July 19, 2004

Steve Bell in Ottawa

In the summer, with the senior pastor on vacation and multiple guest speakers, our evening services tend to be come a little more informal, and just as likely as not to host a concert. That was the case last night, when we hosted Juno-winning Canadian Christian musician Steve Bell for a free concert. I realize that Bell has had some limited exposure in the states, but for the sake of my American friends: He is a guitarist and vocalist from Calgary, and his best known songs are largely paraphrases of Scripture, particularly the Psalms, although he draws on a number of sources for inspiration. While Bell often tours with a band (which includes bassist and Chapman Stick virtuoso Fergus Marsh), he came only with his six-string on this occasion.

Bell began his set by "apologizing" for starting with a Christmas song, then broke into John Michael Talbot's "Magnificat." The first few songs were more "sing-along": "Oh Love," followed by "The Wellspring" and "Holy Lord" (which went together on his album Deep Calls to Deep and always seem to go together naturally in concert). Then came a Trinitarian praise song, "Praise the Father" by another Western folk singer, Gord Johnson, and "Done Made my Vow" and finally "On the Wings of an Eagle," probably hist best known tune.

Following the "sing-along" portion of the program came "Ever Present Need," an adaptation of a poem by Francis of Assisi. Up to this point, Bell had made a number of remarks (typical of his self-deprecating humour) about whom he had "stolen" various songs or tunes from, and introduced one that he wrote himself: a jazzy riff to which the words were alternately "Mmm mmm mmm" or "dee dee dee." Then came "Psalm 116," "Jenny," and "Lauds" (inspired by a prayer in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). The program closed with a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy)." After a curtain call he played a personal favourite of mine, "Here By the Water," as an encore.

There is apparently some talk of bringing Steve Bell back later in the year with his band. Whether this means to the Met or to the city, I don't know, and don't much care. You haven't heard music until you've heard Fergus Marsh hammer out "By the Water" on the Stick.