Vastly experienced songwriter JUDY MACKENZIE-DUNN answers some of Tony Cummings' questions about the 'Switched On' album.


Back in the late '60s, early '70s Judy Mackenzie was one of the pioneering figures in the British Christian music scene. After early albums for Key Records she made a groundbreaking recording with Cliff Richard composer Dave Cook as Mackenzie Cook. But then things seemed to peter out although independent releases as Judy Mackenzie-Dunn in 1990 and 1992 showed she'd lost none of her exceptional songwriting and singing talent. In 1995 ICC Records released Judy's 'Original' album but we've had to wait until now for a new batch of her songs with ICC releasing the children's project 'Switched On'. Cross Rhythms caught up with Judy at her South Croydon home to ask a few questions.

Tony: The last time Cross Rhythms wrote about you we commented about the huge gap between the 'Thinking It Over' album in 1974 and the 'My Back Garden' album in 1990. Now there seems to have been another big gap! What's been happening the last 10 years?

Judy: The fact is that I've never really stopped writing. I just haven't always had (a) the opportunity, (b) the money and (c) the encouragement to record my songs, added to which the Christian music business has been dominated by worship songs for the last few years. I really appreciate a lot of modern worship songs but my own songs are more outreach-based. In the last 10 years I've been happily and fruitfully involved in the musical life of a thriving church. I've led worship, mentored young musicians, organised music for many services, written and produced plays with songs, produced seeker events, worked with choirs and even done some preaching! I've written songs for myself and others to sing when we couldn't find the right song to fit a particular theme, many of which are sitting in a drawer and may never see the light of day again! I daresay it takes me as long to write a song as it does for a preacher to write a sermon and I like to think that the song points up the message of the preacher in a special way even if it's never heard again. After all, the preacher's sermon is rarely heard more than once, unless he's some big cheese. I know that writing in order to get a message across is looked down upon in some artistic circles but personally I think that this particular message is more important than all our artistic pretensions.

Tony: Why the decision to do some children's music?

Judy: Like a lot of churches, we were getting fed up with singing the same children's songs in our family services. At one stage our pastor, Peter Nodding, prayed for my writing. Let me just say at this point that I think I would have produced far more quality songs in my life if I had asked people to pray for me. I've always known that songwriting is my primary gifting but I've suffered a lot from depression, discouragement and what I now recognise is spiritual oppression when I attempt to write. I start off with a great idea but I can easily be overcome by self-doubt and memories of past failures. By 'failures', I mean the thing that happens when you send recordings to people and they don't even acknowledge receiving them. You wait for the phone call and as time goes by and it doesn't come you begin to think that it's pointless bothering. Perhaps disappointment is a better word. It's tough. And it's a scenario that countless artists are familiar with.

Anyway, my pastor prayed for me, as did others. I wrote the words of the song "Switched On" but struggled to get the tune. This is the point at which I might have given up before but on this occasion I kept going and suddenly this joyous tune came to me in about two minutes flat! I continued to write children's songs which the church enjoyed singing and at one stage the church leadership said to me "We think you should make an album of these songs and we will pay for it." Supportive or what? I felt it was "God's project" from the start. Paul Field did a fantastic job on the production and my church has some really gifted children that we used on the recording. So it was a team effort. Actually I'm beginning to think that we need to do some heavy investing in our children and grandchildren to arm them for what in the future is going to be a much rougher ride than anything we Christians have had to face in this country in recent times."

Tony: Being such an accomplished singer, how come you didn't sing the songs on 'Switched On'?

Judy: I'm not an accomplished singer any more. I can sing, but my range is not that of the children and anyway I think that it wouldn't be appropriate to have a woman of my great age on a kid's album! Jonathan Reavell has been a worship leader at our church (Purley Baptist) and has a voice like an angel! He's also very servant-hearted and self-effacing. I wanted him to have this opportunity. I do make a brief guest appearance whistling on "From The Top".

Tony: Any plans for the future?

Judy: ICC have picked up on the distribution of the album and we are all delighted that some of the songs are being used at Spring Harvest. We are having a conversation about doing another album or three! I've written some more songs already and would like to do some more recording this year, a follow up album and eventually a Christmas album with all the Christmas stuff I've written. And then there are the grown up songs! Up till now I've never written what I consider to be a great worship song but I've written quite a lot of "message" songs which I'd like someone to sing some day. My Dad was a preacher. I think at heart I'm a preacher and a teacher who works through song. CR

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.