In October 2016 I returned to Holland for a short tour with Adrian Snell.
I have made a start and shall soon be adding (from my vast collection of writings, diaries and articles) more information, notes, memories and an account of my journey that led to the formation of this wonderful project.
I have already covered the period of my initial meeting with Dave Bainbridge (when recording the project `Alpha + Omega` with Adrian Snell - back in the mid-1980`s) and shall soon start writing an account of how God led me initially to Durham Cathedral (where the body of St Cuthbert still lays buried) and then on to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, where I discovered for the first time something of our amazing Celtic Christian roots and heritage. It is an inspirational story, completely led of the Holy Spirit.
Pray for me as I seek to faithfully convey how such beautiful and powerful music came out of this unexpected, solitary journey.
David (January 2013)
MY JOURNEY (Into the Jewish & Celtic Roots of the Christian Faith)
‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.’ (Habakkuk 2:2&3) (Norwich - January & February 2012)
PREFACE Many years have passed since my initial journey to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. My recollections of that experience have remained very clear to me over the years; they remain a very special part of my life (my "journey") and continue to speak to me. However, as I have opened up my diary (for the year 1988) and read the contents (for the first time in many years) I realize that much has been ‘clouded over’ by time. For some reason I thought that my journey was in 1989 (it was 1988). I also thought that I had made my journey during the winter of that year (it was in fact July!).
This has further impressed upon me that it was about time that I carefully recorded this experience. After all, I do believe that it was God who led and directed me to that remote and beautiful Island. Surely, for this reason alone, I should be careful to keep an accurate record of my experience and offer this for you to share.
Over the years I have been given or directed to key words of Scripture (from the Bible), one that has been cornerstone to the formation of the band IONA (and in particular the second recording project ‘Book Of Kells’) is from the Book of Habakkuk:
‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets’ (Habakkuk 2:2).
These words made a very powerful impression upon me, they still do. I do believe that IONA (the band and project) was, and still is, a vision from God.
What led me to Lindisfarne and then to Iona was more than just a desire to discover more about the Celtic roots of our Christian faith (which did include the discovery of our Celtic Christian Heritage and the powerful testimony & evangelistic impact of this Nation’s early Saints: Columba, Aidan & Cuthbert). Beyond this, I believe that we (as a group of musicians) were called by God to produce music that could only be described as being from another world (‘Another Realm’). It is quite a journey, one that could not have been orchestrated by myself, it was completely supernatural.
Back in July 1988 I was due to play a concert, of Adrian Snell’s ‘Alpha + Omega’ at the World Baptist Conference (which was being held at the Scottish Exhibition Centre in Glasgow). At that time I (and Dave Bainbridge) had been touring extensively with Adrian all over Europe, we were also in the studio recording Adrian’s new work ‘Song Of An Exile’. I was feeling pretty drained from years of touring (in fact I have written on the page of 28th July ‘cancel if possible’). The thought of the journey (we were living in Yorkshire at that time) in addition to the emotional & spiritual demands of ‘Alpha + Omega’ (that were needed for each performance) did not appeal. I felt that I needed a break!
I shared this (as I always do) with my wife Carolyn and it was decided that I should leave home early and stop somewhere for a day or so just to rest, to recharge and to seek God - for fresh vision, power & anointing (so that I could continue to serve Him) but also for new direction. I knew that I was needing a fresh revelation of His Divine Being, to feel His Presence and to now His purpose afresh. I could not just assume that I was on the right path, I needed to know...
2. ALPHA + OMEGA I first met Dave Bainbridge in 1986 when I was invited to record for Adrian Snell. Adrian was someone that I had certainly known about and had also seen in concert. Unusually, this session was not going to be in a recording studio, but at his home in Headingley, Leeds. As far as I can recall I had never done this before, all of my recording sessions had been in studios and so this was going to be different. I had not actually met Adrian before, nor had I met (or even heard of) Dave at that time, and so I was rather glad that my friend Neil Costello (guitarist & producer) was going to be there to engineer the session.
I was rather concerned that the sound might to be compromised (by recording in someone’s living room) - I love a good acoustic in the studio as well as all the on board studio effects that support the sound of my wind instruments. I need not have worried, as we progressed through the recording session I knew that I was in safe hands.
Adrian’s house was a large terraced property. My ‘sound room’ was in one of the bedrooms (up on the third floor) and the ‘control room’ (where the mixing desk and the tape machine were) was on the ground floor. After each track was recorded I would dash down the stairs to listen back. The opening piece ‘Kaddish For Bergen Belsen’ completely overwhelmed me. It was completely instrumental and had a powerful presence about it. Musically I could hear classical influences, particularly of JS Bach or liturgical (English Cathedral) music. Gradually the piece unfolded with Neil’s amazing guitar sounds, those disturbing rumblings (as if the earth was shaking) and then this falling, cascading sea of sound (no doubt being produced by a combination Adrian, Dave & Neil). I was beginning to question ‘what is going on here?’.
As each track unfolded I knew that this project was going to be groundbreaking. The world of a session musician is always something of a journey, an exploration. As you enter the studio you never know what you will encounter. Mostly you arrive not knowing the artist or the music and the process just unfolds. You are required to either play what is written down or to improvise and on occasions to offer that big solo! On other occasions you would be booked to play either in a brass section (sax, trumpet & trombone) or in other ensemble combinations. This process is very different to being in a band, when you know the musicians (and singers) and also the material to be recorded. I liked both options but have to say that (when it came to being a session player) I used to love the unexpected. I greatly appreciated meeting new people, going into new studios (all over the UK, in Europe and beyond) and being given the privilege to become a part of a new recording project. Musical styles would change but mostly I think that I knew most formats and could adapt quickly in the studio - I have a wide knowledge & appreciation of all kinds of musical traditions.
At the time of recording ‘Alpha + Omega’ I was gradually increasing my repertoire of wind instruments. I did not fully comprehend what was taking place here in Adrian’s home. I anticipated that this would just be another session and that I would arrive (from Canterbury, where I was living with my wife Carolyn and young children Andrew & Sarah), offer what was required for the recording, enjoy the company of fellow musicians, leave and (hopefully) be pleased with the results. Maybe there might be one or two live events but I did not expect that particularly. As we journeyed through each piece from ‘Alpha + Omega’ and as I recorded (in one day) all the woodwinds for that album I became increasingly aware that this was a very significant project, musically and spiritually. I didn’t really get to speak to Dave much, he was rather withdrawn and silent as I recall. He left at some stage of the recording session (perhaps at the end, I cannot remember).
After the session ended I spoke with Adrian about the project. I warmed to him and do remember him saying “this is a prophetic work”, I had not idea what he was talking about (at that moment in time). I left the session feeling thankful for having been a part of something very special but did not for one moment believe that this work, or the person I had just recorded for, would become a central part of my life. How wrong I was... For me the walk of faith had been a rocky and difficult one. I had gone through a powerful conversion experience during the late 60’s, followed a very young marriage (I was 18 and my then wife 17). This was followed by a number of moves (including two years in the Far East), a series of complex and negative church experiences and finally the pain of a broken marriage. Coming from a broken family (my mother & father parted company when I was 15) and then going through my own failed first marriage I gradually became convinced in my own mind that I could never fit in (or be ‘good enough’) for the Church. I considered Christians (during those difficult early years) as being far removed (from the world that I inhabited - which was the secular music industry). They were rather ‘perfect’, bigoted and (in my own experience) mostly judgemental.
During the 70’s particularly I found it extremely difficult to relate to most Christians, there were exceptions however and I thank God for them. These seemed to speak and to show (through their example or life-style) love, grace and real empathy, surely this is what Jesus was like? During (what I call) my ‘dark years’ God remained central to my thinking and being. Never did He leave nor forsake me, though I surely deserved this. It was a confused period when I possessed a complex view or understanding of who God was - my life being taken over by conflict and contradiction. It took this "Prodigal" a good measure of time and dark experience before coming to a place of being fully broken and to the knowledge that I needed to come to God in complete surrender. It took the healing power of Christ, through His overwhelming love, mercy and grace to turn me around completely - to see myself and others as He sees us. This is a continuing process.
Psalm 51 became my testimony. My cry unto God was ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.’ (Psalm 51:10-11). The Psalm then goes on to say ‘O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.’ (v 15). This became my daily prayer, my act of worship and my heart’s desire each and every time that I would play my instruments for our Father, Son & Holy Spirit. ‘Alpha + Omega’ was toured all over Europe, in Israel and here in the UK. I was there, with Adrian, Dave & Neil (and also Joanne Hogg, who sang the song ‘Child Of Darkness’ on the recording) at the British Premier, which was held at the Hammersmith Odeon, London on Saturday 20th September 1986. Also taking part at that momentous event were the All Souls Choir & Worship In Concert Choir directed by Noel Tredinnick and Interpretive movement by Randall Bane (USA). Sound was provided by B&H Sound (Brian Hillson) and lights/visuals by Glyn Owen (Kanlite Stage Lighting). There was also powerful introduction, given by Dr Clifford Hill.
As months and years unfolded and as we journeyed many thousands of miles performing ‘Alpha + Omega’ I (and many many others) were being challenged and then further transformed in our faith by this powerful work of the Holy Spirit. It was indeed a prophetic work that begins with a musical expression that unearths the one of most tragic and disgraceful moments in man’s history (the holocaust) and then ends with a revelation of Heaven, when God will restore all things to His redemptive and intended State - a New Heaven and a New Earth. Performing this work was exhausting (physically, emotionally & spiritually). It was also exhilarating beyond measure! It grew in stature, with Dave and myself adding new sounds and lines (including me doubling Neil’s guitar lines & solos on saxophone - adding a powerful new dynamic!). It was also a time when seeds were sown - of what was to come for Dave Bainbridge and myself within the future project IONA.
3. SONG OF AN EXILE (Part One) Since its release (in 1986) there was a huge demand for ‘Alpha + Omega’ to be performed live. It was such a powerful combination of musical forces - of Adrian’s lead vocal (& keyboards), Dave Bainbridge (offering a massive soundscape on additional keyboards & samplers), myself (on Saxophones, Flutes & assorted woodwind) and large Choir. There was also a guest vocalist (on the song ‘Child Of Darkness’). What made this work so popular was the fact that every performance was personal to each and every place that it was performed. As we toured the UK and Europe we were joined by a core choir. This wonderful team of people would travel with us and then at each town or city we would be joined by a local choir. We have to thank and commend very highly indeed the choir directors of ‘Alpha + Omega’ (all over Europe and beyond) who committed themselves to prepare their respective choir to the very highest standard - musically and spiritually.
None of us will ever forget these performances (in particular the one at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1989 when choirs from all over Europe joined us, around 650 voices! Sadly this was not recorded or captured on video). As we travelled and performed this mighty work God was challenging each one of us (listener & performer alike). Alpha + Omega’ offers no middle ground, its message is very clear, there are no grey areas. During the section entitled ‘God’s Warning Of Judgement’ there is a song called ‘No Escape’. As on the recording Adrian would speak some of the text and then cry out the chorus with spine chilling power! These words, coupled with the amazing images that were being screened behind us, combined with the music, lighting and interpretative movement (in some of the pieces), made a penetrating cocktail:
From the sun in the west to the moon in the east
The crumb of the beggar, the wealth of the feast
For priest and for worshipper, master and slave
From morning of birth to the night of the grave
Kings of oppression fall like a reed
An end to division and hatred and greed
The wisdom of evil, the power of pride
See the mighty in terror with nowhere to hide
There is no escape, there is no escape
From the hand of the Lord laying waste to the earth
For the guilt of her sin, for her blindness and rage
For the rape of the earth at the end of the age
For the darkness and pain, for creation defiled
For my world running wild
Another piece, which comes early in the work, was:
Too many people with wandering hearts
Ask me for comfort then tear me apart
Too many people with far away minds
Cling to their future but don’t look behind
- Nobody listens, nobody listens
Too many people with make-believe lives
Smile through their teeth as they plunge in the knife
And I still feel the pain as I knock at your door
When I ask ‘May I enter?’ you answer ‘What For?’
- Nobody listens, nobody listens
These words found their mark with me personally.
1988 was a very busy year. We toured ‘Alpha + Omega’ across England (two tours that year, including a long Cathedrals tour), Scotland, Wales & Ireland (North & South), Norway, France and Austria. We also played a number of festivals (including Greenbelt & Flevo in Holland). Added to my work with Adrian I was also recording and touring with Graham Kendrick, Phil & John, Dieter Falk (Germany) & Don Francisco (USA) - to name a few.
During one of the tours in Holland I had a life transforming encounter. We had been touring ‘Alpha + Omega’ extensively and so (very wisely) it had been arranged that we would rest for a couple of days in Amsterdam. I have written at the top of my notes for 18th April: ‘Precious days at YWAM’ (the ‘Youth With A Mission’ centre, where we were staying). I remember meeting with Karen Lafferty there (who wrote the song ‘See Ye First The Kingdom Of God’) and being deeply challenged by her story and the lives of those within YWAM. It was early in the morning of the 20th April. We were to play at the Grote Kerk in Apeldoorn that night but before we were to leave Amsterdam I decided to get up early and visit the ‘History Of The Jews’ museum.
For almost two years I had toured with Adrian, got to like and respect him immensely. However, I never really did get this focus on the Jewish people (that seemed to have gripped him)? I knew that Adrian was also researching and assembling a new project and that this was going to focus even more closely on Jewish history and the Nazi holocaust in particular. Despite so many performances of ‘Alpha +Omega’ I had remained relatively detached from what lay at the heart of its message.
I was certainly being confronted by this work, by it’s various themes, and was seeking to make a sincere response, but how the Jewish people related to me and I too them remained an enigma at that time. When I was presented with this whole issue of the holocaust and how the Christian West had treated the Jewish people over the centuries I was overwhelmed. Back then my knowledge was superficial at best and so, like so many, I had not formed a personal view or understanding (apart from complete repulsion and a nagging sense of shame that much of the persecution of the Jewish People was at the hands of the Church).
I also am a Christian, a Christ follower, what did that have to do with the Jewish people or my association with them? Was I, by default, associated with anti-Semitism (or its history at least)? These were completely new issues, I had not been presented with these in any previous experience of Church or Christian teaching. I was relatively ignorant. I was also unfamiliar with the huge importance that God places on this central part of our faith.
I believe that what happened during the morning of this momentous day had to happen if I was to continue the journey with Adrian and (more importantly) if I was going to come anywhere near to being able to express the things that needed to be expressed (through my wind instruments) through projects such as ‘Song Of An Exile’ and ‘City Of Peace’. God had ordained this day. He caused this moment to happen, as much as He had ordained my calling and the purposes for which I believe I exist. (John 15:16).
There are moments in our lives that are pivotal. For me the most important and memorable, in my journey of faith, was when I was first confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This took place in the home of a wonderful, eloquent, Spirit-filled man of God called George Forester. George (and his dear wife Daphne) had come from an educated and traditional background in the Church Of England (where he was also a Reverend Minister). He was now a Minister at the ‘Assemblies Of God’ Church in Deal, Kent (where I was studying at the Royal Marines School of Music). I had started to attend this Church having been challenged to find out more about Christianity by a fellow student at the Music School.
One evening (during tea) George explained to me, using a picture by the artist Holman Hunt (called ‘Light Of The World’), that Jesus was standing outside the door of my heart. I looked at this powerful image - of the weeds growing all around the doorway and the lamp in Christ’s hands. I also looked at the expression on the face of Jesus and in particular His eyes, which looked longingly out of the picture - not with condemnation, which is what I would have anticipated.
Something was happening to me, I could sense and even feel love, the love of God. George then read these words to me: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.’ (Revelation 3:20). He then explained to me, very clearly, that my sin was causing a gulf between me and a Holy God and that only Jesus could pay the price of that sin, by becoming sin for me (and for the whole world) and dying on a cross. (John 3:16). He then explained, again using the picture, that for God to come into our life we have to invite Him (in the painting by Holman Hunt the handle of the door is not visible - it is on the inside, we have to open the door). I was invited to renounce my sin, open the door of my heart, ask Jesus to forgive me and to come into my life. I said in my heart ‘God if you are real and this is real I want you to come into my life’. I said to George ‘Yes, I want to ask Jesus to come into my life’. We prayed a prayer together, I felt the overwhelming Presence of God for the first time and my life changed - forever! Thank you Lord Jesus. (Thank you George & Daphne Forester, faithful servants of God).
Years had passed, some of these were very difficult ones. The early years of my faith were not easy, I carried a lot of painful memories but the scars were being healed. God had carried me through. I was also beginning to fully realize that any gifting that He had given to me was for a purpose (i.e. not self gratification). No longer was music at the centre of my life or my focus, nor was there any desire for fame or adulation (something that I have grown to dislike profoundly - in myself and also in others). Music had bowed the knee to the King Of Kings and the Lord Of Lords. I can say honestly that if God had not called me to play for Him then it would have been very likely that I would have left the music industry completely and put music very much in the background of my life. It had been the cause of too much pain and negativity (particularly within the pop industry).
Working with Adrian had revealed new levels of expression and also a sense of purpose. The words and images that his music conveyed were unearthing a fresh challenge to me, to offer ever increasing levels of expression through all of my instruments. I was beginning to come to a place of complete surrender and seeking to use whatever I could to reach new ways to interpret whatever Adrian was presenting through his powerful lyrics. At the heart of things, way beyond mere technique or human ability, were two things: the Holy Spirit (the ‘Rhuach’ Of God) and the depths of personal experience that God had permitted in my life. These would give me, by God’s anointing and power, the ability to express both profound pain and the highest levels of joy and exhilaration!
Nevertheless, there was remaining one missing ingredient. As I entered the door of the ‘History Of The Jews’, which is housed in what was a Synagogue in the old Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, I sensed the Presence of God enfolding me. It was almost tangible. I stood before a huge Torah scroll which was contained within a large glass cabinet (this was the Law Of God, as revealed to Moses and recorded in the Pentateuch). I had never been into a Jewish Synagogue before but I immediately knew what I was looking at.
At that moment I had this powerful sense that God was saying to me (and these words are written in my diary) ‘I have called you for my purpose’. I was stunned by these words and this experience. Feeling quite transported into another realm I explored the whole of that place, spending hours examining the history of God’s chosen people Israel and the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. I had no idea why but I felt a profound sense of identity with the Jewish people all of a sudden. I have also written in my diary ‘I am feeling a real unity with these people, their history and their tradition’. I was to later rediscover (and better understand) the words of Paul in the Book of Romans (Chapters 9 to 11) when he clearly presents the fact that we (Gentiles) have been ‘grafted in’ to the ‘Olive Tree’ and into the Covenant that God first made with Abraham. I was also being reminded that Jesus (Yeshua) was born a Jew and that the twelve disciples were also Jewish.I was being overwhelmed by this sense of immense gratitude to the Jewish people and at what cost!
I was standing in front of the Torah Scroll again. I was considering what God had said to me earlier and could sense that in the same way that God had called His people (the Jewish people of God) I had been called also for His purpose. Their journey had not been an easy one. I had also written into my diary on that day: ‘I am shocked at the horror of the holocaust, and by these preserved yellow stars torn from the clothes of men, women & children before they were murdered. And yet, here within this place, there was such beauty - of their culture, the sense of profound holiness, reverence and closeness to God that they portray - they are special, very special.
The Jewish People have been persecuted, hunted down, driven out and killed in their millions and yet God has preserved them. God has not permitted their destruction. He has protected them from all the powers that would wish to wipe them from the face of the earth. This was a holy place, I felt deeply privileged to be led there that day and to have all of these things revealed to me. My part in God’s plan and message through Adrian’s work is such a high honour, it is a privilege to serve. As I meditated on these things Adrian walked through from the entrance hall. This was completely unexpected as I had not told anyone that I was going to visit this place. We looked at each other, both realising that God had revealed to me the same sense of feeling and identity that he had received himself (Messianic Jews call it a ‘circumcision of the heart’).
It was a turning point in my call to work with Adrian and also in our very profound friendship, which remains to this day. Adrian & I left the Jewish Museum and walked back to the YWAM Centre to prepare for our departure to the next concert. As we got back to the Centre we were approached by a young American girl. “Are you Adrian Snell?” she asked. “Yes, I am” replied Adrian. She then went on to explain that she had just flown in from the USA and was glad to catch us before we left Amsterdam. She needed to pass on a message from elder friends in America. They wanted to say “thank you” for ‘Alpha + Omega’ as for over 40 years they had been in pain and had never recovered from horrific experiences that they had suffered during their time spent in the death camps during the war. On listening to and meditating on the words and music of ‘Alpha + Omega’ they had been healed of their pain and no longer are suffering from their memories. They are at peace. This had a very real effect on Adrian and myself, having just come from the experience of that morning.
More to follow...