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October 2017



“This was never supposed to be my story, Stocki.” 

My friend Alain had just lost his 23 year old wife after just 18 months of marriage. A young man still in his twenties, playing Irish Premier League football, leading worship at major Christian Conferences, taking youth teams to Uganda and pastoring a vibrant Church in Lurgan, Northern Ireland. The world was at his feet. Lindsay was his soul mate. His one and only. His partner in the undertaking of redeeming things. 

Too quickly, Lindsay was gone. The story was not supposed to end like this. It had long chapters to still play out. Growing old together was a long way off but it was a chapter they were looking forward to enjoying, with the grandchildren, that now would never be born.

Having his wife ripped from him with cancer was not the story he should have lived but now it is the story that Alain Emerson has written. Alain reminded me that this book started out as a blog, blogging even before Lindsay passed away and how his honest vulnerability had resonated with so many people. He hopes that the book like those initial blogs will be a catharsis, a permission for people to groan out of God, to help them believe that they might glimpse hope again and ultimately that they can connect with Jesus in the darkest darkness.

I can recommend Luminous Dark because I was there when it all began. Not when Alain decided to write it but when Lindsay first got ill. I was there within hours of Lindsay passing away. I watched my friend hauled into the valley of the shadow of death. 

I listened as he declared that he was going to face it. I watched as the head of a young Christian idealist and inspirational worship leader went down. I saw it slowly, very slowly, lift again. I watched and listened to the theological wrestling, as the spiritual disappointment disorientation threatened his soul.

Alain writes about making a decision towards survival in the midst of his counselling. I was reminded that when U2 lost their beloved road manager Denis Sheehan, Christian pastor Rick Warren encouraged them to choose joy. He stole the idea from his wife Kay’s book about how they lost their son to suicide. Luminous Dark is the story of a young man who made fragile but brave choices in the most difficult times. 

In choosing to really grieve. In choosing to rage with God. In choosing to survive. In choosing to hope. In all these choices Alain chose to live a story that is a resource for all of us who will also find ourselves in grief. That determination to look grief in the eye and not flinch was no doubt the making of the spiritual leader Alain Emerson is. The resilience he mustered, he would remind us with God’s grace, has also given us all a pastoral resource that is second to none. In the last few years I cannot count the times when I told a young grieving soul that he or she needed to chat to Alain Emerson. From now on I will reach them Luminous Dark and know that they have a companion for the long tough road that grief is. 

This was not supposed to be Alain Emerson's story but it was and this is the story that he has lived out and has now written down. Thanks be to God!



Chris Taylor Dead End

My friend Lesley hates anyone covering Bob Dylan songs. Now, she is from Northern Ireland and we are what we call thran, an Ulster Scots word that means we will stand firm, irrationally if need be. She grew up in a conservative Church so maybe that has helped her thranness! Whatever, she will not budge in her bigoted prejudice against anyone who dares sing Bob songs other than Bob!

Now, there are rational reasons to not like covers of Dylan. Lesley’s evidence of Cliff Richard and The Nolans singing Blowing In The Wind via YouTube was a strong argument. Others have taken the attitude, punk and protest out of our Nobel prizewinning genius’s work for sure.

You see there is something about the terrain of a Bob Dylan song. The road of his rhythms and preposterously brilliant rhymes is never the smooth surface of a German autobahn. There is unique eccentricity to his craft. A voice that is smooth, even if fantastically good, can glide over the nuanced bumps and gaps, losing the grit and grime of the poet’s earthy realities. Cliff and The Nolans can just never work!

Chris Taylor really really works. Why I am setting this record up as one of the best ever Bob Dylan covers albums is because the voice and the artist that is Chris Taylor perfectly fits such an ambitious project. His voice has a strong rough hue that makes traction in Dylan’s quirks. That gives him the sensitivity to eek out the yearning and deep soul searching going on.

He chooses fascinating songs too. The opening What Was It You Wanted hooks you in. Taylor allows you to get caught with the brawn of the conversation immediately. Times Have Changed - oh my! The psychedelic guitar rage of The Ballad of Hollis Brown - phew! Blind Willie McTell is ghostly. The Man In The Long Black Coat is chilling storytelling. Pressing On has the spiritual resilience of a pilgrim weary but keeping on.

As a collection it is captivating. You cannot turn it off or skip tracks. Only nine songs and questions need asked about another volume but Chris Taylor has taken his favourite songs from his favourite songwriter and created the most artistically satisfying Dylan covers record that I have ever heard… and one of my records of the year! Lesley... only irrational thranness can keep you away!


Hope St

I am reading poetry this week at the Scottish Baptist Assembly. The theme is Hope so I thought I would write a poem called Hope. I don't think I quite have but this is what I had to start my slots at the Assembly...


Hope is a known starling falling

Hope is the shade of an apricot tree

Hope is a dove with a leaf in its mouth

Hope is a star in the sky named for me


Hope is a greeting in the silence

Hope is a hand held tight in grief

Hope is a song sung darkness

Hope is a fragile and robust belief


Hope is the promise you remember

Hope is the substance of a mystery

Hope is a veil that’s torn asunder

Hope is a stone that’s rolled away.


Hope is a decision for love and joy

And that we're going to get out of this minute

Hope is belief in tomorrow ahead

And that today we’re going to live in it.



Chris Taylor

This weekend Texas songwriter and artist Chris Taylor releases an album of Bob Dylan covers called Down Dead End Street. It is a brilliant record and I will review it later in the week. First up, here's an interview I did with Chris about his love for Dylan and how the record came about...

When do you first remember hearing Bob Dylan songs?

CT: I heard Bob's songs most of my life, coming from down the hall in my house or blasting from a car stereo, "Like A Rolling Stone" but I didn't wake up to Bob Dylan's music until much later in 1989 when I played his album Oh Mercy through my headphones. Everything changed. The only reason I even gave that record a play was because it was produced by Daniel Lanois, who is one of my all time favorites.

When did you first cover a Dylan song? 
CT: I immersed myself in Dylan's catalog. I fell in love with with his Bootleg Series Vol 1-3. I remember learning Tangled Up In Blue and If You See Her, Say Hello, right away. But I was never good with cover songs, so I only played them at home. In the 90's, I was in a rock and roll band and we decided to cover All Along The Watchtower. I payed absolutely attention to the fact Jimi Hendrix already immortalized a Bob Dylan classic. Which is insane and probably the only way I can move forward with a cover song. I can't worry about who did it before me. If I love the song, and it speaks to me, I can sing it and deliver it in a way that is completely mine.

How has Dylan influenced your writing.
CT: Oh my goodness, in every possible way. He stretched the length of how long a song can be. He let me know there was nothing I couldn't write about. He made me realize that if you own your voice, no matter what it sounds like, you can stand and deliver in a recorded or live performance. He gave me permission to be spontaneous with my band and go for vibe over perfection when I'm recording a song. He tells me how to deliver my lyrics within the song... he challenges the rhyme and meter concept... all these kinds of things and more. He also taught me a lot about attitude and swagger & fame means nothing compared to great songwriting.

Any songs particularly?
CT: In 1998 I recorded a song called Down Goes The Day up in Nashville, TN. that mix mashes thoughts about my marriage that was falling apart with his Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie... Because in my life, I was searching and clawing away to find something very special to make me feel alive night after night. That was the first among many songs that Dylan has inspired me to write.

When did you come up with the idea of a Dylan covers record? 
CT: About a year ago, I started doing gigs where I only play Bob Dylan songs and it would be on a whim... I'd decide the day of the show, on some occasions! If I was bored of playing my own music, I would step into the shoes and behind the shades of Bob Dylan's genius songs and live on the edge for a few hours that night. It was a thrill and another way to wake myself up to the power of music.

How did you decide which songs to record?
CT: That was impossible! For every song I recorded, there were five more I wish I could include. So I just started picking some of my favorites that I perform live until I got to Blind Willie McTell, I just have loved that song since I first heard it... I wanted to do something special with that song, while keeping the same spirit behind it.

The Ballad Of Hollis Brown is perhaps the most different arrangement. What was your idea? 
CT: This was another song very precious to me. Both Dylan's version and The Neville Brother's version produced by Daniel Lanois. I started playing at my shows as a finale or last song of the night. When I played with a band, I just wanted there to be a heavy kick drum, hypnotic rhythm going on, so Mitchell Connell's psychedelic guitar could float over the top of it all. I used loop delay on some of my vocals to just add more tension as the lyrics tell this haunted and sad story of what is happening in this man's mind and with his family. I felt the rage in Dylan's version, even though it was not in the music itself... so I brought that rage and tension to the surface, musically... and for those not paying a bit of attention to any of that... they can dance to it. Ha!

You are an artist. You have reason for everything you create. What do you hope people will get from this Dylan covers record?
CT: I played a set of Dylan songs a few months back at this little bar in San Antonio, TX and as I was heading out the door after the gig, the bartender stops me and said "All those songs were Bob Dylan songs?" I nodded my head. "I didn't realize how much I like Bob Dylan!" To me that was the ultimate compliment. I think I did this record more for myself as a way of taking a master class of genius songwriting. Since I also produced it, I had to be fearless and not let the stature of the man, the myth, the legend of Dylan and all the other greats who have covered his songs - keep me from honoring him with my own take on his music. It all boils down to love for me. If I was Bob's next door neighbor, I'd be offering to mow his yard or run errands for him, instead of doing an album of his songs!

Are you looking forward to the Gospel Years Box Set?
CT: Oh yes! I've been counting the clock and trying to pick up an extra gig or two so I can actually pay for this thing! Haha. This will be the only music I listen to until December 1st rolls around. There's something more meaningful to me when Dylan sings and writes gospel songs that I just don't get within the typical places one might think great gospel music should exist.

Have you read Clinton Heylin’s book Trouble In Mind on the Gospel Years?
CT: Somehow, I've only just heard about this book and cannot wait to get my hands on a copy!

Only 9 songs… Is there another Dylan covers record? Who else might you do a covers record of?
CT: Since 2016, I've put out three albums, one of those a double album, and in 2017 a five song EP. In my mind, I figured the few fans I have, maybe they've heard enough from me for a while! So I entered 2017 cautiously in my musical output. I'm as busy as ever, with this Bob Dylan tribute album and two more albums almost finished... but not sure when to put them into existence! So when I was recording Down A Dead End Street... less songs felt right. Since some of them are quite long... It feels like a complete project. No filler. All killer.
I doubt I will ever do another type of tribute album in full, although I did cover The Choir song "Cross That River" for a brand new tribute album called Pants On Fire Volume 1. BUT - if I could... I would pay homage to The Waterboys, Tom Petty and Hothouse Flowers, to name a few. These amazing people have proved to be my big brothers, helping me get through this life.

TWO TWIGS ENTWINED (... And I Believe)

2 Twigs

I wrote this way back in 1994 as I drove the then bendy, long narrow roads of Ireland, as the Youth Development Officer for the Presbyterian Youth Department.

I will be using it this week at the Scottish Baptist Assembly as I read my poetry. The theme of the Assembly is hope and these lines are about different images of the cross that brought me hope in times of questioning, doubt or spiritual weariness.

I think I used CS Lewis’s Shadow Lands, Bruce Cockburn’s Southlands Of The Heart and Lies Damned Lies Thee Next Life to fuel the rhymes, so credit where it is due. Horsey Morgan used it as a lyric and made it a lovely song


When you feel you are always one step behind

You’re arriving for the just departed train

When the slowest car on the road, it seems

Is at the end of the passing lane

Two twigs entwined

By a piece of string

Puts perspective on everything

And I believe

Yes, I believe.


When life doesn’t have to, but it still does

And you forget the beauty of her face

When the golden valley is shrouded in mist

And imagination is all laid to waste

The sweetest taste

Of bread and wine

Says a better day is mine

And I believe

Yes, I believe.


When the prickly thorns of the truth

Are sharper than the smell of the rose

Weeds strangle all the flowers of hope

When God only knows

A village square cross

In a circle of stone

Tells my soul he’s not alone

And I believe

Yes, I believe.


Duke Hallow

In a concert at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, earlier this year, Duke Special told us that he was writing an album of songs based on the Irish poet Michael Longley who was sitting in the front row of the said show. Quite a task and, as he proceeded to sing Lena, I remember thinking what must he be thinking as Longley listened and what Longley was thinking too. You need some nerve to mess with the sacred writing of a poet as revered as Michael Longley.

We shouldn’t be surprised at Mr Special taking on poems. He has written to plays and novels and my very favourite record of his is Under A Dark Cloth inspired by photographs. Indeed, on that record he worked with another Irish poet, Pádriag Ó Tuama. No, the Duke is a renaissance man musician, recent Artist in Residence at the Lyric Theatre and teaching songwriting at Queens University.

In the end Longley’s work suits Duke Special perfectly. It is the most successful poetry turned songs collaboration that there is. It is lyrical, it is full of images and asks some metaphysical questions. The opening Another Wren seeks “whatever the key in which God exists’ and on A Questionnaire For Walter Mitty my favourite lines:


“And Walter Mitty how would you define

The water walker who made the water wine
Was it Christ the God

Was it Christ the man?”


As well at the spiritual questioning and probing, that has been a recurring theme in Duke Special’s work, there are the characters, brothers, granddaughters and the aforementioned Lena Hardy.

Very best of all, and most moving, is The Ice-Cream Man about John Larmour who was looking after his brother’s ice cream shop, Barnum’s on the Lisburn Road, when he was shot dead. On this track, Longley reads the poem himself and then talks about getting a letter from the Ice Cream Man’s Mother and how it was one of his most treasured possessions. the power of the poem and the appreciation of the poet when he captures it is all in there in a cathartic poem about our Northern Irish Troubles.

If you want a wee bit more thought and literary brilliance with your music, then the Duke Special/Michael Longley collaboration is just for you! 


Shankill bomb

Today at 1.06pm I was in West Kirk Presbyterian Church standing in silence while school girls laid wreaths outside and a bell rang nine times, one for each member of the Shankill community who lost their lives, at exactly that minute twenty five years ago. The Memorial Service was poignant. Rev David Clawson spoke from Psalm 116, emotionally read by Zoe McBride who lost her mother in the bomb. There was the reality of the great loss but a look to God for grace and hope.  

If we include one of the bombers ten people lost their lives, when Frizzell's fish shop was blown apart. The bomb intended for leaders of the UDA, who the bombers thought were meeting upstairs, went off prematurely, killing those that the bombers had planned to have leave the shop at gun point before the bomb went off. It was one of the bloodiest days in The Troubles and sparked a wave of killings in retaliation, including the Greysteel massacre, one week later, when eight civilians lost their lives.

I was living in Dublin in 1993. I remember that in the days following the Shankill bombing I was advised not to drive north in my car. The Dublin registration plates would have made me a legitimate target for loyalist paramilitaries who would have immediately assumed I was a Catholic! I had been verbally abused and many vulgar signs had been given to me while I had those registration plates. Now, it might have cost me my life.

Why the Shankill bombing resonates with me today is that I have come to know and work on 4 Corners Festival events with Alan McBride. Alan tragically lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law John Frizzell in the bomb. John owned the fish shop. Sharon was working there that Saturday morning. Alan works for WAVE helping others affected by The Troubles and is a real ambassador for peace.

Alan once shared with Fr Martin Magill and I about where Sharon would have been in the shop and how she would have welcomed the bombers in, unaware of their heinous intent, and that what was about to unfold would give her utterly no chance of survival. It makes the Shankill bomb a little more personal to me.

Yet, today I want to remember all of those killed in the Troubles and the injured who are often times forgotten. Fifty people were injured in the Shankill bombing. Thirteen in Greysteel. As I type about these events I find it difficult to believe that our wee country could do such things to one another. That callous disregard for other human beings. The tit for tat murders that were a part of our lives for thirty five years is almost incomprehensible. 

Yet, as as we remember Sharon and John and the others, 13-year-old Leanne Murray, Michael Morris, Evelyn Baird and their seven-year-old daughter Michelle, George and Gillian Williamson, and Wilma McKee, let us make sure we never go back to such atrocities. Let us call our political, church and community leaders to lead us into a more peaceful future. Let us be leaders ourselves in our homes, in our work and neighbourhood.

I am aware today that the family of Thomas Begley, the IRA bomber killed when the bomb exploded prematurely, will also mourn a son or brother. Let us demand from our leaders, and ourselves, that we do not get complacent but make radical calls and brave compromises to ensure that young hearts do not get filled with such hatred that they would murder others for their cause.

Alan McBride himself has been calling today for our leaders to get back up to Stormont to lead us away from such a past. Arlene Foster was there today. We beg you Arlene to not just stand with the bereaved today but work in ways that will prevent such grief in the future.

We need to remember the wounds of our past in ways that heal our future. I know it is my mantra but I cannot get away from the Christian concept of grace. Grace tells us about a God that moves first to remove enmity and is an unconditional power that forgives the past and gives an opportunity of something brand new. Indeed the most astonishing part of the Jesus story is that instead of asking those who had hurt him to do penance he took the crime against him upon himself to make the peace! 

On my! That is a thought for the week ahead when we remember such hurt!


Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be into the fourth part of our 10:10 in Ten sermon series. Having connected upwards to God last Sunday we will be looking inwards this week. What is it that God wants to do within us? How does he want us to change? We will be looking at Galatians 5 and the work we should be seeing the Holy Spirit doing within our lives. Tomorrow is a Fitzroy Special in that the singing, praying, preaching part of the service will be over in 45 minutes... yes, 45 minutes... that last half hour will be for the browsing of the programmes/mission/events that go on connected to Fitzroy! Come and get a flavour of who we are!

In the evening (7pm) I will be leading a short, informal reflective communion service. This will be made up of songs for reflections, prayers, poems, meditations and scripture. Expect some great songs leading us to deep souled thoughtful on how we are living 10:10.



“What does it mean when

You promise someone

No matter how hard

Or whatever may come

It means that I won't give in,

Won't give in

Won't give in

Cause everyone I love is here,

Say it once, and disappear.”

-      From Won’t Give In by The Finn Brothers


This is the one of the best Finn Brothers co-writes, maybe second only to their Crowded House classic Weather With Me. I love the song and I use it in a pastoral sense for myself very regularly.  The actual context of the song seems to be about marriage and family and that commitment to the long haul. That “What does it mean when/You promise someone/No matter how hard/Or whatever may come” seems to be a good question to ask a culture that skips in and out of wedding vows as if there is absolutely no substance to the promises made at all.

Won’t Give In is a mighty song of resilience and commitment. Here are two character traits often lacking in my own soft and spoiled western soul never mind the wider society around me. Neil and Tim Finn have conjured a powerful few moments of modern pop that can somehow steel up your spine, lift your head and jut your neck out at whatever the world is throwing at you.

Every time I listen to Won’t Give In it gives a spiritual strength to whatever the struggle or fracture might be. It gives fortitude to hold on to whatever you believe in. That could then be applied to any area of life’s important commitments. It might be your marriage, your family or your job. It might be your faith in God. It might be your vision for changing the world. 

Many times, in a Church in Guguletu, on the Cape Flats just outside Cape Town we a song at the end of the AIDS section of the service called Never Give Up. Strength for the fight welled up in your soul and your heart. Songs can do that. Won’t Give In does that for me.



Stockman 1

Next week (Oct 26 & 27, 2017) I will again be performing my poetry, this time at The Scottish Baptist Assembly (info here - I thought I would reblog this piece  about my reluctant poetry career!

I started dabbling in poetry at maybe 12 or 13. There had been a guy in Primary School who wrote and I guess the creative aspect of it appealed to me. I couldn’t sing or paint. Maybe I could rhyme words. I found out that I could. The rhymes were relatively easy but the other words and non rhyming lines in between were a little harder. If truth be told I have probably got away with the rhyming, hiding the average lines in between, for nearly 40 years. At least from those who don’t know!

I discovered faith at 17. I started to follow Jesus. That gave me something else that had been missing. Something to say. At the same time I discovered Bob Dylan and though I never dared reach to be anything like him, those rhymes improved and even some decent lines in between started to appear.

So, I used poetry as my spiritual diary. I used it in my preaching, which in my early twenties was concentrated on youth missions where a wee rhyming introduction might grab the attention and set the theme. I also used it to unpack the falling in and out of love that I was doing a little too regularly at the time. 

Then in 1990 I was going off on an Inter-Church Youth Trip to China. We needed to fund raise and I threw out, as a laugh, the idea of a poetry book. Someone picked up on the idea and before I knew it I was edited down 10 years of rhymes for a book. Being a charitable project and the fact that I was the youth speaker of the day it sold well and covered the trip.

It also made some fans! People would share how they had used it in Church or Youth Group or School. I guess that encouraged me. Though I mostly used the rhyme to untangle my own heart and head and soul, I did start writing for particular events. 

So, for the next ten years I printed up my own books at various times or used them for fundraisers for other Mission trips. 

I always thought that my work was more lyrics than poems, that they were more for songs than for the printed page. That’s why we called the very first book, Lyrics To Unwritten Tunes. A few people did try their hand at using them. Bryan Gormley did a a few and I Drove Back Into Belfast worked particularly well. Peter Morrow did some too. Horsy Morgan were the first guys to release anything on an album; Two Twigs Entwined worked particularly nicely. Brian Houston kindly used a poem on the sleeve notes of his debut record Crush.

Beginning to use music with the rhymes developed when ECONI, a Northern Irish reconciliation organisation, asked me to do a soundtrack for a short video, just after the IRA ceasefire in 1994. I worked with Iain Archer, his wife Miriam and Jonny Quinn (now Snow Patrol) on a poem, song, guitar piece called The News Was News Today. Iain’s guitar and Miriam and Iain’s harmonies lit up this piece. 

Iain and I worked on a few other collaborations and I also worked with Gareth Black, then guitar hero with local band Halcyon Days.

Sam Hill had been trying to use my lyrics for about 10 years when we decided to do a gig together in 2000. This was for the launch of my book Dare and instead of Sam doing a song and me a poem we tried to blend the two. This technique really worked and instead of poems with a swathe of music as mood, we used the song structure for a blend of my spoken word and Sam’s singing.

We were as surprised as anyone at how successful this sounded and Phil Baggaley picked up on what were doing and, before we knew it, we were in Gold Records studios in Derby recording Grace Notes. As an album I think it works but the industry didn’t seem to know what to do with it. We brought it out under the name Stevenson and Samuel and it was a thrill to play Greenbelt a couple of times and tour a little around England and Ireland. We even did Guernsey. We also got to work with Dave Clifton and Mark Edwards in the studio, and live we played with the awesome bass playing genius Steve Lawson and the wonderful fiddle player Helen Killick. Dave McNair did a gig or two on piano. Julie Lee even sang.

Had Sam and I lived closer I am sure we would have done more but distance and life got in the way. Grace Notes also came out the same year that I wrote Walk On;The Spiritual Journey of U2 and I remember thinking that the poetry was about to take second place to the prose. That has been proven to be true and I have written so much less in rhyme over the past 15 years.

I did do a couple of projects with Gordon Ashbridge, the photographer, and we brought out a couple of books but daily blogging has taken up the majority of my words. Last year I dragged all I had written over almost ten years together and self published two books; one of rhyming lyrics and the other liturgical poems, reflections and prayers.

In the last year I have enjoyed co-writing again. Jonny Fitch is a twenty year old songwriter who goes to Fitzroy and we have been doing the Bernie Taupin/Elton John thing. Some of it has worked very well particularly songs about our shared Ugandan trips.

So after years and years of not doing poetry I am invited to do two gigs in a week; actually three. As I have been chasing set lists today I have come to realise that over thirty years I probably have a decent enough wee book in the middle of all the other stuff. If there is a publisher out there…

If you are interested in investigating… or writing a song… then find most of my stuff on this blog page. 



1990 - Lyrics To Unwritten Tunes

1992 - Through A Dark Reflection

1995 - My Mystery, Her Beauty & His Holy Ghost

1997 - Skeletons

2000 - Dare

2001 - Grace Notes - Stevenson and Samuel (CD album with Sam Hill)

2004 - Eyes Open, Open Wide (with photographer Gordon Ashbridge)

2008 - Sad… and Beautiful Place (with photographer Gordon Ashbridge)

2015 - Awkward Dancers and Audacious Dreamers

2015 - Reflections, Poems and Benedictions