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September 2011

Lyric For The Day 30.9.11 from I Don't Want To Know by Swell Season (written by John Martyn)

Johnny Boy... 

“Yes, it's getting hard to listen
Hard for us to use our eyes
'Cause all around the gold is glistening
Making sure it keeps us hypnotised

I don't want to know 'bout evil, I only want to know about love
I don't want to know 'bout evil, I only want to know about love”

-      I Don’t Want To Know by Swell Season (written by John Martyn)

The new Tribute album to the late John Martyn, Johnny Boy Would Love This..., has a few wonderful revelations on it. This is one of them. Swell Season do a great job with it and, as a song from Solid Air that I wasn’t that familiar with, I was blown away by the spiritual insight. The obsessiveness and addiction of materialism is leading us astray. Indeed the refrain suggests that it was “evil” and perhaps distracting us from what really matters – love! There is an echo of Romans 12:9 about it too – “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” – though whether Martyn would have any knowledge of this I am not sure. Still, this is a lovely refrain to shape your daily decisions.



I love living in Northern Ireland. I have continually chosen it as my place to live and bring up my family. I committed my life before God, in whatever small ways I could, to its improvement, healing and transformation. However, living in Northern Ireland has many uncomfortable moments. One such moment arrived this week with the story that rang out across the world that Rihanna had been told to put some clothes on by a farmer from Bangor whose field Rihanna was using to shoot her new video. How embarrassing. It took me back to the early nineties when the world sniggered about my home town of Ballymena when they banned ELO from playing in the town because of drink, debauchery and the devil. It was Mr Blue Sky for goodness sake; they were hardly Black Sabbath!

So here we are again, our particularly conservative corner of the Emerald Isle all red faced because of some farmer. Could he not have found the fun in his fundamentalism! And yet, that is not what makes me uncomfortable. What makes me uneasy is the space I find myself in, somewhere between the farmer and the pop star. Yes, though I immediately scorned the religious nutter for being so uncool and 19th century I then started to ask if I thought it was ok for a woman to not only get her kit off in a field in Co. Down, where only a few passersby would see her and head to work to share their coup, but then show her cavorting to my young daughters who will watch the video on MTV and be sexualised about their gender and suggested what they should do with their bodies.

Last Christmas when X Factor showed some more than dubious sexual innuendo by both Rihanna and Britney Speirs, and called it fit for children’s viewing, I was one of many who wrote to Ofcom to share my thoughts. Just last week I was appalled during the Queen’s University Fresher’s Week when a local night club 411 drove a truck around the campus with very scantily clad young girls on the back. I am no prude. The fundamentalist farmer won’t be inviting me to preach in his Church but we need to make sure that our society begins to readdress our loose values around sex and the way we portray women. Having been a University Chaplain I have been close to the effects whether it is girls with low self image because they cannot look like Rihanna in skimpy clothes, a low self image that many times leads to self harm or eating disorders. I have had to walk out of the Students Union staring at the floor in case my eyes met with girls wearing next to nothing and as I left I have worried about the possible dangers that their state of dress added to their alcohol consumption might put them in.

MTV videos, magazine covers and the like have taken its toll on how men see women and what importance we put on sexual intimacy. Much as I cringe at the thought of an Ulster farmer telling a Barbadian superstar to put some clothes on and meet God I am also very uneasy about Rihanna’s contribution to the cheapening of women and sex. I’m uneasy because I might just think that of the two the farmer has done the least damage and perhaps most good. Could it be to quote Steve Taylor we are so open minded that our souls have leaked out!

DAVID BROWNE: Fire and Rain - book review

Fire and Rain 
David Browne’s take on 1970 is an intriguing read. He takes four of the era’s major artists, The Beatles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor and in the telling of their struggles through that year reveals the ending of the dreams of the sixties; cultural and social as well as artistic. John Lennon suggested as much not long after in his song God and Jackson Browne would write his Before The Deluge and The Pretender on a similar thesis so nothing new there but the way Browne uses Let It Be, Deja Vu, Bridge Over Trouble Water and Sweet Baby James and the artists who made those records is an intriguing drama and argument. The idea might be better than the follow through but if you are a fan of the era and these particular artists, as I am, you end up glad that Browne’s wife suggested he do a book about his favourite artists and era. It is informative. I was amazed to learn things I didn’t know about The Beatles and he had me uploading the records that I carefully listened to while reading.

In the end I couldn’t help but ask a question that Belfast singer Brian Houston suggested over a Lisburn Road breakfast; did God bless the sixties with some kind of Renaissance and then withdraw it. Browne gives 1970 an almost Babel-like Biblical cataclysm. This book does argue reasonably well that the artistic dreams of the sixties were switched off just as the housing market was at the start of the recent recession. From Oasis to Fleet Foxes much of the last twenty years has been a rearranging or rediscovering what had been original back in the sixties. Was 1970 a watershed; Browne does his best with his argument and entertains as he attempts to convince. If you’re a fan of two or three or all of the four artists it’s a must read.



From two months out from their new album landing in the stores Snow Patrol are building a media frenzy that suggest the record company might have been disappointed that their last record A Hundred Million Suns though very successful didn’t come near the sales figures of 2006’s Eyes Open. So, as we wait expectantly for Fallen Empires it was great to get a little flavour on their live set on Later With... Jools.

The show started with the leadoff single Called Out In The Dark and live it cut an edgier strut with more Nathan Connolly guitar than the electronic radio friendly sound of the single. The band’s obligatory extra tracks on their compilation Up To Now were very electronic and it could be that as they head more in that direction that their live shows will become more interesting and a live album soon required.

Two of the three songs on the show tonight are already available on the ep. This Isn’t Everything You Are is brand new and is a revelation. This is a profound song of healing and rehumanising the soul that has been damaged by loss; it is full of intensity, mood, poignancy and hopeful pastoral care. Lightbody’s lyrics have always been underestimated and here we see the maturing of his vision of what a song can do.

That same maturity is revealed right across the band as on Fallen Empires was electric and had there been albums available on the press of a red button immediately after this performance sales would have soared. Snow Patrol have never shirked from sharing their limelight with friends and that was on show again. A few drummers added under Johnny Quinn’s awesome pounding of tom toms become a percussive orchestra. Out front and mandolins, pianos and acoustic guitars are building on that rhythm as the one line Snow Patrol melodic style seems to be always waiting for a lift off that never comes. Then it arrives and to Lightbody’s left appears a familiar angelic voice; Bangor’s Foy Vance, whose soulful genius was hijacked by a more plastic pop sheen version in the name of Paulo Nutini, is where he should always have been. Vance has a voice to touch hearts and he adds some beauty to the Snow Patrol choir that explodes like the crescendo that greeted shepherds on the first Christmas morning. This anthemic “we are the light” refrain is enthralling and enchanting capturing all eyes and ears to leave the audience captivated and breathless. November 14th can’t come soon enough!

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 25.9.11 from Covenant Woman by Bob Dylan


“I've been broken, shattered like an
empty cup
I'm just waiting on the Lord to rebuild and fill me up
And I know He will do it 'cause He's faithful and He's true
He must have loved me so much to send me someone as fine as you.

Yes and I just got to tell you
I do intend
To stay closer than any friend
Yes and I just to thank you
Once again
For making your prayers known
Unto heaven for me
And to you, always, so grateful
I will forever be.”

- From Covenant Woman by Bob Dylan

John Trinder and Scott Jamison performed this song as part of our worship this morning and it was a treat; John’s neat sharp
guitar work and Scott’s voice making it his very own. Their reasoning was that our passage was Hosea 2 where God’s covenant is brought before an unfaithful people. The whole relationship parable actually lived out in Hosea’s marriage to Gomer also made this a suitable choice. For Dylan it was a song about his Precious Angel that he had introduced us to on the previous album Slow Train Coming. Saved, from which this album is taken, is an album testifying to the personal effects of Dylan’s late 1978 conversion to Christianity and is simpler and more direct in lyric as a result. Even those who don’t love the album as much as me must surely see this as one of the album’s highlights, emotionally moving and spiritually thankful.

Lyric For The Day 24.9.11 from Shelter Me by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (written by Buddy and Julie Miller)

Blackie head shots 

"The earth can shake the sky come down
The mountains all fall to the ground
But I will fear none of these things
Shelter me Lord underneath your wings

(Shelter Me Lord)
Hide me underneath you wings
Hide me deep inside your heart
In your refuge - cover me
The world can shake
But Lord I'm making you my hiding place"

-      From Shelter Me by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings (written by Buddy and Julie Miller)

Loved this Psalmlike song when it appeared on Buddy Miller’s superb record, Universal United House Of Prayer, but it stands out even more wonderfully on the new album Kings and Queens by Blackie & The Rodeo Kings. The dirty blues guitar setting and deep guttural vocal which Patti Scialfa just soars over. It gives a real belief that God can be the refuge that the lyric speaks of. This is one for the Alternative hymnbook for Churches.

Lyric For The Day 23.9.11 from New Test Leper by REM

 New Adventures

“I can't say that I love Jesus
that would be a hollow claim.
He did make some observations
and I'm quoting them today.
"Judge not lest ye be judged."
what a beautiful refrain.
The studio audience disagrees.
Have his lambs all gone astray?”

-       From New Test Leper

News of REM’s break up this week has caused much conversation on the social networks. This would be one of my favourite REM lyrics. I came late to the party and as with always it too my good friend David Dark to encourage me to look again. Sometimes I felt that you had to look a little too hard to find the depth in the lyric; there was more about dragonflies than about God!

I started looking again when New Adventures In Hi-Fi came out and Jesus gets his mention here. I love this lyric. I love it when those who don’t believe in Jesus still see the wisdom of his genius. I would always suggest to the atheist or agnostic who has struggled with the transcendent spiritual mysterious aspect of belief to still follow Jesus because he has given the best advice, the best blue print for humans to live by; which makes you wonder where he got his special insight from!

Lyric For The Day 22.9.11 from Over Yonder (Jonathan's Song) by Steve Earle

Earle Death Penalty

"The warden said he'd mail my letter

The chaplain's waitin' by the door

Tonight we'll cross the yard together

Then they can't hurt me anymore.

I am going over yonder

Where no ghost can follow me

There's another place beyond here

Where I'll be free I believe."

- From Over Yonder (Jonathan’s Song) by Steve Earle

On the morning after Troy Davis’s state execution in Georgia
I thought Steve Earle’s lyric would be poignant. Earle has spent a lot of his time befriending those on death row and this song was for one of those friends. It seems to me that the Death Penalty is wrong on every occasion but for someone like Troy Davis to be killed by the state while there was so much doubt hanging over his conviction and with President Jimmy Carter, Pope Benedict and Archbishop Desmond Tutu pleading his case seems even more unjust. It won’t bring back Mark McPhail and we should not forget his grieving family on a day like this or make them somehow criminals for seeking justice for their own tragedy. The Death penalty, however, only leads to more pain for more people and Jesus approach to such things seems to have been an interruption of grace rather than a snowballing turnover of tit for tat. He who was murdered asked not for the death penalty for those who killed him but he forgave them. He also told us to follow him.

Lyric For The Day 21.9.11 from The Night Inside Me by Jackson Browne

Jackson The Night inside You

“I walk around inside the questions of my day
I navigate the inner reaches of my disarray
I pass the altars where fools and thieves hold sway
I wait for night to come and lift this dread away”

“It takes the night to clear all of this mess away
The obligation, the burden and the light of day
It takes the night to fall between the world that I obey
And a world where I hear angels play
Maybe I should go back to Spain...

With a lyrical nod back to Late For The Sky while musically a descendent of Lawyers In Love, the night here is not a dark and foreboding place where you wait for the day but rather a haven of calm and peace from the madness that the day brings. As Browne has done so well for almost thirty years it begins in the most personal of introspection but his search within himself leads him to the questions of his age, in this case the speed and thus chaos of the modern day schedule. The chaos, he exposes, has got us by the throat. We are obeying that which we do not want to but have to. And yet he sees this other possibility; a place where, he so poetically put it, angels play? Heaven somewhere out there, a vision of an alternative. For Browne, he throws out, that was Spain, where he has lived for a period since his last record, Looking East. A place where obviously he felt he escaped from that which unravels us.

BLACKIE & THE RODEO KINGS: Kings and Queens - mini review

B & RK

Blackie & The Rodeo Kings is a Canadian collective of three artists in their own right, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden and Tom Wilson, who together have made six previous records of folk meets blues meets Americana. For their seventh album they took on two obstacles and have come out clearing both. In deciding to widen the collective to fourteen female vocalists, all taking a song at a time, this could have ended up as a hotch potch “various artists” type affair. It doesn’t. It come across a very cohesive album with the females adding their grace notes without knocking the entire piece out of kilter. The second challenge was to live up to the line up. Let me rhyme them off, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris, Patti Scialfa, Cassandra Wilson, Mary Margaret O’Hara and Sam Phillips are but six. To have the clout to entice such genius to their project says a lot about the collective’s standing in the industry and it has caused each writer to raise his game; this is the best bundle of songs that these Rodeo Kings have delivered to date and musically their best executed too! Highlights are far too many to mention but sure I will try; Serena Ryder on Black Sheep, Fearing and Cassandra Wilson on Golden Sorrows, I’m Still Loving You and the cover of Buddy Miller’s prayer Shelter Me Lord are but a few. A right royal success!