The band from Abundant Life Church leads CHC in an unforgettable night of praise and worship from its latest album, Name Above All Names.
By Eugene Teh and Annabelle Low
For many City Harvest Church members, it was a night that would go down as one of the most memorable and enjoyable Saturdays they have had at Suntec Singapore. In a two-hour session after service on Apr. 21, they joined the band from Abundant Life Church in Bradford, UK, in a glorious time of praise and worship. Unbeknownst to many, ALM:uk is the band behind many well-loved songs CHC frequently sings during its services such as “Be Glorified”, “You Are” and “My God Reigns”.
Present during their visit to Singapore were vocalists and songwriters Mark Stevens, 40; Matt Hooper, 36; Jock James, 34; audio-technician John Rees, 27; guitarist David Chatziliadis, 25; bassist Alexander Jeffrey, 23; keyboardist John Headley, 24 and drummer Joel Green, 30.
To understand the origins of the ALM:uk sound, one must first understand the church’s journey thus far. Under the leadership of its senior pastor Paul Scanlon, it underwent a transformation about a decade ago in order to become more relevant to its city, one rife with economic deprivation, housing problems, social unrest, prostitution and drug abuse.
“We are all about reaching out, liberating people to be themselves, and to be genuine,” says James, a veteran member of the ALM worship team.
But it’s not all butterflies and rainbows. Despite all the community work the church has mobilized, the journey has never been a stroll in the park, given that the vast majority of the country’s citizens are non-believers. Out of this resistance arose a sound that is unabashed in its praise and worship. The band’s latest album, Name Above All Names, is one of faith, victory and declaration.
ALM:uk readily admits that its songs are not “soft” songs. “Our songs are quite fierce and defiant. We want to empower the church to stand up and be what it is called to be through worship,” says Stevens.
“My God Reigns”, written by Hooper and James at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis, when many people in the church were experiencing hardship and unemployment, intends to put a declaration of faith into the mouths of worshippers to remind them that whatever challenges they are going through, God is above all.
“It’s the soundtrack of our church growing as a Body, and of the work God is doing in Leeds,” adds James. “There was a moment when we stopped playing and the whole hall just sang without any music coming from the stage. As the songwriter, it was a good feeling, especially since that song was written on my bed at home.”
Transiting into a time of worship, the band ushered in the presence of God with the song “Be Glorified” and those gathered were edified with a scriptural reading from Ephesians 1:15-23. They continued with a few songs (“Name Above All Names” and “Forever Be Praised”) and sang “Fire” from the live album Send Me during which CHC’s executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain came up and led the congregation in prayer.
The crowd was greatly encouraged as Stevens shared his testimony of how he turned to Christ. He was heavily into drugs by the time he was 14. His life changed after he broke up with his ex-girlfriend. She was a backslidden Christian when they were together but came back to God after they ended their relationship. She constantly prayed for him and one day invited him to a party, where she caught him with his drug dealers. Confronting him in her room, she asked him what was he doing with his life, and he found himself answering that he needed God. Stevens then introduced to the audience a song he wrote titled “Great Is The Lord”, about God in his life.
Hooper (taking a playful dig at his co-worship leader as he said that he “wasn’t as naughty as Mark”) shared that despite growing up in a Christian home, he was secretly struggling with depression. While his wasn’t a one-time, dramatic encounter, the faith he has today was a result of daily taking up the cross, making choices and decisions based on the word of God.
Alternating between Hooper, James, and Stevens, the band ministered not only with music from their church like “My God Reigns” and “Take My Life” but also with songs from other artistes, injecting them with their own Brit-rock flavor. Such songs they sung include Chris Tomlin’s “Our God” as well as the well-known hymn “I Have Decided To Follow Jesus”, sung everywhere in crusades and events.
As the worship night drew to a close, Zulkarnain returned to the stage after the band sang Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”—not to end the meeting, but to rouse the crowd for an encore song. They did not disappoint, performing “Back To You” that had the congregation cheering and ending the night in high spirits.
ALM:uk has a mission: to spread the love of God through whole-hearted worship as it tours Asia and sees people connecting to God and getting saved. On tour right now, the members of ALM:uk will share what they have learned over the years with local worship teams, leaders, songwriters and musicians to empower them and help raise up the next generation of worshippers.
“We’re in a musically-literate generation where there’s music everywhere; especially in Singapore—I’ve never heard so much background music in my life! Everyone’s got music on, be it on their iPods or iPhones. Although the financial side is in decline, there’s never been a greater demand for music; live events are up, ticket sales are up, CD sales are dying but it’s estimated that 70 percent of music consumed is file-shared or borrowed or swapped. More so than ever, people are looking to music as a form of communication, a form of heart-to-heart exchange, and the Church needs to be right there,” says Hooper.
Tips For Aspiring Song-writers From ALM:uk
- Have a clear concept in mind: What is the one thing that the song is about? If you cannot explain what the song is about in one sentence, re-write it.
- Write from conviction, drawing from your own experiences.
- Aim at the congregation. What do they like to sing? What is the part of worship they enjoy most? Write in a contemporary language—try reading The Message Bible to get the writing juices flowing.
- Learn how to express yourself accurately. Is what you’ve written what you really want to say? You need to close that space between what you mean and what you say.
- Write every day. The people who are at the top of their craft are not the best just because they are, but because they work on their gift.
- Write without a musical instrument from time to time in order to break out of the mold, because your hands will always find the same shapes they are used to, thanks to muscle memory.
- Work with other musicians, even those you don’t really know.
- Finish the songs you start. Don’t be obsessed with achieving perfection.