Chris Mountford spoke to Luke Hellebronth of Birmingham's GAS STREET WORSHIP
Those who follow Britain's continuing contribution to modern worship music will recognise the name Worship Central. Linked to Birmingham's St Luke's church, pastored by Tim and Rachel Hughes, Worship Central has trained a new generation of worship leaders while albums bearing the Worship Central name caused several songs to become favourites with the worshipping Church. But now there's a new name for Worship Central-sourced albums - Gas Street Music. I spoke to worship leader Luke Hellebronth about the name change and the intriguing title of Gas Street Music's first EP, 'Rewilding'.
Luke: A few of us were worship leaders and songwriters but it was always about unearthing the sound of what was in our city and in our community as it was growing. That's been one of the awesome things to see fresh voices coming through. We're really keen on raising up the next generation of worshippers. There's a whole range of experience levels as well. It's been fun to have a team diverse in age and background. Again that's something that we wanted to go after, something that captures the sound of our community as a whole, not just a few leaders but what's going on at the grass roots. That word 'unearthing' has come up quite a few times and has been a part of the narrative of what the EP is called which is 'Rewilding'. It's definitely grown as a base of different voices and expressions.
Chris: With the launch of Gas Street Music what does that mean for Worship Central?
Luke: Great question. We feel more passionate than ever about Worship Central and all that it has tried to achieve and carry through the years, which is essentially to pour petrol on the fire of worship particularly in the local church. The way that has outworked itself the most is our heart for training and equipping. We've run the Worship Central academy for years; we've had a Worship Central course out there for worship teams - we're actually just working on an updated version which we'll release in due time. And then obviously the different training events and that's looked different during Covid. We feel more passionate about that whole training piece than ever so that's going to carry on, hopefully bigger and better. But we felt the need to root ourselves musically and through song in our local church. So we've stopped releasing music as Worship Central and put all our creative efforts through the church and that community.
Chris: Describe the Gas Street community and church for someone who's never been along.
Luke: Well, it's Church of England and it's really vibrant. It's a place where we value community and hanging out, getting to know each other, although it's a fairly large church. Birmingham is a very diverse city and it's something we want to celebrate even more as a church and understand better as well, if we're honest. It's something that we love about our church, that it's becoming more and more diverse as it gets older as a church. It's full of life and we really value the word of God and the Spirit of God. We believe passionately that Jesus means everything to us, that he can change anybody's life so we're passionate about speaking and preaching the gospel and the good news of Jesus alongside the power of the Spirit, in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. Once Covid is over if anyone wants to come and visit please come and say hi.
Chris: I guess they can do that now in a sense with the online activities.
Luke: Yes. When Covid hit us, like many churches, we were figuring out how to do this. We took everything online and that's been interesting. Is it everything? Is it the church experience we all think it? No, probably not. But is it something? Yes. I think we just tried to keep the community as connected as possible. We've been running small groups, which we value very highly; times for prayer with each other as well. One of the things about streaming is that we've been able to reach a lot more people and also people who don't necessarily feel comfortable walking into a church, which has been fascinating. And getting messages from people all over the world saying this has been a lifeline for them, or they really met with God today through the stream. It's crazy isn't it? And that's testament to the way that God works. As a ministry it's beautiful that his Spirit is moving across the earth and we can't control him or figure out what he's doing necessarily all the time.
Chris: Let's talk about the first single released under the Gas Street Music name and that's "Praise To You Alone".
Luke: It's a song our community has really loved. I'm not a songwriter on this one. I love the way the guys who wrote it have kept the song very vertical. As songwriters and worship leaders we talk about vertical and horizontal songs in the sense that vertically is being directed towards God and specifically Jesus and it is lyrically focussed on Jesus and his cross and resurrection. The guys have used interesting language, fresh language alongside the chorus and refrain which is a simple Jesus, saviour of my soul; Jesus, praise to you alone. It's got a cool indie vibe to it; we had a lot of fun recording this song. The main test for us is in congregational worship. Does the song resonate with people and connect their minds and their hearts? Does it feed them and fuel worship? We're loving that. It's sung by one of our worship leaders called Millie Tilby. She's a young worship leader who's come through our academy; she's fantastic, got a great voice. She leads worship regularly at our church. She's in my and my wife's small group too. It's fun, it's community.
Chris: Another single came out on 12th February called "The River".
Luke: This song connects a lot of the narrative I was talking about and the EP title. I mentioned earlier the value of the work of the Spirit of God. Often as Christians we talk about the river of God being a place where we can find life and hope and freedom and the river of the Spirit so this song unpacks some of those themes. But also all the things that the river of God and the Spirit of God bring to the world. So there are themes of healing and justice and worship breaking down walls. The worship response is Hallelujah and "The River" has a real gospel feel. Again we had tons of fun recording this song. We went for a gospel choir vibe, which was really interesting to record during Covid, we had to do that in isolation, recording each part one at a time and putting it all together. So that was a bit challenging. One thing that was really exciting about this track is it was co-produced by Troy Miller who's a brilliant Grammy Award winning-producer. He did a lot of producing and MD work with Amy Winehouse and has worked with tons of amazing artists like Gregory Porter. We knew Troy from HTB days and before that and we'd always really wanted to do some work with him on some songs. When we were writing this song we thought he'd help us unlock some of the rootsy gospel vibe that we wanted to go after and capture some of the origination of the song which was from a spontaneous time of worship at an event we were running, a prayer night. Josh Gorton began to sing this refrain: "There's a river that runs from the heart of the father." It was incredible what started to happen. People started spontaneously to run round in a circle and there was this freedom and an amazing sense of the Spirit of God and the song unravelled from there. It's always important to ask who's going to be the right producer to capture the vibe of the song. He and Jimmy were a dream team on it.
Chris: These two songs will feature on the debut EP out on 12th March, called 'Rewilding'. Tell me about the name.
Luke: We love this name. The inspiration came from the rewilding of some land in the South of England. If people get a chance to check it out please do because it's a fascinating story. This family lived on an estate in the South of England and the land had become unusable and had lost its purpose. They decided to take down the fences, stop using chemicals and try to get the land back to its natural state. They began to introduce natural wildlife and after a period of time the result was incredible. The land went through a process of complete recovery and renewal. If you see pictures of before and after the transition is incredible. The first thing that visitors noticed was they heard the sound of birds and insects again. Once we'd removed all the man-made constraints this natural song of the Earth began to sound again. We were captivated by this story and it was very much like what we felt the Spirit of God was doing with us. I mentioned this unearthing thing. It came at a time when we felt our worship had become a little bit safe, a little bit sterile. We started to take the band off the stage, put us on the floor and gather people around us in a circle. We were leaving a lot of space, trying to unearth the sound of our congregation. We'd open up the mic and get teachers and nurses, lawyers come up with their spontaneous song in worship. We felt like God was doing this rewilding in us and these songs began to come out of that place. It felt like the perfect narrative, the perfect title for this collection of songs.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.