Glasgow worship team LAND have just released their debut album 'Down The Mountain Slowly', Lins Honeyman caught up with the band.
A band that take their name from The Pilgrim's Progress, list Emmylou Harris, Hildegard von Bingen and Donna Lewis as influences and occasionally take time out to rehearse in a castle usually spells eccentricity or, at the very least, a hard interview. Not so Steve Knott and Yvonne Whitty of Glasgow-based Land.
Land consist of Steve, the close knot harmonies of Yvonne, Diane MacLeod and Shirley-Anne Nolan plus an impressive core of backing musicians. I catch them in a break from rehearsal to ask Steve how it all began. He responds, "Yvonne and I were in a praise band at the time and we first heard Diane when she came to sing in our church. I remember leaning over to my wife, Lynne, and saying, 'We've got to get her!'"
Land's debut album 'Down The Mountain Slowly' is a nod to the oncoming millennium. Steve explains, "The album is really a birthday present to Jesus on his 2000th birthday and every song I wrote challenged me to think, 'What can I give Jesus for his birthday?' Also, we were inspired to record this album when we saw Rich Mullins and the Ragamuffin Band live in Glasgow in the summer of 1996. We were deeply saddened to hear of Rich's tragic death. He has left a legacy of marvellous, inspirational songs, and it was his performance that inspired us to try and do something with our musical talents."
The album, with a mix of instrumental and vocal numbers, depicts Jesus as he is found throughout the Bible. The variety of Steve's songwriting techniques makes Land's sound hard to pigeonhole. "We don't want to have a particular style," explains Yvonne. "It's God's music and it's about the message and how it ministers to other people."
Steve's vision of their job is clear. "Everywhere we look people are crying out for spirituality. New Age has grabbed people but in time there will be a fall out because they won't find satisfaction in it.. These people will become broken people. And we've got to be there for them when it happens."
So why music to reach these people? First of all. Land have been given an amazing ability to blend Scripture into memorable songs. Secondly, it's a universal language and a powerful means of communication. And thirdly, as Steve explains, "We feel God is doing and is going to be doing great things through music. It's fantastic to hear, for example, what's happening with UCB on Medium Wave and the way God is reaching especially teenagers through music. These are exciting times."
Talking of UCB, Steve is appreciative of their support. "People like Mike Farrington and Alex Figgis have been extremely encouraging. We've had a lot of airplay and we're deeply grateful to them." (Regular UCB listeners should be familiar with the excellent "Rain In The Springtime" single and other tracks from 'Down The Mountain Slowly'.)
Other musicians too have been lending a hand with Sammy Horner passing several gigs their way and Steve Butler and Charlie Irvine from Lies Damned Lies lending their expertise to the album. I ask Yvonne how this has worked out and if there have been any artistic heated discussions! The response is more reassuring than dramatic: "Everyone who has been involved with Land has really caught on to the vision of touching broken people. Nobody has been forcing their own agenda and this has opened the way for God to work through us."
This seems to apply in the area of group dynamics too. As Yvonne says, 'The friendships in the band are amazing. It's down to God's working the way we get along." Disciplined prayer lives and a commitment to Jesus and each other seem to keep things on an even keel. The group are also taking the opportunity to spend time together in a Kintyre castle whilst working on material for their second album.
Wary of finding a formula, Steve is determined to keep his songwriting fresh. He says, "I'm trying to move away from the conventional verse-chorus-middle eight structure and visit the earlier church tradition of petitions, meditations, proclamations as well as songs. Moving back to the sacred, the mysterious."
So what of the future? Land are certainly not resting on the laurels of their UCB airplay and the success of 'Down The Mountain Slowly'. Aside from Yvonne and Shirley completing their studies and the plans for a second album, the group are looking to promote their message through gigs and festivals. "We are aiming to do a gig a month whilst approaching the organisers of Greenbelt, the Cross Rhythms festival and Soul Survivor for more opportunities to play." Steve is, however, cautious of performing for performance sake. "Music should be more than entertainment. It's a very powerful means of communication."
As millennium fever (or apathy - depending on which stance you take) grips the nation. Land are focused towards celebrating the year 2000 for the right reasons. As Steve explains, "This project was initiated in 1990 as my response to the Decade Of Evangelism. We are hoping to link up with the Churches of Scotland and England, and any others for that matter, in their initiatives to celebrate the build up to, and the Jubilee itself in 2000."
On a slightly smaller scale, the possibility of becoming involved in music therapy has also caught the group's attention - mainly thanks to Diane who is a primary school teacher in the Glasgow area. This willingness to muck in at grassroots level is a testimony to the practicality of Land's faith and is a challenge to all who feel called to serve in the area of CCM.
For many involved in CCM, it can seem like a long lonely struggle with as much discouragement as encouragement. Steve's advice is clear, "God is moving powerfully and he is using music as a vehicle for his purposes. Be very encouraged. Get down and pray and keep praying about it. We've got to be in it for the long term - it's not an overnight thing."
Yvonne echoes that sentiment. "Get right in there if you know it's what God wants you to do. No matter what your abilities are, God can use you. I remember praying a year before 1 joined Land that God would use me." There is a short silence. "I never thought he could bring us this far."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.