Mike Rimmer saw YFRIDAY's final concert and spoke to the band. Jason Thompson took the photos.
Newcastle City Hall holds some very fond memories for me. As a teenager I went to my first ever gig there in the mid '70s and on 31st October 2010, I'm here in Tyneside for the final gig of Yfriday. Sitting in the hall watching the sound check, it all seems so much smaller than it used to. The venue was also the place where I did my first ever backstage interview. Stepping into that same room, Yfriday are gathered waiting for their opportunity to soundcheck. As it's their final gig they've put a lot of money into a shiny huge lighting rig but it's taking longer than usual to set up.
Of course the City Hall has plenty of memories for the band too. It's been their spiritual home and so it's fitting that they finish up 15 years of ministry on their home patch. Ken Riley remembers his first appearance on stage, "I was 11 in a school choir. The first time we ever played here it was a Friday night, and it was with Tony Campolo in a thing called Wake Up And Dream. Gavin and Danny were here as fans, and Dez and I played. The exciting thing was that as a movement of churches in the area, we felt that it was the start of really making an impact in the city. It was an incredibly significant weekend. A lot of things kind of grew from there. It was amazing."
And now years later, the whole band are in an emotional state as they prepare to play for the final time. Drummer Dez Minto reflects, "At some point between me being this enthusiastic late teenage rock dude, I'm sitting here, like 33, been here so many times and they've all kind of merged. There's been great shows here and a lot of things have been lifted up here. But the amount of times that Jesus has been lifted up in incredible, enormous volume and passion here, it's amazing. I'll never forget some stuff that's happened here. It's an amazing mixture of emotions I'm feeling now, because it's the right thing - it's absolutely 100 per cent the right thing, celebrating the past, on with the new. I think in what we've done it's been so much more than just trying to do gigs and all that. Our spirits and emotions have been involved in what we've done for so long. It feels like a bit of my DNA isn't going to be there anymore."
Bassist Danny Smith muses, "It feels good, and I think it's a good
high going out on a really good gig, great lighting set, great set up.
For me, it's a great celebration of what Yfriday's been about for the last 10 years
or so. I'm please with all the stuff we've done as a band. It's been
an amazing ride; I'm pleased I've managed to do it, and I'm happy with
ending on a high." Keyboardist Gav Richards jumps in, "It is a real
mixture of emotions: it's tricky to pick just one that I'm feeling.
There's been a lot of emails that have come in this week, and over the
years, that make us feel very humble about what God's done through
these four normal Geordie-ish blokes. It's incredible to think that
God's used us in these amazing ways with what we've brought to the
table, our four different personalities; we're all different, and
people who have got to know us over the years have got to know that
about us as well. As well as the music, one of the things that's
hopefully come across to people is our realness. It does feel sad and
happy and exciting and scary - loads and loads of different emotions.
Celebrating what's happening, and really looking forward to what's
around the corner."
Ken is particularly emotional as he shares his thoughts and thinks ahead to the night's gig. "Tonight's the victory parade," he says, "tonight's the open-top bus parade through the city. Not really for us, more what God's achieved through us. It is his victory parade, because many people who have become Christians in this building are coming back here tonight. There are many people who have been helped through tough situations through the music who are here tonight - we've got friends, we've got family, we'll recognise every face. At the same time, it's our last chance to really give some in this building. As Dez said, some dark bands played in here, and I think we've blazed and shone brighter than anybody. Tonight's the victory parade, and I'm going to smile my way and laugh my way and cry my way through the whole thing."
The Steels are the perfect opening act for this final gig. They are emerging local heroes with albums produced by Minto, Richards and most recently Ken Riley. They're also purveyors of big anthemic rock worship songs which is perfect for this sell out crowd. They got their first break playing at the IXth Hour event at the invitation of Yfriday. Originally the event was called Yfriday and was where the band got its start. At the heart of it was a desire by churches and YFC for a generation of young people to emerge who were passionate about Jesus. The regular City Hall meetings have been a regular part of church life in the north east of England and Yfriday have been a significant part of this.
But is it possible for the band to quantify what they've achieved? "We've had many discussions over the years," says Minto. "I know one of the things we've talked about is, 'How can you judge success?' And, 'What's success?' When we look out tonight, as Ken said earlier, there's going to be so many people who are special to us in that crowd. With it being Newcastle, I'm going to look at so many people tonight and know their stories. For some it's the miracle of salvation, but for some of the others we know the stories that have gone on behind the eyes. Less than two nights ago, I had the honour of speaking to the father of a girl who got saved at a YFriday gig - I'd given her a drum stick, she learned how to play the drums, she was playing in a worship band - she got diagnosed with cancer and she died a few weeks ago; she was hoping to make it to the last gig. Her dad was very emotional and thanked me at the end of the gig for the impact we've had on her and her family. I'm going to see that lassie in Heaven, I'm going to see Sophie in Heaven. If we'd sold out stadiums all over the world, but there were no stories like that, what's the point? I say that as an excitement, because I believe with all my heart that I'm going to see her again, and we're going to worship together."
Gav chips in, "Like Dez says, it's all about that. For all the people we know about, there's probably a lot more we don't. It's very humbling to think of these things. Another email this week: a girl whose mum had died - she was at a gig at Leicester and she sent an email saying, 'Thank you for leading us in worship tonight, because I've been really angry about my mum, and I've realised that God didn't leave me, I'd just stopped reaching out for him.' She was able to do that in the worship atmosphere of us playing our songs, and the Holy Spirit being there. The very first spoken line on one of our albums Ken whispers, 'Come, Lord Jesus, inhabit our praise', and that's what we've always hoped for, and I think that's kind of what's happened in our gigs - I think God has inhabited it, and the testimony is in the emails."
The first time I met Ken Riley was in the summer of 1999 after the 'Rainmaker' album was released when the band was still independent. Ken had a vision to see spiritual gifts exercised and for fruit to come out but did it happen the way he thought it was going to happen? "No. I think we've seen elements of it, the tip of it. And yet, judging by emails, many people have sensed it and seen it. There's a time coming up when it's going to happen. The next Ken Riley phase is going to continue on from what we've achieved as YFriday. At some point God's going to rip the lid off, when the Church is ready. There's an incredible sense of unity in the churches in Newcastle these days. Maybe it's the next movement, maybe it's the next thing that's going to sweep round the globe and find impact. We're going to see amazing things."
The band have always had an expectation that if you put yourself in the right place and you're humble before God, surely it's going to happen. Ken reflects, "I don't think we could have done anything more. You can't make yourself be born again: it's only on the call of God. We can only do what we can do as individuals. Any aspiring musicians out there, I can give them one big, big tip: If you always lift up Jesus, you've got a chance of seeing something incredible - seeing dead people rise, seeing waters parted - you've got a chance. If you don't lift up Jesus, I don't think you've got any chance. There's been times when the electricity's been incredible, and we've sensed it, and times when other people, for whatever reason, have calmed that down. I have no idea why, since the last Toronto or Sunderland thing happened, we haven't seen the same kind of thing. But that's good: God's a seasonal God. I feel now that we're entering a real season for the Church to take ownership, and to grow, to come together - and there are still prophetic words about revival for the UK breaking out in the north east of England. I'm going to do my absolute best to network and to link people together as much as possible to help that happen."
So, is there going to be a solo project from Ken? "It's not a solo project," he laughs, "it's the next phase of me." He will continue as a solo worship leader. "I'll continue leading in my church but that's just the natural next step for me." Dez Minto will continue running the recording studio he owns with Gav. "We're booked up chocker," he says, "which is great. I don't think I'll be playing drums for a little while - just what I feel in my belly; I've loved it, and I know I'll be coming back to it at some point, but I'm just going to take a little step out of the Christian music world. I don't know if I've become desensitised a little bit to the whole worship machine; I just want to be in church and get away from razzmatazz."
Dez recently moved to the south west of England. He explains, "I met my wife, who was born in Exeter, at a gig; she was a steward. She moved up to the north east and we got married. We had a deal that she was up for two years - 10 years ago. So I've moved down south. It's been an amazing thing, happened very quick: sold my house in two days. I live in Devon now, it's weird. I'm making a living by the studio, at the minute. God asked me to father musicians, and although the drumming thing may not necessarily be happening in the next few years for me, I don't think that's changed. The whole thing, the studio thing, has been going from strength to strength. Whether I start that down there or not, who knows - I'm just having a little bit of time to hear and see what my spirit tells me."
Gav explains what he'll be doing: "Like Dez says, we're quite involved with this studio in Newcastle. I'm involved on a daily basis in there, doing engineering for various bands, people who come in and have birthday parties and hen nights, and things like that. Every day's different people singing along to backing tracks, things like that. It's great; it's interesting; every day's different. I've got probably a bit more to do music-wise. I was given a banjo, and I'm playing that. I have a new band as well, called The Last Spectacular - which you can find on Facebook. God's speaking to me about having my voice a bit, writing stuff of my own, coming out with things that are me."
So will The Last Spectacular be that? "That is partly me," he explains. "One of the other guys who works in the studio, it's his brainchild - he's written the songs. I've had a couple of invitations to lead worship locally, so I'm tentatively saying yes to those - even though it kind of terrifies us, being without my brothers. It's quite scary for me, but it's something I know that I've got to make some steps into. I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes."
Meanwhile Danny has plans too. "I teach bass guitar and drums," he says. "I've set up a business teaching people. I run the music in my church, I head up that, do rotas and teach everybody new songs."
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