Tony Cummings investigated the fascinating lives of Celtic-styled singer/songwriters NIGEL CAMERON & JULIE CAMERON-HALL
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Tony: Tell me about 'Father's House'.
Julie: I released that in 2011, as I began to explore worship as an expression rather than performance music. It was someone else's lyrics as well - Robert's lyrics, which I did connect with, but they weren't coming from myself. I called it 'Father's House' because I had this revelation, I felt God saying to me that everything I'd done up to that point had been out of my heart, which was a good thing because my heart was after him. I felt him saying, 'Everything you've done has been out of your own heart, but from this time on I want you to come into my house and do things from my house.' It was a revelation of being a daughter: he was showing me that I was part of the family.
It's a weird thing. You don't know that you are truly a daughter until you know it. You think you know it - it's the most basic thing in the Christian experience that we are sons and daughters - but if you don't really know it in your heart, you don't know that you don't know it. It's only when you come into that experience - Paul calls it the spirit of adoption in Romans. I came into this revelation of being a daughter, and I felt God saying, 'Everything you do now will come out of my house, not just out of your heart. It comes out of the experience of being a daughter.' I suppose the natural response to that was to want to write my own lyrics. I have now come back to other people's lyrics, and you begin to then gain more confidence in who you are and who you resonate with and what you resonate with. But at that time, 'Father's House' was very important personally. It was very personal songs speaking of things I was discovering myself, for myself.
That was less than a year before my husband, David, passed away very suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 52. He was very young. After that, you can imagine our lives ground to a halt. My whole identity had been wrapped up in pastoral ministry and in being David's wife. I'd had this dream, which is a very amazing thing, of swimming in shallow sea. Everything was very colourful, like a coral reef. I was very good at swimming, and very familiar with swimming in that shallow sort of water. God said to me, 'I want you to dive deeper.' I began, in this dream - it was a very vivid dream - to dive deeper and deeper and deeper. Everything was pitch-black, and I had a head-torch on. I could see things - treasure - that other people didn't see. A few weeks after that, I was speaking at a young women's concert in Poland about the heart of worship. This young woman came up to me afterwards and she said through an interpreter, 'As you were speaking, I saw this picture of you swimming in deep sea and going deeper and deeper.' Can you imagine my absolute amazement? I nearly fell off my chair. 'Oh my goodness, God, you are trying to say something to me!'
Little did I know, within a few weeks of that I would be bereaved - I became a widow - and it was at that time God took me so deep into his heart. His kindness was amazing. I began to discover in the hardest, most barren places, where everything seems hopeless and dead and painful, that's where God became the most real he's ever been. Out of that experience I began to express something of my heart that wasn't superficial, that wasn't wanting to fix everything straight away, that wasn't trying to find answers to everything right now but was sitting in the dust, and him sitting with me. I wrote the songs on the album 'Warrior Bride'.
That was actually the first time I wrote a rock song - not Celtic folk at all, a really full-on rock song. I rang David Bainbridge and said, 'The only person that can do a guitar solo on this song is you. Would you mind having a go?' He said, 'That would be so cool.' Interestingly, it was one of the things that began to connect me with Nigel. We had met as friends at a worship event in the same place in Poland. I was still married at the time.
Nigel: I was there representing Ireland, you were representing England - we became the United Kingdom.
Tony: When was 'Warrior Bride' released?
Julie: 2013, the year after David died, and dedicated it to him. It was very much a response to having the rug pulled from under my feet, everything being taken away from me. I tell the story of being given this almond tree by my friend Jane, who lives in Jersey. She sent me an almond tree via the local garden centre just after David had died. What a weird thing to do. She said, 'I feel God wants you to know the almond tree will blossom again.' The day this tree arrived was the day a massive freeze arrived in Britain. I don't know if you remember 2012 - it was worse than the Beast from the East. The whole country froze solid for about three weeks, and we plunged into temperatures like minus 20 - record lows. This poor tree sat on my patio in its little plastic bag, totally dead as far as I could see. It was a twig, and it was never going to recover from this. It represented what my life looked like at that moment. I was out on a limb, completely on my own, this twig dying in the frozen depths of the temperatures it was experiencing. Eventually I dug it in, just to prove to myself it was dead and my life was ended. But the following year it began to live again. It really was part of my heart's story. Miraculously, the following year, when Nigel came, out of season when it shouldn't have been blossoming.
Nigel: What happened was I proposed on February the 14th.
Julie: The very next day the tree burst into blossom. I had sort of forgotten this promise from God. We went to see a friend that evening and she said, 'It's a very strange thing but I was praying for you this morning, and I felt God say to me, "The verse for you is Jeremiah 1:11."' I didn't know what that was, so I looked it up, and it was God speaking to Jeremiah. He said, 'Jeremiah, what do you see?' 'I see the branch of an almond tree.' What a story! God said, 'You've answered correctly.' He did this wordplay thing. In Hebrew, the word for 'almond' sounds exactly like 'watching over'. He says, 'I'm watching over my word to make sure it's accomplished. I'm watching over my promises to you to make sure they're accomplished.' So this story of the almond tree blossoming again was about God's faithfulness and his promises to me that he'd not gone away during that time. He was doing more than give me promises and saying, 'It's up to you to work them out.' Actually, 'I'm watching over these promises to make sure they're accomplished.' And Nigel is so much a part of that.
Tony: Nigel, tell me something about 'Get Real'?
Nigel: 'Get Real' was something that I had tried to start in Belfast. My brother is a gifted children's communicator. He's director of primary schools ministry for Scripture Union in Northern Ireland. Over many years my brother and I would work together on holiday Bible clubs. We restructured the whole thing in order to give people specific roles and not have them involved in everything. I used to do the kids' group, then get up and do a bit of drama, then play the drums. You're talking three or four hundred kids. My brother said to me one year, 'Nigel, would you like just to focus on the music?' We started to write theme songs together when we couldn't find songs that said what we wanted them to say. I started developing this band that would do this every year. We started to do road shows for Scripture Union every year. We started to do kids' praise parties. My passion was to write songs that the adults would get a kick out of as well. Take a bit of rock and roll, or a reference from '80s or '90s, but a catchy hook that the kids would love.
What's amazing about having come on a journey as a songwriter is to realise there's the child in me that loves the word puns, loves to get into Scripture and to tell a story through the song - and to see all these little faces looking back. These kids would know the lyrics better than I did. After developing an orchestra, I was able to take the brass section out of the orchestra and work with the trumpet player and write these trumpet parts - and actually use real instruments. This is the problem sometimes with children's ministry nowadays: it's all backing tracks and videos. Kids need to be inspired by real instruments. I tried to record these songs with my mate in Belfast. Bless him, we tried, and the thing never got anywhere. I tried to share the vision with the church: it takes a lot of money to record an album. Tried and tried, and constantly these plans were thwarted. In my heart I longed to do this album.