else? Why don't you try painting pictures instead of playing music?" So I painted a picture of a circus tent. I had never painted before, but I painted this red and white striped tent with a nice welcoming face on it. We went for a drink that same week down in Eastbourne and in the corner of a field was this red and white striped tent! I thought, heck, that's just like the one I painted. It turned out to be a gospel meeting. I didn't know anything about the gospel really, but I kind of thought it was a circus. We went in and we heard the gospel that night and we both went forward in the meeting. It was a Billy Graham-type meeting where they ask you to come to the front and we both went forward that night and got prayed for. It was wild. There was this wonderful banner over the front of the stage which said, 'Jesus said, "I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by me."' I thought, that's it, I tried every way possible I thought would get me right with God and it hasn't worked and so Jesus, you say you're the way, I'm coming your way. That was the limit of my understanding at that time but it was enough and I got born again.
"It was incredibly powerful to me, it was like I was living in a two dimensional world and now it was a three dimensional world. God was in it and I sensed his presence a lot. It was thrilling for me to know that God was real."
Bryn's outlook and attitude changed after his conversion - but not his work. A touring rock musician before, he stayed a touring musician after. But now Bryns' lyrics took on a new spiritual direction.
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