Graham Kendrick has been described in the UK as a ‘father of modern worship music’ whose songs are ‘crammed full of poetic, divine, biblical truth’ that have ‘sculpted a view of God that has impacted generations.’
With a series of brand new videos heralding the release of a new album in 2018, CCLI took the chance to catch up with him.
You’re currently releasing a video for each song on your forthcoming album at four to six week intervals. What inspired you to introduce the songs that way?
The Internet has transformed the way we access music. If there is no visual dimension the song may as well not exist!
Also since the demise of the CD, we tend to pick up on individual songs according to what is trending on social media. CDs are still great for live events when people want a memento and for gifts such as Christmas but otherwise it’s all changed. It’s a bit experimental for me so we’ll see how it works out!
The videos look fantastic, and you’ve got some great musicians involved. Did the filming take place during an actual concert?
It was a live worship event and but we set it up with the requirements of film and audio recording in mind. Because the songs were written for church I wanted to capture the energy of people engaging in worship with the songs. Many of the songs were shaped and ‘road-tested’ in my home church and I was very keen that the recording should be an expression of our worshipping community.
I wanted to do it to a high standard, and for that you need a suitable environment. One snag we hit for example was the need for blackout – June evenings don’t get dark until after 9:30pm and our own building has windows everywhere! Thankfully a local school lent us their theatre.
Our own worship team were there of course, some in the band and some in the crowd, and I invited local worship teams plus some friends from further away.
In the video of the story behind the song for Keep The Banner Flying High you describe it as a song about endurance, and that it came out of a period of feeling tired. As such a prolific songwriter, how do you keep going when you hit those times?
One answer is to work through it by writing a song! Actually, everyone has to find their way through weariness or despondency whatever their work might be. A lesson I was taught a long time ago is to set the will, make a choice, lift your face up to God, pour out your heart, give thanks, worship and keep going! The psalms are full of it. A spiritual mentor of mine, now with the Lord, used to ask: ‘What is the 11th commandment?’ His answer: ‘Thou shalt bash on!’.
This is also where spiritual disciplines are so important, habits of prayer and worship that we do whether we feel like it or not. For me, praying psalms and scriptures out loud is a very helpful thing together of course with the habit of meeting together in prayer, worship and fellowship with others. None of us can make it on our own.
The song Adore has a real Christmas feel, but was written a few years ago and has already been covered by Chris Tomlin. Why have you waited to release it and why did you choose this project?
I chose what I felt to be the best and most church-friendly songs I’ve written and co-written since my last new songs recording, which was the Worship Duets project a few years ago. Adore is of course very much a Christmas song and Chris Tomlin recorded it about three years ago as the title track for his Christmas album.
I also included it because whilst there are numerous Christmas carols and choral pieces available, there are not so many Christmas season songs that fit the intimate worship song genre that is so strongly established in many churches. However, just as the chorus of the traditional carol it does homage to is sung at any time, the chorus of Adore can be as well, as part of a flow of songs in a similar key and tempo.
So many of your songs are staples in the Church. When you write, you obviously consider how they might work in a church context, but does writing for a congregation ever change the direction of a song? Does it ever compromise creativity?
It is usually clear to me fairly early on in the process what kind of song it is – congregational or solo or whatever. I try to think about the context in which it might be used and call that up in my imagination. For example, Keep the Banner Flying High struck me in its early stages as having a communal feel to it, a kind of bonding effect.
I put together the first draft on a Wednesday and on the Saturday about forty guys from our church were due to have a men’s breakfast. I tried it out there and it really took off. I made a few small changes and a few weeks later used it in a men’s conference with a couple of thousand guys. It sounded awesome! In fact, it’s a song for the whole church family at any time and I’ve also used it as a concluding ‘sending out’ song as we look towards the coming week.
If I am developing a song for congregational use I always check the vocal range, the top and bottom notes to see if men and women can sing it all in unison, and keep an eye on whether the chorus, where the voices need to release emotional energy, sits close enough to the power range of male and female voices together.
Also, I ask how memorable is the melody, can the meaning of the words be understood in the time it takes to sing them, is the subject matter ‘public truth’, in other words truth that everybody can sing together honestly or is it more suitable to be performed as the personal expression of an individual. The list goes on!
You’re known for encouraging other songwriters in their craft. Why is that so important to you?
Early on in my own song-writing journey I realised how worship songs can shape the world view and theology of those who use them, whether directly, subliminally or by default. For example, there are many ‘songs of omission’, important subjects we rarely sing about.
So, I value opportunities to help writers raise the bar of quality and content in their songs in the hope that they can serve the church better with material that not only releases the emotions of worship but also teaches the narrative and content of the faith. And of course, engaging with other writers is good for me too.
In Les Moir’s recent book The Missing Jewel, you feature prominently at the beginning and throughout his account of the contemporary worship movement in the UK. How does it feel to look back on your ministry as a songwriter and worship leader and see how God has moved, and how he has used you?
I think it is really important to know and learn from our history, from the people and events that have shaped what we do and the way we do it, to be able to answer the question; ‘how did we get here?’ In this respect, I think Les Moir’s book is very significant and every pastor and worship leader that uses contemporary praise and worship songs should read it.
It can feel strange to see one’s own name and past activities feature in such a story, because at the time, together with my contemporaries, I just got on with the job in hand, often in obscure settings, mostly without much awareness of a bigger picture unfolding.
There is a big difference in perspective between being carried by a wave and standing on the cliff top looking down on the ocean. Also, it is good to remember that God’s view is vastly different to ours. We only see what we see but God sees everything and also sees in secret. I have no doubt that heaven will record and celebrate numerous believers down the centuries who in their lifetimes were unknown, unseen or disregarded.
Personally, I am very grateful for all the opportunities God has given me, and for the people I have had the privilege of journeying with, especially for my wife and family who have supported me all the way.
So, the songs you’re releasing over the coming months will culminate in a new album. When can we expect it?
For our live recording, we felt that seven songs were a realistic number to record in one evening, so I have three more songs to record. All going well the album will be released around Spring/Summer 2018.