Noel & Tricia Richards are the husband and wife song writing team who have given the church some of it's most enduring worship including All Heaven Declares and By Your Side...As "accidental worship leaders" they paved the way for many church bands and worship "artists" I wanted to find out why the change to the more acoustic style of their new independent release Wonderful.
Their answers to these questions may surprise you as we discuss past glories and the modern worship scene.
I turned up early for the interview prior to the concert that was being held at Holy Trinity Church, St Austell. Even though it was a little after 5pm I stumbled in the twilight around the church building trying to find the door that was unlocked. I found Noel and Tricia had just arrived around the far side of the building. We greeted each other and then, in the semi-darkness, we traipsed around the building carrying guitars and CDs until we realised that the door we needed to use was the one closest to where Noel had parked the rental car.
Noel and I have met a few times before concerts, although I think this is one of the first times that time would permit me to stay for the actual concert! It’s also the first time that I have met Tricia. As we got inside and Noel and Tricia started to run through their sound check I racked my brain for the questions that I wanted to ask.
When it came to it we sat in the small but comfortable area set aside for Noel and Tricia and it was more like having a friendly family chat. Noel and Tricia share fond
memories of Cornwall and Devon. Tricia tells me, “I’m a Devon girl and I spent a lot of time in Cornwall when we were growing up and St Austell was one of those places we’d actually…go through.” At this point Noel adds “We used to do a lot of work down here. We’d actually go all over Devon and Cornwall doing gigs when we were living down in Plymouth, that was the late 70’s.”
We start talking a little bit about the name of the tour. Noel jokes that they should call it The “Wonderful” Tour. Tricia declares “that sounds a bit pretentious, it’s not for us to decide if it’s going to be a wonderful tour!” Noel adds a caveat that perhaps it should be The “Wonderful” (we hope) Tour, but continues “we called these events An Evening With Noel and Tricia Richards because we can’t think of anything more creative at the moment. I think that kind of describes what it’s all about. It’s us sharing our songs, sharing our stories in a very relaxed manner. It’s a very intimate acoustic concert.”
An intimate acoustic concert sounds like a long way from taking over the stadiums and the Rock ‘n’ Roll worship concerts. I ask what has changed. “I think it was a natural end to a season. The Stadium, for want of a better word, ‘rock’, it wasn’t how we set out.” Tricia mentions that it was meant to be more of a large praise party. “I suppose the idea we got when we saw people like Ishmael doing praise parties at the end of an evening at Spring Harvest. You were singing lots of truth, but you are also having a lot of fun and I guess we started thinking ‘why don’t we just simply have concerts which are a lot of fun, we turn the volume up, but we’re actually singing songs of truth that will encourage us and bless the body of Christ.”
So basically a Noel Richards concert was basically a praise party for big kids! “Yes that’s right. We started doing these praise concerts like at the end of the evening at Spring Harvest and people just loved to let their hair down and jump around and have fun.” Tricia adds “I think a lot of churches didn’t have bands, a lot of churches do now of course, so you had to go to an event to get that type of music.”
Noel continues “We were saying it is OK to have fun in the context of celebrating our enjoyment of being Christians and having a good time is not a bad thing. I think it was a new thing to many people. To bring a full PA and lights and everything.”
“As Trish said, we did ourselves out of a job. What was being modelled at all these Bible weeks was something that people took back to their own churches. In the end people were going ‘we don’t need to pay money to come to a concert because we have a band on a Sunday morning and we’re doing the same songs.’ “
Noel has always been very straight talking and he carries on to discuss the worship scene. “One of the big things was that we started feeling that the whole praise and worship thing had become saturated, over-saturated actually. All the time new praise and worship albums were coming out, new Christian artists, suddenly we’ve got the ‘Worship Artist’ which is a strange title.” Noel and Tricia are often consulted by young people looking for advice and Tricia explains that “becoming a worship leader became a career choice, and I found it slightly disturbing.”
Noel makes a good point “I thought well all these different denominational streams like Hillsongs, Vineyard, Worship Central for example are all bringing out worship albums, two or three every year, there's no way that we can possibly introduce all these new songs into churches!” It’s true, many of these songs will not gain any traction in congregations, with just the odd one or two that make it and even these fade into relative obscurity after a while.
Noel and Tricia explain that they wanted to write about something more. “I think that I had continued to write about other things anyway,” explains Tricia. “So I was starting to feel that, well it would be great if we could expand our own repertoire, and thinking where do you do that?” Noel picks up the thread and continues, “I think we began to feel that all this stuff was starting to become self-indulgent and inward looking and we're basically getting more and more blessed up having praise concerts, worship events, worship conferences. Our focus is on having better worship, but actually our focus should be on the world around us and the needs in our communities. We began to see that worship without being outworked in acts of justice and mercy and affecting our community is not true worship. So writers began to write songs which began to focus people in a way where our church communities need to look outward, and it's not just about having more of God it's what are we doing with the bit of God that we have?"
"I began to teach in my worship seminars about how I felt there were two dimensions to worship. There's the vertical where we love God with all our heart, because Jesus said to love God with all your heart and the second command which is exactly like it is to love your neighbour as you love yourself. I began to teach that, to say "hey we shouldn't just be having these wonderful times where we encounter God if it isn't affecting what we are doing in our communities and the culture around us". It's becoming narcissistic and self-indulgent.It's been a 10 year process for us of turning out ship around and then thinking let's write some songs about the stuff of life.”
In 2013 Noel and Tricia released an album called Favourite Place because they crafted tracks so that people could come and listen to the words and be impacted by them. They wanted the songs to be about “some of the things of life that it is important that we give attention to.”
“We did that with Favourite Place our first CD when we covered a number of things that looked at making a difference to those around us like Share a Little Love and taking time to smell the roses in a song called Moment. Then even the whole concept of taking time to be together around a table, because eating and drinking together is a very important part of our lives, and often that's where good stuff happens so that's why we called the song Favourite Place because our favourite place is with our friends around the table! We started writing these songs and putting a concert set together. We also found if we got an opportunity to play in a club, a place where there wouldn't be a Christian audience, we had nothing to sing! They are not going to understand a worship song and they are going to feel that we are just basically preaching at them, so we were looking for material that we could sing to people who have no faith at all, so we thought why not write stuff ourselves? So that's what we did. And that is what Wonderful is all about as well, looking at some of the issues of love, the joys, but also the tensions.”
Joys and tensions is a great place to leave this chat for now, and also gives an indication of what is to come from the second half of this chat! Noel and Tricia are going to get into the tricky issues of writing together with different methods, their big move to Spain and a moving story behind one of the tracks on their new album Wonderful.
Wonderful CD is available for purchase now for just £5 or digital version for just £3.50 from https://noelrichards.bandcamp.com/album/wonderful