Len Magee: The pioneering singer songwriter of the 1970s

Wednesday 2nd February 2011

Tony Cummings spoke at length to one of the UK's most popular artists of the '70s, LEN MAGEE

Continued from page 1

Len and Heather, 1979
Len and Heather, 1979

In 1976 Dovetail released their fourth and last Len Magee album. 'Prayer Song' was a double album containing 21 songs mostly soft country/folk pop with easy strum along melodies backed by steel guitar and gentle strings. The John Pantry production again brought in numerous musicians to find success in Britain's growing Christian music scene including Keith Routledge of Meet Jesus Music, Keith Loring, Mark Williamson and members of Brightwinter. As well as Magee originals there were covers of songs penned by John Pantry and Graham Kendrick. But in truth, all the recording and touring, including several overseas trips, were beginning to have a detrimental effect on Len's pastoral duties. He admitted, "It was rather perplexing because I felt God had called me to be a pastor, which I still am today, so I obviously felt I was doing the right thing for God. But at the same time I was getting all these invitations to go all over the place sharing my music, the Gospel and my testimony. I was at High Wycombe at the time and we had a mini revival, lots of people were being converted. Things were just happening spiritually on their own. I suppose that's how they should happen, people were being blessed and saved, miracles were happening in people's lives and doors were being opened. Do you remember when Jesus said to Peter, 'When you are young, you'll go where you want to go, but when you get older, someone will tell you where to go?' Of course he was talking about his impending crucifixion. When I was young, somebody would ring anytime to ask if I wanted to go somewhere or do something, and I thought it was a great idea. These days, being a lot older, I take two weeks to pray about it before I go anywhere. It was always happening in those days. It was very difficult to marry the combination of evangelism, being out and about recording songs and travelling with the pastoral duties. That eventually created a few problems."

In 1976 things were changing for the singer/songwriter. Said Len, "I met a lovely girl called Heather from Richmond in Surrey. We met at Kingston's teacher training college in Gypsy Hill. I was doing a gospel concert there and that was where we met. We got married in July 1977 at Halford House in Richmond."

In fact, Heather co-wrote one song and penned another by herself the rather charming "Who Made The Animals' Eyes?" which appeared on Len's next album 'Love Is The Answer'. The project was Len's first for Pilgrim Records and was produced by John Pac (today the CEO of Kingsway but back then a member of Parchment - who provided the bvs for 'Love Is The Answer'). Recorded at ICC and The Old Smithy in Worcester, as well as featuring the usual strings and pedal steel the project had Parchment making an impressive attempt at Carpenters-style harmonies while "Mystery Tour" had a snappy Mexican flavour. The back sleeve sported a pic of Len, Heather and pet dog. Later in 1978 a Christmas album 'Once Upon A Winter' was released and the following year Pilgrim released Len's 'Just For You'. Produced again by John Pac possibly the most interesting song on 'Just For You' was a funny Ishmael-penned novelty "Jonah's Key" while the most intriguing sleeve credit was the appearance of Les Moir (renowned Graham Kendrick and black gospel producer) listed as playing tuba!

In 1980 journalist Chris Spencer helped Len write his autobiography, Coming Home: The Len Magee Story (Lakeland Books) and in 1981 Pilgrim released 'He Is The Music', a decidedly dull set of orchestrated, easy listening praise songs. With no Magee originals it featured renditions of "For God So Loved The World", "I Just Came To Praise The Lord" and "Anchored To The Rock Of Ages".

Also in 1981 Len and Heather relocated to Australia. Explained Len, "I had a number of invites to go, but I had never gone. Somebody came over and said they had an invitation for me to go over and preach. I went to Australia led by the Spirit and had a fabulous time. I felt that God had put my heart back in this country. I didn't really like it as a child having being abused and used as slave labour. But this time God put my heart here and I really wanted to come back. I had to re-emigrate which was interesting. When I got here, I joined the ministry as assistant pastor for about seven and a half years before I went out and pioneered other churches."

During Len's three decades in local church ministry in Australia God has used Len's preaching and pastoring gifts. He reflected, "Years ago I had a big church. But nine years ago I had a massive stroke and nearly died. In fact they gathered my family round my death bed to say goodbye and I woke up! I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen actually. The Lord woke me up. We have had quite a bit of illness in the family over the years, and it has made it so that I had to step right back. I am aware over the years that the Church has become in many places a business... Somebody wrote a book called Deliverance From Church Inc. I stood right back, and then went back to very simple pastoral work. I preach all the time and have a small church. I'm not trying to build a Kingdom or an Empire, we don't have a lot of programmes, but we do a lot of work in the Philippines sponsoring children."

Responding to the demands of older Christians who still remember Magee's popular albums of the '70s, in 1999 Len released as independent CD 'Don't Doubt His Love' reprising some of his best remembered tracks. But by and large, music today is not something that fills many of Len's thoughts. Looking back on his successful music years he reflected, "It was like a dream. Reality sets in eventually. Pastoral work is very difficult because God still has to deal with you and change you, transform our lives to conform to the image of Christ. The music was fantastic, exciting and a great privilege, but it happened in the past. I am aware that God is more concerned with where you are at the present moment and your relationship with him rather than what you have done. I am aware of the tremendous privilege I had to been used for God in this way and have all those things happen to me as they did."

He admitted, "I pick up the guitar occasionally, but I very quickly put it down. I feel like I am not going anywhere with it. I never really developed; I just did what I did. My son though is a very good guitarist and bass player, great producer. So I just pick up the guitar, play a few chords, put it down and carry on doing what I love, preaching. Even if I could sing as well as I used to, I probably wouldn't anyway because there is not much place in today's contemporary world for old hippies playing country music. I have a saying that in the old days you could fill the Royal Albert Hall with one guy playing a guitar. Nowadays you couldn't fill an outside dunny!" 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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Chris Holland in C.L.C. Church POMPEY @ 17:24 on Apr 3 2018

It's a real joy to hear this old boy's music again. Really thank Jesus that I grew up with this Guy while He was
co Pastor Elim Church Pompey

Posted by Jean Howarth in Preston @ 17:43 on Dec 21 2017

It was a special time in Elim in the 70's with Len and Archie Biddle. We remember that time with affection and we are still in touch with some of our Navy lads who benefited spiritually from those times at Elim.

Posted by Sharon McClements in Northern Ireland @ 21:16 on Jul 28 2017

I went to see Len when he was in Belfast in the early 80's with my then Boyfriend we have been married 34years this year , never in a million years did we think we would be ever be part of the Elim movement how the Lord moves ( we belonged to very strict " traditional churches"
We loved his music ,just reconnected with it again and brought back lovely memories .
Spirit filled - simple pure
Thank you Len for sharing the Love of God xxx

Posted by Martin Ratcliffe in Florida @ 11:35 on Aug 26 2016

I was reading in Romans 8 this morning about our adoption into God's kingdom and thought of the song "Adopted by the Father" that I heard Gwen Murray sing in the Bulawayo Town Hall in 1977 (then Rhodesia). That was the night I surrendered my life to Christ. Her anointed singing really touched my heart. I would love to tell her so personally. Do you know her e-mail address? Thank you for forwarding if possible.

Reply by Gwen Murray Newnham in Qatar @ 18:16 on May 29 2018

Martin... My son just found this website again.. So I've joined up... What a super memory... And so glad to part of your life in the way you described... I have amazing fond memories of the time spent in Rhodesia /Zimbabwe.

Great to reconnect...

[report abuse]

Reply by Kevin Gould in Naples florida @ 18:54 on Sep 2 2016

Martin you can find Gwen on Facebook. Her name now is Gwen Murray Newnham.
Kevin Gould.

[report abuse]

Posted by Sharron watson in Pontypridd south wales @ 19:09 on Feb 14 2016

As an impressionable teenager around the early 80's, someone bought my mum the Prayer Song album, volumes 1 and 2. We no longer have a record player. Does anyone know if this album can be bought on CD? Would love to hear it again as a much more mature Christian.

Reply by Jerry in Dallas TX @ 03:16 on Jun 19 2016

Apparently all of his music has been digitally remastered and available on his website http://temp.lenmagee.com/shop/

[report abuse]

Posted by Michael mount in canterbury kent @ 21:15 on Oct 5 2014

Was converted at Portsmouth elim church as a21 year old serving in the Royal Navy loved hearing lens testimony and was greatly blessed by his music nearly 40 years a believer and still going strong to God be the glory

Posted by christina willcox in South Wales GB @ 22:27 on Mar 16 2014

I would like to know what key you used. He's only a prayer away

Posted by Frank and teresa in Andover , England @ 13:03 on Dec 26 2013

Love your songs, really moves our Lord Jesus 's spirit that lives inside us, but would like help for getting the chords to the song. It's the presence (of your spirit Lord ), for guitar, as we all know we need his touches and the moving of his spirit not just to change our lives ,but everyone we are lead to's life and to enter into true worship, so would be very grateful if you could send the chords to is song to ftrichmond@hotmail.co.uk. Thank you so much and may our lord Jesus bless you in all his ways

Posted by Chris in Wales @ 19:07 on Feb 16 2013

Len used to have a church near ours in Wiltshire. A friends loaned me one of Lens music cassettes, now I have the lot. I'm so grateful for the music, it has seen me through troubled times, put new spirit in me, helped my relationship with Jesus and given such peace and joy.
Beautiful voice, beautiful words and beautifully done.
Sincere Thanks.
Blessings to you and all.

Posted by ken elsley in isle of wight england @ 19:24 on Dec 8 2011

1ts so good to be able to see and hear you Len !since Elim in pompey ! blessings , ken

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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