“There is something about music that lifts our spirits and touches our hearts. It is, therefore, perfectly natural that the Christian faith has such a close relationship with music.”
Trystan Owain Hughes (from “Real God in the Real World…Advent and Christmas readings on the coming of Christ.
“You know what music is? It’s God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe.”
Robin Williams (character in the film “August Rush” 2007)
I’m not quite certain when it was; it must have been some time in the early 1960s.
Inspired by the sounds of ground-breaking Christian beat music from the 45 rpm discs that filled the juke box in the coffee shed at the Herne Bay Court Christian Conference Centre and, later, a visit by American folk-pop group ‘New World Singers’ to Canterbury Baptist Church…I bought my first guitar.
Being just a poor boy from a poor family (I need no sympathy) it was my mum who ordered it from the Kays catalogue, as a birthday present paid in instalments.
When it came, it was a cheaply made classical style guitar with a black painted neck, fashioned in Georgia, USSR, with such a high action that its metal strings shredded the tender tops of my learner’s fingers like cheese-wire. To me it was a gateway into another world.
I struggled to learn from the chord sheets that came with the guitar as I strained to force my painful fingers into hitherto unimagined contortions. Many times I was close to giving in, but somehow I stuck with it.
Breakthrough came with a book, a promise and a companion.
I had been a follower of Jesus since my 10th year. A family from church invited me to a missionary conference (Sudan United Mission) at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, in Derbyshire. Not only was this my first Christian Conference, it was also my first trip to “The North” on the fairly recently (1959) completed M1. The road was quite deserted as we made our way north through the driving rain, and I remember stopping on a slip-road for lunch!
I also had my first introduction to a motorway service station (I think it was Newport Pagnell), and here, whilst browsing books on a revolving stand I came across the book…”Guitar”, by Dan Morgan (1965). I’ve since discovered that many guitarists owe their initiation into the world of frets and chords to this book, and for a while it became, alongside the Bible, the most read book in my life (well…actually, at times it was probably read more than the other book I mentioned).
Even so, I still struggled. I had been taught that God was interested in the smallest detail of our lives, so I decide that guitar playing probably qualified. One day I prayed one of those ’bargain prayers’…”Father, please help me to learn the guitar and I promise I’ll always use it for you. Amen”. Despite my self-interest, I think the prayer was answered, which probably explains why, even today, I know more Christian songs than popular ones, have never sung in a band that didn’t have some Christian connection (with the exception of the school Folk group at Simon Langton Grammar school in Canterbury) and why, maybe to remind me to be humble, when I left a church in North Wales the leader told me in a farewell speech how much the church would “miss my guitar”. He had nothing to say about how my departure would be mourned!
The third string in my development as a guitarist came when the musicians at a beach mission that, even as a young teenager, I was encourage to help out with (Sunshine Corner, Whitstable), invited me to play along with them.
In particular, George, a Bible-college student from the North East who drove a Mini and played a cool guitar with f-shaped sound holes, became my mentor. For the four weeks of the mission he not only let me ride in his Mini but also gave me 1-on-1 tutoring as he encouraged my guitar playing.
It was also him that introduced me to the recently published (1966) “Youth Praise”, and when I learned the classic 4-chord trick song “Can it be true?” the future beckoned…