Lins Honeyman spoke to classical guitarist JOHN GERIGHTY about his latest album and a music ministry that continues to stand the test of time
As one half of one of Christian music's most enduring acts of the '90s, Birmingham-based classical guitarist John Gerighty has forged a steady and successful solo career since he and his musical partner Simeon Wood went separate ways at the turn of the millennium. Going solo has failed to be a barrier to John and recent years have seen the in-demand instrumentalist put on series of concerts that have promoted God's message through the medium of his unique brand of reflective music.
Ongoing concert packages such as No Room At The Inn and The Passion have provided a base for John to communicate the true meaning of Christmas and Easter respectively whilst his Encounters With God recital has used the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible as a springboard to highlight God's word to those who attend.
In addition to his concert work and a steady stream of meditational albums such as the acclaimed 'A Still Small Voice' and a studio recording of the aforementioned 'No Room At The Inn', 2010 saw John return to his classically-trained roots with the release of 'Fantasia' which has acted as a showcase for both the versatility of John's instrument and the virtuoso talent of the man himself through a number of carefully selected classical pieces.
I catch up with John to ask him how his latest album came about. "'Fantasia' is really a follow up to 'Guitarra!' which was my first classical album back in 2004," explains John. "I had the idea to do it quite a while ago and it's taken quite a long time because I tend to record odd pieces in between other work. I actually started 'Fantasia' when I was recording my Christmas album 'No Room At The Inn' a couple of years back. I would record a classical piece here and there whilst I was recording the Christmas songs for the other album."
I wonder if John has always had a hankering to do purely classical albums. "Yes, I have," he confirms. "I did a rough version of 'Guitarra!' in 1998 and I let a few people hear it. They were very positive about it but it wasn't fantastically recorded so I redid it. Since I'd been at college, at the time when classical guitarists such as John Williams and Julian Bream were household names, I guess I've always wanted to record a classical album. It's been like revisiting my roots."
John has been specific in his goals for both 'Guitarra!' and 'Fantasia' as well as the choice of music that has ended up on the finished products. "I deliberately chose pieces that were pleasant on the ear in order to introduce classical guitar to people who don't know it," states John. "People who come to my concerts generally listen to a lot of Christian music and aren't too familiar with classical guitar music. It was a way of spreading the news about the classical guitar and letting people know more about it."
As well as spreading the word about the guitar's place as a valid instrument in the classical world, John is also committed to communicating the word of God through his music via a range of church-based live concerts. I ask John to describe how his particular ministry works. "If you take The Passion concert as an example, the idea is to bring people back to the subject of the cross and to tell the Easter story in a slightly different way than they've heard it before. The format consists of instrumental music and Bible readings plus pictures on PowerPoint. There will be bits of silence to help people reflect and we always finish with a time of worship."
I suggest that it must be difficult to get the message across without the help of lyrics. "When you have words in music, you are focussing your thinking quite specifically on the content of the lyrics," offers John. "Instrumental music on the other hand gives you more room to be yourself with God and, hopefully, hear God. It's all about creating a space, really. With this kind of events, you've really got to let God do his work - you're just there doing your stuff and God will impact it in all sorts of ways."
Recognised as one of Christendom's most accomplished musicians, John's journey to mastering his chosen instrument and ultimately using his gifts for the Kingdom has been a long one. "When I started playing," he explains, "I had an electric guitar and was trying to work out how to play it on my own. Someone at the time told me - in hindsight, I don't think he was right - the best way to learn the electric guitar was to first of all learn the classical guitar so I got some lessons and was immediately hooked on the instrument. After that, I had a few auditions at various music colleges and Trinity College in London accepted me."
It was during his time at the world famous Trinity College that John met flautist Simeon Wood and the pair soon began playing together at a range of musical venues throughout and beyond London before becoming one of their era's most fondly remembered Christian acts. "After we'd got to know each other," elaborates John, "Simeon said that his dad had had a really good idea that we could play as a duo around restaurants in London. After that, we did the odd concert that we organised ourselves and it slowly took off from there."
Continues John, "There wasn't a conscious decision for Simeon and me to go into music ministry at the beginning. This was at a time when we were both beginning to grow in our relationships with God. I had been going along to the reflective Christ In Quiet services at Lee Abbey, the Christian retreat in Devon, and Simeon was lodging with a vicar's family and started to play at evening services at that church. The first time I heard the phrase 'music ministry' was when the vicar's wife said that's what we had. I thought we were just playing music! Joking apart, I began to get a strong sense that God wanted to use our gifts in music."
After a sabbatical in 1998, Simeon and John parted company and I ask John how he adapted to becoming a solo artist. He explains, "Although I was playing solo at some events, I started doing concerts with my wife Nellie - who is a recorder player - so it didn't feel like such a big jump. When I started playing solo it made a nice change but I equally enjoy playing with others."
Whether playing solo or with others, John is clear about where the focus of his music ministry must lie. "A few years back, I was on the point of not knowing whether or not I should carry on with my music ministry. I was at a Christian conference and the speaker talked about giving your ministry back to God and waiting to see if he gave it back to you or not. I handed my ministry back to God and - without any pushing from me - people started approaching me to do events and concerts."
In addition to continuing concerts such as The Passion, No Room At The Inn and Encounters With God, John plans to record an album version of 'The Passion' as well as taking his art into secular music venues, hospitals and even living rooms. "The main reason is to keep the work going and help me keep inspired," enthuses John. "The few times I've played in hospitals, for instance, it was amazing to see the calming effect it had on the people in the wards."
John finishes by confessing his desire to bring his music literally closer to the people. "As well as continuing to play in bigger church settings, I would love to do some living room concerts. These sorts of events are lovely social occasions and to have live music so physically close to you is quite a thrill. For me to have the privilege of being part of that process would be amazing."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.