Writing hits for Cliff and Amy, producing for all manner of people, and now back with his own upbeat album, Midlands singer/songwriter CHRIS EATON has kept the momentum going. He spoke to Pippa Rimmer.
As we chomp our way through lunch at his local pub in Kinver, Staffordshire, Chris Eaton takes time out of his busy life to share what he's been up to recently, and. more importantly, how he's discovered the healing grace of God in the last few months. It's been over two years since 'Wonderful World' touched hearts and souls, so it's good news to find out that his latest offering, 'Cruisin" is set for an autumn release.
While 'Wonderful World' was reflective and intimate, 'Cruisin" rocks and rolls! Chris is a man of many emotions - from the brokenness found on 'Wonderful World' to the lightness and poppy sounds of 'Cruisin", this new album shows the fun behind the man who hasn't always found life easy.
"It's a bit of a departure from 'Wonderful World', said Chris. "I felt it was time for a change. The whole aspect of that side of the music that I've loved for years was put on one side in terms of the depth of 'Wonderful World'. With this album, I didn't want to lose the depth but I wanted to put back a little bit of that initial fun and excitement that got me motivated in music in the first place."
Always one to raise a few laughs, Chris lapses into spontaneous Inspector Clouseau impressions! This is a fun guy who's a self-confessed 'hopeless romantic', which has got him into trouble on more than one occasion. So, has he always followed his heart? "Yes, absolutely, sometimes to the point of destruction of my heart and of whoever else might be involved," admitted Chris. "It's never intended that way, but I think, as I've always followed my heart, there have been times where I've loved the depth of a relationship or anything that involves the romantic aspect of it. It doesn't have to be in a relationship though. I could watch a figure skater get an Olympic gold or miss out on an Olympic gold and be crying when the skater's crying. It's because I sense that purpose and all the effort they put in. The whole thing is mind-blowing to me."
As a man who takes notice of the simplicity and beauty of his surroundings, Chis is clearly touched by all he sees and is a great observer of life. This provides the basis to many of his songs. "I could look at a beautiful sunset and feel really moved by it and not necessarily understand why. It's the same with my music - I love music. But I frustrate myself sometimes because I'm not as consistent a person as I'd like to be. There's a big part of me that enjoys being passionate and if you're a passionate person you're going to get the best and the worst of life."
Since our last meeting, Chris has been on an emotional merry-go-round and has experienced both passion and pain in his life. As a result, the singer/songwriter is able to give great insight on one subject he has learnt a lot about - relationships. "People look for excitement in relationships. Perhaps their partner doesn't appear to be that way which might make them look and think that the grass is greener on the other side. In my experience it definitely isn't. But it is a case of looking at your own life and making your relationship work in a more vibrant way so that you're not dull and boring, but so that you still have an even keel and a trustworthiness that will keep you together."
It's mind-boggling just how many songs are written about love and finding that special person, particularly of course in mainstream music. Everyone wants to find love and Jive happily ever after, don't they? "Yes, and that's not wrong, and it's something that God wants for us too. It's just something that's very easy to get on top of you, or perhaps you get into a relationship that seems right but you get in too deep too quickly. Perhaps you realise that there are a million things that aren't right with the relationship but it's very difficult to come out of, because you're letting someone down. I'm convinced that, for the majority of the population, it's relationships and their destruction that create the biggest heartache."
It's Chris' openly sensitive and artistic nature, coupled with his ability to feel the intensity of pain that spurs him to write, to look deeper into God and to hear powerfully from him. "Sometimes I don't understand why God chastises me and why I go through the pain when all I really want is to serve him and have a good woman. Yet, it's all part of this mystery of life and understanding that one day, it will all be revealed to us. In terms of God's plan for our lives, it's so easy to be one step ahead of God when we should be one step behind him."
Chris has been vulnerable enough over the last few years to share about his marriage break-up, and even put some of his insights and emotions into song, but now is at the point where he feels that time must move on.
"There's been a lot of confusion in my life, because I came out of my marriage break-up with an awful lot of scars, but a real hope that God had encouraged me, that all wasn't lost and that there was a new life out there. I've always had a real enjoyment of life and when I've been able to get that part of me back it's really encouraged me. I could see God in other people but I couldn't see God in myself. I started getting down. As a result of having a relationship that has been very dear to me, yet one I've had very little peace about, and me being at an age where I'm really questioning what's going to happen, everything gave me a real physical chest pain. Only recently have I felt relief from it. But the relief has only started to happen because I've been willing to give up anything that I felt was coming between me and God."
Having come through the heartache of a broken marriage, a recent and very painful relationship breakdown and discovered God powerfully, Chris has a real handle on relationships but it's taken a lot of painful learning to get there. "All of us need to be loved, but within that, if we don't look down the road, we're going to break somebody else's heart as well as our own - perhaps by going too quickly into a relationship. Getting into the sexual side is a natural thing, when the whole world is telling you it's okay. Everything you see is encouraging casual relationships where you can just be with someone, but where you can show them you're independent. God wants independence from us, but he wants us to love him, so that it's His love that communicates to our partner or our friends. That commitment then builds in a real sense of peace, rather than angst."
Chris has a reputation for being real, both in song and in person, and it's this 'real' approach which has propelled him into the grace of God once again. "I've always wanted to be real with people so that when they heard my music or knew who I was, I could say I was nobody special, but that God is special. In my pursuit of Him I'm beginning to find out what that peace is. I've talked about it for years, but to actually be in it, through a period of pain which has been so devastating to me, is amazing."
After the vulnerability of 'Wonderful World', Chris does not regret the positive, upbeat side of 'Cruisin" which simply shows him in a new light and in a new place in God. "I don't want people to stay in the mire with, me. I want them to take my hand and say, 'We're out of it. It's time to move on.' It's okay to look back at our problems, and if we're going through them now, they're very real. But for me, I can't stand the pain any more so I'm looking for any possible way of clearing the decks so that God can have a blank sheet of paper in my life and so that I can find out about his true personality and the kind of thing that makes me feel good about myself."
So, what can we expect on this new album? Well, there are contributions from Iona's Troy Donockley for starters. But one song that grabs me is the Celtic-tinged "Boat Of Devotion" which has Troy playing deftly on the pipes. Surely Chris must have written it, pen in hand, as he gazed dreamily over a mist-filled loch? Sadly, the reality is much more prosaic - he was actually on stage in America, during the Young Messiah Tour with Steven Curtis Chapman, Twila Paris and 4Him. It was one of those circumstances where you see things going on around you, but you feel a million light years away. Chris tells the story: "There were 16,000 people in this huge dome building, all seemingly going crazy. I had this horrible reaction inside me where I felt it wasn't real - it was all hype. While I was singing 'hallelujah' but for some reason I was having trouble putting God into my perspective. What came to mind was something an old lady told me many years ago when I first became a Christian. She said, 'If there's ever a time when you're in a place where you can't see God, close your eyes and imagine a place where you can let God minister to you.' So I shut my eyes, immediately thinking of a Scottish loch, the peace and quiet and me in this little rowing boat all alone. A very real feeling of God's peace came over me and actually started to change my critical spirit of what was going on around me."
The peace of God and the picture he'd seen in his mind stayed with him through the night until the next day when something amazing happened. Chris continued: "We got on the tour bus to go to the next place and Marty McGee (4Him) came up to me and said, 'When I woke up this morning I had this title in my head - Boat Of Devotion. Does it mean anything to you?'" (At this point Chris sang the theme tune from Twilight Zone!) So they both sat down and wrote the song together.
How come an older song, "Take My Heart Away", was dusted down, polished and put onto the album? "It was always a favourite," said Chris simply. "I've always done it live and found that it takes me to another place when I sing it. It has a real hope and is more arty than some of the other tracks on the album. It gave me the chance, production-wise, to do some stuff that appeals to the sonic, musical side to my personality. Hopefully, people who like George Michael will enjoy this track. It talks about struggles and hopes but in a positive way. Doing all the right things and going to all the right places does not fix the problem; the problem's only ever fixed when you come back to the Lord."
All of Chris's albums have at least one 'painful' song which gives insight to the complex and inevitable trials we undergo in life. Why is that? "I suppose," said Chris reflectively, "we can't get away from what this life throws at us. It's a wonderful life of beauty and passion and I love to see what God is doing in other people. My hope is that I'm going to touch on the nerve that will create a reaction in people."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.