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December 2012

SOUL SURMISE CHRISTMAS DAY REFLECTION: O Little Town Of Belfast by Nathan Surgenor

Belfast at Christmas

“O little town of Belfast

How will we see you lie

Through anger deep and broken sleep

As siren-sounds go by?

Yet in your dark streets shining

Is still that hopeful Light

Though wounds and tears of fifty years

Flow free in you tonight


O ruling powers together

Pass blame for all it’s worth

While voices ring for flag and king

But few for peace on earth

While fear is born of all unknown

Still gathered up above

As children sleep, the Light will keep

Its watch of endless love


O holy one, in Belfast

Descend again we pray

Throw out all sin, let love come in

And hatred melt away

We would hear the Christmas headlines

Assure us all is well

O come to us, abide with us

And rid our minds of ‘them and us’

O free us from this hell

Our Lord, Emmanuel”

-         O Little Town of Belfast by Nathan Surgenor

 Listen here:

My Fitzroy partner in crime, Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley, used this as part of his prayers on Sunday morning. It was poignant and beautiful. Surgenor has used a minimal piano sound to make this into a spacious lament. Many people have tried to re-write songs and hymns and carols and failed miserably. Though my favourite band, Over The Rhine, did a great rewrite of this on their Snow Angels record, this is as good a job as I have heard.

Setting the carol in Belfast at such a time as we have experienced over the last three weeks gives real potency to the nativity story. I particularly like “O ruling powers together/Pass blame for all it’s worth/While voices ring for flag and king/But few for peace on earth.” My ire at modern worship is the lack of theology, depth and prophetic bite but not here. Nathan has nailed our
societal ills and named the antidote, “O come to us, abide with us/And rid our minds of ‘them and us’/O free us from this hell/Our Lord, Emmanuel.” Brilliant!

This Christmas morning as we “look for the baby Jesus under the trash” we need to make sure we don’t disconnect our own streets with the nativity scene. That would allow us to ignore the implications. As this carol reminds us Emmanuel means God with us, coming to us to abide with us. We need to ask if the scenes on our streets in recent weeks are the outworking of the peace Jesus came to usher in. Then when the cribs are put away with the wrapping paper, decorations, turkey carcases and unwanted presents we need to ask how we live the example of the story because the rest of Jesus life and teaching is captured in that manger scene and is to be lived
out by us in the following.


Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year

and thank you for dropping by




  2010 204

When they blow Gabriel’s horn

Rip fiction from fact

I want to get caught

In some radical act

Of love and redemption

The sound of warm laughter

Some true conversation

With a friend or my lover

I’m wrappin’ up my love this Christmas

I’m wrappin’ up my love this Christmas

I’m wrappin’ up my love this Christmas

And here it is

(From Over The Rhine's song Here It Is from the record Snow Angels)


STOCKI'S ALBUMS OF 2012 - Duke Special; Oh Pioneer

Duke Special

(I will put them in order by New Year's Eve... in the meantime a reminder of the contenders every day til then...)

I have followed Peter Wilson’s (aka Duke Special) career from the very beginning, giving him one of his first radio sessions as Booley House way back in the day. I have watched the twists and turns of a determined young man seeking a way to fulfil his dreams for his art. I remember him deciding that the piano was not the way to go and drawing a guitar band around him, renamed Benzine Headset. Then along came Coldplay and Wilson’s instrument was suddenly back in vogue and loads of bands improved because they gave the musically talented member who had been an add on out in the wings a more central position in writing and performance. Wilson found his original vocation and genius and the piano became the focus. While watching him with the Ulster Orchestra recently, his piano and voice has never sounded more assured, more authoritative.

Oh Pioneer is being promoted as Duke Special’s third “commercial” release. Between it and his second “commercial” release he has produced five projects from theatre songs to a suite of songs on photographers to a short EP on Belfast’s great voice of the fifties Ruby Murray. His Dukeness seems a prolific young man who needs such projects to give his over imaginative mind room to play. In many ways Oh Pioneer is similar to the last arty project Under The Dark Cloth and the songs fitted seamlessly together in that Ulster Orchestra gig.

What that means is that there is less vaudeville music hall than his debut Songs From The Deep Forest. You’ll not find the overt drama songs like Last Night I Nearly Died or Our Love Goes Deeper Than This. Don’t get me wrong there are still those eccentric and original imaginative musical touches but it is as if Duke doesn’t need to dress his songs up so much. His time writing with Boo Hewerdine on Under The Dark Cloth can only have been a blessed time of learning his craft. Less becomes more mostly here, though Snakes In The Grass will give crazy and most loved percussionist Chip a chance to shine, when it goes live. There is a confidence that these songs are just perfect as they are. As always the content is original and always reaching for cosmic meaning and lessons of living and loving. Duke Special writes for the areas of deep soul and the dreams of an arts community get aired on Stargazers of The World Unite; the hopes of justice and a new world order by the Occupy Movement challenges us all on My Lazy Saviour; our human preciousness yet falleness is laid out in list form on Condition; and songs of love and resolve and hope of redemption and transformation are guaranteed throughout. He conjures great images and parables and writes lines that tickle your fancy, pierce your heart, cut you down to size or to just marvel at his lyrical brilliance - I so love and laughed out loud at "I am quiet, I am Phil Spector" from Condition!

Oh Pioneer might not have the same immediacy as Duke Special’s earlier work but this artist isn’t about the immediate so much as a long brilliant songwriting career.

Lyric For Christmas Eve 2012 from He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother by The Justice Collective

Justice Collective

“If I'm laden at all 

I'm laden with sadness 

That everyone's heart 

Isn't filled with the gladness 

Of love for one another

It's a long, long road

From which there is noreturn

While we're on the way to there

Why not share

And the load

Doesn't weigh me down at all

He ain't heavy he's my brother” 

-     From He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother by The Justice Collective

The last time I was so interested in the Christmas Number 1 was probably 1972 when I raced home from the last half day at school to sit beside the radio on a Tuesday lunchtime hoping it might be Crazy Horses and was gutted when The Osmonds younger brother Jimmy gave us Long Haired Lover From Liverpool! This year I had a vested interest. One of my congregation, Richard Blake, has played flugelhorn and a little trumpet alongside Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams, Holly Johnson et al on Guy Chambers charity single, with all proceeds from single sales going towards the Hillsborough Families legal costs in their fight for justice.

Richard is a bit of a musical genius, studying at the Royal Academy Of Music, playing classical trumpet as well as being a member of The Mountaineering Club. His mate works in Guy Chambers studio and when they needed brass... well Richard James Blake is all the brass you ever need!

Anyway, that’s the one minister, who such a thing would mean most to, just raving. Let me get to the song. I was aware of the Hollies version but this Justice Collective version has had made me look into the song. It seems from Wikipedia that this phrase that always seemed so strange to me has been about for as long at 130 years and that there are various stories of different people carrying their brothers and uttering the phrase. Apparently, it uses paraprosdokian which is a figure of speech where the second half of the statement gives the emphasis to its interpretation.

It is not tricky for me to find spiritual depth. Being number 1 at Christmas gives us another perspective and extra potency to the
song as we see Jesus, God made flesh, coming onto the earth to carry us all. We weren’t heavy as he made us his brothers and sisters. Of course then he invited us to follow him and carry each other. As a benediction I wrote and use alot says: 

“Give us the strength to carry each other

And the right to wilt

Give us grace towards holiness

And the right to confess our guilt.”

May we indeed be given such answers to our prayers as we are energized to follow Jesus into 2013.

STOCKI'S ALBUMS OF 2012 - Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg
(I will put them in order by New Year's Eve... in the meantime a reminder of the contenders every day til then...)

Jake Bugg! My word. What a breath of fresh air this young chap is. Just eighteen, he has the boyish looks to compete with a place alongside Justin Beiber on the cover of teen girls’ magazines. His sound is a little more aged and a lot less bubblegum. Of the fourteen
songs on his debut record no less than nine are under three minutes but in those whirlwind moments your mind speedily skips across snippets of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues and hints of
skiffle, folk, blues and even country. The closing Fire crackles like an old 78 and could be from a Smithsonian field recording from Louisiana a century ago! His working class English roots have drawn comparisons to Oasis but he has too much intelligence. Arctic Monkeys might be a closer contemporary comparison but Bugg is
much subtler and more crafted. Eventually you realise that he has subsumed the history of music into compact splice of twenty first century song.

Being just eighteen Bugg has a lust for life in all its fullness. He’s
seems disillusioned with those who “want the water not the wine” and climbs on a Lightning Bolt that knocks over anyone else in its path. On Taste It he’s “never felt more alive”. Yet Bugg is not naive and on that same song he sings “I can taste it in my mouth it’s just so bitter sweet.” His references to benefits, tower blocks and speed bumps on Trouble Town contextualise the record in English housing estate and his social observation is acute for one so young and though he is eagerly reaching for the future there is muchin his past to give Two Fingers to! After listening to the singles over recent months the album reveals a wider hue to Bugg’s palette with stripped back songs like Ballad of Mr Jones and Slide shifting pace and mood. Producer, and co-write on eight songs, Iain Archer has done an exemplary job of creating a density of quality and making something that is so  instantly catchy also rewarding with every play. Bugg’s torrents of couplets can ease off to a light shower but at every speed this young man brings fascinating images and rhymes and lyrical twists. All in all, fast or slow, his songs grab you by the throat, draw you in, feed your head and heart and leave you always wanting more.

ADVENT POEM/REFLECTION - Mary; Cursed and... Blessed among Women


In a Fitzroy Soul Space meditative service, one Advent evening, Janet Morris allowed us time to listen to the words of Luke 1 where an angel appears to tell Mary that she is to be pregnant with God’s Son and where then she visits her cousin Elizabeth also miraculously with child. In the intentionality of my listening, as I allowed the words of angel, teenage mother to be and her cousin to loop round in my head, heart and soul I found myself unsettled on the fault line
between earth’s expectations and the strange and mysterious ways of heaven. Mary lived the rest of her life being misunderstood.  The neighbourhood’s most loved girl becomes the biggest scandal and disappointment. Pregnancy outside marriage is not the respectable way but in adding to a million mysteries that is the way God chose. Mary took the rumour and gossip and burdened the defamation of her
character; in the name of God and for our salvation. Elizabeth’s words jump out, transcending the human cost to Mary with her heavenly accolade; “Blessed are you among women.”


Cursed for the life that’s befallen you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed for what neighbours are calling you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that no one will believes in you

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that the holy men grieve for you

Mary, Blessed among women.


Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you

Blessed that you no matter what

Did all that he asked you to

Blessed by ending up in doing

What you were born to do

Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you


Cursed by what your future serves

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed for always living on nerves

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed that you would suffer loss

Mary, Blessed among women

Cursed by the shadow of that cross

Mary, Blessed among women.


Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you

Blessed that you no matter what

Did all that he asked you to

Blessed by ending up doing

What you were born to do

Blessed for giving back to God

All that God had given you.


Fitz logo

In the morning (11am) Revolution is in the air! There's a rebel in the straw. Jonathan Abernethy- Barkley will look at the impact and legacy of the baby in the manger with the aid if the the birth narrative, the Kingdom manifesto, Scott  Mc knight, Posh and Becks, parents on the run, a baby with a death threat and a Belfastised version of Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. All helping us to realise the baby in the manger calls for more than maintaining the status quo; the baby in the manager calls for the turning upside down of the accepted norm. With carols and other incarnational worship songs led by The Michael Dolaghan Collective!

In the evening (7pm) we will be having an informal rummage through the Christmas story with a choir, Dave Thompson and his own Christmas songs, a few video clips of the season including Love Actually, Milton Jones, maybe Sufjan Stevens... Then in the midst of it all there will be snippets from Stockman, Abernethy- Barkley and Fr Gerry Reynolds on what Christmas means to us. Get in the mood of the season. This is instead of our Christmas Eve event!

and... on Christmas Day... at 10am... start Jesus' birthday with a short reflective Family Service... all very welcome!!!!


Christmas iPod

John Lennon – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done.” There is no better introduction to such a playlist. This Lennon song was in the first Christmas chart I took an interest in. A classic!

Bruce Springsteen - Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

And the classic so on. Springsteen at his live posturing rock best. The spirit of Christmas starts here.

Elton John - Step Into Christmas

Lost in competition of early seventies Christmas songs, this is a great invitation.

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody

Number 1 at my first School Party. It doesn’t get happier than this.

Amazing Pilots - White Christmas

Can’t have a Playlist without this one, so let’s get as credible as we can. Northern Ireland’s great alt. country boys give it the right groove.

The Pogues – Fairytale Of New York

Now that we are in the mood, let us get serious. This Irish knees up takes us into the mess of living that Christmas gets to the heart of.

Over The Rhine - Little Town

The first Carol on the list gets a rewrite to fuse today’s troubled Bethlehem with the Bethlehem of that first Christmas. And you can’t have a Christmas playlist with Karin’s voice.

Willard Grant Conspiracy - O Come O Come Emmanuel

A scary prayer and Robert Fisher is the very man to bring out its menace. If this old carol actually happens the world is going to get tossed around something shocking.

Jackson Browne (with The Chieftains) - Rebel Jesus

So if the revolution comes we need a rebel to set it in motion. Jackson does the character sketch.

Dustin Kensrue - This Is War

The rebel makes war against all that needs fought against. Thrice’s singer sounding like Kurt Cobain stripped back and ready to shake his fist at the danger.

Tom Waits – Go Tell It On The Mountain

The Rebel is born and the war is going to be won so who better to spread the good news than Tom Waits guesting with The Blind Boys Of Alabama. Now there’s a Christmas treat!

Iain Archer - Little Drummer Boy

While we are ushering in the Messiah’s appearance here’s my mate Iain Archer and his amazing wife Miriam Kaufmann with a lovely version of this oldie.

Bruce Cockburn – Cry Of A Tiny Babe

The best and most detailed story song of the nativity. Brilliant and insightful, asking all the right questions from the reason for the season. “Redemption rips through the surface of time...”

Jill Phillips - Labour Of Love

It was not a silent night! The earthy reality of the birth and Mary place in it.

Low – If You Were Born Today

Low’s alternative Christmas record throws up this poignant sermonette.

Ricky Ross - Calvary

A song about Christmas with the title of Easter’s hill. Ricky Ross suggests that instead of getting Jesus straight to Easter we should
ponder on the lessons his life teaches us.

The Killers - Joseph

The conclusion of the playlist’s sermon. More questions about how we would do if we lived the story. Here we see Joseph as a hero too.
Rather him than me!

Wizzard – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday

The nativity should not be left in the cupboard once we put away the turkey carcass and decorations. We should live it every day. My very favourite Christmas pop song from the era of Slade but even better!

Bob Dylan - Must Be Santa

Dylan’s Christmas record needed inclusion. Here’s the one that gets my girls dancing. Happy Christmas!

Rod Stewart - Merry Christmas Baby

Ok! A little indulgence but I still remember Rod as the archetypal rock star lad! This one from his Christmas record goes out like a prayer. “May the good Lord be with you...” Amen!

STOCKI'S ALBUMS OF 2012 - Bill Fay; Life Is People


Life Is People

(I will put them in order by New Year's Eve... in the meantime a reminder of the contenders every day til then...)

Bill Fay is a story. Life is People is a gem of a record that comes out of nowhere and makes an impression beyond great songs and great playing. About 10 years ago I conjured the idea of a novel. A rock star releases two great records in the late sixties and then leaves the scene. Why? Would an ordinary job be more fulfilling than wealth and celebrity? I wanted to work out those questions in this story. Bill Fay might be that story but he isn’t fiction. There is another story that has just been made into a movie that reflects it too. Searching For Sugar Man tells the story of Rodriguez who gave up music
and while living an ordinary life discovered he’d become huge in South Africa.

But this review is about Bill Fay. Two records in 1970 and 1971 was the last time that Fay had been in a  studio though old recordings and home demos have been released since. In the meantime Fay is writing and playing every day but working as a gardener with no intention of going into a studio ever again.  On the other side of the world in backwoods America a young man called Joshua Henry plays his dad’s vinyl copies of Fay’s records and when he becomes a producer thinks he’d like to chase Fay up and produce him. After a bit of coercion he has done just that with the help of Matt Deighton and Wilco main man Jeff Tweedy who has covered one of Fay’s songs.

The results are amazing. Life is People is a beautiful record. It is a gracious and gentle charm much like the personality that Fay
exudes. Fay's sleeve notes are a powerful contribution to the package. They speak of a humble man who wants the profits for the record to go to charity and who seems an antithesis of the egotistical rock star giving credit to those who have helped him get around to making this record. From this very ordinary soul we are gifted with songs about the weariness of the messed up world and prayers
to help us through.  As a companion for the journey through the world this is a gentle arm around the shoulder and a wise mature elder of the tribe sharing charming wisdom. It soothes but
fortifies for the battles. I have no idea of what Fay’s theological position is but he certainly gives thanks to God and Jesus. The opening There Is A Valley takes us to Christ’s crucifixion which Fay mentions again in Thank You Lord a lovely prayer that and again shows the selflessness of Fay as he prays more for his loved ones than himself. The World finds Jeff Tweedy guesting and seemingly reading Fay’s biog in his lines, “Too many years in factories/Scrubbing floors and walls,” in a mantra that has an awareness of the temptations and snares of this earthly life
that seems to be trying to break us. In this song however and almost the recurring thread in all Fay’s work is the seeking a transcendent release from such weariness  and our need for something to set us free and another day to look forward to. Apocalyptic (in every meaning of that word!) prayers is as good a way to describe Fay’s work and this links this collection of songs across the four decades to Time Of The Last Persecution from 1971.

I am still not sure after ten years of surmising whether
my fictional rock star will make a another album but if he does then Life Is People is a perfect template; brilliantly conceived and executed songs that are not just good but good for something.

Healthy Song For Advent - FAIRYTALE IN NEW YORK – The

Was it someone on Facebook who was laughing as their child suggested doing this one in Church. In Fitzroy we have done it as part of an evening called The Gospel According To... Christmas Songs. Why would do this one on such a night? Well, I think it is not only a wonderful song BUT I believe it adds a shade to Christmas that is so easy to lose in our over sentimentality about the season. This is a messy, sad song about those who have ended up in the drunk tank, casualties of alcohol and gambling and the underbelly of the streets of promise and gold, in this case New York.

A quick search on Wikipedia and you will find a fascinating history to the song. First released in 1987 this song has featured on most Christmas playlists since and indeed is the only song to ever make the top 10 in three successive years! Wikipedia will inform you that there is no NYPD choir to sing Galway Bay! For us Irish it is this sense that they were Irish emigrants that adds to our love of this particular tune; it sits alongside a whole lot of other such songs in the Pogues catalogue.

In 2005 BBC Radio 1 blanked out the scandalous words “faggot” and “slut” but quickly restored them by public demand! It is obviously those words that had us debating when we did it in Fitzroy. Can you sing this in Church? My argument was can we do a night of Christmas songs and leave this one out. If we did what would be saying about
God, the Church and the Christmas story? At times though I have thought of erring on the side of caution. It would be disappointing to have to. Why? Well, I think that this song does take us into the very heart of the problems that Jesus came right into the heart of. Jesus didn’t arrive in the best postal address all middle classed up and distant from the world’s mess. Jesus was born into it. This song sets the scene indeed with its earthy language the kind of people and situation that Jesus came to love; and to love into salvation.