Following on from Garth’s visit to the Kevin Mayhew office last week, we decided an interview for our Blog was a must! Below he discusses his latest album ‘Justice like a river’, working with Cliff Richard, singing in Spanish and much more!
Justice like a River is your 47th album!… will you be making a 48th, 49th, 50th?
"Yes, I’m already thinking about the next two albums so I will keep you in the picture on this!
On the track ‘Feast Your Mind on What is Pure’, Cliff Richard does the backing vocals– what was it like to work with him?
"Cliff was always a really good person to work with; very natural, very friendly, and full of ideas. His voice has a great range.
"For instance, you can hear him singing very clearly in the hum at the end of the track. Even though I’ve got the Jessy Dixon singers, Cliff was doing the lowest part in the hum. He very much enjoyed doing backing vocals and he did them for me on a couple of albums."
With regard to your song writing process, what sort of things inspire you and when and where do you write?
"In some ways I'm a storyteller, so a story can spark me off. I’ve often picked up issues where I am telling the story of people who get forgotten. But I'm inspired by poems, books, films, and probably most, by people. In my travels around the world, I think probably people are what have inspired me the most. Some songs pay tribute to the people I've met in different places.
"I write in all sorts of places. If you see me scribbling on the back of an envelope in church or in a café, it means I’ve thought of something or I’ve just heard something which has sparked me off. A bookshop in Wivenhoe sparked off an idea recently."
At what age did you develop your love of music and writing and how did your education nurture these two passions?
My love of music came in my early teens, and in my mid teens I took up guitar and joined or formed a couple of groups at school; but didn’t start writing songs until I was at University. When it comes to writing books of prayers, etc. that came a little later. I don’t think education nurtured my love of music; although maybe school did because of the different music I heard. But I suppose studying English at both school and University helped, and gave me a love for poetry and the power of words."
You’re a self-proclaimed ‘Troubadour’ and you were also given special accreditation by the House of Poets in Ramallah. Do you have any favourite poets?
"This is an interesting question because you say I'm a ‘self-proclaimed Troubadour’. I think that depends how you interpret an album I did, ‘Lonesome Troubadour’. In the end, on that one, I think there are several possible meanings, and actually I am very happy with the term Troubadour.
I was thrilled that I was given the special accreditation by the House of Poets in Ramallah – yes. I am a big fan of poetry, and two of my favourites are Mahmoud Darwish; who himself was one of the House of Poets, and also Ernesto Cardenal in Nicaragua, who must be one of the greatest poets in the world. And I’ve had the privilege of meeting with him."
"Who has been your favourite artist to work with and why?
"I’ve enjoyed working with many artists and in all sorts of different ways; some because they are very creative, some because they are just good friends and nice to spend time with.
"It’s a little tricky for me to specify names in case I leave out someone who I’ve really enjoyed working with. But I would mention that working with Jessy Dixon was very special, with his amazing heritage in gospel music."
On your album ‘Journeys with Garth Hewitt: Latin America’ (Myrrh 1989) you sing three songs in Spanish, can you tell me a bit about the album and its conception?
"I did a whole album in Spanish which was released in Spain and, I believe some countries in Latin America. It was very difficult to do, I recorded it in Barcelona with a great musician, Luis Alfredo, but I had a sore throat at the time and I don’t speak Spanish! He translated all my songs for me, and he coached me; but it was really hard. I’m really grateful he made me do it. Particularly when I go to Nicaragua, I like to include a song or two in Spanish - and occasionally now in the States; because audiences can include a lot of Spanish-speaking people. The Spanish album was called ‘Un nino es el futuro’."
Where else have your travels taken you, and is there a particular place that has special significance for you?
"This is a difficult question to answer as I've travelled so much. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to visit many different parts of the world, and I feel great affection for different places and different communities. Bethlehem, Palestine is a good example - where I have godchildren. Managua, Nicaragua inspires me a lot because of the poetry and music there, and especially my friends there. I have been very affected by many visits to Africa. Though because I have family including grandchildren in Durban, South Africa that is a place I like to visit.
"However, when they took me on a holiday to Mozambique recently, I hadn’t been there for twenty years. I found it an inspiring place and have written two songs there: ‘Full Moon over Mozambique’ and ‘God’s Revolution of Love’. My first visit out of Europe was to Haiti and this was in the late ‘70s. This had a huge impact on me because I began to realise for myself the poverty that there is in our world. I think that had an effect on all that I did afterwards."
Do you feel your message has changed throughout your career as a musician, or has it stayed the same?
"Not really, though I think it has developed. I was very inspired by hearing Martin Luther King when I was a teenager. The wholeness of his Christian message has been something I’ve tried to reflect in the songs, and ‘Justice Like a River’ still stays on that theme."
The Annunciation by Daniel Bonnell
You are also the author of eight books including ‘A Road Home’– a collaborative work with the artist, Daniel Bonnell. Would you say visual images have been a big inspiration for your writing across your career?
"Yes, visual images do spark off songs and ideas for me. I like art and I put paintings on the covers of several albums in the ‘90s. ‘Walk the Talk’ had a picture from Ethiopia, and ‘Stronger than the Storm’ had a painting from Nicaragua, where there are some wonderful artists. I’ve also been influenced and motivated by the work of certain graffiti artists."
Tell me about your time as a director/board member of The Greenbelt Festival.
After the first Greenbelt Festival, a committee was formed which became the Board of Trustees of Greenbelt, and I was on the Board for the first twenty-five years. It was a very creative time as we tried to understand what we had got in this festival and as we tried to shape its direction. I particularly felt it should be an arts festival with the social justice emphasis from a Christian viewpoint. I still enjoy Greenbelt; it's been a place that has helped to shape my thinking.
You are the founder of the human rights charity Amos Trust. Can you tell me about their latest projects?
"Amos Trust is working particularly in four parts of the world at the moment: with the Street Children project in Durban called ‘Umthombo’ - which has spawned the Street Child World Cup held in Durban before the last Fifa World Cup. Now it's being planned for Rio in 2014. Also, we work a lot in Palestine/Israel with organisations that work in human rights, reconciliation and non-violence training. And we support a hospital in Gaza.
"The latest project is a group of people going out to rebuild a demolished house – over 25,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished by the Israelis. This will be the second house we've helped to rebuild. It's an attempt to be both a protest and an encouragement.
"We are also working in Nicaragua supporting our partners there in education and agricultural projects and in health. Also, we work with a Dalit community (those formerly called ‘outcasts’) in a village in Tamil Nadu, and we work with Dalit Liberation Theologians."
You're also a regular contributor to Radio 2’s 'Pause for Thought'. Between writing, singing, charity work and broadcasting, how do you relax; that is, if you do get any free time?
"I walk by the river - I live close to the Thames, I watch films, I read, and I like to spend time with family and grandchildren."
Any further ambitions or plans before retirement – if indeed you do ever retire?
"Songs, tours, album recording, and more books – I’m not sure that I understand retirement without creating something."
Interview by Sarah Sibley, Copy Editor and Social Media Publicist
March 21st, 2013 - Posted & Written by Anna Bunn