The best of 2010’s new worship music from the festivals
As a worship leader, I’m always on the lookout for new songs that will bring a fresh expression of worship to the church, and the festivals are a great place to find them. I served at two of this year’s Soul Survivor events, and attended the student equivalent, Momentum, as a punter, giving me a rounded perspective on this years offerings. Below are some of my thoughts – but first, a bit of a disclaimer: this has been put together via methods of hearsay and Google – not always the most reliable of sources. I apologise if I’ve failed to attribute songs to their writers, called the songs by the wrong name, or fallen asleep in a meeting and dreamt up a song that doesn’t exist. That, and this article is my opinion – others may have had a completely contradicting experience of a particular song. Nuff said.
// THE ARENA //
Since 2008, Soul Survivor have ditched the traditional stage approach for a stage in the middle of the big top (for the uninitiated in the art of the Christian festival, a giant tent, in this case capable of holding over 10,000 people). This has many major advantages – for a start, everyone’s closer to the stage, and the focus is moved from the stage to the crowd. It also allows the worship leader to face into the band, and gives ministry times an altogether more unified feel. And this year, Momentum followed suit.
However, there’s one major issue with the round approach – it’s a lighting engineers nightmare. With no backdrop to project onto, and an ‘audience’ that cannot see the stage floor because they are always below it, beyond people and objects, there is very little to shine your little bulbs at. That is, except the roof. Oh, and a giant glowing cross. This year, the geniuses in the production department added a third element – huge white banners hanging from the ten huge pillars which keep the canvas off the ground, and lighting them from the ground. The effect was stunning – check it out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4903709643/in/set-72157624697092370/.
// THE STAPLES //
Our God is Greater (Chris Tomlin, available on ‘Awakening’) has already been a big song this year. No surprise then, with its haunting guitar intro, soaring melodies, and defiant proclamations, that it became one of the lynch-pins for Soul Survivor & Momentum worship. Definitely a possible for smaller congregational worship settings
This is Love (Hillsong, available on ‘The Beautiful Exchange’) was new to me, but a great, flexible song, that can be played in a number of different ways to give the lyrics a jubilant or reflective edge. Definitely well worth a listen.
// I AM A TREE… //
After the chorus of How He Loves (John Mark McMillan) went down so well during 2009’s events, it was inevitable that the full version would be rolled out this year. It is undeniably a moving and unique song, and the young people at Soul Survivor definitely connected with it. However, a group of twenty-somethings I spoke to at Momentum struggled with the idea of being ‘a tree, bending beneath the weight of his mercy’, to the point of some refusing to sing the song, others breaking down into fits of the giggles and, on the final night, led to the entire group adopting what they coined the ‘coniferous position’, imitating said bending tree to the equal bemusement and amusement of those around them. And, no matter how hard they try, there’s no covering up the fact that the song originally provided us with the gem, ‘heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss’…
// PHIL WICKHAM //
Clearly a gifted and authentic worship leader, besides the now relatively well known Cannons, You’re Beautiful and Because of Your Love, Phil only introduced one new song to the conference, Cielo (Phil Wickham – available on ‘Heaven and Earth’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FfjZGoXhuzE). It’s certainly worth looking out for the ‘I can’t sing loud enough…’ refrain. Phil also led with slightly rearranged versions of Everlasting God (Brenton Brown & Ken Riley) and Forever (Chris Tomlin).
// SOUL SURVIVOR //
All of the below are yet to be released at large, but hail from the mother ship, Soul Survivor’s home church in Watford.
Found in You (Beth Croft & Tim Hughes, http://www.worshipcentral.org/song/found-in-you) aka You’re the Air That I Breathe could well be a song that finds a home in a lot of local churches in the UK. A good second or starting song, it’s pacey, driven rock feel is well within the capability of most bands, and is this September’s Worship Central new song.
My Praise Overflows (Jamie Rodwell & Tom Field, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sSqgC_exnA&feature=related) is another song that could be used to great effect by worship leaders all over the UK. Similar to 2009’s My Soul is Complete in feel, this, a simple hymn of adoration and reverence, drew a big response from the young people at the event.
I had mixed feelings about Grace (Sam Parker). The great thing about a lot of the hymns that have been borderline plagiarised and rewritten with a contemporary feel is that often those hymns have fallen out of favour and out of use with modern congregations – a Tim Hughes’s style remix can give them a fresh lease of life and allow the powerful lyrics to be used in worship once again. Amazing Grace is not one of those hymns – in fact, it’s probably up there as one of the most if not the most timeless hymn, and remains in use at even the most organ averse of churches. However, Sam Parker chose the first verse to head up his new song, giving it a different, more monotone melody. I can’t deny that it fits well with the theme he’s writing on, and the triumphant chorus of ‘To the God who’s shown me favour…’, which I love. I guess I just found the mish-mash nature of it a little off-putting. Maybe, in time, the song will gain a life of its own and will no longer need the piggy-back its currently getting.
Follow Your Fire (Jamie Rodwell & Sam Parker, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8bx5b6MEcY&feature=related) aka Light the Sky has a moody, grooving, verse section, moving to a triumphant chorus and a defiant bridge that is reminiscent of Hillsong United’s Shout Unto God. It’s a really strong song, and seemed to me to be another favourite with the young people at Soul Survivor.
// THE WHOAHS //
No Reason to Hide (Hillsong – available on ‘Faith + Hope + Love’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ddpIzd4lerI) is definitely a festival song in its present form. The reason? More whoahs than you can shake a stick at.
For the those unfamiliar with the tradition of ‘whoahing’, it erupted onto the scene two years ago, with Hillsong’s Your Name High and Soul Survivor’s version of Friend of God leading the way. Wickham’s You’re Beautiful, which followed a year later, is another prime culprit, as are Cantelon’s Not Ashamed and Hughes’s Give Us Your Courage. Essentially, open space during which you might normally have an instrumental is replaced with ‘whoah’, or some variation on said theme. The reason? One given by Mike Pilavachi at a recent Worship Central event is that, sometimes, we simply don’t have the words to respond God, and thus (here referring to Wickham’s You’re Beautiful) only a guttural ‘whoah’ will suffice.
I’m the first to admit that a ‘whoah’ can be a great way to unify a large, festival-sized crowd. They can even sometimes work in congregational settings – Friend of God is a great example. However, in the vast majority of cases, unless you have a very large congregation, or one mainly populated by 12 year olds, ‘whoahing’ just doesn’t seem to be the way forward.
To turn to the present example, No Reason to Hide is a great song, but it has a serious case of the ‘whoahs’. No space is left unfilled, and not only their number but also their variety cannot but impress. So great was the complexity of this ‘whoahing’ symphony that at times it seemed the worship leaders were unsure as to which ‘whoah’ to turn to next, never mind the crowd. The harrowing thing is, the song would work perfectly well without them; however, constant ‘whoahing’ to an almost epidemic extent and the lyric ‘it’s time to take all the lampshades off’ rule this one out for me in congregational settings.
But perhaps the greatest culprit in the gallery of unnecessary whoahing this year was How Great Thou Art. This hymn works so well in a contemporary setting already; I honestly don’t believe it needs a new intro/tag section that essentially amounts to ‘Whoah (etc), how great you are’. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not altogether against ‘whoahing’ – I just know that at least one of the churches I serve at has put a blanket-ban on any song displaying symptoms of guttural-discharge, and as such, am a bit more aware of the practice than I once was.
// WORSHIP CENTRAL //
I love the stuff that Worship Central put out, so none of these songs were entirely new to me, but all surprised me with their effectiveness when used in worship.
I’d almost written off the use of Saviour of the World (Ben Cantelon, http://www.worshipcentral.org/song/saviour-of-the-world) in a local-church setting, however, with a big enough band, I think it could be pulled off pretty well. The range is pretty massive, but that’s not unusual with contemporary worship music, and congregations are growing more used to it. Even if you don’t fancy it as a song for your church, the single is well worth a listen, available on iTunes.
All Glory (Nikki Fletcher, http://www.worshipcentral.org/news/all-glory-out-now) was again a song I’d paid little attention to – it’s often only once I’ve actually heard a song used in a worship setting that I realise its potential. All Glory is fantastic, and a great one for the female worship leaders out there.
On a first listening, the rap in the middle of Spirit Break Out (Luke Hellebronth & Myles Dhillon, http://www.worshipcentral.org/song/spirit-break-out) entirely put me off – for one thing, rappers are a little hard to come by in Durham, or Bath for that matter. However, the song, played without the rap, was used to great effect during the ministry times, with its call for the spirit to come down and change lives.
Amazing Love is a beautiful hymn, and it was great to hear it resurrected à la the free Worship Central Unplugged album (http://www.worshipcentral.org/news/free-acoustic-album). Stripped back, halved and taken slightly slower than normal, it makes for a beautifully triumphant tag.
// TIM HUGHES //
Okay, so, I know Tim Hughes heads up Worship Central, but none of the below have been released online, so I’m guessing they’ll appear on his upcoming studio album. Hence, I’m a bit sketchy on the details, but here goes…
Counting on Your Name (Tim Hughes, Ben Cantelon & Nick Herbert) is definitely one to look out for. Around in London since Christmas, it’s proved a popular addition up there – could this be ‘the’ song of Tim’s new project?
I’m convinced that the edgy, punchy Never Stop Singing (Tim Hughes, Martin Smith, Paul Evans & Ben Cantelon) is Hughes et al with a pinch of Martin-Smith- steroid added to the mix – everything about it screams Delirious (particularly Break the Silence), especially the melodic line at the end of the chorus. Then again, I might be completely wrong… that would be embarrassing. A great anthem, seemingly a progression from We Won’t Stay Silent (Compassionart).
Finally, there was a song with the line ‘Yahweh Yahweh, we love to shout your name oh God’. I have no idea what it’s titled, so we’ll call it Shout Your Name (assumed Tim Hughes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xlssyXa1cI). Another one to watch out for on Tim’s new studio album perhaps, this initially mellow song builds in pace and intensity throughout, has a great keys motif, and feels similar to Remain (Ben Cantelon).
// GOLDEN OLDIES //
Aside from those already mentioned, it was nice to hear I Stand in Awe of You (Mark Altrogge), Nothing but the Blood (Robert Lowry) in its original form rather than the great Matt Redman rewrite, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus (Helen Lemmel), As the Deer (Martin Nystrom) and the Sunday-school-classic, Thank You Jesus (Alison Huntley) all in use at this year’s festivals.
As a trend, Soul Survivor did seem to be better this year at using some of the older stuff. Although, at the same time, various people commented that the huge wealth of new music left less space for offerings from previous years. Is it possible to have too many new songs at a festival?
// CONSPICUOUS BY THEIR ABSENCE //
The biggest surprise for me was that You Alone Can Rescue (Matt Redman & Jonas Myrin). This has been a huge song at both the churches I’ve been involved with worship at over the last year, and its non-inclusion was somewhat baffling. In fact, I’d half expected that some of the other tracks on ‘We Will Not Be Shaken’ would make an appearance.
Friend of God (Israel Houghton & Michael Gungor) was a huge song two years ago, but has seemingly fallen out of favour with Soul Survivor having failed to make more than a fleeting appearance two years running.
I’m not convinced that True Love (Phil Wickham, available on Cannons) didn’t get a play during Soul Survivor C, but I’m reliably informed that it didn’t. Either way it’s a great song that hasn’t really been picked up.
Finally, a little prop to a fantastic band, Rend Collective Experiment. Their album, ‘Organic Family Hymnal’, was introduced to me by a friend of theirs earlier this year and has been growing on me ever since. Having thought I wouldn’t get to see them play live for a while, it was great to hear that they were hosting the Late Night Worship sessions at Momentum. Whilst I only managed to make it along to one night, their songs and creativity in leadership really impressed and inspired me. If you haven’t listened to the album, check it out on Spotify, particularly Movements and You Bled, which are also available here on their youtube channel.
// IN FIVE YEARS TIME, WE’LL BE… //
It’s the big question – which of these songs has the staying power to remain with us? Sometimes it’s easy to pick one out, but I’ve got it wrong before – I thought My Soul is Complete (Phil Shaw) was going to become a big one in 2008, but it never quite made it. This year, the huge volume of new material makes it almost impossible. It’ll probably become a bit clearer once the Soul Survivor live album is released in November, and Tim Hughes’s studio effort hits the shelves. Found in You and My Praise Overflows are both possibles, as are Saviour of the World and All Glory. But, if I had to pick one, it would have to be Hillsong’s This is Love. Whilst, admittedly, it has previously been hard for Hillsong to penetrate a slight prejudice against their music’s use in churches in this country, I reckon with This is Love it could happen – watch this space…
// THE WRITER //
Tom Barber is a finalist theology student at University College Durham, who serves on the worship teams at Kings Church Durham (www.kcd.org.uk) and Hay Hill Baptist Church in Bath (www.hayhill.org). He’s currently working on his dissertation, studying how our new expressions of worship have evolved to their present state. He’s been attending Soul Survivor since 2005, and has served on team at the event for the last two years. He is currently trying to gain as much medical experience as possible, with a view to eventually studying post-graduate medicine.