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December 2016


Rainbow over ballycastle

Rainbow rising like a rocket

To rip open the old year sky

Burning bright promise of a future

Now that’s a flag we all can fly

For rejuvenation and redemption

All the possibilities of imagination

A city coming down out of heaven

Casting Shalom all across the nation

Where the old can walk the streets at night

And the children can play all day

Where men and women go off to work

For much more than their fiscal pay

Where everybody has a belonging

And there’s no talk of them and me

Where every neighbour loves their neighbour

And makes friends with their enemies

Where we all learn how to love mercy

And seek justice in all that we do

Walking humbly before our God

Deep, gentle and gracious and true

Rainbow rising like a rocket

To rip open the old year sky

Colours exploding in the new one

As all that’s been, fizzles goodbye.


David C Clements LDIH

(The layering sounds of this record seep further in to your soul every time you play it. No doubt his amazing gig in Fitzroy two days before Christmas helped its subjective jump to my favourite record of the year... BUT it was actually on Christmas Eve, listening to it on vinyl... when I screamed out the triumphant last lines, "So come on rivers/Take us to the sea,” that I realised its hold on me... 4 Northern Irish albums top my pile... what a year for our wee country...)


Back in 2005 when I was a radio DJ with some clout on the Belfast scene someone slipped me a CDR marked Clemo. I was told not to tell anyone. Oh dear I just did! They were demos from Six Star Hotel boy David Clements. I hoked it out last week when David C Clementsreleased his debut solo album, a whole decade later. For a few years people have been telling me that I would love David C Clements.People whose opinion I respect. As I have argued, The Longest Day In History hasn’t been rush job!

This is a mature and carefully constructed piece of work. It is layered in arrangement, in production and in the lyrics. It is a layered testimony to one young man’s life. It is about growing up, leaving naivety behind, discovering that life is not so much about flying on wings as eagles but more a crawling through the muck of a life whose hopes gets battered, faith gets questioned and where love needs hung on to even when you don’t feel like you can.

This week I had the album playing in the car on the school run. As we left the driveway Caitlin said, “Is this Iain?” Our girls know their Iain Archer and are quick to recognise sounds and voices. I don’t think Caitlin got it wrong here. In Clements’ early days making music Iain Archer was the highest standard of Belfast music. If he took time off writing for Jake Bugg, James Bay and Steve Mason then this is the kind of record he might make. 

There are traces of Archer’s Magnetic North and To The Pine Roots here. It is contemporary in its soundscapes. You might think The National or even Sigur Ros in its atmospheric crescendos. Yet, beneath it all, it is more like Jason Isbell; the song is the core of this album’s soul. Gary Lightbody might call Clements’ Belfast’s Springsteen. I stick with Isbell; more contemporary. Yet Archersupersedes them both.

Like Archer and IsbellDavid C’s lyrics need time. They are poetic, deep and at times ambiguous. I listened to the record on a car journey on a dark night and the flickers of light in the dark seemed a perfect visual companion. I found myself pondering two things; what these songs are about, line after line, and what my life is about, every line opening up those thoughts. 

There’s a lot of fear, loss and making sense of a future on here and an awful lot of seeking home. I was taken by the first lines of Afraid Of The City


“Well I felt that winter on the night before

And I lost my summer and I lost the Lord

I get pain in the back of my head 

When I hear the chord

Don’t want to hear those songs about getting it right

When I keep getting wrong” 


I’m Still Alive has the beautiful: -


“Sometimes at night

The sound of the forest choir

Echoes through the pine, a song from a different time

Just like after the flood

That came in the form of a dove

Now it's in the tone of your voice

Oh when it called for us

'Cause I can hear the words coming down

They're singing "I'm still alive”


And in the end there is hope and love and peace in Hurricane’s epic conclusion:


“So we gather up our autumn sins as winter stole our colours

And we put all of our matches to our hearts we kept in boxes

And we watched the colours take our mothers

Sisters may we know what love is

Love us till we're lovers just as fire turns to colours

We observe the streets and rivers as our thoughts turn

To our fathers just as we began to see you flow like rivers to the seas

And we imagine how our father sees our lives as short as day

And we remember all the day could bring

So come on rivers

Take us to the sea”


The songs are so strong, the melodies so incessant, the words so stimulating. It has been slow to get out and it is a slow burn that seeps in. Worth the wait!


Foy Swan

Oh my goodness this is so good! At last Foy Vance has fulfilled all that potential. This is one of the great Northern Ireland records and might well lead to Vance becoming one of the great Northern Ireland artists across the world. 

I have blogged before that for me Foy Vance is one of my embarrassments. I was involved in a Belfast music project back in the 90s - Alive In Belfast. I was managing Iain Archer at the time (very amateurishly) that put me in a room with the best of the city’s music at that time - Henry McCullough (he played Woodstock!), Brian Houston, Tiberius Minnows, New Brontés, Disraeli Gears (the last two had Jonny Quinn now of Snow Patrol behind the drums) etc etc… The Soul Truth had Foy Vance as singer. He sounded good but among Archer, Houston and the rest I paid no attention…

…until I heard Indiscriminate Act of Kindness and Gabriel and The Vagabond. Wow, what soul filled songs. Then I saw him with the Ulster Orchestra, that voice just knocked me out and I could not come to terms with how I, so proud of my discovery of new talent, missed this guy!

Let me be honest, however, The Wild Swan is the first record where I think Foy has nailed his sound and fulfilled his promise. His debut record Hope even with such great songs as the aforementioned Indiscriminate Act of Kindness and Gabriel and The Vagabondwas a little too produced. The long awaited Joy Of Nothing, with more incredible songs like You & I (with Bonnie Raitt) and Guiding Light (with Ed Sheeran), was good and got closer but was perhaps a little too earnest for me. 

The Wild Swan finally gets it perfectly. This is Foy at his most effortlessly glorious. From beginning to end you feel that this is a natural waterfall of organic cascading words and melodies. It’s infectious, it is soulful and it will linger deep long after the surface immediacy has become familiar. 

I believe this to be as close to the musical soul of Vance that we have ever gotten. The sound is something like might have happened had Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions Band had been available when Van Morrison was going all rustic up around Woodstock in Ulster County circa Moondance and Tupelo Honey.

Of course, Foy Vance shares a home with Van in the original Ulster. Vance’s hometown is the fertile little rock town of Bangor, Co. Down that Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody has sung about, as has Iain Archer Grammy nominated co-writer of Hold Back The River with James BayVance pays homage to it on Bangor Town and might even have sussed the entire wee country of Northern Ireland with: - 


“Our minds are tethered

But our hearts are wild”


Not that Van can add Vance to the list of those he calls copycats. Vance takes that organic acoustic sound of late 60s early 70s Morrison and blends Gospel and blues riffs and more The almost rockabilly rock n roll opener Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution he name checks Dr John, Little Richard, James Brown, Willie Nelsonand Aretha Franklin. On the piano led Ziggy Looked Me In The Eyehe channels Bowie and Bolan: - 


'We are children of the revolution, 

Never let the Spirit die’


The Wild Swan is a stunner, listen after listen. Songs about falling in love, a friend’s daughter, a singer encouraging himself to find his place, philosophers and revolution. It is light in spirit, big in heart and intriguing of mind. It is indeed “upbeat, feels good.” This is the one, Foy - you belong!



From Cat Malojian to just plain Malojian to Malojian with Steve Albini, Stevie Scullion’s musical growth just keeps going. 

Supported by The Northern Ireland Arts Council the trip to Chicago to work with the legendary producer Albini has really paid off. Albini has helped take Scullions songs and give them all a real character and a variety of characters at that. 

This Is Nowhere takes Scullion’s mid Ulster songs out of the folk song default that he started out doing and channels this collection through Beatle and Beach Boy influences and then adds distortion and musical quirk, of the most beautiful and tasteful kind. Oh the harmonies and the jaunty rhythms of the title track before imaginative frazzle of electric guitars remind you that Nirvana’s producer is at the controls. Stunning.

I’ll Be Alright has a Twelfth Day drum beat intro before being driven by acoustic guitars; Whittle Me Down is as delicate introspection as anything you’ll hear this year - “it’s raining in my soul”; The Great Decline with its piano brooding. The lovely love song that is Lean On Me and You’re A Part Of Me are tender love songs and Calling Borneo the most humorous look at tele-sales-people and I’d love every career’s adviser in Northern Irish schools to play Dam Song to their pupils - “Everybody wants to be/Something great until they see/It takes time/These things take time.”  

This is a record with variety in sound and thought. It is an unmitigated success!


Ciaran Lavery

If great music can come out of a remote wee town in Ulster County, New York State at the end of the 60s (I am reading Small Town Talk about Dylan, The Band and Van up in Woodstock) then we shouldn’t be surprised that Agahagallon, a tiny village on the edge of Lough Neagh in Country Antrim in the province of Ulster could be the fertile place for a cycle of amazing songs.

Ciaran Lavery is yet another brilliant songwriter from Northern Ireland. I keep saying that in sheer depth of songwriter talent we are way ahead of what we should be be producing head per head of our small population.

It is more obvious and not journalistically lazy to set Lavery alongside Foy Vance and even, if you go island wide, Glen Hansard. He has their ability with song craft and that rasp of a voice - oh yes.

I guess if you dug through the surface of the songwriting sonic intrigues of Lavery you might find a Ryan Adams as his bottom line template. Yet, he does with his songs far more interesting things than Adams has done for some time. 

Okkervil River is as close as he gets to Adams but then this distorted brass thing kicks in and takes it in Lavery own particular direction. Though a seamless collection of songs there is much variety, delicate piano of Sonoma, the almost unaccompanied Let Bad InWilder’s sweet strings, Failing Light’s beats and his voice gives drama and authority on Train.

The whole thing is constructed around growing up. Bless him but at 29 Lavery thinks he has grown up! Yet, he delves a childhood on the shores of Lough Neagh and asks who he was and what he has become from the nurture he has had. My favourite is the guitar driven Tell Them All where he shares his dad’s wisdom in a May You Never or Forever Young kind of way:- 


“Give a hand while you can give it

Give a life where you can live

If you hang it on the string you’ll watch it fall

Never raise a glass to someone’s sorrow

Never talk about tomorrow

And if the hang man comes to have you on the stall

You tell them all”


It’s Aghagallon Proverbs on a record that declares a weight emerging talent. 


Bear's Den


Stephen Orr tipped me off to this one too late for it to get in the 20. This might have been very high in my favs indeed BUT I had heard that they’d gone electric and it had put me off. Electric guitars for sure but only in order to give their sound a shimmer and more even surface. Beautiful stuff in the direction Gary Lightbody goes in when he gathers his Tired Pony.



I wrote in my review… 

“Archer’s brother Iain, who guests on guitar, was up for a Grammy for his co-write with James Bay, Hold Back The River, but if he writes anything more hypnotically beautiful this year than She’s The Only One For Me or Got Love he’ll be a happy songwriter. When Gary Lightbody tries to make amends for stealing his drummer and endorses the album with “Breathtaking it kicks redemptive ass” He ain’t wrong!”



Missed this one in 2015 and though I heard it in 2016 it didn’t qualify for the Fav Chart. It is a blinder of a songwriting project. I wrote… 

The best way I can describe HWY 20 is that I feel the whole way through it that I am right bang bang in the middle of what Jesus spoke about when he told us that his followers would be visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry etc. Pelican Bay is about the ridiculous amount of people in American prisoners, mostly black. The deep slow blues sadness of Living Water, with one of many sneaky Biblical images, has a 6 year old refugee in front of a judge being turned away from America. These are songs for the least of these.” 



Again, just heard this one slightly too late for it to make its impression. By mid January I think I will be thinking it should have been in there. Michael Keeney’s piano and production and Rachel McCarthy from Farriers conjure a hypnotic beauty of a record. Belfast again producing stunning music.



I know. How did this one not make it?!?! Hard to define myself. Probably simply as a result of not being able to give the density of the piece enough time to let it seep into my soul. Stripped and haunting lamentation, I will regret it exclusion I am pretty sure!



Love Taylor Goldsmith’s songs. Dawes are prolific and usually drop into my annual Top 10s. This didn’t dent my Favs because I didn’t get o give it enough time and it was a little more obtuse in sound than my favourite Dawes template.



Sisters from the cool city that is Portland with fabulous harmonies. Very First Aid Kit they add a little spiritual intrigue which draws me in of course. Again… should have been in there!



Love this young Alabama man’s voice and have followed his musical accomplishments since I met him in Nashville back in 2007. This is the fullest expression of his art since his one major label outing with his former band Moses Mayfield. Matthew is a deep writer. God’s Fault is a gem here.



Fabulous to hear these guys back int he studio. This is a long way from their big anthem songs of the late 80s but all their maturity has conjured a tender piece of near meditative rock. Hippy thoughts to gentle vibes. Late night reflective relaxation with a candle on the hearth.



Again, I have no defence for this not being top 10. Jeff Tweedy back in laid back American groove. A few more listens and…



Another good collection of folk songs by Ireland’s poet laureate. Maybe not just as convincing as recent albums but always a treat to hear his musings on Irish life. Oblivious does just that with his go at the bankers… “What will it take to make us angry…”



Now, you see. This was challenging the No 1 spot… and then they decided to give it an official release in February 2017… so this is the bar that everyone else needs to reach for in the year ahead. Ben Kyle’s songs and acute spiritual observational depth charges on top of that near Whiskeytown sound. Then there are mentions of Belfast… and Shandy Bass! It’s the one to beat…


Academy Crest

(A friend said that being asked to be Guest Speaker at Ballymena Academy Prize Day was like an MBE. It really was that big a deal to me. The day itself was amazing. We were treated right royally, loved every single minute. Little was I to know that my mother, who sat proudly on the front row, would leave us one month later. To have had her there has made that day even more precious. Thank you to all the staff and Board Of Governors who were so kind to invite us and be so welcoming.)

So, this is what happens at a Prize Day. I’ve never been invited before! 43 years. At last!

And I do need to say… it is not an exaggeration to say... that this is one of the honours of my life.  My dad worked here for 27 years as Bursar. The school is important to our family. This is an absolute thrill. Thank you.

For most of my 8 years here, I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I did want to be invited to Prize Day to speak. I thought that would suggest I had done something with my life.

I wanted to be invited as a member of N. Ireland’s World Cup squad… or Europe’s Ryder Cup team… or a songwriter, like my mate Iain who wrote Hold Back The Rover with James Bay (which the Junior choir sang today). But… here I am… a Presbyterian minister! Come on! This was not my dream gig!

Let me tell you about a seagull who wanted to live a life of thrills. In Richard Bach’s book Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Jonathan watched all the other gulls just eating and sleeping but he wants more. So he took off into the blue and soared and swooped aiming at speeds and thrills that no other gull had ever experienced. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull wanted to fly. When I was your age at Ballymena Academy, I wanted to fly.

Our logo in Fitzroy, where I am minister, is 10:10. It’s my birthday. I love seeing the youth walking round with my birthday on their sweatshirts! It’s also the mark you got to be here today! It’s also a verse in the ancient text of the Scriptures where Jesus said that he came to bring life and life in all its fulness. I wanted that. 10:10! 

Coming back here today has had me reminiscing at what happened to me here. And I realised the incredible number of things that are still impacting my life, nearly 40 years later. 

And I don’t mean here in the school. I mean here in this very Assembly Hall. 

I fell over… behind that curtain… with a huge pile of chairs in my hand when I was stage crew for the School Concert; avant garde percussion! 

On my last day at school… the second time… you can see why I didn’t get any prizes… I ran with buckets towards the edge of the stage. The First XV… not just any First XV but a Schools’ Cup winning First XV were all sat in the front two rows. As I ran towards them with this bucket they tried to scarper, their faces full of more terror than Bangor Grammar forwards gave them at Ravenhill. I laughed as, instead of the water soaking them as expected, paper like confetti floating harmlessly in the Assembly Hall air!

Those were fun memories. Other memories really did impact my life. I fell in love with The Beatles right over there. My very first School Christmas Party. I’d love to know who the UVI were who played Can’t Buy Me Love and Paperback Writer. BUT I have loved and been influenced greatly by The Beatles ever since. The last two t-shirts I got were Beatles t-shirts. It started over there, under those steps!

I then ended up being the UVI DJ myself. I had the best record collection in the school…sadly no prizes were given for that… but it did make me DJ for all the parties in my UVI and LVII years. 

This would lead to one of the most awful public moments of my life. It was the Prefects’ Party. We set up for the party and suddenly realised the that dancing down there was causing the needle jump off the records up here! 

No music… no dancing… not a happy upper end of the school… Back over here there was panic. We had to move the record player back up to the sound room up there. In the meantime, I was sent out to a baying crowd to explain. It was fierce. I felt isolated, humiliated and tried to make some joke and calm the hopeful dancers. 

The next morning I was a little embarrassed coming into class. Someone looked round and said, “Great work last night. If you could stand in front of that crowd, you’ll be able to stand in front of any crowd.” That was a huge moment in my vocational life. I have stood in front of all kinds of crowds since then. That moment was gain in the pain!

A much better moment was December 9th 1980. I know the date. It was the morning after John Lennon of The Beatles was shot dead. CU were allowed to Assembly and I spoke on the music of Bob Dylan and faith. A massive part of my vocation ever since has been travelling the world speaking about rock music and faith. I even wrote a best selling book on U2. It all began right here, where I am standing now!

Best of all that morning, the then headmaster Denis Jagoe walked off the stage with me. I had been nervous speaking to my peers and teachers. He encouraged me with kind words and then added, “and you didn’t insult their intelligence.” He believed many preachers speak down to their audience. Those words have rung in my ear for 35 years. In all the teaching I got in College about preaching. None surpassed that throw away phrase.

I am sharing how my years in this building might never have won me any school prizes but shaped me and honed me into finding out the vocation I would follow, the reason I was on the planet. My 10:10. 

I ended up a DJ on radio Ulster. I wrote books on rock music and faith. I became a preacher standing in front of many a difficult audiences. And I try to never insult the intelligence of my listeners. 

One of my favourite writers is Frederick Buechner, a novelist who doubles as a Presbyterian minister. He writes that vocation is where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need. That is where you want to get to… University Yes… a degree, Masters and PhD yes… BUT more important than pieces of paper and even size of pay packets or the right post code Is living life and life in all its fulness. 10:10!

And can I add that I know many people who have the pieces of paper, the big job titles, the house in the right location and all that money can buy BUT are not living life in all its fulness; living where their deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need. 

First to find your deepest gladness. What is it you are good at? What is it that you are made for? Usually this is something that you excel at and when you do it well you get a deep sense of satisfaction. This is your gift… your genius… your reason to live… finding this and going after it… that’s life in all its fulness! Maybe the prize you are getting today gives a clue to that. Maybe. 

When we find this we are not done. Practicing your deepest gladness is not life in all its fulness. Buechner suggests that it needs to meet the world’s deep needs.

So you could be the best graphic designer in the world… doing great work… but working for a company that oppresses its workers with unjust wages and working conditions might not be helping meet the world’s deepest need.

Let me take you to a school in Uganda that I have visited the last two summers. Our family sponsors two girls in this school; Jacqueline and Rachel. They have amazing smiles and are lovely kids. School was not as certain for them as for you. Their parents didn’t go and put their names down when the time came. They had to start their own school. Pay for their own teachers. Build their own classrooms. We in Fitzroy have helped them out by funding an amazing school building.

When we hope for Jacqueline and Rachel that they might be teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, traffic designers, business women etc etc it is not so much about Jacqueline and Rachel having jobs and wages. That is  important for them and their families but it is about more than their deep gladness. 

Uganda needs teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, traffic designers, business women. We want them to meet that deep need in their world.

Ballymena needs teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, traffic designers, business women. N. Ireland needs… the world needs…

When you find your deepest gladness and then give it to the community, the nation or the world, then you will receive something that will make you feel that this life is worth living. 

So congratulations on your achievements. You have shown application, hard work and intelligence in what you have won prizes in today. 

These prizes will give you a clue to what your made to do but make sure you make the most of your entire school life. I was a footballing playing rock fan and somehow found my way to The Debating Society one Friday afternoon. What was I thinking. Yet, over the next eight years, that debating society became the place that I put a public speech together. It was where I learned to debate. I use those skills every week, in the pulpit and as committee meetings.

So can I say thank you Ballymena Academy for helping me find my deepest gladness. Very few of my teachers are here. Very few of my fellow pupils. I was wondering as prize winners were announced are they children of my friends, doing the maths wondering could they be grandchildren!!! Or worried that I might have kissed one of their mothers! But I thank every member of my school community who made me who I am today.

And can I pray that you all find yours and that this world benefits from all that you contribute to it. Be like Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Fly. Live the life in all its fulness  Jesus came talked about - 10:10. May your deep gladness meet the world’s deepest need. If it does you will be blessed and we will all benefit from your contribution. 

Thank you! 


Deacon Blue Believers

(as the T-shirts on their recent tour declared... I have been a Believer since 1987... saw this band twice this year... their third album in a recent trilogy is the best of the three... great pop rock sounds and an insightful humane light shone on the refugee crisis...)

Three albums in four years! Come on! I don’t believe that Deacon Bluebelieved that this would happen but Believers is here and this Trilogy of albums (Hipsters, A New House, Believers) seems to not be so an Indian summer of a career as a brand spanking new and relevant contribution to a music world that as a band they walked away from over 20 years ago. 

Believers glides in melodic flight, the harmonies make it soar and Jim Prime’s piano gives the updraft. These are are immediately accessible rock pop songs that bore their inedible beauty through your skull. 

Ricky Ross has always added to his melodies a wonderful light touch of lyrical flair. His images, his rhyme, his look at the world creates three minute sermonettes that can nourish the soul without having to preach.

Perhaps it’s in Gone that we find the core thought of Believers:


“Everybody’s lost

Not just the ones you know

We are reluctant travellers

All trying to get home.”


Ross has said that the record was written in the shadow of newscast stories of refugees risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean for a better life. The greatest refugee crisis in history could not be ignored. Gone, Birds and the title track are most pointedly about beaches, waves, boats, movement, hopeful new beginnings and tragic endings.

Yet, the lyrics make the travelling inclusive of us all. Ross says, “This album is about the journey we all take into the dark. You come to that point in your life where – whatever you’ve been told, whatever the evidence you’ve been presented with – you just don’t know what the answer is. At which point you can only rely on instincts of your heart. You either take the leap or you don’t.”

So, Deacon Blue drop the weightiest depth charges in the gentlest ways into our journeying souls. 


“Oh the toughest test

is not the way we came into this world

Or the way it ends

yes the toughest test

Is what lies between and what we do

With the time we get


There’s a hole in the middle

We gotta work out how to fill it in.”



You can’t know everything

You’re such an innocent soul

You can’t learn anything

Unless you let somebody show you

And you’ll not know everything

Even if you started right now

You must trust someone

Cause someday darling trust’s all you know”

(You Can’t Know Everything)


With Deacon Blue they can journey into that dark but they always carry light and hope and faith and indomitable love. The Believersbelieves in a better day: 


Step on a boat

Go on a journey

May it take you to heaven

And never bring you back again

So you no longer fear the boatman

Or the swell of the ocean.”


Birds believes that “one day we’re going to be free” and:


“We’re high above jail walls and windows

We’re high above the waves of worry

We’re floating on the wind

Cause nothing can begin

To make us want to land again.”


This Is A Love Song maybe says it best of all:


“Love is enough

Love will do

Love last longer than

Anything we’re going through

Love is enough”


The lyric sheet is called The Believers Hymn Book. It’s a subtle pointer to the spiritual surmises, questions and insights that this collection of songs contain. There is little question that Ross’s faith is an underwriter here but he’s not proselytising. This is about belief in humanity, in the right choices to side with those whose journey into darkness needs our helping hand. It’s an inspirational piece of rock music to fire imaginations and make wake up calls:


“I can no longer watch

I can no longer wait

I can no longer hope

I have come awake.”

(Come Wake)


It is likely to bring Deacon Blue their highest chart placing since 1994. Who’d have believed it! I’m a Believer!



Love and Hate

The circumstances were not lost on me. I was giving the long anticipated second Michael Kiwanuka album a first listen under an African sun, on the veranda of a lovely little flat in the Fields Of Life Guest House in Kampala. Kiwanuka was born in London and raised in Muswell Hill but his parents were from Uganda. As the strident Black Man In A White World kicked in I realised that I was listening to a Ugandan boy making sense of living in another world. 

Now, I have to say that I liked Kiwanuka’s first record but felt that it lacked something. It was too straight. Too predictable. It seems that Kiwanuka felt the same and almost gave up music as a result. 

Love and Hate though is sharp and dynamic with edge, ingenuity and soul. Imagine Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway got blended through an early 1970’s George Harrison production. The most influential actual producer at work is Danger Mouse who has worked across the genres and brings an eclectic and on the cusp of what’s happening sound to Kiwanuka’s songs. 

In amongst near psychedelic electric guitar solos (I mentioned George Harrison) and the use of Gospel choirs (George Harrison anyone) Kiwanuka writes about the personal, the social, the spiritual and the political (just like George Harrison!!!). 

You get my opinion. Goodness me, listening to the strum of Rule The World and you could be forgiven for thinking you had switched albums to Harrison’s Living In The Material World! If George Harrisonleft The Beatles in 2016 he would come up with something like this.

Kiwanuka’s reinvention was a musical highlight of my summer. Beneath the blue skies of a Ugandan July my body and soul were moved by the grooves of Cold Little Heart, Black Man In A White World and One More Night. Suddenly Michael Kiwanuka has the musical sparkle to set off his soul voice and quality songs.

Kiwanuka has spoken about the songs on Love and Hate being about his doubts, of faith and vocation and sense of self. Ironically that uncertainty has led to the most confident of albums. 



I have been a long time admirer of Jonatha Brooke, since I picked up her first band The Story’s debut record for £1 in a Kingston bargain bin. Often, however, her songs have been a little fussy and cluttered to catch my ear. 

Midnight Hallelujah changed that for me. Interestingly after following a one woman musical play about her mother’s dementia Brooke sets her songs free and they flow like fresh mountain streams, flowing in catchy melody, words tumbling over each other, cascading into a pool of her most satisfying collection. 

In such songs Brooke takes on the issues. There is gun control, mental illness and a lot of wrestling with God. There are a couple of corking grown up love songs too. 

On Mean Looking Jesus it would seem that faith in Jesus has been dismissed. The song, however, is built around a photograph of a living room in New Orleans trashed by Hurricane Katrina. On the wall is a picture is a mean looking Jesus which becomes again a symbol of a Jesus presented on a marble cross that might not be the grace centric saving one of the Gospels. It makes for some moody brooding guitar menace of a song.

Midnight Hallelujah is a particularly tricky song for the minister. It is a song of sacred and lust blurring. It is a theme of the record, the questioning of faith, the honesty with doubt. As Brooke declares here:


“I’m a tongue tied, black belt sinner

But I’m running with the saints.”


Like most of the modern struggles with faith, it needs to be worked out how much Brooke is struggling with God and how much she is struggling with the God she is being presented with. Again, here in Midnight Hallelujah she’s looking for grace and only finding hypocrisy. The escape to a sexual fling to find hallelujah, amen and revelation is hardly an advisable pilgrimage to more authentic faith but there is bath water here that needs thrown out.


Heavy lyrical thought in the lightest touches of melody are just my thing. The quality of the poetry and the eclectic moods cast by the arrangements make Midnight Hallelujah stunning piece of art.