Going Dutch…

Last weekend I found myself in a hotel, eating my breakfast, surrounded by lots of people I was working with all chatting away merrily…the trouble was I didn’t understand a word any of them were saying.

I could have been in Amsterdam or Utrecht because the language being spoken, punctuated by laughter, was Dutch.  I was in fact in Eastbourne.

When the wonderful keyboard player ‘Derv Bernbridge’ turned up for his mushrooms and scrambled eggs at least there was one other person at the table who was a native English speaker. 

Touring 1982 with Phil Keaggy, me, Dave ‘Derv’ Banbridge and Les Moir

Well sort of…  I’ve know Derv for over 30 years.  When I left university we toured the country in a number of different bands. I call Dave Bainbridge, ‘Derv Bernbridge’, because he’s got a very thick northern accent.  Thinking about it, maybe it was easier to understand the Dutch!

Every so often one of the team would look at me and realise I was looking slightly lost. All of a sudden the whole table would start speaking perfect English. I would be grateful but also slightly embarrassed about my lack of linguistic ability. 

Last weekend was about celebrating a revival of an old musical project.  Over the past year I’ve been celebrating 50 years of making records and enjoying the opportunity to take some old recordings and breathe new life into them using modern technology.  I am not the only one.

Adrian Snell has been one of the most successful British Gospel Artists since the mid 1970’s.  After recording number of albums featuring his work as a singer songwriter Adrian started to move into ‘concept albums’.  Here he used assorted singers and instrumentalists as well as singing and playing on the albums himself.

On Good Friday 1980, Adrian Snell’s ‘The Passion’ was broadcast on BBC Radio 1.  The recording featured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, The English Chamber Singers, The London Welsh Male Voice Choir and an array of superb soloists and musicians.  ‘The Passion’ was a new way of telling the story of Easter and has been regularly performed all over Europe, especially Holland.

Over the years, trying to balance a normal family life with the demands of being a touring musician took its toll.  Finally Adrian decided to take a step back from a full time life on the road and retrain as a music therapist.  Even though Adrian took a step back from his exhausting UK touring schedule he still made occasional trips to Europe where he was greeted with almost superstar status.

As time passed Adrian had the space to reflect on his catalogue of work. Old reels of magnetic tape are very big and bulky. They take up a lot of space and need to be stored carefully.  Over the years I expect Adrian must have been tempted to clear out all those old recordings because surely no one would be interested in them anymore. But someone was…

Adrian’s son Jamie has followed his father into music and has carved out quite a career as a producer and mixer.  He’s worked with artistes like Dua Lipa and Ellie Goulding.  Jamie took charge of his fathers’ recordings.  The original ‘Passion’ recordings used the best machines and musicians the country had to offer in 1980 but by using all of the modern technology at his disposal Jamie painstakingly remixed them.  ‘The Passion’ came back to life in a way never heard before.

To celebrate this new recording a tour was planned for Easter 2024.  The tour was organised by a team of Dutch producers who had worked with Adrian for decades. They planned to rehearse in Holland before performing 5 shows in Europe and then move the whole production to the UK.  There would be a rehearsal and performance in Eastbourne followed by a major concert in London on Easter Saturday.

I had been asked my availability a few months before, but it was only a week or so ago I was invited to join the show and take on the role of Peter. (I thought Judas might have been more appropriate, but that role had been taken!!!)

When I was first approached I decided to listen to the album online to get a feel for the work.  Knowing how my brain works I decided that there wasn’t much point in learning things too early otherwise I’d forget it all.

On the train to London with Aled Wood from the BBC and Steve Balsamo.

I would do all of my prep on the train journey down to Eastbourne.  That was my first mistake.  I arrived at Swansea High Street to find the train was late.  As I stood on the platform I saw Steve Balsamo, the world’s favourite Jesus from Superstar.  OK, with so much gossip to catch up on I realised I would have to write the trip off when it came to swotting my part.

Adrian Snell on the train to Eastbourne.

I boarded the train at Victoria bound for Eastbourne with good intentions.  It was then I bumped into Adrian Snell himself.  We have 30 years to catch up on. I put my headphones back into my bag and we started reminiscing.

Rehearsing with the band.

My first real work on the project came in rehearsal that night.  I had just met all of the Dutch players and singers. They were lovely, welcoming and well prepared.  Having already done the show in previous incarnations and also recently performed 5 shows in Holland they knew it inside out. I had some notes, but I was really in at the deep end.

The role of Peter involved one major solo section. The action takes place after Jesus has been betrayed.   Peter is accused by a servant girl of being one of Jesus’s friends. 

13 lines, that’s all it was.  In rehearsal I had them written out, but I knew that come Friday I would have to know them by heart.

As I trudged around Eastbourne on Saturday I had the song on repeat.  I’d stop it and try to remember.  In fairness I did know all of the words but as Eric Morcombe once said of this piano playing, not necessarily in the right order.

There’s something about performing in front of a live audience that heightens the senses.  I was so concerned about remembering the words that I unintentionally walked out centre stage about 8 bars earlier than I needed.  Finding myself in the spotlight I decided on a little ‘method acting’. Imaging Peter finding himself in the same exposed position on the night he betrayed Jesus I acted being embarrassed and trying to hide by grabbing my jacket close to myself and staring into the distance…centre stage.

On Saturday the whole show moved to London.  The afternoon was busy rehearsing in a full orchestra and a Chamber Choir.  It was a lovely surprise to meet some old friends.  Old Dynevor school friend Nigel Hiscock was on French horn and Rachel Davies from Clydach was on the harp.

Again, I spent every free moment trying to remember my lines.  The moment came for me to step into the spotlight and having enjoyed my method acting so much the night before I was encouraged to go early again. With my solo done I started to relax and enjoy the rest of the show.

The evening ended in a standing ovation and the biggest smile on Adrian Snell’s face.

It was a joy to be part of ‘The Passion’ Revival 2024 and I’m sure there’s plenty more to come from Adrian.  Now all I need to do is brush up on my Dutch and I’ll be flying too.

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