David Fitzgerald: The veteran CCM musician with an instrumental project

Tuesday 1st August 1995

Saxophone and flute player supreme, DAVID FITZGERALD has emerged to record what many are already calling one of the finest instrumental albums ever. The veteran CCM musician spoke to Steve Norman.

David Fitzgerald
David Fitzgerald

For two decades woodwind genius David Fitzgerald has brought vibrant lyricism and fluid warmth to hundreds of albums and concerts. Whether asked to play a piece of sassy R&B (remember his roots go back to seminal British soul man Geno Washington) or haunting classical lines for congregational praise, David Fitzgerald has long been acknowledged as a master of his craft. Up until now his finest achievements have been his ongoing work with veteran singer/composer Adrian Snell and the founding of Celtic fusion team lona. Now with his long awaited debut solo album 'Columcille' David Fitzgerald at long last takes centre stage. I spoke to David at his Suffolk home.

How did you first enter the Christian faith?
"For me, the entry into the Christian faith was a powerful encounter with the truth of the gospel. This was during my late teens. Prior to this, I had been on a kind of search - which took me through the heady days of late 60s psychedelia and eastern mysticism, despite being incarcerated in a military academy of music. Following my conversion I spent two years in the East; the years following were ones of profound confusion - my search for truth and identity had not yet found a resting place. The issues of Christian faith, which I perceived to be factious and full of contradiction, had become overwhelming. Like the disciple Peter, I had taken my eyes off Christ and was beginning to sink into dark and tempestuous waters. Although I did not lose, completely, my personal faith, I felt there was no other option available to me other than to depart from the 'Church'. I still held on to the fundamental truth of the gospel of Christ, or rather God still held on to me, and went progressively into wilderness years. These were spent in the 70s rock industry, years of profound personal disillusion. Although repeatedly enticed, I have never been enamoured by the trappings of the 'glamour profession'. I have witnessed too much wreckage, pain and tragedy behind the deceitful glittering mask of what marketing hype would have us perceive is the true image of the rock and pop world."

What is at the heart of your first solo project?
"My good friend Sal Solo has described my musical experience as a kind of journey. Other close friends have also felt this to be the case. I have to agree, there does seem to be an integral union between that which has been my life as well as my musical experience across the years. Some have even stated that my last major musical project, 'lona', was foundational - a beginning of this journey. Personally, I have not really felt this to be the case; lona was, perhaps, the beginning of the realisation of these things."

Do you have a personal experience of this journey?
"My life's journey, most certainly during the last 10 years or so, has become more and more focused on expressing the truth of God's message to his world through this great medium. I have been very privileged to have been appointed by the Holy Spirit to offer what God given ability I do possess to his service. This has, gradually, become a life's calling - taking me to many countries and cultures across the world, both in person or, more often, through the medium of tape, CD, radio, television and video. I have worked with the very finest of God's musical visionaries such as Adrian Snell and Graham Kendrick and many others. My journey has also taken me to the Isles of lona and Lindisfarne, where the first vision for the 'lona' project was placed within me by the Holy Spirit."

So tell me about the 'lona' project.
"I had just been finishing work with Adrian Snell on his 'Alpha And Omega' and 'Song Of An Exile' projects which had drawn me over a number of years into looking at Jewish tradition and heritage and how that worked in the Old Testament and how our faith came out of that. This made me almost hungry for my own heritage. I thought, 'What about us, where do we figure in all of this?' I was looking into this and how Christianity arrived in England when I was on my way up to Glasgow to do a presentation of 'Alpha And Omega'. On my way up I turned off the A1 for a break and ended up in Durham. I eventually ended up in the cathedral and I was very taken with the shrine of Cuthbert.

Reading a little about his life it started to unfold to me about the arrival of Christianity through Cuthbert and his connection back to lona. Having left there with a few bits of information it was getting dark; I saw a sign for Lindisfarne and followed my nose. I needed to stop somewhere and I had no plans. I arrived at the waterfront and the sea was out so I drove over to the island and found what was literally the last room in one of the Inns next to the abbey. I found myself wandering around the island at night and I went into the priory. It was just a very powerful experience of God. Everything was tying itself together. I felt very inspired by the place and the life of Cuthbert and reading about how they lived at that time, how Christianity spread across Northern England into Europe. It was really encapsulated in that whole experience on the island of Lindisfarne that I believe I had not just a historical revelation but a really powerful sense of the Holy Spirit planting something within me which took weeks and months to work itself out. From that experience and looking further I shared it all with Dave Bainbridge who was working with me and from that time we began to put music together. Joanne came in to add some vocals and within a matter of months the first lona album was born."

How did you come to separate from lona?
"There were a number of reasons which I wasn't prepared to talk about then. I felt a deep concern about the way the band was going. The whole thing became accented around ideas of making records that would be commercially acceptable and it began to wane. 'Book Of Kells' was the area I wanted to be in but it was a bit of a watershed of ideas in what I was feeling and what the rest of the band was feeling. I felt that God had birthed something in me and in them but the ideas were not compatible. They are now going on with that and it's great. I'm fully behind what they are doing and there are no hard feelings at all. The Lord has led me off into new areas and I'm very excited about what's happening."

What have you been doing since you left?
"Since my departure I have spent the last two to three years in full time study; this will eventually lead to a music degree. However, the time of study has also been an invaluable period of retreat. There has been space to examine past and present experiences, as well as foundational experiences of my inner man or being. God has to equip his people, if they are to stand in the world and be a member of the body of Christ. To fulfil our calling will involve sacrifice. This has been a period of learning yet further about the frailty or vulnerability of the human condition, but even more profoundly of God's grace and healing love. It has also been a period of incredible exploration into the history of the Christian Church, with particular reference to the centuries of Christian music, which has been written and dedicated to the glory of God. Somehow, all of this has been interwoven, the music being very much part of the healing process. Some of this music is featured on the new project."

How did you come to put this solo project together?
"It is my endeavour to continue my research and to interact with some of this music. For this reason I have recorded this album - the first of many, I trust -'Columcille - Dove Of The Church'. This project represents a collection of musical styles throughout the history of the Christian Church, which are intrinsically linked by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. I am, through many years, very privileged to have been occupied in so many varying expressions of music styles - from classical training, in both flute and saxophone performance, to years of actual performance in varying musical styles - which include classical, jazz, rock, pop, soul and world music. I have therefore sought to embrace most of these styles on this initial solo album. Naturally, my own musical identity is indelibly woven into each of the pieces chosen. These also represent something of the journey of the last two years or so. I am so grateful to all of the artists that have agreed to join me for this project and to bring their own personality and invaluable musical gifting. My new association with Tim Oliver, whom I met during my studies, has brought to light some powerful and fresh musical ideas - which are demonstrated particularly on the newly composed tracks "Sea Of Glass" and "The Dream", which is to be developed further in a future project. I am also overwhelmed at our new interpretation of "Columcille", which was written during my period with the project 'lona'. For me "Columcille" represents a point of reference and also of departure from my time spent within the framework of that project - the music speaks for itself."

Where does the title, 'Columcille', come from?
"Basically it's the Latin of Columbas' name. Colom in Latin means dove and Columcille means Dove of the Church. The way I link it is that the Dove of the Church is obviously the Holy Spirit - that's why the whole album is addressed to the Holy Spirit. It was my prayer at the beginning of this project that if the Holy Spirit did not enter into it then it would be worthless."

With the exception of Adrian's work, do you have any other plans at the moment?
"I'm actually putting together a new project which is under the working title of 'Byzantium'. I'm looking at Byzantine images of Heaven, angels and the book of Revelation. What we are basically doing is piecing together a major project based around John Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress. It's going to be very much about the journey to Heaven that all of us are on. It's a big project."

Is that due to come on the road?
"It will. I'm hoping that we will be recording that sometime next year and that it will be a very major presentation. I see this as a long term project."

What would you class as the high points of your career?
"One of the things that has been such a blessing for me to actually come away at my age was to be able to almost stop my life for three years and re-assess things. The album is very much about that, it's very much too about looking at my life, at my marriage and at my fatherhood responsibilities. To be quite honest it reduced me to a pile of rubble. The first year was like a dismantling process of God stripping me down to the very foundations almost to the point of feeling destroyed. Then during the last year God just showed me all the different things that had happened. I would say that the high points of my life are certainly being a father and a husband and having a good support in my family. I would say that is the most important thing. The thing that is also most important, and I hope that this will be coming over on the album, is that the Holy Spirit is very personal and even though we go through high moments and low moments our level of experience of the Lord is no different. I've found God to be very close in the lowest moments of my life. Musically, the highest points have been the last three years and working on Adrian's projects." CR

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.

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