George Russell put on his Ned Kelly helmet and went to investigate THE INSPIRATIONAL SONGWRITERS' PROJECT.
When I got the invitation to a singer/songwriters' concert I was intrigued; when I saw it was presented by the Inspirational Songwriters' Project I felt like quoting proto-Isaiah, "Here am I, send someone else!" Hardman Street is not the most salubrious area in Liverpool and the Flying Picket is where traditionally "the bugs wear boots". The hall above this establishment, known surprisingly as 'Upstairs At The Picket', is an interesting venue - a kind of scouse Glasgow Empire where tooth extraction is an optional extra.
As usual I was late. The room was filling up, tables abandoned everywhere, a hole in the wall pretending to be a bar and at least a dozen guitars reflecting what little light there was into the motley audience. There were no changing rooms I learned, the performers sit around until it's their turn, then up they get and strut their stuff. The evening opened with a set from Maryland, a three-piece from the Wirral (the posh area across the Mersey). The raw indie sound was muddy: it was hard to decide whether it was the room acoustics or the Ned Kelly helmet that I tend to wear in places like The Picket.
As the band sat down again, on stage came the quizzical compere Colin Green to perform two numbers to replace a last minute cancellation: apparently the artist chose to have a root-canal job rather than take part. Understandable! Next on stage was Judy MacKenzie Dunn, a finger-picking balladeer with more than her fair share of class. I saw her quite a few years ago when she was Judy MacKenzie. Look out for her new album out in the autumn.
Mark Jaffrey and Danny Prior had the unenviable task of following Ms Dunn. Their energetic indie/rock set was well received by the audience.
The next duo on stage consisted of Susan Berridge and Matt Hooper, music students who hope to become professional musicians: they are well on the way. They provided some slick techno work, tricky time signatures and heavy-but-biting lyrics on touchy subjects. Next on was Max, a welcome lift from the intensity of the previous act. This dude can really sing and play the guitar; working in schools in the Manchester area, frequently with World Wide Message Tribe, he is using his talent for the Lord.
The penultimate turn was Gavin Hulme, a youth worker in the Mossley Hill area of Liverpool. A very good songwriter, he never really seemed to be at ease, probably thanks to the wobblegob chorus from the Neanderthals at the bar. Tim Kirkwood, an Irishman studying in Liverpool, provided a fitting end to the show. His rapid succession of images in song and his natural Celtic humour were reminiscent of Hothouse Flowers-meets-Fran k Carson.
Colin's tastes are very much mainstream pop, but he seems to be a nice person in spite of this. In late 1992 he felt God calling him to create a showcase for new Christian songwriters and performers: the first show took place in May '93. Colin outlined some of the aims of the project: "To provide a showcase for emerging talents; to provide a good night out you could take friends to - a non-threatening environment for non-Christians as performers are not allowed to preach; to get performers to meet together as a precursor to a possible new Christian performers' association."
There is a gap in the contemporary Christian music scene for this kind of event. Everyone wants to promote 'big names' and if not make money bask in the reputation for being able to pack a hallfull. Colin Green is called to the other end of the spectrum, helping 'unknowns' to develop and use their talents. There were several performers showcased at this event with the potential to go on to bigger things; look out for them in the future. When they do, I hope they remember their roots and the dedication of Colin Green and people like him who provide opportunities for developing talent to emerge.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.