Arrangements of worship songs for two classical guitars have made Britain's ROB AND GILLY BENNETT big Christian retail sellers. Alison Pooley investigates.
Quite a remarkable response followed the release of Rob and Gilly Bennett's first album "The Touch' sending them to the top of the Christian music charts with sales topped only by those of Graham Kendrick.
Despite the sudden publicity and accolades, the couple seem to have remained untarnished by it all, showing a maturity and sense of awareness that belies their mere three years as Christians.
I caught up with them at this years Spring Harvest where they were guest artists. Amid the bustling carnival-like atmosphere audiences found respite in their classically based worship song arrangements for duo guitars.
They filled me in on their work so far. Gilly began: "We've only played about 10 times at major public venues. We've done the Christian Booksellers Convention twice; a tour in the North last November and Scotland in May. Mostly bookshops, church-based concerts and promotional appearances. Spring Harvest has been very different from other venues. Here we've only played for a 10 minute spot, not having time to really settle. So we've gone on and played and left the rest to the Lord.
"Normally, like at C.B.C. with Frank Peretti (author of 'Piercing The Darkness) we take 40 minutes to do a mixture of praise and worship songs before the speaker. If it's just a concert we'll mix in classical pieces and then move into praise and worship. People often hum along in the background." Rob interjects grinning, "We ask them to hum quietly as they are acoustic instruments. Electronics don't really bring out their beauty. Therefore we tend not to play to great massive audiences like Spring Harvests' Big Top, although that was an experience we'd been looking forward to. You loose contact with people on that massive stage. However, on stage it's a triangle - me, Gilly and the Lord. You can close your eyes and still worship as if nothing else is there."
As they both have an obvious love for Lord I asked them how they became Christians. "In 1987 friends invited us to what turned out to be a charismatic fellowship. A bit of a shock as we were both from traditional church backgrounds, we decided it wasn't for us! Yet six weeks later we went along to a John Pantry concert. Rob became a Christian through the course of one of his songs "A Fellowship Of Sinners'."
Consequently they joined Hailsham Christian Fellowship who have seen to it that their feet remain firmly on the ground, fostering their talent but also helping it to develop naturally.
They told me of other changes in their performing lives. "We'd done secular concerts before. Didn't like them at all - a lot of hype for nothing. We'd given up performing two and a half years prior to our conversion to concentrate on our other careers (Gilly is a qualified music teacher especially interested in the Kodaly method while Rob is a soft furnisher, and member of the Guild of Sussex Craftsmen.) In a sense we'd laid our music down - now it's been raised up. Knowing how vicious agents, managers and everyone jumping on the bandwagon can be, we're pleased to have Les Moir as manager. He's a godly man we feel we can grow with spiritually, not because he's got connections."
I asked how 'The Touch' came into being.
"We'd only been Christians two or three months when we were asked to play a concert. We played several classical pieces. Geoff Shearn of Kingsway Music was there, and asked us to arrange some worship songs. It took two years for us to develop and get things into perspective before we actually went into the studio to record our first album "The Touch'. The way we chose the songs then was just to get out Kingsway's thick 'Songs Of Fellowship' and go through them. I remember going to Geoff and asking 'is this the right speed - how do people sing it?' as we didn't know the songs," Rob went on. "We decided to put the brakes on at that point as we were coming from completely the wrong angle. Unlike our latest album "Such Love", which are songs which have either affected Gilly and myself in worship or songs we have heard and wanted to arrange.
"The name for the first album came out of a home meeting with the elders and leaders of our church. We were reminded of the story "The Touch Of The Masters' Hand" in which an old violin was restored and beautifully played. In the same way we felt God had touched our lives that were really ragged and "tightened our strings'
"The albums original concept was to provide people with a quiet-time at the end of the day, where they could unwind and focus on God. But it seems to have been used in a much more evangelistic way. It's also been bought by non-Christians, dentists, restaurants, even a yoga group!"
They were both insistent when they told me they haven't got a ministry but that the tape has a ministry of its own. However one understands that, opportunities for playing have opened out because of it. They are now involved with the Christian-inspired Hospice movement for terminally ill patients.
"We had a letter from a nursing sister. The Hospice had been using 'The Touch' as background music. One particular woman had been very blessed by it and the sister wanted us to come and play in person." Rob obviously warming to the subject said "Hospices aren't heavy. The relaxed atmosphere took us aback at first. The people feel accepted within themselves. All the nurses are looking to make the last few days as good as possible. Only when you get to know someone, go back three months later and find they've died - then the reality sort of thumps you. It's amazing how many people become Christians in those last few weeks of their lives. It's like a second chance at a crucial time when they're searching for meaning."
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