Veteran Australian Christian singer-songwriter - and kids favourite - Colin Buchanan’s latest – and 20th - album, Colin Buchanan’s Old Testament Sing-A-Long, was created after the coronavirus pandemic brought his touring and live performances to an abrupt halt. 
     Based in southern Sydney, Buchanan – who next year will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his debut album Remember The Lord, speaks about the role the COVID-19 pandemic played in new album's creation, why the Old Testament speaks to the times we're living in and his love of distilling Bible truths for kids... 

Colin Buchanan 1

Colin Buchanan. PICTURE: Supplied. 

 

IN  SHORT - COLIN BUCHANAN

A song that inspires me…"Strong And Courageous because it’s simple and deep and makes a powerful connection across all ages. I’ve tried to do that with lots of songs I’ve written, but music keeps you humble. By God’s grace and no conscious effort on the part of the writer, sometimes songs are destined to set themselves apart  I love how that happens."

A place that’s special to me…"Home. It’s full of the memories and the weight of routine worn into the floorboards over the years - meals and stories, laughter and weeping, arguments and sorries, hugs with babies who are parents now and hugs with people you love who can’t be hugged any more. It’s our safe place, our nest, our meeting place. It’s always precious to be back. It makes you realise how special it is that God promises his children an everlasting home."

A child or young person whom I admire… "I admire my daughter and son-in-law, Laura and Tim, who have stepped into the beauty and wonder of parenthood with joy and thankfulness and grace and love. It’s such a delight to see - and to be a Finley’s Pa, too!"

Congratulations on your 20th album. What role did the COVID pandemic play in its creation?
“I always have a build-up of creative material – songs and bits of songs – and I’ve wanted for some time to create an Old Testament album as I’d been putting [Old Testament songs] aside for some time...Then COVID hit and…I lost all my gigs – I had various regional tours, I had my national tour, a Tassie tour, a tour to the UK and lots of gigs in between, all over the place. They all fell in a heap but thankfully there was this nice, pre-produced collection of songs ready to walk into the studio with. But I decided to work in a different studio, to record it slightly differently, to work with a different producer – and that was [all] related to COVID.
     "I think for lots of us, COVID, despicable as it’s been, has made us realise there are other ways of doing things…or at least give things a try. So I’m really grateful – the product is an album [which] is probably a little more reflective than it might have been, a little less raucous than some of my earlier albums. Part of the reason for that was I didn’t have a full band…just a smaller ensemble, just me on bass and drums, and then a lot of overdubbing with a really talented producer Matt Fell…It was a bit touch and go getting singers into the studio as well, that took a little bit of juggling and precautions and so forth…
     "It’s definitely consistent with what I’ve done before, I’ve brought the same sensibility to song-writing but I think its delivery and the light and shade of it have a different feel to it. Which I’m happy about – I don’t think that would have happened if I had a 'business as usual' sign up. And during this time too…the humanity and the vulnerability of Old Testament stories - and the psalms as well - have a lot of sense of questioning in suffering and looking to the greatness of God, to His purposes, in difficult circumstances. Those themes are very resonant for this time."

So you think that Old Testament focus does speak to the times in which we’re living at the moment?
“I think it does. It’s funny, some people have said ‘Oh, I’m a bit more of a New Testament Christian, not an Old Testament Christian’. And I’d say that’s a bit like only having half of the story. The thing about it is that it’s the entire story of the God who's great and [who is] the God of grace - He’s our Creator, and then, [with] the frailty and the defiance of His people, He makes this plan of grace and it unfolds through the human story of God’s people in the Old Testament. And there’s a lot of difficulty and hardship and heartache and questioning through that…
     "I’ve been really helped by my local pastor [Michael Dodd at Engadine Anglican Church in Sydney] actually, who week-in, week-out has been preaching series through various Old Testament books - and New Testament. Charles Spurgeon said when preaching in the Old Testament, ‘Take your text and make a beeline for the Cross’ but I’ve [also] heard John Piper say ‘Take the Cross and make a beeline for the text’ and I feel like our pastor’s helped me do that...bringing that sense of completion of this story of redemption that we have…
     "So in terms of [the] times now, we all live in an incomplete story because we live on this side of eternity...[W]e have hope but we live in the uncertainty of frailty, difficulty, sickness, sadness, death. So I feel like the Old Testament is a version of that before the Cross so it’s got a lot to speak to the uncertain times that we have now.”

"[T]he humanity and the vulnerability of Old Testament stories - and the psalms as well - have a lot of sense of questioning in suffering and looking to the greatness of God, to His purposes, in difficult circumstances. Those themes are very resonant for this time."

- Colin Buchanan

You mentioned your pastor. He’s among those mentioned in the album’s liner notes of people who have helped you unlock Old Testament Scriptures over the years. How important have others been in your understanding of the Bible and the development of your faith?
“That’s the conduit, really...[God] has given His Word and then He’s given a community – [I] have leaders and teachers who’ve taught me over the entirety of my life. I’ve always been a church-goer – my family were church-goers – and [been] really blessed to uncover faith in the course of that church-going and that’s always been at the hands of, be it, Sunday School teachers, pastors or preachers...[Y]ou also see it in the life of faith – people may not have a title and they may not have a role but [who] live out their lives faithfully. [I've] watched parents raise their kids faithfully, watch people contend with success or failure or difficulty around you…There’s so many levels to the community of faith and growing and thinking and learning and living it out. In fact, my pastor Michael did have a bit of a chuckle and I knew he’d find it a little uncomfortable or humourous that his name is lodged in [the liner notes] with authors and writers and preachers who have some profile. But I think that’s the Christian story isn’t it? We grow at the hands of God and He uses lots of different people – they might not have [a high] profile but that’s not really His concern.”

It might be hard for you to choose but growing up in your own faith, was there a favourite story in the Old Testament that really spoke to you?
“I like to say that I’ve got a 'milk bottle brain' – it only holds 600 mls and if you put more in, then some’s got to come out. That’s the sort of learner I’ve been..[I]t's a real incentive to read your Bible every day and to keep learning and growing because it’s just like stuff goes in and stuff goes out again…So I just keep finding new favourites – when we were at church reading through I Samuel, the story of Hannah – and there’s a song about it on the album [Hannah Prays] – and the story really just lodged in my mind. It’s very easy to bring the Cross to bear in that – the human longing, in Hannah’s case, for a child...and then to see Him answer that in His way and in His time...and Hannah’s response of obedience and faithfulness…I have loved that and I love just encountering the humanity of these stories…The story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal have always been a bit of a favourite [as well] which does highlight that fact that album itself is not an attempt to be definitive; it’s very much a reflection of just what’s been in my milk bottle brain.”

Is that something you’re conscious of when you’re writing the songs – that obviously Bible verses can be interpreted in different ways. You’re writing for kids but are you consciously avoiding controversy?
“I wouldn’t say that – I think I’m consciously trying to avoid misunderstanding so I think the quest is for clarity and avoiding over-qualification. [P]eople who care about content can tend to over-qualify and I notice this is in some of the kid’s songs that come out. People think, ‘We really want to teach the Bible’ and...that can sort of lead you to a rabbit hole where every song needs to say every thing about every possible scenario. And you lose the clarity and simplicity around songs. It’s not like I’ll never qualify statements but I feel like a song is a short opportunity – three or four minutes – and it’s got choruses and repeats and instrumentals and there isn’t a lot of content there. So I have thought about how a song is a certain way of communicating and I need to [consider] the limitations of the form…Hopefully I’ve presented a lot of different nourishing opportunities to learn and, a bit like food groups, over time kids – and grown-ups as well – can sort of feed from across the breadth of what I’ve got there and learn and grow. But it’s a good question because I take that compulsion to be true very seriously – you don’t want misled kids - you don’t want to misled anyone.”

Colin Buchanan Old Testament Sing a Long

You mentioned memory verses  - lots of your albums feature memory verses. Was that something you experienced as a child?
“Back in the day, memory seemed to be lent upon without any tricks a lot more. That’s why I struggled with my 'milk bottle brain' – I couldn’t remember maths formulas and all that sort of thing, I had no chance. But there was a culture of just remembering memory verses – there wasn’t a lot of musical memory verses. It’s a trick with a vested interest because when I started teaching in Christian schools, there were memory verses to learn and I thought, ‘Well golly, I’m not going to remember these, let alone the kids, if I don’t put them to music'…
     "I think Isaiah 53:6 was an early one – whether it was Sunday School or St George Christian School – people say 'baa baa doo baa baa' a lot [from Buchanan's song about the verse]…That’s a remarkable Old Testament verse. There are very few verses that seem to really encapsulate the Gospel...and I remember thinking when I wrote that [song] that this is a verse which will save lives for eternity, you know. So if the means of doing that might, by God’s grace, be a few baa baa’s along the way, so be it.”

In this year of COVID, what message do you have for children?
“You know it's interesting, when we had our first online church service I just had a very strong conviction and I said to our pastor, not to Michael but our senior pastor, I said ‘You know what these people need? They need exactly what they needed last week and we need to remember that God is big, that this is His world and He rules it, that God is a saving God and He’s amongst this world of pain and sickness and sadness and death in the person of Jesus and He’s walked through it and into the grave and out of the grave alive'. I love the phrase, ‘His death become my death and His life because my life’. That’s the hope of the Gospel and really that was my hope last year and I think that’s our hope for the future. So keep looking to God and His saving purposes in Christ.”

Next year marks 25 years since your first album was released – any plans to mark that in any special way?
"I am not the worlds greatest planner or promoter. But there is definitely something about all that comes with 25 years of writing and performing Christian songs for kids and families and churches and schools that makes for some sort of celebration. There is a lot to thank God for and it would be great to do that with my friends...whose ages stretch from very little to positively ancient (older than me!)!"

This story had been edited for clarity and length.