“I wrote this song in 1993. It was beautifully recorded by The Williams Brothers. In 1998 (ed) the violence in Northern Ireland ignited in Omagh, resulting in a tragedy beyond a heart’s ability to comprehend, killing 29 innocent people, injuring hundreds. Juliet Turner sand this song at the memorial service and I continue this dedication to these families, and all whose hearts are broken things.”
These are Julie Miller’s sleeve notes from her 1999 album Broken Things, about the title song Broken Things.
What she doesn’t write, that which she didn’t even know, that which I have never recorded until now almost twenty years later, is that I was the one who suggested that Juliet Turner would sing that song.
I still remember where I was that Saturday afternoon in August 1998 when news swept across Northern Ireland about a car bomb in Omagh town centre. Almost immediately, it was realised that this would be the worst atrocity in all of our modern Troubles. Janice and I were in a cafe In Ballycastle and like the entire population we started wondering who we knew that might be in Omagh at that time.
It was four years since our dreamed of ceasefires. It was just a few months after the Good Friday Agreement seemed to end such days forever. This was a hard one to take. They all were down through the decades but that the very worst happened in so called peace times!
I was hosting my radio show the night after and dedicated the entire show to a response to the bomb. I didn’t play Broken Things.
However, I got a phone call from Rev Robert Heron, a minister in Omagh, asking me if I could put him in touch with Juliet Turner. Juliet was from Omagh and Robert knew that I knew her. I had had her sing on my show. He wanted to invite her to sing at the Memorial Services a few days later.
Juliet was reluctant. I can remember her on the phone with me saying that she was on her way home to Omagh and was going to meet Robert but didn't feel she had any songs that were appropriate. Robert then phoned back. Juliet had given him the same story… no songs.
It was at this point that Broken Things came to me. Juliet had sung it on my radio show and I also remember her doing it on a Sunday morning Religious TV show on BBC, about the Summer Madness Festival. For me this was a spiritual enough song to fit into a Memorial Service. I told Robert to suggest this song to Juliet!
As I watched the Memorial Service live in television I could not believe how appropriate the song was for such an occasion. Juliet's empathy and poise and my goodness the poignancy. There are two things going on in Miller’s tune; a deep awareness of brokenness and a wide eyed hopefulness for redemption. As Juliet sang it in the palpable sorrow of her hometown’s grief the song took on new dimensions. It was cathartic. It was prayerful. It was a commitment in seeming hopelessness to a transcendent hope of healing.
There were calls for Juliet to bring it out as a single. There is little doubt it would have been number 1 and would have launched her career onto another level. Juliet was a woman of more integrity. She refused to exploit such a tragedy for her own gain. She was eventually persuaded to record a stripped back version for the Across The Bridge Of Hope fundraising album but as far as Juliet was concerned this was a song for the moment and not be repeated as some hit single. Respect!
Indeed, many years later, I asked Juliet to sing it at my installation service as minister in Fitzroy. She would have been happy to sing something else. I wanted Broken Things as I committed my personal life to God and this Church community. Alison Cochrane and Ali Buick (now McKeown) on harp did the business!
This very morning in Fitzroy Ali McKeown was on harp again and this time Shannon Clements did an awesome job of the lyrics. Ali and Shannon performed it during the offering. It is perfect for that. This is a song of commitment. It is a human being ravaged by the world’s raging, all out of ability to fix it themselves, just offering what is left to God to heal, transform and make new.
That is how I had used it long before Omagh. That is how I use it still. On that day in Omagh, Juliet took it to even more powerful usage. I am proud of my part in the song’s story. But for my suggestion Julie Miller would not have rerecord it for the album I quoted at the top of this blog. There are small moments in your life where a quick thought and word in passing is given something beyond and makes its impact. Broken Things is such a story!