Walking through fires

Tauranga member of LIFE Worship Tony Crawford with the New Zealand Music Award the band won for Best Christian Album.

Kiwi band LIFE Worship battled cancer, a botched vocal cord operation, a breakdown, and a car crash on the journey to record their award-winning album ‘Through the Fire’.

At the 2015 New Zealand Music Awards on November 19 they picked up the gong for Best Christian Album. Executive producer, songwriter, and singer Tony Crawford, of Tauranga, says, “It was kind of like, wow, I didn’t actually see that coming, but it was really cool. It’s nice to have an acknowledgment of the work you’ve done.”

After recording their first album, the band started working on songs for their second. “We hit a few speed bumps in the journey,” says Tony.

A botched operation left Tony unable to talk, other than to “grunt like Chewbacca”.

“I lost my voice completely for eight months.” Shortly afterwards, vocal director Rhiannon Peters was diagnosed with cancer. She and Tony were in hospital at the same time.

“I couldn’t talk and she couldn’t walk,” says Tony. But they continued with plans for their new album. Fellow band member Geneva Wilson takes up the story of how the journey was interrupted by the health issues of her husband, the band’s drummer.

“Jono and I had been married for a year, and he was really busy with work. He pushed himself to the limit.”

Jono’s brother Dave explains further. “Some things he was saying and some things he was doing just weren’t part of his character. It became really obvious it had moved from being ‘eccentric Jono’ to being ‘unwell Jono’.”

“He ended up having a ‘full blown manic episode’,” says Geneva.

So, now LIFE Worship had a singer who couldn’t sing, a drummer who couldn’t drum, a vocal director still recovering from cancer, and another performer supporting her husband. “It was like everything had gone on hold,” says Tony. However, towards the end of 2013 things were moving again.

“We were all coming right, we’d all improved a lot more, and then Jono had his car crash.” A driver crossed the centre-line, and crashed head on with Geneva and Jono’s car, leaving Jono in a coma.

“The doctor said there were three options,” Geneva says. “He could die, he could stay like he is and live but not ever do anything again, or he would slowly wake up from his coma.” She is overcome for a few moments, recalling that talk. “They said they didn’t have much hope for him.”

The doctors may not have hope, but the band had prayers, and, they believe, they were answered. Tony’s voice came back, Jono recovered, and Rhiannon is in remission.

“She’s very healthy,” says Tony, “but it’s a constant struggle and a pretty significant life change. She lost a limb [to cancer] and has a fully robotic bionic leg now, but when she walks, you can’t tell.”

After going through so much, the band found relief in writing and recording. “The car accident was the catalyst,” says Dave. “This album was about battle scars, about our journey through the fire, and what it means to walk through the fire.”

For more information on the band and their journey, visit lifeworship.org.nz, or look for ‘Through the Fire Documentary’ on YouTube.

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