The new 'What Grace' album features a stunning duet between GRAHAM KENDRICK and MARTIN SMITH. Tony Cummings met up with the two worshippers.
The news that Graham Kendrick is releasing his first worship album since 1997 has created huge interest in the British Church. For three decades Graham has been the single most significant figure in the development of the British Church's worship music, taking it from the dusty confines of three centuries (and more) of hymnody to spearhead the move towards, user-friendly, pop music-influenced, Scripture-based choruses. In doing so he, more than any other composer, has propelled the contemporary praise and worship out of the narrow confines of the charismatic house churches to become a resource used by just about every strand and tradition of the British Church. After a veritable flood of albums in the '80s and '90s Graham has recently been low in profile save for the American-financed and recorded multi-artist video and album 'Millennium Chorus'. But still Graham's tuneful, theologically sound choruses demonstrate their continuing relevance and popularity. In a recent song survey compiled by Christian Copyright Licensing (Europe) Kendrick classics are up there in the listing of the most widely sung choruses in Britain's churches with "Shine Jesus Shine" (at number 3), "Knowing You", "The Servant King", "Such Love", "Meekness And Majesty", "Rejoice" and "Make Way, Make Way" demonstrating Graham is by far the most widely sung composer in the British Church.
But as is the tendency with culture, today's pioneering radicals are perceived tomorrow as out-of-touch traditionalists. Recently, worship has found a new youth-orientated focus with the rock worship of artists and worship leaders like Delirious?, SonicFlood, Matt Redman and Paul Oakley. So it was arresting news that guesting on Graham's new album 'What Grace' are possibly the two most influential of the new wave of youth worship composers, Matt Redman and Martin Smith. I meet up with Graham and Martin in the unlikely setting of Doncaster Race Course which, in March, housed the annual industry bash known as the Christian Bookseller's Convention.
I begin by asking Martin whether he could remember his first encounters with the worship chorus phenomenon that is Graham Kendrick. He pauses before responding, "I can remember that songbook, I think it was Jesus Stand Among Us. I remember doing some of those songs. I was probably about 12 years old, learning to play guitar, picking those chords out. Earlier than that I remember going into the Big Top at Spring Harvest with my mum and dad and seeing Graham up there. We went a couple of times. My parents are from a Brethren church and it wasn't really the done thing to go to Spring Harvest, it was considered quite radical even to go - people raising their hands, speaking in tongues, the whole bit. I heard this music blaring out - I was blown away."
So what are Graham's memories of those formative years when he switched from being a folky singer/songwriter to a worship leader who, through Spring Harvest, brought a fresh way of worshipping to tens of thousands of British believers? "There was a kind of wave in that whole area. In many senses it was exactly the same thing that has happened with Martin and Delirious? and loads of others, in that a generation rises up that has its own culture and wants to express its faith in its own terms. So if you're a creative person, in this case in songwriting, you write songs out of your data bank of the stuff you'd been listening to since you were a kid. I think the difference is that when I started out doing that there had only really been the hymns for centuries before. This whole praise and worship phenomenon hadn't really happened before. The radical thing was using drums and guitars and bass, actually borrowing from pop culture and then using it for worship. What a lot of people forget is that Spring Harvest started off as a radical youth event. Everybody's familiar with it now as a kind of family event, but all that happened was that radical youth grew up, got married and had kids! Soul Survivor comes up and it's very much a youth thing. But give it another 10 years and they'll be bringing their kids. It's a wonderful cycle."
Graham and Martin first met up when Martin was working at ICC as a recording engineer. Martin engineered Graham's 'Spark To A Flame' album (1993) after which a friendship sprang up. Later when he began pioneering the Cutting Edge monthly events in Littlehampton Martin asked the worship veteran to come down and speak to the youthful throng and worship among the generations. Remembers Martin, "It was quite an amazing night because it's typical of a youth event of any kind to have a sense of 'we've got it now, out the way everybody, we're gonna do something radical and fresh and new.' But because of the nature of the people in the Cutting Edge team, my upbringing, I knew that was only one part of the picture. We asked Graham to come down and it was just an amazing night. Looking back, I'd say it was more powerful on the night than it actually felt. It was so symbolic of what was going to happen in the future, Graham was blessing our generation and we were blessing Graham's generation. It was quite radical to do that at a cool kids event."
So what precisely was it that Graham shared to the Cutting Edge congregation? "Martin and I had discussions about Elijah and Elisha," explains Graham. "Elisha didn't come along and say, 'Right, out the way, my turn now.' They actually worked together for at least 10 years and by the time Elisha came along and started doing something in his own right the only reputation he had was that he was the guy who poured water over Elijah's hands. In other words, he was Elijah's personal valet. He'd stuck with Elijah and worked with him. I think this is the key. There's a working together and a running together for a period of time. Perhaps it's down to wanting relationship. Someone once observed that the prodigal son wanted inheritance without relationship. Then he realised that it was relationship that was the most important thing. I think that's the key to it. When you're young you just want to take over and do things your way. Older people seem to hold the power and you get frustrated and you want to get them out the way. But if the desire is for relationship then an inheritance can be passed down and multiplied in the next generation. Now I don't know how Martin will say he got that into his heart but I know Matt Redman is the same. Perhaps it's because in both cases they've been fathered in the faith and when you come up that way it helps you to recognise the value of it."
Martin takes up the theme, "We've honoured the Grahams and the Chris Bowaters and the Noel Richards and the Dave Bilbroughs and people like that. Not necessarily physically or 'we love your music, we love you' but just in a spirit way. We're communicating, 'We want to stand for what you've done and respect what you've achieved.' I know we wouldn't do what we're doing it if wasn't for those people. Now God has given us that grace with people 10 years younger even in the mainstream which is fantastic."
The track featuring Graham and Martin is called "Lord You've Been Good To Me". Graham speaks about the song, "It just came out of a moment in my own private devotions when I was telling the Lord he'd been good to me all my life. It was a thanksgiving song for God's faithfulness. I didn't write the song with any thought of Martin singing on it. When the songs had been written and we'd done the basic tracks and Martin had long before agreed to sing a song, I sent him the tracks and that was the one he picked on."
Martin adds his sixpence worth, "I think it's my favourite song on the
record. It's kind of a strange experience for me going into the
studio, sitting there with Graham and looking at the lyrics. It was a
privilege. But when you're with someone who's written hundreds and
hundreds of songs and you're about to sing the words they've written
it's quite a challenge really." Was there a song on 'What Grace' which
was destined to become another church-circulating classic? "You never
know. I never spotted 'Shine Jesus Shine'," laughs Graham.