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October 2013


Lou Reed New York

Lou Reed’s passing on Sunday was a huge loss to all of us interested in rock music. He was an iconic figure and incredibly influential. There was of course The Children In Need charity version of Perfect Day will be best known along with Walk On The Wild Side. For me Satellite of love was a favourite even before U2 covered it and Bono duetted with Reed live via video screen! It was while Reed was supporting U2 at the King’s Hall, Belfast on June 24th 1987 that I had the privilege of seeing him live. I have to say, though, that I was not an obsessive fan. When I picked out 8 of his CDs off my shelf, to take to the coast this week, I realised how much of his work I admired.

The New York record was my favourite. It is the best shop window for his New York street poetry with those heavy, but not too much so, rhythmic guitar riffs. New York was a cohesive album, brilliant start to finish! Romeo and Juliet and Great American Whale are exquisite pieces of rock music but Busload Of Faith and Dirty Boulevard are even better! Busload Of Faith, which I remember Newry band The 4 Of Us doing a corking cover of in their mid 90s live set, dismisses dependence on everything including God and church but that glorious riff “Need a busload of faith to get by” still resonates. It is a bit like his version of John Lennon’s God but I’ll take faith over Yoko and John to depend on every time! Dirty Boulevard sums the whole album if not much of Reed’s entire career up. It is about the underbelly of New York street life. The social, political and cultural critique of American life gets spat out with a great verse: -

“Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I'll piss on 'em
that's what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let's club 'em to death
and get it over with and just dump 'em on the boulevard.

My favourite Lou Reed musical moment though was when he appeared on  song that brings redemption to those hungry and impoverished!

“There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn't to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you've got ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It's a Christmas gift [that] you don't have to buy
There's a future shining in a baby's eyes...”


It is Lou Reed singing the Christmas nativity, perhaps even more off kilter than Perfect day being a pop number 1! It is a live version of a Bruce Cockburn song from the The Best of Columbia Records Radio Hour, Vol. 1, released in 1995. The song was Cry Of A Tiny Babe, an 8 minute run through the Christmas nativity story of all things. The Bruce Cockburn Project website has a few quotes about the song. One is from an interview my friend Steve Lawson did with Cockburn for Guitarist Magazine. Steve asked about duetting with Lou Reed and Bruce responded, I know, it amazes me too - you should have been there when it happened. We'd rehearsed it but he was reading the lyrics off. There we were playing the song, and it came time for his verse and that's what he did, and I just started laughing as you can probably hear on the ensuing chorus.”

Another quotation from the Bruce Cockburn Project gives insight into Cockburn’s intentions with the song. He told Paul Zollo in Song Talk... "I wanted to write a Christmas song. I went at it like trying to tell the Bible story but put it in modern terms. Like the Goddard movie "Joseph and Mary". I thought the story in the Bible is such an interesting story, but you forget how interesting it is because it's held up as a cliche so much to us. And over the years people have lost their humanity, who are in the story, and they've become larger-than-life figures. And I just thought it would be interesting to play at putting them in a human context. So Mary becomes a little bit shrewish and has a little bit of an attitude. The classic Mary figure, the Madonna - the original Madonna - is a far cry from any young Jewish mother I've ever run across [Laughs]. So I wanted to get it into something that people could relate to."

For me Cockburn’s song does just that and Lou Reed unique voice gives the song the menace that King Herod would have cast across Judea as babies under 2 were all killed in a ruthless attempt to get rid of God in a bundle of baby bones in straw who was quickly whisked away as a refugee to Egypt. If you want to smash up the sentimental clichés and bring realism to the nativity story then Lou Reed was the man! Of course Cockburn’s chorus was a poetic and theological depth charge...

“Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe.”


MJ 7

My friend Martyn Joseph has a new record out called Tires Rushing By In The Rain (link to my review below). It is an entire album of Bruce Springsteen cover versions. As Martyn is playing The Errigle Inn in Belfast tomorrow night (Oct 30, 2013) I thought I'd shoot him a few quick Facebook questions about the record and his hero Bruce Springsteen...

A whole album of Springsteen? When did that birth itself as an idea?

I have often thrown in a Bruce song through the years and was often asked about recording an album of them. The final push I needed was when Dave Marsh said he would write sleeve notes. I thought he knows the man well and if he is up for doing that it must have some merit.

You've been a Bruce fan for a long time. What was the first record of his you bought?

Think it was tunnel of love. I have a distinct memory of flying into Nashville with it playing on my cassette walkman in 87. I think it’s my favourite though it’s so hard to choose.

How did being a Springsteen listener affect your own songwriting?

It set a high standard and something to aspire to. His ability more than any other artist to articulate the ‘male’ journey was always fascinating to me. He just tells it so well. I would throw stuff away because If i put on one of his records you could see that your work wasn’t up to scratch.

 What sets him apart from other artists that you take time over?

Well there is a huge integrity there and a heart full of passion and urgency worn on a sleeve that gets life with all its contradictions. And he grows as we do and tells it like it is and that will always be appealing. Cool is not important as such, its just obvious that he cares and more than most.

When did you first cover a Springsteen song and how did you choose?

Think it was Thunder Road many, many years ago. I just went for the ones I loved and that had resonance with me. The Promise is my favourite I think but not many folk know that so I thought it would be good to open up some of the lesser known material. Others like The River just have to be there really.

Were there any Springsteen songs you thought about and then thought it didn't fit in the Joseph career?

No, there were a bunch of others I could have done but I thought 17 was probably enough!

What do you hope this record achieves in the listener?

Well the beautiful thing is that big time Bruce fans are saying nice things. Primarily that its opening the songs up in a new way. You get so used to a sound and the subconscious sometimes ignores what is actually being said and it seems some are listening to songs they have known for a long time with fresh ears and finding new things. That’s amazing to me. And I’m getting Springsteen fans coming to shows who had never heard of me before and that’s nice too. Gives me a chance to win them over to my stuff!

You bring a different slant to some songs. How did you find your way into your versions? 

Well it’s not hard as I have been listening to them a long time and you know they have come alongside many times and whispered truth to me. So it’s a joy to sing material like that and there is a big emotional connection. So i sing them for me as such but its hallowed turf and you tread gently.

Are you sending it to Bruce?

Personally no but if it does make his ears someday I hope it’s received as an act of gratitude for thats what it is. I won’t be doing this for anyone else.

read Stocki's review of the record here


Masked Stranger

So... Sunday morning in Fitzroy... as I am about to begin the sermon I become aware of a stranger being led into a pew by the welcome team. It is a strange time to arrive. My immediate thought is that he might be drunk and thus disruptive. I carry on. Very quickly I glance back and see that he has put a mask on. Though that heightens my awareness of him, for some reason it eases my fears about drunken disruption. At this stage I need to tell you about the gift of mental juggling a preacher seems to have; at least I discovered I had. My mind at that point divided into three different compartments. The two that I have created to deal with the man in the mask take nothing away from my preaching compartment. I am carrying on preaching without skipping a beat. Indeed, there was nothing in my demeanour or voice that alerted anybody to the presence of the man in the mask. For quite a few minutes the rest of the congregation have not a clue what is going down!

The other two compartments kick in without me attempting to start them up. The first one is a prayer compartment. Immediately the mask appeared I started to converse with God. “Ok Lord this is interesting. I am not concerned now about drunken behaviour but I reckon this is now a spook out. Whoever this guy is he is not on our side. I want to take him out. Help me to remain calm, continue with the sermon and let’s eye ball him!” Now I am no fan of Frank Peretti’s demon novels where everything that happens is a battle of darkness and light. However, I am aware of evil. The Bible does talk about a devil. I am not thinking that this is the devil in the mask or even that he is on the devil’s side. I do sense immediately that he is not on our side. This is a service to worship God and I am keen that nothing gets in the way of that. So I am not even flustered. Not to be too crass, I am convinced I am on the winning team and this dude in the mask ain’t beating us. So I continue to preach and at times stare him out. As I said, bizarrely I would have been more unsure of the outcome had there been no mask!

My other compartment is a little confused. Completely calm and clear in what it is doing but a little confused all the same. As I am preaching, and praying, I am also surveying the situation around the man in the mask. No one around him is at all bothered. Now, I am aware that unless you were very close to him you would have no need to notice. I am the only one looking down the Church. Yet, those beside him have not flinched anymore than me.

After a few minutes he very deliberately, for full effect, pulled his hood over his head. My “keeping an eye on the situation” compartment certainly felt that that was a sinister move. I was then fairly sure that he was not going to endure a full sermon without reacting. There was still no point in losing what I felt was a good wee sermon until such times as I had to. Of course compartment #1 was hoping that he might actually be enjoying this part of the sermon which saw Jesus in John Chapter 4 smashing all the cultural norms. When I saw him getting out of the pew and into the aisle compartments 2 and 3 kind of shut down but the preaching one remained resolute. I was in the midst of an illustration so actually it was perfect timing. I like to think that the prayer compartment did its work! He shouted something but I was resolute in neither stopping or responding. Within seconds he was gone and I was back to absolute normal. Of course this was the first time that the vast majority of the congregation knew anything had been amiss! Afterwards, many said that they thought it was part of the sermon. The week before a similar incident had been acted out as part of the Family Service. Nothing surprises in Fitzroy. Once they realised that it wasn’t set up by me the other realisation dawned. Dangerous!

Post service I found that not everyone had gotten back to normal as quickly as I had. My naiveté started to dawn on me too. Someone said that when he got up with his back pack on she thought we were all dead. Someone else said she feared he would pull a gun. Courage and bravery were words pointed at me that I was more than a little surprised at.  Others asked if my family were ok or needed trauma counselling.

The younger trendies were into conversations about the movie V For Vendetta and the Anonymous Movement that seems to have sprung from it. Was this an anti-establishment attack on religion. I did some investigating and put our website on alert to possible hackings. The vast majority were certainly well impressed with my sense of calm. I started reflecting on my 3 compartments and felt that we achieved what my immediate prayer had sought; no one’s going to interrupt God!

As I talked to a wide range of those involved, did some research online and had many Facebook messages from those who know the Anonymous Movement it would seem to me that we were not dealing with anything of that sort. I reckon that we had a young man in our midst going through some real mental turmoil. I pray that his brush with Fitzroy does him some good because he really did do us no harm and left very quietly if he did continue shouting as he went down University Street.

In the end, I was thankful that the prayer department was so much to the fore that the preaching department didn’t lose what, again I feel, was one of my better efforts at preaching. That I was given the wherewithal to maintain a clear mind as the situation played out is an encouragement for another time. I have been aware of that department before. On self reflection I now see the incident as a moment in my life when my faith was at its very strongest. For sure it seems that something transcendently good took over and anything transcendently bad was on a loser from the get go! I might wear a mask on Sunday!



(This morning in Fitzroy a masked man freaked us out. Mask... then hoodie pulled up... sinister... I continued preaching and stared him out. He eventually stood up shouted at us and left very quietly. I would have been keen to ask him his motives but he was gone. If he was from the anti-establishment group, modelled on the V For Vendetta movie, then he got it wrong. We would have been on his side! Indeed if he'd listened to the sermon he would have caught that on. As I was flicking through poetry books this afternoon I came across this and though not about such an incident, something made me link it. It appeared in my Skeletons collection!)

The truth is out

And evil is on the run

Kicking, spitting, fighting

Hating what love has done

And you're peering out from the darkness

Dark and vast as the night time skies

There's nothing else that blocks out the light

Like a heavy bludgeoning blanket of lies

And you feel your soul go tumbling

Falling with the fear of no landing

You're learning how to shame the devil

And that the price is so demanding

Intergrity has to hold her head up high

While honesty hurts deep within

You need a tough yet tender heart

And to grow a much thicker skin

Yes the truth is out

And evil is on the run

And love will cast away all fear

So fear not what you've done.




Jesus 2

(I wrote this back around 1996 for The Jesus Project which presented the life of Jesus in poetry, song and dance... It caught my attention this weekend as I prepare to preach on Jesus' meeting with the Samaritan woman in John 4... I think the title comes from Philip Yancey, either in What's So Amazing About Grace or The Jesus I Never Knew... chuckled as I typed it today, as I remembered some "Rich Young Rulers" who walked out of a performance at University of Ulster Jordanstown... appropriate I think!)

I saw him in the distance

I wasn’t going to get too close

You don’t take chances with leprosy

Unless you are him I suppose

He could have shouted from a distance

Said you’re healed and then dismissed them

But this guy went and sat among them

And before he left he kissed them

Like an angel with reckless wings

In a world the world despised

He seemed to see everything different

Like he was looking through grace healed eyes.


I was there, right in the middle

I was helping make up the jury

We dragged her from her iniquitous bed

With the brute force and righteous fury

And there she stood full naked

Exposed in her flesh and her sin

He said he’d come to judge the world

So let the lightning strikes begin

“He who is perfect then cast the stone”

He knew our blood and guilt would rise

Left alone at last he looked at her

Forgave her with his grace healed eyes.


One day at last I met him

We stared through the crowd face to face

If he was the  way to eternal life

Then how could I pick my place

“Have you kept all the commandments”

I assured him of course I had

“Sell all you have, give it to the poor”
I’m telling you this man is mad

I stormed away my soul in turmoil

Like some antagonist to be defied

Yet I felt his heart yearning after me

Haunting me with his grace filled eyes

He haunts me with his grace filled eyes

He haunts me with his grace filled eyes.


Fitzroy notice board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will pondering a moment when Jesus finds himself at a well in Samaria. Dodgy enough start but there is dodgier to come as he sits down with a woman (yes... a woman!) whose reputation is not even debatable (come on... what is he thinking!). In chapter 4 of The Gospel According To John, Jesus involves himself, against the better judgement of maintaining his own reputation, in a subversive cultural smash up. Discipleship, spiritual formation and mission all in one intriguing conversation. 

In the evening (7pm) Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will lead us in a quiet reflective time. Give your soul space as autumn has filled your mind, heart, soul and diaries to high levels of tired.



Declan Kearney

This is the sort of event that Clonard/Fitzroy Fellowship have been doing for thirty plus years; bringing together the different sides of our Northern Irish conflict, sitting them down side by side and opening discussion. It has not always been popular with the two communities that Clonard and Fitzroy come from. Yet, it has been in some ways our contribution to the shared future we all long for. We had met with Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney in May and had a helpful evening of discussion and listening, not long before Sinn Fein’s City Of Equals Conference at the Europa Hotel. John Kyle from the PUP came to us in Clonard at the start of July, just as the marching season was kicking off. It was also a helpful night of frank discussion and understanding. Both Declan and John spoke favourably about their welcome and the discussions on those evenings. Tonight we brought them together and they answered questions about flags, protests and the past. Again there were some honest and frank discussions. The spirit of such events is that they are not for quoting in tabloid headlines or sparking some early morning Radio vitriol to spark ratings! The refreshing part of such a night is when politicians get to speak openly to one another in a different spirit than the TV soundbite to win votes in their communities. The civility, even in disagreement, is a hopeful sign that most of our experience of listening to political leaders never gives us. I am not going to misquote or take out of context the stuff both Declan and John said. Even if I would want to that was not the lingering surmise I had as I headed for home.  

As we brought Declan and John to question them as to what they as political leaders were doing for our shared future the overriding thing I took away from the evening was both of them challenging us as to what we were doing. Though none of them would shirk their responsibilities, and though I have come to deeply respect that both of them are doing what they are doing because they believe that they can contribute to a better future, they were certainly of one mind that we the ordinary members of this broken society need to be the ones who bring the healing. Both were encouraging engagement from us all at whatever level we were at. Who we vote for. Who we befriend. How we contribute to education, health and justice. A shared future will not be down to the elected representatives or agreements on paper. We all need to play our valuable part. Engagement means engagement at all levels of our society not just at City Hall or Stormont.

John Kyle

John Kyle I guess is that idea personified. John is middle class. He’s a doctor. He could be doing a lot of less stressful things on a Thursday night. He doesn’t have to take hits, on a daily basis, from his own community or the other community. Yet, something within him asked what he could do and that led him to involve himself with grass roots, working class, loyalist communities. He discovered a people who he wanted to help. He has given this part of his life to that task. He freely admitted that politics is a dirty game. He made a pitch for more people with values and principles to get involved. Politics is only as good as the politicians that we can elect! John also told us that the decisions a party come to are argued out within parties and, maybe even if you don’t get elected to public office, being a member of a party and involved in those debates can influence change.

Declan told us that we were all leaders. We don’t need to be involved at a politic level to be such. We are parents and uncles and aunts and siblings and friends and work mates and Church members. In all those micro relationships we lead with our attitudes, voices and actions. It was an insightful challenge. So often we feel disenfranchised from the process yet in our everyday conversations and unofficial leadership we contribute for better or worse. Specifically addressing what was a Christian audience Declan quoted 1 John, “perfect love casts out fear.” There was a realisation in the room that at this time, particularly in Unionist communities, there is a lot of fear that could in the wrong conditions take us back to violence. That “perfect love” needs lived by the us the unofficial leaders in our Church communities.

At the end of the evening I had to quickly sum up and close. It was this challenge to the gathering to be the answers rather than the askers of questions that most struck me. Before I finished with a prayer of St. Francis’, known as Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace, I quoted Professor John Brewer’s book Religion, Civil Society And Peace In Northern Ireland. John speaks about the differences between “political peace” and “societal peace”. I guess in some ways Declan and John are involved in the former and they were provoking us to take our responsibility in the latter. The former without the latter has no chance of surviving. That took me to how in that same book John Brewer differentiates between “passive peacemaking” and “active peacemaking”. For many years I was passively standing for how I didn’t hate but was not at all actively trying to bring the peace we need. A gathering of, perhaps in the main, middle class Church people listening to words and debating cerebrally can leave us with a warm feeling that we did something. That would be the wrong outcome of this Clonard/Fitzroy event. Such meetings need to bring change. Change of understanding. Change of heart. Change of soul. Most importantly a change of involvement. Whatever, this gathering agreed or disagreed with Declan or John, one thing we need to agree with both of them them on. We are involved. Time to get active!



Paul McCartney is 71. He should have his feet up in the Hamptons, or the south coast of England, enjoying his retirement. Instead he keeps on going. NEW is some title for a man who has been recording album after album for fifty years. Yet, working with four hot younger producers (Mark Ronson, Glyn Johns, Giles Martin and Paul Epworth)  and a band that has energised him on and off stage for 12 years (Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray and Abe Laboriel Jr) the title is making a statement as this is fresh, contemporary, relevant... NEW! NEW is inventive, intriguing and when it does nod its hat at The Beatles it is 67 era Beatles which still sounds more contemporary today than today’s contemporary. The record rocks out, pops it up and changes gears more seamlessly than four different producers might suggest. It is dirtier, tougher and moodier than Sir Paul has been in many a long year.   

The album title might also be a hint at the fact that this is McCartney’s most spiritual album ever! On the opening track (Save Us) he is seeking out salvation and another songs has him singing Hosanna (Hosanna). The Road has him on a journey through storms and darkness toward the light. Most preachy of all is Everybody Out There: -

“There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
We're the brightest objects in the sky
There, but for the Grace of God go you and I
Do some good before you say goodbye”

This is a remarkable lyric in a song that is obviously written with a stadium full of tens of thousands of fans to sing it to. Christianity’s brightest precious stone Grace is right there in the heart of it, the Biblical idea that humans are the pinnacle of creation is declared and then the altar call of doing something with your life!

Of course McCartney is the most passively spiritual of The Beatles. Lennon went through confirmation and though he got in trouble for saying The Beatles were popular than Jesus and declared he didn’t believe in God in the song God off Plastic Ono Band, he saw himself as a bit of a Christ figure in his revolutionary ideals and the way the public treated him – “Christ you know it aint easy/They’re gonna crucify me” (Ballad Of John and Yoko). Ringo Starr recently spoke of Christianity and had a song Oh My Lord was clearly directed to God. Macca on the other hand has always been a little vacuous in his God belief. Let It Be that might have been seen as a Gospel song was directed towards his own mother Mary, not the mother of Jesus. In more recent years he has nodded at the Divine on the classical work Ecce Cor Meum, particularly the song Sanctus and the reflection on eternity on The End Of The End from Memory Almost Full but though NEW is about a rebirth of sorts that impinges on all of McCartney’s current demeanour it is not a religious conversion so much as a new wife to reinvigorate and heal an unhappy phase in his life.

These songs brim over in thankfulness to McCartney’s third wife Nancy Shevell. The salvation, cause for praise and his partner to see him up the road towards the light on the journey are all about finding love. It makes for a his best record in a long time and his deepest work in even longer. As a Beatles’ fan I will always be interested in the music McCartney releases but I have rarely been as fascinated or satisfied with his lyrical content. If McCartney should still be gigging at 90 we will see which of these songs can sit alongside Get Back, Hey Jude and Yesterday from the 60s or Live and Let Die, Band On The Run and My Love from the 70s. There might be few BUT then those songs are top company. NEW is a treat. Well worth hanging in with a  Beatle for!


X Factor Judges

X Factor and modern worship; could they be curtailing the impact of Jesus in our modern world? As X Factor heats up, a three month build up to what you will be conditioned to make the Christmas Number 1, it has a more serious bi-product for a generation. Alex Petridis, rock music critic for the Guardian, argues that what is happening in the pop and rock scene has sociological implications. His argument is that the television shows Pop Idol and X Factor that produce democratic record deals dilute the edge of music. It has become known as “consensus rock.” The winner of these shows is decided by phone in, public votes and result in million dollar record contracts. If an artist wants to get the vote of the armchair television watcher he or she has to sing songs that appeal to the 8 year old voter at the same time as the 80 year old viewer. This affects the art, blands it out, leaves it insipid and anaemic. That the youth of the early twenty first century are less radical or revolutionary than their 60s or 70s counterparts should not surprise us. What is on the iPod of the youth will decide what social change happens on the streets. Or won’t!

Worship is now about the iPod too. When those great old hymns were being written, full of theology and discipleship, the writers were not thinking about CDs sales. It can often be frustrating for the preacher as he or she sits down to think of songs to wrap the sermon in that there is such a narrow subject matter and often times flimsy at best theology and call to action in the vast array of songs. No one is ever going to hum the sermon on the way home from worship but a good song that can be sung long after the benediction can catechize, nourish, equip and energise action for the entire week to come. What is on the iPod of a generation of Christians can shape the kind of Christian action that Jesus demands and the world needs.

As I thought about all of this I was drawn to the old negro spirituals. Why did Bruce Springsteen dust seven of these songs off for his Seeger Sessions Tour awhile back and why did he start and end his most recent tour with This Little Light Of Mine. What is it in songs written and sung in cotton fields where the singers didn’t imagine it would reach the next farm so much as the next century that has kept the songs not only alive but wherever they have been socially transformative?

The Civil Rights Movement knew the transformative power of songs and used them as such. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a mover and shaker alongside Martin Luther King, and vocalist with Sweet Honey On the Rock, said, “How important were the musicians during the civil rights years? They were crucial. You could call black people together in any committed way without a ritual that involved an enormous amount of singing. The singing was used to create the climate, to get the people ready to address the issues. The song leaders were absolutely essential.” Gospel singing legend Mahalia Jackson has a similar testimony believing that “gospel music had given the people courage and spirit when they were in danger.”

To theologize this I studied The Spirituals And The Blues by another King accomplice James H Cone. Cone theologized these old songs and revealed what they had deep within them and that made them such a transformative power. From all of this I uncovered what I term prophetic stimuli that if contained in songs can contribute to healthy souls and the bringing of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven – carriers of theology, carriers of story, unity, unity of emotions, hopefulness, imagination, re-humanizing, catharsis, protest, sense of wonder and commitment.

Another theologian Calvin Seerveld suggests that if Jesus is Lord then he should be Lord of all. He speaks of an “aesthetic obedience.” He warned that, ”any public which denies artistry its rightful place under the sun forfeits a rich source of imaginative knowledge. If the public is unwilling to learn the difference between, on the one hand, the visionary leader and the honest artisan and, on the other hand, the shyster, the opportunist and the trendy fellow traveller, that public will become colourless or a pastiche. It is a strong statement to say that those who neglect art become “colourless or a pastiche.” In situations where there is no aesthetic discernment then Seerveld uses words like “still born,” “handicapped” and “deformed” to describe our lives. Something of the fullness of our human experience is lost if we are duped by too much X Factor or flimsy content to our worship songs!

Let us call for an “iPodic obedience” and a “worship song” obedience. Let us call for healthy songs that stimulate prophetic life. Let us listen and sing songs that might transform our souls and the world. Let us write such songs. Let us not become colourless or a pastiche. Let us let Jesus be Lord. Let us change the world. 


Brian Houston Mercy

So if Bruce Springsteen had taken the negro spirituals of Seeger’s Civil Rights movement and instead of turning them into carnival folk had taken a left turn and driven them down the Rolling Stones’ blues of Exile on Main Street then this is what it might have sounded like. I have heard people segregate the Spirituals and the Blues. Brian Houston marries them perfectly and then takes his penchant for accessible pop songs with a dirty chunks of blues riffs that make the blues sound never more heavenly and the Spirituals never more earthly.

Good News (Love’s Like A Weapon) is so ridiculously good that you cannot get out of your head hours later when you find yourself still singing it. Gospel Train is in that lineage of Woody’s Bound For Glory down through Curtis’s People Get Ready and directly out of Bruce’s Land Of Hope and Dreams. Yet, if anything Houston does something insane and out does the whole lot of them with a great tune and a more Biblically laid foundation for the hopefulness. Indeed all these songs have underneath their immediacy a deep layering. Joshua, Moses and Gideon as well as Jesus turn up in Bible carrying stories of rocked up hallelujah!

This is the third of a trilogy of Gospel albums that Brian Houston has released and recorded in recent years. They have been a surprising discovery to Houston and an enlightening joy for us all. Joy is the operative word on Mercy. These are songs that enunciate the real joy of a faith in Jesus that is not just the happiness of happenings but the belief that there is help where help is needed. Houston plays these songs in a voice that is strong, yearning and soulful from 25 years on stages across the world. His guitar playing has authority. On Mercy, Houston’s guitar is like a two edged musical sword that cuts through, grabs these songs and shoves them up against your attention. Add to the voice and the guitar totin’ a spiritual belief that can deal with whatever the world throws at him and find solace, strength and saving grace.

Houston says in the liner notes that he can’t find a home for these songs. They seem too holy for the bars and too rocked up and authentic for a Christian circuit, blanded out in sound and lyric. Fair play to his courage to follow his muse whatever the financial failure might bring. If you’re wise you’ll stand with him and give this amazing music that home because it is a cut above the rest in sound, substance and spirituality!