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April 2018


Moodies Voyagers

In an English essay during my GCSEs entitled, “If You Could Be Anybody Else, Who Would It Be?” I chose to write about Justin Hayward. Oh, I would have technically preferred George Harrison but wrote in the essay that I chose Hayward because he was a rock star but less recognisable and could probably still live a reasonably normal life. No idea what mark Mrs Sloan gave me but I enjoyed the essay. It was probably one of my first efforts at writing about music.

What this all reveals is that around 1977 I was a big fan of The Moody Blues. Indeed I think Santa brought me Hayward’s solo record Songwriter, Hayward and John Lodge’s Blue Jays record and The Moodies’ To Our Children’s Children’s Children. I was sixteen and though almost two years before I discovered faith I had started seeking music that was more than bubble gum pop and asking questions about the meaning of human existence. My developing pop fan self loved Nights In White Satin and that led me to their albums. The Moody Blues even had a hit called Questions:


Why do we never get an answer

When we're knocking at the door

With a thousand million questions

About hate and death and war?

When we stop and look around us

There is nothing that we need

In a world of persecution

That is burning in its greed


So, over the years, I have returned again and again to The Moody Blues, particularly what have been become renowned as the seven classic albums between Days Of Future Past and Seventh Sojourn. Everytime I have a Moody Blues’ phase, which usually lasts for a couple of months, I am always scrambling for a book to help me delve deeper into the music. Nothing!

Until now. To coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the release of Days Of Future Past, there is finally a biography! Do not think, that it is a cheap, quickly put together cash in. Marc Cushman’s Long Distance Voyager has over 800 pages and is only Volume One, stopping the tracking of the Voyager before the album of the same name as the book was even released, stopping for its break after 1978’s Octave and the tour that followed.

Cushman has done a thorough work of research. He does only speak to two members of the seventies line up Pinder and Thomas but he has traced every possible interview that there has been and there are very few gaps that he has left. Indeed, what we have after all these years is a compilation of books in one. There’s the biography that tells us of the origins, business side, the changes in personnel and how albums are made. 

Then there is song by song. Cushman does a great job on this. This is my favourite part of rock writing. I love insights into the inside stories of the songs and what they might mean, what influenced them and how collaborations worked. Cushman has it all. 

Added to that is another book within a book. John Blaney has made a career out of books on solo Beatles that go further than the song by song but adds the collector’s side with photographs of artwork etc. It is all in here.

Cushman is a fan and wants his book, as he has said himself, to be as positive as the music he is writing about. It is pro Moodies but never a hagiography. Neither does it invade the privacy of the band with any sensational scandal. It sticks to what it should stick to, the making of great music by great musicians, and actually a great producer, and how it came about!

If you are a Moody Blues fan at all, then this is what we have been waiting for… and it was well worth the wait! 


CAVAN photos




SUNDAY MAY 13, 2018 @ 7pm

FITZROY (77 University Street, Belfast BT7 1HL)


Northern Ireland photographer David Cavan is not new to bringing his camera to some of the world's neediest situations. Working for TEARFUND he was been using his deepest gladness to photograph the world's deepest needs for some years.

Bidi Bidi, in northern Uganda, has been on our news for a few years now. The biggest refugee camp in the world it has taken in over 1million people escaping over the border from the bloody conflict in South Sudan.

In March, David was in Bidi Bidi with Alain Emerson and Fields of Life. The photograph at the top of this blog is one of there photographs David took. At this event I will chat with David about photography, how you take photographs in such a sensitive place, how much power a photograph has in changing the world and how it impacts the guy looking through the lens. 

David will be showing his photographs too. 



Lavery Sweet Decay

When I heard that Ciaran Lavery was working with Iain Archer I was very excited. I had been watching Lavery’s trajectory from Kosher to Let Bad In, from a sound very close to Ryan Adams, though, I would imagine completely unintentionally even nearer to Romantica’s Ben Kyle, to finding his own voice. I loved Let Bad In but there were moments when I needed a more memorable melody to lift Lavery another league higher. Archer could sure do that.

Well, only one of the Archer songs remain, Two Days In Savannah, and though I think it is the best song here, the accessibility throughout is much stronger. Lavery is still ascending. 

If anything the influences I hear most on Sweet Decay are his local peers. He has always seemed closely related to Stevie Scullion of Malojian but there are dollops of David C Clements particularly in the opening Everything Is Made To Last, 13 and Morning Bell, which is even based around the word hurricane, a song title on Clements’ brilliant debut album The Longest Day In History. That both Clements and Lavery are channeling their love of Bruce Springsteen might make that inevitable.

All in all though this is the fulfilling of ginormous potential that I had hoped for. Songs of love and loss and mortality with a few soul dives too:


Maybe Jesus knows my name

I can't be sure, I can't be sure

I sin like an every day man

Nothing ever goes to plan

(Everything Is made To Last)




“Do you ever feel like Jesus Christ?

'Cause you're holding yourself like you're bound to leave this life

I feel like a motor car with nowhere to go

Time is just a cigarette and my life is smoke”

(Morning Bell)


Using Jesus and a car as images in the same verse is quite something but Lavery’s honesty, depth of spirit and catharsis of emotion is going to make him a favourite at Greenbelt where he plays this year.

I love everything this Aghagallon songwriter has released to date but Sweet Decay is best of all. There is lovely variety in instrumentation, arrangement and thus ambience. It has the build up crescendos in Wells Tower Song, strident guitars in 13 and the tenderest delicacy of Wicked Teeth. Sweet Decay is more layered, imaginative, richer and thus more enthralling than Let Bad Out… and even better on every listen!



There are family compromises when it comes to some music. You need to pick the compromises cleverly. I have been down to listen to Ed Sheeran and even become a fan of NeedToBreathe. 

George Ezra? There’s another. Janice is taken with his voice. He’s in the pool of what my daughters think is cool. We bought tickets for a family gig in Belfast in August. Like I said, pick the compromises cleverly. I’m an old school singer songwriter fan so, though I would prefer Jackson or Joni, a night with my family would be far from ruined listening to George Ezra.

I got hold of the record just to see what I was getting into and it has spent a lot of compromised family time in the car stereo. Can I confess that I even listened to it a couple of times when I was in the car on my own! 

As a pop record this is pretty good. I soon realised that one of the reasons might be that Ezra co-wrote most of the songs with Joel Pott from Athlete. To find out where some of Ezra’s inventive melodies and rhythms come from check out Athlete’s El Salvador and You Got The Style. 

What really caught my attention on Staying At Tamara’s was the opening track. There are other songs that catch for a moment; Saviour for obvious and Sugarcoat with its setting in Cape Town. For me though, the lyrical intrigues are not plentiful apart from the opening track Pretty Shining People.

Behind a title, almost stolen from REM, Ezra sets his generation in the turmoil of Trump and Brexit:


‘Me and Sam in the car, talking 'bout America

Heading to the wishing well, we've reached our last resort

I turned to him said: "Man help me out

I fear I'm on an island in an ocean full of change

Can't bring myself to dive in to an ocean full of change"


He goes on:


“He said: "Why why, what a terrible time to be alive

If you're prone to over thinking and

Why why, what a terrible time to be alive

If you're prone to second guessing”



Ezra touches on the lottery winning dream of wealth but concludes that love and community are the only things getting us through these terrible times. As social commentary or getting my daughters generation to do some thinking I really quite of like it!


Building Peace


The Good Friday Agreement,


We give you thanks

For the prayers, played by so many for so many years, finally answered

For the miracle grace time peace we have enjoyed for 20 years

We give you thanks that we know longer fear bombs or bullets

Or morning news headlines

We thank you for all of those people alive today because of our peace

We thank you for a city thriving with night life

With development, opportunities, art, imagination and hopefulness

We thank you that we do not remember being searched every time we went in

We thank you for a generation who has no idea what this prayer is about

We thank you for the new relationships

On the ground

Between Churches

And even tenuously, as it is, among politicians

We thank you Lord for the Good Friday Agreement and the peace makers who made it and continue to make it possible.


Lord we ask for your forgiveness

When we have frustrated the potential of the Agreement

With those we have voted for

When we have put the new wine of peace into old wineskins

When we have lived the past in the present and curtailed the future

When we have continued to live in our apartheid area rather than love neighbour

And beyond that followed your clarion call to love our enemies

Lord we celebrate the Good Friday Agreement at a time of void and impasse

We feel frustrated and sometimes angry

Lord forgive us for the part we play in frustrating your miracle Grace time peace.


Lord give us resilience

Help us to see that coming out of conflict is long and hard

Give us patience with each other

Give us patience with the politicians 

In the delicate task that they have of leading the communities that for them

To come with them on the journey of bringing well being to everyone

And help us to make our contribution in bringing hurting, hating communities together in peace

Lord, when we take the inevitable step back

Help us to hear Ignatius advice

To run towards your doubts

May we not run from the challenge 

But constantly recommit 

Help us to try and try and try again

Lord we have no choice but to be involved in the long haul of trying

You call us to peace making

You give us a ministry of reconciliation

Your gift of grace in Jesus

And his death and resurrection are your example

That we should follow

Particularly in a divided, sectarian, violent place very like the one he taught us from

So, Lord give us your resilience and mercy and wisdom

To be involved in your miracle grace time peace

As the Father sent Jesus into a work of reconciliation

Send us 

To bring your shalom

On the streets of Northern Ireland 

As they are in heaven

In the name of the Prince of Peace we pray



Fitzroy Board

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will be looking at being witnesses. Who were the first disciples to Jesus resurrection?Jesus told the disciples that they were witnesses. We will look at what they ere to be witnesses to? More important for us we will see what we as followers of Jesus are witnesses to today? We will be asking what are the barriers to us doing that? Is the modern view of Christianity a hindrance to us standing up for our faith; the radicalism of religion and evangelicals support of Trump?

In the evening (7pm) we have a treat on Faith and Science. Fitzroy have a most thoughtful contributor to that in Neville Cobbe. Tomorrow Neville will speak under the title Chance and Necessity. His talk will explore to what extent evolution by natural selection really is a random process as often popularly communicated. He will ask how this relates to our understanding of God's activity on Creation.  

GREGORY THORNBURY - Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock

Larry Norman biog

A few years ago I watched a film Fallen Angel about about Larry Norman by David Di Sabatino that stopped me listening to Norman’s music for years. It was a sledgehammer on Larry Norman’s character and as I look back a little imbalanced. Larry Norman was the rock musician who most changed and shaped my life. I was uneasy listening to Norman anymore, after Di Sabatino’s film.

I am delighted to say that Gregory Thornbury’s book with the short snappy title of Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock has Larry’s albums back out of exile. Thornbury’s book is no hagiography but it gives a balance to Norman’s eccentric life. 

Thornbury sets the book off explaining the adversarial nature of Larry Norman’s gripping stage show where he was oftentimes beginning with a rant at the sound man, usually both for having it loud enough which was another confrontations with folk music and the hymns of the Church. Every chapter heading is a confrontation Jesus Verses organised Religion, Jesus Versus The Critics, Jesus Versus Pamela (Larry’s first wife) Jesus Versus Frenemies,  even Jesus Versus Soviets, and Jesus Versus Playboy!

When I say that I got my Larry Norman albums out again. I have 50 of them! I know this man’s work. I have been longing for a biography for years. Indeed if he hadn’t been such a complex character I would have written a book myself but I feared a chapter called Versus Steve Stockman! What I am saying here is that I already knew well the skeleton outline of Norman’s life. What Thornbury has done beautifully is put flesh and muscle on. The research is good. Indeed, Thornbury had access to letters and papers of Norman’s the existence of which says something about the artist’s paranoia.

So I didn't know about his childhood or that his first wife Pamela was such a high profile model. There are details of his setting up of Solid Rock Record and the sad relational fall out. Even a journey into Russia is enlightening. Thornbury has filled in the story.

Where I was asking for more was in the music itself. I am a serial rock biography reader and I love spending a long chapter in an album, finding out the personal and social context’s that give us the meaning of the song, a little about the writing process and how it was all put together. I listen to the album as I read the chapter! Yes, there were some insights but I would have liked much more, particularly about Only Visiting This Planet, In Another Land and much later Stranded In Babylon. 

All in all though this is a very satisfying read for anyone who has been a fan or who has had their life impacted by the charismatic performer that Norman was.

That is what I was reminded of. I have lived and ministered for almost 40 years constantly suspicious of the way that religiosity or churchianity get in the way of the life, message and mission of the authentic Jesus. What reading the book made me realise was that without Larry Norman I could never have made sense of the first century Jesus and his 20th Century relevance. As a seventeen year old the Church simply could not reveal to me the incarnated revolutionary that Jesus was and is.

I have always been aware of that moment when I put the needle down on the vinyl of In Another Land. In that first rock sound of The Rock That Doesn’t Roll I discovered a 20th century Jesus and on the week that God proved his existence to me. That was a fulcrum moment in my life.

I had forgotten though how much the spiritual formation of my thinking and my practical discipleship was honed by the songs and concert conversation/sermonettes of this maverick follower of Jesus.

That reminder, or maybe first time realisation, was a lovely refreshment to my journey of faith today. Thank you Gregory Thornbury for a fine biography and redeeming Larry Norman so that he could point me to the one who redeemed us all!  


Loyalist Statement

The opening event of the 2018 4 Corners Festival back in February saw the church hall in St Michael’s just off the Shankill Road packed to over flowing. We heard stories about how Loyalism had not only been a resilient advocate of peace and the Good Friday Agreement but that actually Loyalist leaders were intellectually shaping such peace for at least twenty years before the ceasefires. 

That myth of loyalist leaders as neanderthals was put to rest as we heard about their Common Sense document in 1987 being almost a template for the Good Friday Agreement itself. William McQuiston and Martin Snodden took us into some history that many of us did not know! 

This was an evening for Loyalism to have a voice, an articulate and progressive voice. A voice that we hear far too little of in the media or public sphere. Journalist Brian Rowan, former Presbyterian Moderator Rev Dr Ken Newell and Professor Monica McWilliams all spoke in glowing terms about the intellect, integrity and forward thinking of David Ervine, Plum Smith and Ray Smallwood to name a few.

Rev Dr Ken Newell and PSNI Chief Constable George Hamilton, in one of a variety of speeches from the floor, both asked why Loyalism hadn’t grown or developed since those glory days of the mid 90s. David Ervine’s funeral was mentioned many times during the evening. The death of such a visionary leader, so young, had dealt a blow to loyalism’s progressive nature. Newell in a spiritual way and Hamilton in policing terms asked for the courage within contemporary loyalism to sort the wheat from the chaff, the criminals from the progressive leaders.

Perhaps on Monday we heard Loyalism’s answer to Newell and Hamilton. The joint statement issued by The Ulster Defence Association, Ulster Volunteer Force and Red Hand Commando read by Alan Harper, former Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh is clear that criminality has no place in today’s loyalism - “We reject and repudiate as unacceptable and contrary to loyalist principles any criminal action claimed to have been undertaken in our name or attributed to any individual claiming membership of one of our organisations.”

The Loyalist Declaration of Transformation is released with potent poignancy on the eve of the 20th Anniversary of the Agreement. This is a time to look back and forward, particularly in the light of our current political impasse. It would be very welcome indeed if the ambition and spirit of the Statement is taken up across our political landscape. 

When they say, “it is time to recommit to the creation of a Northern Ireland that enables all to realise their potential and aspirations.” Preach it! 

“For too long we have been berated for our past and not able to imagine a better future.” Amen!

“Any community left behind in that ambition represents a failure not only for the peace process but for Northern Ireland as a whole.” Communal wisdom indeed.

It should not be a surprise that this Loyalist statement has been met with suspicion, cynicism and in some quarters immediately dismissal. There is little doubt that we are judged on our deeds and not our well crafted words. The proof will be in the pudding. 

Another speaker at this year’s 4 Corner’s Festival was Stephen Travers one of the Miami Showband who was shot in an ambush on the A1 after a concert in Banbridge in July 1975 that left three of his fellow band members dead. After Monday’s Statement, Stephen tweeted, “My first encounter with The UVF and others in 1975 resulted in The Miami Showband Massacre and my attempted murder. However, the statement today is clearly the result of intense efforts by all three loyalist organisations to create a better future and I wish them every success.”

Shouldn’t we all? Along with Stephen, we are prayerfully willing to read the words of The Loyalist Declaration of Transformation and watch with hope to see the next phase of loyalism develop.

Pray with us, 

Rev Steve Stockman and Fr Martin Magill.


EP Kingfisher

I have been surmising over these last few days about how I feel on the 20th Anniversary of our Good Friday Agreement here in Northern Ireland.

For the past few years I have been privileged to contribute on the edges of our Northern Irish peace making process. I inherited the world renowned Clonard/Fitrzoy Fellowship when I became minister of Fitzroy in 2009, with my good friend Fr Martin Magill I set in motion the 4 Corners Festival to break down the apartheid areas of Belfast, and I have been asked to speak at various Conferences and gatherings. I feel that in some small way I have made an investment in peace. It would be therefore easy to feel discouraged and I do, as my father-in-law might say “manys a time and oft”. 

On Easter week we showed a film in Fitzroy by my good friend Greg Fromholz. It is about theologian and author Eugene Peterson. One story Eugene told in that film has me focused afresh. Eugene told Greg’s camera about sitting one morning in his idyllic lakeside home in Montana watching a kingfisher. The kingfisher was looking for fish. Eugene watched him dive. No fish. He dived again… then again… and again. 37 times! “37 times,” Eugene marvelled… “and he is the KING fisher!” he smiled. 

Eugene applied his Kingfisher watch to pastors. They try and fail… “but have they tried 37 times?” he asked.

In the twenty years since our agreement there have been many dives. We are still diving. Every now and then we catch a fish and dine out on progress. Often times we have to fly back up to our perch in the tree, preen a few damaged feathers, scan the scene again and have another dive!

I am not the KING of peacemaking so I will need more dives. This week though the word in my soul is resilience. The journey out of conflict, learning the language and posture of peace after horrific discord takes time. 20 years seems a lengthy time but I believe it is no time at all in this along haul for a better day. Shalom is a long commitment. Like the Kingfisher, let us keep on keeping on.

I had written these words before hearing Senator George Mitchell, broker of the Good Friday Agreement, speaking after a perfomance of A Further Shore at the Lyric Theatre. On the eve of the Anniversary of the Agreement he shared his own very personal story of having to keep diving, like that Kingfisher.

Mitchell told us that after over 700 days of negotiating and getting nowhere, George Mitchell flew back to America ready to give up on our peace process. Then his son Andrew was born and, as he held him in his arms one late night, his heart went out not only to his own son but the 61 children born in Northern Ireland that same day. He committed himself to giving those children the same peace his son was born into and decided when he succeeded he would call it Andrew’s Peace.

George Mitchell was our Kingfisher. Never giving up. Resilient until he got it!

In these last few days I have also been feeling thankful The streets of my country and the morning new bulletins are a far cry from the bloody horrific mess of the years and years of bombs and bullets and death and fear. Relationships on the ground are better. Oh those relationships are fragile but they are there. Belfast is a vibrant place. Peacemaking is a very satisfying part of my ministry and I am grateful and privileged to meet the people I have.

I have also been feeling frustrated. This current impasse and seemingly hopeless stand off between the DUP and Sinn Fein while real politics on the ground go undone angers me. There are moments that I want to knock a few seemingly very hard heads together.... or find a heart! I want visionary and courageous leadership that at times seems very far off. I am impatient with our dealing with the past particularly when it threatens our future. I need patience. Twenty years is a short time in our very long history of conflict. 

So we are back to resilience, my word of this particular week. To be truthful I do not have an option. I need to find resilience and I need to live resilience. To give in and give up would be a denial of my faith. That moment almost 40 years ago when I decided to follow Jesus, if I was serious about it, was a commitment to peace making and loving my enemy. That is not to somehow be given up on if we don’t catch a fish on the first dive. As a follower of the Prince of Peace I march on… or most of the time stumble on… to bring the peace of God’s Kingdom in Northern Ireland as it is in heaven. I’m up for it!


Eyes and Cross

This morning in Fitzroy, Neville Cobbe was preaching and he shaped the liturgy. I found myself doing a Communion between the songs Open Our Eyes and Breathe On Us, Breath of God.

I was immediately drawn to Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1... 

18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.


OPEN OUR EYES (Approaching Communion Prayer)


Open the eyes of our hearts

In this bread and wine 

Enlighten us to your compassionate love

Lord, open the eyes of our minds

To another way of thinking

Where the first become last,

A servant obedient to death

So that the last, might become first

Heirs of God

Joint heirs with Jesus.

Lord, open the eyes of our souls

To this invitation to follow

Oh Lord, help us see that it is costly

Denying ourselves

Taking up our crosses

Being broken and poured out

To follow you

BUT Lord, help us also to see that

What you gift us by grace

This 10:10 life in all its fulness

Far outweighs the cost.

Lord, enlighten the eyes of our hearts

In this holy sacrament

In order that we may know 

The hope to which you have called us

The riches of your glorious inheritance in your holy people, 

And your incomparably great power for us who believe. 


Lord, we give you thanks

And Lord, in this bread and wine

Do a mysterious thing…

We await your envisioning.


BREATHE ON US (The Rising From Communion Prayer)


LORD, as we rise to go

Breathe on us

Your resurrection life

Breathe on us your compassion

And your love for others

Breathe on us your family unity

That we might be one

As Jesus prayed we would be.

Lord, breathe on us renewed minds

That we might be transformed

And not conformed to the world around us

Breathe on us your vision

For a Kingdom coming

Where your will would be done 

Here on earth

As it is in heaven

Breathe on us your call to go

And quip us by your Spirit’s breath

To be your hands and feet

And minds and hearts

And if necessary your mouth

To share the Good News

Of this broken bread

And potent sin killing wine.


Lord, as we rise, to go 

Breathe on us

Your resurrection life.