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February 2019

January 2019


Houston The Pelvis

Music has always been a vital ingredient of the 4 Corners Festival. 2019’s Festival is no different.

Following successful evenings in the last two years with Iain Archer and Ricky Ross we have the wonderful Brian Houston in the spotlight at our annual In Conversation. Brian will sing his best work and maybe rare and new songs in between chatter and banter with Steve Stockman. How Belfast has influenced his work and this year’s Festival theme of Scandalous Forgiveness will also feature. An East Belfast man in a West Belfast chapel on the Falls. Typically 4 Corners!

BRIAN HOUSTON IN CONVERSATION - St. Johns, Tuesday 5th Feb @ 7.30pm


The New Irish Arts are not new to the Festival. A few years ago they performed No Greater Love, their piece on World War 1 in Clonard Monastery. This year they are writing a special work to throw another angle on this year’s theme. A beautiful eclectic choral and orchestral concert with stories and music about grace and forgiveness in the beautiful setting of St. Peter's Cathedral. 

AMAZING GRACE - St. Peter’s Cathedral, Saturday Feb 9th @ 7.30pm


Though those are the only major music events this year there are other musical contributions.

Our Radio Service that has Fr Greg Boyle as our main speaker will feature the Celtic Psalms of Kiran Wimberley and the McGrath family. They have released a few albums and their trad version of the Psalms brings out an Irish soulfulness. 

MORNING SERVICE - St Mary’s College, Sunday Feb 3rd @ 11am


At Sunday night’s event in Skainos where Greg will again be the main speaker, Dave Thompson will be singing. Dave released his debut album Newsprint Sky a few years ago and is even writing something influenced by Greg’s books.



On the final night we bring back Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kerkman. Beki won many fans at the final event of last year’s festival. They will play us out again with,  what might become the 4 Corners Festival theme, The Forgiveness Waltz, among other songs. 

TOWARDS A FORGIVING CITY - Clonard Monastery, Sunday Feb 10th @ 7pm





Ken Haddock is a rare gem in the musical crown of Belfast, a city whose crown is way above average in its number of precious stones.

Ken just shines. As a human being, he is an utter pleasure to be in the presence of - warm, gracious and humble. 

That humility is written in capital letters all over his music career. He has a website but that is for his photography! He’s only released two albums and an ep. Haddock has been playing residencies in Belfast bars for twenty plus years with no seeming desire to seek anything beyond the city limits. Either he is too laid back, lacking in any desire for stardom or has no idea just how good he is.

One Night In Willowfield is a declaration of just how good he is. It is a beautifully intimate recording of a man who sounds like he is his front room playing to his mates. Needless to say that Haddock has added no overdubs. It is as it sounded on the night. What he did add to the evening was the Acro Quartet with some gorgeous string arrangements. Ken’s band are pretty tasty too.

Yet it is Ken Haddock that shines. That voice. So soulful. Van meets John Martyn. One moment  vulnerable, the next moment brawn. Every moment emotive. A well aged whiskey would sound like this. As he sings you feel that you are hearing experience of life and heart and soul.

When you are doing residencies you’ll always need the cover songs. Over the years Ken Haddock has become a talented interpreter. He eeks the spiritual out of Bruce Cockburn’s Southlands Of The Heart, gives REM’s Losing My Religion a fascinating arrangement and interesting setting, though it is not technically about religion, and best of all, a poignant Both Sides Now. Oh my!

Yet, maybe most surprising for a guy as parochial as Haddock is the strength of his own songs. Word By Word, Diamond Girl and Day That Never Came just three highlights in this set.

Dare I suggest that the setting of a Church suits the work of Ken Haddock. Those lines in Word By Word - “We felt the world turning below us, in silence/A reverent hush as we made our holy embrace” - betray a sacredness in his writing. Having grown up in Church, Ken probably frequents it a lot less these days. Some might suggest that that made his faith smaller but I wonder if Ken is presenting God as bigger!

A wonderful night in Willowfield!

you can buy One Night In Willowfield at Jack's Cafe, Eastside Visitor's Centre, CS Lewis Square, 402 Newtownards Road, Belfast




Blog readers know that I have been fighting a UTI since late October. Much as I hoped I would be well enough to fulfil my American trip in February, speaking at Geneva College in Pennsylvania, Terra Nova Church in Ohio, Calvin College in Michigan and Taylor University in Indiana, I came to my senses yesterday and realised that it was beyond my body's strength just now.

After a medical procedure in March I should be back to full health and strength and will feel better about all the travelling, as well as feeling more creative with the speaking.

The plan is to re-schedule the tour for the autumn. Watch this space!

Apologies to all of those who need to rearrange in America and deep gratitude for your understanding! Thank you Lisa Ho for being utterly amazing!


Operating Theatre

Many of you will know, I shared it in a blog around New Year, that I have been suffering from UTIs. It is now three months of infections and antibiotics. I am currently on my eighth antibiotic. It has not been fun. 

It is now diagnosed and I will be in hospital for a procedure and overnight in March. 

Operating theatres make me apprehensive. I am sure I not alone. Are you ever as vulnerable as you are on a hospital trolley, at the mercy of strangers, no matter how well they are qualified?! Will it be painful? In my case it might! 

Yet, when you are suffering, you are almost eager to get in there. Do something! Make me well!

As well as apprehension, there is anticipation. I am already dreaming of being well again, not being constantly tired as I fight off infections and antibiotics. I am imagining being free from the pain. Feeling creative. 

Doctors and consultants are a blessing when they can bring your life back to its full health and strength. 

God is the soul doctor. The soul surgeon.

To bring my life to the “life in all its fulness” of John 10:10, we need to be prepared to lie down in the operating theatre of the Holy Spirit.

We need to be prepared to be vulnerable before God. We need to be courageous about the pain. Of course we will be apprehensive.

Yet, the anticipation should excited us. To find ourselves living life in its fulness. To reach for the wonder of our fulfilled humanity.

Some of us grew up thinking that God was wanting us in surgery to spoil our fun, the confine our living. Such an impression of God will heighten our apprehension.

A healthy view of a loving God changes this. When we realise that God’s call to denial and cross carrying is actually to lead us to full humanity, not handicap us, then we will be more ready.

It might be forgiveness. Holding bitterness towards someone who has hurt us is a sure way to have our humanity robbed from us. The hurt they caused is added to with those twisted feelings of revenge churning within us. 

We might have a right for justice. Yet, something happening to another is rarely likely to heal the scars within us. God’s gift to such a pain of soul is to forgive. To let go. Then we can start again without that awful feeling deep down within us.

We will be apprehensive to forgive. We will be vulnerable, and it will almost always be a painful act, but God calls us to see the potential of rebirth and anticipate a better life when we come out of God’s theatre of soul surgery.



Elbow have been more than generous, over the years, with their extra tracks. I love this playlist and indeed would suggest that it is my favourite Elbow album! 


GOLDEN SLUMBERS (Beatles cover)

(from The Best Of...)


MERCY STREET (Peter Gabriel cover)

(from I'll Scratch Your Back)


WAY DOWN IN THE HOLE (Tom Waits' cover)

(from Dermot O'Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions 2011)



(from War Child Heroes)


THIS BLUE WORLD (acoustic)

(from This Blue World)


LIPPY KIDS (BBC Radio 2 Session)

from BBC Radio 2 - The Piano Room)


WORKING CLASS HEROES (John Lennon cover)

(from Uncut Lennon Covered #1)


BLACK MAGIC WOMAN (Fleetwood Mac cover)

(from Magicians soundtrack)


LIVE ON MY MIND (Bruce Cockburn cover)

(from Not A Job CD single)



(from Dermot O'Leary Presents The Saturday Sessions 2015)


THE NIGHT WILL ALWAYS WIN (Recorded at Manchester Cathedral)

(from BBC Radio 2: The Piano Room 2019)



(from Acoustic Rewind)


AUGUST & SEPTEMBER (The The cover)

(from Q: Best of 86/06)



(from Man Up soundtrack)


OPEN ARMS (Live From St. Paul's Cathedral)

(from Lippy Kids CD single)



(from Radio 1's Live Lounge Vol 2)


ABOUT TIME (acoustic version)

(from Powder Blue CD single)


SWITCHING OFF (acoustic)

(from Fugitive Motel CD single)


SOMETHING IN THE AIR (Thunderclap Newman cover)

(from NME One Love)






Cure Of Troy

With one of our committee being steeped in the dramatic arts it should be no surprise that we have always had some great drama events at the Festival. This year is particularly strong year.


BENEATH THE HARP AND CROWN - Coming To Terms With A Painful Past

February 2nd, 2019 @ 7.30pm - Agapé Centre, Lisburn Road, Belfast


Author and playwright, Philip Orr has been a friend of the Festival since the beginning. When some on the committee watched this recent play it seemed to fit so well with this year’s festival theme.

What would you do if you were a veteran Ulster Defence Regiment who got a letter from the man who killed your son, requesting a meeting?

Beneath The Harp and the Crown is a study of how to deal with the past, with a very human face.

Afre the play, Philip will Philip Orr will chair a panel discussion in which former Ulster Defence Regiment members will tell their own stories and offer their thoughts on whether reconciliation is possible.



THE CURE AT TROY - Does Hope and History rhyme?

February 4th, 2019 @ 7.30pm - Europa Hotel


The Cure At Troy includes those most famous of Seamus Heaney’s words:


History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up

And hope and history rhyme.


Bill Clinton has used them and U2 twisted to make a point on their song PeaceOn Earth. Hands up for the rest of us!

In the retelling of a Greek myth Heaney looks at the power of the victim in any conflict. He suggests that the wounded has the power to transform all of society by letting go of their bitterness. 

Have we learned the lessons of Heaney’s poem? Let us ask.

This is a rehearsed treading but features well known Belfast leaders including Glen Bradley, Sammy Douglas, Clare Hanna, Naomi Long and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. We are even more delighted that the poet Michael Longley has agreed to read that most famous section.


THEY STARTED IT - Exploring Forgiveness At School

February 7th, 2019 @ 7pm - Stranmillis College


4 Corners Festival has been working with the Play It By Ear Drama Group for a few years. They have a wonderful ability to use drama as a resource in teaching, whether in Church or schools or wherever,

For this event they have been working alongside pupils from all four corners from Belfast - Holy Cross Girls and Cavehill in the North; Botanic and Holy Rosary in the South; St Matthew’s and Victoria Park in the East and Glenwood and St Kevin’s in the West.

The play will look at what it means to forgive- for both the forgiven and the forgiver. There will be plenty of silliness, lots of laughs and hopefully moments which will get you thinking.

Very much a family friendly evening. 





“Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid
I remember that time that you told me, you said
Love is touching souls
Surely you touched mine
Cause part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time”

-      from A Case Of You by Joni Mitchell

I love telling the story that my friends in Lies Damned Lies told me. In the early 90s they were recording a record with renowned American producer Stewart Levine. One of his many pieces of advice was that you always hide the weakest track on side two, track four; no one will notice it there! That is where you’ll find A Case Of You on Joni Mitchell best ever record, Blue. Come on!

I fall in love with A Case Of You every time I play it! It is so crafted, so beautiful, so sad, so insightful, so objective in its emotionally raw subjectivity. The image of the beer mat in the blue TV screen light and how she gets “O Canada” in there. It also has this ability to be about the spiritually universal truth as well as the very specific individual honesty that is at its core.

The genius of a song to me is when the writer can be objective in their subjectivity. When a very personal story takes universal meaning. When in the details that are very personal to them seem to be about something very personal to us. A Case Of You is that song. I think it was Kris Kristofferson who on first hearing Blue said that it was too personally raw to release. It is. Yet it is about everybody too. 

Let me then, as the preacher, draw out a few key spiritual gems. Mitchell has spoken about her born again phase, unknown to the public, but seemingly very real in songs like Woodstock as well as this one. To be “frightened by the devil” but “drawn to those ain’t afraid.” Lovely.

What an image of the Church; a gathering of those who ain’t afraid of the devil and who in this context seem to be a place of refuge for those tossed about in their fear. Oh to create such a positive opinion of Church instead of the bad images I often get thrown at me as a minister; “God doesn’t live in most Churches!” or “I want to bring my kids up to learn about Jesus but not be institutionalised by having to attend Church.” Oh to find an authentic community that would draw the frightened.

 “Love is touching souls” is another great spiritual image and the declaration is that whoever this person is they have touched souls with tangible love; “surely you touched mine.” Oh to be a toucher of souls. Again a community showing this kind of love would be a community that would draw those beleaguered souls that, my reading of the Gospels suggests, Jesus wanted to touch.

Yet, this is not just about the Church as a community. In my own love life with my wife I need to be a toucher of Janice’s soul, bringing love and grace and healing. Indeed in all my relationships there is a need to reach into people’s souls. That is where it matters. That is where you can be involved in the transformation of lives and the world. The All You Need Is Love of The Beatles needs to have a pragmatic outworking. It is not a hippie slogan to chant or believe, it is a philosophy of life to be implemented in every personal engagement we have in every single day of our lives whether they are fleeting accidental meetings or scheduled and lengthy dairy dates. Touch souls. Change the world!


















Me and Bri

If you haven't seen Springsteen On Broadway, then get over to Netflix now! It is a gripping watch.

Belfast’s equivalent to Springsteen on Broadway is Houston On The Falls. I am incredibly excited that the 4 Corners Festival’s follow up to the Conversation and Concerts with Iain Archer in 2017 and Ricky Ross 2018 is Brian Houston in 2019.

When I started hosting my radio show on BBC Radio Ulster, that ran from 1996 to 2006, Brian Houston was my first interview and session. He was a regular in the studio with me, chatting about new records and he played live shows from the BBC studios, the Ulster Hall and even a floating stage on the Lagan.

I’ve been a fan of Brian’s music since I discovered his single, with his band Mighty Fall, in a record shop in Wimbledon around 1991. I knew him well enough by the time of his first solo CD Crush that I had the privilege of writing a poem for the sleeve and I even got to write the sleeve notes for his first worship album In The Words of Dr Luke. 

Brian Houston comes from the same corner of Belfast as Van Morrison and CS Lewis. On February 5th I will be asking Brian what there is in the east Belfast water that that corner of our city produces such artistic imagination.

We will talk about Brian’s childhood in the Braniel and how his guitar arm was saved by one Michael Stone! I will ask about his early musical influences and how he came to play Belfast pubs on a Saturday night and Belfast Churches on Sunday morning.

We will discuss his catalogue of work, the songwriter, the rocker, the worship leader and the Gospel blues. There are not many music artists anywhere who have taken on the variety of genres Brian Houston has… and succeeded every single time. From the lo-fi beginning of Crush, to the professional rock/pop production of Good News Junkie, to the songwriter craft of The Valley to the worship songs of Jesus and Justice to the rocked up Gospel of Shelter and then the Irish Trad of Songs Of My Father. Where do we begin… and what songs to ask him to sing?!?!?!

We will come right up to date and hear about his latest desire to bring out his Irish heritage in the music. We might get an east Belfast Protestant singing in Irish in a Catholic Church on the Falls Road in West Belfast! 

The theme for 4 Corners Festival this year is Scandalous Forgiveness. Do we need to forgive each other our separate cultures of those who cross the sectarian red lines we seem to have drawn.

Expect humour, vulnerability and honesty. Expect the lyrical prophetic depth charge in the conversation as well as the songs. Expect it to be a little like Springsteen on Broadway but be ready for the Houston factor and the Belfast effect! 


event free but register HERE




Komoret 1

A year ago this week, I visited Karamoja in north eastern Uganda with Trevor Stevenson, the founder of Fields of Life. 

This week I watched with joy, and not a little jealousy, as Trevor went back to Karamoja to open Komoret Primary School. It was another glorious story in Trevor’s emotional journey with Fields of Life in East Africa.

Karamoja is quite a place. When we drove into it, it was hot and the rivers were dry. The vegetation was brown and wispy, maybe not barren but seriously undeveloped. The murram roads were rough. There were few signs of civilisation. The mountains separating Uganda from Kenya were beautiful but a little stern too. 

The children looked thin and there was evidence of little pot bellies. The clothes looked poor and ragged. Even the dogs looked beyond scrawny. MP Esther Davinia Anyakun, from nearby Nakapiripirit, told me that the first time she visited Karomoret, where we were, she wept. This was the poorest place I had ever been.

The Karamojong have been a little cut off from the rest of Uganda, partly to do with geographic isolation but also to their stubborn desire to remain as they have been. Though they now wear western clothes, over the top is still the traditional shawl blanket. The men all carry a stick, sign of the warrior and the fact that keeping cattle and indeed cattle rustling is part of the DNA.

Kampala’s world famous Ndere Cultural Dancers portray the Karamojong as a rough violent people, even in the act of romancing! My Ugandan friends joke about a common phrase “We are not waiting around for Karamoja to catch up!”

As we drove in I could not help but think that this was as close as I was going to get to the American wild west of two hundred years ago. I really felt that I was seeing the Ugandan frontier.

We were there for for the ground breaking of a new Fields of Life funded Nursery and Primary School in Karomoret. During the ground breaking ceremony, MP Esther called on this nomadic herding people to come down off the mountains permanently to get their children an education. Only 20% of Karomojong children are registered for schools! There will need to be a cultural change if children used to looking after cattle are to learn the long term advantages of sitting at a desk. 

That was a year ago. This week Trevor travelled back to Karamoja for the opening of the school. After a ten hour journey from Kampala the Fields of Life entourage stayed the night in a hotel before the 45 minute journey for the 9am opening. Prompt in Uganda can mean within the next few hours!

Trevor soon realised that the new desks had not arrived for the classrooms. Trevor’s Church, Crinken Church of Ireland in Bray, County Wicklow had paid for them, so he had an even more vested interest. The desks finally arrived at 10 and the Fields of Life team filled one classroom with desks. The children, though, did not want to go into classroom. They were very nervous. Local leaders eventually got them to go in and asked them to sit down.  

Trevor was flabbergasted. They sat everywhere, on top of desk on the seat and in every possible way that you could sit. Backwards. Forwards. Sideways. Trevor suddenly realised that these kids had never seen furniture before, never mind sit at a desk. This was their very first time ever to sit in such a way. They gradually began to relax a little and smiles began to appear. Trevor has twenty five years full of school openings but this one was very unique.


The guest of honour finally arrived, just after 12! He is the Deputy Speaker of Parliament. There were many other important people, a few of who were actually important! The speeches lasted over three hours. There were fourteen of them! 

As Trevor got up to give his speech, the alumni came and flanked him on either side. At that point it was difficult to hold his emotions. These were his children. They all call him Uncle T. He had watched them coming to Fields of Life Schools, many getting sponsored. Now grown up and graduated they had taken their roles in Ugandan society. 

This was the harvest of the harvest. The children, many of them sponsored whose lives were transformed by the opportunity to go to a school near their homes, have grown up and decided to do for the children of Karamoja what they had gifted to them! Trevor grew up a farmer. This is the kind of harvest way beyond farming!

Then Trevor looked around at the little ones in Komoret. He imagined the possibility of God’s kingdom breaking through in this neglected out of the way place, lives changed, communities transformed and hope built. as the three aims of Fields of Life read. 

It was a very special day for Komoret, for Uganda, for Fields of Life and for Trevor Stevenson. Yet again, with yet another tear in his eye, he gave God the glory! 

Komoret 3




It was one of those combination of coincidences that worked an utter treat. It was a classic Fitzroy evening among many such.

My friends Ken and Gail Heffner had a group of students from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan in Belfast studying. Their final assignments were to be pieces of art. Gail suggested we might display those in Fitzroy on their last Sunday evening.

At the same time the Clonard Fitzroy Fellowship got the opportunity of having Brother Thierry speak on what was the Sunday in the middle of the Week Of Prayer For Christian Unity. 

What to do? In the end we did the mash up! Students from a Dutch Reformed College in the mid west of America mixed up with a Benedictine monk from Paris, now living in a monastery in Rostrevor. 

And oh my how it worked!

Those Calvin students really worked it up. There was painting, photography, sketches, poetry, music, song and even a children’s book. The exhibition fills the Living Corridor Gallery in Fitzroy for the next few weeks. It has a quality. It engages. It provokes. 

The secret to their art was their listening and the time they took to understand. How many young Americans arrive and hear about our woes and have simple clichéd answers within hours. There was a humility to the Calvin students’ listening. They caught the complexities.

In the end I think they took the advice of Colin Davidson, our very best artist. Colin believes that art should ask questions rather than being tempted towards propaganda answers. Again, these students listened. Again, the art benefited.

There was a sense that the Children’s Book with stunning illustrations should have a publisher and that the song should be released as a single. The mirror in The Future Starts With You was getting written on, stories were going inside the cups of Cuppa to be passed on. 

Calvin book

This was an evening all of its own…. and then… into the middle of all of these young Americans - a French monk!

In the first half of the evening Brother Thierry shared how, from almost out of the blue, he fell in love with Jesus and committed his life to him. It was a testimony straight out of a Ballymena Gospel Hall, apart from the habit he was wearing! Some might say that wearing that negated his testimony. It’s why we need weeks of prayer from Christian unity!

When Brother Thierry got up to bring his homily there was clarity, a prophetic punch with a very pastoral gentleness.

Taking his theme from the 4 Corners Festival 2019, Thierry unpacked the wisdom of Scripture on the theme of forgiveness. He confronted us with the stumbling blocks -

“… we identify ourselves with our wounds, we cling to them”

“To reduce ourselves to our wounds reduce the one who hurt us his or her evil deed is to dehumanise our self and the other.”

“… the main symptom of the refusal to forgive is the inability to move on in life… the refusal to forgive is a futile and desperate attempt to remain in control of our lives and it is a sure and sad promise of mere survival.”

I was particularly taken by the idea that refusing to forgive someone was a form of self harm. This is also the part of Thierry’s talk that touched most weightily on our social and political lack of forgiveness in N. Ireland.

“… the refusal to forgive and to be forgiven imprisons us and others to the past, it makes us connect to our past in a harmful way, it is a form of self harming.”

Thierry goes on to see lack of forgiveness as a form of idolatry -

“… to look at everything through the prism of one hurtful event, could be considered as an of adoration of the past, a form of idolatry, when in fact it is the present which requires our attention and energies.”

How that might change the inertia of the current Stormont standoff and how we deal with our past in this country.

Throughout, Thierry was using the stories of the Scriptures. Ultimately forgiveness is about being about the things of God. God teaches us through his own example to be those who move first as he did even back as far as Eden and later in Jesus. When we hit for the other to come and seek forgiveness before we give it, “we fence in grace at work within us”.

In the end what do we wish to add to the world. Atoms of hate, hurt and violence or “atoms of forgiveness”.

What a night! The complexity, the insights, the questions and the call to be like God - forgivers!

Calvin painting