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October 2021


= Equals

You gotta love Ed Sheeran. 

Everybody loves Ed Sheeran.

Ed Sheeran seems to be the pop star who lives next door.

What we have all been amazed about for years is how Ed Sheeran can take 80,000 people in a stadium and draw them in to a ridiculous feeling of intimate community with just a guitar and a voice. Phenomenal.

What I have been surmising listening to = (Equals) is that he does the same in his work in general. It is a phenomenal ability to be so globally massive but make yourself so intimate to the listener of a billion streams.

Wherever you put Sheeran in the pantheon of pop and rock superstars I don’t feel I know as much about any of them as I do about Ed.

Sheeran has this ability to seemingly invite you into his life. He sounds like your mate when he sings about playing to 80,000 at Wembley. You might feel like a gooseberry as you listen to love songs like First Times, Love In Slow Motion and Collide. 

You are almost baby sitting yourself as he sings Sandman to his daughter Lyra. Songs for your children have turned into syrupy mush for many songwriters. Sheeran with all his sentimentality gives a lesson to his peers. Sandman is a beaut.

I would not call myself an Ed Sheeran anorak but as someone who footers around with words and lyrics and rhymes I am an admirer of how he churns out catchy songs with original couplets on familiar themes.

As I have listened I have heard an artist growing up in life (he speaks a lot about having a daughter doing that) but also in the honing of his gift. = (Equals) seems another step up from ÷ (Divide). 

Most of these are songs of Sheeran’s life and love and family and loss but that lead off single Bad Habits is a shift in Sheeran’s sonics. Dance, not for Rihanna but Ed himself. It works wonderfully as Sheeran shows us he doesn’t need to be introspective all the time but gives us a social critique of a greed infested world addicted to more. 


Every pure intention ends when the good times start

Fallin' over everything to reach the first time's spark

It started ounder neon lights and then it all got dark

I only know how to go too far


The sonics change throughout = (Equals). From beats and electronic to stripped back acoustic and then there’s the paint led The Queen and The Joker with tasteful strings from one Matthew Sheeran that might challenge Adele to big ballad of the year.

 I imagine in a couple of years from now we’ll have a few more Castle On The Hills, Thinking Out Louds and Shape Of Yous omnipresent across our radios. A good number are in contention… and Ed… we’ll all love Ed, probably even more. 



Gareth Davies-Jones has been perhaps one of the most underrated songwriters on these islands over the past 15 years. A Northumbrian (where he lives) or Northern Irish (where he’s from) Martyn Joseph is the best way to describe him, very solid craft in the classic songwriting tradition, oozing deep content of truth, tradition, prophets and loss as the title to this his tenth album declares.

Like Joseph, Davies developed late and this record for me is his most satisfying piece of work. It has to be said he tested himself. If you want to find out how good your writing is then set your songs alongside some of the strongest songs ever written. 

T,T,P&L has five trad songs alongside Davies-Jones originals. Gareth’s Irishness comes through in Raglan Road and Ulster’s finest My Lagan Love. Peggy Gordon gets a beautiful working and I found his arrangement of Isaac Watts’ My Shepherd you Supply My Need opened the familiar Psalm 23 like a flower in bloom.

The arrangement of that Psalm could actually be the anchor of this collection. The album title Truth, Tradition, Prophets and Loss is a good name for Gareth’s work in general but this album was much more pastoral for me, like a meditative retreat beside the quiet waters King David mentions in that Psalm. Karine Polwart kept coming to mind.

We find ourselves on the Wild Atlantic Way, along the River Lagan, up Warden Hill. We are in the presence of the majestic curlew birds. I happen to be watching Autumn Watch as I type and those curlews of More Than Memory in juxtaposition with Kavanagh’s autumn leaf falling on Raglan Road is perfect.

There is ever a spirituality embedded in Davies-Jones work. It is not preachy. There are no handbrake turns to squeeze it in. On this record it like that Palm 23, a resource to understand the world around but also bringing hope and resilience in challenges like Coronavirus. From No One Else to In Company there is a sense of presence on this, the first record that Gareth had the confidence to play everything and do the recording and production too.

Not just good but good for the soul. 


Dawes Fisherman's Blues

A friend recently posted a question on social media asking about a song of exuberance, to celebrate to. I answered Gloria by U2 but it was a close run thing with The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues. 

I have written before about my very favourite ever rock gig being The Waterboys at the Ulster Hall in Belfast on a magical April night in 1986. Fisherman’s Blues had not yet been released and it was a revelation of Mike Scott’s new hybrid of rock strut surrounded by Steve Wickham’s swirling dervish fiddle. My heart was full as it has been with every listen ever since.

Then… this past summer one of my favourite contemporary bands Dawes covered Fisherman’s Blues. It was a sonic shock, slowed down to an atmospheric lament. It jarred for a listen out two.

Then… it hit the spot. In its new musical habitat Fisherman’s Blues solicited different emotions. From a free flowing all is right with the world let’s dance sound this was now reflective and cathartic. It finally gets the blues of its title.

There might be a clue in the shift in feel when I tell you that the proceeds from the song are all donated to an NGO, United Nations Foundations’ Nothing But Nets campaign, attempting to help stamp out malaria. Taylor Goldsmith himself visited Rwanda to see refugees pouring over the border from Congo and Burundi. Perhaps it was the people he met in east Africa that influenced the mood of the piece.

I have been using it myself for my own mental, emotional and spiritual care. I generally carry a happy go lucky disposition but there are shadowy days. Vocation, health, pressure and anxiety can throw me into the dark.

Dawes version of Fisherman’s Blues has been like a Psalm that I have allowed to flow over me to bring salve and resilience.  

The fisherman and brakeman in the song are going through their own trials. They are chained and tethered. Life’s circumstances have them down. They are wishing, dreaming, praying for soul, light and love.

Like George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass that coincidently The Waterboys covered there is a sense that there are better days ahead. Days for Wickham’s fiddle after all:


Well I know I will be loosened

From bonds that hold me fast

That the chains all hung around me

Will fall away at last

And on that fine and fateful day

I will take me in my hands

I will ride on the train

I will be the fisherman

With light in my head

You in my arms


Now there is a dream of better days. Light. Love. Freedom from whatever. I have come convinced we need both versions, Dawes going through the valley of the shadow and The Waterboys after we have come through it.


Polwart Milligan

Karine Polwart has been the unofficial Scottish songwriter laureate for some time. Her most recent album of original songs, Laws Of Motion, was my Record Of The Year in 2018 and I loved her reworking of the best 80s pop songs of middle Scotland, Scottish Songbook, from a year later.

What we have come to learn over the years is that Polwart on the cover means quality guaranteed and there is likely an artistic raison d’étra beyond a collection of songs. There is the likelihood of a fascinating collaboration too.

David Milligan is just that. An artistic and versatile piano player the words composer, arranger, musical director and educator need added to quantify what he is.

I have always loved the stripped back, raw and organic song. I remember simply loving the mid 90s unplugged obsession and all of the acoustic versions that were available on the very loved CD single. I would put together cassette tape compilations (the old timer’s playlist) called Stripped Naked. Such a racey minister!!

So to a first class honours record in stripped back. All we have on Still As Your Sleeping is Polwart’s voice and Milligan’s piano. Those are all the frills you need. Milligan’s piano has more than enough imagination to give Polwart’s voice well enough intrigue underneath.

The songs as is Polwart’s want are drawn from traditional folk, modern folk and original. There’s a beautiful Parting Glass, Dick Gaughan’s Handful of Earth and Alasdair Roberts’ Old Men of the Shells. The late Michael Marra’s Heaven’s Hound is a poignant choice. Kate McGarrigle’s Talk To Me of Mendocino takes us geographically further afield and there is a version of Richard Fariña’s The Quiet Joys of Brotherhood, to the tune of My Lagan Love which pleased this Belfast boy.

There is a theme of travelling, of parting and of moving on. This theme is best dealt with in two originals. That these two originals are perhaps my favourites in such a solid catalogue of songs says it all.

Travel These Ways commissioned by a Dementia charity is about the moving on of aging:


Wherever we go

Wherever we bide

Whatever the wind and weather

Wherever we go

Wherever we bide

We’ll travel these ways together”


Best of all is The Path That Winds Before Us with always drowse me to think of the Old Testament Psalms with its all for stillness and contentment no matter what the days ahead bring:


Don’t worry, Don’t hurry 

The seed will take its time to grow, 

One step and then another 

Is the only place we have to go.”


Like all Karine Polwart records the songs delve inside the individual soul but look around at community and society too. An album about the uncertainty of movement while bringing some assurance is a perfect gift to us in these various seasons of Coronavirus times.


Girlfriend In A Coma

As I say in BBC NI's Read All About Book Week Series - WATCH IT HERE    I was slow to the loving of books. 

First it was Football Annuals and later books about The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I was around 30 when I moved to Dublin and due to lots of time on the DART I started reading novels. None of them were very memorable.

Enter David Dark. David and I met at Greenhill YMCA in Co Down and then a year later at Greenbelt. We discovered we'd actually likely met at the previous Greenbelt. We became firm friends sharing our love for music and faith and the interaction of the two. \

David was also an avid reader. He always had a book in his hand. Always. 

I'd been to South Africa to visit Janice who was there for 9 months. I found Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood in a charity shop in Durban. David was a fan so I read it. I enjoyed it but knew I was missing stuff. Back in Dublin, David and I were having coffee in Bewleys. He asked me what I read in South Africa. I said Wise Blood and he opened it up to me.

David then took me to a book shop in Bray where he put Douglas Coupland's Life After God in my hand. That might have been my conversion moment. Coupland had this spiritual layer that caught my soul. Next up was Coupland's Girlfriend In A Coma and I was off and running...


The novel that I have enjoyed the most, reflected on the most and quoted most in my sermons is Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend In A Coma from 1998. 

Growing up in West Vancouver Coupland says he little annoyed that his parents were so distant from any religion that he didn’t even have a choice to reject God. He suggests he has been trying to make up a belief system ever since.

I love books that give me insight into he times I live in and inspire me to live life in all its fulness. What Coupland creates in Girlfriend In A Coma is a fascinating social critique and full of prophetic hopefulness. 

This is a novel about the ills of modern society, the healing and redeeming of such and the saving of souls. Briefly Karen falls into a coma in her high school year. Before doing so she has an apocalyptic vision of the future. She tells her boyfriend, 

"It was just us, with our meaningless lives. Then I looked up close...and you all seemed normal, but your eyes were without souls". 

Karen becomes the girlfriend in the coma and misses seventeen years of her life before coming out of it. Though the book deals with the changes from the world she fell asleep in, in 1981, to the world she wakened up again in in 1998 (she misses out on Princess Diana entirely), it is about the lives of her friends and the fufilment of Karen's vision, when they become the only people left on planet earth. 

Another old friend who died in his early teens, Jared, appears as a friendly ghost, who reveals to them their "deep down inside" ills and redeems them. It is then he says that they can get the world back but only if they decide too. "You're going to have to lead another life soon; a different life.

"In your old life you had nothing to live for. Now you do. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go clear the land for a new culture...If you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world - if you're not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you're wasting your day."

What inspirational words. "If you're not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world...then you're wasting your day." 

Those words make me want to rush out the door and go change the world? I want to rethinking the nature of things? I want to boil the carcass of the old order? These are words of rebuke, in that I feel as I read them that indeed I have been wasting my day, and yet the rebuke comes with a motivating sense of encouragement to just go and stop wasting anymore time. 

If I could inspire as much every Sunday morning I would be a very happy minister!



Stocki and Marty Book Week

Fr Martin Magill and I were so excited to be asked to share a book that we both liked on BBC NI's Book Week series Read All About It.

We chose Sue Divin's book Guard Your Heart. 

I need to be honest and say that the real plugger of this book is my friend, and fellow PCI minister, Tony Davidson. I believe that Sue grew up in First Armagh where Tony is the minister. They did an event with Sue at the launch of the book and Tony was very keen to get me to read it.

It was one of my first holiday reads and I immediately felt that Fr Martin should read it. The main reason for that was the focus on the post Good Friday Agreement generation. Martin and I often consider the 18-25 age group and wonder if they are getting to make a contribution in their own future? Have we ignored them and how will that play out?

Sue Divin's book is about that... and a whole lot more besides. 

So, with both of us loving it, when the BBC invited us to contribute to Book Week, it was a no brainer which one we wanted to plug. We hope that it will raise the profile and sell a few books. Delighted that social media suggests that we already are. Then perhaps we can provoke a conversation about when the Aidans and Ionas can decide their own futures instead of us killing their future they way we did our past.

Also... Martin's last line... "it would make a great movie". Oh it would.





Stocki in Beeb

(my Pause For Thought script on October 14, 2021. The theme was The Power of Radio...)

I was at a wedding. During the reception a woman approached me. She was from a different part of Northern Ireland. We had never met. She reached out her hand (remember the olden days) and introduced herself. She said that I didn’t know her but she wanted to thank me.

Thank me. What on earth for. She went on to tell me that a few years before she had come across my radio show Rhythm and Soul while travelling in her car. It had been Remembrance Day and I had filled my show with laments, songs of death and remembering. She didn’t need that and was just about to switch off but before she reached the off button she was captivated by the song that I was playing. 

She explained that she was travelling home after the death of her husband. She was obviously in a fragile and vulnerable place. Songs of war and death was the last thing she needed BUT she went on to say that that hour was very precious to her. She told me that those songs spoke into her grieving soul. She had always wanted to thank me and here I was.

I was very moved. The power of radio. I had probably sat all afternoon glancing across my CD collection for the right songs for that show but I had no idea that someone would be listening in those particular circumstances. It is humbling.

Before I preach I always pray that God will take the skeletons and bare bones of my thoughts and put upon them the flesh and the muscle of the Holy Spirit that that my thoughts might come alive and twist and twirl a broken world around in an extravagant dance of healing and hope and good news. That prayer was certainly answered on that radio show.

I call them angelic moments beyond coincidence and such moments can happen even without radios. Arriving at the right time. Saying the right word. 

After I finish I am off to the ferry and then the 402 mile drive from Cairnryan in Scotland to Reading. My daughter Jasmine is at University there and it is her 21st on Sunday, a week after her dad’s 60th. The journey and our schedule is a skeleton. As we set out I pray for the flesh and muscle of love in every meeting scheduled or accidental. I better get going… turn on the radio.


Stocki 60

Much as I loved the surprise parties thrown for my 40th and 50th birthdays I had my family under strict orders that I didn't want big party for my 60th. 

It wasn't that I wanted to hide the fact that I was 60. Fr Martin Magill and I have heralded our landmark birthdays for a month, trying to raise money for Embrace NI. 

No, I have become more and more introverted through my 50s. I am not sure what to do with crowds pointing at me. Fitzroy singing “Happy Birthday’ before the service was lovely but my heart and brain go mush and I cannot fully appreciate the sentiment! 

I am happier at a good meal with a smaller number rather than short greetings with a couple of hundred.

So it was Holohans Pantry my very favourite restaurant, owned and run by good friends. We even had Eli and Bella as waiter and waitress. The food was amazing. I am a Seafood Boxty fanatic so joined by our good friends David and Rachel Quinney Mee I was in my happy place. I am always so relaxed in the Pantry.

Not that I got away without a surprise. Oh no! Dandering out at the end of the Fitzroy service someone mentioned an Ice Cream Van and I realised that they have done me again. Surprise!

Yet, a surprise that included the entire congregation, at least the 60% back after Covid, was a perfect way to celebrate. To see the children and young people enjoy a big 99 or a double one with lime sauce was a birthday thrill. Even a more mature member admitted to racing to get in line before the kids.

It was a real carnival and of course with an ice cream van and children it was not about me. I loved it. 

The whole day had started on BBC Radio Ulster. Fr Martin and I were rather honoured to have our landmark birthday recognised on Sunday Sequence and the lovely Audrey Carville reflecting on our lives.

It was good to give testimony to what has been a 10:10 ‘life in all its fulness’ and confessing no regrets but that at times I had hurt others. It was good to declare that we weren’t switching off and were getting excited about the future, particularly the 10th Anniversary of The 4 Corners Festival next February.

It was good to give a last plug to our Big 60th Birthday Fundraiser. To realise that we will have raised over £7000 for Embrace NI and the work that they do with refugees and migrants is the best present ever. Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed so generously! 

An hour after that interview I was standing in Fitzroy. It is my piece of pitch. As Kevin De Bruyne has that midfield space where he can play his genius, passing a football into the path of a team mate, so I have my lectern at the front of Fitzroy.

For twelve years that has been my space. In grief, in illness and in joy that little piece of real estate has been the place where I have found my deepest gladness, my reason to be on this planet.

To be there on 10:10. on the day of my 60th birthday, was a marvellous lining up of the calendar. To share the first communion in 18 months with my congregation was going to be special anyway but even more on this particular day. 

“You know who you are with bread and wine in your hand. You are a somebody.” A twist on TV’s Tales of the Unexpected. Who we are. And then… to close… Singing…


And all my life You have been faithful (oh)

And all my life You have been so, so good 

With every breath that I am able

Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God (yeah)


As we sang I felt a perfect moment. Me and God… aligned. I am thankful, so thankful for reaching 60. For having Janice beside me, throwing surprises. For daughters ploughing their deepest gladness. For an amazingly gifted and generous congregation that allows me to be me. For a wider society that invites me to share with it whether on radio, in newspaper or occasionally TV (Martin and I will be talking about a favourite book in BBC’s Book Week… coming up soon!).

Late evening, with a wee glass, Janice and a TV thriller. In the quiet, looking back. A most wonderful birthday.

60 years. What a 10:10 life. As Van once said, “It’s too late to stop now…” I am kind of glad it is over. The rest of my life starts here! Let’s go!


Stocki smiling in pulpit

(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is the final part of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...)


Always Fitzroy

The last big gig

The only gig in town

Who else was welcoming my wild imaginings

Who else was as wild in theirs

So began in my 50th year

We took off

At the speed of a teenager

Clonard Novenas

Gospel According To…

Community Carol Services

Communion in Museums

Bruce Cockburn and Over The Rhine

Irish Language classes with some priest

Martin Magill


A couple of coffees with Martin

Something beyond us was happening


Ideas sharing


Pilgrims together

Contriving nothing

Marinating everything 

Holy Spirit conjuring

The 4 Corners Festival

Ricky Ross

Gary Lightbody

Being interviewed on The View

Speaking at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis

Touring the Mid-West of America

Being awarded the Civic Leadership Award

And sharing our 60th to raise money for Embrace NI

Watch for us on BBC Book Week!


Fitzroy 200


Hall renovations

Contemporary space

For a contemporary ministry

Opening to the neighbourhood

And tithing for a school building

Not a financial transaction

But a relational partnership

With Fields Of Life

In Onialeku, Arua, Uganda

Taking a team for the Opening

Falling in love

With children


And community

Dancing together

Grieving together

Praying for each other

Mutual sharing

We were rich in shillings

They were rich in love, hope and resilience

A fence

A well

A girls’ toilet block

Text books


Annual visits

So much love and hope and joy


Craft stalls


Even a sabbatical

Writing From Killing Fields To Fields Of Life.


In Fitzroy

Learning to preach

Learning to pastor

Learning to listen to all

And not just hear one

Learning to slalom the genius and madness

Of congregations

Our gifts

Our foibles

Seeking 10:10 - 

As much in John’s Gospel, as my birthday

Life in all its Fulness

Stumbling and tumbling after Jesus

Being particles of light across the city

God’s Kingdom on earth as in Belfast

Grace and imagination

Realigning our place in God’s order of things



Discovering gifts

And deep gladnesses

That met this particular deep need

Online Church


Belfast Telegraph Column with Fr Martin

Pastoring by phone from the kitchen table

Wild imaginings

For a time such as this

Maybe when all is said and down

My best time


Not all easy

Everyone wanting you in their image

Everyone thinking they can do your job

Creating community you can’t be in

Feeling the isolation 

Laying your insecurities on the line every Sunday

Limping with your inferiorities

And the family not called like you are

But still having to be called

Learning who you are

Learning who you are not

Learning that it will pass

Learning to trust

Being vulnerable enough to learn


The night before my licensing

In the Portstewart sand dunes

Alone with God in his vastness

Another Larry Norman song

“I am a servant getting ready for my part

There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart

At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start

To live's a privilege, to love is such an art

But I need your help to start

O please purify my heart, I am your servant”


Like Jesus

60 years in 

And still tumbling and stumbling after

Seeking forgiveness



For 10:10

In the next 10

As it has been in the last 60

God willing.



(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is part 5 of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...


At 40

Wonderful wife

Two lovely daughters

University Chaplain

Weekly music show on BBC Radio Ulster

Live sessions

Concert on the Lagan

A popular website

Only review of Radiohead’s Mandela Hall gig in the world


And then

Walk On - a book on U2

Number 99 on Amazon chart

85,000 sales

Touring America

Calvin College

Festival Of Faith and Music

Taylor University

Messiah College

Ohio Wesleyan

Westmont College

Kenyon College

Cathedral of Advent in Birmingham, Alabama 

Then back to earth

With students who didn’t care much

An album - Gracenotes

With Sam Hill 

And gigs where I learned the importance of monitors!

This really is life in all its fulness - 10:10


Cape Town

Habitat For Humanity

A mission trip to mark the Millennium

Money left over

Go again

And then again and again and again

Bible study on the field

Poverty of Khayelitsha to Century City’s marble mall

HIV visits in Guguletu

Fair Trade Vineyard with unjust trade on other side of the fence

Peace and reconciliation with Alex Boraine’s ICTJ

Even FW De Klerk met in our tiny hostel


Hair cut for 3,500 to fund a house and a half


Poetry books

Photographic book with Gordon Ashbridge

Hundreds of thousands raised

150 students taken

Over 40 house built

And lives changed 

Especially ours





Even Caitlin and Jasmine’s

A year to prepare to go

A year to respond to having been

Always Cape Town


Always Cape Town 

In my mind and heart and soul


I cannot be me without you

"All because of you, I am” U2 called it

Loving God and neighbour as self, Jesus called it

“I wake up every morning

And thank God that I am Black South African and a Christian

Because every day I get a chance to forgive my enemy”


“If you are are serious about peacemaking, two things

First, check your motives to the very marrow

And second check them again in case you have missed anything”


“Don’t leave your money

Leave your heart”




Come come away

Allowing the candle to flicker

Instead of the pressurised burn

The beach

The being still to know

The empty days


For the next thing


And then



A nudge to something

“I am a little fearful Fitzroy might phone”

“You wouldn’t go there, they talk to Catholics”

“Hello Steve, would you consider Fitzroy”

Fitzroy weren’t looking for a minister

I wasn’t looking for a Church

And we found each other


Fifteen years before

Ken Newell the minister of Fitzroy said

“Steve, when you get to 50, know who you are

Most of my peers have no idea

Looking over their shoulders at their peers

Be your own person”

Fifteen years later

A year from 50

In my dining room 

The same dining room Ken shared with me

On the cusp of 50