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June 2015


Van Painting


One, Two Brown Eyes by Energy Orchard from Energy Orchard

Belfast band Energy Orchard have done many a Van cover. I chose this one because it is not often done and though their versions of Madame George and Gloria are great too they are surpassed by legends later in this playlist. Great debut album by a Belfast band who could have been huge!

My Lonely Sad Eyes by Maria McKee from You Gotta Sin, To Get Saved

I simply love Maria’s two Van covers on this record.

And It Stoned Me by Duke Special from Songs From The Deep Forest (Bonus Version)

Another Belfast boy, living streets away from Hyndford Street at the time, recorded this lovely version. Duke brought it back home from Woodstock to Belfast

Brown Eyed Girl by Brian Kennedy from Interpretations

From an east Belfast man to a west Belfast man. Kennedy has some great Van covers and I love the way he slows this one right down to dig out even more depths in a song. Van spoke of this as a throw away pop. Other pop writers dream!

The Way Young Lovers Do by Jeff Buckley from Live At Sin-é

Buckley loved Morrison too. Here’s one in the meandering spirit of Astral Weeks. 

TB Sheets by John Lee Hooker from Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive

One of Van’s heroes does Van.

Jackie Wilson Says (I’m in Heaven) by Dexy’s Midnight Runners from Too-Rye-Ay

Dexy’s took Van into the top 5 and brought his Caledonian Soul Orchestra sound into the 80s where he continued to be a major influence. 

Wild Night by John Mellencamp from Rough Harvest

A rocked out version from one of the many artists who built a career on the Van Morrison sound.

Moondance by Over The Rhine from Live From Nowhere Volume 1

My very favourite band thrilled me with this romantic version of one of Janice and my favourite songs.

Have I Told You Lately by Rod Stewart from Rod Stewart Unplugged

Morrison’s songs are made for Rod Stewart’s voice. Why he did more Dylan than Morrison beats me. Following Over The Rhine. Oooh! 

Someone Like You by Shawn Colvin from One Fine Day (soundtrack)

As I have already said on my Van playlist this is OUR song. 

Crazy Love by Paloma Faith from Dermot O’Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions 2015

The most recent cover on the playlist, this one has maybe the most versions but Paloma stole in wither quirk and those Gospel backing singers!

Tupelo Honey by Cassandra Wilson from Blue Light ’Til Dawn

Jazz queen does this one justice.

Sometimes We Cry by Tom Jones from Re-Load

Tom wanted to be Van Morrison perhaps. Covered a few of Van’s songs on Carry A Torch.

At The Crossroads by Solomon Burke from Make Do With What You Got

The only song in this playlist not recorded by Van himself, Burke is a perfect conduit for Morrison's muse with his Gospel/blues deep soul voice. Van even wrote the sleeve notes! 

Angelou by Deacon Blue from Raintown (Box Set)

Deacon Blue were another late 80s outfit very influenced by Morrison; street names, place and transcendence. Here is one of their many live covers, the only one sadly to make release.

I’m Tired Joey Boy by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from Playback - The Other Sides

Petty loves Van and this is a quirky cover.

Bright End Of The Street by Hothouse Flowers from No Prima Donna

This Dublin band are another natural vehicle for Morrison songs.

Into The Mystic by Joe Cocker from Organic

Love Joe Cocker’s voice. Love his Organic record and love this one most of all.

Beautiful Vision by Brian Kennedy & Shana Morrison from A Night In San Francisco

Very celtic version from Van’s live album that used both these wonderful voices; A Night In San Francisco. 

Madame George by Marianne Faithfull from No Prima Donna

Who better to bring out the holiness of the sleazy-esque mystique of Madame George than the Madame of the Stones and Soho of the 60s!

You Make Me Feel So Real by Sinead O’Connor from No Prima Donna

Nice follow up to Madame George, Sinead does this with real Irish beauty. 

Sweet Thing by The Waterboys from Fisherman’s Blues

Mike Scott does some wonderful Morrison too and has certainly been very influenced by him. From those incredible Fisherman’s Blues days! 

Full Force Gale by Elvis Costello & The Voice Squad from No Prima Donna

This vocal version was the arrangement used at my Installation service. Spiritual potent!

Gloria by Patti Smith from Easter

The Doors version is a little too rude! So here is the Queen of rock’s intense, spiritual and romantic mix up… wee boy from Hyndford Street in the vortex of rock history and writing its soundtrack!

Mystic Eyes by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers from The Live Anthology

My very favourite cover. I love how Petty makes this his own wherever he is and that spoken word about making everything alright - it’s what rock music is all about!


Rory Photo Finish

The Troubles rarely touched my hometown, Ballymena. Where we were impacted was in the fact that I rarely travelled  the thirty miles to Belfast AND… that few rock bands came to Belfast in the 70s. One man was always dependable though. Rory Gallagher played a stint at the Ulster Hall every turn of the year. So… as a seventeen year old in January 1979 Rory Gallagher became me first ever rock concert. Delayed for a few days because of some weather issue with the Larne Stranraer Ferry it was a Saturday matinee performance. And it was epic!

Rory Gallagher is a under rated legend of rock music. A guitar player of astounding genius and dexterity he could finger dance on an acoustic guitar like the very very best but he he is probably remembered visually and sonically for the hard rock blues sounds that he emitted from his well-worn sunburst 1961 Stratocaster. That that guitar was born the same year as me is not lost on me!

Gallagher could make that thing talk and sing and rant and rage. At that first gig in 1979 Rory was touring Photo-Finish and probably for subjective reasons that is by far my favourite Gallagher record. Other albums might be more versatile and technically better in writing and playing. Maybe! Yet, Photo-Finish was special for me as it was perhaps his more commercial sounding piece. Shadow Play was actually released as a single and Shin Kicker just kicks everything in sight. Brute Force and Ignorance and Last Of The Independents also rock along on a catchy train track while Overnight Bag is an autobiographical song on the touring life.

It is twenty years today since Rory passed away. It is a great time to reassess his genius. You can keep your Jimi Hendrix. Rory Gallagher was less flash but I question if even Hendrix could shape the strings of a guitar like Rory, and he sang the blues with a guttural authenticity. he used to shout at the end of songs or in introducing a song, “Hope you like it!” I loved it and having finally bought Photo-Finish 36 years later am beginning to love it again!



Rory 1

Remember The First Time. It was a might of old memories remembered and brand new never to forget new ones. It was the great idea of my old mate Adam Turkington wonderfully followed through by the BBC. It was one of the major re-opening events for Belfast’s historic Ulster Hall, all beautifully restored and bringing reminders of the great gigs down through the years.

My very first rock concert was Rory Gallagher right there almost where I was standing in January 1979, delayed for four days because the winter weather cancelled the Larne-Stranraer ferry! My very favourite gig ever was The Waterboys here in 1986 but more of that later. Tonight we celebrated fourteen Northern Ireland rock acts from the brand new to the legendary. At no other time in our history could such quality have appeared on the same stage. It was a night to be very proud. Where do I begin?

Well the beginning was pretty special. I walked in just as The Lowly Knights and their loose and brilliant twelve man and woman travelling show broke into Divine Comedy’s Something for The Weekend. I love these guys and gals off and on the stage and to see them here in this venue was a natural but wonderful thrill. It would have been enough but then I glance round and see that Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) is standing right behind me with my good friends Peter Wilson (Duke Special) and Paul Wilkinson (tonight playing with Iain Archer and Duke Special but Phil Pilot in his right!). How will Mr. Comedy react? On the conclusion I glance round and say, “Great songwriter!” to which he agrees with a triumphant and very proud scream of delight; he left honoured! 

The deal this evening is that each act will do a song of their own and a song they heard at a gig in the Ulster Hall. I had been asked during the day which song I would have chosen and my immediate response was The Waterboys’ Fisherman Blues which I heard here in April 1986, before it was recorded, with Steve Wickham’s fiddle blowing my soul open wide. So as Hannon leaves I lean over, give Duke a hug and ask, “What’s your cover?” “Fisherman’s Blues.” Wow... but even more on that later!

After an impressive Kowalski, Cashier No 9, of whom I had heard great things, played with real authority and gave AC/DC’s Rock N Roll Damnation a sense of art! Then up came The Panama Kings whom I have more subjective interest and whom I had never seen live. World renowned journalist Stuart Baillie had waxed lyrical to me about these boys just a couple of weeks before and he introduced them with his belief that they have the style and swagger and strut to go the whole way. They delivered with an erudite authority and re-thought and re-freshed Ash’s A Life Less Ordinary which gave me another off screen moment. I spotted Ash’s drummer Rick in the balcony with his folks, with inside knowledge that an Ash cover was about to start. It took him a moment for him to catch on but then a smile of pride and recognition had him whispering to his parents that it was their song. He nodded along knowingly and like Hannon before him looked honoured!

What I hadn’t realised was how many hard rockin’ local bands we had and tonight the chest was pounding at regular intervals. La Faro and a combination of Derry’s finest Jet Plane Landing and Fighting With Wire kept the thud pumping, the latter’s cover of Rage Against The Machine’s Know Your Enemies testifying to the power of music to change lives. 

On the mellower side, Foy Vance got perhaps the loudest cheer of the night and did a quirkey Crash Test Dummies’ cover before singing a brand new song that was perhaps the only time in the entire evening that the crowd was silenced to a hush. Vance has jumped over many who could have been ahead of him to be one of our brightest lights.

Iain Archer is another songwriter of world class quality and his Songbird was beautiful. When he then suggested introducing some friends my students wondered if it was going to be me doing a freakish rap in a Ballymena accent (check UTube for said performance – AAAAAAAGHHH!) but to the audience’s great relief it wasn’t me but Gary Lightbody and Nathan Connolly from Snow Patrol which I guess would be like introducing Bono and Edge at a gig in Dublin. The crowd were rather pleased!

Introducing a cover of The Frames whom Iain’s band for the evening, Paul and Phil Wilkinson, had supported as The Amazing Pilots with Iain on guitar was again met with appreciation though to be fair their Lay Me Down was not the slickest cover of the night but they held it together! Then Iain with his former Snow Patrol buddies played acoustic versions of Chocolate and Chasing Cars. It was the latter song that almost got me banished to the spare room when I arrived home to tell my wife that Iain and Gary had dueted on her favourite song!

Heading to a finish and Snow Patrol have already been! It is again a mark of the quality that this small little country has and is producing. Neil Hannon is a peculiar wee nodger and plays that role so wonderfully well. He struts out to his upright piano, makes a funny little quip to the crowd and sings Tonight We Fly as a transcendent celebratory hymn. A song about rising above everything to find life in all its fullness right here on earth, it blends beautifully his Bishop father’s doubt and belief with his own agnostic rock star doubt and belief.

Suggesting that doing covers was like being on X factor he then defuses such a crass reading of the evening by adding that they probably wouldn’t do The Pixies on X Factor and takes those very Pixies and strains the guitar blitz out of Gigantic to give it a peculiar wee nodger like arrangement that was still pretty darn huge! He then gives a peculiar wee nodger salute to the crowd and walks off like the divine comic he is. 

Duke Special? Another pixie like dude with his own peculiar eccentricities and not just on his head was next! Well, as I said, he was doing my song. In April 1986 The Waterboys were blending their big music with Irish folk and brought it to The Ulster Hall before they had even captured it on record. Fisherman’s Blues was spiritually breath taking for me and watching the elfin Steve Wickham whizz across that stage in a mesmerising fiddle trance will live with me forever. That Duke would do it tonight was perfect and if perfection can then be trump carded that is what the Special one did because who was his guest musician for the evening but Steve Wickham himself. It was a slower vaudevillian arrangement in keeping with his Dukeness but it was Fisherman’s Blues and the chains were falling off my soul again in that spiritual climax to a great, great song. It was then Duke’s own Diggin’ My Own Grave which I love for its quirky audience participation juxtaposition with the serious confession of the verses. Tonight though I missed his good buddy Chip’s digging actions.

My most satisfying anorak moment of the night was during Ash’s Mrs. Robinson. You felt sure they’d do Teenage Kicks as they have even released it as a b-side and Simon And Garfunkel isn’t the most obvious for the punk pop Downpatrick noise makers. Yet, Tim Wheeler’s accessible pop melodies have always belied the band’s heavier sound. Anyhow, my mate whispered that surely Simon and Garfunkel hadn’t played the Uslter Hall and I wondered had Paul Simon, as my wife had shared the Dublin train with him the day after a Belfast concert. And then it came to me, all that useless knowledge I have collected in thirty five years of pop obsession, so I whispered back I think it’ll have been The Lemonheads. Seconds later Wheeler confirmed my genius and I had a smile that might have needed a bigger venue to contain! For their own they did their own brand new single... released by Annie Lennox... Shining Light which actually in the link of Lennox and Simon confirms the high echelons of where Ash’s songwriting art really sits. 

Headlining with Therapy was a surprise and a risk. People were certainly making for the exits before they arrived on stage and for sure a couple of other acts would have held onto the nominal concert goer. Yet, they were rightly announced as the band who started the succession of great bands that the wee Province had produced since they appeared on the scene from the back waters of Larne and Ballyclare back around 1988. Andy Cairns language was choice and must have had the live BBC broadcasters stressed out to high heaven but their full onslaught rocked out.

Their cover of Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster was great and reminded you that that riff, that got its worldwide showcase in the movie Hi Fidelity, is simply as good as came out the of punk rock era. All that was missing was a Teenage Kicks and right on cue there it was with all fourteen acts taking to the stage for a finale that again basked in the amazing amount of rock n roll genius that has come out of a wee country with no more than one and a half million people! That I knew personally at least half the number on stage and that the bass player from Ash was the only one of the entire cast who tried to look like a rock star made me even prouder!

All in all it was a gig to remember. The old Ulster Hall newly decked out in tastefully restored finery got an awesome new baptism and we all got to simple be astounded at the strength of our local music scene. As we left the building with everyone smiled out and gloating at having been there, only a couple of questions; why were the only women performers the backing singers for The Lowly Knights; and why was there no ranting united rock n roll front against the killing of two soldiers just a few days earlier. Peace in Belfast may need to go deeper if it is going to take longer lasting roots but the short term benefits are obvious for all tonight; a busy music scene with art finding a profitable as well as prophet-able place. This is our alternative Ulster, let us keep it!


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will be taking us onward in the Long Obedience In The Same Direction. That is the book title of Eugene Peterson's commentary on the Psalms Of Ascent - Psalms 120-134. Tomorrow's Psalm is 131 and answers Rudyard Kipling's poem IF... about keeping your head when all around you are losing their's. We will smash the modern idol of ambition and cut the spoon strings to become trusting not neurotic children of God. Chris Blake and Richard Guthrie both long standing members of the Ulster Orchestra will bring a cultured and meditative genius to the worship.

In the evening (7pm) we will be see what some Catholic Priests recommend as healthy reading for Protestants! Fr Martin Magill and Fr Alan McGuckian will share a book each and I will unpack the book Redemption Road by Fr Brendan McManus. Fr Brendan wrote the book after walking the Camino as a response to losing his brother to suicide. 


Sir Van

Last night’s news! Van Morrison has a knighthood. Sir Van The Man! How wonderful! How well deserved. Heads up today East Belfast. Be proud. From your streets came an icon of modern music with his take on blues, jazz, folk and country all mixed into an era called pop and rock. He has an imagination like few others, a rare ability to cross genres and blend them. His love songs, his spiritual songs and his songs about Belfast streets and Ireland. Fantastic! 

If I still had my radio show I would ask for a three hour special and play these for starters!

Shakin All Over/Gloria from A Night In San Francisco 

From show bands including The Monarchs where he might well have covered Shakin All Over and its like Morrison formed Them and his song Gloria became a monster covered by any rock star that was a rock star. In a recent gig at the Europa hotel I marvelled at how it sounded as representative a slice of late 60s rock as anything else.

Brown Eyed Girl from Blowing Your Mind

A throw away pop song Van might call this one but has a pop song ever been more perfect or poetic or given such a sense of place. Sha la la la la la indeed!

TB Sheets from Blowin Your Mind

When Van went solo he started writing incredible songs like this. Where did this stuff come from? TB Sheets was on his first solo record that he never sanctioned.

Ancient Highway from Days Like This 

Love this song. One of Brian Kennedy’s best contributions. Lot’s of East Belfast in there. Particularly love - “In a factory in a street called Bread in East Belfast/Where Georgie knows best.”

On Hyndford Street from Hymns To The Silence

Wonderful spoken word piece of transcendence, That wee claustrophobic street and “dreaming in God”. Thank you Gordon Ashbridge for opening this one up to me. Stunningly beautiful. 

Madame George from Astral Weeks

I always thought I’d get a call to Bloomfield Presbyterian as the sign for Cyprus Avenue is right outside it. Should have realised that Madame George mentions Fitzroy. That’s where I ended up!

Sense Of Wonder from Sense Of Wonder

Sums up those 80s years and his sense of wonder. A race through Belfast too. Love his use of our street names.

Cyprus Avenue from Astral Weeks

Of all the street names. This is THE one. Oh the transcendence. And he is going to gig there on his 70th birthday on August 31st. Sweet mercy! 

Northern Muse (Solid Ground) from Beautiful Vision

She moves on the solid ground in the County Down. My wife did just that. 

Behind The Ritual from Keep It Simple

Making a sacramental thing out of the ordinary. It is what he does!

When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God from Avalon Sunset

When we did our Gospel According To Van Morrison in Fitzroy (we are doing another one on August 30th @ 11am) Scott Jamison, now singer with Go Wolf, did an astonishing version of this and opened up its wonder to me all over again. 

See Me Through Part 2 (Closer Walk With Thee) from Hymns To The Silence

This will be part of our Gospel According To Van Morrison on August 30th. Great hymn stunningly done. Friends left their wedding to this and it kicks spiritual ass!

Give Me My Rapture from Poetic Champions Compose

I always felt Poetic Champions Compose was like what King David must have played to King Saul to soothe his soul. This is a great prayer. 

In The Garden from No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

Maybe his greatest ever moment. Van speaks of seeking to cause meditation at the end of this song and there have been times live when it does move into a higher realm. Astonishing.

Full Force Gale from Into The Music

I had this as the introit to my Installation Service in Fitzroy. An energetic Gospel song about the Holy Spirit.

When the Saints Go Marching In from Avalon Sunset

Love this extra track on the reissue of this album.

Have I Told You Lately That I Love You from Avalon Sunset

It is sometimes over looked that Van Morrison is a great writer of love songs. This brings the romantic and spiritual together beautifully. I remember phoning Janice once and when she answered just playing it down the phone to her.

Tupelo Honey from Tupelo Honey

Another great love song that includes one of my Granny’s sayings, If I had all the tea in China.”

Someone Like You from Poetic Champions Compose

Janice and my song. I was… and she is!

Crazy Love from Moondance

A classic.

Sometimes We Cry from The Healing Game

Van blues. Simply genius writing.

Not Supposed To Break Down from Philosopher’s Stone

Another fabulous East Belfast man, Sammy Wilson MLA, pointed out this wee gem to me. About being vulnerable and honest. 

The Weight from The Healing Game

Another powerful wee joust with Brian Kennedy. Tender of heart.

Comfort You from Veedon Fleece

Comforters in the heart ache. Only discovered this one recently. 

Saint Dominic’s Preview from Sult

Originally on a record of the same name. This is a wee stripped back Irish version. I used this title for the name of my Queen’s 5-s-side team back in early eighties. What a song? Belfast from a distance. 

Take It Where You Find It from Wavelength

I like Wavelength where he took on Springsteen territory after Bruce had pretty much ripped him off! Lost and found dreams in America before the journey back across the Atlantic.

The Healing Has Begun from Into The Music

We used this as a theme at an Arklight Festival in 1994. 

Into The Mystic from Moondance

Someone sang this when I was in Vancouver on sabbatical in 2005. When it got to the fog horn blowing and coming home I was on Belfast lough in my mind and tears sneaked down my cheek. No one can conjure my home city like this man.

Mystic From The East from Born To Sing

He is… and he is now also a Sir.

Moondance from Moondance

Go on East Belfast, have a Moondance Festival all summer long. Celebrate the Man!


 Simeon Rebecca Bromley

I launched my TWO new poetry books (see below) on May 31st and many have been asking how they might get copies. So here is the deal.

We are self publishing in order to maximise profits. All proceeds go to our Fitzroy 10:10 Build project which has two buildings. The first is our own new renovated halls in South Belfast which will be a fresh resource for our local community. The second is a school in Uganda which we are tithing our fund raising to. Some of the proceeds have gone to a Youth Team going to this school in Arua in July.

So... if you donate to the fund through My Donate (click here) and send an email to and let us know you have done so we will send the books out. We are suggesting a donation of £10 for one book and £15 for two!

If you are around Belfast you can drop into 26 College Green and pick them up there BUT maybe phone before hand to make sure someone is there.


Steve Stockman will self publish not one but two new poetry books, Awkward Dancers & Audacious Dreamers and Reflections, Poems and Benedictions, on May 31st in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, University Street, Belfast at 7pm. It is a free gig but come with money to buy books!

“Poetry is a strong word for what I do,” Stockman says. “I play with words, phrases and mostly rhymes. I call it pop poetry with a preacher’s punch. And… maybe I should add… that I hope in most instances it is a gentle punch. Now that is poetic licence! Is that a little awkward and audacious of me,” he laughs!

Stockman is better known as the writer of Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 published as was another book The Rock Cries Out; Discovering God In Unlikely Places by Relevant Publishing. His seven previous books have all been self published.

“My books have mostly been sold in aid of charitable projects; for trips to China and South Africa. These two are for a school in Uganda, a Youth Trip going there and for Fitzroy’s Building project in South Belfast. So, self publishing makes money and people might buy the books as much for the good cause as the poetry! 

It is 2008 since his last book, Sad… And Beautiful Place.

“The last one was more about Gordon Ashbridge’s amazing photography than my poetry and it was all about Cape Town townships. So, it has been nine years since I brought out a book of poems.”

As a result it seems there were so many poems he had to bring out two books at once, like Bruce Springsteen with Human Touch and Lucky Town! 

Awkward Dancers & Audacious Dreamers is much more lyrical and Reflections, Poems and Benedictions is less rhyming and more liturgical.

“They are slightly different books. If they hadn’t been I would just have edited it them into one.” Stockman explains. 

Awkward Dancers & Audacious Dreamers are those rhyming, more like song lyrics, poems that the other books have been. I think my work is too literary to be songs and not literary enough to be poetry. My album with Sam Hill under the name Stevenson and Samuel called Grace Notes showed the place where my words sit best. I guess if Sam lived in Belfast there would have been more of that. 

At the launch Chris Wilson will sing a song he wrote after I sent him a poem BUT it is more the idea that he captures than the words. Bryan Gormley will be doing the same, actually with one from Reflections, Poems and Benedictions.

Reflections, Poems and Benedictions? Well that is all in the title. That collection is stuff I used for worship services. I often write carefully constructed prayers and benedictions. I also write for weddings and then there are two mini sections of pieces I have written for Christmas and Easter. I hope they will be helpful in personal reading but maybe that people will use them in services. 

So what are Awkward Dancers? And who are the Audacious Dreamers?

“There is a theme running through both books I think. These have all been written out of my ministry. The awkward dancers are those awful moments that happen in people’s lives. Bruce Cockburn describes it as “ a wind comes out of nowhere and knocks us off our feet.” Almost six years ago I became the pastor of Fitzroy and have sat with my people in some very sad situations. One of the ways I deal with that is to turn it over in my mind and heart and soul in rhyme. So there is a lot of death in Awkward Dancers... They are mysteries of darkness that are not easy to nail down so I came up with that awkward dancer idea. 

As a Christian I believe that we can change the world. That is an audacious idea. The Bible speaks about God’s people seeing vision and dreaming dreams. I hope there is a lot of that in these poems too. Hence the title.”

Since moving to Fitzroy six years ago Stockman has also become involved in reconciliation work, helping found the 4 Corners Festival and even speaking at this year’s Sinn Fein Ard Fheis. That has sneaked in to the work too.

“My pontifications on my wee country has always been in there but the poems in these books are probably more hands dirty. I was a passive peacemaker for a long time. I am definitely more active now. With my partner in peacemaking Fr Martin Magill we have found ourselves in some disconcerting places. All of that is in there and even a poem about two Belfast City Mayors, Máirtín O Muilleoir, and Nichola Mallon. For those who have wanted the Prayers For the 4 Corners Of Belfast, that we named the festival after, is in Reflections, Poems and Benedictions.”



Ricky Ross 2

Songs For Social and Spiritual Transformation was my Masters dissertation back in 2007.

I have had a belief since I was in my teens that music could change things, shape things, educate people and be an inspiration and fuel to the transformation of individuals and society. I was aware of how my life had been shaped by songs. I remember, when I was asked in Cape Town, why I had brought students to South Africa that I realised the birth of the project could be found in Live Aid and songs like Peter Gabriel’s Biko. Songs sent me off to the Bible to see whether justice issues were close to the heart of God; of course they were!

In 2005 two things came together that fired my dissertation. While on Sabbatical, as Writer-in-Residence at Regent College, Vancouver Charles Ringma introduced me to James Cone’s book The Spirituals and The Blues. Around the same time Bruce Springsteen’s Sessions Tour included seven Spirituals. Cone and Springsteen connected in my theological surmising. How did these Spirituals last through centuries? What did they have that made them transformational forces even to this day.

Of course this has all been infusing my life, writing and ministry ever since. This past weekend it had me sharing thoughts about the Spirituals, Gospel and Protest Song on Sunday Morning With Ricky Ross on BBC Radio Scotland. In the Belfast studio I became a panelist with the likes of John Bell, Karine Polwart, Andrea Baker and Ian Gilmore, in the Edinburgh studio, in a fascinating discussion about the power of song.

listen to the programme here...


Alan In Belfast

I recently did a half hour interview with Alan Meban for his Alan In Belfast series on local Belfast TV channel NvTv. 

An interview is only as good as the interviewer sets it up and Alan did a wonderful job. Alan's research on my life was fascinating and his questions pulled some history out of me that I had almost forgotten about. 

So, we talked about my calling to ministry, youth work days, my love in and belief in the arts as well as my Chaplaincy work, trips to South Africa and now my time in Fitzroy, reconciliation work, 4 Corners Festival and my love for Belfast.

All in 26 minutes. I have to say if there is a document to leave with my children about my life and vocation this might well be it. If you are interested in finding out about my life, vocation and a flavour of Fitzroy as a congregation then take a wee look. Thank you Alan. I appreciated the opportunity:  





Psalms at U2

There are occasions when I am reading something or watching something, and I go, "Ah there is where Bono got that line or that idea.” Niall Stokes, in his book Into The Heart about all the U2 songs, points out Bono’s magpie technique in songwriting a few times at least. I am always joking, and I think almost certainly that I am joking, that Bono’s Spanish intro to Vertigo is because he was reading Dora The Explorer to his sons Elijah and John around that time. As I said I am joking but if… 

Not only in songs but in interviews Bono is fond of quoting others. In his interview with Michka Assayas, Bono In Conversation, Bono quotes CS Lewis a few times in his argument as to why he believes Jesus to be the Son of God.

Today, as I was preparing for a sermon tomorrow on Psalm 126, I came across a line that I believe Bono has stolen too. It is from Eugene Peterson’s book Long Obedience In The Same Direction. Though that title is itself is a steal from Nietzsche Peterson’s book is a commentary on Psalms 120-134 which are known as the Psalms of Ascent. U2ophiles will see already a link with U2 right there. There is a record that U2 are said to have recorded but not yet released called Songs Of Ascent. I have always seen the direct link.

Today however there is another direct magpie lift. As I am reading about Psalm 126 I came cross the sentence, “Our lives are like that - drought-stricken - and then suddenly the long years of barren waiting are interrupted by God’s invasion of grace” Those last words… Interruptions of grace. Bono uses that phrase often, again particularly in the Assayas' book.

I have been using that phrase for some time, crediting it to my favourite Irish theologian! Indeed, I did a series of three sermons under that titles Interruptions of Grace in Birmingham Alabama during Lent 2014. Well, I need to correct myself and credit it now to Eugene Peterson

Bono has been a fan of Peterson for many years. He has endorsed Peterson’s paraphrase of The Bible called The Message. Indeed, he quoted Psalm 116 from that very paraphrase during the introduction to Where The Streets Have No Name back on the Elevation Tour and as the Songs Of Innocence and Experience Tour has kicked off last month pages of The Message are falling as confetti or bomb debris after the song Raised By Wolves and just before Until The End of The World (see photo at the top of this blog).

Tomorrow in Fitzroy I will be quoting this line from Peterson as extensively used by Bono and also the words of Rick Warren when he read Scripture and prayed with the band after Tour Manager Dennis Sheehan sadly passed away during the recent LA gigs. Warren shared a phrase of his wife’s after they lost their son tragically - Choose Joy. That is exactly what this Psalm 126 is all about. 

U2 and theology; always wrapped up together. 



Fitzroy building

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will be asking "Is Laughter Carbonated Holiness?" That is an idea of my wife's guru Anne Lamott and we also be hearing about my regular gurus U2 and what Church leader Rick Warren shared with them in LA last week.

It is all feeding into our journey through the Psalms of Ascent. Tomorrow it is Psalm 126. Eugene Peterson, whose commentary Long Obedience in the Same Direction we are using in this series, sees this one as about Joy.

We are delighted to have Chris Blake back in the worship chair; the man is particularly gifted! It is also communion and we will welcome new members. I am sure a poem or two from my new poetry books will squeeze into the liturgy too...

In the evening (7pm) we have another in our How To Read The Bible Series. We have been doing this about once a month for the past year and tomorrow night we will be looking at Exodus.

Desi Alexander will speak. One of our elders, Desi is also Senior Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Union Theological College and author of many books, including one that Timothy Keller Wisdom Twitter account recommended recently. You will gain insight into this book that you haven't had before. The series has been so helpful.