Bryn Haworth, pt. 2 – Calling ‘Time’ on the Old Life

The first part of my interview with Haworth covered his seminal years on the Island Records label. This final part begins in the same era.

Haworth’s first solo gig was unforgettable, but not in a way he expected.

“I was on tour in Germany supporting the band Traffic, ” he recalled. “It would have been winter ’73. I had just signed to Island Records and had made my first album for them, which hadn’t yet been released. It was a big deal for me to take on a solo support slot, as I had always been a member of a band, but I decided I could do it, and worked out a 35 min set.

“It was in the Kongressehalle, Hamburg, and I got about half way through my set and was feeling quite insecure about how things were going.  As I turned round to put one instrument down and pick up another ready for the next song, I saw this beautiful figure sitting behind the Hammond organ. I thought at first it was a roadie, but his face was serene and reverent and he emanated humility and power and was full of peace.

“But the thing I noticed most of all were his feet!  They were this beautiful bronze colour.  This all happened in the space of a few seconds, but it made me think to myself, ‘Oh good, there is someone else on stage with me, I’m not alone’ – and I carried on with a renewed confidence.’

“When I came off stage, I said to [my wife] Sally, ‘Who was that on stage behind me?’ She hadn’t seen anybody.  Then I asked the sound man the same question, and then the A&R man, but nobody but me had seen anything. That’s when it hit me.

“At that time, I would describe myself as someone who was looking for God, but didn’t know the way.  I wrote in my note book,  ‘I believe. Now I believe!’

I pressed him on whether it is the visual image that he remembers or a more subjective sense that the experience gave him.

“I can still see the person; I can still picture when I turned around, Steve Winwood’s Hammond Organ was behind me, because all their equipment was set up. So I was quite close and because I was sitting down and playing. I could see his feet and I could see his face and he was sitting behind the Hammond organ with his head slightly bowed and wasn’t looking at me, but his eyes were looking slightly down. It seemed like forever that I got to look at him.

Steve Winwood live

Traffic’s Steve Winwood Live (www.stevewinwood.com)

“It was just really a sense of peace emanating from him and so I just suddenly relaxed. I suddenly felt, ‘Wow! I’m not alone up here.  The crowd’s not looking at me all the time; there’s somebody else here.’ I relaxed and just whizzed through the rest of the set.

“I came off exhilarated. I thought, ‘I’ve got to find out who that was!’ because that really, really saved me; it saved the whole gig as it were; settled me and made me steady; gave me peace and – like I said – nobody had seen anything up there except me, but it’s very real in my mind. It’s quite a holy thing to me; quite precious. It was absolutely incredible.”

Does he think of it as an angel?

“I don’t know. It could have been an angel. I don’t know about these things.” He added in his mild northern accent, “A few months later we walked into a tent meeting, heard about Jesus and welcomed him in to our lives.”

Touring with Traffic was part of a communal experience with Island Records in their early days. Haworth is proud to have been part of such a creative time with such pionering musicians. Roxy Music, Fairport Convention, Free, Bad Company, Bob Marley,  John Martyn and Richard Thompson were all part of that crop.

Bryn Haworth, Jophn Portre, Dave Mattacks

Haworth with Roxy Music’s John Porter and Fairport’s Dave Mattacks

“Best of all,” he remembered, “You could meet and talk ideas with everyone.”

His conversion experience shortened his stay there, however. “I was – and still am  – excited about God, but I realise that wasn’t necessarily something that secular record labels could market.  It’s not everybody’s path, but personally, I just had to go that way.”

In 1980, he went to the new Chapel Lane label, where he had the freedom to say all the things he wanted to say, something he needed to do at that time.

Later that decade, over a period of a few years, Haworth sensed a call to become involved with prisoners.

“As much as I loved leading worship, I wished I could do more,” he recalled. “My heart leapt every time I read Matthew 25 v. 36: ‘I was in prison and you came to visit me’.   I was excited, stirred and scared all at the same time, but would usually talk myself out of doing something about it, using some really good excuses.   The encouraging thing is that if the Lord is calling you to do something he will keep speaking to you about it.

“I just get up in the morning and enjoy what I do”

“In 1990 Sally and I went on staff at the Southwest London Vineyard and the pastor, John Mumford, gave me a job description, which was to develop the worship and start a prison ministry!   I hadn’t a clue what to do, so I called up all the chaplains in London prisons and asked if we could come in.   They all said ‘No’ except for one, a Church Army chaplain in Wandsworth called David Kearns.   We went in for a regular night meeting and as we were coming out he said ‘Right, you do it next week’.

I gathered together a team of trembling individuals and led the meeting.  I did some praise and worship and then a few testimony songs which took about 30 minutes, and wondered, ‘What are we going to do now?’ Someone in the team asked, ‘Does anyone here need prayer? All the hands shot up, and we were away!  And we just carried on like that.”

The Haworths visit 3 prisons on a regular basis every year and travel to others. It is few enough to build relationships with some of the prisoners.

“Over the years you get to know some better than others, but I’ve had quite a few come to concerts on the ‘out’  and had tea together,” he said.  “The prisoners that find family and a loving community to belong to on the ‘out’ tend to do well in their new found faith.  People do change, but we all need help.”

Bryn Haworth, Inside OutNow his music and prison work have come together, as he currently has two albums specifically for prisoners, donated to prison libraries (although the unincarcerated are also free to buy them). Time Out has been released recently, while the first was Inside Out (a title Haworth is particularly proud of) which was largely a compilation of strong existing tracks with a few new ones added in.

“I’d always wanted an album specifically to give away free to prison inmates and this was a great opportunity to do it, alongside recording a new album.” said Haworth, referring to  One Way Ticket, released within weeks of Inside Out.

“Working in prisons has been extremely creative songwriting wise.  When you’re standing in front of people who God loves to bits, you look for ways to communicate; songs are a wonderful way into people’s lives. Inside Out has been really well received by inmates, and not just because it’s free!  They’ve told me they have favourite songs and request them when I go in.”Bryn Haworth, Time Out

It can seem unfair that Haworth has so much talent and is often hidden away with small audiences, while younger worship leaders with a fraction of his skills earn fortunes on their circuit. But he does not see it that way.

“I’m genuinely happy for anyone who can make a living from any kind of music.   I just get up in the morning and enjoy doing what I do.”

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One Response to Bryn Haworth, pt. 2 – Calling ‘Time’ on the Old Life

  1. Thom Hickey says:

    Fascinating! Regards Thom.

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