The Christian bookshop racks are overloaded with Celtic albums but few have the sheer class of the new one by NICK & ANITA HAIGH. Andrew Long investigated.
The debut album for husband and wife duo Nick and Anita Haigh has just been released by ICC. But Nick and Anita are far from being newcomers to the scene. As a session musician Nick has played on over 40 albums whilst Anita is a published author who has written resource material for Scripture Union and a book under the title Rap, Rhyme And Reason. I asked Nick how he came to be a session man.
"I started doing it seriously on the Christian scene about four years ago when I was asked by Kingsway to participate on a Dave Bilbrough live album, it was the first album in the 'Worship Together1 series. Stuart Townend was on that album as well and I did a Celtic song with him and it went from there really. I've mostly played on worship albums since then. I had been involved in the folk scene previously to that and done some folk albums, most of which are fairly esoteric and not widely available. I've spent a lot of time on the Irish scene particularly, based up in the north of England."
Nick is not of Irish descent himself, but has been involved in the blossoming Irish music culture that is an important part of many big British towns. He spent a lot of time in Leeds, where Irish sessions are widespread and musicians just pop along to the local pub and join in.
Nick and Anita are both Companions of the Northumbria Community, a dispersed Community centred in Northumbria but with members all over the world...well, not really members, as Nick explains. "We don't like the idea of a membership, we prefer to think of companions along the way, journeying together. The Northumbria Community is seeking to express a spirituality which looks back to the Celtic saints who brought the Gospel in the first place to Northumberland way back in the seventh century when King Oswald invited Aidan over from Ireland and he established a monastery on Lindisfarne and Aidan and Cuthbert and people like that evangelised most of the North and the Midlands. So it's unblocking ancient wells really and walking the old paths of these people and seeing that that has great relevance in a post-modern society.'
Both Celtic music and spirituality have been popular in recent years, so I wondered whether Nick and Anita could be just jumping on the bandwagon of current trends in contemporary Christianity. "Not at all," Nick is quick to correct me. "It's something I've been into for quite a long time really, way before it became 'trendy'. Celtic music is my preferred style and I'm not just jumping on the bandwagon. Celtic spirituality can be and has been misinterpreted by a lot of people; it's definitely not anything to do with the 'new age'. We're talking about Celtic Christianity, it's very orthodox, but its roots, rather than in the established Roman church, are in the Desert Fathers and people like that. It's a spirituality where you seek to be alone with God but then work together on mission, so the idea of being alone with God but then working together as a community is very important."
On the album itself Nick's main melody instrument is the fiddle, whilst his main accompanying instrument is acoustic guitar. There is a whole host of other instrumentation on the album and Nick confesses modestly to being responsible for around 90%. The bhodran on "All Around The World" is his own work and he also plays a mediaeval instrument called a cittern, which is quite popular on the Irish folk scene. Most of the songs are original compositions but the Haighs chose a couple of hymns too.
"1 Heard The Voice Of Jesus' is a song that we really like, it's an idea of expressing what it's really about in terms of the realities of life and Jesus being there in them and it ends on a note of journeying together which is why I put a reel on the end of it, to express the idea of going off together. Anita wrote a new tune for 'Dear Lord And Father1. So they are songs which mean something to us in finding God in the ordinariness of life."
The songs are interspersed with some traditional Irish reels and the whole album carries a traditional feel. "Pilgrim" for instance is an original tune but has a very Irish flavour to it. I asked Nick about the moving song "Song For Kim". "We suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year, we lost a baby at 13 weeks, and this song came directly out of that. It's a song of commitment really, it's actually dedicated on the album to parents who have Most unborn children and never quite found the words to say goodbye. It's quite a special song for us."
This summer sees Anita leaving her teaching job and the Haighs will
take a big step into the unknown. Nick is still a full time member of
Dave Bilbrough's band and is doing a lot with him but they will also
be seeking to put together a body of musicians so that the songs from
the album can be performed live. Their style of music, whilst
predominantly Christian, crosses over neatly into the folk marketplace
so Nick and Anita will be exploring both these avenues. You may see
them at a Christian festival this summer, or you may catch them at
your local folk festival. There is already talk of a follow up album
and if they can maintain the standards set by their debut then it will
certainly be worth checking out.