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The Things Above

It was a great privilege to co-produce this album for EMU Music with Nathan Tasker. Nathan and I workshopped the songs in the beautiful Nashville summer (one my favourite cities in the world!), and then some good friends and I tracked the band back here in the Sydney winter. Extra vocals were then added in Oxford UK, then the album was mixed by Richie Biggs back in Nashville! A truly international project.

A few songs I have co-written with good friends appear on this album – Hear Our Prayer (written with Andy Judd), Mighty God (written with Luke Woodhouse & Gavin Perkins), The Things Above (written with Andy Judd & Alanna Glover), and Prince of Peace (written with Trevor Hodge).

Also featured are songs by Colin Buchanan, Alanna Glover, Philip Percival, Liv Chapman, and Curtis Smith.

The album can be purchased (and listened to) HERE or on iTunes.

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Crowded House – Sydney Opera House Forecourt – Friday 25 November 2016

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Sometimes in life it is just so abundantly clear when you are being handed a gift. Of course, all of life is a gift – but some moments leap out off the page and are unmistakably so.

Witnessing Crowded House play on the Opera House forecourt last night was one such moment. 20 years after their Farewell Show in 1996 – almost to the day – Sydney once again channelled its seemingly repressed singing energy into this iconic space, as Neil Finn and his band mates Nick Seymour, Mark Hart and Matt Sherrod, invited us to join them in a city wide family singalong.
The very fact that these concerts were being staged at all seemed to leave most of us somewhere between uncontainable excitement and stunned disbelief. After all, what are the odds of a night like this even happening? The band still happy to play together. The same venue and dates as 20 years ago. The band still in top musical form, stewarding their musical gifts with care and love, unlike many famous rockers of decades past. The perfect weather. A crowd whose love for these songs seemed to run deeper than almost any of us realised. This night was indeed a gift and will never be forgotten.

The absence of Paul Hester was warmly felt by all – the affection we all felt for him at the 1996 gig carries on. And yet new drummer Matt Sherrod is an outstanding musician is his own right, not merely replicating Hester’s parts, but making them his own, and locking in beautifully with Finn and Seymour’s rhythmic parts.

There were subtle, deeply appreciated nods to the 1996 concert. The openers Mean To Me and World Where You Live were also the openers in 1996, played both then and now on Finn’s stunning Gold Top Gibson Les Paul guitar. Once again a beautiful stage backdrop was provided by Finn’s Split Enz bandmate Noel Crombie. Tim Finn was again welcomed back into the fold for a “Woodface moment”, playing favourites It’s Only Natural, Weather With You, and Four Seasons In One Day with the band he joined for a brief period in the early 1990s after penning those hits with brother Neil. And for the fans there were two more Finn brothers moments – the soulful Chocolate Cake, with Neil tearing it up on piano, and the late night fireside soundtrack How Will You Go.

But importantly, this was not just a 1996 rehash, or a one-off reunion. Crowded House reformed in 2007 with Sherrod on the skins, and has made two albums since then – Time On Earth and Intriguer – not to mention circling the globe for the ensuing world tours. Certainly, Finn has been active with his solo work and Pajama Club (his band with wife Sharon) – but Crowded House has been politely waiting in the wings, idling quietly, gig-fit and ready to go for concerts such as these.

And so with this newer incarnation of Crowded House came some moments unique to these shows. Pour Le Monde, with Neil at the piano, was a beautiful tribute to band mate Paul (“He’s the best you’ll ever know…”) and Either Side of the World was a gorgeous samba that sneakily tapped you on the shoulder and interrupted your swaying hips, confronting you with the bittersweet realities of global travel (“pay the maximum rate to feel so lonesome”). It was also wonderful to see Tim’s son Harper on keys at various points throughout the show, and Neil’s son Elroy standing in the shadows offering warm acoustic guitar for many tracks. Whereas any session musician in the country could have been hired for these nights, this is a family that values the preciousness family – and for the crowd, that love is infectious.

Some favourite moments of mine were the crowd being invited to sing 3-part harmony in Fall At Your Feet; the band launching powerfully into the rarely-played-live beauty Nails In My Feet; and the Finn-Seymour in-depth analysis of the new graphite black water bottles of 2016, labelled by Seymour as “Sentinels of Quench”. With the Crowdies, the on-stage banter has always been as memorable as the music.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of all was the palpable sense of joy that emanated from the crowd from the very first chord. This is not the case at every large concert. But people here seemed so hungry to sing these songs that have guided them through life’s varied terrains. Many (myself included!) started singing from song one and didn’t relent until the night was over. As the camera panned throughout the crowd, the smiles were wide, the singing was full and heartfelt, and the faces possessed a joyful innocence that we have missed in 2016 – a troubling year around the world.

Bob Dylan said in 2012 that as a songwriter, “The thing you have to do is make people feel their own emotions.” I couldn’t help but feel that in returning to the city that farewelled them 20 years earlier, Crowded House on this night not only helped us – as individuals and as a city – to feel our emotions. In fact, Crowded House helped us rediscover emotions we had forgotten were there. What a gift.

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South Africa with EMU Music

A couple of years back, I wrote these lines in a song called I Don’t Know:
I don’t know the way you’ll choose to work
You may send me to the ends of the earth
Of course Australia, where I live, is already the end of the earth! But recently I got to visit another distant land that triggered that line in my mind… South Africa.
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Hout Bay, Cape Town

 

While in that amazing country for 2 weeks in February, I had many moments where I was standing in the middle of nowhere. Maybe in the middle of the countryside or on the coast, with barely anyone else in sight. And yet I couldn’t help feeling that I was actually way closer to reality and the core of life than when in the city, where I normally live.
Rather than being the middle of nowhere, this was very definitely the middle of somewhere.
I had the privilege of visiting this beautiful country for an EMU Music tour. We partnered with churches and Bible colleges in Durban and Cape Town. We ran 6 events for about 1300 people overall, sharing training resources and songs with a view to helping churches in their music ministry. (See the full rundown HERE.)
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Our touring party: Alanna Glover, GC, Rob Smith, Andrew Massey, Ryan Miller & Philip Swadling

Make no mistake, South Africa is an exceptionally beautiful country – and the people are amazingly warm and buoyant. I can’t wait to go back there. Yet there is a deep and confronting reality to the country. Politically, socially, and economically, the answers are unclear.
So when we attended an event held by Passion (church from Atlanta Georgia) at Cape Town Stadium – with incredible music from Chris Tomlin and the Passion band – lead pastor Louie Giglio’s words hit me powerfully:
“It is not ultimately about the state of the nation… What ultimately matters is the state of the Kingdom.”
He was referring, of course, to the Kingdom of God – a Kingdom that we see hints of here on earth, but that will be fully realised when Jesus returns.
Coming from Australia, I have not really known political uncertainty. A change in government here probably means a new emphasis in social policy and economic priorities. But not much more. It is easy to trust in this ‘kingdom’ – where the rule of law and democracy ensure a degree of transparency and accountability. But that is not true everywhere. And even here in Australia, ‘justice’ is imperfect – prone to human error, and human manipulation.
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Robben Island

 

So when Giglio reminded us of the complete stability of the Kingdom of God, I saw that notion in a completely new light. It made me hunger more deeply to be with Jesus in the new creation. Where nothing can derail us. The ‘State of the Kingdom’, as Giglio put it, is one of complete certainty and stability. Most importantly, the King of that Kingdom loves his children, and will welcome them with open arms. What an incredible hope. Bring on the day.
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Tala Game Park, Durban

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USA writing trip

IMG_0095There’s something about the USA that brings creative ideas out of me. It’s the creative energy, I think. It excites and inspires me no end.

Amazing thinkers, writers, musicians, photographers, innovators… they are everywhere. Every second person you meet will share their creative vision with you. I love that. Dreams are in the air – they’re almost palpable. And possibilities are only one email or phone call away from becoming realities… So the work ethic is strong, and the passion infectious.

It was awesome to return to the USA in November and December 2015 – to reconnect with family and friends there, and to work with songwriters I admire.

IMG_0448Spending time in LA and Nashville, I was privileged to write once again with Marcella Levy (Shakespeares Sister, Eric Clapton band), producer Brian T. Murphy (The Lone Bellow, War Jacket, Sandra McCracken) and Grant Norsworthy (Paul Colman Trio, Sonicflood). We’ve got some great songs brewing, and I’m excited to share them when they’re ready.

Maybe they’ll surface as part of my solo project, maybe as church congregational songs, maybe as instrumental works… These things take time to find their feet.

Wherever the songs show up, I love knowing that different cities have shaped the sound of these songs, and that my friends have been involved in the writing.

Creative community – a beautiful thing!

 

 

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‘Come Now and Pray’ – a co-write with Nicky Chiswell

Recently I had the privilege of writing a couple of songs with my friend Nicky Chiswell in Melbourne. Nicky is a gifted songwriter, having written or co-written many popular church songs including ‘My Hope is Built on Nothing Less’ and ‘Behold the Lamb of God’.

We played our co-write ‘Come and Pray’ at last year’s EMU Music TWIST concert in Sydney, and we had requests to record it… so we did! We recorded and filmed it in Melbourne earlier this year – on one of those 45 degree January days!

The song came about because, as Nicky puts it, “It’s really tough to go from not praying to praying.” So we hope this song helps you and your church draw near to our great God in prayer.

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Buy on iTunes

Download sheet music

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New EP ‘Again and Again’ Released Today!

A year ago I started working hard on finalising a batch of songs written in my hometown of Sydney and one of my favourite towns, Nashville – songs that I hoped would encourage people. Over summer some good friends and I recorded those songs in Sydney – my fellow musicians injecting new life into each song.

In autumn the songs were mixed in Nashville, and in winter, mastered back in Sydney. And now, as winter turns to spring, I get to share these new songs with you.

I am immensely thankful to all involved, and am so proud of what we created. I sincerely hope you enjoy this new music.

My band and I will be launching the new EP tonight at Church by the Bridge, Kirribilli, Sydney. 8pm. $10. Be great to see you there.

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