CHRISTINE MCVIE (1943-2022) - A TRIBUTE

McVie

I was a little heartbroken to hear of Christine McVie’s death. There are musical artists who are so deeply embedded in your life. Christine McVie was one of those.

I remember becoming a big boy in my listening tastes when I discovered The Beatles in 1976 and then by 1977 I was buying Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and of course Fleetwood Mac. 

I fell in love with Rumours. The entire thing is perfect in the brokenness of romantic break ups of the players. I loved every song but You Make Loving Fun was all Christine. Songbird was just an all time classic from the start. 

I later read Ken Caillat’s insightful book about the album called The Making Of Rumours and have been ever fascinated by how they recorded it in Zellerbach Auditorium, just Christine, spotlights and a bunch of flowers on the piano to get the right ambience.

In 1978 after cleaning up my mates in the afternoon golf sweep I redirected my Chopper through Ballymena to buy the white album Fleetwood Mac in Camerons. Warm Ways. Oh my! And the pop piano propelled Say You Love Me. 

Oh of course I had a teenage crush on Stevie Nicks. Of course she and her witchy ethereal haunting voice was the one who became the big solo star but I loved Christine no less. Her voice was sublime and her understated ways were her own lure. 

I looked forward to the McVie songs on future Mac albums - Over and Over, Angel and Brown Eyes, Everywhere, Little Lies, Only Over You, Love In Store. I was gutted when she left for all those years and even more so when that was the period that I saw Fleetwood Mac live.

I have since gone back to her Chicken Shack days and I’d Rather Go Blind, her Fleetwood Mac work before Buckingham and Nicks arrived and her solo work that was featured this year in her Songbird compilation. I was a big fan of her record with Lindsay Buckingham in 2017. Red Sun and Carnival Begin among those best Fleetwood Mac songs not on a Fleetwood Mac record.

Songbird will be her legacy. It will be sung forever probably alongside Bridge Over Trouble Waters, Yesterday, Something and You’ve Got A Friend. It will always remind us of the talent that Christine McVie was and hopefully send the inquisitive back to find almost 60 years of a great catalogue of songs.

Thank you for the music Ms Perfect.

 

Read my review of Lindsay Buckingham Christine McVie here

 


MY BEST BARGAIN LEADS ME TO JESUS

Hard Days

(the script of my BBC 2 Radio Pause For Thought on December 1st, 2022... the theme for the week was My Best Bargain)

 

Bargains. I love bargains. As a music fan I have searched bargain bins all over the world, to find that rare gem as cheap as possible. We even had a Bargain Bin Fellowship which every Monday trawled the Belfast record stores seeking. 

I remember when my then girlfriend, now wife Janice, lived in London. I’d leave her at work in Wimbledon and get my underground all day pass and travel every shop I knew in Soho, Newport Street, Notting Hill, Camden… checking the bargain price before looking at the title or artist. Coming back with a treasure trove, most of which I still have.

The biggest bargain though. Early summer 1976 I literally bargained with my mate Colin. I am not sure what I offered him in a ropey pile of uninteresting 7” singles… BUT in return I purloined not 1 or 2 or 3 BUT 4 Beatles albums! They had been his uncles. Colin must have thought outdated. They became my future.

Here’s the thing. When I got them home and played I Should Have Known Better from A Hard Days Night I opened up a life time love of all things Fab 4. A love as passionate almost 50 years after as when I first set Help on my turntable.

BUT more than that, because of my mid teens saturation in all things Beatles, I started to ask existentialist questions. I came to love All You Need Is Love or Lennon’s Give Peace A Chance. The Beatles asked the questions my developing mind wanted to ask.

Yet, though I loved their questions The Beatles lacked something in the answers. As songwriter Larry Norman put it “The Beatles said all you need is love and then they broke up”. 

A couple of years later my mate Philip mentioned Jesus. After a long suspicious look at what Jesus said and did, I was convinced that here was someone not only with answers but maybe the power to make the answers work. I even thought he probably looked like a 1970 John Lennon. 

I am also still as passionate about Jesus all these decades later. 

So, one sunny afternoon. One bit of teenage bargaining. One life changed for ever. I wouldn’t be on with you Nikki this morning but for grabbing those 4 precious slabs of Beatles vinyl. I love bargains!


RICKY ROSS LIVE IN FITZROY, BELFAST - 25.11.22

Ricky singing

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

 

When I fell in love with Deacon Blue in the spring of 1987 they were nowhere - on radio or TV. I had found Dignity in Caroline Music in Corn Market and given it a lash because there was someone with the same name as my best mate - Ricky Ross. I then ordered the album Raintown to make sure I’d get it..

Then one Sunday on Channel 4 Ricky and Lorraine McIntosh sitting at the piano, talking about Raintown. Ricky then showed them how he had demoed Ragman, playing it on just the piano. Oh my. I wanted more of that.

Thirty five years later and Ricky Ross is sitting at a piano again without Lorraine this time. In Fitzroy. My few yards of vocational real-estate. Be daring in what you hope for!

He plays those piano motifs that are so strong in those Deacon Blue songs that pepper the setlist. Raintown, Wages Day, Dignity, Circus Lights. During Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now I close my eyes and take in the moment. 

But tonight isn’t about Deacon Blue hits. If you want those then grab your tickets for the SSE next October. Ricky Ross solo is a different incarnation. Tonight’s songs reach across five of his own solo records and personally it was a treat to hear Good Evening Philadelphia, Boys Break The Things They Love The Most, She Gets Me Inside and The Further North You Go with Hannah White doing the Lorraine McIntosh parts in the latter and a closing Pale Rider with both Hannah and Keiron Marshall on harmonies.

The night before Ricky played we had Martyn Joseph in the house and no less than three people, looking ahead, said to me, Ricky will play God and Dogs tomorrow night, won’t he?” It does seem to have become one of his most popular of his songs. In introducing it tonight he credited his wife Lorraine - “she’s better on theology than me”. “She is,” I shout back. One of my all time favourite theologically lines is “So I give you everything of me/Knowing you can't return it back in full”. Grace, beautifully expressed.

It might be God and Dogs or even the two Short Stories Volumes as a whole that made me realise what a good story teller Ricky Ross is. It is difficult to listen to Volume 2 without linking it to his memoir Walking Back Home. In the book as with the songs - storytellling with a poetic flair. 

Ricky Reading 1

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

 

Tonight Ricky performs from both. When I say performs, he follows neither Springsteen or Bono’s theatrical approach. In keeping with his understated style he turns on his piano stool opens the book and reads. A readings about his mother, old hymns and childhood in the Brethren was poignant and another about his father’s death in the same few weeks that Deacon Blue broke up and Dundee United won the Scottish Cup was even more so.

Songs from Volume 2 like All Dressed Up and Still Walking seemed to keep his parents present with us tonight and indeed his children. A funny story or two about his son Seamus and a shout out to his wife Lorraine and this was very similar to Bono’s book and tour, family at the centre.

All of this is played out with that Ricky Ross sleight of hand. There are no pop star big bright moves. He seems like the man next door, so one with the audience. Yet, don’t be fooled. To hold the attention of a full church for an hour and a half takes a charisma that few of us have. Magic. His voice, songwriting and the rasp in his voice his rabbits and swords. 

Tonight’s crowd play their part too. Unlike an SSE filled with folk wanting Real Gone Kid and little after, in the smaller venue without drink and incessant toilet breaks, Ricky Ross has their respect and admiration more than their adoration. I imagine that that was his yearned for aim when he set out on this journey all those years ago. 

To top and tail. The Ricky Ross who made me buy Ricky Ross’s first single was here and got his book signed “To Ricky Ross, from Ricky Ross”. Like the evening - wonderful!


HANNAH WHITE LIVE IN FITZROY, BELFAST (Supporting RICKY ROSS)

Hannah White

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman

 

I had heard about Hannah White. I guess that Ricky Ross played her on his radio show and then asked for her to tour with him was enough hear say! Then, I actually heard her. I sneaked into the sound check. Oh my. What a voice.

Hannah White has this classic country sound. The voice had me by passing Linda Ronstadt, not as rock chic, to think that Bobbie Gentry might be the best point of reference. The songs are so strong too. Maybe the UK’s Brandi Carlile? 

After an audience appeared it went up another notch. As well as the purity of her voice, Hannah can use it to take us to emotional places that many of us have never had to go. As she introduces the songs Hannah shares a life that has not been easy. 

Car Crash is a song she said she never wanted to write or sing. It is about her shop lifting to feed her young child when her first marriage broke up badly and sent her to a Woman’s Refuge. This is raw catharsis. When she tells us her children are grown up now, it beggars belief. She doesn’t look a day over 30.

A challenging past has given her great songs. She’s not sure which of her two previous husband’s inspired Fire To Your Flame but it is a beautiful piece of heartache. Broken Bird is fragile and near perfectly honed. Current husband Keiron Marshall plays the grace notes, a smooth guitar player with great tone. 

If I say so myself Fitzroy, with no clinking glasses and therefore few running to the toilet every other song, creates a warm listening audience and Hannah reaped the benefit. The length of the line to buy her albums at the interval was testimony to that. She was much more than a support even before she joined Ricky Ross for a couple of songs later on.


MARTYN JOSEPH LIVE IN FITZROY, BELFAST - 24.11.22

MJ Fitz 7

If you can look through Soul Surmise you will see many many reviews of Martyn Joseph gigs. If you read carefully something might surprise you. How at almost every gig I am concentrating on different songs. You can never say, “Oh I’ve seen Martyn Joseph so I won’t go again”.

Tonight is no different and indeed highlights the fact for me. Since Martyn last played Fitzroy, just before lockdown, he has released the very best album of a 40 year old career, 1960, as well as two songs for the moment they were written in, When We Get Through This about lockdown and I’d Take You Out about the Russian President.

The former is a pastoral song of resistance and hope, the latter a political rage that reminds me of Bruce Cockburn’s If I Had a Rocket Launcher. It’s a song not wanting to be sung, especially by a pacifist but righteous anger demands it in spite of the contradiction. 

Political rage was once the spine of Martyn’s set list. It is different now. Oh there’s still the social critique. As he sang Here Come The Young I suddenly realised that it is about the sins that the old are handing the young as much as what they can teach us in their “inclusive from the start”.

The 1960 album is the fulfilment of a change in Joseph’s songwriting from the protest song to the personally reflective. 1960 is a songwriter doing that and leaving us a template for our own soul searching. Felt So Much a particular highlight as him in his dad’s Renault at 5 years of age, Shadow Boxing is about his dad’s Alzheimers and Born Too Late is regret at being born too late for some great music and also an asking who he now is. Getting older causes us all to look back and assess who we now are and why.

I am particularly drawn to There Is A Field a hope for the beyond, taken from a line of Rumi’s via writer and lay pastor Martin Wroe. So delicate, so hopeful.

The big finish of This Light Is Ours also a co write with Wroe is communal in chorus and sense of faith in each other as well as a transcendent light.

The singing tonight and the connection from stage to audience has that communal written all over it, from the third song This Glass that saw almost everyone singing.

I am at the door as people are leaving. A woman says to me:

“I love that honesty, that mix of doubt and faith” 

“Oh doubt and faith have a strong relationship”. 

“I’m from… “ 

“Oh dear, not much doubt there!” 

Well tonight at least she had honesty and belief side by side, sometimes in the very same couplet, whether Thunder and Rainbows or I’ve Searched For You or maybe even Everything In Heaven Falls Apart. The latter was a request by Andy McKinney who then had come and hold the lyrics for Martyn to read. A lovely moment in an evening of them. 

Martyn Joseph creates moments. Funny ones. Sad ones. Inquisitive ones. Wrestling ones. Angry ones. Hopeful ones. Different ones. Every single night.