’30’ album notes
Garth’s first album, “The Lion And The Lamb”, was recorded in 1972 at Air Studios, London with producer Pete Bye. Released in’73, “The Lion And The Lamb” was succeeded the following year by “I Never Knew Life Was In Full Technicolor ‘Till I Saw It On The Silver Screen”, produced by Tony Hooper from The Strawbs. “Love Song For The Earth”, released in 1976, was produced by Bryn Haworth. Bryn’s style of playing, on slide guitar, mandolin and backing vocals, complemented Garth’s style, and although this is the only album Bryn produced for Garth, he appears on many of his other albums. I took the photos and designed this album. It was the first of Garth’s albums to be released in the States, but unfortunately the American record company said that his picture wasn’t suitable because “Christians smile and shave” – we had to have another photo session to get Garth looking suitably Christian!
In ’78 Garth recorded “I’m Grateful”, a title sparked off by the birth of his daughter Abi, (who actually gets to sing on this compilation, on ‘A Child Is The Future’!) “I’m Grateful” was produced by Triumvirate – John Miller, Rod Edwards and Rodger Hand – and included vocals from the Jessy Dixon singers and Cliff Richard. Jessy Dixon recorded again with Garth in 2001 when they revisited “The Feast Of Life”. After “I’m Grateful”, Garth was signed up by a division of MI leading to Cliff Richard producing “Did He Jump (Or Was He Pushed)”, in ‘79, on Cliff’s own label Patch. “A World Of Difference” first appeared on this album although an alternative recording has since been made of this track and is include in this anthology.
“Under the Influence” was Garth’s first release on the Pilgrim label and the first with producer Tom Blades. Tom was to settle in as Garth’s main producer right through the ‘80s. Several of the musicians playing on “Under the Influence” became part of a regular band that Garth toured with in the early ‘80s, in Britain, Ireland, Europe and Australia. Garth’s says of this Album, “Listen to Tom’s guitar playing at the end of ‘Record of the Weak’ – it was like his signature; I loved all that”. “Record of the Weak” was to be the title of 1982’s compilation album with Tearfund, fulfilling a dream. Garth had a desire to release a whole album addressing social justice issues for some time, and in some ways this would prove to be a turning point for Garth.
“Road to Freedom” (1983) took that theme further forward and featured songs about India and Africa, which are included on Garth’s “Journeys” series (four journeys albums: Holy Land, Africa, Asia and Latin America). On “30” ‘Living Under The Mercy’ from “Road To Freedom”, features Garth’s early producer Bryn Haworth.
Garth’s next main album was called “Alien Brain”, and was released in ’85. This included tracks such as ‘Light a Candle In the Darkness’ and ‘A Child Is The Future’. These two tracks feature on “30”, but are re-recorded, ‘Light a Candle’ as a tribute to Rachel Corrie, the peace activist who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to protect the house of a Palestinian doctor in Gaza, and ‘A child is The Future’ on which Garth is joined by his daughter Abi. During the ‘80s Garth also released two children’s albums (“Mud On My Eyes” and “The Greatest in the Land”) and an album of his songs in Spanish called “Un Nino es el Futuro”.
Up to this point Garth had always recorded in Britain, but in 1989 made the trip to Nashville for his next album, “Scars”. Tom Blades remained the producer, and Jan Pulsford, who had worked on the arrangements for “Alien Brain” now had a studio out in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Several songs from “Scars” are included: ‘Strange Weapons’, ‘Thirty-two Years’, ‘In A Polish Winter’, and ‘When Johnny Cash Sang Man in Black’ were first recorded on “Scars” but on this album Garth is joined by singer/songwriter Martyn Joseph for a new recording of ‘When Johnny Cash Sang Man in Black.’ Garth sang this song live for the first time ever at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, where George Hamilton IV fixed for him to perform. (Garth says, “I thought this one was due for a re-release, and I’m delighted that Martyn has done this one with me”). Garth’s country leanings were no longer being kept so secret – legendary pedal steel player BJ Cole had already appeared on “I’m Grateful” – and when the news was out that the George Jones Band was in town when they were recording “Scars” his fiddle player Hank Singer was grabbed and featured on ‘In A Polish Winter’.
In January 1990, Garth went back to America this time to Los Angeles to record “Lonesome Troubadour” with Mark Heard. Garth describes Mark as “one of the most influential people on me musically, but also such a good friend”. Garth says, “It was a strangely moving time of recording – the first Gulf War broke out as we were doing it, and the wonderful fiddle player Byron Berline came in to play on ‘Ten Measures of Beauty’ and wondered if it had been written the night before. Randy Stonehill also came in to do some backing vocals. Mark was particularly good at giving me confidence to be myself musically, and I had just got agreement for him to record the next album for me, when tragically he died”.
Garth was joined by Ben Okafor for his next album “Blood Brothers” with Ben producing the 1993 follow up, “Walk the Talk” along with Gladstone Wilson. This was an album of worship songs produced with a small Gospel choir from Birmingham. Garth then embarked upon a Christmas album with Gladstone Wilson, called “The Greatest Gift”, which was released in ’95, in conjunction with BibleLands.
Also that year a project called “I Shall Be Made Thy Musique” with classical musician Penelope Cave was released featuring poems by John Donne, George Herbert and Henry Vaughan.
“Stronger Thant The Storm” saw Bob Lamb as producer in his studio in King’s Heath, Birmingham. It was the last album of fresh material Garth did with Word/Myrrh record label.
Garth joined Christian Aid for six years as Head of the London and South-East Team, and during this time wrote the musical “The Feast of Life.” A new version of the title song is included, with the great black Gospel singer from Chicago Jessy Dixon.
“Gospel Singer” was to be Garth’s first album for ICC. Garth had recorded at ICC Studios for the first time during “The Feast of Life” and was drawn to its proximity to the sea, and moved across to their label! “Gospel Singer” (1999) was seen by many to be the best album Garth had done for some time – it was produced by songwriter Paul Field.
Christian Aid invited Garth to do an album highlighting the plight of the Dalit community from India, formerly called ‘untouchables’. Paul Field was brought in to work with him on this, and the result is a stunning album which features Dalit drumming behind most of the songs, and Garth comments “I feel ‘Dalit Drum’ was a very creative moment, and Paul and I had a tremendous time both getting the material and then going back and launching it there in September 2002”.
Garth has been very busy writing and recording in 2003, and three tracks are included in “30”; ‘Not in my Name’, a protest song written before the Iraqi War which has strong echoes of themes which have gone through Garth’s music for thirty years. ‘On An April Day’ was written for Deir Yassin Remembered (Deir Yassin was a Palestinian village where there was a massacre in 1948. Each year on 9th April increasing numbers of people, Jewish, Palestinian and others, remember this as one way to try and learn from the past and find a peaceful way forward together). There is a secret bonus track on this album which Garth started singing in concerts, and wasn’t intending to put on this album, but at the end of recording for “30” he sat down in the studio along with a guitar and sang ‘Humans Too’. It had to be a secret bonus – otherwise there would have been 31 tracks! It will probably reappear recorded with other musicians in the future.
Garth is also releasing a project album called “The Road Home”. Paul Field again worked as producer on this project, which will be featured with a book containing ten paintings by the US artist Daniel Bonnell. Having been introduced to Daniel in the States a few years ago, Garth was asked if he could write songs to ten of Daniel’s paintings – all featuring some story or incident from the Gospels. He has also written a prayer around each painting, and this will be published by SPCK in October 2003.
The troubadour keeps writing and travelling for Amos Trust. He keeps a close watch on six parts of the world but continues to tour regularly in the UK and the US. Garth comments, “the US links have particularly developed because of my Middle East contacts. It’s also been wonderful to link up with ‘peace churches’ that reflect a side of US church life that is not often spoken about in the media here”.
I have been privileged to work with Garth throughout all these years, sometimes in the design of albums covers, sometimes filming and photographing his journeys to different parts of the world, and for many years as an Amos Trustee. Garth has always impressed me with his infectious passion for the poor, for his love for the God of Justice, and for his unique creativity in communicating these issues that all Christians should be passionate about. I have witnessed his wonderful ability to encourage those who suffer, lifting their eyes and hearts to the God of hope, and his clarion call to those of us in comfort to walk in obedience to God’s clear call for Justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed.
Tony Neeves – Chair of Amos Trustees July 2003