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September 2015

CROSBY, STILLS & NASH LIVE IN DUBLIN - 16.9.2015

CSN Dublin

The harmonies - a wall of Crosby, Still and Nash! The songs - Our House, Teach Your Children, Long Time Coming, Judy Blue Eyes! The band - top players all grafted into the CSN family! Front row centre seats - a Stills solo right above me! This was a night of my concert going life.

My hand of my expectations was not only seen but raised way beyond. To see Crosby, Stills and Nash was one of those bucket list gigs that it would be nice to see as part of rock history ticked off. I expected the songs and the harmonies but I did not expect the the conviction and the very much sense of the now. Yes, much of this set list was drawn from their early records which are now four decades old but this never felt like nostalgia. It felt like it was tonight, right now, for this time and even for this place. 

Perhaps as we reflect so it should be. There are less drugs and alcohol running around the systems of these three men. They have played together (on and off!!!!) for almost fifty years. They know each other; they are three in the one. As artists they have an experience that adds to their genius. The band behind them is as good as they have ever had. And it is 2015 which make the sound technology and live environment so much better than it was in 1974 when they were a stadium band, the biggest live act on the planet.

Yet, had all the drugs and reckless lifestyle not taken its toll? The answer was no. The sense of urgency and utter deep seated joy in what they were doing was obvious. Don’t get me wrong, Stills’ voice was a little ragged in places, particularly at the end of the first half during Love The One You’re With, when he was battling his ear piece, very important to a man whose hearing is damaged, and his guitar pedals. It was obvious that Nash was the conductor and often seen chatting through the set to tell the others what songs Stills and Crosby were playing and singing on and not. Yet, for 98% of this show this was Crosby, Stills and Nash and indeed rock music of the very highest quality.

The first three songs, Carry On/Questions, Marrakesh Express and Long Time Gone left no doubt that these guys weren’t bluffing us for the money or resting on rock legend laurels. The harmonies were everything you ever dreamed of. A wall of the most gorgeous melodic sound washing over your ears with utter beauty. You couldn’t help imagine yourself in that house in Laurel Canyon, on that night in the late 60s when Nash asked them to sing You Don’t Have To Cry a few time before adding his harmony and discovering this utter genius of blended voices. The voices, even Stills, when the harmonies kicked in were faultless. David Crosby in harmony and on his own was particularly strong.

The other force that hit me afresh was Stephen Stills’ guitar playing. When Nash pointed at him and called him “one of the best guitar players on the planet" you could not argue on tonight’s performance. He was nailing it with a power. On his own Southern Cross and on Crosby’s I Almost Cut My Hair he was particularly attention seeking! 

The set list did concentrate on the early albums but there were a few new songs. Nash claims to have written twenty new songs with guitarist Shane Fontaine for a new solo record and his homage to Levon Helm is as good a song as he has written in years. Stills did a powerful social commentary on life in this millennium called Virtual World that he described as dropping a cell phone into a pint of Guinness. I have to say that, though his voice is strong and I loved his recent record Cros, Crosby’s new song was not as strong as the other two.

It was not just Still’s Virtual World that was preaching into the contemporary. I was particularly drawn to Chicago/Change The World when Nash, at the piano sang: -

We can change the world -

Re-arrange the world

It's dying - to get better

Politicians sit yourself down,

There's nothing for you here.

Yes, we were in Dublin but it resonated with a peace activist like myself for our very current political impasse in Belfast. It energised my frustration and recent lethargy.

Crosby, Still & Nash have been a recent discovery of mine. I missed them for 40 years. The last three years has seen me pick up all the records and most of the solo ones and other combinations. I have read the biographies. I have become a fan BUT tonight was a revelation, an almost altar call to see the place that this band has in the history of rock and in my own particular favourites. Blown away!


OPEN LETTER TO NORTHERN IRELAND'S POLITICAL LEADERS

Stormont 2

Dear Political Leaders

As you go into intensive talks this week to save the political institutions and our unraveling peace process I want to assure you of my prayers. I will not lie to you. I feel disappointed and a little let down by the current crisis. I have invested a little bit of my time on the peace process and this was not what I had hoped for.

I am aware that not all of you have time for Christianity, the Church or clergy. I also know that some of you do. Whether you do or not I want to ask you to ponder some wisdom from an ancient text. Whatever your view of the Scriptures please reflect on this wisdom, an alternative view of life that might just bring some needed imagination into our current inertia. You might think it naive. I believe it to be prophetically profound and a formula that would guarantee success in the coming talks. 

In the New Testament book of James we read, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbour bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3: 13-18).

This is radical stuff. Revolutionary even. It smashes all of our default positions and shines another light on attitude and motive. 

I would ask, of you all, two things this week. First, to come to the talks in humility and without any selfish ambition. Humility is a powerful thing. Please look into the depth of your own souls and ask where it is that you have caused our crisis. I believe that all of you are to blame to some extent. As the ancient text says elsewhere, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I pray that you will find where you need to seek forgiveness and that you will find forgiveness graciously offered by the other.

Second, and most crucial, to all of this, is your motivation. The ancient text is a revelation on that. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3:18). That last word is just as easily translated justice. I believe that at times some of you are focused on righteousness and others of you on justice. The wisdom of this text says that when we put peacemaking first the righteousness or justice will come. 

My frustration with most of the language that comes out of Stormont is that Peacemaking is not the first thing on the agenda. Who is to blame or which side is right or has the high moral ground is not the right agenda. I am praying that you all choose the peace that will be for the common good of all our people as the very first aim of all your deliberations. How can you get the best result this week for Northern Ireland/The North? Put our peace before anything else!

Can I finished by saying that I will be looking into my own soul too. Every one of us in our wee country should be doing the same. You all take the criticism but we all have to take our share of the blame. We are a country too comfortable in the destructive evil of sectarianism. I will be searching deep into my own heart and soul as I pray for all of you to do the imaginative and courageous thing.

Grace to you all. May grace indeed be amazing enough to interrupt our past and wonderfully usher in a grace centred future.

Talk well!

Steve Stockman


LIVE LOUDLY DONATE PROUDLY; On Transplant Week, Have The Conversation

Philip Transplant

It has been quite a National Transplant Week! First my friend Philip flew home from Argentina where he had won two silvers and a bronze medal in the World Transplant Games. I am his pastor and cannot wait to have him in Church on Sunday to tell us all about it. I might actually be more excited than him! Philip and I are both aware, maybe even particularly on Transplant Week, how incredible it is that someone gave Philip the liver he needed eleven years ago so that he could have life and run a brilliant time in the 5K Road Race at these Games.

On Tuesday night we heard some news from our friend Lucia. She has been waiting for a liver for a few months. She is 16. She had transplants at the ages of 8 and 9. She was over in hospital in Birmingham and was on her way back to the airport to go home when she was suddenly called back as a liver had become available. We went off to bed praying that at 5am the liver would prove to be a match and that at 7am Lucia would be in theatre. The next text woke us up at 7 and she was on her way. These last few days have been long but so far so good. Again we are so thankful to someone who donated their liver to give Lucia this chance!

Lucia is a remarkable young woman. We have loved her since our children became friends over a decade ago. However, in recent years she has been an inspiration, no more so than when a few months ago she envisioned a campaign to encourage people to donate their organs. 

She calls her campaign Live Loudly Donate Proudly and what she is attempting to do is encourage people to have a conversation with their families to make their wishes known that should something happen to them then they should like their organs donated. This is a very important conversation so that at a time of grief families have a clear message from the loved one they have lost as to what their wishes are. 

So on Transplant Week have the conversation. Tell your family that, if something should happen to you, you want to keep other people alive, give them a chance at medals, give them a chance to go into theatre and hope for a future. Don’t leave it. This Transplant Week we as a family had the conversation. We want to be for somebody what somebody else was for Philip and Lucia. We are so grateful. Live Loudly Donate Proudly!

click here for Lucia's Live Loudly Donate Proudly Page

Why not leave a video on that page to say you have had the conversation...


U2 IN BELFAST - TICKET SALES DRAMA; Grouch and Gratitude

U2 I&E

I never realised when I wrote Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 that every time an announcement was made about this band my pocket would go off as texts, emails, Tweets and Facebook messages would crash into my phone from all over the world. There are advantages to this. Nothing happens that I don’t know about. Album given free into your iTunes account - Boom! Dates for tour - Boom! First reviews of Tour - boom! On Tuesday night it was that the Belfast and Dublin dates had been announced - Boom! Tickets on sale Monday but Pre Sales Thursday at 10am - Boom!

The next thing, after the announcements, is that people from all over the world start asking me if I can get them tickets or where they can stay. I have NO connections to U2. As a result of the book I am connected and friends with many U2ophiles and at times we share inside information but I have to find a way to get tickets just like everybody else.

Anyway, I was up this morning seeking two things. The first thing was to check my emails. There was an anxious message or two doing the rounds last night about whether the u2.com Pre Sales codes would arrive in time for the sales to begin. I was delighted at 8.30 to see that precious code. Then it was the next anxious wait for 10.00.

Let me explain how you get into Pre Sales. u2.com is the modern version of the old pop fan club. You subscribe to this official U2 website for special privileges. There are access only areas of the site. I rarely look! You get 25% off your first merchandise purchase. I haven’t used that in a while. The two things to sign up for are the “free” gifts and the Pre Sales. The gifts are always real quality. The last package I got was the book North Side Story which even I, who has read every book and interview ever written, found informative and a double 10” vinyl of a live concert in London’s Marquee Club in 1980. That’s the sort of thing that the U2ophiles love.

The gifts often tempt me but when a tour comes around it is a no brainer to pay the fee. It is $40 and when you see what you get that is fair enough value but on a Tour year it is worth a whole lot more. I have to confess that I let my membership drop for a couple of years but once Songs Of Innocence was released I paid up immediately to get my Pre Sales privileges. I believe that that privilege is fair enough. Like soccer fan who sees their team week in and week out should have first preference on a Cup Final ticket so should real fans of rock bands!

So, u2.com counted down and at 10.00 we were live on ticket sales. To say, before I get to that drama that, I was also very encouraged by the farsightedness of U2 in how this pre sales is organised. For two days my friends in America were asking about tickets and hotels. Everyone it seems wants to see U2 in Ireland and as they haven’t played Belfast in almost two decades this was one that fans around the world wanted to be at. My fear about that was that those of us who cannot afford to see the band in America or Europe might not get to see them in our home town because Americans would snap up all the tickets. Apologies guys! How happy was I when I heard that U2 give preference to local u2.com members for these gigs. My Belfast address was taken into account.

So, to the sales. On I go and ask for available tickets and the price comes up as £230. What?!?!? That is £460 for two!!! Come on! Where are the affordable ones. Nowhere to be found. Panic. I have a £75 ticket price max and even U2 won’t let me break it. I cannot justify more than that even if I end up writing about it! I started thinking that this was the pre sales price. I then have to say I got a little angry and wrote to u2.com to complain. 

So I came out of the site and noticed another link for the same November 18th concert. Why were there two? I clicked on that and hey presto I have a range of prices and quickly saw a £60 seated and purchased so quickly that I was concerned after it told me I was going to U2 that I might have got the wrong day and country! A quick check and I was going to Belfast, November 18th! Another hasty message to u2.com to seek forgiveness and tell them it was all sorted!

So, all is we'll that ends well. I do have to say though that the upper pricing range is a little too much. I know that the stage set is elaborate and expensive and that we will be raving about it post show. I know the venues are more intimate and therefore less revenue. However, it does open U2 up to all kinds of wild and often times imbalanced criticisms like mine to the website this morning. 

Having said that there are very few major rock concerts that you can buy a ticket for £33 never mind the biggest band of all. So fair play there. Perhaps it is a case of the wealthy paying what they can and allowing those less wealthy to still afford it. However, the mania around this band is such that just to get into the venue people might lose their mind and pay whatever. Some people who are not wealthy have perhaps paid what they can’t afford. And no matter what Bono’s walk down Cedarwood Road is going to look like… I still think that something needs done for the confusion caused to many of us about where to access the sensible prices.

All in all though, in the difficult dilemma of being massive rock stars U2 are trying their best. Cheaper price options. Local coding. Pre Sales for the fans. All those things are to be commended. And always remember… keep your u2.com subscription up to date for moments like this!

All the best for those seeking the open sales on Monday morning... as Bono sang at Slane in 2001... "if you're the praying kind..."


WORDS - A REFLECTION

S

“Words” are a recurrent theme in this Sunday’s Lectionary readings. It reminded me of this reflection from my Eyes Open, Open Wide book. 

There are many theological, pastoral and missional points in here. Perhaps though, just read it along with James 3: 1-12 and ask how the connections of our words and actions impact our homes, churches, neighbourhoods and the nation…

Naked words are dangerous

They can be bitter

They can be sharp

They can slit souls

They can poison the heart

Naked words are dangerous

Even the slender swerve of the S

Or the gentle curl of the Y

They are about letter and law

And not about the spaces in between

It is in the spaces

That words are clothed

In touch

In smile

And love.

 

Naked words are impotent

They can’t convince

They can’t convert

They can’t transform

They cannot change the world

Naked words are impotent

Even the robust roll of the R

Ot the powerful pout of the P

They are about letter and law

And not about the spaces in between

It is in the spaces

That words are clothed

In touch

In smile

And love.

 

God knew

That naked words were dangerous

And that naked words were impotent

So he breathed into he spaces

And dressed naked words

In flesh

To give life

And love

And power.

 

It will be what we do

And the clothes of how we do it

That will dress our naked words

To get heard.

 


QUEEN ELIZABETH II - A SEED WAS SOWN

Luka New Morning Mary and Elizabeth

A seed was sown

With a simple bow

Where we remembered our heroes

She said the time has come now

She laid her wreath

With dignity and grace

An eloquent silence

And softness in her face

She lowered her head down

And held the pose

My tears flowed freely

God only knows

She remembered our losses

She remembered her own

And in that moment

A seed was sown…..

As Queen Elizabeth II becomes the oldest British monarch in history here is a song about one of her most powerful moments.

On his website Luka Bloom tells a very moving story about this song. It’s about Elizabeth II’s visit to Ireland in May 2011 and he was saying howm like me, he had no interested and sensed no significance. Turning on the TV he was suddenly engaged and moved by one simple moment when two women, significant in position but rarely potent with power sowed a seed that could change our island forever. As the Queen of Britain and the President of Ireland remember their dead together something happens. It was an example to all their citizens; potentially nation changing. 

There is a healing through the remembering, not only for the two women personally. It was an example to all their citizens; potentially nation changing. A seed is sown…


TOMORROW AND THIS YEAR IN FITZROY; 2 NEW BUILDINGS, ASSISTANT MOVING ON PLUS...

Onialeku PS

After the amazing response to our Van Morrison resourced service last Sunday when we welcomed over 100 visitors from all over the world, the new Church year starts in Fitzroy tomorrow. 2015 is an exciting year for us and the next few weeks and months will recognise all that has and will be happening. 

In November 2013 we celebrated Fitzroy 200; 200 years as a congregation. We had a gift day that raised over a quarter of a million pounds. That generosity launched two building projects. The first will see its culmination in just a few weeks when we will move into our repaired, renovated and extended Church Halls complex through the doors of the Church itself. We have a new welcome area among other exciting developments that will allow us to be a contributor to the neighbourhood where we worship and serve in. Though we hope to be moving into the new premises by the end of  September we will open them officially two years to the weekend after our Fitzroy 200 Gift Day. Keep your eye on Fitzroy 202 on the weekend of November 13-15th!

The other building project is complete and was opened this past month in Onialeku, on the outskirts of Arua, in Uganda. When we committed a significant amount of money for our own halls we made a decision that we would do something for others who don’t have the financial advantages we have. We decided to fund a new Primary School through Fields Of Life and so our partnership with Onialeku began. In November 2014 we handed a cheque to Ednar Nyakaisiki Adyeeri, Executive Director of Fields Of Life in Kampala. In early August I was thrilled to be involved with Ednar and our Youth Team in the Commissioning of that new school building which has now opened for the new term. Our morning service on September 20th will be about Onialeku.

As much as we are in the middle of various new beginning, tomorrow (11am) begins our new Church year with an ending. Our Assistant Minister, Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley, has received a call to Shotts in Scotland and tomorrow is his last Sunday. So, we will be giving JAB a send off. Cake will be provided. 

Jonathan will be doing his last preach. He has described it, “from the west end to South Africa, across European borders & down the streets of Botanic - one word changes everything and everyone - Grace.  This morning we look at the apostle Paul's take on the Sermon on the Mount & then come to a table where that grace ceases being just a word but becomes a tangible action of sacrifice in communion.” I will be doing communion and Anna Tate our Youth Worker will be praying for our students, young people and children who are also in the midst of change.  

In the evening (7pm) our evening event are back with a Summer Feedback Service. Our young people have been all over Ireland as well as Uganda this past summer and tomorrow night we hear what they did, learned and got excited about. 

COMING UP AT FITZROY:

3 Evenings In Leviticus with Desi Alexander

(Sept 13, 20 & 27)

Play - It’s Not Fair - with International Justice Mission on the them of Trafficking (October 11th)

Gretchen Peters in Concert (October 16th)


JESUS WAS A REFUGEE; What The Bible Demands of Us in This Refugee Crisis

Refugee

(4 Corners Festival starts tomorrow night with an event called "From Syria... With Grace". It will be a very informative and inspirational night about what we can do for not only the Syrian refugees coming into N. Ireland but all other refugees. There will be experts there to give information and help us work out what is the best way for Churches to respond... Belfast City Hall at 7.15pm...http://4cornersfestival.com)

While we were in Uganda this summer a mother said to my wife that she would happily give her her child. We wondered how a mother could do that. Then we realised that why we wondered was that we have the luxury of wondering in a comfortable part of a safe city in a economically wealthy part of the world. That is the luxury that the parents at the vortex of the refugee crisis, who are risking everything for a better future, don’t have. They are not spongers. They are not trying to steal our jobs or health care. They are simply desperate to give their children a better life.

Some of us, for sometime, have been seeking places for Syrian refugees, in particular, getting into Britain and Northern Ireland. Today’s horrific photos of a dead refugee child washed up on a beach has wakened us up. We confess our too leisurely pace and know that it is time to step up the pressure on government and find a way to ease this crisis and give a life to those running from no life at all.

For the follower of Jesus this is a no brainer. It is simply what we do. Jesus said that those who would get into heaven were those who fed him, gave him a drink, gave him a room and clothes. When do we do this to him? When we do it to the least of these. So, the call is there to respond to the stranger, the homeless, the fleeing asylum seekers. 

The Old Testament was also commanding a welcoming of the refugee. It is mentioned in Deuteronomy but expanded on in Leviticus. Leviticus chapter 19 verse 34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” The people of God knew what it was to live in another country and were to treat people well, remembering that they were not. 

If the Old Testament people of God knew refugee, and indeed slavery status, then the New Testament starts with another such story. Jesus himself was a refugee. That Christmas story tells us that when the death squads hit the streets around Bethlehem Joseph and Mary were those parents heading somewhere else for safety. It is interesting to then take a wee side-look at why the death squads were sent. Herod was frightened that this baby would take away his place, his power, his comfort. 

Are we in danger of becoming the Herod of the refugee story? When our own comfort eradicates our compassion for those in need we have lost something at the core of our humanity. There is no doubt that welcoming batch after batch of refugees into our country might threaten our wealth and comfort. It might be hard to sustain. Well actually it will be hard to sustain at the same standard of living that we are used to. However, for the Jesus follower our wealth at the cost of other people’s misery is something the prophets condemned.

So we need to act. This is what the people of God do. We don’t need to theologise it or think about it or make excuses. So what do we do? Well at a 4 Corners Festival event last February, Sinn Fein MLA, and recent Lord Mayor Of Belfast, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir called us as Churches to support his attempts to get the Ireland and the UK to take Syrian refugees. He asked us to advocate for it and to be volunteers to help them settle into another culture. This will not be easy but it will be easier than dying as a child in the Mediterranean or watching your children and wife die. There is no such thing as easy from Genesis through to Revelation. Jesus did say, “take up your cross and follow me.” It is time.


FRESH STARTS - BBC RADIO 2 PAUSE FOR THOUGHT 3.9.15

Blank papyrus

Back to the school run this week. Early starts. Fractious kitchens. Heavier traffic! I was less than a mile into the new school year when I had a lady blasting her horn at me, with the window down to tell me to move forward so she could get in behind me. I had a car coming out the other side of me that she couldn’t see but meant I could not jump to her tune. And I thought well that was a long summer off and a short very short time for the fresh start to be over.

Don’t get me wrong. I love fresh starts. I believe in beginning again. I remember when my daughters were born, thinking that they were clean sheets of paper. There was nothing on the page of their lives. They had no regrets, no failures, no fractious relationships, not even successes that they would have to strain to live up to. They were just a clean sheet full of possibility, ready for their future dreams to be written on.

The Bible speaks of fresh starts, of new creations, of rebirths. When jesus spoke to the religious leader Nicodemus and told him he needed to be born again he was saying that we all need a fresh start. I think he was thinking about that clean sheet, or maybe piece of papyrus, that was in my mind at Caitlin and Jasmine’s births. You can wipe the slate, start again. You can get rid of the guilt and regret and even the too high expectations. You have a chance to reboot.  

Indeed Christians believe Jesus did more than talk about an airy fairy idea. Every Easter on Good Friday we remember that on the cross Jesus cried “It Is Finished”. We believe that he had done something that tears down the old, erases the past. Then on Easter Sunday we believe that his resurrection ushers in the potential of fresh starts. 

So even if we don’t have the school calendar as our diary cycles, we all have a need at times for another chance. We all need a sorbet every now and then to refresh the palate in between courses and between one period of life and another. We all need to know that that can be finished and that here right in front of us there is the hope of a fresh start. I know I need them all the time!


VAN MORRISON LIVE ON CYPRUS AVENUE 31.8.15 (the 3 o'clock Show)

Van Cyrus 2

You have to wonder. In his teens as he walked down Cyprus Avenue and found it a place where, a few streets away from home, he could find transcendence, did Van Morrison ever imagine that he would one day play a concert on a stage looking up that entire stretch of avenue? It must have been an amazing way to spend your 70th birthday. It was certainly amazing for those of us privileged enough to walk down the avenue to see a moment of rock history. 

East Belfast was buzzing. An area of Belfast not always on the bright side of the road was holding its head high and celebrating one of its most gifted citizens. Cyprus Avenue was a unique concert venue and as we walked down to our seats we looked into a garden and saw our friends David and Gillian who invited us in for drinks and nibbles. They had a gazebo up and a post gig barbecue sorted. Other friends were dragged off the street. This was a street party with an iconic rock star playing the soundtrack.

The atmosphere built and built and then exactly on three o’clock, just as Van hit the stage, the rain hit the street and didn’t take time to rain. It was making a heavier beat than the drummer on the opening Celtic Swing. Yet, not a soul was annoyed. The gardens of Cyprus Avenue were being made wet with rain but the crowd was so excited at the spectacle that they were transfixed to the stage and ignoring the weather.

For days I had been wondering what Sir Van would do? How would he approach such a moment in his own life and in his music making career? What songs would he sing? Would we get Astral Weeks in its entirety considering he had already done that at the Hollywood Bowl in 2008? Would he do Cyprus Avenue? Or would be be predictably unpredictable Van and ignore the song that caused this all to happen. 

Well, we got neither of those possibilities but I believe we did get a narrative of a life threaded through a fascinating set of songs. I mean he re-released 33 albums on iTunes a few days before the concert so everybody was going to be disappointed by what wasn’t played. If we concentrated on what was in the set then it was as articulate as this chronically introverted genius might be about a life lived in a vortex of celebrity that he hates with a vengeance and yet a life that his genius hurled him almost violently into because of the era that he happened to be doing his art in.

Whatever Happened To PJ Proby sung as a duet with the actual PJ Proby gives some commentary on 60s pop. It is a conversational song filled with humour that Van is not renowned for but it says it is he sees it “There's nothing to relate to anymore/Unless you want to be mediocre/Ain’t nothing new under the sun/And the moon and the stars now chum.” When he asked where PJ Proby was and PJ answered back it was sweet comedy and not the last time we would laugh!

Born To Sing comes next this time with another Duets guest Chris Farlow and soon after that Mystic From The East draws local cheers. In between the last two he does a riff driven cover of Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child that he dedicates to his fellow Orangefield Secondary School alumni Brian Kennan who has spoken about the importance of that song in the time he was kidnapped in the late 80s. It’s sense of exile and struggle sits well alongside Mystic Form The East.

If there was a ‘hits’ section it came next. A very reworked Brown Eyed Girl acknowledged its place in Van’s career if ejecting the pop sheen that he so detested. Again one couldn’t help sense we were sitting in the streets where the song was set. Days Like This is 90s hit that became the anthem for the peace process in his homeland. The line ‘my mama told me there be days like this’ was alive with poignancy just a few hundred yards away from where Violet Morrison birthed the man at the centre of this happening.

The set then shifted back to the early days of Them. The blues standard Baby Please Don’t Go blends into Mose Allison’s Parchment Farm and then again into the very first Them recording and single, Slim Harpo’s Don’t Start Crying Now. Here was the section where we were given the ambition of the young Van who walked these streets. He only wanted to play the blues. He wasn’t up for and couldn’t have seen coming the fame or face in the spotlight and all those painful interviews. For me one of the standouts of today was his guitar playing. Here he stood as a bluesman doing what he loved. The bang bang drum smacks on Parchment Farm where he said he only shot his wife… once… twice… boom boom boom… were followed by ‘that’s the comedy section over.’ Our East Belfast mystic was enjoying himself, it seemed!

And so into the religious… In the weekend Irish Times Van had said he wouldn’t touch religion with a ten foot pole and we got Enlightenment with “I don’t know what it means”. My take is that the religious in Van’s first two decades was from the influence of his dad’s Gospel records and the signs outside Belfast churches. From 79 to the mid 90s it is a more intentional study of comparative religion. From then on it seems something he has had no more use for.

Yet, still the spiritual creeps through. His most blatant Christian statement Whenever God Shines His Light is right here in his big 70th year reflection and with Dana Masters’ amazing Gospel voice it sounds a whole lot better and more authentic than the Cliff Richard hit version.

And then… then… something happened… Van Morrison is always brilliant and professionally proficient but there are moments when he soars, when something inside him lifts the spirit into a zone that few musicians ever reach. When The Healing Has Begun had Van on the avenue and he suddenly got all lit up inside. Something deep seemed to click and he was ad libbing and playing his soul out. 

After the blues of Things I Used To Do, Ballerina seemed to go even deeper and higher. This was his nod to Astral Weeks and the song during which he eventually mentioned Cyprus Avenue. Again for anyone with ears to hear Van was reflecting on and sharing his life. Ballerina became a memory of his first trips to New York city and the difference between a 22 story block and where we are right now… “it’s a long way from Cyprus Avenue” he added. Make no mistake, as he threw his head back and let his voice sail up among the avenue of trees this was one of those spine tingling Morrison moments where you were “in another time… in another place…” 

The encore of In The Garden didn’t stop there and again we were in a meditative, spiritual place where an artist was eking out very fibre of his muse and seemed to be really enjoying his 70th Birthday. One thing is for sure the crowd were. I have never been so sorry that a concert was over. I could have sat all night long. Of course some stayed on for the 6 0’clock concert and got a whole other show but I had to get back to ordinary time in, an ordinary land.