Tony Cummings quizzed Ian Yates, Chris Sayburn, Phil Shaw, Gareth Scott and Jim Rogers about 'The People's Album 3'
One of the oft-heard criticisms of the modern worship scene is how it is dominated by a handful of well known worship leaders and songwriters with little or no opportunity for grassroots creators of new worship material to break through. So in every way the series of albums pioneered by the Soul Survivor event and Survivor Records, 'The People's Album', is a heartening attempt to nurture fresh worship song talent from local churches, linking as it does songs by "unknown" songwriters with high profile singers/worship leaders. Volume 1 of 'The People's Album' was issued in 1997 and Volume 2 in 1999. Now at last Volume 3, produced at Soul Survivor's Watford studio by Ben Cantelon and Paul Evans, has been released. I questioned some of the composers involved with the album.
26 year old Birmingham-born Ian Yates attends Bootle Elim Church. He started getting involved in music when he was 16. He said, "I was so inspired by Delirious?, especially 'Live And In The Can'. Even now I think this is one of the best albums ever, so powerful and passionate. That really inspired me. I guess at that time I wanted to be like them, write and sing songs like them. I started writing when I was 17/18 and started a band called Seraphim. That lasted about seven years with various line ups. We played quite a lot of gigs and recorded a few times, Then about three/four years ago I started writing songs for church. I love to write, I guess it's how I express myself, and I am always writing down thoughts and ideas. At the moment I'm working on two concepts, 'fixing our eyes on Jesus' and 'those with a pure heart will see God'."
Ian clearly remembered how he first heard about 'The People's Album 3' project. "My brother said to me there was a new People's Album coming out and that I should submit some songs. So we went on the Soul Survivor website and got the details. You could submit two songs, and I think the deadline was really near. The songs were supposed to be acoustic demos but I didn't have any so I wasn't going to send anything. My brother said to just send them two tracks from my album (the independent release 'Desperate To See Your Glory'). So I chose 'Desperate To See Your Glory' and 'No One Like You'. Then a few months later I was told that both songs had been chosen for the album."
When Ian first heard Ben Cantelon's rendition of "No One Like You" he "instantly loved it." However, he was less sure about 'The People's Album 3''s version of "Desperate" sung by Onehundredhours' frontman Tre Sheppard. "I didn't really like the 'Oh, Oh, Ohhs' at first. Thankfully after a few listens the song grew on me. I am really pleased with what Ben and Paul have done. I think they've captured what the songs are about. For me as a musician/songwriter, it's a dream to have your songs professionally produced. It makes a lot of difference."
Chris Sayburn, a 25 year old born and bred in Blackpool, managed to land three songs on the album though one is a co-write with Sim Walker. Chris is a full time worship and youth leader at St George's Church, Leeds. After a life-transforming experience of God at Soul Survivor, Chris began to write worship songs. He remembered, "I was asked to lead a song in church one month later and the Spirit of God really fell. It was scary but incredible. I soon joined the youth worship team and grew in my knowledge and gifting as a worshipper and worship leader. I did a gap year in that very church doing youth work and leading worship... and here I am now a sinner saved by grace desperate to see Jesus worshipped and for people not to make the same mistakes I did. Songwriting-wise I've only really started to do it over the last two or three years but mainly over the last year since I started leading worship full time. It's been an exciting journey and I hope and pray that I can continue to grow in the gifts that God has given me."
Chris admitted that the demos he submitted were decidedly rough and ready. "Probably a bit too rough! For 'You're Alive' I sent in a basic acoustic version that was originally recorded to give out to our church worship team members to learn. For 'Great Is The Lord' I sent in a quick live take that I recorded on the church PA, it was literally just my acoustic guitar and vocal. So as you can imagine it was an absolute shock when I received an email from Ben Cantelon saying they liked my tracks and would like to use both of them for the album."
Chris spoke about Sim Walker with whom Chris wrote "To You Be The Glory", sung on the album by Beth Coulson. "Sim is a good friend of mine, he is a gifted worship leader and songwriter. He has just recently graduated from Leeds Uni (with a 2-1, get in!) and has started an internship with our church working alongside me and the team leading and shaping the worship and doing some student work. We have known each other for about two years now and have often tried to meet up to encourage each other in our songwriting and help shape each other's songs. I am really passionate about co-writing and hope to do it more. It's such a blessing being able to journey on a song with others. With 'To You Be The Glory' that we co-wrote Sim came up with the first verse and the chorus idea. I instantly knew this could be a very strong song and was excited to be a part of helping develop it. I helped shape the chorus a little and I wrote the second verse and a tag (that got scrapped!) which was replaced with the current one (which is much better!) when Sim met up with Ben Cantelon to help finish the song. God is blessing Sim with some amazing songs of worship that I hope one day will bless the Church. I'm really excited to see how God is and is going to use Sim for God's glory."
Chris is still stunned by the release of 'The People's Album 3'. His reaction "was one of excitement and disbelief really," he enthused. "Here were three songs that I had written/co-written being sung and played by the people I look up to and see as role models. Even now when I hear them it's like I didn't actually write them, but Tim Hughes and Sam Parker (the assistant worship pastor at Soul Survivor Watford church) did. What also struck me was the quality (both song-wise and production-wise) of the other songs too, especially 'My Soul Is Complete' which I must admit is my favourite song on the album. It's such a privilege to have my and Sim's songs stand alongside songs like these. I want to say thank you to everyone at Soul Survivor involved for really committing to the project, and to Ben Cantelon and Adrian Thompson for meeting up with us to discuss the songs, their direction and what it means practically with the songs being signed under Thankyou Music."
"My Soul Is Complete" is sung on the album by the biggest name in UK worship music, Matt Redman. It was written by Phil Shaw, a 20 year old student studying youth and community work with applied theology and who is a member of the Soul Survivor church in Watford. Astonishingly "My Soul Is Complete" is the first finished song that Phil had written. Phil recalled how he heard that Britain's most popular worship leader was going to record his effort. "I think I found out that Matt was singing it when they started the recording. One of the guys involved in the recording sent me an email saying that he had just heard a recording of the song with Matt singing. The first time I heard the song it was strange, as I had never heard it with a band dynamic, as I only played it acoustically before. I was pretty excited to hear it recorded properly. It is a bit of an odd feeling though, as I was not quite sure how to react and I felt strange listening to a song that I had written. But I was really thrilled and pleased with the way it sounded."
Phil began writing the song during his gap year. He said, "At the time I was going through a lot of change, with moving away from home and finishing school and even considering getting married. I found myself continually stressed and worrying about the future and the year ahead. I started out simply asking God for strength and help and thanking him for his amazing and perfect love that can comfort us so much. A friend of mine had suggested looking at some old hymns for some inspiration. I really struggle with lyrics and expressing what I am feeling or want to say through them. So I had a look on the internet and found loads of amazing hymns. I spent some time reading them and came across a few that really spoke to me. The first hymn included the line 'Father of everlasting Grace.' I had never heard God described in this way before. I loved the way such a simple line has so much meaning in it. This became a line in my first verse. I also came across a hymn with the title 'My Soul Is Complete'. Again I loved this fresh expression of praise. I wrote this down and it eventually became part of the chorus 'My soul is complete in Jesus.' From here on it took time for verses and melody to develop with many changes and adjustments on both aspects along the way. I was lucky to have some very helpful friends who could make suggestions, challenge and help me to create the final song."
The closing track on the album is "Keep Me Close", sung by Sam Parker. It was composed by 27 year old Titchfield-based Gareth Scott. It was after "a week of amazing, intimate worship times at the Soul Survivor festival where I re-committed myself to Jesus and my worship of him." Gareth has been leading worship for a few years. He said, "It is only recently that I have been brave enough (with lots of encouragement) to bring in my own songs when I worship lead. It can be a scary thing to do as you open up a bit of your heart's expression to God and try and help other people worship him using that. It can be a really powerful tool as well and God has blessed me when I've stepped out for him."
After submitting a demo Gareth momentarily fell out of the communications loop with Soul Survivor. "I had some email problems, moved house, got married in Australia and changed phone numbers and so I lost touch with the Soul Survivor office. I didn't know I was on the album until quite late on in the process. I found out earlier in the year my friend Jim Rogers had a song on the album and was pleased for him, but had to conclude that as I hadn't heard anything that was that for me. A few months later I had been tracked down through the inventive administration team at Soul Survivor who managed to get hold of me through our church administrator. I was very pleased to say the least! I was really happy Sam Parker was singing my song as I think he has a great voice. I was amazed to hear what the musicians and producers had done with 'Keep Me Close'. Dan Wheeler has done a great job on the acoustic guitars, the string arrangement is just beautiful and Sam's vocal and the backing vocal suited the song so well. They have captured a really intimate and beautiful sound for the song which matched perfectly my hopes. I was really pleased!"
25 year old James "Jim" Rogers supplied the song "Holy Is The Lamb" which Andreana Arganda, originally from southern California and who now works with Ben Cantelon and Sam Parker overseeing the worship at Soul Survivor Ministries and Soul Survivor Watford Church, sings. Jim leads worship at Lee Community Church in Lee-on-the-Solent. He spoke about what inspired him to write "Holy Is The Lamb". "I was thinking about some of the Psalms and the poetry used within them. There is such a place to really try and sing about God and to God in such a praise focused way. Songs which really tell how great and awesome he is. The song came together from lots of ideas really. I had some of the verses already written down and the pre-chorus was written with the melody. It stayed this way for a while and then the chorus just came one night while I was playing and worshipping. It is a song which has just evolved over a period of time and taken shape."
Jim, like all the songwriters and singers on 'The People's Album 3', recognises that worship is a hugely important element for today's Christians. He said, "It brings us close to God and it keeps our focus and our hearts set on him. When talking about worship music obviously not all church congregations have musicians or means to use music but as an expression of our devotion and response to God I think the music is very important. It lays down a key in the way the Church can express itself in different ways and show its love for God. When we worship God we are drawn closer to him and the use of music can really help us be intimate. You can see in the Bible that music has played a big part in our worship. It was used in spiritual warfare, ministering to people and used in the temple worship in the Old Testament. The writers of the Psalms really demonstrate this through the writing of songs and poems. God has made us creative and therefore I do not think we can be human without this expression. I think the Church needs worship music because it's almost put in us to express back to God."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.