Tony Cummings reports on the new album featuring Matthew Horner, Philippa Hanna, Trefor Jones, Andy Baker, Sarah Poole, Jacob Lloyd, Empire Nation, Paul Bell, Abby Scott, Claire Robinson and Danny Cope.
Cross Rhythms recently reported on the Sunday Night Live events that through the Starbucks, Costa Coffee and Café Nero coffee house chains have brought a live performance revolution to British grassroots Christian artists. Since their inception in May 2009, these events have swept across Britain and are now showing signs of making inroads internationally. Now the SNL gigs are getting a further publicity push with the release of the album 'The Sunday Night Live Sessions'. A classy studio set, it features some of the outstanding artists who have so far performed at SNL. Said SNL's visionary founder Johnny Kinch, "There has been so much time and effort spent on this project, from the design to the recording and production, all whilst still growing with SNL, which I feel shows a little of the amazing growth that we are seeing, and really enjoying being a part of. There are a total of 12 tracks, all performed by different artists singing their own songs, which sound absolutely incredible! With each artist having played at SNL, it really illustrates just how open the doors are to promoting talent. Each artist has their own unique sound, and the album really shows great musical depth and diversity with each carrying biblical messages without being too in-your-face. I really believe this album is a great promotion of both our faith and the great, untapped talent that exists in this country, and more importantly within churches throughout the nation."
The album was produced in Sheffield by Andy Baker of Resound Media. Baker is, of course, well known for his productions for, among many others, The Gentlemen, GoldDigger and Philippa Hanna. In fact, Philippa is one of the artists showcased on 'The Sunday Night Live Sessions'. Andy explained how he got involved with the project, "I got a call from Johnny as Philippa Hanna had been going down a storm at several SNL events as they started springing up. Johnny had heard we represent a few other artists and wanted to look at how we could work closer together. After spending some time with Mr Kinch, we decided to go ahead with putting together the first SNL album, showcasing some of the best UK talent around."
Even for a session-seasoned man like Andy, recording the project was something special. He said, "Each of the artists brought the cream of their material to the project. It was a tall order to get 12 tracks for 12 different people sounding right on the same album but with some great musicians recording the sessions and a few consistent threads, I think we did a great job. One of the first tracks we recorded was with Matthew Horner...I remember being totally blown away by how good his voice is!"
Horner is a 21 year old singer/songwriter from Stockton-on-Tees. Previously he has recorded a four-song EP with friend Sam Archer to raise funds for the charity Hope4India. But it was his electrifying performance of his song "Everything" which connected so strongly with Baker and now has the potential to move many CD listeners. Amazingly, Matthew wrote "Everything" when he was just 15 years old. He told Cross Rhythms, "The inspiration of the song was birthed from difficult and challenging experiences I was walking through at that time. As well as being extremely passionate about music, even more so am I passionate about my faith in Christ. Over these difficult times I went on a journey of discovering a real, living and powerful God, who became my constant source of strength and changed me in ways I could never have imagined."
Matthew has played four or fives times at the Sunday Night Live event at Costa Coffee in Teesside Park as well as playing a SNL gig with a buddy in Durham. He's enthusiastic about the concept. "I love Sunday Night Live. It's a night that I look forward to. It's got a great fun and inviting atmosphere for everyone. The music is top quality and alongside the music I find the stories of people's lives amazing. There are a lot of people out there who have stories to tell; we just haven't heard them."
Philippa Hanna is the best known artist on the SNL album. Her recordings like 'Watching Me' (2007), 'Taste' (2009) and her current turntable hit 'Out Of The Blue: Live At Steelworks Studios' plus her constant touring have meant that Philippa is probably Britain's most popular female Christian artist. She too has found the SNL events a very positive experience. "I've played a handful of Sunday Night Live gigs now and they've all been amazing! I love that intimate environment. What strikes me about the format of Sunday Night Live is that it's people orientated. It's so easy just to sit, have a coffee and take in some music! It's the perfect way to share faith and life together in a place where people feel comfortable."
Hanna's wide experience in music has left her in no doubts at the ability of a well-crafted song to connect at deep levels with an audience. She reflected, "I'm so passionate about music. I think it reaches people on incredible levels. Songs can change people's lives! I want to reach people of every faith and every walk of life with positive and vibrant music whilst being honest about my faith and putting that on display. People can make up their own minds about what they believe, but I want to give them the opportunity to hear my story. I'm an ordinary girl from a non-religious background whose life is filled with the life that comes in Jesus."
Philippa's track on the album, "Ave To Love", has already received quite a bit of airplay. She recounted the genesis of the song: "I made friends with Grammy award-winning songwriter Eliot Kennedy in 2009 whilst recording my second album 'Taste'. We clicked and became good friends quickly. One afternoon Eliot played me an idea for a song called 'Ave To Love' (Hail To Love). The sentiment was that 'love conquers all'. I loved the song idea, took it away and worked on a scratch acoustic demo. Eliot loved it! This happened just a couple of weeks before I went out to Haiti as an advocate for child-sponsorship organization Compassion. It was the first time I'd witnessed such poverty and it was definitely life-changing stuff. I felt very challenged about what it was to be a Christian and what the Church was really all about.
"Just a few weeks after returning from the trip I heard news of the devastating earthquake that had hit Haiti's capital city Port Au Prince. Watching the news, seeing streets we'd walked down just weeks earlier, thrown into hysteria and chaos was heartbreaking. We knew that many of our personal contacts there had been left homeless and even worse, had lost loved ones. I knew I wanted to help if I could. I had the idea to use 'Ave To Love' to raise funds for the emergency aid appeal and Eliot completely got on board. We took a band into the studio and recorded the song. Shortly after, with the help of Alan Hurndel (a gifted local filmographer) we put together a video which included footage of my trip to Haiti, plus some moving BBC news footage of the earthquake's effects.
"We used the song over the course of my 2010 tour to gain exposure for Compassion and to raise money for Haiti. There was a fantastic response and we've been asked on many occasions to include it on a CD! So here it is, an entirely fresh recording of the song. Once again any profit it generates will go to people of Haiti who desperately need financial and spiritual support. When all's said and done, we can preach till we're blue in the face but if we're not prepared to love each other it's a waste of breath. Ave to love!"
As you might guess from his name, Trefor Jones was born and brought up in Wales ("Wales is a land of poets and musicians. I grew up loving music and it's a massive part of who I am.") In October he is releasing an album based on the Psalms. He has some interesting views on the current state of modern worship music. "To be honest I struggle with a lot of worship music. I don't really enjoy listening to it and don't find it helps me in my relationship with God. I like to sing about God or sing to God in a way that is real. I love the Psalms in the Old Testament. They give a perfect blueprint for how to write worship music. Following Jesus involves joy, victory and celebration, but also sacrifice, loss and hurt. We need songs that help us articulate all these and to lead us into God's presence without pretence."
Trefor spoke about his track on the album, "In A Lonely Field". "When I was a young man living in Wales I used to lie in a field and pray (sometimes being a little bit worse for wear). It is a song about wondering where God is and exploring that theme in the Bible. I think that part of the journey of following Jesus involves knowing his presence and sometimes searching for it."
Trefor enjoyed recording his track for the album. "I loved working with Andy and all the guys at Resound Media. I have a huge respect for them. It was great to lay down the bare bones of the track and let other people orchestrate it. It has some amazing musicians playing on it. I am really pleased with how it sounds."
Studio maestro Andy Baker is no mean singer/songwriter and on the album proves it with his powerful song "Dying To Reach Me". Said Andy, "'Dying To Reach Me' is a new song, it's about how Jesus is our rescuer. I watched a few minutes of a TV programme about sea rescue and it got me thinking about what Jesus went through to reach and save us. There's a kind of nautical theme running through the lyrics."
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