In our ongoing series well known artists run through their albums and books. This time one of the fathers of British worship music DAVE BILBROUGH
A troubadour of grace Britain's Dave carries three decades of experience in the worship arena. "All Hail The Lamb", "I Am A New Creation" and "Abba Father" are among his many compositions that have been sung worldwide by Christians of all denominations. Recent years have seen Dave developing a vision towards integrating musical styles from around the world with western music to create authentic new sounds of worship. Alongside his music ministry Dave is in regular demand as a seminar speaker on themes related to worship.
Bilbrough & Friends, Kingsway Music, 12" vinyl & cassette,
It seems an eternity ago. Actually it was 31 years, when the first white label copy of my debut recording arrived through the post. This was in the days of 12" vinyl, six tracks after which you'd turn the disc over. So the key songs were always one, six, seven and 12: first impressions and last impressions with a desire to leave the listener wanting more. I began writing my songs out of a sense of community. God was doing some powerful things amongst us as a group of young people and just like many who had gone before and doubtless will follow on, I found myself as the writer of songs that reflected the movement that was emerging across the Church with new expressions and new emphases of the age-old truths that we call the Gospel.
One of the keynote songs on 'Dave Bilbrough & Friends' was "Abba Father". It was the first song that I'd ever written and to my amazement had become the expression of so many on that same journey. But alongside the devotional was the desire to break new ground and side one closed with a seven-minute epic that I called "The Train Song". The lyrics contrasted safe status quo attitude of the suburban office worker commuting into work in the city with the adventurous spirit of the early settlers in America laying down the railroad tracks in spite of all the odds. These people had a pioneering spirit, something that I aspired to have and a vision to break into something new. These were the hallmarks of the developing house church movement, and coupled with the voices of the preachers at that time the song became a symbol, or an anthem, of reckless abandonment to God's activity for our generation. There were some lighter moments as well on the album. A song called "I Am Free" spoke about the redeeming work of the New Covenant which I was to develop later in many ways against the backcloth of a reggae beat. I guess you could say this was my first foray into the territory of world music.
Our church community at that time was full of creatives, particularly musicians. Many of the band Glyder were part of our church and they were having considerable success when, under the name The Pinkees, they had a top 10 hit with the song "Danger Games" and appeared on Top Of The Pops and other national TV programmes. They formed the core of my band that was to take shape over the coming years. Dave Engel on drums had been my school friend. His influences of Led Zeppelin and mine of singer/songwriter James Taylor produced an interesting cocktail of songwriter-meets-rock! Journalist Tom Morton gave a favourable review in the popular Christian magazine Buzz, saying that this album was a sign of more things to come, which was hugely encouraging and like so many first albums I was beginning to find my voice.
Lift Me Up, Kingsway, 12"
vinyl & cassette, 1981
I had been involved with a number of recording projects that took place out of our church base, the most significant one being the Bind Us Together tour which was a various artists album and major tour across Great Britain and Scandinavia, as well as the very popular Songs Of Fellowship series. 'Lift Me Up' was the solo expression of my songwriting profile. Recoded at ICC studios in Eastbourne many of the core band remained the same. John Menlove took on a significant role as co-producer and keyboard player alongside an amazing guitarist of German heritage called Max Reinsch. Dave Aston, the resident ICC engineer, was to prove his worth in gold as he tirelessly worked night after night without sleep to see this album recorded.
"Lift Me Up" had a slightly more commercial feel than the rootsy style of 'Dave Bilbrough & Friends'. One of the strongest songs, "The Lord Is Good" was a track near the end of the album that was hugely influenced by Jessy Dixon And The Dixon Singers - my first foray into gospel. At the time it was, perhaps, one of my most memorable catchy songs. I well remember being on the Kingsway stand at Spring Harvest where their sale strategy for the album consisted on playing that track again and again and somehow like bees to the honey pot, people would come from every corner, listen and buy, much to the delight of the sales team.
Track three, "Feast Your Eyes" was one that I was particularly fond of. I've always wanted to pursue a freer style where the words and the chords paint a picture outside of the conventional lines, and on this track it was my privilege to feature a good friend from Norway, Larsh Berg, a skilled professional in the Norwegian Concert Orchestra and a good friend, who added so much on his oboe to the atmosphere of the song. The album built to a climax with a self-penned popular song of the time "Let There Be Love Shared Among Us" written originally for a local event in my own home town but adopted my many to use in their church worship.
An Army Of Ordinary People, Kingsway Music, 12" vinyl &
This was, I guess, what you would call my real breakthrough album. Yet surprisingly it was an album that I almost never made. Faced with challenges in our own local church situation with people moving away and a reappraisal of our leadership structure, I questioned if it was appropriate to record a selection of songs that celebrated unity. However, having sought counsel, I decided to go ahead and make the album. What a surprise it was when the album broke out of my existing networks into the wider arena of the Church at large. The recording showcased songs that were beginning to become the vocabulary of the contemporary Church. "I Am A New Creation", "Shout For Joy And Sing", "So Freely", "O The Valleys Shall Ring" and "An Army Of Ordinary People" seemed to be saying what so many were feeling. In my role of songsmith, I felt, and continue to feel, enormously humbled that the songs have been used in this way.
Rather than pursuing a studio sound, I decided to break with convention and put the songs in amongst the people by recording them live on two special nights in my home town. It was risky as our technology and understanding at that time was fairly limited. But I was so glad I did because it made the songs authentic and put me in the arena where I believe I function best - live and being able to be spontaneous. The album also brought the voice of a young Sue Rinaldi into the recording spectrum. She had become a good friend and there was no doubt of her considerable talent and strong vocal presence. It was an obvious move to ask her to do backing vocals. The front cover picture was taken at an event I was involved with alongside my good friend Gerald Coates at Wembley Arena called The Banquet. God was expanding our influence and whilst looking at the video recently, although cringing at the haircuts and fashion styles, I could not help but be amazed at the commitment to worship that was present in the congregation.
Two core themes took place on that album, which were, I guess, to symbolise much of my later writing. Unity, which has already been covered, coupled with the very important truth of our identity as New Covenant believers. The relationship a Christian has with his Creator is very, very different from the law-based conduct that was expected under the Old Covenant. Although pointing towards what was to come, much of the essence of Old Testament thinking that Jesus came to challenge is about rules. The arrival of Jesus points us towards the rule of Christ which comes to set us free from dependence on law-based activity and into the life of the Spirit where we function not according to laws and standards but out of relationship and trust in the saving life of Christ. Worship becomes not just something we do in special arenas administered by a privileged few specialists, but the birthright of every one of the vulnerable ordinary people that have been called by his grace.
God Of Grace, Kingsway Music, 12" vinyl & cassette,
'God Of Grace' developed further the theme of living as New Covenant believers. Choosing again to record in the live format the venue chosen this time was a small theatre in the town of Littlehampton. Little did I know that a few years later the band Delirious? were going to put Littlehampton on the map! But that's another story. At the time it was home for a growing church where my good friend Ishmael was based and very accessible to Revelation Church where Roger Ellis was beginning to develop an exciting and distinct congregation. This album was to see Steve Criddle, my keyboard player, make his first steps into the Bilbrough band that had mainly remained the same. He was given the role of playing synthesizer. Steve was to become my travelling companion for many years, one that could be trusted and remain loyal through thick and thin.
The album started with the song "God Of Grace", a clear invitation to inspire us to look to God's grace and to look away from self-effort. Songs like "All Of You", "No More Concepts" and "Unwearying Love" carried the same thread and the album was to finish with what for me is one of my favourite songs, "Reigning In All Splendour", a heartfelt proclamation of God's power. It starts in the minor key but then builds into a major key in the chorus. Dave Engel's drums brought weight and majesty to the lyrical content of the song affirming that God is all in all, the light in our darkness, a hope in our despair.
Bilbrough & Band Live, Kingsway Music, VHS video,
The 'God Of Grace' live concert was also filmed for video featuring an interview that had been done some months after where my hair had taken quite a radical cut from the lengthy locks I once sported. The interview, which broke into various stages of the concert, proved quite an entertaining diversion. Not only was the hair short, but the wallpaper beind me was overwhelmingly loud and colourful!
Bilbrough Songbook, Kingsway Publications, songbook,
This songbook featured the songs from 'An Army Of Ordinary People' and 'God Of Grace'. It was my first venture into having an exclusive songbook. Sadly a fire at the STL warehouse meant that after two years the songbook was made summarily out of print. It became so hard to find that I had to buy my own personal copy some years later at a bookshop in Ireland! Very much a collector's item!