Adrian Snell - the exile returns
Thirty years on from its initial release, and drawing on years as a music therapist, Adrian Snell has re-recorded his masterwork Alpha and Omega. The way it shines a light on mankind's struggles is as relevant now as it was then, he tells Mark Craig
For a number of years in the 1980s, Adrian Snell was one of the brightest stars in the Christian music firmament. Which was always something of a disappointment to the man himself, as his music was never created for an exclusively Christian audience (*shudders*) and thoroughly deserved a wider listenership, which it only sometimes got. Indeed, Adrian resisted for years the inevitable pigeon-holing of his music as being ‘for Christians’; naturally, much of that unhelpful labelling is by Christians themselves, keen to claim him and his art as ‘ours’.
Now, with his masterwork Alpha & Omega having just reached the ripe old vintage of 30 years, he is releasing a live version of the concept album which was such a huge success on its launch (in Jerusalem, no less) in 1986.
Adrian is candid about the seeds of the concept. “I was challenged by a friend, who asked me ‘what is God saying to the world today?’.
"The more I thought about that, the more I warmed to an extraordinary challenge to reflect my response in music."
At that time, he had established his credentials, having composed his Passion as part of the highly-successful Fireflake album, right at the time of the height of the prog rock movement. Today Adrian still cites The Nice, Genesis and King Crimson as influences.
He was also being commissioned by both the BBC and ITV to write music for major TV exposure (in an era, remember, when there were four channels, and the idea of a TV remote was, well, remote). For him though, a real career highlight was the documentary he made for HTV, featuring his album Song of an Exile recorded at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
By the time he’d done thinking about the challenge of what God was saying to the world today, it had become clear that his musical response would need to speak of God’s judgement, anger and broken heart. And that the music would need to hold people, though its contrasting moods, messages and emotions.
From the opening, sombre piano of Kaddish for Bergen Belsen, through a riot of textures, melodies and rhythms, with a complex range of harsh and tender, loud and soft musical themes and texts drawn from the prophetic books of The Bible, in Alpha & Omega he somehow pulled off the most unlikely of achievements. Adrian fondly remembers record company (including from the much-missed Myrrh label, for those with long memories) executives coming to his concerts, and leaving moved and challenged.
Adrian subsequently moved into the emotionally tough and professionally demanding world of music therapy, in both the UK and in Albania, using his skill to create what he refers to as ‘bridges’ across which to reach out to young people with the most complex needs, with great success, relating without words.
That ministry has been his life for many years, and has blessed him as much as it has those he ministers to: it found expression in his highly-personal album Fierce Love.
But three years ago, he found himself coming back into the concert world, with a new relationship with sound, discovered and refined through his years of delivering music therapy.
He cites the classical percussionist Evelyn Glennie, who is deaf, with awakening him to the concept of total sound. “She is a huge influence on me” he says, “because she hears what we’re missing, having had to develop a completely different relationship with sound – I’ll never be as sensitive to total sound as she is."
He re-listened to Alpha & Omega, picking up the segments in the original production he’d never quite been satisfied with, knowing that music technology 30 years on would offer the chance to resolve those issues. He also realised that the album was ‘as relevant now as it was in 1986’, with the theme of what God was saying to the world today.
The outcome is a new album Alpha & Omega – 30th Anniversary Recording, with the full piece captured live over three nights in the Netherlands. And it’s wonderful, with a sharp, fresh sound which in many ways improves on the sonics of the original vinyl album, just as the composer had hoped.
Having laughed, pondered and cried as the new version of Alpha & Omega
has played many times in my car, Adrian’s right – it really does still have an amazing resonance for today.
For more about Adrian Snell and his music, concerts and music therapy, visit: http://www.adrian-snell.com/
Adrian is a contributor to BMS World Mission’s Catalyst Live events in November 2018.
Mark Craig is Director of Communications for BMS