Previous month:
July 2010
Next month:
September 2010

August 2010


City Logo

It has never been easy being a Manchester City supporter. When I switched allegiance from the red scum side of Manchester in 1969 a few weeks after City last one the FA Cup (note the “after”) I had no idea that forty years later we’d be dreaming of a repeat! It is fair to say that City fans have been through forty years of thin and even thinner, a laughing stock when we deserved to be laughed at and even when we didn’t! The new abuse is that we have sold our souls for the money and that we are the great destroyers of English soccer.

And... to be truthful... I have lived uneasily with the developments over the last year or so, particularly Mark Hughes’ sacking. I didn’t know whether I wanted City to reach the Champions league or not. Part of the reason for that was that if we had we would have an even better team this week than the one that showed Liverpool on Monday night that they were no longer within a bagel’s goule of the top teams in the English Premier League. If City had had the Champions League to barter with as well as the bottomless pit of cash my fear was that we would have bought our way to the next ten Premier League titles; a monopoly would have been minted. I still think it might be so BUT if we could win the title this year at least it was with one hurdle to jump. I also struggle too to believe that if we do win a few Premiership titles in this next decade that I would then lose interest and start supporting Blackpool instead. Supporting a team that always wins takes something away from supporting a soccer team. I am not sure I like it, though of course I’ve never had the chance.

The money? Well, of course everyone tells us we can’t buy success. My jury is out on that. Chelsea were our relegation and promotion rivals for quite a while in the late eighties and they seem to have bought something! What I do know for sure is that it is no longer possible to have success without money. I have fond memories of the seventies when a QPR, a Watford or a Derby County could challenge for league titles; when there was no such thing as a big four. I would love to have those days back but they are not coming back so if you support the kind of teams who should have a chance of Premier league titles like Everton, Villa, Spurs, Newcastle or Leeds then you are going to have to find a big investor.

I would love that. Ten teams, all well stocked with cash, giving the League twists and turns and a new winner every year for a decade; I really don’t want City to win it, and everything else, every year. Sadly we don’t live in Communist China where we could cap wages, transfer money etc. We live in the west where capitalism has lost all control and accountability. It is not City that has lost its soul, City is a symptom of an entire society. We can’t stoke the fires of greed and wanton injustice and then expect soccer to be some kind of Godly antithesis. Our criticism and protest songs need to target something much, much bigger. Should I continue to support City in the light of what I am writing. You know at times I do not know but that team are part of my identity and so I continue to watch their destiny unfold with this uneasiness as a part of it.

I do laugh at those who point their finger as if City are the first team to spend money. When United bought Rooney from his home club that he loved, did they buy him fairly. No. In the Communist China scenario he would have remained at his beloved Everton with the same wage and opportunity to win honours and play for England. Did Theo move away from Southampton because his ma had moved to London or was money and ambition involved? And Frank leaving his dad at West Ham? Did Torres move to Liverpool for the weather and the accent? Soccer players didn’t become mercenaries when a Sheik bought Manchester City. They have followed the trails of their own career trajectories for fifty years and more. It seems money was OK to buy players until City had more money than everyone else. Well for decades we had less money and that wasn’t fair either!

So my dream would be that we had ten investors of ten big clubs and all would have equal investment. That would be a great league. Until that happens we, as City fans, have an advantage just now and watching City on Monday night against Liverpool was a frightening experience. The touches of class, the vision, the pace, the tackling. City fans are not used to it and once this team gets to know each other’s names they can only lose the success that will be available to them. Fear not though, City has a long history of being good at losing!



Well when I finally gave in to all my natural resistance and gave Tom Jones’ 39th album a listen I was not at disappointed. After 38 albums that, as far as I am aware, have contributed little to personal or social transformation the Welshman gives us a reason for his existence. Much has been made of the young producer Nathan Johns whose previous work being the likes of Ryan Adams being to Jones what Rick Rubin was for Johnny Cash and I am not sure whose idea it was to match Jones with the Spirituals but it is revelation. The sound is dirty, live organic and uncluttered with pianos honey-tonkin’ and on Burning Hell guitars that sound like Jack White is in the house. It takes your default position a little time to adjust to Jones’s voice moving from pop trivia like Sex Bomb to the depth of these spirituals but eventually you begin to believe that Jones is actually a soul singer.

The Spirituals have so much to teach the modern Church about life and faith and how to use music to engage with a God who bridges the gap between how we are and how we can be. Praise and Blame is a perfect title. From the confessional and sobering gem of Bob Dylan’s What Good Am I these songs look for God to, by grace alone, navigate us through the reality of humanity’s tainted inclinations to miss the judgement that should be ours. There is constant confession of Blame but always a reason for Praise. These are songs about people who can sneak a peak at redemption from their honest understanding of their profound lostness. These are songs full of serious minded sinners, wayward pilgrims, screams to God for help and burning hell; it is everything that modern Christian worship albums are missing.

The playing is deliciously celebratory on Strange Things and Aint No Grace but also bluesy cathartic on Did Trouble Me and Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine. All in all the whole thing comes across as a surprising flash of light in the midst of a dark place. Tom Jones on my playlist under “songs for a healthy soul”... who’d have thought!

Patty Larkin - 25


Boston based Patty Larkin is a guitarist of some dexterity and originality which added to a gravelly, though not over the top voice, is a rich foundation seam for her intriguing songs full of interesting angles and images. Patty Larkin attended the same music college as Bruce Cockburn and the similarities don’t end there. A guitar playing singer songwriter who has been producing albums of stellar quality for twenty five years without much commercial success echoes her fellow alumni quite well.

It makes sense that Cockburn is one of the twenty five artists she has collaborated with on twenty five songs to celebrate twenty five years as a recording artist. The strategy was to send these artists a song and allow them to bring their own, always minimalist, contribution to Patty’s recorded vocal. It actually serves as a who’s who of the best singer songwriters of the last quarter of a century – as well as Cockburn there is Shawn Colvin, Janis Ian, Dar Williams, Jonatha Brooke, Martin Sexton, David Wilcox and Greg Brown to name but a few.  

The results are fascinating in a whole range of ways. That twenty five different artists could add their own unique personality and the whole thing sound so cohesive is quite a feat in itself. Of course though the point is the songs. In these settings the songs get a real chance to breathe and they come across as a warm sweet breath of love; the rational poignant emotion of The Cranes gets that lazy Wilcoxian languishing gentleness; Cockburn’s guitar on Open Arms is subtly exquisite and if you never took him as an Emmylou Harris style backing vocals boy you really need to hear this; Pablo Neruda could be a Suzanne Vega song and her voice fits like Larkin’s like a twin; Erin McKeown adds her quirk to Beautiful; and Chained To These Loving Arms gets some of that Mary Chapin-Carpenter emotional drive.

I could go on. For the many Soul Surmise readers who I imagine have never even heard of Patty Larkin this is an excellent introduction. For those of us who have been collecting her quality work for twenty years and more it’s a celebratory treat. Typical the artist that Larkin is that she didn’t just churn out a Best Of. Great move!


(This thought came to me after another raucous St Patrick’s Day in the streets around my Church in Belfast’s so called Holy Lands (given the name as a result of the street names). Students celebrate St. Patrick in Belfast by getting drunk from very early morning and street partying all day long. It can be loud, vulgar, sometimes violent and certainly uncomfortable for the ordinary residents of those streets. We spend our time trying to maintain and control events which are anything from inconvenient to frightening for some. It is sadly a symptom of a drinking culture rampant in the nation that seems to get highlighted in the media around the festivities of our patron Saint. When I heard that the angry residents had gone to the Vice Chancellor of the University to seek a curtailing of these events it made me smile; as if the Vice Chancellor could reverse the cultural changes of the past fifty years! It made me surmise that the cosmic decisions we make as a society have their consequences. Dropping the foolish old fashioned nature of God and his guidelines for a peaceful society might give you freedom to do what you like but it doesn’t give you the right to then demand godliness from those around you. It led to another bit of rhyming surmising...)    


It’s St. Patrick Day, in the Holy Lands

Students falling and crawling out of bars

Urinating in people’s doorways

Playing hurly on the top of their cars

Is this the evolution of the species

Have the fittest ones ended up here

Marinating in their own selfish preserves

And a culture of alco-pops and beer.


Christmas Day in the evening

She brings a blade to her wrist

To see the blood the baby bled

And find some kind of feeling in this

It’s the end of the nuclear family

We’ve broken it into a million pieces

Like the children caught in its convenience

As their anorexia and suicide increases.


A shopping mall on Easter Sunday

Another madman murder rampage

People enjoying a holy day off

Are the carnage of tomorrow’s front page

And the killer gets a tribute on Facebook

That’s the internet’s anarchic nerve

The expert on the late night news

Says we get the heroes we deserve.


There are some who still speak of religion

But we say that we couldn’t care less

We’ve long discarded those old fashioned notions

But we still seem to want godliness

We still seem to want godliness.

Songs For A Healthy Soul - WHAT GOOD AM I? by BOB DYLAN

What Good

What good am I if I say foolish things
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?”

    Bob Dylan


It is not often that sixties’ Welsh pop hip swinger Tom Jones moves me or touches my spiritual life but on the BBC television show Later With Jules recently he did just that. On his album Praise and Blame he covers Bob Dylan’s What Good Am I? from one of my favourite Dylan albums, the Daniel Lanois produced No Mercy. Yet, it was a version sung by English songwriter and guitarist Dan Wheeler that woke me up to the spiritual power of this song. I was hosting a songwriter’s show at Greenbelt and had asked the singers to sing a song that they had felt changed something. Dan explained that he had been asked to do a gig on the night of Live 8 and that he had sung What Good Am I? as his statement on that day. When Dan had told me which song he was doing before the show I was a little unimpressed, thinking I knew the song, but in this context he opened the song up and I was left reassessing the prophetic power of the song and where it sits on my list of favourite Dylan songs.

On What Good Am I? Dylan cuts deep. This is provocative self critique that touches on the personal as well as the global. His response to the world’s marginalised sits alongside his response to the loved one closest to him. He is asking questions of his own cultural awareness as well as critiquing the reasons for his own inability to act on what he should clearly see needs acted upon. The entire Oh Mercy album is a lovely blend of the objective or political work of Dylan’s earlier years and the more subjective and introspective work he came to later on. In many ways this found its pinnacle in the Christian albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot Of Love) where Dylan dealt with his own redemption but prophetically judged the sin of the society around him. It is funny how his older fans who loved his early revolutionary songs for freedom were repelled by his scathing attack on the injustices Dylan now saw in the world; freedom was great as long as it didn’t impinge on their own self indulgences! What Good Am I? is a man questioning his own desire for righteousness within as well as righteousness in all his dealings with the world around him.

This is sign that Dylan’s spiritual journey did not end after his so called Christian phase. Dylan certainly out grew the narrow questions and answers of that particular brand of evangelical ChristianityThe Vineyard Fellowship so central to those few years in Dylan’s development has since grown wider in its concerns too – and the Hal Lindsay apocalyptic vision of the end times, so trendy at that time. Being Bob Dylan, and intentionally enigmatic about himself from the very start of his public life, it is hard to read his spiritual creed thirty years after his Christian conversion but God and faith have never been too long absent from his work both in the studio and on the stage. On Oh Mercy we find him name checking the Old Testament Jewish Shema from Deuteronomy 6“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one...” on Ring Them Bells. The New Testament’s central manifesto the Sermon On the Mount which take up Matthew chapters 5 to 7 also gets a nod in Shooting Star. Between such crucial Biblical passages What Good Am I? is a prayer that seeks the ultimate goodness that Dylan sees as connected to the spiritual; to again quote Shooting Star, “all good people are praying.”

Though I haven’t bought the Tom Jones album, there seems to be a lot of old Spirituals at its core – hence the Praise side of the title. In the light of that, this might not be the Dylan song that most springs to mind to sit in such company but I believe it to be perfectly placed. It is related to the Spirituals but in the end is like a Confessional of the Blame side of the title. It is a song that could be used to help meditation on that verse at the end of Psalm 139, “Search me God and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Then tell me God, What Good Am I?