Tony Cummings talked to VINEYARD UK's Brenton Brown and Kathryn Scot about the 'Surrender' album
All those with even the haziest knowledge of Christian music will know that, seemingly since time immemorial, Vineyard Music has been the purveyor of pop praise albums for the international Church. The problem for discerning music buffs has been the sheer quantity of albums emanating from the stream of churches founded by charismatic Bible teacher and healer John Wimber and with the 'Touching The Father's Heart' series of albums clocking up its 41st volume a certain dejá vu could be forgiven as what has come to be perceived as a bit of a praise and worship conveyor belt trundles relentlessly on.
Against this scenario, the UK arm of the Vineyard stream, which has been operating around four years, has, against all odds, produced three of the most invigorating, refreshing and anointed albums to emerge from the worshiping Church. The live albums 'Come Now Is The Time' and 'Hungry' were both produced by that seasoned Canadian songwriter and worship leader Brian Doerksen after he temporarily relocated to the UK to establish the Vineyard UK music division. Clearly, he has done a great job. The new album, 'Surrender', is produced by Brenton Brown, a South African born songwriter and worship leader who leads worship at Cherwell Valley Vineyard, and Kathryn Scott, who is the worship leader at South West Glasgow Vineyard.
I began by asking Brenton why it had been decided to record a studio album after their previous two live projects had been so successful. "I guess one of the ideas was that we thought we'd try something different because we've done two live ones in a row and didn't want to get into a rut. We thought we'd give something new a go and stretch ourselves, which is certainly what we did. It was quite different in many ways and a good learning experience for a lot of us."
Having two producers on an album sounds like a recipe for disaster yet Brenton reports that the project went very smoothly. "Because Kathryn was based in Ireland at the time and we were doing most of the recording in the UK there were some administrative things that naturally fell to me to do and that was easy enough. In the studio the temperament match was pretty good. Kathryn's really laid back and relaxed and very good at keeping things on an even keel. I'm A-type-hyper and gave a good go at being relaxed and tried to make sure that we became focused and Kathryn was a good stabilising force in the studio. I think it balanced out in the end."
The 'Surrender' album was cut in a period of intense creative activity. Remembered Kathryn, "It was recorded over a four week period, not very long really, from mid-March to mid-April this year. We had a week to put down percussion and bass, a week to do electric guitars, acoustic guitars and piano and then we had a week or so to do vocals and backing vocals and occasional instruments. I think the final week may have been mixing week; it's all a bit of a blur now! It was a really enjoyable experience. It's much more enjoyable now when you're all finished and nicely back at home again. Recording is not very glamorous when you're doing it. I was a bit of a studio widow, separated from my husband and it was pretty hard. But I have to say Vineyard was absolutely magic. They flew me home every weekend to be back home."
I asked Kathryn whether recording a studio worship album is a somewhat different exercise from recording a live worship. "That's a very good question. Obviously when you're playing an instrument it's much more of a studio focus. You're dropping in and taking your time over the art you're playing. You're doing what you would do in a studio whereas with a live album you've got one go at it. When you're singing though, I really found it was quite a worshipful atmosphere. We recorded in a church just outside of Milton Keynes ad it was a lovely wee place. It was lovely just to be singing. You were by yourself almost. It was really lovely and there was actually a real sense of the presence of God there."
Kathryn may be new to the task of album production but as her maiden name, Rainey, indicates, she is part of a Christian music dynasty which is almost Irish gospel's equivalent of black gospel's Winans clan. "I was born in the south coast of England in Eastbourne. My dad, Roy Rainey, was working in the ICC studios down there. Although I was born in Eastbourne I grew up in Portadown, Northern Ireland. Dad has always been involved in recording and so I was brought up in it. At first my dad worked with an evangelist called Dick Saunders who did a lot of tent crusades and so I grew up in a caravan for four months of the year and then at home in Northern Ireland the rest of the time. My mum's called Mildred. She used to do a lot of solo work for him too."
After recording a solo album, 'Shadows Falling', under the name Kathryn Rainey, in 1997 the singer married and went to live in Glasgow, attending the South West Glasgow Vineyard church. "It was there I was asked to become the worship leader so with fear and trepidation I decided it was the Lord and so I took it on."
Kathryn is very clear about the difference between worship ministry and the more performance orientated singing of gospel songs. "The thing about worship is that you're leading others into the presence of God and your whole focus is God. The songs you sing are Godward. The way that you sing is sensitive to him and the way that he's moving in the congregation at the time. It's sensitive to those who are being led to make sure that they're able to be led, that you're doing a good job in bringing them with you. That's different from gospel in that you're more ministering to them when you're singing a song. There's more of a ministry focus rather than a worship focus."
Brenton Brown too spoke about the three songs on 'Surrender' on which he contributes vocals. "The first track on the album is called 'Hallelujah (Your Love Is Amazing)'. That was just a song I started writing in Oxford and finished writing with Brian Doerksen in Canada where he is now. I was strumming a song to him and we completed it and it put a smile on my face. We came back and entered the recording mix quite late. It was one of the last submissions before we went to record. A lot of the arranging was done in the studio. We were quite happy with the way it worked out.
"'With You' is a more mellow, quiet song. One of the ideas when we stared recording the album was we wanted a good mix of congregational songs, but also songs that could be used devotionally in people's quiet times. I guess this is one of the more devotional-oriented songs on the album. A little bit longer and mellow than the others. It was quite fun recording it because it was one of the last to be recorded late at night. The lines in the chorus go, 'Let the storms rage on outside/Let the day fade into night' and as I was singing it there was this amazing storm happening outside the church in which we were recording. Sort of a neat little moment there that I won't forget."
A Brian Doerksen song on the album is "You Are My King". "It's a new rendition which we did in a country rock kind of arrangement. We thought we'd give it a new life because it seems to be very popular in some of the churches around the movement. We wanted to let people know it was out there and have a chance to use it."
I asked Kathryn about the album's title track. "The song 'Surrender' just seems to be where I'm at, at the minute. I think songs that you can really own, those are the songs that the Lord will draw you to himself, through and with. Marc James wrote the song. He's a great guy. I think the song came about from a heartcry really. There is that thing where we can sort of say it almost in a blasé way. God gave everything and he asks us to do the same. There comes a point over and over again in your Christian life where you just want to lay it all down again and in real sincerity give your heart to him, give your lifestyle to the Lord, everything. It's wonderful to be able to sing that and say it to God."
I asked Kathryn why the American Church seems to be coming increasingly enthusiastic about British worship. "I think there's an awful lot of really good worship stuff that's come out of America but there hasn't been a huge amount from other countries yet and so I think when that emerges, and it will, each nation is going to bring something different and it is going to sound fresh. Yes, some of the American worship music can be a little bit formulaic but I also think that all of us can fall into that trap very easily. When you write in a certain way, when you worship in a certain way, it's very hard to be different. I think that when worship is a true expression of who you are it will touch people."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.