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February 2019

ANTHONY TONER - OUR LADY OF THE WIND AND RAIN

Toner W&R

I can understand why Anthony Toner has been described as a cross between James Taylor and John Prine. There are hints of Taylor and Prine across this new collection.

 I understand…. but I hear so much more. The opening That Kind Of Love, my song of 2019 so far, is what Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes might have sounded like if they had been from the opposite coast and fronted by Jackson Browne instead of Johnny - West Coast Jackson and the Malibu Jukes, if you will!

Hello Hello Hello has an Aztec Camera shimmer and suddenly you can hear a lot of Roddy Frame in Toner, like he is north Antrim’s version of south Lanarkshire’s pop poet. 

However, on songs like Apology or the title track, no one sounds like Anthony Toner. Over a string of quality albums over the past decade Toner has found a voice that is very much his own.

It his lyrical dexterity that I particularly love. He is the Lionel Messi of lyricists, nimble, naturally fluid, quick to shift a line or rhyme. His images are original like free kicks no one has ever thought of. They sneak up on me and as they hit the back of the net (ear) I am a little in awe.

Take That Kind Of Love that I have already declared is my song of 2019 so far. Love as a piece of vinyl:

 

“Love that turns like old vinyl

dusty and scratched, but still warm and alive:

The same as it was in 1975

  • it’s that kind of love”

 

GOAL!

Or love as religion:

 

“Love that burns like religion

with its own set of rules that no logic can shake

ten thousand years old, with its own pearly gates

  • it’s that kind of love”

 

You can see what someone like me who loves a good lyric and rhyme is a fan of Anthony Toner.

That Prine-like humour is most vivid on One For The Black Box:

 

“I couldn’t drink another verse

Of that God-awful rhyme

There's nothing like bad writing

for stealing your time

I lost my phone

In the Poem That Time Forgot

I need someone to call my number

And tell me where I’m not.”

 

Such humour in rhyme, particularly in the middle of such supple poetry is not easy. One For The Black Box though is not just a paean for Belfast’s current coolest venue but the entire Cathedral Quarter where it is situated. Maybe all of us can relate to:

 

“On Hill Street its raining hen nights

and high heels as well

they go clacking up the cobble stones

like new born gazelles

and I can’t look

into their Disney Princess eyes.”

 

I cannot get enough and could fill pages on this blog with more deft touch lyrics but let me leave you with the title track. Toner has a penchant for songs of the road, being away on tour and coming home from tour. There’s also a spirituality to his work, even though he holds to no creeds: -

 

“Every time I made it home again

It was a mercy that I can’t explain

Our Lady of the Wind and Rain 

Was watching over me”

 

Anthony Toner is my kind of songwriter and Our Lady Of The Wind and Rain my kind of record. The melodies pull you in, the playing holds you there and then with every listen you marvel again at that line that caught you last time or find a whole new one, every time.


U2: STAND UP COMEDY - NLOTH song by song

U2 stand up comedy

Stand Up Comedy comes out all Achtung Baby strut with a Curtis Mayfield/Bob Marley spiritual/political anthemic clarion call. Around the riffs, distortion and declaration to stand up for love we get some of Bono’s sharpest lines, most accusing self critique and one couplet that holds the key to the band’s entire canon as well as nailing a critical contemporary issue. You can tell I love it!

The second verse might be my favourite U2 verse...

“Stand up, this is comedy
The DNA lottery may have left you smart
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart
I can stand up for hope, faith love
But while I´m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady”

The contemporary obsession with beauty that has already been dealt with on Get On Your Boots and the last album’s Original Of The Species gets another tossing around. Looks that dictate the heart need stood up to and another straight Biblical lift, this time from 1 Corinthians 13 suggests a guiding light that transcends the DNA lottery, the dictator of the heart and the dizzy world and lovesick eye of verse one.

After that there is this great line about how we see God. Juxtaposed next to the Scriptural lift of the previous line, it is Bono at his humble best; quoting Scripture in one breath and avoiding the potential arrogance in the next. When we have God so boxed that we tell him what he can and can’t do as many fundamentalist Christian do then we make him into a little old lady. It is like we need to guide him by the theology we have defined him by. Many of the same old lady walkers use the words “Sovereign God” but if God did a sovereign act they’d pull him back across the road and save him from danger. As if his humility is not clear enough so far Bono uses a couple of lines familiar from recent interviews about being Napoleon in high heels and warning us all by way of Josephine to watch rock stars and small men with big ideas.

From fundamentalist Christians Bono then has a go at the arrogant athiests. The Richard Dawkins syndrome that has flushed our society with arguments against the existence of God that I got over as school pupil, and not even a good one at that. Dawkins throws academic qualifications around that should make his arguments smarter. Bono? Well he takes him out in an economy of words – “God is love/And love is evolution's very best day” – and with it he equates God with love which if you look back to Rattle And Hum’s God Part 2, then since and before, you unlock the code that sees God even more omnipresent in the U2 canon than he already is.

All achieved in just 3 minutes and 50 seconds making the musical spine of the album riff heavy and not without a thought or two to chew on.


STOCKI'S MUMFORD & SONS COLLABORATIONS, COVERS AND SESSIONS PLAYLIST

01-mumford-and-sons-2.w1200.h630

DAYS/THIS TIME TOMORROW - RAY DAVIES AND MUMFORD & SONS

  • from Ray Davies: See My Friends

 

THERE WILL BE TIME - MUMFORD & SONS and BAABA MAAL

  • from Johannesburg EP

 

2SHY 

  • from BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge

 

KANSAS CITY - THE NEW BASEMENT TAPES

  • from Lost In The River

 

FRIEND OF THE DEVIL

  • from Day Of The Dead

 

THE CAVE

  • from BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge

 

SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT

  • from Revamp: The Songs Of Elton John and Bernie Taupin

 

BELOVED (acoustic)

  • from Beloved single

 

THE AULD TRIANGLE - PUNCH BROTHERS/MARCUS MUMFORD

  • from Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

 

THE BOXER

- from Babel: Gentleman Of The Road edition)

 

STRANGER - THE NEW BASEMENT TAPES

  • from Lost In The River

 

TESSELLATE 

  • from BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge 2013

 

YOU & I BELONG - SIMONE FELICE

  • from Simone Felice

 

LEARN ME RIGHT - MUMFORD & SONS and BIRDY

  • from Brave Soundtrack

 

FIND ANOTHER WAY (Featuring MUMFORD & SONS) - TOM MORELLO

  • from The Atlas Underground

 

WHEN I GET MY HANDS ON YOU - THE NEW BASEMENT TAPES

  • from Lost In The River

 

THE BRIGHTEST LIGHTS (featuring MUMFORD & SONS) - KING CHARLES

  • from LoveBlood

 

FAREWELL - MARCUS MUMFORD/PUNCH BROTHERS

  • from Another Day, Another Time: Celebrating the Music of Inside Llewyn Davis

U2: GET ON YOUR BOOTS - NLOTH song by song

Get On Your Boots

As a single Get On Your Boots came out in a long line of unfamiliar first singles that started as far back as Desire from Rattle and Hum. The first sounds to hit the radio are always those that unsettle, disturb and intrigue the fan as to what might come next. 

Get On Your Boots certainly did all that. The surprise for me, and I had gotten to like it as a single, was how in the context of the album I found it reassuring and swaggeringly catchy, half an album in. The big Edge riff, the Larry gunshot drumming, Adam’s solid groove and Bono’s cascading of spoken word couplets, all make claim on your attention until the melodic transformation into “let me in the sound”brings cohesion and unified sing along.

Lyrically, the song is equally unnerving. It could be that U2 were attempting another crack at the frivolous and in the end, as they found on Achtung Baby, couldn’t demean themselves to just sing a song about sexy boots. 

Though Bono claims not to want to talk about wars between nations, for at least these three and a half minutes there are bomb scares, dark dreams, ghosts and the focus on a pair of sexy boots gives way to the future and eternity. 

There is also more admiration for Mrs Vox contained within. The idea that women are the future is again Bono’s acknowledgment of his wife in particular in women in general. She may be the one in the sexy boots. She may also be the one who is unaware of how beautiful she is, though this chorus echoes the sentiments of Original Of The Specieswhich was about the U2 female teenage offspring.

The key to the entire piece is “The sound”.  There is a desire to belong, to be let in. To what? Right from the outset it seemed to me to be a symbol of salvation:

 

“God, I’m going down

I don’t want to drown

Meet me in the sound.” 

 

In the end a song about sexy boots ends up like a clarion call to something much bigger; the future needs a lot of love.

At the U2360 concert I got even more intrigued by this sound. In the communal live singalong setting it seemed even more spiritual. I remembered that Bono had an obsession since the late nineties with the hymn Amazing Grace. Sometimes when he spoke about it he emphasised, “how sweet the SOUND.”

When I looked closer there was a clue elsewhere on No Line On The Horizon. The song Breathe spells it out:

 

“I've found grace inside a sound

I found grace, it's all that I found.”

 

This idea of the sound appeared again twice on Songs Of Innocence. On The Miracle (of Joey Ramone): -

 

“Everything I ever lost

Now has been returned

In the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard”

 

Lucifer’s Hands gives another mention.

 

“The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swilling around my heart.”

 

Get On Your Boots like much of No Line On The Horizon gets a bad rap. For the “let me in the sound” alone I think it deserves attention.


THE LEAGUE CUP FINAL SUBSTITUTE DEBACLE - STOCKI SURMISES

Sarri

The refusal of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa to leave the pitch after seemingly being substituted in Sunday’s League Cup Final distracted the talking points away from the relief as well as the joy of Manchester City retaining a trophy for the first time in their history.

Much has been said, over and over again about Kepa’s lack of respect for his manager Sarri and the seemingly public coup d’état of Sarri’s control at Chelsea. It was excruciating to watch Sarri’s loss of control for sure.

Most of the pundits have based their comments on the assumption that Sarri wanted Willie Caballero to take over in goals. Yes, Kepa seemed to be injured but Caballero brought more than sending on a fit goalkeeper. 

Caballero won this very trophy for Manchester City in 2016 by saving penalties in the shoot out against Liverpool. He knows all the City players and no doubt practiced penalties with them. What an advantage! In his post match interview made reference to how it would have added to the mind games.

So the assumption was that as Kompany was thinking this on the pitch, so was Sarri in the dug out. I don’t believe such a scenario existed. If it was a late in the game tactical substitution for the penalties, surely at least the possibility would have been discussed before the game. There seems no evidence from players or back room staff that this was the case. They thought Kepa was injured and he disagreed. 

Sitting watching with another City fan, we were sure Caballero would win it for Chelsea and indeed when we saw the poor penalty of Aguero I reckon we were right. That Kepa did not know that he was coming off if the game got to 119 minutes suggests that Sarri and Zola missed a trick!

Finally, why has no one talked about the match officials. Surely, the decision to substitute a player is made before the board goes up and the player comes on the pitch, it was the referees responsibility to ask Kepa to leave. When is the substitution legally done? Sarri didn’t seem to be changing his decision so if Chelsea has won could City have complained that Kepa shouldn’t have legally been on the pitch.

If, as it seems in this League Cup Final, the final decision for a substitution isn’t after a request is given to the referee then FIFA should be creating such a rule before next weekend. How many players are going to refuse to come off, having been substituted? One can only fear. Across the world this weekend it could be one almighty chaotic mess in the substitution department.

By the way… City won the Cup! Go on Raheem!


Sarri

The refusal of Chelsea’s goalkeeper Kepa to leave the pitch after seemingly being substituted in Sunday’s League Cup Final distracted the talking points away from the relief as well as the joy of Manchester City retaining a trophy for the first time in their history.

Much has been said, over and over again about Kepa’s lack of respect for his manager Sarri and the seemingly public coup d’état of Sarri’s control at Chelsea. It was excruciating to watch Sarri’s loss of control for sure.

Most of the pundits have based their comments on the assumption that Sarri wanted Willie Caballero to take over in goals. Yes, Kepa seemed to be injured but Caballero brought more than sending on a fit goalkeeper. 

Caballero won this very trophy for Manchester City in 2016 by saving penalties in the shoot out against Liverpool. He knows all the City players and no doubt practiced penalties with them. What an advantage! In his post match interview made reference to how it would have added to the mind games.

So the assumption was that as Kompany was thinking this on the pitch, so was Sarri in the dug out. I don’t believe such a scenario existed. If it was a late in the game tactical substitution for the penalties, surely at least the possibility would have been discussed before the game. There seems no evidence from players or back room staff that this was the case. They thought Kepa was injured and he disagreed. 

Sitting watching with another City fan, we were sure Caballero would win it for Chelsea and indeed when we saw the poor penalty of Aguero I reckon we were right. That Kepa did not know that he was coming off if the game got to 119 minutes suggests that Sarri and Zola missed a trick!

Finally, why has no one talked about the match officials. Surely, the decision to substitute a player is made before the board goes up and the player comes on the pitch, it was the referees responsibility to ask Kepa to leave. When is the substitution legally done? Sarri didn’t seem to be changing his decision so if Chelsea has won could City have complained that Kepa shouldn’t have legally been on the pitch.

If, as it seems in this League Cup Final, the final decision for a substitution isn’t after a request is given to the referee then FIFA should be creating such a rule before next weekend. How many players are going to refuse to come off, having been substituted? One can only fear. Across the world this weekend it could be one almighty chaotic mess in the substitution department.

By the way… City won the Cup! Go on Raheem!


WHICH SIDE OF THE FAIR TRADE FENCE ARE YOU ON?

She Deserves Fairtrade - Blue - Fairtrade Fortnight 2019

Our very first visit to the Sonop Vineyard on the Western Cape Winelands was a more remarkable learning curve than we could ever have imagined, more provocatively challenging than we could have contrived. I was there with Queens University Presbyterian Chaplaincy students where at the time I was Chaplain. For some time we had been a community interested in Fair Trade. In fact we had been endeavouring to make our Chaplaincy as Fair Trade as possible and were campaigning with Christian Aid and Tear Fund to push Queens University to become a Fair Trade University. So we had a rough idea. Fair Trade proponents and pioneers The Co-op had put us in touch with this Fair Trade Vineyard about an hour’s drive out of Cape Town.

Meeting the workers at the Sonop Vineyard was an inspiration. They were so excited about their work but more importantly about their new found freedoms. They spoke about their ownership of land; they own their homes and have their own land where they have their own vines that they tend and sell on to the mother company. In South Africa, of course, land ownership is a raging issue. For the non-white to own land is a whole new sense of security, dignity and freedom. No longer could they be tossed out of their homes and sacked on a white man’s whim. Yet more than that, education is so vital to the new South Africa. That which the oppressed used as a protest against apartheid by boycotting has now become the very avenue to consolidating the change by making sure the children get the education that their parents never had. So we heard about the nursery school in their own village, the Primary School where the bus takes them and the possibility of University – all paid for! Even the adults are getting all kinds of practical schooling. It is a world not dreamt about ten year ago but very much a reality. The sense of dignity, self worth and driving purpose of these workers as they develop their land is a joy to inhabit.

But there was more… so much more. Moments later and just a few hundred yards away we were standing by a fence in the workers’ village. On their side of that fence were beautifully painted houses and carefully groomed gardens. There was that little school and a play area. There was colour and beauty and all of that freedom and ownership we had just heard about was bursting with life. But on the other side of the fence…was the neighbouring vineyard. There was literally the thinnest breadth of wire dividing. And on that other side there was dirty, faded, paint peeling houses. There were rough dust and dirt paths between them. There was no colour, no energy, no pride and no sense of hopefulness.

It was a stark contrast. It was the most challenging piece of land I had ever stood upon. The choice was clear and stark. Buy into one side of the fence and there is a sense of care and justice for the workers. Buy into the other and there is simply exploitation, disregard and neglect of workers and their children. When my students stand in their local Co-op to buy coffee, sugar, tea, chocolate or whatever they now know they now have a visual aid to help them decide what products to buy. Their decisions have suddenly become a whole lot bigger and a whole lot clearer. There is a thin line between justice and oppression and we stood right at the sharpest part of the fence. Which side will we be investing in? What side of the fence best describes the redemption of heaven? Which side is God most thrilled with? What does it mean in our everyday shopping for us to bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?

So, when I stand and see products without a Fair Trade mark I wonder what happens on the side of the fence where the grapes were picked... or the tea... or the coffee... or the bananas... or whatever... and I just can no longer bring myself to buy. I have driven a few miles to another store at times to makes sure my choices are on the right side of the fence!

 

 

 

 


TOMORROW IN FITZROY - 24.2.19

Fitzroy BoardT

I am delighted to be back at the preaching lectern tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy. It'll be my last preach for a few weeks as next week is our Women's Service and the week after I'll be having a wee surgical operation. So I am excited to be in my three square feet of vocation.

Even better, it is one of my very favourite passages in Luke 6. Jesus is teaching us how the Kingdom deals with those who violently oppress us. We love them back! It is Scandalous forgiveness, it is reckless love, it is the upside down Kingdom.

The text comes to us from the three year Lectionary cycle in a most urgent context. Scottish football is in the headlines for its sectarianism. Northern Ireland seems more and more polarised on sectarian lines in every utterance from our main political parties. God calls for a Kingdom that reaches into the evil hatred of sectarianism with a whole different rule.

We will look at how for four decades Fitzroy have lived a communal attack on sectarianism and in remembering our mission with the words of Jesus will re-commit to be break down walls and erase all lines that the demonic might build or draw across our city and land.

Worship with youthful energy led by Michael Dolaghan and his merry band of great players!


SPRINKLE

Me and Catorze

Today, we celebrate the 21st birthday of our daughter Caitlin. This poem was written on hospital paper towels in the early hours of the morning, as we sat in the maternity ward waiting for her to appear. It later had a chorus added about Jasmine's birth and became the opening song on the Stevenson and Samuel (my collaboration with Sam Hill Jr) album Grace Notes. This is the original, as on the paper towels. Happy birthday Caitlin!

There's a bird on the roof below me

That knows nothing about buying things

About looking good or successful living

Or the ads a failed pop star sings

There's a tree moving in the breeze

Waiting for its buds to bloom

There's life confined to what life's about

Contracting in a mother's womb.

 

Two magpies are feeding their families

That's supposed to prophecy joy

But there isn't three and there isn't four

I don't know if you're a girl or a boy

But they're are oblivious to the sound of the Lisburn Road

They live far from the clutter and fuss

These noises we've made to distance our souls

From these things that are happening to us.

 

There's me and you and someone else

And love knitting the ties that bind

There's awe and wonder and fascination

And the blessings of this life of mine

I'm standing in this holy place

To gaze upon the world's most beautiful face

Leaning on the promises of Jesus grace

Licking my lips with just a sprinkle of its taste. 

 

 


CHURCHES AGAINST SECTARIANISM

Steve Clarke sectarianism

Sectarianism has got its ugly head back in the headlines this week. Rangers fans verbal abuse of Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke and Celtic fans’ similar  verbal abuse of Kilmarnock striker Kris Boyd. Steve Clarke’s criticism of such attitudes in the west of Scotland has been harsh. We wait to see what Rangers and Celtic do to deal with a poison that has been running through Glasgow football for decades.

Sectarianism is a scurrilous thing that divides communities, stokes attitudes of arrogance and pride and ends up with hatred as an evil cancer eating away our humanity.

Jesus knew that sectarianism threatened his Church. How bizarre to pray “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one” even before there was a “one” before the Church was formed. Jesus could see our propensity to divide. He had a tiny glimpse of 100 varieties of Presbyterian at the beginning of the third millennium. Such propensity, he knew, could lead to sectarianism.

As Jesus prayed against it so we his Church should act against it. We should be the wall breakers, work that Ephesians 2 suggests Jesus was all about. We should be erasing lines. We should be reaching out across our lines and befriending the other. We should be erasing the lines altogether.

At an event at this year’s 4 Corners Festival, Fr Greg Boyle said, “you cannot demonise who you know”. Can I suggest that it is much harder to shout sectarian chants at who you know. Or even sing sectarian chants at a community of which you have good friends. We need to break down the walls and erase the lines.

I cannot do anything about the west of Scotland but I am determined to do something about sectarianism in Belfast. It has been a priority for Fitzroy and myself for a long time to dismantle this polarisation at the heart of our society. 

When our Northern Ireland institutions at Stormont were brought down, over two year ago, the news came with thoughts that bitter sectarianism was up ahead. Immediately I phoned and asked Fr Ciaran O Callaghan from Clonard Monastery to come the very next Sunday and pray our prayers of intercession. He came and boy what a prayer!

It was a symbol that attacked the heart of sectarianism as quickly as we could. I always fear that I will be proved wrong in some headline but as far as it depends on us in Fitzroy there will be nothing happen in our young people’s lives that would suggest to them that sectarianism is even a thing. 

All ages in Fitzroy will find it difficult to demonise Catholics because they are so often among us. They are our friends. We have an ongoing joint fellowship with Clonard Monastery. We are invested in the 4 Corners Festival. As a result there are Catholics who feel comfortable being part of our community and Fr Martin Magill is recognised almost as one of us.

I am not going to diminish the years that it has taken, long before I came to Fitzroy, to create a non sectarian space, or to be a Church with a focus on erasing the lines of sectarianism. At the same time it is not rock science. It is simply making friends across the devil’s constructed wall and doing the simplest things to ignore that wall or better still pull it down. 

Churches Against Sectarianism!