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August 2021

SUE DIVIN - GUARD YOUR HEART

Guard Your Heart

“Adults remembered our past. Would they ever remember our future? Smothering the frustration of it building in my gut was harder by the hour. Would our day ever come?” 

These are the thoughts of 18 year old Londonderry Protestant girl Iona as the Troubles, that she didn’t live one minute of, raise their sinister sectarian shadow to come between her and the love of her life Aidan from across all the boundaries of Derry/Londonderry/Doire - religion, culture, class and geography.

Iona and Aidan are the Romeo and Juliet of Sue Divin’s novel Guard Your Heart. It had me gripped, lured by its charm and its terror, its deep emotion and page turning tension. 

Within the Romeo and Juliet template Divin tells her tale with dramatic ebb and flow. It is believable on all levels. Even when it might seems that she has stretched to contrive, as in Aiden and Iona are both born on the day of the Good Friday Agreement, VAR would always give her the benefit of the doubt. The characters are authentic, the psycho-geography of Derry/Londonderry/Doire works a treat. 

Divin’s attention to detail is accurate even down to the “If it wasn’t for the influence of preachers and therapists on my parents , there’d have been champagne not Shloer in the glasses.” Loved that! And did I mention humour. She somehow sneaks in loads of that too.

There is a strong spiritual thread. The evangelical Protestant Iona (named after the Christian band that I once wrote a song with) and the Catholic Aidan living off Bible verses and spiritual wisdom left, often in Irish, by his late mother. The book’s title is found in one of those, from Proverbs 4:23. Aiden has a powerful conversation with a monk and this powerful challenge to Iona’s parents and us all:

 

“‘Sweetie, he’s not even a proper Christian’ Mum’s eyes pleaded with me.

‘Aye, just like that’s not sectarian’.”

 

It is one of the many many depth charges, political, cultural and spiritual, that could keep the Foyle rippling for years.

Back to the question at the top of this blog. It’s a question for more than a novel. It is a question that needs asked every time a leader in our wounded and wonderful island makes a decision. From politics to church to community to education to housing to economics to employment. Let us not smother the future of our gifted and wonderful youth in the old conflicts that had us do incomprehensible and reprehensible things to one another. 

Dabbling at the edges of reconciliation work, as I try to do, I became very aware of the forgotten children of, not The Troubles, but the post Agreement. Fr Martin and I spent a car journey going to speak at a school’s event about whether the under 30s have been left out of all our deliberating about the past and more importantly the future. At the event itself a young Sixth former vented her angst at having been left to work out the past for her self and how that impacts her identity in the present. It also leaves her out of the big conversations about HER future. I hope she finds this book.

So, let Aidan and Iona preach. Let them judge us. Let them teach us. Allow them to contribute their energy and wisdom to THEIR future.

Sue Divin works in peace making. In Guard Your Heart she makes a huge contribution. I utterly loved every single page.


OUR APOCALYPSE TO ADORE - Seaside Psalm 2021 #4

Misty

“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration.” — from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

 

It seems the heatwave left us 

There’s no more daytripper blue

Gray clouds like a misty shroud

Are hiding Rathlin Island from view

Scotland has disappeared altogether

Fair Head’s stressing to peer through

Everybody has ran for home

It’s all left for me and you

 

We laugh happy to have it back

We snigger at what they’re all missing

There is no such thing as an ordinary night

There’s only ordinary looking and listening.

 

The river’s been reshaping itself again

With today’s weather from glen to shore

Those shifting pebbles are making patterns 

That fill my wonder with mystery galore

Sand martins swoop from off the golf course

Skim the sea surface then back they soar

Everybody has ran for home

It’s yours and my apocalypse to adore. 

 

We laugh happy to have it back

We snigger at what they’re all missing

There is no such thing as an ordinary night

There’s only ordinary looking and listening.


BEWARE OF DARKNESS... GUARD YOUR HEART...

Harrison 2

 

The 50th Anniversary Edition of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass has been lingering in my excited expectation for weeks and is finally here. 

 

As I prepared for its arrival I was listening to the original, the 2000 remasters and The Concert For Bangladesh as well as reading the brand new book about it all - All Things Must Pass Away and Other Assorted Love Songs.

 

I have been needlessly drawn to the spiritual musings of Harrison’s eastern faith and always trying to caress them with my Jesus faith. 

 

Beware of Darkness caught my soul afresh. I have been listening to these songs since I finally found the album in a shop on Cockburn Street in Edinburgh on my family summer holidays of 1980 and have loved this song and even the covers by Leon Russell, Sheryl Crow and Norah Jones. Yet, I heard it deeper this past few weeks.

 

I believe, as Harrison’s wife Olivia has said, that George was preaching to himself as much as any of us. Here was a man who had lived at the very zenith of pop stardom for some 7 years and was about to become the biggest star of 1971 attempting some kind of Hare Krishna holiness in the middle of unimaginable wealth and hedonistic temptation.

 

He warns us to be alert to wealth and power and takes it from outside to within. 

 

Watch out now, take care

Beware of the thoughts that linger

Winding up inside your head

The hopelessness around you

In the dead of night

Beware of sadness

 

I was particularly interested in his reasoning why. Too often in the traditional Christian idea of temptation or sin it is all about breaking some rule concocted my some headmaster type God. Harrison gets closer to the truth. Beware of these things because they are a hurdle to us finding our full human potential. George might have called that perfect consciousness. I would call it the “life and all its fulness” that Jesus invites us into. That is what a God of love wants for us. Fulfilment of our humanity that he created and redeemed.

 

It can hit you

It can hurt you

Make you sore and what is more

That is not what you are here for

 

What we are here for? That is my reason for following Jesus. It is not about some ethereal otherworldliness. It is the opposite. I follow Jesus to make the most sense of can of the world and my fulfilled place within it. 

 

Guard Your Heart

 

As I tried to find the caressing of Beware Of Darkness with my own pilgrimage I happened to be reading Guard My Heart by Sue Divin. A wonderful novel set as a modern Romeo and Juliet story in Derry/Londonderry/Doire, the title comes from one of the Scripture’s Proverbs - 4:23. 

 

Catholic Aidan’s mother used to tell him, in Irish, “Guard your heart for it is the well spring of life.” The novel is about two young people trying to do exactly that in a world very different to George Harrison’s but just as complex to spiritually navigate. 

 

Proverbs 4:23 is a very good paraphrase of Beware of Darkness. It’s a world of sectarian darkness that could so easily envelope Aidan and Iona in Divin’s book. If these two 18 year olds are to discover themselves, push themselves to the next chapter in the story of who they can be they would do well to beware of the darkness of, and guard their hearts from, our wee island’s prejudiced hatreds?

 

And me? I am no wealthy pop star. I am, sadly, no 18 year old just finding my way but Harrison’s song has me alerting myself to the seductions of a society offering all kinds of glittery things than could drag me well away from what I am here for. 


ANTHONY TONER - SIX INCHES OF WATER

Toner 6%22

Anthony Toner is such a gem of an artist for any community to have in its neighbourhood. Singing and playing guitar most of his life he was in his 40s before everything came together in the making of albums. Call him a late developer but in the last 15 years he has mastered his songwriting craft to darn near perfection.

There’s the guitar playing. Let me start with that because I always thought that he brought in a guitarist but checking the credits to see who I realised that it was the man himself. The playing has echoes of Knopfler or Clapton. I am sure that Anthony would be embarrassed by me mentioning him in the same sentence but listen to Greenway Song and feel the utter ecstasy when the perfect lick hits gently at the perfect moment. 

There’s the conversational singing style. Maybe it is the kind of venues that he has learned his craft but Toner is a consummate story teller and he has this rare ability to sing stories. Yes, everyone always says John Prine but I will name check John Hiatt for this particular review. 

Then there are the songs themselves. Toner has an eye for detail. He has a literary touch with a couplet and he seems an utter natural with rhyme. 

Some dread the concept album because they think Yes and Tangerine Dream. When it becomes a discipline for a songwriter’s art I think it works a dream. For this record, Toner has tightened his vision and written eight songs about East Belfast where he has spent a good lot of his time this last few years. We get a well placed tribute to Hyndford Street’s Van Morrison with a cover of Orangefield and the Arco String Quartet close things perfectly with the hymn that was played as that part of Belfast’s greatest creation, the Titanic, sank. 

Not that for one minute confining himself to a particular place in any way hinders the breadth, height or width of Toner’s imagination. The Templemore Baths and the aforementioned Greenway open pores in body and soul; The 1974 worker’s strike and the World War II Blitz give historical contexts; Sam McCready and a Taxi Driver’s mysterious passenger are among fascinating character’s true and mythic scattered throughout.

In the gathering of all this Toner makes his observations and leaves his wisdom. 

I love the heron on the Greenway Song:

 

“The heron was in my dreams last night

A skinny old ghost of grey and white 

This city needs that kind of bird

Who listens and never says a word.”

 

Or the nephew in The Less It Matters:

 

“My nephew comes to see me every other week

He’s young and fast and has no gift for chatter

He says, ‘You can’t tell where anybody’s from in here’

And I say, ‘The closer you get to the end the less it matters’”

 

Six Inches Of Water is utterly brilliant in just about every kind of way and I personally cannot wait to see how much water they got in the weekly bath in the west, north and BT9! 


STOCKI HOLIDAY PLAYLIST 2021 #1 (week ending July 31st)

Stocki headphones

So here are 20 of the songs that I have listened to most this past holiday week. Holidays give me the opportunity to really listen to an album over and over (Jackson Browne, David Crosby, Joy Odalukon, Anthony Toner) and also pick up tracks that I might miss ordinarily (Dawes, Head and The Heart, Daniel Lanois (feat Leonard Cohen)). I also have an 8 hour Summer playlist that loops in car and house. I have only included one song per album as this week you might get all of Jackson Browne! 

LISTEN on ITUNES

 


JACKSON BROWNE - DOWNHILL FROM EVERYWHERE

The title track from the wonderful new record. Seems a good lead off track.

 

GEORGE HARRISON - RUN OF THE MILL (outtakes and Jams)

I have been reading Womack and Kruppa’s book about Harrison and Clapton and waiting for the 50th Anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass. This one is already out and has been a bit of a spiritual devotional this week. Good questions George.

 

THE WALLFLOWERS - I HEAR THE OCEAN (WHEN I WANT TO HEAR TRAINS)

Exit Wounds is my favourite Wallflowers record and this one has intrigue and a Vigilantes Of Love type feel.

 

DAWES - FISHERMAN’S BLUES

One of my favourite bands do one of my favourite ever songs. Discovered this through Mike Scott on Twitter. Very different. Very good!

 

TOLU MAKAY & RTE  CONCERT ORCHESTRA - N17

Mike Scott’s old mates The Sawdoctors’ classic immigration song with a different feel. What an astonishing song this is.

 

DAVID CROSBY - RODRIGUEZ FOR A NIGHT 

Astonishing new record from Crosby. Pure Steely Dan as it should be as it’s a co-write with Donald Fagen.

 

DEL AMITRI - OTHERWISE

Clever lyric as you’d expect from the wonderfully good Fatal Mistakes.

 

JOY OLADUKON - IF YOU GOT A PROBLEM 

This voice. Oh my. My discovery of the year.

 

NEEDTOBREATHE - CARRY ME (Feat. Jon Foreman)

Really enjoying the more organic sound of Into The Mystery. 

 

BEKI HEMINGWAY - LAY YOUR BURDENS DOWN

I have a few songs from Earth and Asphalt on our Summer Playlist. How good are these songs. Crisp and Crucial. 

 

INHALER - IT WON’T ALWAYS BE LIKE THIS

The Dublin boys shift the body and the head too. 

 

DANIEL LANOIS (Feat LEONARD COHEN) - TORN AGAIN

Leonard Cohen guesting with Daniel Lanois. Oh yes!

 

DAVID GRAY - HEART AND SOUL

Gray’s meditative Skellig has been a favourite this year and this is one of my favourites.

 

DECLAN O’ROURKE - STARS OVER KINWARA

I look out many nights and imagine that O’Rourke wrote this about Rathlin, Fair Head and Glenshesk.

 

ANTHONY TONER - RECOGNISED CODEWORD 

Anthony has me back from the coast in our wonderful and wounded city. Six Inches of Water has ten songs about East Belfast and I chose this one.

 

BRONAGH GALLAGHER - TRUTH OR DARE

Last summer I discovered Gallagher’s voice when she covered The Healing Has Begun for Hot Press’s celebration of Van’s 75th birthday. This one is similar.

 

DEREK AND THE DOMINOES - LAYLA

I have listened to this song for 40 years and missed the piano coda until Womack and Kruppa pointed it out. How?

 

TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS - THIRTEEN DAYS

Loving the bundles of Petty records being released. This JJ Cale cover is on the new Angel Dream, a reimagining of the She’s The One soundtrack.

 

THE HEAD AND THE HEART - OUR HOUSE

I love this band so this was a marvellous holiday find of them covering Graham Nash’s love song for Joni

 

URGE FOR GOING - JONI MITCHELL

This is the Blue Sessions demo from the wee EP brought out to celebrate that extraordinary album’s 50 years. This one somehow was never on a Joni album. I have learned to love it this past year. A great way to end a Playlist.