Tony Cummings threw a batch of questions at emerging Liverpool-based singer/songwriter FINCHLEY.
The release in December through Elevation/ICC of 'No Clouds' by Finchley will bring back into the spotlight a musician who has been a long admired contributor to Britain's grassroots Christian music scene. Why long admired? Well, from 1996 to 2006 Ian 'Finchley' Finch contributed the stunning guitar work to Liverpool rockers Supervision. Now as Finchley he is forging out a new career as an acoustic orientated singer/songwriter and is already becoming a favourite on the Christian festival circuit. I began my inquisition of the 31 year old songsmith by observing that performing acoustic songs was a very different situation from playing with a full on rock 'n' roll band. "Too right it's different!" he responded. "It was definitely an adjustment. When you do the rock thing you get this immediate physical response from people jumping up and down in the mosh pit or whatever. It takes you a little while to get used to people appreciating your music by just standing or sitting there and giving you a polite clap at the end!
"Another thing I found challenging was the transition of backing singer to front man, you have a lot more to get your head round in terms of how you're coming across, building a rapport, nailing the vocals, etc. I was lucky (well some would say lucky) to have my first few performances televised on God TV and RMusic TV. Honestly, they were quite excruciating to watch, it was early days, I was adjusting, my voice was getting conditioned and it was a bit ragged. But man, seeing myself just gave me the focus I needed to get things sorted and by the time the summer festivals came this summer I was nailing it.
"I definitely still prefer playing with the band but I do enjoy the stripped back acoustic performances too. I just did a great gig with my friend Rob Halligan in Rugby. There was a great crowd, we performed well and accompanied one another on a few songs which was fun. I learned a lot from Rob that weekend actually. He's a lot more polished than me at the pure solo performance thing and I took some great things away from the time we had together. But yeah, it will always be about the band thing for me."
Finchley was born in Wrexham, north Wales. He explained, "I grew up all over as my dad was a Baptist minister and had different churches. I technically became a Christian when I was seven when I decided quite matter of factly that I would rather go to Heaven than Hell. I grew up a Christian but I really track my major spiritual walk from when I got baptised at 17 and wrestled with the major step of rationalising my faith and believing for myself rather than because of my upbringing. My journey has ended up with me having quite a different view of theology to my family actually and I firmly believe you have to walk in the light God gives you."
To those who have still to catch up with the finely crafted and often thought-provoking music of Finchley it's his years with Supervision for which he is best known. During their 10 years together the band played hundreds of gigs and made some pretty impressive recordings (1997's 'Whose Eyes?', 1999's 'DayGlo' EP, 2000's 'Shining Star' EP, 2002's 'Bring You Up To Speed', 2003's '12 Hours' EP and 2005's 'Day Of Small Beginnings'). Finchley looks back fondly on his Supervision days. "[I gained] three awesome friends for a start I guess - it was always a strength in how closely knit we were. It was also so encouraging going round different churches and seeing all the different expressions of worship and commitment different people make to God in what they do. We truly are one body. As a musician I learned about performance and making music for an audience rather than just myself which I think is very, very important in ministry particularly. As a man I learned a lot about working at relationships and friendships - we definitely knocked a few rough edges off each other! I think, as well, and I don't want to sound negative here, just honest - you can't kid yourself about vision and you can operate as a band at the speed of the slowest moving member. When one of you is down you're all down. For example, when we split, I knew it was going to happen a few months earlier. I saw it in one of the other guys' eyes after a gig (a great one too!) - there was a jadedness there."
Finchley has particularly fond memories of the last ever Supervision gig at Greenbelt '06. "Couldn't have been a better way to end. It was so packed, people were being turned away. Everyone sang along, from the first note to the last the atmosphere was electric. I'll always remember it."
Finchley began playing solo concerts and released an independent EP, 'Walking With Angels'. But it's his first solo album 'No Clouds' which has the potential to really impact the British scene. "My starting point was to do something different from Supervision. Take stock of where I was as a person, who would relate to what I had to say, not try and recreate the past, move on musically and so on. It was quite a lot to get my head round having been in a four-piece rock band.
"Musically I wanted to try out different instruments, sounds, arrangements and time signatures and I pulled in some very talented people to help me out with this! I also really wanted to work on the interplay of melody a great deal and do a lot more vocally in terms of range and particularly BV arrangement. I've pretty much achieved everything I set out to do and am pleased with how diverse, yet focused the record is. I also think I've managed to get the balance of giving glory to God lyrically while making it a really personal album and one that relates to all audiences and is open and engaging.
"The whole album was done in Liverpool in Rooftop Studios. Chris Taylor is the owner/producer/engineer at Rooftop and we worked in a very collaborative manner to develop the Finchley sound. Chris is great to work with - he's a multi-instrumentalist and so most bass, guitars, keys, percussion and arrangement was done between us bringing other musicians in where needed. The album credits are like a who's who of the Liverpool Christian scene and everyone brought something to the table which we moulded and crafted. It was a great experience for me as it gave me the ability to talk about and describe sounds and ideas without necessarily having to play them and it also forced me to approach my own native instrument in a different way. Chris' classic comment to me was, 'Well, that was what Ian in Supervision would do, what does Ian in Finchley do?' - very annoying to hear, perfect for making a different album and doing something separate from my musical past!
"Practically, the album was recorded in three chunks over the course of a year. It started as the 'Walking With Angels' EP ('Walking With Angels', 'Prodigal', 'In The Wind', 'Struggle On') which coincided with my debut launch at Greenbelt in '06 just two days after Supervision's official last gig. Four more songs followed early 2007: 'Contraflow', 'Sailing', 'Santa Theresa', 'Son Spots' and then the last four came just after Easter - 'This Journey', 'Good Enough', 'Proud' and 'Someday' - four out of the first five tracks actually, which might say something about the direction of the next album! :-) There's two sides to recording this way, on the one you are able to focus on the album in bite size chunks, it's not too daunting and you get a chance to give each track some time and attention. The down side is that you have to fight for continuity as your influences (and some musicians!) change over time. In all though, it was a good experience.
"The mixing was finally done by July - one of the downsides of working full time during the day and fitting studio time in around other commitments, but again it gave us a lot of chances to go back in and tweak things till we were happy. I've seen been sorting distribution and am happy to say I'll be looking after all things digital and I'm going to have the chance to carry on with the gents down at Elevation who will be taking care of physical product placement."
Today Finchley still lives in Liverpool, is married to Louise and a member of a church with a big reputation, Frontline. Said the singer/songwriter, "I've been at Frontline since '96 - the same point it moved from worshipping in a school they rented on a Sunday to it's own building. We got a Territorial Army barrack and set about converting it. There were 95 of us then, there's now almost a thousand people and it's an amazing church to be in with an inspiring leadership that are determined to impact the community socially as well as spiritually. We are a cell church and committed to raising up leaders who are willing to fulfill the commission of making disciples."
Finchley wrote two songs on the latest Frontline Church worship album, including the title track "You Rescued Me". Explained Finchley, "I'm part of the worship teams and take an active role in music arranging. I have also recently moved into worship leading as I felt it was something God was increasingly leading me into and the leaders of the department, as is typical of the Frontline, were quick to respond and give me opportunity."
For the moment though, Finchley is looking forward to going out and gigging 'No Clouds'. Two of the standout tracks on the project are "Contraflow" and "Good Enough". Commented Finchley, "'Contraflow' is about growing up as a man and subsequently a husband and probably the most open song about my life I've ever written. It's also the most musically well crafted and it's just got something special about the whole thing from the drum groove to the chordal and vocal arrangement. Plus it's got a killer solo!"
The opening track on the album is "Good Enough". "It's all about realising how God sees you and getting past all the insecurities in life. The song centres on the story of a few people I know whom I love but just want to see them move on in their lives."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.