Graham Kendrick: The veteran worship man from plastic ukulele to praise marches

Saturday 1st September 1990

GRAHAM KENDRICK has been called the greatest living composer of hymns and worship songs. Tony Cummings quizzed the man.

Graham Kendrick
Graham Kendrick

Graham, I understand you were born in a Christian home.

Yes, I was born in the Midlands, near a town called Northampton in a little village called Lisbeth. My father was a Baptist minister, he's now retired, and we moved on from there to the county of Essex and then to London so because he moved churches every few years we went with him and moved around the country a little."

So how did you become a Christian?

Through my mother simply reading us a bedtime story - woven into the story was forgiveness of sins and becoming a Christian & so on. When she came to the end of that particular book she closed the book and asked us each if we wanted to ask Jesus to forgive our sins and commit our lives to Christ.

Now I was only five years old at that time and I'm sure I didn't understand entirely what it meant. But I did very deliberately decide to pray. She wisely got us to pray in our own words rather than getting us to repeat parrot-fashion something. I remember going off to a corner of a room kneeling down and praying, without any expectation that necessarily anything would happen it was a simple little decision. Quite remarkably at that very moment I knew something had happened, I felt something which quite surprised me, I don't think I said anything, I wouldn't have known how to articulate at that time, it was like a sudden excitement deep inside my chest. Totally unexpected because I'd not been given to believe I was likely to experience anything at all. But I knew something had happened and possibly because I was only five it was a significant moment that I still remember now.

Later in my teens I attended a comprehensive school in London where the only other Christian I knew in the whole school was my brother, so that tested the reality of my faith - this was in the sixties and everybody was getting into all the 60s hedonism and whatever. And that challenged me - 'what am I going to do, how am I going to live my life?' But we survived and I think it actually strengthened my faith to be in that testing situation.

I read in your bio that your earliest musical endeavours were on a plastic ukulele.

Ha ha ha. The plastic ukulele. I guess it was just a toy really and whether it had any deep psychological significance I've no idea but for some reason or other I owned a plastic ukulele in my very tender years and I probably hit my brothers and sisters with it rather than getting anything musical out of it. My musical career was not very auspicious really; there was an atmosphere of music there, though none of my family had been trained in music. My father was a play-it-by-ear man, very competent on the piano but he'd taught himself the rudiments of it all. We had some piano lessons. I can't remember how old I was, I was probably seven or eight. But although I was very keen to learn because my older brother and sister were doing it so I had to do it as well, actually I didn't get on with it too well and I think I fell into the trap that many kids fell into in that I learnt the little tunes by ear and pretended I was relating them to the dots on the page. So I had an ear for music but I wasn't relating it to the theory so eventually the teacher gave me up. Normally it's the other way round but in my case my teacher gave me up.

What about another musical skeleton in your cupboard, "Whispers Of Truth".

Aha. "Whispers Of Truth". This dates back to the late 60s when, as a very tender young, lad I had a band which consisted of my brother, my sister and a few friends. It became popular at that time for Christians to start using the pop music of the day to communicate their faith in Christian coffee bars, that was the era of the Christian coffee bar where many a church hall would be decorated with hanging fishing nets from the ceiling and low lights with tables with candles on...

You trained as a teacher but you went out-on-the-road as a fulltime muso. Why?

While other people were applying for jobs I was looking at my diary and seeing how many concert engagements were filling up and whether I could justify taking a year off just to do that. And that's what I decided to do. I thought 'well, let's delay this job business for a year.1 And I decided to launch out with no visible means of support except a few quid left over from my latest grant cheque and off I went.

There was one guy who I'd met called Simon Dennis who joined me in playing guitar and singing harmonies at that time. We had a terrific time. I'd bought this old Ford Escort van and somebody gave us a PA system, it was a band called Parchment which some people will remember from those days. They bought a new PA system and very kindly gave me their old one ... it was only 50 watts. But off we went and had a great time.

You began recording at the very beginning of Britain's pop gospel scene. And one of those ancient albums was recently re-issued on CD. Why do you think 'Paid on the Nail' is considered some kind of classic?

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