Gavin Drake went to a Birmingham recording studio to meet a host of folk roots musicians gathered there by SAMMY HORNER.
Can you turn up the cans a bit?" Alan Hewitt adjusts a fader on the recording desk. Christian folkie Jonathan Day, satisfied with the new level goes for a take, and exuberantly launches into the song now playing in his headphones. "Praise the Lord in his sanctuary / Praise him in his mighty firmament / Praise him for his mighty deeds and mighty wonders / Praise his goodness and his excellence". King David's lyrics have never sounded better as Jonathan's rich voice soars across the joyfully skipping acoustic guitars and the pumping piano accordion. In the studio control room, heads nod while feet are restrained from breaking into a barn dance two-step.
"Yep, that's there" announces Sammy Horner. Another track awaiting mixing has just been cut for the 'With Every Blessing: Celtic Praise' album. The album is now on release through Kingsway. The Celtic Praise concept is the brainchild of the Electrics singer, composer and bass player Sammy Horner. A long time interest in roots music and the Celtic origins of British Christianity over the years led Sammy to compose a number of praise and worship songs with a definite folk roots feel.
One or two of them ("Free" and "With Every Blessing" - the latter with lyrics based on an ancient Celtic blessing) were included on the Electrics seminal 'Visions And Dreams' album. But in 1991, Sammy began to think about the possibility of recording a Celtic roots worship album and approached various musicians to ask them to come along to play and worship.
And so it came to pass that various members of the Electrics, Jonathan Day And Eye Of The Storm and Eden Burning, along with Scottish folk singer Christie MacAlindon, gathered in a Birmingham recording studio to make a unique worship album.
"I'm not opposed to the current styles of worship music" emphasises Sammy as he leans against the studio monitor "but I do feel that there are different ways and styles with which to praise God. It's now in the past year we've seen South African praise, Indian Praise, and even Brussel Spaceship's indie-rock praise album. God embraces all cultures as well as individuals", Sammy drawls in his thick Belfast accent. "Irish and Scottish culture has been missing from praise and worship albums for far too long. Hopefully 'With Every Blessing' will be the first of many such albums."
With 'With Every Blessing', Sammy has done away with the 'old lyrics - new music' syndrome of many praise albums. The first track "I Declare (The Glory Of The Risen Saviour)", contains the words 'and should I find I'm homeless and should I feel alone / It's then I know security is found in Christ alone", set to a up-beat easily danceable melody. - something which Sammy feels takes worship back to the Psalms. "God builds character through difficult times. Throughout the Psalms, we see songs about 'Walking through the valley of the shadow of death' and a psalmist who describes himself as 'being like a worm'. But they always worshiped God through those times."
Warming to his topic, Sammy puts down the banjo he'd been holding and continues "Praise and worship needs to enable people, even at their lowest times, to be joyful. People need to know that God is always there, and some of these songs declare our faith in God being there all the time" Eden Burning's Paul Northup describes 'With Every Blessing' as the ideal worship style: "It brings out a curious nature within the human soul, as it communicates with its maker, It's consistent with the Psalms to be joyful even when we feel low."
Another of the albums contributors, Jonathan Day comments, "many people are discovering the incredible wealth and beauty of Celtic music. For many people, their first experience of this music is the start of an enduring passion." Sammy Horner agrees, "There is a revival in roots music. Blues, folk, country, whatever! People want to get back to basics, they are fed up with plugged-in pop."
Christie MacAlindon, who, before he was saved appeared regularly with comic Bernard Manning at his own folk clubs in Germany and Dorset feels that it was the sing-a-long nature of folk which makes it so appealing: "This type of music, as you're driving along, has something about it that you just can't help singing vocal harmonies to tunes as they become more and more familiar to you. I've been doing this with 'With Every Blessing' and it's strange how you begin to learn a song more and more. The more I listen the more I learn."
The musicians involved in 'With Every Blessing' are now considering the possibility of a With Every Blessing Tour, sometime in 1993 to enable people to participate in this new 'old' style of worship. Already lined up is the concept's debut live performance at the Cross Rhythms Festival. Christie MacAlindon is convinced that 'With Every Blessing' can be an influence for good. "I don't think it will change the way the church worships but it will let people know that they can use REAL music to praise and worship. A lot of Churches use electric guitars and keyboards etc in worship. That's O.K. But acoustic worship somehow involves you much more.
Instruments on 'With Every Blessing' include a bodhran, (played by Jonathan Day) mandolins (Eden Burning's Neill Forrest) and a veritable phalanx of acoustic guitars. There are those in the church who feel Celtic music has too many New Age/occultish connections, and should be avoided. However, Jonathan Day feels these are groundless fears, "There is a quality in Celtic music which allows it to speak easily and naturally of the things of the Spirit, he comments. "There are performers who speak from a pagan Celtic perspective. However the overwhelming Celtic tradition is Christian. Contemporary Christian musicians are therefore following this tradition."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.