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March 2019

February 2019


Houston Hank

I don't like the sound of old recordings. Elvis is the first records I can take. It’s a hindrance as I love the songs of Woody Guthrie, early Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. I am always at the mercy of people covering their songs to be able to fully enjoy them.

For Hank Williams songs, I loved the Timeless Tribute album with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Ryan Adams and Lucinda Williams among others. It was good…

…. but Brian Houston has trumped it. Oh maybe some of you will argue with me over versions, though actually Houston covers a lot of different songs. For me Houston’s Hank is better because of its sense of wholeness. There is a consistency to how Houston executes the collection.

Brian Houston will tell you about hearing the music of Hank Williams, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, from his dad's reel to reel tapes, when he was around six years old. At the same time his mate Bobby introduced him to Elvis. Houston’s dad hated Presley but Brian, and his brother Mark, would be lifelong fans.

Being a committed fan of Elvis would lead Brian to The Platters, doo wop and soaring Gospel. Brian attests to being one eyed on this Presley sound until Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan “muddied the waters”.

What Houston has done on Hank is to sneak back through that mud and find the cleanest vision of sound. He takes his father’s country Williams and runs them through his mate’s Presley. Houston doesn’t have the same voice as Presley but he does use his voice in similar ways - the purity, the dexterity, the emotive reach. 

Hank is a beautiful thing. 


Brian Houston is performing Hank at Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival on March 10th... TICKETS HERE

MCPEAKE LIVE IN FITZROY - St. Patrick's Weekend



March 16th at 7.30

FITZROY, 77 University Street, BELFAST

£15 (concessions)


The McPeake Family are that Belfast trad music family who deserve the word “legendary” used in any sentence about them. 

There is a dynasty of Francis McPeakes. One wrote Wild Mountain Thyme, one influenced Seeger, Dylan and Morrison, one taught Lennon the Uilleann Pipes and one has worked in film and formed the vibrant new band McPeake.

McPeake is the dynasty’s sound shape in the Third Millennium. All the genius in their trad Irish DNA is transfigured into a blend of pop, indie and Americana that you have never quite heard the like of. 

What better way to celebrate St Patrick’s weekend than watching a band that blurs the borders of music in a venue that blends the blurs of the political and religious borders of Belfast. 

Even better, after costs, all proceeds will go to build a nursery school in Onialeku, Arua, north west Uganda. 




I've never been a huge Stereophonics' fan. Oh I have stacks of their albums but bought them all at £1 in charity shops. The singles however. The extra track B-sides. Now I love those. So, here is my favourite Stereophonics album... as complied by myself!


DON’T LET ME DOWN - Beatles’ cover

(from Q Lennon Covered #1)



(from the single)



(from Pick A Part That’s New single)


ANGIE - Rolling Stones cover

(from Hurry Up and Wait single)


THE BOYS OF SUMMER - Don Henley cover

(from BBC Radio 2’s Sound of the 80s Vol 2)


GIMME SHELTER - Rolling Stones cover

(from Pass The Buck EP)


REVOLUTION - Beatles’ cover

(from Jools Holland and Friends - Small World Big Band)


WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN - Creedence Clearwater Revival cover

(Local Boy In The Photograph single)



(from Jools Holland and Friends - More Friends)


HOW - John Lennon cover

(from Handbags and Gladrags single)


THE OLD LAUGHING LADY - Neil Young cover

(from I Wouldn’t Believe Your Radio single)


SOMETHING IN THE WAY - Nirvana cover

(Pick A Part That’s New CD single #2)


THE LAST RESORT - Eagles’ cover

(from Local Boy In The Photograph single #2)

QUOTATIONS ON FORGIVENESS (from 4 Corners Festival 2019)

4C Team 19

This is a compilation of one liners that were uttered at the 2019 4 Corners Festival.  The ones in italics are the ones I needed to credit! The rest are from Festival contributors. As we hoped the Festival would be, there is a range of perspectives on Forgiveness.


My father said that you had to forgive and forget

And I can never forget

They will never say they were sorry

So we will never need to forgive

Resentment is like drinking poison 

And then hoping it kills your enemy (Nelson Mandela)

If I forgive them, my family will never forgive me

But I have learned to let go.

What if forgiveness is an act of liberation for you

Forgiveness is first and foremost a gift that you give yourself

I choose to forgive

I get down on my knees and do what must be done

And kiss Achilles hand, the killer of my son (Michael Longley)

Dear God bad men came and killed my daddy

Could you make them into good men

The scandal of forgiveness 

Is that the victim makes the first move

Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian narrative

Forgive us our sins

As we forgive those who sin against us (Jesus)


Fitzroy drawing

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy we will be casting our nets into the depths of chaos.  The Lectionary has us in Luke 5 where  Jesus calls the first disciples. What did it mean for the mission of the Church, as recorded by Luke in his two books, that is symbolised by chaos. We will look back over the 4 Corners Festival to plumb some depths of chaos and see redemption. We will ask about what it means to be fishers of men.

Then we will gather round the Lord's Table and read Isaiah 6... after redemption we will offer ourselves to be sent...

In the evening (7pm) Fitzroy will be moved to Clonard for the closing night of 4 Corners Festival. With emphasis on the theme of scandalous forgiveness David Porter, chief of staff to Archbishop of Canterbury, and Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches, will give us Biblical underlay for the week that has been and inspire us towards becoming a forgiving city moving forward. We are also thrilled to have Beki Hemingway singing songs around our theme. 



photo: Neil Craigan


I have always love a yarn with Brian Houston. Whether it is just the two of us over breakfast, with our wives over a good meal or across the desk in a radio studio, it is always dynamic, funny and spiritually insightful. 

At 2019’s 4 Corners Festival we decided to do it with an audience. Being so comfortable with each other could be good… or bad. It could allow our familiarity to bring the best out of Brian or we could be enjoying ourselves so much that we might forget the audience. I hope we got it right.

Being so soon after the recent Springsteen On Broadway performances there is little doubt I had that in mind as I shaped the evening. It started with Brian’s childhood in the Braniel estate of East Belfast and concluded with him singing in the Irish language, very much in west Belfast, the Falls Road Catholic chapel we were in.

In between, was full of fascinating stories of Belfast, music and faith. Brian wears his big passionate heart on his leather jacket sleeve and his refreshing honesty allows him to be vulnerable enough to share the blows he has taken from school, Church and the music industry.

We also got songs that might not be as familiar in Brian’s recent set lists. He accused me of stretching his memory! Simple Now is 30 years old and I remember him singing Great White Hope for the first time on my radio show back in the 90s. 

Brian and I were aware how close we were to Milltown Cemetery the scene of Michael Stone’s most notorious killing of three mourners at an IRA funeral in 1988. Yet, Brian told a story about how Stone, an antihero in Brian’s Braniel, saved his arm when it caught fire when Brian was just ten years of age. A reminder of the complexities of who we are and what happens to us.

When I asked Brian about the song We Don’t Need Religion we were into a fascinating section on the confines of religion and what Fr Greg Boyle described as a spacious God, earlier in the Festival. Brian isn’t shy about his critique of Northern Ireland’s religious flaws but don’t mistake it for what the apostle John described as lukewarm faith.

When Houston turns to his spiritual songs, he lights up. The tender Jesus Don’t Forget My Name throws a spiritual swathe across St. John’s chapel.  Brian’s voice as pure as seraphs must have sounded in the Temple, as recorded in Isaiah 6. The hairs on my soul stood up. Then his most passionate song of the night, Love Like A Weapon. You could feel God’s arms around you, his grace crashing in with redemption.

We have been chatting now for nearly two hours but no one is heading for the exits. I want to lead us to a provocative and poignant conclusion. I ask Brian if his time in America had changed his views of home. 

He takes us to a Canadian native Indian Cree Reservation where he was shocked to hear them singing doo wop worship instead of songs in their own cultural sounds. That has led him to think about his own Irish heritage. After a lengthy and robust argument about the Irish language, the man from the Braniel lifts a bodhran and sings Óró sé bheatha abhail. There are layers of wonder and meaning in this performance. Like tapping into some ancient Celtic soul stream. 

We have been there too long and Brian needs a loo! I have to bring him to the theme of the Festival and a song he has written with forgiveness in mind. Yet again it is a beautiful song with that typical catchy melody. 


“I forgive m oppressor, 

I forgive my abuser,I forgive the invader, 

I forgive my rejector

I forgive, I forgive, I forgive


Your mercy is enough

Your grace will be enough

Your love will heal my soul

For your mercy is enough”


As our friend Azman put it on social media, “Funny, accomplished, edgy, transparent, raw, hilarious and inspiring”. Indeed. What a night!



Last Friday night in Fitzroy, as part of the 4 Corners Festival, there was an event called The Gospel According to Narnia. At the end, as Aslan spoke on the screen, I was again proud, in a humorous kind of way, that God spoke with a Ballymena accent. Liam Neeson played Aslan!

A few days later and my fellow Ballymena man Liam Neeson had got himself into some very hot water because of a story he told to a journalist while promoting his new movie Cold Pursuit. The media storm has been such that the red carpet opening of the movie is cancelled. Many are suggesting Neeson’s career might be over.

In his interview, in explaining the rage that caused the vengeful response of his character in Cold Pursuit, Neeson told a story from his own life, from 40 years ago. Neeson spoke of his rage after a friend had been raped and how, knowing the rapist was black, he had gone out for more than week seeking to get into a row with a black man so that he could kill him.

The media quickly came alive, accusing him of being racist. Someone called his remarks "terrifying, sickening and really saddening.” Indeed.

The thing is that Neeson would not disagree. He was not talking about his views on black people in 2019. He was not saying that this is how he might react to such a situation today. 

He was actually confessing how terrifying, sickening and saddening his actions were when he was young. Of his actions he himself concludes, ”It was horrible, horrible, when I think back, that I did that... It's awful. But I did learn a lesson from it.”  In another place he said, “It shocked me and it hurt me. I did seek help.”

Now, some might say that Neeson’s was lacking discernment when he pulled this story out, in this interview. I might agree.

However, my real fear about the storm, after his confession, is that we are once again ridding our society of a space for people to confess their mistakes, to admit that they did things that they are not proud of. 

We have become a society where our leaders refuse to apologise and in many places lack honesty. Such reactions to public confessions of things done long ago is not at all helpful if we are seeking to create a more humble and honest and indeed repentant society.

The lack of forgiveness frightens me too. We are halfway through this years 4 Corners Festival where we are encouraging the city of Belfast to ponder the meaning and outworking of forgiveness. 

I believe that forgiveness is a gift in our learning, maturing, letting go and beginning again. There is a power to confessing and seeking forgiveness. There is a power in giving forgiveness to another, both for the one forgiven but also the one forgiving.

In a world as unforgiving to a public repentance, like the one Liam Neeson gave this week, we are in danger of eradicating forgiveness from our society. I find that a very worrying situation. Indeed, I find it tragic.


Bartlet and Peace

I love the West Wing episode NSF Thurmont. It is one of the many defining moments of the Jed Bartlet’s Presidency in West Wing, the series that is perhaps God’s reason for giving humans the ability to create moving pictures. It gives me fuel to continue to work with my good friend Fr Martin Magill to make peace in Ireland.

The plot line is that congressmen have been killed in Gaza and the American people (over 80% a poll is telling us) are demanding revengeful justice.  It is of course a echo of 9/11 but Bartlet ain’t no George W Bush and so he is thinking the slower burn of peace that will bring security on a more long term basis rather than the fast knee jerk feel better response that perhaps makes people feel safer in the short term but leads to larger body counts.  

Bartlet sets out to find peace, the peace he read about when reciting the Beatitudes at the funeral of his great friend and naval expert Fitzwallace, killed in the same attack.  When a joint delegation of Washington’s most powerful politicians arrive, behind the speaker of the house, to demand immediate military response and tell The President he is going to go on television to announce such a strike he turns and says, “I am trying to find a way to make peace... and when I do you can go on television and explain why you were against it.”

It is an argument stopping phrase; like the simplicity of epiphany. What else would we be ambitious to do? Maintain hate and sectarianism? The Old Testament was built around the idea of bringing shalom to earth.  Shalom is a peacefulness that is also a wholeness, a harmonious relationship between human and human, human and the earth and human and the Creator.  It is about a restoration of all that was lost in the Garden of Eden.  

It is the redemption and salvation Jesus came to bring, tearing the curtain in two and breaking down the dividing walls (Ephesians 2). It is all about peace which is why it is so important to Jesus that he should say that peacemakers are children of God.  Yet for so long Northern Irish evangelical Christians actually disdained the peace makers calling them liberal heretics.  Perhaps on the day of judgement we will have an opportunity to hear before the living God why they were so much against it.

Speaking of judgement, I hear you ask about justice.  Justice is what the heavy politicians and American people wanted in West Wing.  It is an important player in the Scriptures too.  It has a role to play and perhaps its difficult but vital marriage with mercy will actually be an avenue to the peace that is sought.  Yet, when we stop to think about it, there will be no need for justice in the New Jerusalem that John sees in his vision that we get to read about it in Revelation.  

It is not justice that will fill the air of a new heaven and earth; it will be peace.  Peace is God’s goal. The angels sang about it at Jesus birth. Jesus won its victory at his cross and resurrection. If we are about his business then we are going to be called children of God in heaven even if we get called more disparaging vulgar names. I do not believe that it is a coincidence that “blessed are the peacemakers” comes next to “blessed are you when people persecute you” in the Beatitudes. The world wants vengeance not peace. 

The past twenty years has seen blessed changes in Northern Ireland.  It has been a real period of Divine intervention and grace. And yes, when grace plays its part then we have to experience some very uncomfortable relationships. We might find ourselves in the ludicrous, almost sickening scenario that Jesus was in when he declared he had not seen so much faith all of Israel as a Roman centurion who was crucifying Jesus own people at the side of roads! And if we haven’t been in such awkward situations, can we claim to be following Jesus?

Another scene in the same episode of West Wing has President Bartlet awake in the night pondering his dilemma.  His wife Abbey joins him and as he is telling her that it would be so much easier to please the people and authorise a military attack of vengeance and justice, leading to pictures of bombings on CNN and a few charred bodies, Abbey responds, “Do you want easy?!”  

Easy is not a word that takes up much space in a Bible Concordance.  Jesus never did easy.  Jesus never mentioned easy when he was describing what it would be like to follow him. Peacemaking is never easy.  

For the people of Jesus’ day it was not easy to live with the forgiveness granted to tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman centurions and a convicted criminal hanging on a cross.  Peacemaking comes with some pain.  

Reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel and that reconciliation is vertical and horizontal. I have committed myself to that Gospel mandate. In the twenty five years since our Northern Ireland ceasefire we have had many fragile moments to our peace building project. 

There always seems much more to do to bring us what Jeremiah 29 calls us to pray for - “peace and prosperity”. Northern Ireland always needs sons and daughters of God to step up and boldly attempt peacemaking, to deny themselves, take up crosses and follow Jesus into reconciliation. I personally believe that God is asking Fr Martin and I to go on working for Shalom, a kingdom on earth that is like heaven which is peace filled. I find nowhere in Scripture where that call could be refuted. 

And when the vicious vitriol comes on social media or real life, then I am happy to paraphrase Jed Bartlet, “I am trying to help God to make peace and when there is peace I want you to stand before God and explain why you were against it!”

TOWARDS A FORGIVING CITY - Closing Night of 4 Corners Festival 2019

Cross of Nails

For me, for too long, Christians stood on the sidelines. Oh not all. Fr Alec Reid was doing heroic things and Rev Harold Good, Fr Gerry Reynolds and Ken Newell too, but the vast majority had so blasphemously confined the Gospel of Christ to the vertical that they didn’t even think of getting involved in reconciliation or loving our neighbour.

ECONI (Evangelical Contribution On Northern Ireland) interrupted the inertia with a group of Christians keen to apply the Biblical vision of God onto the streets of our own wee Trouble ridden land. It was refreshing, challenging, inspirational and prophetic. I was honoured to serve on its board for a short time. 

ECONI shifted mindsets and encouraged many to get involved in building peace. It is possible that initiatives like 4 Corners Festival might not be happening without its courageous intervention.

David Porter was the founder of ECONI and its public face for many years. Today, David is chief of staff to the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

We are thrilled to have him back in Belfast for the 4 Corners Festival. His years of Biblical thinking on the Northern Irish situation makes him ideal to speak at the end of this year’s Festival with its theme of scandalous forgiveness.

We are equally thrilled that the other speaker on Sunday evening is Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches. Nicola previously served as Research Coordinator for the Council for Justice and Peace of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs. 

Like David, she is well thought through on the issues we have sought to put before Festival attendees this year. The two of them will send us out from the Festival with some clear and inspirational thinking.

Also bringing inspiration is Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kerkman. These two Americans now living in Ireland brought their songs to the closing event last year. Forgiveness Waltz was one of those songs and it did influence this year’s theme. We look forward to hearing it and other relevant songs to the evening. Beki's voice will soar right into your soul.

INFO here


I wrote this prayer for the 4 Corners festival BBC Radio Ulster Sunday Service that aired on Sunday February 3rd, 2019...


Forgiving God

We worship you for who you are


And loving

We thank you that you don’t just talk about love

But that you demonstrated your love for us, in this,

That while we were still sinners

Christ died for us

Forgiving God

We thank you for our forgiveness

And for what forgiveness brings us

Freedom from our guilt

Release from the bitterness and ghosts of the past




Forgiving God

Forgive us our sins

As we forgive those who sin against us

Except Lord

That that is one of our most scandalous sins

Accepting your forgiveness so quickly

While at the same time being very slow to forgive other

Our neighbours

Our enemies

Our Churches

Our leaders.

God forgive our lack of forgiveness.


Forgiving God

Your word tells us 

That you are faithful and just to forgive us of our sins

But then adds

And purify us from all unrighteousness

Lord, as we confess the scandal of our lack of forgiveness

Transform us into forgiving people

That we might become like you

Following your lead

To be forgivers 

Within our families

In our neighbourhoods

In our Churches

Between our Churches

Across our society

And even in depths of our very own souls.


Forgiving God

Our country needs forgiveness

A scandalous forgiveness 

That does good to those who hate us, 

Blesses those who curse us, 

Prays for those who mistreat us.

Lord, take us through the cross of forgiveness

The courageous self denial and the suffering

And bring us through to the resurrection of forgiveness

Where the past is left in the tomb

And brand new life burst through





May it be so,

In our individual souls

And in our communities

Right across the 4 Corners of our city and land.


In the name of Jesus

Who forgave

Even when they didn’t know what they’d done.