Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The first EP - The Long Winter

Finally, NotBuiltWithHands have recorded and released our first EP. It's called 'The Long Winter', and is, in part about Christmas. Over the next few weeks, I'll post some of the tracks on here. The front and back covers look like this:

As a first offering, here is possibly my favourite Christmas (or more accurately, Advent) song. Sung beautifully by Jo Walter.

If you'd like to buy a copy of the EP (£5), then post a comment below saying so, and depending on interest I might sent up a paypal.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Today I am doing some bits of recording for an EP/demo, which I will sell (a limited number of copies of) at a Christmas market organised by my friends Robyn and Elena. I laid most of the tracks down last week, but today should see it mostly finished. This is exciting.

If you're in Durham on Saturday, do pop down and have a look. I'll get round to selling any left over copies via the blog later on next week.

And here is the inside of my bedroom, decked out in it's 'home recording studio' gear:

Thursday, 24 November 2011

CREATE! (Part two)

Here is the second part of the seminar I did on being creative Christians in music. In this half we looked at some Christian and secular music videos (and obviously listened to them as well!), and asked a series of questions.

For the three secular songs I chose ‘Every Teardrop is a Waterfall’ by Coldplay, ‘The A-Team’ by Ed Sheeran, and ‘open arms’ by Elbow. All three are great tunes, and deliberately chosen as fairly recent releases. We asked the following questions of all three:
What strikes you in this song?
What do you like / dislike about it?
What emotions does the song provoke?
What are the messages of the song?
Summarise these messages into a few sentences, i.e. the song’s Worldview
How would a Christian worldview respond?

The first three are really interesting to talk about, but not so much when it’s just me telling you what I like, so for the purposes of this blog entry, I’ll just put a summary of what we discussed for the last three points.

Lyrics here.

We said that this song is heart wrenching, particularly with the video, and that here we see a song which cries out at the injustice of the world, and how hopelessly someone can be entrapped, enslaved by drugs. The song is tragic, but the girl’s death at the end (and start) becomes a kind of release once you’ve seen her suffering life. We pointed out that a Christian worldview offers release through Christ, who came to set the captives free, to break the yoke of slavery. This doesn’t make the situation any less tragic, but actually more so, because of the freedom offered in Christ which the girl doesn’t get to have. Very interesting is that Sheeran replaces the ‘We’re just’ with ‘We’re all’ seeming to suggest and emphasise that the entrapment is more widespread than, well, I’m not too sure what. I might be reading too much into that…

Lyrics here.

It took us a little while to work out what this song was about, but with a bit of discussion, we decided it was saying something about numbing the pain and difficulty of life with loosing yourself in music, and shutting everything else out. I’m not too sure about the latter half of the song, and whether the ‘emerge blinking’ is a reference to coming out of that world of numbness, to where things do hurt, but that’s my hunch. Either way, the Christian message would be ‘yes, the world is hard, but no, the response shouldn’t be to cut ourselves off from hardship. We must grapple with the issues of the world, and that, ultimately, Christ offers an explanation, a strength to endure, and a coming restoration. A challenging thought from Coldplay as to how we deal with the hardship of the world, plus a great riff…

Lyrics here.

Our discussion of this was slightly different, in that it was noted that this song is a real mirror of the Prodigal Son parable, but without the father figure. Obviously a Christian worldview would say that we return not to ‘everyone’, but to the father to find comfort, healing and restoration. An interesting thought about Elbow was raised by my friend Chris, at another event, that Elbow seem to find ‘the holiness of the everyday’, which is a great way of saying that, in this song, the joy, power and to some extent, spirituality, of a fairly normal episode – a party, is celebrated. Fascinating to see the combination of part of a biblical parable and truth, manipulated, but joined to the mundane…

We then looked at a couple of Christian artist, more to get the creative inspirations firing as to what is possible in creating Christian (non-worship) music. We could have looked at loads, Sufjan Stevens, Owl City, Rosie Thomas, but I chose just two:

Lyrics here.

Josh Garrels tends to sing more overtly Christian songs, which is interesting. I’d be intrigued to know whether people who aren’t Christians would listen to him. I’d hope they would, as I think he has a great style and is very flexible as a vocalist. Here we see clearly not only a Christian Worldview, but also obvious truths about the gospel sung.

Lyrics here.

Conversely, if you didn’t know Athlete were Christians, the meaning of this song would not be obviously Christological. I wonder whether the embedded nature of their faith is what has led to them being more popular? I’d guess not considering how big Sufjan Stevens is, and how blatant his faith was in his earlier stuff. What this Athlete song does so beautifully, is give the emotive joy and sorrow of needing to be rescued (and being sure it is coming), without distracting people with overtly Christian language which might stop people from engaging with their hearts, and limit to arguing against the lyrics in their heads.

Ultimately we decided that a lot of different forms of engagement in all ranges of music is a very good, even a vital thing. As Christians, our faith should influence how we listen to, and are affected by music. If we make music, whether it be for communal, sung worship or for others to listen to, whether the gospel truths be obvious, or the music simply tells something of our hearts as Christian musicians, we are bound to be influenced in what we write by our faith, and that is a good thing to be embraced, not something to be avoided.

In a related note, I’m hoping to get some stuff recorded and edited this week, which will be aimed at sharing some of my life as a Christian in the muck of the world. Watch this space (i.e. do follow this blog…)

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

CREATE! (Part one)

Last week I helped run an evening about how the Christian Union in Durham University could engage in culture, and be exploring the place of Christianity in their participation in the creative arts. Following a short discussion of how creativity relates to the story of creation, fall, redemption and new creation seen throughout scripture and history, we split into groups to look at how that creativity might play out in individual arenas within the creative arts, and I led some stuff on music.

We started by talking about what it means to be a Christian musician, looking at some examples of how music was, is and can be used in church, as well as why we might play music outside of a church context. I’ll post those thoughts first, as they’re quite informative on the second half of what we did, which was to watch some music videos and chat about them.

We started by thinking about how music and song has been used in scripture and in Church, and pointed out a few things:
  • Predominantly as thanksgiving and praise. Music formed a key part of Israel’s worship in the Old Testament, with some being responsible for directing this kind of worship (cf. Nehemiah 12:36).
  • This is most obvious in the songs of the Psalms, which cover a every emotion of the heart, but through eyes which recognise God’s power and grace. Often this is clear in the turning of a broken heart towards God, who provides a sanctuary and healing, but there are many Psalms of other forms.
  • The use of music is also seen in as a significant part of the New Testament Church, with the early saints singing songs when meeting together, even when in prison.

The second question we addressed was whether there were differing purposes for these varying uses of music in scripture and church history. We decided that yes, there were different purposes, but that often these are not singular in any given bit of music, and that more often than not a fair number of these are covered:
Soli Deo Gloria, as written on a
score by Handel.
  • To encourage one another, and to sing/make music to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19)
  • To sing to God with gratitude (Colossians 3:16)
  • To sing out among the nations, i.e. those who don’t yet know God (Psalm 9:11)
  • In church history, used as an aide to teaching theology to those unable to read scripture
  • To bring God glory by using gifts he has given e.g. Handel and J.S. Bach, who often signed their scores with the initials S.D.G. (for Soli Deo Gloria – Glory to God Alone)

Generally these function are combined either into music for sung, communal worship (the overwhelming use of music in the modern church), or as other forms of music, normally more for either performance and/or as a expression of the heart of the musician’s appreciation of something God has done or is. This second, less communal use, can be seen both Psalms and ‘songs from the Spirit’ (separate to hymns and psalms cf. Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 5:19).

It is fairly clear that the function of Christian music is often different to that of secular music, although when I asked the question of whether Christians have to produce only Christian music, there was a mixed and interesting response.

Initially people said ‘No, Christians can make secular music too’, but with a bit of discussion we modified this statement to ‘Christians don’t only have to produce music for sung worship’. From this comes the question of what makes Christian music Christian music?

There are a few things that could define this:
  • Firstly, as looked at above, often the function of Christian music is different to secular music, which can be produced for a variety of reasons, but, by its very nature is not going to have much focus towards anything spiritual or theistic. However, unanimous consensus was that music for sung worship wasn’t the only Christian/spiritual/theistic use of music possible.
  • In terms of style, we acknowledge that sung worship music has to facilitate sung worship, and so stylistically in a bit limited. Although music not written for sung worship shouldn’t have to be constrained by these styles.
  • The thing we decided was a key part of the definition of Christian music was the presence of a Christological worldview (a worldview which hinges on having Christ as the centre and key to understanding the world) in the message or heart of the music. We said that this didn’t have to be instantly obvious, nor did the song have to have a gospel outline in it, the key importance was viewing whatever situation, theme or emotion the song was talking about with the eyes, heart and mouth of a Christian.
  • Therefore we decided that a Christian could only produce ‘Christian music’. Since making music requires pouring something of yourself into the thing you’re making, a whole-hearted Christian producing music would inevitably pour something of their faith, their Christological worldview, into their music. Thus any Christian making music that doesn’t go against their worldview is making Christian music to one degree or other. As Jesus came to, and engaged with humanity in every way that was not sinful, so we are called to do likewise with the culture around us.

We then talked about whether Christian musicians, specifically those playing music for other reasons than communal sung worship, should be involved in secular music circles. The answer was an overwhelming yes. Below are some of the reasons:
  • Music is a gift! 'Common grace' states that anyone with a musical gift can create music that reflects something of God’s image of goodness and love. Therefore any music can be good to listen to if we can identify something of God’s goodness in it.
  • Despite the difficulty of remaining distinct, if a Christian worldview is left out of music then what is the message of most music? There are some notable exceptions of secular artists who engage with significant themes, the big questions of life, through music. Without Christians in this arena, we are actually being pretty rude to people who, through music ask heartfelt questions, by refusing to reply and start up a conversation with them.
  • Furthermore, the loudest voices in music seem to preach the importance of money, sex, success, the importance of me and my happiness above all else. If no voices respond with another way, with God’s way of selflessness and sacrificial love, then what happens to a society that idolises pop and rock stars, most of whom point to nothing greater than themselves? (This is not always true of secular musicians – I heard someone, I think it might have been Labyrinth, on Radio 1 saying he finds it hard to accept so much praise because he’s just a person, not a god.)
  • Being disengaged from the world is not the call of scripture, Paul in Acts 13, 14 and 17 speaks in different ways to different people, famously using Greek poets and philosophers in Acts 17. We are called to be distinct but engaged, included but bring God in with us.

In conclusion it was said that we, as Christian musicians, are called to engage by considering what is good in secular music, approving of it where something of God’s heart is displayed. That is, preserving the good stuff – like salt. But also challenging the bad stuff, the non-Godly attitudes, by bringing light into this darkness, by contributing our own work, which has something of God’s heart for His world in it.

We then moved on to look at some secular and Christian musicians, and compare their songs, the discussions of which I’ll post on here in part two in the next few days.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above though – do share and discuss – it’s not intended to be a final word on music and worldview, so I’d like your ideas too!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are

Sorry that I’ve been away for so long.

It’s been a tough few months with the death of one of my parents. Obviously this is tragic, but sometimes grappling with doubts and grief and the questions of why, can produce insights into depths that I didn’t know existed.

In the next few weeks I will endeavour to put some of the products of the first six months or so of grappling with these things. I don't know that they'll be profound, but I hope that through it you’ll get a glimpse of my heart in the moments where it gets a glimpse of deep emotions and higher thoughts.

It’s already produced two new songs, with a number of other bits of poetry, and doubtlessly other things are brewing. But before that, in the next day or so, I’d like to offer some notes on a really interesting seminar I went to on the interweaving of world-views and creativity.

Watch this space…

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Life of Pi

I have been meaning to post about this book for a while.

It won loads of prizes, and is a great book. If you haven't read it, you should.

It does throw up some interesting thoughts about post-modernism though. Without giving away the plot, the story is in two halves. The first of which features, amongst other things, the protagonist, Pi, engaging with a variety of religions (plus atheism), and choosing some parts of each to follow. The sense behind this, is that all religions are paths up the same mountain, that is, of trying to understand God. The religious teachers Pi meets all argue that Pi can't pick and choose which parts to follow. (I'd probably agree with their assessment, but Pi's view is a commonly held one, and so rather than looking at the religious arguments, I'd like to point out something about the, essentially post-modern, stance that Pi takes).

Pi's father suggests that there is no incentive to follow any one religion, since all the religions are equally true and un-true, and as Pi is happy following all three (four if you include atheism), it doesn't matter which is true. This is a commonly held view, and it plays out in the second half of the book.

This takes the form of Pi recalling an incredible and fantastic story at great length. At the end, when this story is questioned with incredulity, Pi tells another story which is more realistic, but less wonderful.

The reader is not told which version of the story is true. This is very in keeping with the post-modern attitude to religion, but, crucially, you come away wanting to know which was true. The answer of 'whichever you want to be true is the truth', just doesn't satisfy.

I wonder how much this reveals the flaw in post-modern thought? In theory a fluid concept of truth holds water, but in reality, we need to have something more concrete, more solid, more real to stand upon?

Occasional Rap Relief... The Reaction

As promised, JJ's response to his Birthday video. It's not as exciting as I'd hoped, but as it was promised - here you go. See the original post for lyrics, thanks, etc.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Occasional Rap Relief...

Yesterday was my housemate JJ's 23rd Birthday. I wrote him a rap. And recorded it. And made a video. Braap.

Raised in the jungle by a panther and a bear,
With all necessities for which a kid could care ,
In the laboratory in their underground lair
He gained all the skills to be the new leader of the nerds.

So he moved into the ghetto, where I was living on tea,
And he showed me how to make myself some toast with beans.
He taught Mozart the piano and Churchill how to speak,
Schooled Einstein on his theory, relatively.

Maybe you haven't seen, maybe you haven’t heard,
His name is JJ, he’s the king, the king of the nerds.

It’s rumoured he was bitten by a mutant spider,
With radioactive beats like Dr. Geiger.
In the daytime he wears clothes that his mum bought,
But by night he’s clad in lycra, no anorak or shorts

Red-hot chilli peppers are the only food he eats,
They give him strength to do incredible feats
At night he gets mad with crimes in his sleep,
Goes all Bruce Banner on the toilet seat.

Don’t be deceived by his geeky outer casing,
Believing such a lie and you’ll be most mistaken.
His knowledge of planes is more just than recreation,
He’s the brain behind the International Space Station.

His origin’s a mystery that bends space-time,
I found a Tardis in his wardrobe, but he said ‘That’s not mine’.
Half Maharaja, half rabbi, half mafia don,
He traced his family tree back to the Higgs Boson.

An enigma Bletchley Park just could not break,
The science master, geeky leader, nerd-erific sheikh.
Despite his bad-ass ways, he’s a bastion of virtue
Call him Jesus once, and that’s once too few.

A lot of in-jokes, but hopefully me dancing like a muppet will be fun for everyone. Thanks to Tim Kwant for the idea. Thanks to Pete, Tom, Max, Fiona, Nick, Tim, Hamish, JP, Sam, Mikey and Mozart for being such good sports.

Happy Birthday JayJ!

Friday, 22 April 2011

17 days

Thus emerges the first of the promised songs from our Collingwood recording session. I wrote this after having played at the Students' Union in Stockton back in October. While I was playing there and everyone was facing me, behind them the tv was on and showing sky news or bbc news or some other such channel. And so there infront of me was being shown the live rescue of the 33 Chilean miners (reported here in case you slept for three months last summer). One thing that struck me was that nearly all the miners knelt and prayed as soon as they were free. I found their level of faith and the hope that sprang from it incredible. This, coupled with a difficult few months in terms of family health, my Grandad passing away, a brief consideration of Plato's cave and something Paul says in Colossians 1:13, led to this song. Fairly obviously it's a draft recording, hence the mistakes and less than perfect quality, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Oh my friend won't you hold my head,
inside your arms again.

The streams inside, have run dry,
and the water drips from my chin.

We cry oh Lord, oh Lord,
How long must we wait down here,
In darkness and in fear.

I'm sick and tired of endless fights,
with the prince of this cruel, cruel world.

And my heart aches, from years of strain,
But I'm not this old yet.

All my friends stand round as I'm carried home,
In a box just big enough for my soul.

Stones are rolled,
With a gasp the surface breaks,
I'll rise with wings from deep,
To a light so bright we can barely see.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Collingwood Studio Session

Last week me and my housemate, JP, went to the studio in his university college and recorded a few demos. We were only there for a few hours, and given some extraneous circumstances, we didn't really give too much attention to things like quality....

It happened that the day we chose was an open day, and so we had regular visits from eager eyed 17 and 18 year olds who, considering how young they seemed to me, must have been slightly afraid that three/four years in Durham can turn anyone into an old, bearded, unimpressive twenty-something. The open day reps also opted to set up an admirably loud set of speakers, and given the limited sound-proofing of the recording room, a hint of Lady Gaga and/or MGMT may have sneaked its way into our recordings.

We decided that the quickest and easiest way to record was to do the vocals and guitar together - mixing them on the desk and inputting them as a single track into the computer. Consequently there was no opportunity to layer anything, or correct any minor mistakes. We pretty much used the first take unless something catastrophic occurred, so there are plenty of points at which I miss a chord, forget the words or sing a wrong note. Apologies in advance.

What I like to do when playing live is to explain the heart and message behind my songs, and as I post them up here over the next few days, I'll include a little summary of what each is about and what drove me to write it. I might even put the words up if I can remember them.

For now, have a photo, and a promise that songs will follow...

(© JP Wright 2011)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

The other day I found out some frustrating news, that I hadn't received the funding for the PhD I wanted to do. This didn't make me very happy. However, I decided to sack off work for the afternoon and went for a walk. Which was far better. I saw a butterfly (the first one I've seen this year I think), and was reminded of something Jesus said to his worrying disciples:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
(Matt 6:28-29)

There is, however a difference between hearing in my head and applying to my heart, and so the next morning I woke up in a foul mood. Out of nowhere I suddenly felt like singing 'Come thou fount of every blessing', so after procrastinating for a while I did. I added some guitar to it, and decided to post it on here.

The original words are by Robert Robinson. However my version is modelled more closely on the one Sufjan Stevens did for his Christmas album a few years ago. Inevitably I will have mixed up words, I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
Streams of mercy, never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount, I'm fixed upon it
Mount of Thy unchanging love

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I've come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that grace now, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A new beginning...


This is exciting. I have a blog.

To find out what I intend to do with it, have a wee look at the pages linked to on the right.
Yep, that's it, just there underneath where it says 'Pages'...