Tony Cummings questioned a key figure in the growth of Irish Christian music, ROY RAINEY.
The international release by Vertical Music of the 'Satisfy' album by Irish-based worship leader Kathryn Scott finally brings into the spotlight one of the most intriguing untold tales in the UK's Christian music history. For, as it turns out, 'Satisfy' isn't Kathryn's first album. She recorded her solo debut under her maiden name of Kathryn Rainey and in fact the Rainey's are something of a Christian music dynasty in Northern Ireland. Since the 1980s an Irish record label originally called Olivet had been releasing a steady stream of low budget albums by such artists as Alan Cunningham, The Harvesters, Paul And Sharon and The Rainey Family. The Raineys (husband and wife Roy and Mildred and daughters Kathryn and Janet) have all contributed much to Irish Christian music over the years though it was recording engineer and record producer Roy has been the busiest. Olivet, now called Upstream Recording, is still active as a studio and occasional record label. I asked the tireless behind-the-scenes figure to fill me in on his untold tale of grassroots music ministry.
TC: How did you get involved with recording music?
RR: About a year or so after my conversion I met Mildred. She was singing around various meetings, and we started going out. We were married when we were 23, that's 36 years ago now. Quite a lot has happened since then. There was a group near us who were making Christian radio programmes. They asked Mildred if she would sing for them, and when they realised that she could play the piano they asked if she would come back and play for other people who were coming to sing. I just went along because I was fascinated by the recording process. These were programmes that were going out on FEBC Manilla and HCJB in Equador. I started to get involved in the technical side. Then we felt the Lord calling us to this in a full time way. Through Mildred singing at Filey one year, we had the invitation to join the team in Echo Studio down in Eastbourne, that's before they became ICC. So we moved over there in 1973 and were making a lot of radio programmes for various folk - Eric Hutchings, Transworld Radio, Christian hospital radio, Dick Saunders. Mildred and I sort of got more involved with Dick. We were with his team in Eastbourne for over three years and during that time we were making programmes for him. We'd go out to the Crusades, record various meetings, come back and produce programmes from the tapes. The whole thing started to grow. Mildred was the soloist, while I did all the recording.
We were travelling around England and Scotland in a caravan with our family increasing by the moment! I remember one particular time we were on a Crusade, we had two kids at the time. We were at the old Aerodrome at Croydon. We had a 16 foot caravan and I was really praying, "Lord if you want us to carry on in this work we'll need a bigger caravan," because we were spending four months in it at a time with two kids. We spent the winter at home but were soon thinking about traveling in the summer again. I went along to the man I had originally bought the caravan from and asked him if he ever got anything bigger, because 22 is the maximum you can tow. He said, "I just got these in today," and proceeded to show me some caravans that would be brilliant for us. I said to him, "But we don't have any money." He said, "That doesn't matter, I'll put a sold notice on it until you tell me you don't want it." The next day we got a letter in the post, and to this day I don't know how those guys found out at that particular time, as we hadn't shared this with anyone. The letter read, "We believe you need a new caravan. Will you tell us how much you require?" Within a few days we had all the money we needed to buy the new caravan. So these are the sorts of things we saw the Lord do in those days. It has just been a fantastic blessing.
TC: So how did you get to start your own recording studio?
RR: During the time we were with Dick we used to do a little album for Mildred in the winter months when things were quieter, to have for the Crusades in the summer. Then when we had been doing this for a year or so people started approaching us asking if we would do one for them. So that led to the forming of Olivet in a small sort of way. Then a good friend of mine, Ian Bartholomew, who used to play a lot of guitar for me in those days and was a founder member of a very popular group here in Ireland called Mary McKee And The Genesis, called me. I was on Crusade work in England. He said the group were going to make a new album. I asked if they were going back to Nashville as they had made a previous album there. He said no, that they hoped to do it in Northern Ireland. There weren't many studios about in those days so I asked him where they planned to go. He said, "I want you to do it." I said, "You've got to be joking," because at this stage I had an eight track machine. The only thing he said was, "Will you hire in a 16 track?" So when I costed it all out I realised it was going to cost the whole budget to hire the 16 track from London. So we set out in faith to buy this piece of equipment which, though it doesn't seem much now, seven and a half thousand was a lot of money 20 years ago. We launched into it believing God was in it and guiding us to get that machine. That kind of established the whole work there. In 1987 we came into a little bit of money quite unexpectedly. I didn't know what to do with it, so I was praying about it when I felt God saying something to me about providing holidays for the children. Since leaving Dick in 1982 we had always lived in rented accommodation, whilst working full time with Olivet. I had thought of buying a caravan at the seaside, to have somewhere we could go for a bit of a break, but a business man friend of mine said you're mad, you should buy a house. When we costed it out it seemed the sensible thing to do, and a good investment, so we bought a little house in Portstewart and traveled up at the weekends. Then a growing conviction came that we should move up into that area. This was a crazy time because Kathryn was half way to her A levels, so we prayed about it, and asked, "Lord, what would you have us do here?" And the Scripture we got was very clear, it was where the Lord said to Moses, you've camped around this mountain long enough, move northwards. And if you drew a line from where we lived in Portadown up 60 miles north you come to Portstewart. So we moved. When Kathryn had got her A levels she said to me "Dad, I really think I should go to Bible College but I'm not sure what to do. Some people think I should do a degree first and then go to Bible College. What do you think I should do?" I said, "If your heart is to go to Bible College why don't you do a degree at Bible College?" There were several colleges to which she could have gone, but the Lord clearly led her to Regent's Bible College in Cheshire. So she went there.
TC: Tell me about Kathryn's 'Shadows Falling' album.
RR: We really did that to get her a bit of support at college and the Lord really blessed it. There are some super little songs on it that she had been writing through her teenage years. It's nice to have as a snap shot of where she was at that time of her life. We have never done anything with the thought of success, our whole lifestyle is that we just want to be obedient to what the Lord says, and whatever comes from that we are more than happy about. We just want to be doing what he wants us to do, there's no point in doing anything else. This life isn't the real deal, it's just preparation for eternity. We want to be Kingdom people; we're not trying to say we are anything special; it's just how we have always viewed things. We've never sought any material things, we don't have any material things of any note, but the Lord has always kept us, he's our provider, and we don't want it any other way.
TC: What year did you change the name to Upstream Recording?
RR: We changed it to Upstream after we moved into the Coleraine area, as it seemed like a good time to make changes. I had originally thought about calling it something to do with Source, that the Lord would be the source, but that was already a registered name. So I started thinking about it and one day I was driving alongside the river and I thought to myself, where is the source of this river, and it came into my head, well it's upstream. And I thought that's not a bad name, so that's how we landed on that. Upstream is now a full time activity although there are a few other small things that I am involved in that help put bread on the table.
TC: Looking back over the many projects you've worked on, what have been two or three of your absolute favourites?
RR: The last few musical projects, obviously Kathryn's album coming out was a great delight for us to be involved in. We did all the live sound for it in house, and the monitors and that sort of thing. We did a lot of the overdubs in the studio, so that was a great time. I'm involved with a few conferences and so on, where we do recording and copying of tapes of the ministry. New Horizon is a big event over here, which I am quite actively involved with, at the end of July/beginning of August. That is always quite a big thing for us. Then I've always got lots of smallish local albums that were involved in. We still have some radio work going on as well. We do about three hours of programming every week for various folk locally.
TC: Tell me about Kathryn's church plant in Portstewart.
RR: After Kathryn had graduated from Bible College, she got married and moved back to Alan Scott's home church in Glasgow. Mildred and I were over one weekend and Alan and Kathryn were sharing with us how they felt God was disturbing their nest and telling them it was time to move on. We were driving back down the road to Stranrar, when so clearly the Lord said to me, "They're coming to Portstewart." I said, "Thank you Lord," but I didn't say anything to them other than when they were on the phone and they said they still didn't know, I said I knew but I wouldn't tell them. Within a few weeks the Lord confirmed to them that they were to come to Portstewart and church plant there. We started off with just the five or six of the family and then another girl joined us who had lived in England for a little while and was looking for a Vineyard Church. She was our first outsider. After a few months we started to meet on a Sunday. We had just been meeting during the week, but we started to meet on a Sunday in our home. About nine months after Alan and Kathryn had come over we got a room in a local pub/restaurant. The guy just gave it to us; he wouldn't let us pay anything for it. We met there every Sunday morning and soon people started coming from everywhere, and soon we were up to 40 or 50 people. There just wasn't room, so we were fortunate to get moved into the local hotel, where we stayed for a couple of years. Then it was sold and knocked down, so we moved to the university where we continue to meet. We have now got some offices in the town in Portstewart, and it's just been incredible how the Lord has blessed us. We have a couple of hundred people coming out most Sundays. It is great, the outreach into the community and all the things that are happening there. This kind of thing takes up more of my mind than the daily work that I am involved in. Also there is little Sophie, our grand daughter, Alan and Kathryn's little girl, she's 2 now. We have a lot of fun with her. I'm content, but not quite full of years yet. But I fully intend that when I get to that stage I'll be like the patriarch, who gathers the family round and says, "Right, I'm off to see the Lord, and I'll see you soon."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.