Previous month:
June 2021
Next month:
August 2021

July 2021


Crosby For Free

How David Crosby is still alive and looking forward to his 80th birthday on August 18th, never mind being in an incredibly fertile vein of form, is a wonder of the 21st century world? The world is full of wonders that on a daily basis we walk past and take for granted. Let us not do it with For Free.

For Free is Stills, Nash and Young’s former buddy’s 5th record in 7 years. The last one Here If You Listen was like a vocal work with Michael League, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. 

Sky Trails before leaned heavily on his love of jazz.  

Its predecessor Lighthouse was gentle song writing. For Free harks back to the first of the five Croz. For Free uses all the angles of these last seven years and nails it better than any of the first four. It seems more rounded, solid and thus satisfying.

It all comes, as so often with Crosby, with a little help from his friends. Michael McDonald fills in for the aforementioned harmonisers Stills and Nash on the opening River Rise.

Sarah Jarosz adds stunning vocals to the time track. That track, For Free, is a Joni Mitchell cover, adding to Amelia and Woodstock on his last two records and gets to the true meaning, nature and purpose of music making.

Maybe the best track sounds like, but isn’t, another cover. If She’s Got To Be Somewhere from Sky Trails sounded like Steely Dan then Rodriguez In The Night is an actual co-write with Donald Fagan. A whole album of such a collaboration would have great potential!

Crosby’s son James Raymond might be the main cause of all of his long lost dad's resurgence. He is all over this as producer, co writer and player. His own daughter Gracie even sings. Does she call Croz Grandpa?

Into all of this Crosby sings about life and mortality. His own mortality is there in the beautiful closing I Won’t Stay Long whereas Shot At Me is a cafe conversation with a veteran who served in the Middle East. He’s doing Crosbian deals with the devil in the fictional story line of Rodriguez In The Night. The utter beauty of The Other Side of Midnight takes me on some boat journey with sailor boy Crosby.

I Think I might be a man with a very colourful life story finding his way or maybe coming to terms with all the times he got lost.

For Free shimmers with vibrancy and positivity. The guitars light it up, the harmonies allow it to soar and hanging all over that are these songs of a world weary human making sense of the life of his generation, most of which he lived in his own broken, messed up, often dark but contradictorily light seeking life of an artistic adventurer.  

David Crosby is a wonder and For Free is wonderful!


Summer Music

Summer vacation for me as about getting those long empty days to listen and read. Here are the records I am uploading for some seriously listening to... 


JOY OLADOKUN - in defense of my happiness

My revelation of the summer. Joy’s voice just stand out over everything else I am hearing. Then there’s the spiritual tension and… ah… joy!



Always wonderful to have new Jackson Browne thoughts and this one has some excellent thoughts, social, political and relational. All sent out to us in a more vibrant sound echoing his Looking East days. 



Bono’s boy and his mates throw down the gauntlet to the older stadium bands with an assured and catchy set of great songs. 



Another discovery of July. Webster has the gentlest sound but crafted and full. Hypnotic.



The younger Dylan sounding more like his dad’s mate Tom Petty than his dad. Showing a maturity of craft and purpose. Strong contender for records of the year.



Fresh folk voice with contemporary songwriting twists from a young woman from the Monaghan-Armagh border. Songs of myth and introspection and home.



With all his addictions it was surely unlikely that David Crosby should be alive on his August 14th 80th birthday! Defying all, this is his 5th good album in 7 years and my personal favourite.



The roll out of Tom Petty’s work this past year is most welcome in this house. This time it is a reconstruction of the film soundtrack She’s The One as if it was a full on Petty & The Heartbreakers record. Wonderful addition to the Wildflowers stuff.




Anthony is such a great lyricist and has just made a record entirely inspired by East Belfast. Just out I am so looking forward to exploring my city in these songs.



A reunion with substance. Del Amitri return nearly two decades later as if they were back in 1993. Loving it.



First record in a longtime. Still that modern version of Simon and Garfunkel that chilled vacations need. 



I’ve been aware of Amy Wadge since she played Greenbelt as a member of the Hummingbirds. These are three EPs from her songs on the fabulous Welsh TV drama Keeping Faith. Strong songs.



So good to hear Adam Duritz’s voice again. Strong storytelling and imagery as ever. More please!


Stocki and Jani 21

When I moved to Fitzroy in 2009 I realised that any ideas of writing more books were pretty much gone. I had my Masters dissertation pretty close to book form but I left it. 

When I write books I need time lots of time to get back in from where I was, to find the next chapters. Days. Weeks. I am so glad to got the time on my 2018 sabbatical to ghost write Trevor Stevenson’s memoir, From Killing Fields To Fields Of Life. That was a lovely wee surprise!

Anyway, back to 2009. I then thought. I could blog more. During the 2010 World Cup, as it was in South Africa that I had written so much about, I decided to blog every day for that month. For eleven now years I have kept going. Just 500 words or so, an article, review, poem from beginning to end, everyday. 

I don’t always do it. When I am tired my imagination wanes and I have to repost old blogs. Or re-write them. Yet, I have been sending out something most days for over a decade and I am very thankful that many of you read those thoughts. Thank you. The next year should see Soul Surmise pass 1 million hits. Wow! Thank you again.

To the point. Today I start my summer vacation. I treat it pretty religiously. I believe I should. I have blogged about that too.

So, I take the pressure off myself. I go on social media less. I only write blogs about what I am reading, listening to and rhyming. Any meaty articles get noted for post holiday. If I don’t write one thing for a month so be it but usually I like reviewing the book I have just read as it helps me untangle what I got from it. Hopefully it might be a good recommendation for your own summer reading.

Why do I say all of this. To remind myself to allow myself to be led by quiet waters. To commit to sabbath. Maybe it is also a last preach to all of you. Whatever, you do in ordinary time, leave it down for holiday time. Take the weight off. Find empty days. Those are the days where refreshment is most fertile. 

Let’s do it!


BC river

I was walking across the beach on my own, a rare expedition, last night and I sensed a nudge to turn off The Wallflowers in my head phones and listen to the something more... I have spoken a lot this week about my bad habit of poking the quiet waters... So I stopped.


Turn the music off

And listen to the wonder

The waves as they lap

The ocean’s big blue yonder


Turn off the music

And listen to the quiet

The rhythm of the silence

The stillness of deep soul’s riot


Tune in to the earth’s allure

And the night sky’s encryption 

Tune in to heaven’s contours

And the evening’s benediction


Turn off the music

Learn the lesson

Here... now... this...

Feel the blessing.

JOY OLADOKUN - in defense of my own happiness


The musical revelation of my summer of 2021 this young lady is Joy by name and utter joy by musical nature. 

Ricky Ross had alluded to this record and a day or two later I spotted her loitering in a Youtube thread. It was her performance of Sunday on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. My body literally lifted off my chair. The unadulterated purity of her voice. All at once angelic while stuck in the everyday issues of the world.

You knew she’d name check Tracy Chapman but she takes that very obvious folky singer songwriter template and sprinkles gospel and R&B and pop and even rap all across the mix, creating a sound that is at once familiar but so young and fresh you think it’s the first time. 

There is a spiritual energy too. She, sadly like so many, has struggled under the weight of the Church’s expectations but, unlike so many, she continued to find her way to hold on to faith.

On the opening Jordan she tells us:


I tried to build an institution

Instead of trying to keep the faith


On that song Sunday that I heard first she explains:


Sunday, bury me under the weight of who you need me to be


Not everyone so young can divide the wheat from the chaff but Oladokun does it joyously. She is a soul singer with just an acoustic guitar and  almost creates what a never ending abundance of hope might sound like. You feel it. You ride on it with her. And she wants you to. As she sings on If You Got A Problem:


If you got a problem

I got a problem too

If you’re standing at the bottom

I’ll reach out for you.


It's pastoral. On her website she writes, “When you listen to me, i want you to feel like you’ve taken an emotional shower”. Yes, that is how I felt that first time I heard her voice. Like she was this refreshing gift full of songs that  could heal or inspire and help something grow inside your soul. As on Brick By Brick where almost hymn like she sings:


We are making all things new again

We are making all things new

We are searching for the difference

We are making all things new 


That’s what she’s doing!


Reads 21

So, I am getting ready for novel reading holidays. People suggest, now and again, that I am well read. I don't feel that I am. I read a book every 6 weeks at home. Slow. By the sea, however, I can get through a good few more. I'll in no way get through all of these but they are what I will be choosing from... unless one fo thee suggests another!



I have been looking forward to this since I heard about at late last year. Subtitled Harrison, Clapton and Other Assorted Love Songs it is about my favour era of music - 1968-1973. Womack and Kruppa look at Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Clapton's Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs and tell the Ballad of George and Eric. That the 50th Anniversary Edition of All Things Must Pass comes out in a couple of weeks helps even more! This one is first up!



Booker winner, this one should probably have been read last summer but it won't go away in friend's recommendations. I am expecting as much heartache as beauty but when the two blend perfectly it doesn't get much better and that is what friends are saying.



Of the most talked about this one caught my eye because it was about a friendship built on music getting rekindled years later. Music always attracts me. Album references etc. That both Colm Tóibin and Tracey Thorn endorse it fascinates too.



A teenage love affair across the boundaries in post Agreement Northern Ireland, Tony Davidson tipped me off on this as Sue grew up in his congregation. She has a Masters in Peace and Conflict so I am drawn by that too. In the current Dig With It Shirley-Anne McMillan bigs it up as "absolutely charming"



The wonderful, and missed every day, Lucia Quinney Mee introduced us to Lauren St. John way back when our girls were very young. That this one is dedicated to Lucia and that David, Rachel and Alice write in the back about organ donation draws me back. I gotta read this one in the place where  we miss her the very most. About surviving storms, it seems appropriate.



I like my books pretty much et in my day and more often than not where I am. This one is set in 1922 Moscow but I am down to the back cover comment, "Can a life without luxury be the richest of all". Recommended at a recent Fitzroy walk by Sheila McNeill and Moyna McCullough, they are always worth listening to!



Noticed this just as I finished Tracey Thorn's My Rock N Roll Friend and thought it would be a great kind of follow up. I also love biographies that take me to albums I missed. Not sure that this one does as it seems to only go up to 1983 and Magazine. Still, you simply need to know more about Rickie Lee Jones!



I love Sinéad's voice and work. Her life though seems a little anarchic and at times sad. I have followed her down the years and wonder if the biography can tell me more than I fear I know. I am not sure I can pluck up the courage but it needs to be there!



The back cover says:

"Do you believe in the human heart?
I don't mean simply the organ, obviously.
I'm speaking in the poetic sense
The human heart. Do you think there
is such a thing? Something that makes
each of us special and individual."
I gotta read that!














Kings Hall 13


Friends remind me that this photo was taken 8 years ago today. I was meant to be going shopping for paint! A phone call told me there was a free Bruce Springsteen ticket. When were they heading down I asked. In half an hour they said. Why? It'll not start until 8. Oh no, he'll do a wee set if we get in with the first in the queue. Really?!?!

It was a hot July day just like today. I enjoyed sitting with Glenn and Mark as much as I enjoyed the gig. They told me tall tales of their Bruce bromance. I thought I was a fan! In their shadow, maybe not! 

Bruce did play the wee secret set for the crazies. I was so thrilled to be among them. The entire gig was amazing. My review can be read HERE

Glenn gifted me that ticket. He never said. He and Mark made up more tall tales of how an extra one arrived in the post or how Glenn's son needed to go to Dublin.

He gifted me that ticket! It was who he was. It was an amazing day. As well  as the ticket he and Mark welcomed me into their gang. We partied. We made memories that I am basking in again today.

Thank you dear brother. It was a Glory Day. Wish we could do it again. I'd buy you. We'd pay anything for just one more song!


I loved when you took me chasing God

Up ahead and never looking over your shoulder

We knew everything when we were young

But relished all the questions, getting older

And you’re thoughts took us out there

But you always landed them, flesh on

In the hidden quiet moments of generosity

That’s where peace, love and justice got done.


And we’re standing in the King’s Hall sun

South Belfast basking in a saxophone wailing

The smile on our faces lighting the evening

Our big hearts and sweet souls are sailing

Between Atlantic City and Bangor pier

Our sails so full and the skies so clear


If we ever had the time again

Then I would make more time

In the meantime I’ll hear your whispering

In every Bruce Springsteen rhyme.


Magic Rings

I didn’t want my soul to be saved from hell as much as I wanted to know God. God. Imagine that. God. I couldn’t. As David Gray said, probably not about God, “we are trying to spell what the wind can’t explain”.

The first step of following Jesus for me was a leap into the biggest adventure that I could imagine a human can take. I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from Richard Bach’s short novel, wanting to fly like no other gull has ever flown… or human being had ever lived. I was seeking that “life in all its fulness” that Jesus invited us into in John 10:10.

As a seventeen year old I felt like Digory in CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. In that, the first novel chronologically in the Narnia Chronicles but not first published, Digory and Polly find magic rings that bring them into Narnia through a dank pool. Polly wants to go back to safety but Digory says, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there.”

I believed that Jesus life and cross and resurrection was the miraculous act of God that had tossed me into this other world. I wanted to spend my life looking. I was mad keen to jump headlong into mystery and vastness. 

It feels that what then happened was that they handed me a couple of books. Here’s all you need to know in this tome of systematic theology. God confined to a few hundred pages! Here’s another one about what to do and not to do. They told me it was very clearcut. Biblical they called it. There was no room for questions or doubts. No room for mystery for that matter. Adventure and risk seemed frowned upon. 

Forty years later and I am still seeking more. More about God than was in the books. I am still seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into what the Bible really does say. I am mad keen to find out what it sounded like to those who wrote it and heard it for the first time. I want to know where our cultural lenses over 2000 years have shaped it, perhaps wrongly. I find a lot of wrongly!

Oh I know that my cultural glasses will make errors too. I am aware that I might shift the swing of the pendulum too far. But I am not into this for some safe sitting around at the corner of the stagnant pool talking about the colour of the magic ring or I how held it to get in. I want to step out beyond. I am up for the daily dynamic of the dilemma that is discipleship in a mad crazy 21st century world, not simple do this and do that following.

So, in this week that I have been given to reflect and read I am reading about the culture of Jesus day, about how the Bible works and how to preach better. The preaching is why I was born, my reason to be magiced the rings, my place in this vast ginormous kingdom that I am still exploring daily. 

None of the books might be deemed to be safe in certain theological jurisdictions but as CS Lewis also said, “Aslan is not safe but he is good.” Aslan, he also said, was on the move and I am up for the chasing after!



The vibrant sounds of the hot hot summer of 2021. Dublin’s, Inhaler are top of the UK album charts so fast that I didn’t get a review done quickly enough and I might need my to use my Ventolin.

I have followed the lead singer’s life since the day he was born and wondered at one point (in a dither over a move to a Dublin church) if my daughter might have been in his class at St. Andrews College (she’d have been a year below me thinks!).

It’s not easy being a rock stars son when you are trying to be a rock star. Ask the off spring of Lennon, McCartney, Simon or Taylor for example. Young Eli Hewson does it with ease, backed by a tight wee band - Ryan McMahon, Josh Jenkinson and Robert Keating.

I struggled a little with the early singles. I wasn’t at all convinced. Yet, here they are fully bloomed and booming out the most intoxicating guitar rock sound since… well there have been some since his dad’s band… but that’s always going to be the reference for this one.

In the end I guess it should be. The immediate sound is more Joy Division and Interpol than U2 but if people are trying to see Eli as more Elisha to his dad’s Elijah then it does have U2’s accessible grab for radio and big full stadiums. 

The current single Cheer Up Baby and the title track are all over your ears immediately. The latter a perfect song for lockdown and the coming out there of… It Won’t Always Be LikeThis. Indeed! Yet, it was written way back in the day. As a first song ever written it was some sign of potential. 

Everything, as you’d expect is bouncy and youthful, though they can change gear nicely as on My King Will be Kind and Totally. 

The former gets angry and personally, though I can handle bad language as long is it for poetic intent, “She says I’ve got no love, I fucking hate that bitch” is a little out of keeping with everything else I am hearing. 

Love and heartache and finding belonging are all readily made themes for a debut record by a young band. If they were keeping one thing from the singer’s dad’s band I’d hold on to the eternal spiritual questions. That might more than anything be the reason that Eli and dad are going to end up competing in some awards night or best of the year poll!

I do love their ode to America, A Night On The Floor. This is perhaps as close to U2 as the young pretenders get. It’s that recurring U2 theme of a love/hate relationship with the States. 

In an Apple interview Eli, after sharing a love for America, says, “And it’s just sad to see America in that kind of state, because it symbolises so much to us. It feels like, I guess, the States is having a bad hangover or something. It needs to get off its arse and have a coffee or something.”  

The falls close to the tree there but I do love the lines : “This for all you sinners/Saved by saints/God bless the madness/Of the 50 states.” 

So Inhaler have arrived with a big relieved puff. They deserve their number 1 and they might just be the saviours of guitar bands. As a first album it is up there with, yip, Boy as a more than impressive debut.


Boris Freedom Day
Cooped up for too long, freedom day at last
No longer confined, no more concerns
Cast away caution and throw all your masks
Good riddance, goodbye, normal life returns
Farewell restrictions, go put them behind
Open your arms to the shops and the bars
Personal freedom for all and you’ll find
Chaos will reign in this country of ours
No matter what’s’ wrong, no matter what’s right
There is one thing that you must understand
I’ll do what I want and go where I like
Rampant and raging, I’ll course through this land
On the same page as Covid deniers
Freedom is mine – says Coronavirus
My mate Paul has been writing a poem every day since we went into Lockdown. This is #511. Two books of his diary of poems are available. To read my review CLICK HERE
On this so called Freedom Day in England, Paul nails it. That which is most free is Coronavirus. It's freedom is freed up when we start playing free and easy with it.
I am hearing the parent say, "You are free children to eat bags and bags of sweeties, bars and bars of chocolate and lashings and lashings of ice cream. Big big risk. Might kill you. BUT I'm not stopping you..."