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This spring sees Keith and Kristyn Getty launch their Northern Celtic Islands tour, and with three dates in their hometown of Belfast, we can safely assume it will be something of a homecoming too. The tour will visit cities across the north of the UK, including Liverpool, Londonderry and Edinburgh between 28th May and 10th June. In each city there will also be a leadership event prior to the main concert, to be followed by the musicians playing in the foyers long into the evening in what the organisers describe as a celebration of Celtic and American folk music. As if all this wasn’t enough, the modern hymn writers have called on some of their closest friends to join them in their tour. With Stuart Townend, renowned choirs and orchestras, and musicians from both sides of the Atlantic amongst the Gettys’ collaborators, we can expect truly remarkable times of worship.
The Gettys moved to Nashville, Tennessee about two years ago, so the announcement of this tour might have come as a surprise to some. When I ask what prompted this UK tour, they laugh, ‘Well, for a couple of Belfast kids, Nashville is pretty hot in summer!’ It’s not just the weather they’ve had to become accustomed to, however. The move heralded a change of climate in many aspects of their life, including the birth of their first child, Eliza Joy, and settling into a new church family. They describe how ‘amid conversations with friends and co-workers around our dinner table and on our front porch, we found ourselves discussing the challenges of the Christian life.’ These musings soon developed into a new approach to their songwriting; as such, the couple claim that ‘these new songs are a reflection of those conversations and us turning to the Gospel for guidance’.
These new songs, then, are the impetus for the Northern Celtic Islands tour. The Gettys are well-known for their “new hymnody”, but it is their soon to be released Hymns for the Christian Life which prompted this tour. Fear not, their earlier “doctrinal hymns” will also feature on the bill as the focus remains on the congregational aspect which the Gettys bring to their work. They assured me, ‘As always, our desire is to see the body of Christ encouraged and strengthened through singing’. While the new Hymns are a boldly personal project, in sharing them Keith and Kristyn stay true to a personal vision: ‘we want each song that we create to be easily singable and allow the word of Christ to dwell richly within believers.’ Therefore, Hymns seems to be a natural step for these songwriters as they marry their new experiences and perspectives with their longstanding values.
The couple explain that this is also true of the musical influences on their songwriting: ‘The musical inspiration for these new songs comes from both our Celtic heritage and the American folk and bluegrass music we’ve come to love since moving to Nashville’. This blend is reflected in the line-up they’ve assembled, with musicians from both the land of their birth and their new home coming together for this trans-Atlantic tour. Explaining that ‘The collaborative partnership [...] flows naturally from long-standing relationships’, Keith and Kristyn are keen to emphasise the almost organic creation of the Northern Celtic Islands tour. Their partnerships with Stuart Townend and Noel Treddinick span decades, whilst the musicians travelling with the Gettys from across the Atlantic are those who have ‘worked and shared life with [them] for several years’. As such, the tour feels to them as ‘a natural extension of [their] friendships’, the logical next step in their musical collaboration.
With so many influences/ideas/relationships flowing together at once, how do the Gettys stay focused on their central vision, to bring believers into a place of worship? When I ask how they and their team stay on task and avoid simply producing a ‘gig’ atmosphere, the Gettys have several answers for me. Firstly, they comment that it ‘all depends on the kind of people involved in a tour’, and that the individuals accompanying them share their values and vision. Secondly, they mention the importance of their ministry partners from both the USA and UK who are joining with them in prayer. Thirdly, they point out the fact that the events are more than just concerts. With the leadership events preceding the main performance and the unplugged foyer sessions following, the Gettys emphasise how they’ve strived to create opportunities to ‘engage with the community of believers’, which is their vision summarised.
More information about the tour, dates and accompanying musicians is available on their website. For a sneak peek of what to expect watch this video: