50 years today one of the most exquisite albums of all time was released. Joni Mitchell’s Blue is sublime. It is also so darn personal that it launched a new genre of albums of personal introspection. 

Presbyterian minister and writer Frederick Beuchner once said that the best art is just opening a vein and letting bleed on the page. The only books worth reading suggested Buechner were books written in blood. So too albums worth listening to. 

If ever any songwriter bled on the page it is Joni Mitchell. Blue might be 12 inches of vinyl on which she bled the most.

When the songs on Blue were being spilled, Joni was living a rock star drama of her own up in Laurel Canyon. This one record is strewn with 4 minute diary entries about love affairs with Graham Nash and James Taylor and there is “a redneck on a Grecian isle” as well!

For its 50th anniversary we get an advance release of 5 demos and out takes. I say advance as they will all be included in the second in Mitchell’s Archive box set series in October. This second collection covers 1968-71. I cannot wait.

This little download taster is rather tasty. We get A Case Of You, maybe the best song ever written with slightly different words. It’s not quite formed. So too California with a harsher sounding guitar.

Then we get Hunter, which has been subtitled The Good Samaritan and does prove what Mitchell has said that she was a little obsessed with Jesus around this time. Perhaps that is why it was eventually left off Blue. It is a wonderful out take to discover 5 decades on.

River get a different mix that includes French horns. They do give the song a more Christmasy feel but a whole lot less Bluey. 

The final outtake is Urge For Going with strings. It’s a beauty. I never knew this much earlier song was slated for Blue. It would have fitted. It is one of Mitchell’s most accomplished songs and finally being released as a b-side seems very harsh, almost disregard, for such an accomplished song. 

So, on what should be called Blue Day, here is a wee celebration. A way to listen afresh. Back to Buechner. He went on to say that “anything written in blood bring about transfusions that can save souls if not lives”. 


“I remember that time you told me

You said, "Love is touching souls"

Surely you touched mine

'Cause part of you pours out of me

In these lines from time to time


Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine

You taste so bitter and so sweet

Oh, I could drink a case of you”


Iain and Gary

(This is my Pause For Thought on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2 on 21.6.21... the theme was who would I invite to a picnic on National Picnic Week... I took the chance to wish my mate a Happy Birthday)


Picnic week. My wife loves a good picnic. She loves getting everything ready. Flasks of coffee and plastic spoons and knives. Sandwiches, cake, crisps all in a picnic basket… or two. 

Then its Dunserverick Harbour, on the north Antrim coast, near the Giant’s Causeway. Its off the beaten track, just couple of picnic tables… you can tuck in, while the water laps in maybe a few canoers just out from shore…

I, however, am a grumpy old man. Picnics mean flies, wasps on my sandwich. But even I am looking forward to one in the next few weeks…

Who’d I invite. Jesus is a bit obvious but he’d be great if the food ran out… or the wine for that matter. Nelson Mandela but he’s not available. Barack Obama seems like good company and Janice would enjoy Michelle. Paul and Nancy McCartney would be amazing.

BUT in the end… Today, the longest day of the year 2021 is my friend Iain Archer’s 50th Birthday. You probably haven’t heard of Iain but you know his work. I bet Vanessa has played his songs. Among many others, Iain co-wrote Run with his mates Snow Patrol, Lightning Bolt with Jake Bugg and Hold Back The River with James Bay.

Iain has been a good friend for nearly 30 years and it would be amazing to have him, his wife Miriam and their twins Reuben and Eden up the coast to celebrate. Janice would have birthday cake.

With little live music in 15 months I’d ask Iain to bring his guitar. Miriam plays and sings with Snow Patrol too and the kids are pretty darn good. A favourite song on our Family Playlists is Frozen Lake where Iain sings “I want to be someone who makes you feel beautiful/I want to be someone who covers you with love”.

I love that. Of course it is a love song but it is so much more. It’s like a mission statement, like a paraphrase of Jesus love your neighbour. It’s what I want to do in the day. Make everyone I meet feel beautiful. Cover them with love. 

Happy 50th dear friend.   


Lost Lives Church

photo from the film Lost Lives


“The bullets are still travelling.” 

It might have been Northern Irish portrait artist Colin Davidson who said that, while speaking at a 4 Corners Festival event about his Silent Testimony exhibition. 

Colin of course meant that the bullets and indeed bombs that killed people during our Troubles are still having their impact. For those who lost loved ones it is not back then, it is still now. I think that that is another line stolen from Colin.

Today is a Day Of Reflection in Northern Ireland. Every June 21st, the longest day, Healing Through Remembering invite the people of Northern Ireland to reflect on our loss. It will not be on your news bulletins. It is a more private thing. A remembering.

This year I have been reflecting a lot on those who lose loved ones and how the bullets and shrapnel is still impacting hearts and souls and minds. 

The Ballymurphy Massacre Inquest started my mind racing. As each of the families of the ten, who were declared innocent after fifty years, shared their traumatic stories I realised that we were listening to the toll of the Troubles. Too often we count the dead. We catalogue those killed. It is too easy to forget that the bullets are still travelling, the bomb still exploding.

I was suddenly quite emotional, thinking of those left behind. Parents, spouses, children who had to live with the consequences. There were economic consequences. There were empty chair consequences. Yet more than that the psychological impact of the trauma of loved ones killed in such violent and bloody circumstances.

I began to consider those I knew who lost loved ones. 

Today I am thinking of my friend whose mother could never come to terms with his father’s death that she had been far too close a witness. I thought of his brothers who never got over it and died of the consequences far too young, the bullets got them too. I had more admiration for my friend who had made it through.

Today I am thinking of my friend who was left in a wheel chair after his neighbours, the target of the gunmen, never returned so they just riddled him with bullets instead. Turning away from cold blooded revenge he now studies peace building at Queens University Belfast and has contributed immensely for victims and survivors.

Today I am thinking of a former colleague who also lost father. He was only two. I thought of his Godly attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation. My admiration grew and grew reflecting on his desire to look forward to a peaceful future than any kind of vengeance.

Today I am thinking of another friend, his sister and mother. His dad was blown up on the day that his mother was going to share the news that they were expecting him. This is a family that inspires me so much. A mother who somehow left with the most horrendous situation brought two amazing children up to live for reconciliation 

On this day of reflection it is these are the quiet heroes that I am quietly remembering. How did they manage to divert the bullets and shrapnel still flying to find resilience and strength and grace in such circumstances. 

These are the unsung heroes who don’t want sung about who in many ways paid for our peace (might be Colin again) and who now work for our future when the card they were dealt could have led them down so many cul-de-sacs of our past. 

Today I reflection… remember… and pray… 


Edwin Poots

Allow me to use a Surmise to unpack all this DUP drama!

In November 2014 the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship had Mike Nesbitt, then leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, speak at Clonard Monastery. That night, just off the Falls Road, an audience with a majority of Nationalists and Republicans told Mike that the Union was safe in their lifetimes and that he should stop worrying about borders and get on with issues like health and education. Mental health was particularly high on the agenda.

Less than seven years later and that Union is far from safe. It is astounding to realise that Nationalists and Republicans have done very little for that to cause the turn around. Unionism, mainly the DUP have unraveled their most precious Union almost single handedly.

RHI, Bexit, snuggling up to Theresa May and being betrayed, believing promises of Boris Johnston and getting shafted, a goods border in the Irish Sea and the protocol confusion with it. It’s not been a good few years for the DUP.

Their support for Brexit becomes more and more unfathomable with every passing day. Northern Irish voters had a clear majority that wanted to Remain. That the DUP put voters in England and Wales above their own. That has not go down well. There are very many unionists with a small u, particularly the younger age group, who see themselves as Europeans with a capital E. I wonder what the percentage increase in Protestants with Irish passports!

Ireland was nicely settled and compromised in the EU. North and South flowed back and forward in a way that the border was a lot less of a barrier. In many ways Ireland was pragmatically united while Northern Ireland was still part of the UK. That had become almost palatable to those talking to Mike Nesbitt at Clonard. 

Brexit unraveled all of that. Borders were important again. Pragmatisim was jettisoned for old idealisms. Like the Nationalistic English, who seemed to see Britain as some Empire who still ruled the waves, the DUP thought we could free themselves again from a Rome Rule Republic and all its poverty. Except that there was no longer an Empire and The Republic Of Ireland was no longer Catholic or a developing country. Unionists had been enjoying Dublin and elsewhere across the 26 counties for thirty years. Unionists with a small u were no longer frightened of Ireland and were a whole lot angry with English nationalism.

As Alliance and even the SDLP started stealing small u Unionist votes the DUP have not responded. Getting unceremoniously rid of Arlene Foster and electing Edwin Poots as leader seemed like a return to an even older and tighter hardline. Then when we thought he might play hard ball with Sinn Fein over the Irish Language they seemed to compromise. 

When they do, those we thought were the softer line DUP revolt and oust Poots who hadn’t even got his seat warm. Now it looks like Sir Jeffrey Donaldson will be leader of a party that it was thought he might resign from in a week or two’s time. You couldn’t make it up.

And the Union cracks a little bit more as former Unionist voters and new voters are exasperated. What next? Donaldson going harder than Poots? Chat that he would bring down the institutions at Stormont as Sinn Fein did in 2017 might be the next bad move. An election just now might well get their hardline voters behind them but if they have haemorrhaged even more of the middle ground they might return with fewer seats than Sinn Fein. 

They need to also take seriously that Alliance and the SDLP have uncovered good politicians and even the Ulster Unionists look a little stronger under Doug Beattie and a stand out performance by Robin Swann through Covid-19, no matter what Van Morrison and his mate Junior suggest!

Maybe after all the coming and going and drama of the past month we should return to the leader before it all went mad. Arlene Foster’s Tweet during the 12 hours of Edwin Poots meteoric rise and fall that she hoped everyone was having a lovely day was acerbically hilarious. 

More poignant and prophetic are some of Foster’s final words in the Chamber when she resigned as First Minister, “We can poke each other in the eye and have a competition of ‘my identity is better than yours’ but it is only by respecting each other’s identity that we will move forward.”

That would be a sensible, pragmatic lead to take, whoever turns out the leader of a party that seems very much bullyingly led by its followers and voters than its leader. 

Mind you when God gave out pragmatism, the DUP seemed to think he said paganism and asked for absolutely none! In the same handing out instead of self reflect they thought God said genuflect and they were having none of that. 

Let us of course not point fingers without fingers pointing back. All have fallen short and continue too. We all need grace filled pragmatism and Holy Spirit searching for self critique. The DUP's current drama is without doubt making a rocky local government even more rocky but everyone of us in Northern Ireland need to move away from century old idealism and ask how our Britishness and Irishness makes sense NOW and how the two can come together to make common ground for common good.



As I celebrated Paul McCartney's birthday, a friend said that she didn't get the McCartney thing. I thought I'd give 25 reasons as to why she should. See it as McCartney evangelism. The melodies. The craft. The variety of sound sounds. Over 50 years! Genius!



(from With The Beatles)



(from Revolver)



(from The Beatles 1962-66)



(from Revolver)



(from Revolver)



(from Revolver)



(from Magical Mystery Tour)



(from The Beatles)



(from The Beatles)



(from Let It Be)



(from Let It Be)



(from Let It Be)



(from McCartney)



(from Wings Over America)



(from Red Rose Speedway)



(from Band On The Run)



(from Venus and Mars)



(from McCartney II)



(from Tug Of War)



(from Flowers In The Dirt)



(from Flaming Pie)



(from Chaos and Creation In The Backyard)



(from New)



(from Egypt Station)



(from McCartney III)