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Forty years ago Garth’s music and song lyrics challenged what had become the established way of doing things within the Christian church in the UK. Firstly, he was a part of the movement within Christian music away from a particularly “sacred” sound, not afraid to bring Christian lyrics towards the mainstream popular style of music. This bridged the culture gap for his own and following generations between the church and the world in which they lived, and helped many within those generations find a way to explore their spirituality without the need to deny their inherent culture. It did also bring condemnation from some within the established Christian churches who felt that these musicians were endangering the purity of the church by in some way secularising it, so it was not always an easy road but there was growing support for this new attitude within the church so it was not entirely lonely.
Now available – Garth sings the Chartist Hymnbook!
Garth chats about the new album in this short film here
As Britain’s first mass labour movement for political reform, the Chartists were struggling for social justice and human rights in Britain. When a copy of their hymnbook was recently discovered, with lyrics but no music, Garth decided to bring the songs back to life by adding music and recording them – to remind us that Christian songs about justice are not new! And to highlight the responsibility of Jesus’ followers to make our voices heard on behalf of the marginalised in society around us.
Launched at the Greenbelt Festival on Sunday 25th August with Dr Mike Sanders, an expert on the Chartists, speaking, the album is now available
Read the text of Dr Mike Sanders’ talk here
Ever since I saw the photo of the National Chartist Hymn Book in the Church Times I was intrigued. I contacted Dr Michael Sanders, Senior Lecturer in Victorian Studies at Manchester University and he sent me the lyrics; the hymn book had been discovered in Todmorden Public Library. Michael had set about investigating its origins and he believes it is the only surviving copy.
Michael says the now obscure South Lancashire Delegate Meeting almost certainly compiled the tiny pamphlet.
I didn’t know a lot about the Chartists but I knew they were a significant labour movement calling for political reform and rights for working people. I’m learning much more now from Michael and others.
I was interested to see how they expressed their concern for social justice in a hymn – what was the theology or spirituality. Some of those writing worship songs today are now keen to express issues of justice in them. I heard one writer say this was a ‘new thing that God was doing’. I chuckled because when we search there are normally models that can guide us – this one being around 170 years ago. Justice has always been close to the heart of God – note the emphasis of the Hebrew prophets.
I feel awkward singing some of the lyrics because
By Sarah Sibley
Following on from Garth’s visit to the KM 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!”
I love the words of our reading from Isaiah chapter 9: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light, those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.“
Then the words go on to talk about joy being increased because “the yoke of their burden… and the rod of the oppressor you have broken. All the boots of the tramping warriors, all the garments rolled in blood should be burned as fuel for the fire.”
‘Let justice roll on like a river
Truth like a never failing ever flowing stream
Then tears of rage will turn to laughter
And people become what they should be‘
– Garth Hewitt
Let Justice Roll (The People of the West)
from the album Justice Like a River