Sammy Horner: The globetrotting troubadour long associated with Celtic Praise

Friday 30th July 2010

Tony Cummings chronicles the 20 years of music making and ministry by roots singer/songwriter SAMMY HORNER

Continued from page 2

In 2009 Sammy's 'International Desert Songs' came out. He said, "After getting sick I found there were parts of me sicker than just my body and I really struggled in my head with a lot of stuff. I still do. I'm 50 years old now and I've come to a point even after all the studies and all of the experience, life experience is quite a different thing than book experience, as you know. In the past few years I've travelled to places like Bangkok and the slums and played there with these little children who have nothing. I remember seeing this little girl who was blind - they can't understand anything I'm doing, you've got to remember - so they just listen. They're pleased that you're there. I'd seen this little girl who was blind; the skin had grown over her eyes. There were some people helping her to colour in, in this group they were doing, and I'm thinking: she can't see it, but someone's helping her to colour in kangaroos or something like that. And I remember thinking: what's the point? And then I looked at the group and realised well the point is she's part of the group, doing the same as all the other kids with a bit of support. And I thought this is good. I asked the folks who were working there about her and it was a rotavirus, it's basically serious dehydration but it kills kids. It still kills kids. It costs 50 US$ for two pills which if you give them to a child before its two years old it has a 98 per cent chance of never getting it. So they survive and they won't go blind. I said I spend more than $50 in Starbucks in a month - 5$ a coffee or whatever. And it struck me that there's something very wrong in the world. I mean, we know that but there's a difference between seeing it on a World Vision tape or being there and smelling the open sewers and the dog faeces everywhere and children playing in it and little children dying for the sake of less than you spend on coffee. There's something wrong. But what really irked me - I was on my way back from Australia and stopped off in Thailand to do this. I'd just come from a country where famous pastors like Hillsong's Brian Houston are writing books like You Need More Money - books called that. Where people are saying, 'Stand outside the biggest house in your neighbourhood and don't leave until you're comfortable with owning it.' These are ministers of the Gospel preaching this nonsense.

"Honestly, I think health and wealth teaching is a heresy, I think it's a mockery of all that Jesus Christ was about. My views have changed immensely on theology. And I think that is right, I think that as you get older you see things differently; you learn more, you read more. I don't have it all right and much of it I wouldn't discuss anymore because I don't see the point. A little kid who is blind because her parents didn't have $50 doesn't care if I'm a Calvinist. There are six and a half billion people in the world and most of them aren't Christian, they don't care about that stuff. What they care about is that somehow we're like Jesus. And being like Jesus is not about mouthing off about theology, it's about living right. And being like Jesus is as much about suffering and sacrifice as it is about gain. In fact the only gain we have comes through suffering and sacrifice, as far as I see it. I can't follow the line at all that Jesus was rich. I can't follow the line that he had three houses. He didn't even have a horse to ride on so I can't follow the line you need the best car. I'm not against people having a home, I'm not against people having a car but does it really have to be a $70,000 car? Does it really have to be a 12-bedroom mansion in Bondi? Does it? Would it not be better for you to live in a nice home that's good for your children in a decent neighbourhood so that your kids can grow up okay? I'm cool with all of that and really have the rest of that stuff going into making sure lots of little children aren't blind and dead. It's a no-brainer. You don't need to be a Christian to work that out. To say there's something wrong with the world..... I think most people would agree, but I actually think what's wrong with the Church is worse than what's wrong with the world because those things should not be wrong with the Church."

Sammy's rage against the injustices he saw in the world and in the Church permeates 'International Desert Songs'. "The first song on the album is called 'Can You Hear Me'. After I saw this child I went back to my hotel room and even that I felt bad. I'm staying in a hotel room in Bangkok that cost £11 a night but it's got air-conditioning, it's got a shower and it's got a TV. I went back to my room and I wrote the song because I thought to myself: I have hoped and prayed and given my life to this and at this moment in time I'm not sure anybody's listening to me. And I don't mean people; I'm not sure if anybody in heaven is listening to me either because I'd just heard some dude talking about his new house in Bondi and then I saw a child that can't see because of 50 bucks. And I think where's the justice in this?"

Sammy's strong views about Hillsong have brought the singer/songwriter criticism. "The last time I played about a mile from where Hillsong is situated someone said to me how they'd made a covenant not to say anything bad about Hillsong because that's putting down the brethren. 'That's the Devil's work,' they said. And the Devil's work isn't buying yourself million dollar houses while kids starve? What's the Devil's work? What are they talking about? I don't care if I fall out with them because I'm never going to be invited to Hillsong anyway. If they gave me one shot at their stage I'd never be invited back again."

In 2009 Chris Mercer's second album produced by Sammy, 'Beauty Of The Jagged Road', was released.

Sammy's current album is 'Acoustic From Australia'. Several of the songs on it were written with Alex Legg, the Scots singer/songwriter who relocated to Australia a few years ago. Explained Sammy, "'Acoustic From Australia' is really a selection of acoustic demos recorded late at night (sometimes all night) after gigs. Most of it was co-written with my mate Alex who played and sang on it also. We would have ideas all the time driving back from shows so we just started recording acoustic versions of them over a period of about a year. When I put them together they seemed raw and real, the stuff of life. It seemed as good an album as any to tour with in 2010."

But Horner's prolific output continues. Said Sammy, "I have been asked to do a long tour through the Northern Territory of Australia, playing lots of remote places and Aboriginal communities. I discovered that country gospel is amazingly popular in that area. I had a chance to record some old time gospel with the brilliant Lasslo Brothers in Price, Utah in June 2010. The album is called 'Gospel Bluegrass Project' (working title) - just a few days in the studio, as live as possible. I love that I get to record in so many places with such great players and in so many styles and methods of doing this job. It is an honour to do it...but I do love this thing I do."

And still the ideas for new Sammy Horner projects continue to flow. "I've started an album about the old Celtic saints, which is just a story or a phrase from their life. Things like St Kevin of Glendalaugh who famously threw Kathleen into the lake when she tried to clean his rockery for him. All very odd. Then there's St Brendan who in spite of being a very learned man went on this great voyage to find the Land Of The Young which the Celts believed in, kind of a Celtic heaven. They believed you could sail to it or ride to it. He would get into his boat with none of the technology we have today and just sail this great voyage. He realised it wasn't even the vessel that he was in, it was the wind that was carrying him. So wherever it blew him that's where he went. I love those ideas. So I'll be doing that album. Another project involves a guy in Australia who is a businessman and he likes what I do. For about three years now we've been trying to do a thing called 'Celtic Dreaming' which is working with the indigenous people in some of the communities. The idea is to will fuse didgeridoos and clacker sticks and aboriginal singing with lutes and pipes and whistles and get that dance vibe. The story time and time again has been the same. The story in Australia is the same as the story in Scotland and the same as the story in Ireland. People are dispossessed of their land, their language is stolen, their stories are taken away. And before you know it what you've got is a bunch of people who are using solvents and booze and are destroyed because their culture has been destroyed. And that has been the story over and over again. So actually there's a lot of common ground. I've been reading a lot about the Scottish clearances and the Irish situation. This guy is going to fly me to Alice Springs to stay with some of the communities. There are a lot of gospel choirs believe it or not.

There's a guy who goes out to the communities and records choirs. The recordings tend to be bad though because there's a generator roaring in the background. The choir will have one of these touch board keyboards and just hit a note and they'll sing and he'll record it and it'll go out like that. There's no production control involved, simply because of the environment, He does a great job considering the conditions. I'm just thinking if we could get some of the younger guys playing didgies and fuse a fiddle-driven/didgeridoo dance vibe and write songs that have got a greater social connotation of justice..."

Sammy's commitment to his music and ministry is nothing short of amazing. "I do more than 200 gigs each year. I do about seven months of the year on the road and the rest in the studio. I don't make a lot of money at it. As well as the paid gigs I do quite a lot of charity stuff. In some ways it's no different from how it was at home. My Dad was a painter and he worked to get paid every Friday night and he'd come home and give my Mum his wages and she would give him his pound and he'd go and have his pint of Guinness. Then she paid the rent, the electricity and bought the groceries and by Thursday the next week she was waiting for Friday to get the rent again. It's like that for me. I'm a working musician. My family have put up with me being on the road a lot. I have a daughter, 26, who has just got married and is doing very well and my son is 23, he's living in London. He's doing a Masters at the Central School of Art and Drama. So hopefully there's my pension right there. Hopefully, because I don't have any other plans." 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.

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Reader Comments

Posted by Marian in Australia @ 01:01 on Apr 25 2019

Thanks for sharing your story. Had the honour of meeting you briefly Sammy and John Smith in Newcastle Australia. I first heard your music and lyrics on the Red Burn album and loved hearing you lead us live. Pity the congregation were so staid they think it's a sin to dance a jig. In Australia most of the Irish were deported convicts and Catholic and I'm from Gaelic stock who migrated during the potato famine with a bit of Welsh, Highlander, French and English thrown in like in the song "this is the biggest mix up you have ever father he was Orange and me mother she was Green!" Your songs of praise lift my heart and soul to God and I'm sure you and John touched many hearts through reaching out to folk in pubs. My old dad even likes your music. There is still a tradition of folk dancing here in Australia in rural areas with some churches supporting the social gatherings. Sadly some barn dances are far removed from the family social and the bands perform in cages to protect them from drunks with broken bottles. A sign of the times. Worship lifts us above the woes of this world and gives us hope in our Redeemer. Peace to you brother.

Posted by Dougie in Glasgow @ 13:28 on Aug 1 2010

i'd love to get hold of a lot of Sammy's solo projects. I have the full set of Celtic Praise CDs and Inspired To Worship... would love to have the kids albums for my own work in schools and used to have the SWAT cassette but never got it back after loaning it to a friend. Is there any easy way to get many of Sammy's recent projects?

Posted by Alex Legg in Australia @ 03:06 on Jul 31 2010

Absolutely brilliant article. The man's heart is true, an inspiration! And beautifully written Tony.

Posted by chris mercer in the world @ 22:48 on Jul 30 2010

a brilliantly written article written by a long time friend about my long time friend and brilliant producer...about time its a wonder you could catch him...genius always moves so fast

Posted by Wolfgang in Lüdenscheid, Germany @ 16:33 on Jul 30 2010

Since I became a christian in the early nineties Sammy Horner has been one of my all time favourite musicians. I have nearly everything by him. (Including the Wonderkids and 'Dark Country' and the celtic technoalbum and a sampler with lovesongs). I think his music is very encouraging. His best songs like 'The blessing' or 'Glen-a-John Air' still sound good, even if you have heard them a hundred times. I think he is a songwriter as gifted as Shane MacGowan and in his darker moments he reminds me of Nick Cave or Woven Hand.

Thank you very much for this very interesting article.

The opinions expressed in the Reader Comments are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms.

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