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July 2020

RORY BUTLER - WINDOW SHOPPING

Rory

Listening to Rory Butler’s debut album Window Shopping, I couldn’t help but think that he has been influenced by his influencers influencers.

Let me explain. When Rory Butler was about 3 or 4 I spent a little time in his house. I was amateurishly managing Iain Archer at the time and had convinced Rory’s dad Steve and music business partners that they needed to release Iain’s first album. They had a house in Dalry, Ayrshire with a studio in the basement.

Sticky Music eventually released two Iain Archer records, Playing Dead and Crazy Bird. As those were recorded Rory took a shine to “Archie” as he called him. It is a relationship that continued. I watched as a twelve year old Rory played live with Iain at the Greenbelt Festival.

Butler’s debut album has many of the hallmarks of those two Archer records particularly the more acoustic Crazy Bird. Butler has the same guitar playing fretboard dancing style as Archer. It is mesmerising and thankfully disciplined enough to not clutter up the songs.

I did say though that Butler was more influenced by Archer’s influencers. I remember first meeting Iain Archer and being captivated by his versions of John Martyn’s Over the Hill and May You Never. He actually released the latter as an extra track on his first Sticky Music single Wishing. We eventually got Archer on a John Martyn tour.

Rory Butler’s voice has that laid back languishing vocal style of John Martyn and of course he is also Scottish. Though I liken it to Martyn to leave it there would be an injustice. It is Butler’s very own voice and it draws you in with a warmth, an intimacy and that accent adds authenticity.

The other influence of an influence is his dad’s love of Jackson Browne. Rory’s dad Steve fronted early 90s band Lies Damned Lies that had a brief spell signed to Siren Records back in the day. They continued to make albums of utter tastefulness in that studio that Rory toddled about in. 

Steve Butler made a few solo records too and Jackson Browne can very much be heard in their DNA. Where Rory is channeling his dad’s Jackson influence is in the content of the songs. Rory doesn’t sing so much Browne’s introspection as his social critique of his times. 

Window Shopping is to the generations 20-somethings what The Pretender was for that age group the mid 70s. The title track does seems autobiographical. Introducing it a while back at a SoFar gig Rory spoke about moving from Edinburgh to London to become a musician and ending up a Vegan Barista, working in a cafe “underpaid and over qualified.” It is personal but no Late For The Sky.

A quick study of Cameron Watt’s evocative album cover reveals that the influence of smart phones and screen time is very much on Butler’s mind. Mind Your Business is about “living on line… every single second on it”. He’s questioning a world that “makes you feel good when you’re on display.”

On the other side of the story Butler realises that social media has been the source of wake up calls for social justice across the world. This Side Of the World was inspired by the the photo of that Syrian child refugee washed up on a Mediterranean beach. That we cannot get “in” to the world that so much of our world lives through. Powerful song.

Tell Yourself is the antithesis of screen addiction and social media. A song about friendship being the best source of residence and self worth. 

This record is a refreshing piece of work. Reviews are labelling it folk. I can see why with the finger picking acoustic foundation and Martyn-esque flair but that would be a lazy pigeon hole for an album of contemporary reporting with a contemporary vitality and urgency. It is so much deeper than Ed, George or Sam. It is so good.


LIGHT FROM ROCK MUSIC VOL 3 - U2; DON'T LET IT GO OUT

Light U2

This Sunday night sees the airing of the third in our new series  Light From Rock Music on Fitzroy TV. After episodes looking for Light in the songs of Van Morrison and Bob Dylan we are turning our attentions to U2.

Now, I wrote a book about U2. That was 60,000 words published in 2005. There has been 15 more years of light coming out of their albums, gigs and campaigning since then! Indeed, some of the songs that you are going to hear in this episode are from more recent times.

So, my challenge is to be concise. To do so I am going to go down three roads. 

I am going to look at the early days. U2’s 2014 album Songs Of Innocence gives us a lot to investigate if we wish to find out how the band came together and what the foundations of their raison d’être are. I will suggest that U2 is a spiritual vocation as well as being a rock band.

Then I will look at growing up in the faith. Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again but he didn’t mean that rebirth was the end of the journey. It was but the beginning. Growing up again has not been so much emphasised in large swathes of evangelical Christianity particularly. U2 grew up in public and catalogued it in their art. There is a whole lot of light there.

Finally, we will look at the pastoral side of U2 and in that pastoral side how they can be helpful to a world struggling mentally, emotionally and spiritually as it lives through a viral pandemic. U2 were there to encourage Northern Ireland towards the Good Friday Agreement, there to help American after 9/11 and then again after the Bataclan concert massacre in Paris. We will find light there too.

Music in this episode is from the Fitzroy Collective. Expect inventive covers, powerfully performed. 

 

LIGHT FROM ROCK MUSIC VOL 3 - U2; DON'T LET IT GO OUT goes live on Sunday July 12th 2020 at 7pm - WATCH IT HERE


STARLESS - EARTHBOUND

Earthbound

This has been my biggest pleasant surprise of the year. I cannot even remember how I came across it. I am now absorbed in it. 

In the late 80s and early 90s I was Glasgow-centric in my music loves. I mean Deacon Blue. Aztec Camera, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, The Big Dish, The Bathers, Bloomsday, Friends Again, Hipsway, The Pearlfishers, Lies Damned Lies and Big Sur. It was a astonishing time and a lot of it seemed to fall away in the mid 90s.

Paul McGeechan fell away. He was in both Friends Again and Love and Money but got more involved in engineering and production. 

Finding Starless and discovering McGeechan had new music out had me scuttling off to listen. When I did it was even better than I could have imagined. Not the singer in Friends Again or Love and Money, McGeechan has used The Bathers’ Chris Thompson, The Big Dish’s Steven Lindsay and Hipsway’s Grahame Skinner as well as Julie Fowlis, The Delgados’ Emma Pollock and Jerry Burns. 

I was particularly delighted with Burns. Her Columbia debut in 1992 suggested she’d be huge but like Canadian Mary Margaret O’Hara she seemed to disappear but for a guest spot on a Craig Armstrong album.

I guess a good comparison to this Starless project would be Peter Gabriel’s Ovo where he was the sonic shaper but used the likes of Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan (who sang on the first Starless record) and other for vocalists.. 

After all that I should finally get to the record. It is ambitious in its breath and depth. The singers aforementioned and their co-written songs get laid over with McGeechan’s piano and the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra add a dramatic warmth. Then McGeechan adds the sound of the sea lapping shores of Scottish Islands and a dollop of Scottish Gaelic with Julie Fowlis and Karliene giving ethereal celtic vocals to the song and a sense of land and sea and sky to the theme.. 

It is no surprise that over all it sits snugly beside The Bathers and late Love and Money. I particularly love Chris Thomson and Steven Lindsay’s contributions, the former coming on as a Glaswegian Nick Cave on Calvary and the latter’s new version of Breakdown originally on his second solo album Kite. 

Earthbound is a very gorgeous piece of work. It is the second album in a trilogy. I am excited to discover the first one and cannot wait for the third. I also have my Bathers’, Big Dish, Love and Money and Jerry Burns records back out and have discovered one or two records that even the eagle eyed me have missed. 

The sweetest surprise that has prised open a treasure trove!


WERE THESE MY BEST DAYS (CORONAVIRUS TIMES)

Heron

I see a heron in the river

Without suspicion, oh so calm

Curiously watching me on the bank

Wondering what in nature I am

The wild is vibrant from this breather

Retreat to resurface our brutal tracks

Will we carry lessons into the opening

Or lose that hope in a hard fast reflex

 

The streets are getting busy 

I am looking both ways again

Yet the road that we are walking down

Has bend after sharp blind bend

Sometimes it’s not a map we need

But the right vehicle for the journey

So I’ll travel in patience and discipline

And pray the speed doesn’t over turn me.

 

Were these my very best days

Far from the joyless urgent howl

Taking refuge in the lockdown relief

From expectation’s constant scowl.


A RINGO STARR PLAYLIST FOR HIS BIRTHDAY

Ringo 80

July 7th. Ringo Starr's birthday. I have had my old vinyl out and been listening to albums right across his collection. Here is a Playlist of 25 top quality Ringo Starr solo recordings.

 

Bye Bye Blackbird

(from Sentimental Journey)

 

Snookeroo

(from Goodnight Vienna)

 

It Don’t Come Easy (live)

(from The Concert For Bangladesh) 

 

Photograph

(from Ringo)

 

Back Off Boogaloo 

(from Blast From Your Past)

 

Only You

(from Goodnight Vienna)

 

Grow Old With Me

(from What’s My Name)

 

A Dose Of Rock N Roll

(from Ringo’s Rotogravure)

 

Thank God For Music

(from Give More Love)

 

Oh My Lord

(from Choose Love)

 

You’re Sixteen

(from Ringo)

 

Drift Away

(from Vertical Man)

 

Weight Of The World 

(from Time Takes Time)

 

Give More Love

(from Give More Love)

 

Let Love Lead

(from Postcards From Paradise)

 

I Wouldn’t Have You Any Other Way

(from Beaucoup Of Blues)

 

Goodnight Vienna

(from Goodnight Vienna)

 

Hey Baby

(from Ringo’s Rotogravure)

 

Wrack My Brain

(from Stop and Smell The Roses)

 

I’m The Greatest 

(from Ringo)

 

In Liverpool

(from Ringo 2012)

 

I Still Love You

(from Ringo Rotogravure)

 

In A Heartbeat

(from Time takes Time)

 

Peace Dream

(from Y Not)

 

Let the Rest Of The World Go By

(from Sentimental Journey)


WHAT YOU WANT MOST AFTER LOCKDOWN IS WHERE YOUR HEART IS?

Primark crowds

As the nation comes out of lockdown, after 3 months when our freedoms and desires have been greatly curtailed, I have been wondering if this brand new experience of opening up after such personal limitations is a spiritual thermometer.

I have been thinking about opening up while turning over in my mind, heart and soul that verse in Matthew 6 where Jesus says For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

It is during Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount and he is in a little section about treasures in general. 

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

He finishes the section by talking specifically about money:

“You cannot serve both God and money.”

This verse about where your treasure is is right bang in the middle.

I have been surmising whether I could paraphrase Jesus’ line to “what you want most after lockdown is where your heart is.”

The nation has been chomping at the bit for weeks. People have been deprived of many things and it is fascinating to see where the rush back to everything is concentrated.

The seeming desperation to shop. Writer Mike Starkey once wrote a book called Born To Shop that took Descartes’ understanding of being human “I think therefore I am” and changed it to “I shop therefore I am”. Are the queues after lockdown confirming Starkey’s fears?

Or a meal at a restaurant or a manicure or haircut or sun holiday or or a night at the pub? Maybe I should be thrilled with the pressure on churches to reopen as a sign of spiritual fervour.

It is only me surmising but it might be a helpful thermometer to ask what we missed most? What we are eager to return to in “normal” life. Is that a gauge as to where our heart is?

As I critique my own soul, I fear that for me it is the opposite of the yearning for what I want as lockdown opens up. I don’t want it to open up. As an introvert I am loving the time to myself and family. 

The thermometer of my hesitancy is telling me that I need to begin to be less selfish with my time and be ready to give my time for other people. Following Jesus is all about giving up self for others. 

As a natural introvert whose energy is quickly used up in social situations I have had three great months. Lockdown relief I hear it called. My yearnings and desires were not curtailed but indulged. The government were kind enough to ground my 22 and 19 year old daughters to the house. The government kindly gave me a near sabbatical where I could read and write and listen and prepare. All my time was for me. 

I am now wrestling with God as I deal with my treasure being self absorption and how I can shift that to a selfless giving to neighbour and church community. The thermometer of “what you want most after lockdown is where your heart is” is challenging me greatly!


JANICE AND MY WEEKLY BENEDICTION

J & ME

This morning's sermon in Fitzroy (watch it HERE) was from Lectionary readings in Matthew 11 and I looked at we need rest and wisdom in these Coronavirus days. This was my benediction. Janice and I send it out as a blessing for the week ahead.

 

Whether in Arua City or wherever in the world to here in Fitzroy

May God the Father fill us with his wisdom

May Jesus lead us in his unforced rhythms of grace

And may the Holy Spirit work both wisdom and rest into our lives 

In practical ways that bless those around us.

Amen


THE BLACK SPOT IN MY BOB DYLAN VLOG - LESSONS IN THE VIRTUAL WORLD

Dylan_zantzinger_090110_mn

Gutted. To do a Bob Dylan evening and get something factually wrong loses the VLOG a lot of credibility. The man who murdered Hattie Carroll was not Zinger but Zantzinger. I knew that. I have heard the songs enough times. 

The lesson of course was to catch on quickly enough to re-record the VLOG. It is a hard way to learn that lesson. You can be sure that when we return to the Light In Rock Music series in the autumn with hopefully editions on Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Coldplay and Mumford & Sons we will be recording a week in advance of going out on Fitzroy TV!

This is another of those differences between the new virtual church and how it is different from the physical one. 

I was concerned about the new format. Our popular Fitzroy series The Gospel According To… worked off a live buzz. It was a cross between a concert and a seminar. It had spontaneous moments and it was not watched after the event. You had to be there.

When I started planning the Light In Rock Music series I was immediately aware that what I said would be heard differently. There would be a wider audience. There would be more hard core Van Morrison, Bob Dylan and U2 fans watching. What I said would be under more scrutiny. I didn’t need to get the name of the man who murdered Hattie Carroll wrong! A mistake like that would not be lost in the live ether.

For the Van Morrison edition, I scripted it. After I recorded though I was unhappy. As I have said about the Sunday services there is a need for a relationship with the screen and I hated looking at notes. That means downloading the script into my head and I have found that the way I have scheduled this series so close to Sunday sermons that this week that  has been all a little too much.

Lesson learned. I hope that apart from the hardcore Dylanophiles, that I can hear tutting, that this edition will be helpful for those who want some insight into how Bob Dylan has used Scripture right across his catalogue. 

I think I draw out a lot of helpful light in Dylan's work particularly a song released in 1964 about race and civil rights that is tragically still prophetic in 2020, maybe more so. The Church needs to see that light and apply it quickly. 

Very best of all, are the performances of Chris Taylor. They are wonderful and the VLOG is worth watching just for them alone. 

The Light In Rock Music series is available on HERE


WHAT LESSONS CAN CHURCHES LEARN FROM OUR CORONAVIRUS EXPERIENCE

Stocki in Ho's TV

Below is my Coronavirus Column in the Belfast Telegraph on Saturday July 4th 2020.

Let me preface that article with some up to date Stockman Surmising.

I have been very hard ball these past few weeks about why churches should not be not opening. That posture comes from my fear that there would be pressure on colleagues to open churches as soon as it became possible. As my article states I do not think that there is any need to rush back into church buildings if church as it should be could not happen in the building. 

However, I am aware that not all churches are not like Fitzroy. They don't all have a production team to create on-line services, or the number of gifted musicians to lead worship from their smart phones or even the resources for the congregation to watch on-line. In such situations it might well be the best thing for that congregation to begin to gather sooner rather than later. 

I am aware that some smaller Presbyterian congregations are meeting on July 5th, some allowing those with no access to internet to watch in the building, some are experimenting with the idea, some working on two sites. I am praying that such services go well. This article is a reasoned argument for those of us who feel that not only do we not need to gather yet but that we are better in the short term not to gather.

 

Last Monday churches were given the green light to reopen. Should we rush right back or leave it until more of us are allowed in the building? Will getting back to the building be a spiritually tonic or might we lose some of the lessons learned in these strange days? There is a lot of debate and discussion among church leaders. 

The truth is that churches reopening is easier rhetoric than reality. 

There are many health and safety issues, from physical distancing to ways in and out of buildings to the human resources and financial cost of the meticulous cleaning that will be necessary to allow us to attend week after week. 

Then there is the service itself. We will have to curtail fellowship. There will be no communal singing. Apparently the preacher can’t even raise his or her voice. With Celtic evangelicals like me that is a big ask!

The limited numbers will mean either booking your seat or rotating your congregation by groups. In Fitzroy more people would be excluded from a service than would be allowed in. What would we do with visitors who turn up not knowing the booking system?

It all leads me to ask what Church actually is? I fear that we might have people gathering in a church building but that the gathering might not be anything like what church is supposed to be. Fellowship without tea and coffee? Worship without singing? The body with members barred? 

Into that discussion it might be helpful to ask what we have learned about Church in lockdown. We discovered that the church buildings might be closed but churches were very much open. We learned that the church was not about bricks but about people. We learned that we could pastor one another from the kitchen table with phone calls, that we could gather for prayer and committee meetings as well as continuing youth and children’s work, and even Baby and Toddler groups, by Zoom and that we could all feel very much part of a worship service by being creative on Youtube.

In Fitzroy we found that we have never had such a handle on our pastoral needs. We found more at the Zoom prayer meeting than we we met in church. We were astounded that our on-line services reached maybe five times what we might have had on Sundays before lockdown and that now we have weekly members from British Columbia to Ohio to Greece to Bangladesh to Australia.

As we ponder when to return I am not prioritising so much the urgency of people in a building so much as what is best for the spiritual formation, pastoral care and missional reach of our ministry. Even when we get back to physically gathering we would be wrong to leave behind the benefits we have found in the virtual possibilities of these months.

Finally, as we try to avoid just a quick reflex back to how it was I hope that the our returning to the buildings doesn’t make us spiritually complacent. It is sometimes too easy to think that going to church on a Sunday morning is enough. In lockdown many of us having been praying more, reading the Bible more and pondering spiritual things more. Please God that continues.  

Do not get me wrong. I cannot wait to see Fitzroy filled once more. I love the live connection of preaching and prayer and the deep fellowship in our Welcome Area afterwards. However, the same Fitzroy Sunday that we last enjoyed in March is still a long way off. We need to think of the right time to start returning and when we do, it needs to be spiritually even more enriching than it was.


RAY LaMONTAGNE - MONOVISION

Monovision

After a few albums where he has experimented with his sound, using producers such as Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys and Jim James from My Morning Jacket, Ray LaMontagne has gone back to basics and not only produced Monovision but played everything on it. I have enjoyed those last three records but this one might be his best of all.

As well as going back to basics LaMontagne goes back to the early 70s for his influence. Strong Enough is all Creedence Clearwater, Summer Clouds could be Joni Mitchell and Misty Morning Rain is Van Morrison circa Tupelo Honey. Right across the album are echoes of Neil Young, that lonesome harmonica and rustic strum of the Comes A Time record.

In it all, LaMontagne remains somehow himself, the real songwriting McCoy in a world of big voices who wish they had LaMontagne songwriting chops. 

Everything here is pastoral in the sense of land and sky but also pastoral in how we might get ourselves through Coronavirus Times. We’ll make It Through says all that we have been feeling:

 

I know you’re scared ‘cause you can’t see the light

Youtossandturn through thenight

Holding me, andI’m holding you

And together, we’ll get through

We always do

 

This is a song and this is an album to help us through these strange 2020 days. It’ll be on my playlist for a long time.