Reviewed by John Cheek
Garth Hewitt is an elder-statesman of the world of Christian popular music but has often gone under-reported and, more significantly, misunderstood. An ordained priest, songwriter, guitarist, activist, singer and a pretty impressive evangelist as well, Hewitt has often been viewed by a minority of Christians with suspicion: "too political" and "anti-Israel" are just two criticisms levelled at an artist who had something of a privileged upbringing and yet went on to spend much of his life about as far away from The Establishment - in both church and society - as it's reasonably possible to get. It's maybe indicative of how Hewitt has been ignored by the church at times, in the past, in that even many of his long-term fans will not be familiar with a lot of the story contained in this autobiography, published in 2018. Which makes it a must-read for those who have followed him for some time. This glossy, colour title is almost like a huge tour programme in appearance and is none the worse for it. The different sections and panels in the text make it accessible for the reader to dip into an otherwise huge word-count. Along with just about every Garth record-sleeve, flyer and press cutting reproduced here, and lavish photography, the images are symbolic of the wealth of memory and anecdote contained within the pages.
Hewitt begins the narrative when he was a new-ish Christian and a young teenager. He recalls the time when he went to hear Rev. Martin Luther King speak at St. Paul's Cathedral, in London. The man, whom he had seen on the news so many times, was a captivating speaker and afterwards, having gone to get something to eat, Garth decided to go back to the Cathedral to see if King was still around. He encountered Jesse Jackson and the whole entourage with Martin, outside, just laughing and joking in a very ordinary way. It was a profound moment in Hewitt's life and yet he relates this, and other encounters with Desmond Tutu and Mother Theresa in a very modest, unassuming way. As he does his experiences with victims of oppression, war and famine. Likewise, his friendship and work with Sir Cliff Richard. One day, the two of them were recording in some studios in the west end, and Garth decided to treat Cliff to lunch, for a change. Garth takes his esteemed guest to McDonalds in Oxford Street, where eventually, the two of them have to leave with their chips still in their hands, as they fear being mobbed by surprised but ecstatic fellow-diners! Cliff's patronage of the Christian performer was instrumental in putting Hewitt on the road to fame-and-fortune and here, Garth explains in detail how uncomfortable he felt with the prospect of becoming a 'star'.
Therefore, it's fascinating to read of how Hewitt instead dedicated his life and his lyrics to relating the plight of the victims and the oppressed, in the world's trouble-spots. It took him away from the charts and allowed him instead, the chance to show all sides of every story. Inevitably, that meant going regularly to the parts where Jesus' feet touched the earth, and it's here that 'Against The Grain', is at it's strongest. Whilst displaying reality of life for the Palestinians, and expressing his great love for them, he doesn't hid his affections for Jews and argues persuasively that, whilst an individual can critique a government and it's policies, they can retain a heart-felt concern for the people they represent. His encounters with Jews - many of which are recounted here - are amongst the most-touching of the book and those with Mordecai Vanunu had me reflecting with wonder for a long while after. All sorts of famous people have met Garth Hewitt and yet he remains humble in his descriptions of them. He also honestly admits to compromising his lyrics on occasions; this is an artist with nothing to prove and refreshingly points to past fears and failures. He tells of the time when Banksey asked to meet him at an east London bar; the mysterious creative apologises to Garth for the erotic artwork on display on the walls of the venue, only for Hewitt to admit that he hasn't noticed: he'd given Banksey his full attention, as a person. Martyn Joseph, Bruce Cockburn, Mighty Clouds of Joy and all the many names of Christian music whom he has worked with, are covered in considerable detail, but always with the focus on the music - there's no ego-trips here. Garth Hewitt fans will love it but it's a book worth checking out, even if you're not numbered among them. This is an absorbing, stimulating read and an insight into a counter-cultural voice which is prophetic in every sense of the world.
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