Pete James: Sheffield-based worship leader and highly experienced songsmith

Wednesday 26th January 2011

Tony Cummings looks at the lengthy music ministry of Sheffield's PETE JAMES

Pete James
Pete James

When worship director Pete James leads the congregation at St Thomas' Church, Philadelphia in Sheffield one wonders whether many in the worshipping throng know that the young man leading them in song has packed a considerable amount of musical experience into his 33 years. As Pete Cant he recorded an independent EP in 2000 which produced a Cross Rhythms radio hit. In 2001 he was a member of teen pop group Oxygen which British Youth For Christ launched as Christendom's answer to Hear'Say. In 2007 the singer/guitarist re-emerged as Pete James with the worship project 'The Blue EP'. Now Pete's album 'Dreams, Reality And Everything In Between' is a critically praised set which takes in both worship and performance material and shows that his years of experience have enabled him to produce a set of well crafted rock-orientated songs brimming over with biblical truth. Pete spoke to Mike Rimmer and myself on a recent Rimmerama programme and began by speaking about his church. "It's a plant-out from St Thomas Crookes in Sheffield. We meet in a big set of warehouses and God is doing some great things there."

Pete hails from Reading. In his teens he worked on a farm leading educational visits for children. But music was in his blood. He said, "The first thing I ever recorded was a six-track cassette, 'I'll Run With You'. Then I made a full length album 'On A Mission' which surprised everyone, including me, when the track 'Voice Of A Generation' got picked up for Cross Rhythms radio play."

The release of the 'On A Mission' EP was a bit of a wake up call for the young singer/songwriter. He laughed, "After finishing the 'On A Mission' CD it dawned on me, 'What do you do with 1000 copies of a CD?'. I needed to explore some other avenues. I got approached by British Youth For Christ and asked to audition for Oxygen that was unnamed at that point. It was sold to me that it was going to be a push into the mainstream and model Christian values. It sounded right up my street in terms of connecting with people. So I auditioned for it. ITV made a documentary about the auditioning process. It wasn't until we were actually formed that we then began gathering songs for the album. At that point this band was formed but didn't really have an identity or a music genre other than pop."

As it turned out British Youth For Christ failed to land Oxygen a mainstream deal and the single "React" and the album 'One Step Closer', catchy if rather cheesy teen pop, were released on Christian label ICC. The songs were penned by such stalwarts as Paul Field and Andy Flannagan. Commented Pete, "I had written some songs and we recorded one for it but it got dropped."

After Oxygen fizzled out Pete got involved with another youth orientated project, Nail The Truth. "They made a CD, 'Messing With The System'. Nail The Truth was a youth ministry in Sheffield, produced by Andy Baker. It was more performance orientated, acoustic with some rap stuff. I'd not long been in Sheffield and they approached me and said, 'We want to make an EP with you, have you got a set of songs?' I had some acoustic stuff that we just put down and made that acoustic/hip-hop mix. It was fun."


By 2007 Pete had returned to worship ministry having joined the 2500 member St Thomas' Church, Philadelphia. His songs "Take Me In Closer", "Standing At The Cross" and "Heaven" have all been featured on New Wine live album while a popular children's song "Giant Of Faith" was written to develop the worship life of the younger generation at St Thomas'. He said, "I wanted to create a song that the Sunday school teachers could use as a tool to teach about characters from the Bible and that is exactly what happened as the song became very popular within our church and began to be picked up more widely."

He began working on some recordings and released the independent 'The Blue EP'. The project was produced by Paul Burton and Harvey Jessop at G2 Studios. The name on the sleeve was Pete James. He explained why he decided to change his name when he returned to solo work. "The short version is that James is my middle name and it doesn't get mistaken when I get introduced at events as Pete Can't, which was increasingly happening, and the implications of it were getting far greater as I was applying for jobs."

Last year Pete's 'Dreams, Reality And Everything In Between' came out to excellent reviews. It demonstrated a wide set of rock influences and began with a powerhouse worship song "Come Everybody, Let's Go". "It's basically my take on 'Come, Now Is The Time To Worship'. I wanted to write a call to worship in a Kasabian/Arctic Monkeys style."

So what was Pete trying to achieve with 'Dreams, Reality.'? "I wanted to write an album that is church-usable and service-usable and wanted to make it as accessible and creative as possible. 'We Believe' has had a lot of use in my church. With 'God With Us' I wanted to write a Christmas song - I didn't actually finish until February, so I introduced it at Easter! Actually it works really well on all occasions. Then there's the song 'We Believe' which is based on the Apostle's Creed. I wanted to explore writing something that was just facts and statements of faith, particularly with a lot of talk at church about how men engage in worship. So I wanted to write something that was quite hard-hitting, quite chart-like and really just facts rather than feelings."

With the album out Pete is gigging regularly with band of musician friends: Steve McMurray (drums), Ben Wade (bass), Chris Davis (electric guitar) and Jamie Parker (keys). As well as touring Pete visits churches to help them develop worship teams and also conducts songwriting and worship leading workshops. Despite his passion as a worship music enabler Pete has some reservations about the way contemporary worship has found unprecedented popularity in Britain's churches. He commented, "It's very credible to be a worship leader today. I spent some time with some guys, coaching them in worship, and I remember asking one of them, 'What do you want to do?' He said, 'I want to be a worship leader'. It was a bit of a bombshell to realise that actually worship leading is now considered a career path. I certainly didn't expect to be doing what I'm doing. I kind of fell into it. Part of what I'm involved in with younger guys is how you grow your skills for life - job, career and everything else - but at the same time expand in music and develop as a writer and as an artist, worship leader and above all as a Christian. But we need to hold these things in balance." 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.


Reader Comments

Posted by rosemary in halifax @ 11:08 on Jan 30 2013

looking forward to you leading us at Spring harvest, Pete,

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