Lins Honeyman catches up with the worship leaders behind exciting new praise collective ELIM SOUND
In a church scene richly blessed by a number of worship organisations, four men from the Elim Movement have recognised the need for a collective praise identity within their denomination. Birthed back in 2009 by worship leaders Sam Blake, Stephen Gibson, Joel Pridmore and Ian Yates, Elim Sound came about as a result of this need and, with the launch of their Kingsway-released debut album 'Fresh Mercy' earlier this year, there seems to be no stopping the recording and touring entity.
Cynics might suggest that Elim Sound are yet another act attempting to break into an over-saturated marketplace. But in reality Elim Sound consist of four young men who have a shared vision to inspire people to worship in spirit and truth whilst creating a culture of artistic creativity and equipping and developing Elim church worship teams the length and breadth of the country.
Thankfully, each of Elim Sound's founder members is more than qualified to take on this challenging task. Ealing-based Sam Blake has led national conferences such as Spring Harvest (France) and New Wine and has worked with respected worship man Noel Robinson during his 15 years in music ministry whilst, having led worship since the age of 16, Paisley's Stephen Gibson's work in performing arts has taken him to the Middle East and across Europe. In addition, Joel Pridmore - currently based in Swansea - has appeared at prestigious praise events such as The Gathering and New Wine whilst 2010 saw Liverpool's Ian Yates' debut album 'The Hope And The Glory' hit the shelves.
I catch up with Stephen, Sam, Joel and Ian in a break from preparations for their upcoming autumn tour of Elim churches to ask them how Elim Sound came about. "We were leading worship at our National Conference in 2009," explains Sam. "We got together over a meal and we had a really 'think big, dream bigger' conversation which continued well beyond dessert! Two years on, the conversation continues with some really exciting things on the horizon." Continues Stephen, "At that meal, the four of us talked about our passion for worship and we each had the same desire to see something more happen in our own denomination."
"I think we took an honest look at where the Elim Movement was in terms of worship and realised that the majority of the songs we sung were from other sources," clarifies Sam. "There is nothing wrong with that but we were aware that Elim had previously been a strong contributor to the corporate worship life of the wider Church through resources like the Redemption Hymnal - a collection of 800 hymns that includes many that are still sung today. It feels like we are re-digging the wells of years past and asking God to bring a radical new move of his Spirit to our movement through worship."
I suggest that it must be hard to make an impact on a market that is saturated by big worship names such as Soul Survivor, Hillsong and Jesus Culture. "We love what other movements and churches have brought to the global church," confirms Stephen. "Yes, we'd love to see our songs established wider than Elim but that's not our driving force. Instead, we hope these songs will be part of a developing Elim 'sound' and we trust that the wider Church can connect with these songs because they express the same desire to worship God in spirit and in truth."
"Elim Sound is about exposing the sound within our movement - not about imposing a sound on our churches," adds Ian. "Our aim is that every Elim worship leader or worship team would be involved in the network we're trying to build up. Together, we'll have a culture of authentic, Spirit-filled worship that is full of great substance and truth."
It's obvious that the concept behind Elim Sound is much more than just a collection of songs on an album and that developing the skills and relationships of worship teams throughout the Elim Movement is equally important. "We believe that relationship is the key to encouraging one another and facilitating change and development in ministry," agrees Joel. "We have learnt that relationship is a good first step if we are going to have a positive influence on worship leaders," adds Sam. "We realise that leading corporate sung worship involves a whole team of people and we are looking to engage every member in the development of their practical skills and spiritual capacity."
I ask how the new album, 'Fresh Mercy', has been received. "The feedback has been really positive," Ian is happy to report. "For us, it's about the songs connecting with people and songs like 'The Kingdom Is Coming' and 'To Behold You' seem to have done just that. In fact, 'To Behold You' has already been recorded by other artistes and has been sung at New Wine, Creation Fest and other events."
Given that there are four main contributors within Elim Sound, I wonder how this affects the songwriting process. "We work in twos initially before bringing our initial ideas to the whole group for everyone to have an input into the songs," explains Stephen. "Our writing relationship has been described as a four-way marriage - happy, sad, joyful and occasionally frustrating!" Sam jokes. "All of us are the better for it though and the songs definitely come out stronger. We are great mates first and foremost."
Whilst the other members of Elim Sound are keen to point out Sam's creative musical gifting, he himself is aware of the other talents within the group. "Stephen, Ian and Joel are all great songwriters and seasoned worship leaders in their own right and I feel privileged to work with these guys. Stephen is possibly the most organised person I know whilst Joel is a great networker and a natural leader with a strong pastor's heart. Ian presses in hard to the Holy Spirit to get the thing of God - a creative catalyst, whether it's in a songwriting, worship leading or socialising sense."
Despite this camaraderie, living in four different parts of the country made the recording of 'Fresh Mercy' more challenging but it seems any such problems failed to detract from the overall experience, as Ian confirms. "Recording the vocal for 'Bless Your Name' was a really powerful moment. The presence of God was so strong and, even though it's a simple song lyrically, it talks about the fact that we are completely forgiven and restored and there is a lot of the depth to those words. Another high point was writing 'Let The Fire Fall' where Joel and I had 15 minutes left before we had to go home. We were sitting in a small corridor at Elim HQ in Malvern and, as we worshipped, the song just came. It was one of those special moments."
In addition to the recording of 'Fresh Mercy', taking their songs out on the road has also been a positive experience for Elim Sound. "I have just finished doing New Wine and Ablaze 2011 events where the songs have been picked up quickly and used by thousands to engage with God," enthuses Sam. "Leading worship on the New Wine main stage was a real privilege and to see and lead that many people worshipping God was a very memorable moment."
With things most definitely on the up for Elim Sound, it seems that a busy and productive future is guaranteed. "We have an eight city tour of UK Elim churches this autumn," confirms Joel. "We'll also continue to develop the networks and resources that we've started to build up and we've begun work on the next album."
"We have a five year plan for Elim Sound and it's really exciting," adds Ian. "We can't wait to see what's going to happen!"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.