Tony Cummings and Mike Rimmer quizzed the veteran singer and guitarist BRYN HAWORTH
Singer, songwriter, guitarist and worship leader Bryn Haworth has a rich musical past that somehow keeps reverberating to his present. Though it's been a long time since Bryn played on recordings by Gallagher & Lyle, Andy Fairweather Lowe, Marianne Faithful and recorded his own albums for Island and A&M Records, Bryn's '60s and '70s output continues to fascinate his hardcore fans and Cross Rhythms published last year a detailed history of Bryn's "secular years". And now authors Paul Anderson and Damian Jones have written a book, Circles: The Fleur de Lys, chronicling the '60s rock and soul band with whom Bryn once gigged and recorded. But Bryn is no '60s and '70s musical museum piece. Although the fact is unknown to the majority of Record Collector readers, it is Bryn's post-conversion recordings in the '80s and '90s which represent possibly Bryn's richest seam of work. For it was when Haworth's dazzling guitar technique and deep love of the blues was wedded to joyful Christian faith and a passion to pass on spiritual truth that a number of classic blues gospel albums emerged.
After an acclaimed performance at Greenbelt 1979 Bryn signed with a fledgling independent Christian record company based at a newly built recording studio in Hampton Bishop, Chapel Lane Records. Alongside Bryn, Rob and Marion Andrews' brave new label quickly signed a batch of hugely talented acts - Liberation Suite, The Barratt Band, Alwyn Wall, Larry Norman and a then unknown Sheila Walsh. In the first batch of releases Bryn's 'The Gap' album, with its masterly, organic accompaniments from what had at one time been the Eric Clapton Band (Dave Markee, Chris Stanton, Henry Spinetti and Bruce Rowland) and memorable, faith-filled songs from Bryn, is a gem. The album was lauded at a huge Chapel Lane concert at the Royal Albert Hall featuring the entire Chapel Lane roster. I can remember sitting in a packed venue and all the acts played three songs except for Larry Norman who closed the evening with a full set. At the end of Bryn's three songs, the crowd was crying out for more from him but Haworth rather sheepishly had to explain that due to time restraints, he would have to leave the stage to make way for Larry Norman.
With its overt Christian message 'The Gap' disappointed the gatekeepers of "cool Christianity". Remembered Bryn, "'The Gap' got better reviews from the secular press than it got from the Christian press which was interesting. I think that some people thought that I'd. . . they used these words like 'sold out' and 'overcome by freedom', I was too upfront basically. They loved 'Keep The Ball Rolling' because I wasn't upfront about the Gospel but now I was. So I was dropped, I think, in people's minds, for not being 'cool' anymore!" He laughed, "There was this thing and it probably still is today; some people are cool, some Christians aren't, and that's the way it is. But the thing is each man has to run his own race and I strongly believe that, and I don't judge anybody for the route that they go or the way that they run their race. You've got to focus on what you feel you're called to do and you do that. And that's what I did; for better for worse I did it."
Almost two years after its UK release 'The Gap' was issued in the US by Star Song. The US label put it out with a new sleeve proclaiming 'Larry Norman presents Bryn Haworth and the Eric Clapton Band' and with Larry writing the sleevenotes. A review in CCM magazine likened Bryn's "It Could Have Been Me" to the sound of the Atlantic Rhythm Section.
In 1983 Chapel Lane released Bryn's 'Pass It On' album. As well as the hugely catchy title track and the memorable "Fear God" the album also featured a great horn section that could have given the Memphis Horns a run for their money. Remembered Bryn, "I just heard the horn line in my head whilst writing the song 'Pass It On', and contacted a good arranger/sax player friend called Steve Gregory to gather some guys and come down to Chapel Lane for the recording. It was the first time I'd met trumpet player Raul d'Oliveira, who at that time wasn't a believer but later came to faith. Right from the first album back in '74 I've always liked some brass on a song or two. 'The Gap' was purposely a stripped back project."
After the pumping rhythms, sassy horns and full-on evangelistic messages of 'Pass It On' many of Haworth's legion of followers were surprised by the worship album, also released in 1983, 'Wings Of The Morning'. Bryn recounted how he came to be involved in worship. "During the late '70s I had been spending a lot of time in my room just singing to the Lord using the few songs that had lyrics of a more intimate nature - songs 'to' God rather than 'about' him. But after a visit in 1980 to the first Vineyard Church in Los Angeles, pastored by Ken Gulliksen, I really connected with God through the praise and worship songs being used there, and learnt as many as I could, then brought them back to my local church. I introduced them to a small house group gathering and noticed how the people were getting engaged with Jesus in a way I hadn't seen happen before in our meetings. I felt encouraged to take this experience into the concerts I was doing. At the end of each evening I would segue two/three worship songs and then see where the Lord would lead. It definitely provided a conducive environment for people to receive Jesus. I hadn't any concept of what 'leading worship' was. I was just thrilled to be able to give love to God through song. With the permission of our vicar, my wife and I started a monthly meeting in our house that was open to all who were interested in pursuing God through song, and it lasted about 18 months; it was a great learning time. 'Wings Of The Morning' came out of this."
Bryn's 'Wings Of The Morning' was in many ways a truly pioneering album. He said, "I think that it was one of the first contemporary worship albums in this country ever. I liked it because God really spoke to me during the making of one of those songs; I suddenly realised that he liked electric guitar! Now this might sound strange to you for someone who's been making a living for that long with an electric guitar but I always had this not quite comfortable feeling. Well, does God like this kind of music? It seems ridiculous but I suppose because my own father didn't like electric guitar music, he didn't want me to do that. So you equate that with God the Father too; you think he's the same, you know? But during the making of a song I was doing, 'Give Thanks (Psalm 33)'; we were recording the track and I remember: God loves this! I just got this sense of his delight in the whole thing. And it really set me free about what I was doing and I realised that my heavenly Father is not like my earthly father in this. It was quite a healing thing for me. It really did me good."
Sadly Chapel Lane Records were floundering financially so Bryn's next album, 1985's 'Mountain Mover', appeared on Word UK's Myrrh label rather than Chapel Lane. Commented Bryn, "Rob Andrews was a man with a big vision and a generous heart. I was sad when Chapel Lane folded - it was a pioneering company and their place has never been filled; they were very special days. Myrrh just seemed to take it all on - it appeared to be a seamless transition and I was grateful for their support for the 'Mountain Mover' recordings. It was a relatively easy record to make - recording can be a very traumatic experience! Having a lot of strong faith songs on that album helped the recording process I'm sure."
It was to be almost four years before Bryn got a chance to make another album. In the meantime he played occasional sessions (like Gerry Rafferty's 'North And South' album), played numerous Christian concerts and even undertook a tour of America. Commented Bryn, "I went over and played a tour of Calvary Chapels and I thought, never again!" He laughed, "I'd really, really rather go to America and play in clubs than play in churches. I just could not stand it. Things may have changed now, I hope they have, but back then I frightened a lot of people because I came on singing 'I Serve A Risen Saviour', and you could see the horror in their eyes; the kind of music that I was making. . .blues. . .it freaked them out! And also, you're always a support act to the preacher. He's the 'big star' kind of thing and so you feel that people don't take any notice of you anyway and you think, well why bother? And also, they were so slick; the way they dressed and the way you had to behave and the things you had to say."
In 1989 Word Records released a compilation of Haworth recordings, 'Chronology'. Said Bryn, "I think it was Word Record's idea. They allowed me to choose the tracks and I wrote the liner notes for each song. I think it's a good compilation."
Also in 1989 Bryn signed with Kingsway Music. His first album for the label was cut at Eastbourne's ICC studio with Neil Costello co-producing. It had less of an organic feel than earlier albums. Commented Bryn, "The '80s style was more synth/drum machines so that could explain some of the sounds. There were some interesting lyrics. The discomfort at my comfort!. . . and the continuation on the perennial theme of relationships. . . their joys and difficulties."
A trip to California brought Bryn and his wife into the orbit of pastor Ken Gulliksen. "We went to his church before it became Vineyard and we thought, this is so good! We felt very comfortable. The band had Bernie Leadon in it from The Eagles, Johnny Rivers was on keyboards. . . It's like the best band you could ever think of! For me it was just the reality of God's presence was much greater than I'd ever experienced before and the people were engaged through the music and worship that I'd never experienced before. So music became much more of a priority in the Vineyards at those times - the whole experience of worshipping God through music. It was much better as far as I was concerned, the style, the culture, it was closer to something that I would enjoy. We asked Ken to come over to England because I thought, they'd love Vineyards in England! And three people came over, and John Wimber came over at the same time. He went up to York and Ken stayed down in London and the Vineyards basically started after that. We joined the South West London Vineyard in '89. That was in a house and then it moved to a pub."
In 1991 Vineyard Music released an album in their marathon Touching The Father's Heart series, 'Take Our Lives', featuring live recordings by Canada's Andy Park and Bryn. In less than a year from that Kingsway Music released Bryn's 'More Than A Singer' in their series The Worship Leaders. Bryn spoke about this season in his ministry. "I was on staff at the South West London Vineyard, and leading worship and training others was all I was doing even though it was technically only a part time position. I just loved it so much. The quality of worship CDs had really improved and the songwriting was great too, so when I came to do 'More Than A Singer' I was ready to express my faith in this way. There is a good mix of musical styles on the album and I was still able to be myself within the worship format."
As well as his own worship projects, Bryn contributed to projects by Noel Richards (1991's 'By Your Side'), Matt Redman (1994's 'Passion For Your Name') and even the Martin Smith-produced 1993 album 'Asia Worships'. Said Bryn, "I first met Martin a few years previously when he was working as an engineer at ICC Studios, and he actually engineered for me on some tracks on my album 'More Than A Singer'. I worked on the 'Asia' album as a session player - Martin must have thought I was the right man for that particular job!"
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