Steven Ecott talked at length to DAVID PRESTON, a retired doctor who has belatedly stepped into the world of album releases
Many songwriters would claim that their songs were inspired by God. But very, very few have a story as extraordinary as retired doctor David Preston who has just arrived on the scene with his debut album 'Be Lifted Up' - produced by ex- Wet, Wet, Wet man Graeme Duffin and with guest vocalists including Gareth Davies-Jones and Yvonne Lyon. Put simply, David boldly declares that the songs on his debut were given to him in their entirety, words and music, by God. I spoke at length to David. Here is his story.
David recalled, "I was a hospital consultant, specialising in gastroenterology. I was born in Nottingham in 1951, but I don't remember much about Nottingham as when I was very small my missionary father took the family to Africa. I had a really wonderful childhood in Kenya, obviously on a mission station where I was surrounded by Christians, and at the age of eight I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I was so impressed with the local mission hospital, and the amazing doctor there who could do everything, and kept looking after me whenever I got malaria! However on returning to the UK to finish senior school I became very cynical about religion and lost my faith. I became a Christian at St Helen's church in Bishopsgate when I was about 21. I'd been taken there by a girl, who would later be my wife and the speaker there was a guy called Danny Hurn. He was a retired rugby player, having to retire after becoming paralysed from the neck down in an accident on the pitch. There was something about his story that affected me, because I was a cynic I was expecting his story to be simple, in fact the narrative was different. His narrative made me sit up and listen and I went to see the minister of the church afterwards, who thought I was a real tough nut. And I in fact became a Christian later that very night."
Music played an important part in David's life, even as a child. "I studied piano from the age of eight, but it stopped when I was 14 because I couldn't make any more progress. Only now I realise it was because I am dyslexic; once it got to numerous pages of music, I just couldn't process it. I took up the cello, which only involves one note and is much easier, and I played that until I finished school. I took up guitar at university and after I had finished my studies I joined Ichthus Christian Fellowship in London. There I was completely overwhelmed by the work of Graham Kendrick, who was our worship leader. I had a tremendous urge to do something like him and I prayed for the gift of songwriting. So I prayed, and occasionally in the middle of the night I would get the feeling I had heard a song, and as I had four kids, I would creep downstairs and, back in those days, flip the tape recorder and try to record what I believed I had heard. The first few songs were dreadful and I gave up.
"After I became a consultant, I got involved with a house church in Lincolnshire and despite my poor grasp of music and my inability to play anything by ear, I began leading worship in small groups, and eventually in the church itself. Once, I even received a song in Swahili, which having lived in Africa, I spoke a little but had not spoken for many, many years. I was talking to a man from Kenya who went to a local church about how he worshipped. And as I spoke to him I received a prophetic song. I went to the other room and quickly recorded the song, and showed him what I had recorded. He began crying and said he couldn't believe it. That was the first time I had ever sung in the Spirit, and it led to me writing other songs in Swahili."
However, in the ongoing years David's medical career meant that his church commitments, and specifically his worship leading, had to take a back seat. He commented, "I had no time to lead worship. Everything changed three years ago. I went to a day of refreshment in Suffolk. Afterwards an evangelist came up to me and told me that the Holy Spirit was resting on me. Occasionally you meet people who believe they have a 'hotline to God' and tell you what to do, and I thought he was one of those and I ignored him. But God didn't ignore me. A little while later I was getting out of my car in the hospital car park one morning when I collapsed unconscious. When I came round I was in terrible pain, I couldn't see anything but I could hear a nurse standing over me saying, 'Come quickly, I think he's going'. I had terrible chest pains and thought I was going to die. But then I began having visions, visions of Heaven. I had a tremendous feeling of peace and gave up, and accepted I was going to pass. That vision changed my life. I went into coronary care and whilst I was on holiday recovering I encountered another evangelist, and I ignored what he said as well. Later that night I dreamt I was leading a sermon at my church, and I had the exact same dream for the next six weeks straight.
"I told my church what had happened and never ended up giving them my sermon. After each service different men in the church would come to speak to me, and I ended up unintentionally giving each of them a piece of my sermon. Around a year after I had first spoken to the evangelist, I woke in the night with a song in my head. I dug out my old guitar and tried to play. You could imagine my surprise when I woke the next night with the exact same thing happening. Over the next few weeks I ended up writing 50 different songs, all of them complete. This phenomenon has happened before in Christian history, but not recently. One day I had a sore throat and couldn't sing, so I sat down at our piano. I can't play by ear with guitar or piano, I can't find chords. However, the songs that came into my head would now come out of my hands, and I found myself playing the piano."
Getting his recently received songs onto paper proved to be a considerable challenge. David laughed, "It was terrible, I didn't know what to do. I could hear and retain the tunes for each song but I couldn't tell anybody else what was in my head. It was impossible. I approached numerous professional musicians and composers but nobody seemed able to help me. Eventually, I bought an electronic keyboard, and with the use of some PC software was able to transfer the playing on the piano to sheet music."
David wanted to record some of his music professionally, to use in his local church. However, after being introduced to renowned producer, recording engineer and one time guitarist with Wet, Wet, Wet Graeme Duffin, the project took a more ambitious path than first planned. "I was introduced to Graeme by two friends of mine, John and Sue Ritter, who used to have a band called The Reps who played at different events and schools. They have retired from that and now work handling PR for various artists. When I had around 30 songs I spoke to them, they came to see me and thought Graeme and I would get along really well. We spoke and he said he would do a free song at his The Foundry Lab Studio, to see if I liked what he did. He sung the first verse of 'Be Lifted Up' and it was wonderful, I was nearly on the floor! As the recording progressed Graeme became more and more interested in the project. He's a professional and I left him to decide how to produce each song. I found it difficult to cope with changes to songs, including things like lyric changes and the inclusion of different instruments. But I had to learn to deal with these changes and trust the professionals. I got to put my foot down once or twice and do things my way, but Graeme was nearly always right!"
Graeme sang lead vocals on six tracks on the 'Be Lifted Up' album with guests Gareth Davies-Jones, Esther Duffin, Yvonne Lyon and Rob Halligan also making appearances on the remaining tracks. "Graeme helped me with finding the different vocalists. For some songs I could picture a lady singing, and so obviously I knew we would need a different vocalist. Yvonne Lyon was fantastic and came and sung her piece in one take. It's quite spooky because it was as though Graeme could hear the songs in my head, but nobody else could. Not everything went to plan and he didn't want to sing on more than three tracks, but I convinced him to feature on six."
The album boasts a variety of musical styles ranging from smooth lounge jazz to uplifting folk. Each track stands out, both for its unique personality and powerful lyrical content. My personal favourites are the title track and "I Stand In Awe", both moving, emotive tracks, and David seemed to share my view. "Well you are like me, as they're both my favourites. With me, many of the songs I receive are so different, some from different periods of the Church. 'Redemption Song' is crazy, as somebody was listening to me when it arrived. It's almost like Latin American jazz, and Graeme's interpretation really is a knockout, I think it's really wonderful. A church leader came to listen to the first 30 songs and he told me 'this is the authentic song of a soul crying to their God'. Many of the songs I wrote are redemption songs, they're very personal and emotional, and many people end up crying whilst listening to them. I don't believe you can write music like this without truly being a Christian, having made mistakes and being forgiven as a result. I've had the vision, and been shown where this music is coming from and had a very personal question with God. And this deep experience comes out in some of the music. Graeme wanted to cut the last verse of 'Be Lifted Up' but I refused and said no way!"
200 songs is a lot for even a well-established songsmith to have. I was curious to know whether all of David's songs were to be recorded, or was 'Be Lifted Up' to be a one-off. David responded, "To produce recordings of all the songs would cost a lot of money and time but we've taken the view that God is in charge of all of this. We're going to recycle the money made from the first album to make the second one. I've got a lot of work to do and have resigned as a consultant to focus fully on this music."
The interview drew to a close and it was clear that David was full of ambition and most importantly passion for his work. With songs arriving all the time, and a second album in the works, it is clear that David is determined to share his gift with the world.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.