One of the founding fathers of British CCM, JOHN PANTRY has now re-invented himself as a radio presenter. Chris Tozer reports on the veteran musos decades of Christian music.
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"That was an absolute nightmare period. Although it was a blessing in disguise, it certainly didn't seem like it at the time. When Chris and I discovered the losses that the company had run up without us knowing, (though we should have known), it was a terrible shock. We both had to raise huge amounts of money to pay it off. It took us back to being teenagers again in terms of our bank balances - we ended up with nothing.
"As far as I'm aware just about anybody who was owed anything was paid back. It was all sorted out. We could have actually walked away from it because it was a limited company, but we didn't feel that that was right as Christians. But, I ended up being pretty disillusioned and asked God, 'What do you want me to do now?'"
The answer came when John attended the induction of his minister at a new church. During the service he heard God very clearly speaking to him and saying, "I want you to go into the ministry." So that was the start of another change. He was already a member of an Anglican Church so it was a natural thing for him to talk to his vicar about the way forward. Thereby started the long and rigorous process towards ordination. Pantry had fears that he didn't fit into the church but God proved once again that it was absolutely the right thing to do.
"I'm not actually paid by the Church. Towards the end of my training at Oak Hill College we had to take some decisions about what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was getting to an age when they are not terribly happy about my taking on a church full time -for all sorts of financial reasons.
"So, I decided initially that I would join the growing number of non-stipendiary priests. This enables me to do anything that an Anglican priest does, but I'm not actually paid by the Church. If at some stage I wanted to become full time that possibility is there, though it gets slimmer as I get older. On the other hand, as the Church gets more broke, it becomes more likely," he laughed.
More recently Pantry has joined London's Premier Radio on a part time basis and now runs a regular show. So Kirk asked him how he ended up playing records instead of making them. "I've always been interested in radio. In fact I once wrote a song called 'Jesus On The Airways' back in the 70s and did a tour based on that theme. About six years ago I saw Premier's road show at Spring Harvest. I introduced myself to Mark Seaman who was going to be programme director, and told him of my experience in sound engineering and music production. If you think that you could use me I would be delighted to offer my services,' was my parting shot.
"Initially, they asked me to produce a one hour Saturday morning show called The Shack. It was actually a kind of comedy programme that I did with a friend who is an extremely funny guy. We put a huge amount of work into it - 24 studio hours just to edit each programme. Everything was timed to the second and there were great sound effects. We even included a mini-soap with good actors in it."
In all truth, the rather staid Premier listenership wasn't quite ready for the zany fun of The Shack but it got John's foot in the radio door. In 1996, after the station teetered close to bankruptcy, the new programme controller invited John to present a full length Saturday show. Later he became a "swing jock", deputising for other presenters in their absence. Eventually, he took over the breakfast programme slot.
John's last album, 'Bitter Sweet', was recorded over six years ago, around the time that he first started working for Premier, and included some dance-tinged production work from Mark Edwards and a duet on "Bread Of Life" with Kaz Lewis. But, what plans does he have for a new recording, aside from the couple of unreleased songs on the 'Simply..' album? "I've made a personal vow that if 'Simply The Best Of.. ' does well, and I get the right kind of response and I feel God's leading me in that direction, then I will do another album later this year. Meanwhile, I have just produced an album for Premier which is called 'Pentecost Praise' - and I've written three songs for that as well. So I'm gearing myself up to do more."
But, what if he never wrote another song? Which composition would he choose to take to that proverbial desert island as the one, above all others that he was glad that he had written? "I haven't got that good a memory! I've recorded 13 albums and loads of other songs, as well. Every song that I have written had a particular significance at that time. I guess that I would pick one of the songs on the new anthology."
"'Heaven's Song' was written at the end of a very hard week when I had one problem after another. I was tired and stressed out. Life was really getting to me. I thought, 'Lord, how much longer do I have to stay down here? Can I come to Heaven?' That's really what the song is about. It's a look around the world, seeing such a mess and realising how imperfect my own life is, and wondering if there'll ever be a day when I can join with the host of Heaven and sing 'Heaven's Song'. That's why it means a lot to me."
Over the past 30 years the ministry of this self-confessed Jack of all trades has meant a lot to thousands of people. Somehow, I sense that the response to the new anthology will send John Pantry back into the recording studio long before the year is done.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.
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