Tony Cummings went to Bilston to talk to the renowned singer/songwriter MARTIN SMITH
The memory of Martin Smith's 17-year reign with Delirious? is beginning to fade but there's little doubt that the 350 or so packed into The Robin 2 in Bilston, West Midlands included many ageing d:boys as well as a healthy smattering of teenagers and even one or two white-hairs. In The Robin 2's far-from-palatial dressing room I spoke to Martin in a corner of the room while Dave Griffiths and the Chaos Curb Collection were preparing to go on stage prior to Martin's appearance. Talking to one of the world Church's most popular figures, who in years past has played at some of the biggest venues, I asked the singer, songwriter and worship leader how it felt to be undertaking a tour of smaller venues.
Martin: It feels like a brand new season. I've not been one to settle over the years; I feel this represents connecting with another audience. It's a journey towards a whole new project - maybe next year - which will really open the doors to the music I'm going to make. This is a great first step. It's great to see familiar faces tonight. I don't know whether I could've gone for something bigger. I just feel it's a great opportunity to go back to that intimate thing of being really up-close with people. I think some of these songs are going to work really well here tonight. For years we've done all the big stuff: it's just great to get in a van, drive round the UK and meet a few people.
Tony: So this whole thing is relationship driven?
Martin: I've been so fortunate over the years to not only make music, but music people like. As you get older, that becomes a great privilege. You're aware time is running out: you're seeing the end of something rather than the beginning. It's still a great privilege to think there'll be 350 people here, and they've come to hear some of my new music. I didn't know that was ever going to happen again after Delirious?. So it's a great buzz.
Tony: Did you have a plan when Delirious? ended?
Martin: I didn't have a plan. I was so determined to end that season well, that's all I was focussed on - ending it well with my brothers, five families, 17 children. That was the focus - a huge investment, affecting a lot of people's lives. It was only in the months following that last concert I had all this time on my hands and started writing again - all around that theme of going back to the start.
Tony: After Delirious?, was it easy to start songwriting again? Was the first song quickly followed by the second and third?
Martin: I had a little season where I felt a bit dry. I wrote a couple of songs with Tim Hughes, and that led very quickly to demoing those; then that led to producing his record 'Love Shine Through'. That was in 2010. I don't know whether that opportunity will ever arise again, but I had this space in my diary for the first time: we'd pretty much spent that whole year making that record. That got me going again; I thought, Wow, I'd like to do this.
Tony: You recorded songs for the EPs at home. Is that a system you plan to continue?
Martin: I'm incredibly fortunate to have a studio in my house. Now we're in Brighton, in a new house, the studio I've got is fantastic - I've invested in a new mixing desk - so I think the new records will have a slightly bigger sound to them. These 'God's Great Dance Floor' records, it was all about community, connecting with some younger people - some in my church (the Holy Trinity Brompton plant in Brighton, St Peter's), some not. I thought, Why don't we do this together? I was learning from them, and they were learning from me.
Tony: Are you leading worship regularly at St Peter's?
Martin: I'm there pretty much two or three Sundays a month. I'm on this tour, but I'll be back every Sunday - just how I scheduled. I lead worship there once a month, and I'm just part of the team.
Tony: Has anyone ever asked you about the tension of making a lot of money out of worship songs? Does it feel peculiar in any way?
Martin: I've written a whole, whole bunch of songs that haven't earned a penny; then there's maybe half a dozen that have earned some money. I suppose the only reason they've earned some money is because thousands of churches across the world have sung them. You can't make them like your music, and you can't make them sing your songs. I guess it's a by-product of that system of people around the world liking something you've done and wanting to sing it. In recent history - the last 50 years - there's been a system in place which collects those royalties. Of course, it's been an amazing blessing for us as a family, to be able to focus on music full time, have those royalties support what we're doing, bring us on the road and tour like this. It's really helped us; we're very grateful for it. We've got a lot of kids: a lot of shoe shopping come school term! It's been an amazing blessing, but I was never motivated by it.