12 October 2023

Major Joy Webb: A bridge to encounter God

A black and white photo shows Major Joy Webb playing guitar.

In tribute to Major Joy Webb, who was recently promoted to Glory, Salvationist shares an interview from September 2000 about her book Bridge of Songs.

Songwriting doesn’t come easily to Joy Webb. The internationally acclaimed, breathtakingly successful composer finds writing songs emotionally exhausting, physically draining, spiritually humbling but unremittingly rewarding.

‘You can’t be a closed person as an artist,’ she says. ‘You have to be wide open, ready to receive both joy and pain. It’s like living without a skin, a protective layer.’

Such artistic sacrifice is not without reward. ‘I have come to think of my songs as bridges over which people may, if they choose, walk to encounter God,’ Joy declares.

Hence the title of the major’s latest book, Bridge of Songs, in which she writes of the bricks and mortar that built those ‘bridges’ – her own life experiences that laid the foundations, circumstances that prompted songs and the Spirit’s inspiration.

‘I set out to write only about music but discovered that songs are the stuff of my life in many senses,’ enthuses Joy.

A black and white photo shows the Joystrings.

From hilarious reminiscences to moments of high tension, happy days to dark nights of the soul, Joy’s writing is honest, sincere, deeply personal and always interesting.

The jazzy, red-and-gold-embossed jacket adds a classy feel to the book and several stylish picture inserts enhance the already vivid narrative.

Beginning with ‘the song that changed my life’, Joy relates the ‘Open Secret’ of the rollercoaster ride of overnight fame and stunning success the Joystrings enjoyed.

‘The Sixties was the time God chose for us. Back then, young people wanted to save the world and influence things, and music dealt with real issues,’ she remembers.

‘Nowadays vast quantities of money and manufactured hype are necessary for chart success and talent doesn’t matter, but then anything was possible.

The Joystrings struck a chord with thousands of people through the simple message of their music.

‘We didn’t want an audience in the Church,’ emphasises Joy. ‘We aimed for the millions of youngsters out there who wanted more out of life and were searching for answers.’

Joy writes honestly and openly about the Joystrings era, relating descriptively the late-night gigs, regular TV appearances, soul-winning successes and the ‘unrelenting criticism’ from some within the Army and the wider Church.

She is quite clear about the key to the Joystrings’ success.

‘We realised the language of the Church of the day might as well have been Chinese to the man on the street. We tried to write things the brickie from the building site who walked into a meeting could understand.’

In Bridge of Songs Joy reveals the imaginative sources for some of her ground-breaking works.

‘It’s an Open Secret’, for example, was inspired by a reading on ‘that open secret’ (Colossians 1:26 Moffatt) during early morning prayers at the training college.

And a get-well card sent to Joy bearing the text, ‘The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord’ (Proverbs 20:27 King James Version) prompted her to write her well-known and much-loved song on that theme.

Above all else Joy writes songs to stretch the boundaries of imagination, and to challenge.

‘We in the Church are so dull, we can make the greatest things sound boring,’ she says. ‘I believe that lives can be transformed by imaginative thinking in the Spirit.

‘I write to confront myself, and the deeper I get into a song the more it challenges me. If I’m challenged then I know someone else will be.’

A sepia tone photo shows the Joystrings smiling at the camera.

Surprisingly, Joy doesn’t particularly enjoy hearing her own songs.

‘When you write you hear sounds first in your mind, and I suppose that is a blueprint which may never be matched by what you achieve on written manuscript,’ she says.

Joy never ceases to be bowled over by the success of her music, but knows where to attribute praise.

‘The Lord can take hold of a song of mine I don’t even like listening to and suddenly reports will come in of that song touching people’s hearts,’ she says. ‘It’s very humbling.’

In Bridge of Songs Joy also highlights lesser known but no less interesting periods of her life – such as her work with the Sunbury Junior Singers, success with the Joy Folk and dramatic antics with the Army’s Marylebone theatre company.

Subjects such as the ‘Elvis episode’ – when Joy sang at a memorial service for the superstar, arousing much controversy; Joy’s long-standing ‘love affair with Finland’ and her many transatlantic travels also feature.

Joy also speaks openly about her prayer life and her walk with God.

In essence, the book represents a personal testimony, the story of one person’s working out of her God-given gifts.

‘Songs are part of the process that the Lord has planned for me to influence people on his behalf,’ enthuses Joy. ‘I don’t know if I have accomplished much in my officership but I hope more than anything else that I have been used to draw people to Jesus.’

  • This interview was originally conducted by Matthew Carpenter and published in the 30 September 2000 issue of Salvationist.

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