Tony Cummings spoke to FREESLAVE's lead singer Haydon Spencely.
Tony: A chap in a wheelchair who has cerebral palsy isn't everyone's idea of someone fronting a band. What's the story behind FreeSlave?
Haydon: Part of the reason that we started the band was that we wanted to challenge assertions like that! It's true that there aren't many disabled people fronting bands but, if you think about it, there's no reason why that should be the case. I enjoy playing music and performing gigs which show people that I am an individual, and we collectively as a band, have something exciting to offer. We don't like "playing" on my disability to try and get attention, but we have found that there's an added potency that people seem to feel about us because they don't expect a disabled person to be singing and talking about how great God is, and about how I see my disability as a blessing from God rather than a problem. The very fact that I'm disabled has opened so many doors for us. It's absolutely impossible for me to see how God couldn't have planned this from the beginning. FreeSlave started in August 2003. I'd won a Whizz Kidz No Limits Millennium Award to record and produce a CD of the songs I'd been writing over the previous five or so years, and needed a band to help me through that process. Whizz Kidz is a national charity which provides mobility aids for physically disabled children and young people. The Millennium Awards scheme was set up in partnership with the Millennium Commission. Basically, I had to come up with an idea which would benefit myself, my community and the disabled community in general, and they would provide the money. An amazing opportunity and an awesome blessing from God. The band is made up of myself on keyboards and lead vocals, Dan Henderson on lead guitar, Jon Satherley on drums, Dave Willis on bass, and Mark Constance on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. One of the strange things about our band is that we all live in different places, which makes getting together something of a challenge, but the way God's blessed the various things we've done this year makes it all worthwhile.
Tony: Interesting name, FreeSlave. Do you feel like a slave set free?
Haydon: Sometimes it can be a struggle to remember that, as Christians, we have been made free because of what Jesus did for us on the Cross. People have come up with all sorts of meanings behind our name, but there are two main ones. Firstly, the name comes from 1 Corinthians 9, where Paul talks about making himself a slave to the people that he's ministering to, so that some of them might be won for God. Secondly, we exist to try and show people that whatever problem or disability you might have, there's always hope. If I, a guy with a severe physical disability, can go out and do crazy things like fronting a rock band, then it really does show that, with God as the centre of what we do, all things are possible.
Tony: What would you say are your major musical influences?
Haydon: One of the things we were very keen on with 'Project Freedom' is that we didn't want it to come out sounding "Christian". We wanted to make a CD that musically stood up well enough so that non-Christian kids would be happy to listen to it. Hopefully we've succeeded in doing that. As for bands or artists who have influenced us, or that we like: Radiohead, Coldplay, Pearl Jam, The Maccabees, Quench, Kato, Mr E, Frank Sinatra (!). The list is endless (and quite diverse!).
Tony: Have you done any live gigs yet?
Haydon: We have done a few live gigs, although the way we're all so spread out geographically makes it hard. We had a fantastic couple of gigs to launch the CD at Treloar School and College in Hampshire in mid-June, which went very well. We're very hopeful of doing some dates with The Maccabees soon, and it would be cool to do some more shows with Mr E too (both great bands, check 'em out!).
Tony: I understand you had quite a few adventures when you were recording 'Project Freedom'. Tell me about that.
Haydon: Recording was quite an experience! One thing that happened while we were recording really illustrated God's blessing on the whole project. Jon, our drummer, drove off to collect Mark, our second guitarist and resident genius, from the train station. Shortly afterwards he was involved in a car crash during which he, from what he remembers, clipped a curb, went up on two wheels, careered across the road, hit the curb on the other side, and came to rest. This happened on a busy road. All the while that this was going on, no cars came in either direction. Miraculously, he emerged shaken (obviously) but not injured at all. We could have seen this as a disaster, but rather than that, we saw it as God protecting Jon. This gave us an extra impetus and spurred us on to work even harder! None of us had done much studio work before, so it was an interesting learning curve to get to grips with the studio. We only had three days to record and mix the CD, so everything was a bit tight, but we had a great producer in Mark Thomas. Although the finished product isn't as note-perfect as the big-budget stuff that comes out of labels (here read bands with money and time, two things we didn't really have much of!) we're extremely happy with it, and the response so far has been nothing short of astounding. What's great is that most people who have bought the CD so far have been non-Christians. That's not to say we don't want Christians to listen to our music, but it's great that we've managed to find a way of attracting both Christians and non-Christians to the songs and the meanings behind them.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.