Tony Cummings spoke to Dave Brackenridge of Glasgow's ROYAL FOUNDLINGS
It's been a difficult few years for British evangelistic rock bands. With the UK Christian record companies all but withdrawing their support for anything other than worship music, several well known bands have called it a day. However, one band who have gone from strength to strength in the last two or three years and have been surprise recipients of a major music award are Scotland's Royal Foundlings. The line up of this passionate team of gospel communicators is Dave Brackenridge (vocals, guitars), Neil MacDougall (djembe, percussion), Andrew Gunning (guitars), Jillian Reid (keyboards) and Steven Adamson (bass). As well as fronting Royal Foundlings, Brackenridge is a youth and community pastor at Bothwell Evangelical Church, just outside Glasgow.
During a visit to the Cross Rhythms studio Dave spoke about the band's origins. "I started to try and form the band in 2009. We played two gigs in 2010, but it was a different line-up each time. The line-up we are now has been since January 2011. We spent the first year doing as many gigs in Scotland as we could to try and build a name for ourselves. This year we've toured in America. We've agreed a deal with Operation Mobilisation to partner with them as a charity. So next year we'll be in six to nine different countries with them. We've played with Leeland in one of the biggest venues in Glasgow. We've sold out townhalls. We do a lot of school concerts. Anywhere we can get in and share the Gospel, we're happy to do it. So whether that's in townhalls, schools, churches or nightclubs - whatever - we go and do it."
In 2009 the band released an independent EP, 'The Beginning', and the following year the full length album 'Foundations'. Commenting on the album Cross Rhythms' reviewer wrote, "Their debut 'Foundations' certainly has some impressive moments with 'We Believe' standing beside anything put out by dc Talk or TobyMac with its American-esque rap lyric. . . I have little doubt that Royal Foundlings are excellent live. I just wonder what a really experienced producer in a top notch studio could have added to this album." Dave admitted that their album could have been improved. "Obviously the recording could've been better if we'd a lot of money, but it's certainly done enough to get us booked for lots of shows, and it's taken us all over the world, which has been unexpected but very nice."
Royal Foundlings have no dreams of making a name for themselves in the mainstream. Their commitment to ministry is total. Said Dave, "There's a lot of faith needed. At the moment we've all got jobs as well. As the band gets busier, the job hours are getting cut and cut and cut. Probably quite soon we'll be at the place where we're only doing this. We're away for three weeks at a time, doing what we can do. We don't charge a fee, because we believe that we're called to preach the Gospel. So if people ask us to come, there's not a set price to have us: we work off people supporting us. I would call us evangelists and missionaries before a band, but the band is the tool. This week we've been able to take the Gospel to thousands of teenagers: as a speaker, that wouldn't have been able to happen, because that wouldn't get the doors open."
Dave continued, "We seldom do a show without preaching. If it's one of our shows that's a set-up concert, we'll preach for about 15 minutes. This week we've been in schools; we'll share a little about what the songs are. We've been in Stone for a whole week, we've played all the schools, then we have the concert on Friday. So the hope is they all come, and we really hit them with the Gospel, because we're able to do that in our own environment. It's been great this week; it appears all the guys are coming: it took Andrew 45 minutes to walk a two minute journey today, the amount of school kids wanting to talk and say they were coming."
Royal Foundlings' tireless touring is paying off for the band. Said Dave, "We get a lot of messages - over a hundred this week - and lot of them have said they've never liked Christian music, they've never liked rock, but they love what we do. What we try and do, we put on a really big show on stage with a lot of energy, and we get everyone really involved. So even if they're not rock fans, they enjoy the show, they like what comes out. Whether these folk would have listened to our album and bought it because they liked the music, we don't know; but we know when they see us they want to see us again, because of the show and the energy. So we focus on how we are live."
In late 2011 the band recorded a collaboration with Nigerian-born singer/rapper El Mafrex. The track "Jehovah" became a big viral hit with over 600,000 views on YouTube alone and has been watched by millions on TV stations across Africa. Dave explained how the unlikely pairing came about. "We played a show in London and El Mafrex, who's quite a serious artist in Nigeria, saw us. Later he came to see us play in Scotland - he lives in Scotland, actually - he heard we were playing at Princess Street Gardens in Edinburgh. He came up at the end and said, 'I'd love to do a song with you to help me have some folk in this country hear my music'. I was hesitant, if I'm honest, because I didn't know the guy; I said, 'If you phone me some time, we can talk about it'. I got a phone call a month later saying, 'Hi, Pastor Dave. I've booked a recording studio for Thursday.' I thought, I can't say no, because the guy's paid for a studio. I said, 'Can you send me the lyrics and the music?' He said, 'Don't worry, you'll be fine, you'll be fine - just come along'. I went and said, 'What is it you want me to do?' He just played me some chords. I went, 'Right, but lyrics?' He said, 'Just sing whatever you want'. So there we were in a recording studio, not having a clue what we were doing."
"Jehovah" subsequently won the Scottish Music Award for Urban Recording Of The Year and the video has even been shown on Scottish newsreels. The track's YouTube popularity has necessitated the band including it in their live set. Mafrex often works with Royal Foundlings as support act but even when he's not with them the audience demand the song. In August this year the band released the album 'Live And Unplugged'. It features stripped down versions of the group's most popular songs. Guesting on the project are well known Scottish artists Steph Macleod and Nikki Hopkins. A 'Live And Unplugged' DVD will be released shortly. The band have also released an EP, 'Rise Up'.
Royal Foundlings have begun work on a new album to be released in 2013 and have begun sessions in between touring. They already have concerts lined up in USA, Germany and, of all places, Turkey ("we're actually playing at a Muslim music festival"). Encouragingly their live concerts continue to produce spiritual fruit. Recounted Dave, "Last night we got an email from a mother saying she doesn't know what's happened to her daughter: she's come home from school and asking to go to church. That's why we do what we do. Sometimes you play and you've no idea what response you get; other times we'll 23, 24 responses, like when we played in Skye. We very seldom play without getting a response, which is really important. We spend a lot of time after concerts praying with young folks: we don't just do a show and leave. We've found ourselves sometimes in the venue till two in the morning, because so many want to chat and pray and ask us about our faith. It's about seeds planted as well: we feel called to preach the Gospel and trust God to reap the harvest."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.