Spring Harvest: Worshipping with a contemporary edge

Saturday 1st April 2000

In recent years few CDs have been more significant in demonstrating that worship music can have a contemporary edge than the SPRING HARVEST Praise MIX albums. Tony Cummings reports.

Mark Edwards
Mark Edwards

The release of Spring Harvest Praise Mix 2000 on April 25th will be welcome by all who have come to recognise the series as crucial in making worship relevant to today's youth. Not only is the album series the youth worship expression of the most widely attended of Britain's Bible Weeks, Spring Harvest, alongside WWMT's Jumping In The House Of God series, the Spring Harvest Praise Mix albums are the only series of praise and worship albums with sufficient Top 20 nounce to regularly appear on Cross Rhythms' radio playlist. Down the years, producers of the calibre of Matt Wanstall, Dave Lynch and, this year, Mark Edwards have worked on Praise Mix albums bringing contemporary rhythms as diverse as techno and alternative rock to praise and worship songs and in doing so have challenged the stereotypical thinking of many Christians about music intended for the worship of God. Ironically, it has to be said that the Spring Harvest Bible Weeks have, in part, contributed to that thinking. For in popularising the "worship chorus" as a viable replacement for the hymn and giving song writer worship leaders the platform in its Big Top celebrations to take their 70s sounding soft pop praise to the whole Church, it effectively created a new cultural anachronism only marginally less irrelevant to teenage culture that ancient hymns.

To youth growing up listening to Oasis or Fat Boy Slim, Graham Kendrick and Chris Bowater clearly belong to another generation. Spring Harvest were undeniably slow in responding to the changes in youth culture in the early '90s. While the Cutting Edge Band were wowing crowds in Littlehampton and Sheffield's NOS were introducing worship to rave culture, the early Spring Harvest Praise Mix albums were unimaginative soft pop with arrangements far too similar to the Big Top variety of praise. But gradually things evolved and by 1994 the series, by picking up on Britain's worship music revolution from such as Delirious?, WWMT, Matt Redman, Brown Bear Music, Late Late Service and others, were in a strong position to be, if not innovators, at least popularisers of the new forms of worship using the rhythms of alternative rock, techno, drum'n'bass, etc emerging from the radical church. Today the series has found its market niche.

The producer of this year's Spring Harvest Praise Mix is Mark Edwards. Mark began his production career in 1990 with mainstream band Cactus Rain and in the '90s established himself as one of the UK scene's most innovative producers clocking up such projects as John Pantry's 'Bittersweet' (1994), "We Call This Worship' (1995), Doug Horley's "We Want To See Jesus Lifted High' (1996), Jim Bailey's 'Children Of The Cross' (1997) and 'Let There Be Love: The Songs Of Dave Bilbrough' (1999) as well as remixes for Delirious?. Says Mark about his involvement, "Adrian Thompson at ICC approached me to make Praise Mix 2000.1 hadn't heard the last couple of years' albums until Adrian gave me copies. I chose the vocalists except for Zoe Hemming who was recommended to me by Spring Harvst. and whom I hadn't worked with before. I was so impressed with her I ended up making her track the opening song on the album."

As is usual with the series, there is an impressive list of lead vocalists on 'Spring Harvest Praise Mix 2000'. Mark ran through the singers: "Vanessa Freeman is a lady with a wonderful future, we are working on tracks together. She is building a reputation in the UK and New York. She possesses an amazing voice and has so much to say on a spiritual level. Kate Simmonds is a dear friend who became a Christian at the same time as myself, we worked together in a band called The Fabulous Sister Brothers for five years. Kate leads worship at Stoneliegh Bible week, and is a gifted songwriter. I first worked with Matt Weekes as a bass player on a session. He gave me a copy of his CD -1 was so impressed with his all round musicality. He is a great bass player, writer, singer and more, a formidable talent to watch out for! I worked with Eils on 'We Call This Worship' and the Dave Bilbrough album. She has a great voice and is currently working with David Grant, as well as doing TV presenting. Jill Mercer has a beautifully unusual voice, and ^another friend with whom I am working on tracks.

She is also a very talented artist by trade. One of the first songs I chose for 'Praise Mix 2000' was Simon Goodall's "Deep Within My Heart'. When I heard the original version I thought, who could perform this song better? I was delighted to discover that Simon only lived down the road in Worthing and was willing to come and do another version. Check his new solo album!"

Mark believes that worship music continually needs to explore new directions. "Somewhere along the line we have created this genre of music we call praise and worship and it feels like it is very limited in a musical/creative sense. Personally I don't listen to many "worship albums'. I believe we can find God in many forms of music. I find it easier to worship God to Bach, Messiaen, John Coltrane, Stevie Wonder, etc. God has created this wonderfully rich, diverse and profound thing called music for us to enjoy and use to glorify him. I feel as musicians, songwriters and producers we need to draw inspiration from much wider sources, rather than using the same few colours over and over. Oops, I'd better get off me soapbox."

Certainly, what producer extraordinaire Mark and the Spring Harvest Praise Mix albums are now doing is finding some new colours in the musical palette of the worshipping church.

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
Meanwhile, Back At The Cross
ICC 6220
A far from auspicious start to what was to become a groundbreaking series. A "core vocal group" produced a sound which with a set of light pop arrangements was essentially no different from hundreds of other MOR pop albums missing youth culture by miles. Said Cross Rhythms at the time, "This is tired youth praise which is a long way from the rock-pop arrangements of the best Vineyard music, let alone the cutting edge radical rave of praise teams like the Late Late Service... The arrangements languish in recycled riff banality despite producer Johnny Markin's efforts and only the worshipful 'At The Foot Of The Cross' by Derek Bond really worked. Spring Harvest needs to do some work to make their worship culturally relevant to today's youth."

Spring Harvest The Praise Mix:
Living On The Edge
ICC 8320
Apart from trying a "The" in their moniker, there was little else new in their approach from the previous year. Again Cross Rhythms was far from enthusiastic. "For the opener, a Johnny Markin driving, heavy rockish song 'I'll Stand', you might still think there was a bit of youth culture relevancy. But soon we're into the same slightly limp pop-praise of the previous year. Superb vocalists of the calibre of Tracey Riggan and Nannette Welmans are almost entirely wasted." Clearly a new approach was desperately needed.

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
There Is Hope
ICC I0420
The penny finally dropped and in the April/May Cross Rhythms we positively swooned. "Without the merest hint of the 'a' word, Spring Harvest (and our wise ol' friends at ICC) have given youth a REAL alternative to the Spring Harvest Big Top worship style, with a deft mix of grungy, full throttle rock praise and some nice acoustic-based, roots-tinged worship and a few other styles besides. My white label doesn't sport credits but any Split Level fan would recognise Adrian Thompson a mile off, while the same can be said of AOR buffs for Johnny Markin and roots fans for Sammy Homer. My favourite cuts at the moment are the gentle Sue Rinaldi worship ballad "To Your Majesty" where a sister urges with gentle simplicity against a lovely cello and Sammy Homer's 1 Declare' which leaves the version on 'Celtic Praise' for dead."

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
It's A Small World
Like the 1994 effort, produced and engineered by Paul Burton and again featuring a core of excellent vocalists including Beth Vickers, Derek Bond, Paul Field, Johnny Markin, Stuart Garrard and Adrian Thompson. There were three cuts strong enough to make it on radio, Brian Doerkson's "Light The Fire Again" with satisfyingly meaty layers of guitar and ricocheting drums from Reuben Humphries; the Martin Smith classic "I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever" which impressively stands comparison with the Delirious? version particularly when Beth soars on the hook; and "Hold On", a great Andy Thornton song originally heard on a Late Late Service album but here given a choppy, jazz funk treatment propelled by pumping bass and driving congas.

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
Shout It Out
The need for young Christians to develop heart and vision for the whole world, echoed in the 1995 album, came into full focus this year. The Spring Harvest Youth Project homed in on the needs of Burkina Faso, seeking to improve the opportunities of young people there. A youth band in Burkino Faso is actually heard on "Neba Faa" which unfortunately sounds more like an African Children's Choir outtake. Far more radio friendly were an excellent version of the Redman/Smith anthem "It's Rising Up" with Matt Redman and Phatfish's Louise Hunt handling a track which, as well as Delirious?' Stuart Garrard's meaty guitar, features some nifty rhythm programming courtesy of Mark Edwards; and "The Cross Has Said It AH" where another Redman/Smith classic is given a gritty vocal from Derek Bond over driving wah wah guitar.

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
Passing over the production duties to house engineer Dave Lynch gave us possibly the most experimental album in the whole series. Royalties from the project were to go to help children in Guatemala and some tracks, like the opening title track with its electronic rhythms and montage of spoken word fragments (an appeal in Spanish) is so far away from congregational worship that one began to wonder whether the dual aims of increasing awareness of Third World issues married effectively with making youth-relevant worship music. By far the best track on 'Quatamala' was Brian. Doerksen's "More" which, thanks to a monotone recitation from Trevor Michael over an eerie techno groove, took the popular Vineyard anthem into a completely unexpected direction. Another good cut is Samantha Rigg who breathes soul into Kendrick's "Hear My Cry".

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
New Adventures In Worship
Presumably wishing to develop the somewhat experimental direction of the 1997 Praise Mix album, 1998 saw the release of the most alternative project ever associated with Spring Harvest. Though not officially a Praise Mix album, 'R:age' featured a gamut of musical styles including alternative rock, acid jazz, cheesy rave, drum'n'bass through to Gregorian chant. Thankfully Praise Mix didn't retreat to the limp soft pop praise of its early years. Taking the project out of the ICC studios and handing it to Manchester's Matt Wanstall was an interesting move for the resulting album, though clearly not as groundbreaking as 'R:age', produced several excellent radio-friendly tracks - "Heavenly Father", with the Brown Bear Music song given a turbulent guitar-driven treatment with an effect-added vocal with Peter Wilson (aka Booley); Matt Redman's "Send Revival", transformed into a funky dance opus with WWMT's diva Doronda Lewis; and "History Maker", taking the Delirious? classic into pop dance territory.

Spring Harvest Praise Mix:
Praise Mix 99
With Praise Mix now firmly established in producing praise music with sufficient edge to slice through youth apathy, there were no further offshoots ala 'R:age'. Instead, the 1999 release, placed in the capable production hands of Adrian Thompson, produced four Cross Rhythms radio turntable hits. Matt Redman's "Many Are The Words We Speak" was effectively revisited and although not quite having the haunting atmosphere of the Zarc Porter-produced original did have a superb vocal from Peter Wilson; "Mighty God", where Blueberry's Cathy Burton gave the song a beautiful vocal of heartaching poignancy; "All Around The World", where Paul Oakley's popular anthem is given a grungy retread by Adrian Thompson; and Robin Mark's "Revival", pumped into a dance groove with diva-style vocal from Esther Alexander. 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 Jon Clement in White City, Oregon, USA @ 03:24 on May 9 2012

I was hoping to buy the album "Distinctive Sounds-More than a song", especially for the song, "Jesus your Love".
Could you please tell me where I could get that?
Thank you,

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

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