Tony Cummings quizzed Newcastle-upon-Tyne worship singer/songwriter KEN RILEY
Despite having 18 years of music ministry experience, one song has become forever linked with the name Ken Riley. For it is a fact of modern worship history that in 2005 Ken, then fronting Newcastle-upon-Tyne's rock worship band Yfriday, travelled to the London home of South African-born worship leader Brenton Brown and proceeded to write with him the song "Everlasting God" which subsequently circled the globe and is still sung in countless thousands of churches. Last year Yfriday finally called it a day and now Ken has released his first solo project - the EP 'Wondrous Things'. The singer/songwriter took time out from his busy schedule to answer some Cross Rhythms questions.
Tony: What led you to the decision to finish Yfriday?
Ken: We had a pact where in the January of each year, we'd ask each other were we still up for what we did as a band. As the years rolled by, life changed for each of us, there were marriages, kids, mortgages, businesses and church life which would all ebb and flow in seasons, each having an impact upon how easy they were to handle while being out on the road and the constant need to play live. As well as that, there was the need to move forward, to develop as people and explore what God might have for us. There are some simply amazing and brilliant things that happen when you're in a band, like we were able to travel and meet people and be involved in God doing stunning, once in a lifetime things, while on the other side of that are the missed weddings, birthdays, Saturday nights with family that are all sacrificed on the journey. Ultimately the cost and balance between these things began to shift to the point where we knew we'd reached the end. We walked off stage at the end of our last night at Newcastle City Hall as friends and brothers who had shared so much and who had just celebrated with a couple of thousand people the grace of God.
Tony: How has your life changed since the band went their separate ways.
Ken: When we first stepped into full time, the Christian scene in the UK was hugely different. We were involved in so many outreach events around the nation that it was certainly a season where God was using events to reach youth. I'd say from around 2005, that season began to change and become the time of churches now savvy enough and skilled enough to do their own events - and rightly so. We now have a model of large organisations hosting huge conferences and that is meeting some of the need. It's important we don't forget outreach, evangelism and salvation, and it was great to hear of so many committing to Christ at this year's Soul Survivor, for example.
For me, too, as the band was ending I was undergoing change in my church life. I'd been a member at Acorn Community church for 18 years and I felt the stirring to move on at around the same time. That came as a surprise but after checking out that I wasn't in some kind of mid-change crises, I knew God was leading me out. Interestingly, I didn't know where to and I didn't check out other churches beforehand, I would have felt unfaithful. So on our last week there, I led worship and packed up my guitar at Acorn for the last time. Two weeks later we visited City Church in Newcastle and I just knew it was the right place and here I am, director of worship, massively involved and loving it.
Tony: How much time do you spend leading worship in your local church?
Ken: I work one day a week and spend a substantial amount of time at church, not just leading worship but being involved in "church", meeting with team members, mentoring, dreaming up how to engage with the city and on and on. . . oh yes, and leading worship every Tuesday night at our Devoted Prayer meetings and covering weddings, funerals and Sunday mornings. It's the most I've been involved in one church ever and I love it. We have a great team and we aim to get a combination of slickness with looseness, new with old, hymns to spontaneous, prayer and prophetic, all in an hour and half on a Sunday morning.
Tony: Some observers were surprised that you launched solo with an EP rather than a full album. What was the thinking behind this?
Ken: The old models of buying and selling music have mostly gone. I have this amazing luxury of being able to experiment and try to understand how we consume music and then try to get ahead of the curve. I have lots and lots of songs, but I wanted to put out a taster and see how it was received. So you'll notice that the songs are all pretty different, more organic than the Yf days. What I'm really experimenting with is how to release music. All I've done so far to let people know it's out is one email to the old Yf fan base, a few tweets, a couple of Facebook messages, sent a copy to yourselves, to LTTM, and then sat back to see what happens. Just in the last week, I've sneaked it onto iTunes without telling anyone to see how that works. In a couple of weeks I'll email out that it's there. So I'm really experimenting. . .mostly in how not to do it, ha!
Tony: A couple of folk have commented that there is a more
sound on 'Wondrous Things'. Do you agree?
Ken: Yes I do. I used to write songs for a band, I used to stand in a room with three other guys tweaking changes on the floor, I used to be the electric guitar player. Now when I sit in my studio, my band is pro tools and the instrument directly in front of me is a keyboard, so it's natural for keys to become the core of the songs. Having said that, I'm just in the process of changing again, back to more guitar, especially during times of spontaneous worship, but mostly I'm writing with just voice and an iphone.
Tony: Tell me about the recording sessions for 'Wondrous Things'.
Ken: I remember a morning where God clearly said to me "a farmer who waits for perfect weather will never plant". That morning, I booked Parr St Studio in Liverpool which is an amazing studio and also run by Chris Taylor who was the Yf live sound guy. It was clear to me that there was no point in sounding anything like I had in the past so I also booked Paul Evans (ex-Delirious?) and Mark Prentice (ex-everybody) to come and play drums and bass for me, then there was Jordan my future production superstar son and me. At the session I turned up with tracks that the guys played to, then we took it all back to my little studio at home and recorded all the guitars, vocals and other instruments - I played keys and sang and I think Jordan did nearly 100 per cent of the electric guitars while I pressed record. It was so relaxed to record when feeling inspired, without deadline, but of course I had the usual big push at the end to finish everything.
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