Once referred to as "the most unknown popular band on the planet," Celtic music team EDEN'S BRIDGE have finally got their hands on the tiller of their own recording destiny. Tony Cummings reports.
In the long intriguing history of Christian music there's probably never been a story to compare with that of Eden's Bridge. Largely unknown and unheralded, the band have amazingly clocked up half a million record sales. Masterly exponents of haunting Celtic music, this group, seemingly scattered all over the British Isles, have returned after a two year break to deliver 'Isle Of Tides', surely their best ever album. The band, now seven in number, consist of Richard Lacy (keyboards, bodhran, whistle); his sister Sarah Lacy (lead vocals, piano); Sarah's husband David Bird (guitars, sittern, mandolin); Terl Bryant (percussion); John Large (bass); Michael McGoldrick (uilleann pipes, whistles); and Simeon Wood (woodwind). Sarah Lacy explained the origins of the band. "Eden's Bridge formed as a 'home' for the songs that Rich, Dave and I had begun writing, rather than with us wanting to form a band. And boy did we write a lot of songs! Rich has boxes and boxes full of demos in the studio. Before we met Dave, Rich and I had (for as many years as we can remember) been collaborating on arrangements of songs I had written and developing the use of ministry songs in our local church. Both of us were involved in worship leading for some of the services. We knew even then that we were waiting for the third songwriter in our working team to appear. It was a strange time in that respect, we felt as if we were stood on a starting line without knowing what the race was about. At first we needed to write together to make our different styles 'mesh', but now we know each other's styles so well that we know immediately whether or not a song is an 'EB song'.
"Rich and Jon were friends before we started Eden's Bridge, they knew each other from leading at Christian youth camps in the Lake District. Jon was the obvious bass player for EB, partly because he has such a great sense of humour and partly because I can never work out exactly what he has played! Seriously, the friendships came first, the music followed. We met Terl through his work with Iona. Rich contacted him and asked him if he would be willing to do a session for us. Terl is a very thoughtful person and only said yes when he was absolutely certain it was the right thing to do. I'm so glad he did the colours and textures he brings to the albums added so much to every song. Terl has for a number of years been an integral part of the band, even if we only see him every six months!"
Signed to America's StraightWay Records, owned by EMI Christian Music Group, in 1996, the band found themselves turning out a stream of albums as the group rode the wave of popularity for all music forms bearing the 'Celtic' label. Richard Lacy is far from comfortable with the way the Nashville marketing men stuck the C-word on albums. "The Celtic word has definitely been misused. There are several arguments you can ask of something, 'Is it authentic Celtic? ' The answer may often be 'no' but then you should ask, 'Does it enhance and enrich the lives of Christians today? ' If the answer to that one is 'yes', then what does it matter? Our new album doesn't have the word 'Celtic' anywhere on it. If we had released it with a major US label I doubt it would have gone out without having to have it on the front. I personally never liked it there because I was never sure we were at all Celtic. The current Celtic Christian revival has its critics. I recently heard it described as 'the Celtic tweelight', modern Christians chasing a lost golden age of British Christianity. Some people may feel that a tradition has been appropriated and remodelled to suit a marketplace and to an extent, that is true, but Celtic spirituality wasn't something that was invented in an afternoon on holy island - it's an organic thing that grew out of many things including the experiences of travelling monks visiting other cultures and taking home the bits that felt relevant to their lives. That's what their contemporary counterparts are doing today and I see nothing wrong with that. Apparently this is true, it was recently discovered that the Celtic Cross itself was a Coptic invention, discovered as part of a Coptic burial site dating from 300 years before it was first seen in Britain - so we can't talk about 'nicking' things. Anyway, about this Celtic version of 'Shine Jesus Shine', tin whistles after three... no offence meant, Graham!"
Percussionist supremo Terl Bryant, like all the band members, has been affected by Celtic spirituality though he gave the proviso, "I have felt rather bombarded with all the marketing and commercialisation of the movement. There is nothing quite like my good old Bible." David Bird added his thoughts. "We were only half aware of the Celtic Christian movement when we worked on the first two albums, but I have certainly adopted many of the ideals of the Celts -particularly the importance of the notion of God being in everything -even the things that appear quite simple, unassuming or even downright banal. Sometimes you just have to look a bit harder to find them."
All the band members are agreed that 'Isle Of Tides' is Eden's Bridge's finest work. Commented John Large, "It's certainly taken some time and effort to discover and develop what Eden's Bridge sounds like, and 'Isle Of Tides feels pretty close to a point we've been trying to reach since the band first began. My favourite on the album is 'You Carry Me'. Musically, it's such a simple, almost classical tune which you can't really get away from. It expresses something I find myself saying to God regularly 'I'm so glad to be in your safe hands/ Just as much when life is good as when it's hard/ Because I can't do it by myself. '"
Richard spoke about the songwriting dynamic which went into 'Isle Of Tides'. "The writing is a shared thing but I think we all like our own songs best! You have a different relationship with your own compositions and maybe the greatest emotional attachment to them in a way that only the writer could. 'Open Sea' is my personal favourite, it's a very thoughtful song, sort of drifting along over a smooth sea whilst all the way you are accompanied by industrious little waves from the band. I guess the whole thing was meant to be rather like the sea -you know, a big flat blue thing covered with waves. I wrote the basic track in the time it took Sarah to go down to Nev's Chippy, the whole arrangement came immediately and is pretty much as you hear it today, of course the words took two years and Sarah had to finish it."
'Isle Of Tides' is a far more sophisticated album than anything Eden's Bridge have tackled previously. Commented David Bird, "There is a coherent theme to this album -it's about the delights and rigours of pilgrimage and spiritual journeys in general. We've let all our musical influences shape the direction of the album, but it's still unmistakeably us. Each of us has got kind of 'trademark' sounds, and they're all on here. The production is much bigger and more complex on this album -even classicists are telling us that they're finding pleasure in this album because of its quite extraordinary musical depths -and we're hopeful that this will draw more people into the album on a spiritual level too. It's taken us all much longer than any of our previous albums -we haven't worked to deadlines. We (and particularly Richard) have worked up each and every part until it was as good as it could possibly be. Hopefully the effect of this will be blindingly clear to anyone who listens to this album!"
Selling the album themselves on their own Jude Music record label was a brave initiative for the band to take. It seems to have paid off. Remarked Sarah, "The album feels to us like something special and handcrafted and it feels like the right thing to do, talking to retailers and customers direct about it. It is like we have a link to our listeners, if they or the retailers want to know anything about the album, they know where to find us we are not several stages removed from them by layers of marketing and distribution. That is not to criticise other approaches -don't get me wrong on this one. In this case we value the direct lines of communication that we have begun to develop. The responses to the album have been really good. The best comment of all came from a musician friend; 'I think there is only one problem with this album how on earth are you going to follow it? ' We're working on that bit!"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.