Big Church Day Out 2018
BIG CHURCH DAY OUT (BCDO) IS AN ANNUAL CHRISTIAN MUSIC FESTIVAL THAT TAKES PLACE IN THE NORTH (CHESHIRE) AND SOUTH (WEST SUSSEX) OF ENGLAND.
Review by Stephen Bradley
Once again I find myself navigating the rolling hills that lead to Macclesfield, the home of Big Church Day Out (North), ready for my second year at the UK Christian Music Festival. Having grown up attending Glastonbury Festival I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed my first time at BCDO last year, since few events can live up to the experience of one of the world’s largest music festivals, but my weekend of seeing artists’ like Gungor, Andy Mineo, Rend Collective, Bethel Music and many others was nothing short of brilliant. Carried by that excitement, I'm pleased to arrive to glorious sunshine and my tent already pitched thanks to the help of some friends who arrived a day early.
At first glance of the campsite it’s clear that BCDO have fine tuned many aspects of the event, although the festival has ran for ten years now, it’s worth knowing that the North event is only two years old. With this in mind, I’m pleased to find that the organisers have switched up the locations of some venues in an effort to give smaller stages more presence within a fairly large but slightly scattered site plan. The carnival rides and other activities appropriately named the ‘Field of Fun’ are now placed in sight of the Mainstage along with the Kids Tent, making the Mainstage field feel brighter and more joyful as well as being better suited to families compared to the previous year. Behind the grand Capesthorne Hall, the Tea Tent and Kingdom Come Tent have found more space and are better placed away from the noise of the larger venues.
Making my way through the new site, I arrive at the Mainstage in time for S.O.’s set, and the crowd, though small, certainly make up for it in their dance moves as the London rapper bounces his way through his high-energy, bass-heavy set. Creative, engaging and biblically grounded, S.O.’s music translates great to a live set and his talented team back him up extremely well; the lack of a big audience shows that it’s perhaps still early days for hip hop to truly be embraced by the wider Christian community - at least for the UK. Until that day comes though, it’s great to see artists like S.O. and Guvna B rock the main stage at BCDO and both give memorable, note-worthy performances.
That afternoon, newworldson get everyone throwing their best shapes, as they fill the field with their infectious, upbeat grooves, and paying tribute to the late Andrae Crouch, they brilliantly bring back soul with their rendition of ‘Soon And Very Soon’. A brief walk over to the Illuminate stage (typically played by younger, upbeat, electronic and urban acts) and I’m impressed by the punch that Brighton five-piece, Lion Of Judah pack, along with the genuine humility I encounter when chatting to the band members after. Over on the Arkyard Sessions stage, Tom McConnell’s fun, loop-pedal based performance provides an elegant break before the powerful sound of Hillsong London graces the Mainstage.
Gospel star, Travis Greene delivers one of the most impressive performances of the weekend and when dampened only by a short spell of rain he keeps the crowd smiling as he begins singing 'Let It Rain'. Despite the rain ceasing, there aren’t many dry eyes left in the crowd after a video is played of his wife explaining the miracle of their son living after their high-risk pregnancy and how this incredible act of God inspired the lyrics of Greene’s hit single ‘Made A Way’. Storming through the rest of his set, he then leads the crowd with a string of powerful, majestic, gospel and worship classics.
At this point in the day, the other stages close in order to direct audiences to the two headline acts on the main stage and after a much needed caffeine fix provided by the Christians Against Poverty ran Café I find myself in the middle of a loud and confusing set that Crowder seems to force his way through. Thematic of his career, his focus on musical quirkiness seems to often distract from something that’s truly - musically - great. However, a stripped-back performance of ‘How He Loves’ brings back the heart of the music and the set somewhat falls into place, though this is hilariously and briefly interrupted by the crowd awkwardly divided in two as Crowder intentionally avoids the controversial "unforeseen" or "sloppy wet" lyric, leaving everyone else to fill the void with a momentary clash - if only every theological disagreement was this fleeting!
Opening passionately with 'Revelation Song', Kari Jobe fills the field with her mighty voice and continues to lead the crowd in a powerful time of worship, sharing passages of scripture and guiding the crowd comfortably in to a heartfelt altar call led by Pete Greig, the founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement and annual co-presenter of the main stage at BCDO. Ending with those who just gave their lives to Christ for the first time lighting up the crowd with their smartphone torches, Kari Jobe leads everyone with her beautiful anthem ‘Forever’ for a powerful end to the Friday. Moving into the After Hours events - available only to those camping onsite for the weekend - me and some friends decide to go to BCDO’s first silent disco, dancing our way into the night and leaving early to continue our moves as we catch the end of newworldson giving it their all for a second time that day in the more intimate Tea Tent.
The next morning, after a sleep that feels all too brief, I bump into BCDO staff members, Doug and Tommy and whilst queueing up for a coffee from a nearby vendor, Tommy fills me in on BCDO’s publishing/booking company Arkyard and how they’re helping independent artists reach bigger audiences. Opening the main stage that day is then one of Arkyard’s own, Lucy Grimble, who pulls a substantial crowd for the first act of the day and her upbeat worship set effortlessly gets people on their feet. Before the set finishes I swiftly make my way to the Illuminate stage to catch local indie-pop tribe Brightline give an incredible performance launched by the vibrant and dynamic frontman-come-hypeman Daniel Eduardo beatboxing before the band come crashing in with their synth-infused guitar-driven anthems reminiscent of fellow Mancunians, The 1975.
Fronted by the energetic, always-dancing Daniel Eduardo, Brightline deliver one of the most impressive shows of the weekend.
Making our way past the Arkyard Sessions stage, we stop in to catch Tina Boonstra give an acoustic set and despite her powerful voice she struggles to compete with the bass blasting out from Guvna B’s set on the (evidently too close) Mainstage. Signing up to Tearfund’s excellent We Won't Stop Until Poverty Stops campaign we then proceed to make our way to the Kingdom Come tent, a venue dedicated specifically to worship throughout the day with the stage set in the round for a more intimate experience. Over the next few hours we’re led wonderfully by Ian Yates, Rivers & Robots joined by a prophetic painter, Lucy Grimble, Rich & Lydia Dicas and Danny O’Callaghan, who each bring their own unique twist to the time of worship. Lucy Grimble and her band (who smile and laugh their way through the set with pure Spirit-filled joy) truly come into their own in this venue with a set that’s more chilled and soulful.
All afternoon the Kingdom Come tent feels so raw with honesty and authenticity whether it’s in seeing other artists worship among the crowd, or catching people praying and sharing prophetic words with strangers, or possibly my favourite, the comedic sight of seeing Rivers & Robots awkwardly search for their lost car keys by the stage whilst the next set begins. As the tent closes for the headline acts, I take the opportunity to catch up with Danny O’Callaghan in person (having spoken multiple times online) and I’m encouraged to hear him echo my own sentiments to see greater integrity within individuals and organisations within the Christian music world and how he’s thankful for those he knows already living that out. Bumping into Doug for the second time that day, he takes me backstage to meet an incredible couple from Australia, Steve and Joanne Cocking, self-proclaimed ‘Levitical Luthiers’ who with their decades of experience, run SetUp2Worship, a donation-based ministry of repairing, maintaining and tuning-up guitars for worship leaders and musicians.
Back on stage, Martin Smith, takes up the penultimate headline slot of the night and despite the huge opener ‘Our God Reigns’ and his upbeat ‘God’s Great Dancefloor’, Smith’s vocals struggle to pull them off with the same success his career is known for. Throwing back to his stronger years, he’s joined on stage by BCDO founder and fellow Delirious? member Tim Jupp and the two lead an acoustic and moving performance of ‘Thank You For Saving Me’, a reminder of Smith’s excellent songwriting abilities that’s a little harder to spot in the newer songs filling the set. Bursting on stage with a modernised, dance version of ‘Blessed Be Your Name’ that stays true to the original whilst giving it the contemporary boost it needs, Matt Redman keeps the mood high throughout his set, calling on Guvna B to perform a couple of their collaborations and a guest verse slipped into a mighty rendition of ‘10,000 Reasons’. After getting the entire crowd dancing with ‘We Are The Free’, Redman rounds off the wonderful time of worship with the help of Britt Nicole singing ‘Great Are You Lord’.
As the crowd disperses and we say our goodbyes to the various members of our group leaving that night, we take the time to pray for a friend starting a new chapter and whilst worshipping with Housefires after hours in the Kingdom Come tent I take a moment to appreciate the sights and sounds I’ve become accustomed to over the weekend. I love that when God is glorified, a simple field in Cheshire momentarily becomes a small piece of His Kingdom on earth and although BCDO isn't intended to compete with the giant music festivals across the globe, it certainly leaves its mark with a heart and soul that’s hard to find elsewhere. Perhaps suffering from a slightly weaker lineup to previous years and what can feel like a reliance on staple Arkyard acts, BCDO still work hard to represent the diversity and talent found in Christian music these days and they do it very well. Even though I’m sat here lacking a great deal of sleep, I can say I certainly don't want to miss out on next year's festival!
Purchase your tickets for Big Church Day Out 2019 here (discounted prices run until June 30th!)