Young? No. Brilliant? Absolutely.
Meet Dave Wheeler, co-writer of Journey On and all-round legend
Journey On‘s music video launches this weekend, in the most anticipated media release of my ministry to date. With all the studio photos, behind-the-scenes blogs, crowdfunding celebrations and teaser trailers, there’s been little else over my summer as newsworthy as its explosive progress.
You might be surprised, then, to learn about the man who started it all. Dave Wheeler, who could be twice the age of co-writer and producer Andy Baker, is celebrating Journey On as his first track to be published in 55 years of songwriting. Being such a momentous achievement, it was only fitting that Dave should take a starring role in the music video, and share from his perspective the twists and turns of the fascinating journey that led to that point…
Q: It’s a smashing song Dave! What’s it about?
A: I tried to sum it up in one word, and I came up with perseverance. Particularly, against the odds. My own story kind of epitomizes that message because it took me 55 years of writing songs before I got one played on the radio. It took perseverance and a lot of time and money, and there were times when I thought, is it worth it? But it’s all had a purpose.
Q: You first started writing Journey On three years ago, why wait until now to record it?
A: It was actually Philippa Hanna who suggested I record it. I wrote the original song back in April 2015, recorded a demo at home and sent it to Philippa who reviewed it with me over Skype. She was very positive and encouraging about it, she particularly liked the tune. She suggested linking up with Andy Baker, so two years and some savings later, I was organising recording dates with Andy.
Q: It must have been scary handing such a precious thing over to a producer and letting them work on it to produce quite a different end result. How did you feel when you had to send it to Andy?
A: Basically I thought that was a step I had to take, a risk I had to take. The time was right. I’d been sending songs all over the place for donkey’s years earlier, I’m used to the idea of sending songs, and used to the idea of getting rejection letters back (sometimes with encouraging messages as well).
Q: What was your first thought when you heard the finished song?
A: Well, initially I was shocked. There’s no other word for it. Because the development, which was effectively a rewrite, was much more radical than I envisaged. I didn’t expect it to be almost a new song. So I spoke to Philippa about that, and basically her response was, go with it. If you want to get your songs out there you have to accept stuff like that.
Q: What have been some of the key landmarks in your own journey?
A: Well, there’s a lot of those! Some of the really key ones include joining a church choir as a boy, which I would say is the best musical training anyone can get. I became experienced in performing, learned to read music and value discipline. Then there were piano lessons – crucial. I became an organist at the age of 14, which is very young, so I got used to playing in front of people at a young age. I started to write songs when I was 16, hugely influenced by The Beatles and their meteoric rise from nowhere to superstardom. I remember thinking, these guys have had no musical training. How come they can write these brilliant songs? It was an incentive to try.
All of those things carried on over a long period, and I think the next absolutely key landmark was when a girlfriend introduced me to a Pentecostal church in my late 40s, and that was my first encounter with contemporary worship music. That reinvigorated my writing but it also changed the direction of it. It became much more focused around God, whereas before it was basically pop music – ‘me’ music if you like. At that stage my songs were getting used a bit, performed occasionally, but there was no sign of anything getting published or recorded.
Meeting Philippa Hanna was another key moment for sure, as was meeting Andy Baker, and then meeting April Shipton!
[I erupt into ‘Wheyyyy’s]
It’s got to be said! It’s a key point, and that’s the way it works isn’t it? I could make a very long list of names of people who’ve influenced me along the way. In more recent times, they are the three key people.
Q: So how much of this time were you a Christian?
A: I was churched from an early age, but that’s not the same thing as becoming a Christian. Going into that Pentecostal church I found the preaching was different, it’s much more in your face, much more direct. I was challenged to my roots. I realised that I was a churchgoer, but I wasn’t truly a Christian. I was a believer, up to a point. But I hadn’t made a commitment to Jesus being the centre of my life until that point.
Q: Tell us about the film! How did it come about?
A: Well it was your idea! I thought it was a great idea, I was up for that. Then you indicated very early on that you had a role for me, which you were a bit mysterious about. Having one of the writers involved in the video probably doesn’t happen very often if the writer is not the performer.
Q: Had you ever starred in a movie before?
A: No, definitely not! It was out of my comfort zone to a degree, but I’ve had a lifetime of performing. And that’s been very varied; playing, singing, and acting as well (I was a member of Peterborough Opera for about 30 years and involved in school productions when I was a teacher). The nearest I’d got to it was appearing on TV twice with choirs. So it wasn’t totally foreign to me to find myself in a car in front of a camera, making up a conversation!
Q: What was that experience like?
A: It was exciting, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a bit scary driving someone else’s car, I must admit, especially as it wasn’t easy to change gear, and especially get into reverse! It was a great day, and the team were great people to work with which is crucial. It was just a cameo role, Ab rightly focused on the storylines with Luke and Benjy, but it was amazing to do my little bit.
The one thing I remember most from the day has got to be – The Ants. [Dear reader, to explain: Director Ab was setting up for Dave’s scene. The shot follows Dave’s car as he pulls over into a layby, and Ab was crouching in the grass, arranging the camera and equipment to get the best angle. Suddenly he shot up with an alarmed look on his face – he’d managed to set up his camera in the middle of a Red Ants’ nest and was experiencing their wrath…]
I just thought it was so funny, he put up with it for a while as well!
Q: If you had to choose one favourite moment from the very beginnings of the song’s journey to now, what would it be?
A: I think probably when you told me that the song had been accepted to be played on two national Christian radio stations. And then, even more so when you said it was going to be featured as ‘Song of the Week’ on Simon Tuck‘s UCB2 show, and ‘Featured Track’ on Premier Unsigned with Loretta Andrews. They are real landmarks, that’s over and above what I was expecting. It’s one thing to have a song played, but then to have it picked out is something altogether more amazing.
Q: Finally, what’s the key message you hope people will take away from the song and video?
A: Don’t give up! Keep on… whatever! Your time will come, don’t give up.