In the midst of some disappointing news in Northern Ireland over the past week, there is something very positive happening.

The week long images of streets on fire across Belfast, and elsewhere, was a horrible reminder of how sectarianism can so quickly raise its ugly head and leave some of our communities polarised and too easily turn to violence.

Brexit, the Northern Ireland protocol and the fall out of the Bobby Storey funeral has unsettled our fault-lines and when politicians seek to play to their voters in such shifts it can get even more dangerous.

Something is different though and I do not want us to miss it. Indeed I long that we notice it, highlight and encourage it.

The Churches are making joint statements and they are being heard. To hear politicians at Westminster quoting church leaders has lifted my soul.

A few years ago I was involved in Peace Talks with the politicians and military leaders of a country with its own divisions and violence. Professor John Brewer was explaining to this group that Northern Ireland’s Troubles were not religious. It was more political and tribal.

Much as I agreed that the murder and bombings of our Troubles were not about justification by faith, how we revere Jesus mother Mary or about what the bread and wine become and do during Communion, I did think that there was religious dimension.

I guess I was actually influenced by John Brewer’s writings about the churches lack of involvement in peace and reconciliation during those horrific years. Yes, we can look to Fr Alec Reid who was so instrumental in getting the IRA into talks and others like Rev Harold Good and Rev Ken Newell along with Fr Gerry Reynolds as contributors to the peace we finally found in the 90s.

However, my argument was that the hierarchy of Churches were not seen as crossing our sectarian boundaries. They skirted around each other, many of their clergy holding back real contributions. As a result though the war on the street was not at all religious, there was a religious apartheid that mirrored the streets, almost endorsed it. 

As well as that it meant that the Churches were not involved in their calling to be peace makers. We have every right to stand accused of a passive complicity.

Something has changed. It is a good thing. We are beginning to see 4 Church leaders together. We are seeing them not just having a civil cup of tea together we are hearing joint statements. During the Troubles, Churches were accused of pastoring their own communities rather than making prophetic statements into the whole community.

We must have it. I am delighted that at the moment we do. Watching Church leaders being honest about their differences but to find common ground where they can make comment about ways to fuel the common good. Standing together. Being photographed together. Speaking together. It challenges the divisions and gives an alternative. Thank you. 



Is Declan O’Rourke Ireland best singer songwriter? For too long he was leaning on the success of the wonderful Galileo (Someone Like You) for what seemed like a little too long but then came the girth and deftness of The Chronicle Of The Great Irish Famine to make him a more serious contender.

Arrivals arrives with Paul Weller’s name attached as producer. Yet in truth what the legendary Weller does is keep himself out of the way and encourage O’Rourke to go minimalist. A few carefully placed strings are almost that is noticeable apart from the songwriter’s guitar or piano. 

Back to the question of O’Rourke’s singer songwriter standing. Arrivals is like a panoramic gaze across the entire genre. In Painter’s Light sets out the stall. It has that introspective honesty could be Joni Mitchell around Blue. Declan also has that Mitchell knack for throwing in a few syllables that the tune doesn’t seem to have room for. 

The title track itself could be Jackson Browne, piano and all. Then there’s Have You Not Heard The War Is Over. That little political edge brings Crosby, Stills and Nash to mind. 

Of course Declan O’Rourke lives in Galway in 2021, not Laurel Canyon in 1970. He flits through his own family’s generations but a wider history too. Olympian tells the tale of a Syrian swimmer who swims for her very life before going for a medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics. 

Then there is Convict Ways about slavery historical and up to date that has us thinking about 19th century convict John Boyle O’Reilly Irish Republican sent to Australia who escaped and made a career as a writer in Massachusetts. U2’s Van Dieman’s Land is also about O’Reilly. 

This latter song as well as the majestic autobiographical love song The Stars Over Kinvara, the best very song in this very good collection, place O’Rourke very much as an Irish writer. You can hear Christy Moore cover Convict Ways and The Stars Over Kinvara is very Luka Bloom, Christy’s brother who also resides out west.

It is his Irishness that gives O’Rourke his edge, his originality. The gruff Irish depth in his voice covers generations of Irish folk. He sounds like a modern Luke Kelly carrying the tradition forward.

All in all, Arrivals is just that, the arrival of songwriting force that his peers have been well aware for some years and hopefully the general public will come to acknowledge and enjoy. 


Lucinda does Petty

Now don't let this bundle of utter joy slip through without your noticing. I almost did!

It seems that Lucinda Williams used the year of lockdown to create a few good intentions. With touring time down she had the space to get her bluesy voice around a plethora of cover albums. Literally a plethora. Apparently she had envisioned Lu's Jukebox for some time and now the time was given, the time was right. 

So, if you go searching she has done 6 albums worth, a Christmas one, a classic country one, a Memphis Soul one and then three pearlers - The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty.

The Petty one is Lucinda Williams perfect for such an idea. Petty was a Southern man and Williams is a Southern woman. That southern drawl is heaven made for songs like Rebels, Southern Accents and Gainesville that was only recently realised on Petty's posthumous An American Treasure

Yes, we get I Won't Back Down, Running Down a Dream, You Don't Know How It Feels and You Wreck Me but it is these songs about the south that make this essential cover album listening. 

Lucinda's twang as she throws out all the place names in Louisiana Rain is the best argument for the entire project. They should have her do Sat Navs. My other favourite is Down South. What a lyric, delivered with Southern authenticity:

Headed back down south
Gonna see my daddy's mistress
Gonna buy back her forgiveness
Pay off every witness
One more time down south
Sell the family headstones
Drag a bag of dry bones
Make good on my back loans
There's a world of local history, policies and personal issues in those lines.
Every time Stevie Nicks asked she was rebuffed with "There are no girls in the Heartbreakers". On the end of this Stevie wouldn't have been first in line. Of course Petty actually covered Williams when he recorded Changed The Locks for the She's The One soundtrack. If The Heartbreakers want to take Petty's songs out there again they would do worse than having Lucinda Williams as their southern girl. Mind you, Lucinda didn't wait for them to ask and her own band do an awesome job about locating these stories in southern swampland grooves. 
Oh... and all proceeds are to help independent music venues through the Coronavirus days. So - BUY, don't stream!


Stocki in Ho's TV

No live gathering in Fitzroy tomorrow BUT we will be on-line as usual (going live at 11am) on Fitzroy TV. We will still be scanning the scenes just after Jesus resurrection. Jesus pastoral care for Thomas is my own personal conversion story. We will also look at what Jesus meant when he said "Peace be with you" in a week when Belfast wasn't very much at peace and the challenge of one of my other favourite Gospel verses, "As the father has sent me, so I am sending you."

In the evening (going live at 7pm) you can see the next in Gary Burnett's brilliant series Paul in ten where he leads us through some of the apostle Paul's teaching in just ten minutes. This series is so good that it has been published as a book - Paul Distilled. Tomorrow night's theological theme is "The Cross Shaped God". 



Last Resort

Jan Carson has this County Antrim conversational literary style. You can almost hear the accent. It is so easy to read, so enjoyable. She is great at painting pictures of her characters. They are real. There’s honesty, humour and drama. You feel that you have met them. In their stories Jan leaves her deep thoughts.

The Last Resort is another beautiful read, more evidence that she is more than worthy of the awards and Radio 4 reads. 

The Last Resort was written in Lockdown. It is set in Ballycastle where I wish I was reading it but Covid restrictions meant that I had to make do with Belfast. We’ve all been static for so long hence the setting of a caravan park. 

My biggest critique would be that I am not sure about her research in Ballycastle. She doesn’t describe the town I know. It sounds more like Kellys and Portrush but she needed a cliff! 

The book is short. It is not unlike David Park’s short novel from last year A Run In The Park. Short stories of different lives drawn together in a common space interweave and throw out lessons of life.

Where Park’s book is about moving on, Carson’s is about lives that are stuck. In the stories all linked by the caravan, the cliff and the loss or theft of things we have an array of Northern Irish issues, The Troubles, Church, migrants, gender, dementia…

In keeping with the magic realism of Jan’s other writings the magic in her work arrives in the form of the child ghost Lynette. Blown up in her RUC father’s car at the caravan park decades earlier she reappears much the same way that Douglas Coupland’s Jared appears in Girlfriend in a Coma. Like a holy ghost Lynette seeks the letting go of the fears that keep our characters and our wee country static.

The Last Resort is my favourite of her books to date. I loved it so much that I would have loved more. It has me looking forward already to what the wonderfully gifted Ms Carson will do next.