Tony Cummings spoke to the one-time Delirious? frontman MARTIN SMITH about his new solo album
Seemingly every generation a prophet musician emerges to remind us that the Bible is crammed with exhortations to not only worship God with our voices but with our bodies. In the '50s it was folk singer Sydney Carter declaring that Jesus Christ is indeed "Lord Of The Dance". In the '70s it was Andrae Crouch showing us that gospel could have a Motown beat. In the '90s it was club deejay and record producer Scott Blackwell revealing that you could worship God with the turbulent rhythms of house music. And now the one-time frontman for Delirious? has stepped forward to suggest that God wants our worship to be far more than a passive act of hymn singing or even an enjoyment of slick rock pyrotechnics.
'God's Great Dance Floor: Step 01' is much more than simply Martin Smith's long awaited solo debut since the Littlehampton wonders completed their season. It is more even than the work of one of Christendom's most finely honed talents expanding his musical palate with everything from the blips and beats of club culture to the rollicking folk dance of Mumford's sons. It is a call to the whole worshipping Church to join the Lord of the dance on the cosmic dancefloor, freed of stale formality or rock-obsessed notions of "cool" to dance like King David, unfettered and unashamed. In a recent blog Martin spoke about 'God's Great Dance Floor' and his attitude towards dancing.
"I'm glad of the title GGDF. It's time for me to learn to dance again. I'm a terrible dancer and if I'm at a party with Anna I would rather sit at the side with all the blokes and talk about cars. But, there's freedom in letting go. I'm done with holding it all together, being respectable. I'd rather be like King David now, ready to jump for joy because someone saved my life, because Jesus dared to believe in me, because he saw something in me he loved."
As most of his hardcore fans will know, Martin began his solo recording career with four independently released EPs, 'God's Great Dance Floor: Movement One', 'Movement Two', 'Movement Three' and 'Movement Four'. It was a surprise step. Such was Martin's renown following his 17 years with Delirious? that he could almost have chosen any Christian record company he wanted and got a big advance in the process to bring in a top producer and some all-star guests. Instead he chose a low key route. He said, "After Delirious? I really felt I was beginning again. I wasn't ready to record a full album but I had four or five songs and I recorded them and mixed them in my little home studio. I didn't really have a master plan about how to release them but I didn't really want to put them up as downloads and so we released the first of the EPs."
Martin mused about the changing eras of contemporary worship music. "Down the years there have been various seasons reflecting how the Church worships God. I used to go to Spring Harvest 25 or 30 years ago and there was Graham Kendrick in the Big Top getting everybody dancing and singing. Then we seemed to go into an era which you could call the Willow Creek era where we started saying 'maybe going crazy before God was putting some people off and we needed to tone everything down and become more mature in how we worshipped.' Then we went into the big production era where it was all about making our music and our presentation as professional as we possibly could with top production values, giant screen videos, lighting effects. Now it's not that any of those things are wrong, but I think there is a new generation coming up who aren't particularly impressed with glossy production, they want something organic, more spontaneous, more passionate. I suppose you could say it's all about allowing God to break our hearts again and falling in love with him."
In an interview with an American journalist, Melissa Riddle Chalos, Martin spoke about his momentous decision to leave Delirious?. "It was difficult at first. Delirious? was our whole life. We loved it, and it was hard to say goodbye because we were still successful. A decision like that leaves a big void, but it was time to really connect with my soul again, with God and with the normal things in life. It was the right thing to do as a family, time to be at home more and to invest in different things and new people."
That reconnecting involved uprooting his family to relocate to Brighton. He said, "I'm part of a church plant in Brighton out of Holy Trinity Brompton. It's called St Peter's and it's fantastic what God is doing with us. There are hundreds of students worshipping God with everything they've got. My wife, family and I are renting a house in Brighton and we're really loving it here. Leaving Delirious? has brought new freedom, particularly with my writing. The songwriting collaborations have really helped bring something fresh and I've had some great times building relationships with young people coming up in worship like Jonas Myrin. I first got to know Jonas through Matt Redman."
Now being widely praised by the critics, "Back To The Start", a co-write with Myrin, who has recently won a Grammy for his collaboration with Matt Redman on "10,000 Reasons", is in Martin's words "a prodigal song about finding my way back to everything that matters most; finding God in it all again." There is a concept video of the song which features Martin's teenage daughter, Elle, in the lead role.
In addition to the radio and video single, the album features the modern rock anthem "Fire Never Sleeps", a song given wide exposure on the critically acclaimed Jesus Culture With Martin Smith 'Live From New York' album; the contemplative ballad "Catch Every Teardrop" which was inspired by Psalm 52 and the near fatal car crash that almost claimed Martin's life; and "You Carry Me", a song of comfort for a friend whose husband recently died. Martin co-wrote four songs with Chris Tomlin, including "Waiting Here For You" with its message of the fragility of our humanity and how waiting is perhaps the most difficult act of worship.
The 10 tracks on 'God's Great Dance Floor: Step 01' feature all four from the 'Movement One' EP and all four from 'Movement Two' and two new songs, "Shepherd Boy" and "Jesus Of Nazareth". The All About Worship website singled out "Jesus Of Nazareth" for special praise. "While it is not a worship song that will be used in a lot of services, it has a good folk, bluegrass and blues feel to it that just makes it enjoyable. It tells about Jesus by giving facts from throughout the course of his life. This is one that fans of Mumford & Sons or Rend Collective Experiment will love. Its upbeat nature makes it a great song to throw in as a service opener or something to keep the energy up during the offering." A little confusingly, 'Step 01' contains Smith's rendition of the song "God's Great Dance Floor" under its other title, "Back To The Start". The song, written by Smith, Nick Herbert, Jonas Myrin and Tim Hughes, is currently impacting the world Church through its inclusion on Tomlin's 'Burning Lights' album and the American worship man's live rendition on the Passion album 'Let The Future Begin', the title of which is named after the anthemic shout heard on "God's Great Dance Floor".
The retail distribution of 'Step 01' renews Smith's relationship with record exec Jonathan Brown, who ran Delirious?' Furious? record company during their heyday. "When I'd finished the EPs it seemed like a natural progression to approach Jonathan Brown, who as you know I've worked with for years, about Integrity releasing the 'God's Great Dance Floor: Step 01' album. I went back in the studio and remixed some of the tracks and gave them a bigger bottom end. Now the album is out I'm really pleased with it. What is particularly thrilling to me is that nearly all the musicians playing on it are guys from my church."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.