In many ways, Stuart Pendred has come a long way from the childhood where The Salvation Army played a pivotal role. That journey has included drama school, tv, theatre and film and now a flourishing career as an innovative, powerful mainstream opera singer.
Yet, Agnus Dei his latest album - due for release on Kingsway in February (21st) - shows that the past may not be so far off after all: Agnus Dei is a powerful collection of songs of worship delivered with the level of conviction and passion that could make William Booth himself smile.
Stuart’s previous release – Benedizione - was his 2008 debut solo release (on Fierce!), and it rewrote a few of the rules of modern worship albums. For one, much was sung in Italian, and for another, the style – a crossover of opera and pop – was about as far away from the traditional five-piece rock band as you could imagine.
And it was all done with a reason.
“I want to be a bit subversive with the music,” explains Stuart. “I want the albums to appeal across all demographics – for people with faith, without faith and indeed those who are questioning.” Many of Stuart’s atheist friends like it and John Terry, Frank Lampard and even Roman Abramovich own copies. “All I can do is my best, and then step back to let God do the rest.”
Benedizione and it’s unique style and format proved such a success that it was inevitable that his latest release would follow a similar structure developing Stuart’s ‘sound-identity’ even further.
As Stuart explains: “Ollie Davis, my co-writer, and I were really proud of the sound that we created with Benedizione and realised with Agnus Dei that we had to deliver an album with the same sound and feel for the listener but we wanted to go further with the size of the sound arrangements when it called for it but also write some original songs that had a more intimate, accessible feel to them for the church community to engage with directly. So, the album has five new songs only two of which are sung in Italian as well as six versions of much-loved worship classics.
"There is more English on this album and, in a way I wonder whether this one feels a bit more of a recognisably Christian album as a result. It wasn’t planned, it’s just the way it’s come out. I don’t have preconceived ideas going into the studio, I don’t try to control it, I want it to have its own life, to allow it to grow.”
That plan has clearly worked well. Agnus Dei is a bright, engaging and compelling worship album. With songs like ‘Shout To The Lord’, ‘Be Still’, ‘How Great Thou Art’, and Tim Hughes’ ‘Everything’ – Hughes’s last track being delivered in both English and Italian, complete with intimate arrangements and epic crescendos – Agnus Dei is something profoundly different.
Agnus Dei shows Stuart’s skill as a writer as well. Each of the five original tracks are powerful, and some try and tackle some of life’s hardest of themes. ’Sempre Qui’ - ‘Always There’, for example, was written when a friend of Stuart’s was dying of bone cancer.
“I don’t get life sometimes,” says Stuart, “even as a believer, it is very hard and painful at times but there’s something about the seed of faith that’s in the soul that helps you cling on and see hope even within the darkest times. It’s part of the faith-journey of every pilgrim on this journey. Indeed the Bible promises that there will be trials in life – but we are also promised that we won’t journey through “the valley of the shadow of death” alone. I want my music to reflect and resonant with the reality of a faith that soars in wonder and praise but that can also be very troubled, even crushed at times. But is still a living faith. The psalmist in the OT sums it up for me – real humanity in the face of the sacred and Holy.”
Encouraging hope within the darkest times… Agnus Dei does that and so much more.
Stuart Pendred offers compelling worship with Agnus Dei
Published 04 February 2011 | Kingsway