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April 2022

May 2022



Trespasses is another fabulous novel from yet another new, if not young, voice in Northern Irish fiction. Louise Kennedy has been a chef for 30 years and suddenly arrives among us as this very assured, poetic writer of compulsive fiction.

Trespasses is just that. A compulsive read. It’s another love story across Catholic Protestant lines. Yet, as you read you could be forgiven for thinking that you had never read anything like it. Kennedy gives it this unique twist and an intriguing web of relationships and plots.

Cushla is the centre of the yarn. A 24 year old teacher, living with a drinking mother and helping her brother in the family owned pub. They are Catholics but the drinkers are mainly Protestant. She’s lovely in every way, particularly in how she looks after a pupil Davy who needs a little help particularly when his dad gets beaten up.

Cushla’s weakness is an affair with Michael Agnew, an older man, a barrister and married. It all takes a tragic Northern Irish moment, one of those morning headlines and the aftermath is sad and messy and again utterly compelling.

Enough spoilers! Kennedy has arrived as a gifted writer. She sets it in 1975 with a real eye for detail. That detail is in every scene in every page of every swing and turn. There is a feeling that you are there, involved wanting to give an opinion, whisper advice, scream!

It’s hard to not make comparisons with Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast. Perhaps a film version could be called Holywood, Co Down! It’s six year after Branagh’s. Northern Ireland is less romantic in every way. So there is much more realism. 

There’s also Kennedy’s priest Fr Slattery who seems the equivalent of Branagh’s Presbyterian preacher. Both have make fleeting appearances but somehow don’t give a good impression of the church’s contribution at helping our wee place as we went through those dark dark days.  


LDV Cushman

Soul Surmise readers know how much I enjoy a good rock biography. I particularly love memoirs. Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen, Mary Gauthier, Mikel Jollet and Brandi Carlile have excelled at such a genre in recent years.

Of those I would still like to see published Justin Hayward would be high on my list. As I Have shared before as a 15 year old in an English essay I unpacked why if I could be someone else it would be Justin Hayward and not George Harrison! Quite a thought for a Beatles’ fanatic!

The reason was that it seem that Hayward had all the fame but not so much of the recognition. I was pretty sure that as Justin Hayward I could walk down a street pretty much unrecognised. As George Harrison I’d be hiding away behind the gates of Friar Park!

This of course is the reason that there will be no Justin Hayward memoir. He has kept his life out of the tabloids. He has done all his talking in the music. Forty five years after I became a fan I know very little about who Justin Hayward is.

In the absence of memoirs or even biographies on Hayward or all the rest of the Moody Blues Marc Cushman’s grand epic is what we can almost happily settle for.

As it says on the cover this is Long Distance Voyagers Volume 2. Volume 1 was 800 pages and took us from the beginning through the classic, second phase of the band, Days Of Future Past to Octave. A perfect fulcrum as Mike Ponder leaves and Patrick Moraz joins.

This was a fulcrum for me too. The last Moody Blues album I bought when it came out was Octave. I paid no attention to Long Distance Voyager and The Present and only really revisited anything post 1980 in the last five years.

That was the difference in Volume 1 and 2 for me. Volume 1 I was reflecting back on records I knew and loved well. Volume 2 was me discovering the records as I read about them.

If you are on such a journey then Cushman’s style is perfect. It is more almanac than traditional biography. He takes you through the making of each album, the songs, the reception and the tour thereafter. It is full of fascinating information and reviews, maybe too many reviews. Yet, I could read and listen along. Not only to the Moody Blues records but to the solo efforts even those of Mike Pinder’s sons!

It all begins with Mike Pinder leaving and the revival in fortunes that Long Distance Voyager brought the band and ends perfectly with them almost all together, including Pinder and even Denny Laine, at the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018. 

Outside the albums and tours there are a few snippets of information. Law suits and issues with Moraz about his membership and Pinder about the sue of the name. Yet, do we know any more about the members of this band at the end of it all - not much. Information of the band’s life partners, children or whereabouts is vague. Which is of course back to why my 15 year old self rather than a Beatle.

As I bask in their overdue membership of the Hall Of Fame I glance back across the second tome of the Cushman series and see myself enjoy Strange Times and Sur La Mer more than I ever dreamed I could. I also have Justin Hayward’s solo albums View From a Hill and Moving Mountains on heavier rotation. I loved Songwriter but hadn’t given these their worth.

I am also surmising the concept of of faith in the Moody Blues. Like the rest of their private lives but throughout Long Distance Voyagers Volume 2 faith appears more often than I’d have thought. I am thinking of John Lodge and Justin Hayward’s growing up in Church structures and watching its influence throughout a wonderful long distance voyage of music and song. 

For Moody Blues fans essential! 

My Review Of Long Distance Voyagers Vol 1 HERE


A disclaimer. I hate Eurovision. Apologies to my daughters but the songs all blur into a big quagmire of blancmange. Note my use of French! Tonight is no different. Lots of Capaldi and Sheeran wannabes.
In the end who could argue with a Ukraine winning part from the UK. Typical. You get your first good song in a generation and Russian invade a country that everybody loves! It does ask questions of the panel and public votes. All that time for votes that make little difference in the end.
There is more wrong with Eurovision than that I would suggest BUT then a moment to surmise... last year's winners, Maneskin, spoke of Elvis and did the intro to a song that they seem to have done for an Elvis movie. 
Suddenly, we were back in the real world. Oh we were dreaming. We were hoping. Maybe even against all the odds but hoping all the same.
Of course I love Elvis. Elvis was the first musician that I ever wrote about. An essay in Year 9 English had me attempting to unpack Jailhouse Rock!
However, my grown up self has struggled to find too many Elvis songs of social transformation. In The Ghetto is my favourite. Next to that is If I Can Dream. we are back to Maneskin. 
Consider the war in Ukraine, the shadow of which is cast across Eastern Europe to Turin tonight. 
Hear Elvis: -
We're lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We're trapped in a world
That's troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly
Written by Walter Earl Brown and Influenced by Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream Speech from 1963 this is Elvis's Imagine. As Lennon. imagined a better world, so Elvis sings:
There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won't that sun appear
It's a prayer. Prayers are crammed with dreams and hopes for a better tomorrow. On a night that for me had too much crass and kitsch the King Of Rock N Roll sneaked in to give something more substantial.
For Ukraine tonight. If we can all dream. 



How bad does your theology have to get before it negates the saving work of Jesus and the amazing grace of God?

What a great question.

Over the years I have become increasingly uneasy with the Theologist, that is the theological version of the racist or the sectarian. Those who would look upon someone else as something less because they judge that their theology is suspect and treat them dismissively as a result. 

From such a faulty system I had been told to dismiss fellow Christians as “dodgy” or “liberal”. Finally meeting many of those those who had been condemned as significantly less I discovered men and women, passionate for Christ and full of the spirit of God. 

Jesus never said, “By their theology you will know them”. Instead he spoke of love of one another and a oneness among his followers. These indeed would be the things that would be a witness to the world.

Shunning or casting out followers of Jesus because their theology does not meet the accuracy of your own theological mathematical formulas seems an antithesis of what Jesus was urging.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that theology is not important. Indeed I would be so bold to say that this blog is theological. I have come to believe though that over prioritising theology leads to theological error.

It was a friend who told me about a Mission Conference that he had been at. Mother Theresa was featured in the content but some were chatting about how she wouldn’t make the cut. Catholic! Universalist?

The next morning at breakfast my friend was sitting with an Anglican vicar from India. So he asked him what he thought of the judgement of Mother Theresa. “How bad does your theology have to be before it overcomes the grace of God?”



Aguero 10

10 years ago this very afternoon.

Manchester City Football Club have unveiled a statue to Sergio Aguero, 10 years ago to the day that he scored the most most unlikely, almost miraculous, goal in the Club's history.

10 years ago this very afternoon.

For six minutes of it I know exactly where I was. I know exactly the pain I was feeling. 

It should all have been so different. My City supporting mates Boyd and Monty are round to celebrate our first top tier League title in 44 years. We are playing, almost relegated, QPR. When our full back Pablo Zabaleta cuts inside and scores at the end of the first half all nerves are gone. We can enjoy this!

Not City though. For 44 years we have been Manchester Citying it with too many stories of defeat from the jaws of victory to mention here. Yet again, QPR somehow score twice and even with them down to ten men City are only huffing puffing. United who need us to drop points are comfortably winning at Sunderland. 

In the 87th minute with absolutely no chance of City scoring, I have had enough and leave the room and make my way out to the garden. There I stand with my back against the wall. Now, ten years later, I am remembering experiencing utter pain. At my dad's funeral I spoke of how he had given me my grá for football, the visceral kardia love that feels deep emotions. It's a blessing and a curse to love sport to that extent.

This was the curse of it.

This was supposed to be it. This was the day to overcome all the disappointments of 44 years. This was when we might come out of United shadow and become a force in English football again...

BUT we had blow it again. I remember thinking that it would now never happen. All this loyalty... going down two divisions and back... building up a new head of steam... even winning the FA Cup the season before... it all meant nothing. United still beat us. There was a book written by City fan Colin Shindler called Manchester United Ruined My Life and here they were doing it again. 

The sheer disappointment was lacerating my insides.

Then there was the embarrassment. Oh the United fans would love this. We'd crawled back an 8 point gap, beaten them 1-0 to over take them and here we were throwing it away against QPR on the final day. QPR! Come on! How could I ever face a United fan ever again!

All of this hurt. Make no mistake it was very deep.

Then a loud cheer.

My six minutes were up. It  is over, I thought. I assumed the cheer was United fans down the street cheering how they took City, as they always did, right at the end. I started walking back into what I thought would be a gloomy house...

Suddenly the back door flies open and my wife is there and Monty standing with a bottle of champagne and Calvin's Institutes, symbols of celebration and it was meant to be!!!

"WE DID IT!" Monty shouts!

"No way" I respond with my head down, disbelieving but wondering at the same time why Monty, who should be as hurt as me, has the biggest grin I have seen on any face ever.


"But we needed two goals."


Still the Thomas in a post resurrection house I follow Janice and Monty into the room where Boyd is on his feet, attempting to beat the size of Monty's grin, and my daughter Caitlin is standing with her eyes wide open wondering what is happening to the grown men around her.

QPR kick off. The referee blows the whistle and WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS!

10 years ago this very afternoon. 

Oh I regret being in the garden. Of course I do. Imagine. After 44 years... I missed the moment. That moment. The 93 minutes and 20 seconds moment. The Agueroooo moment. Not just the most iconic goal in City's history but perhaps English football history. 

The statue unveiled today. Aguero running away, his shirt off above his head, swirling like a windmill blowing in the ten years of change that have followed. It is still possible that City will win that title 5 out of the next 10 seasons. 

One would have done me. The Sawdoctors have a song called To Win Just Once and that was all I wanted. Once. And if you are doing it once then that is the way to do it. Even if I was in the garden in utter pain. 

I watched that goal every day for weeks. I cried like a baby. Just sheer unadulterated joy. It still brings a tear every single time I see it. 

Ten years. Like yesterday. The pain... and the utter euphoria. There was more than me felt that seismic shift in emotions but I have my own sad unique little tale to tell. 


Grief 10

I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.


Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.


I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing


Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs


Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings


Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.

Let me take the poem one verse at a time..


I’m the reed by the lough shore

That suddenly swishes and sways

The deep fibres ripped from root

And all that I know gives way.


My friend Heather Carey shared this one. The fibres of the reed ripped out. It is the best description of the loss of a parent or I imagine a spouse. It is like your world shakes. Head, heart, soul and body sway. You keel over. You are blown over. 


Culture shock silently creeping

I’m trying to track where’s next

It’s not that I don’t understand

But I cannot cue the context.


I have experience culture shock in different places. I have lived for months in Africa and North America. It is always one of disorientation. It is like the compass you take for granted is broken. Your next move is blurred.


I know your mouth is moving

And I am here, I’m listening

It’s not that I cannot hear you

It’s the relevance that I’m missing


There is a lot of chatter around funerals. There are so many kind words. So many stories, some remembered and many never heard before. It is a helpful part of grieving. BUT there are times that people are chattering, filling the uncomfortable silences and it all seems so irrelevant. 


Being still to know that God is God

Working out, who now I am

Surmising where this wouldn't sting 

Crazy dreams of lions and lambs


God… and hope… psalm 46 encourages us to know God in the midst. Emmanuel (along with grace) is my favourite word - God with us. In Psalm 46 God is the solid ground as everything else shifts and quakes. 

But also… who I am? When mum died I was a motherless child. With dad’s passing an orphan. It stings but the audacious hope of eternity soothes.


Melancholy melodies salve a soul

Piano strings of redemption ring

That beautiful piece of heartache

As Karin like an angel sings


As everyone know knows me knows. Music is a conduit of the Spirit… of healing… of making sense. With my mum it was my friend Karin Bergquist (and Linford!) from Over The Rhine who whispered into my soul. With dad it has been Doug Gay’s suite of songs about his dad’s passing, Life After Death. Catharsis in songs - powerful.


Be gentle on yourself, my soul

Walk the valley right on through

Stretch your hand in the loving direction

To the hand reaching out for you.


So many people shared those “Be gentle with yourself” words when mum died. I think that I have spent five years trying to work out what they mean… and then how to do it. They are such wise words. Essential words. Grief is heavy and exhausting. Hiding away and resting is so helpful as we come to terms with loss.

And Janice’s hand is still the place where I find sense and some kind of healing… 



Few other records have so saturated my life as Deacon Blue’s Raintown. In May 1987 I was smitten with it and played it to death pretty much over the following two years. I had the record shop publicity boarding on the wall of my lounge in Central Park, Antrim town.

No one who talked to me about music in that period left without being aware of this band and this record. Many people were convinced, or peer pressured, into buying it. That it took its place on perpetual rotation on my turntable just a matter of weeks after the release of U2’s Joshua Tree gives some perspective on its impact in my musical heart.

What was it that caught my attention and the deep affection? The simple answer is Ricky Ross’s songs. There might be better songwriters on the planet, and I am sure Ricky and I would agree on some of them, but Ross’s lyrics resonated with my head and heart and soul like no one else. I thought that if I could write good lyrics they would be very much like these.

I already had the 12” single of Dignity before the album was released. I had heard of Ricky Ross in the pages of Strait, the magazine of the Greenbelt Festival. He had the same name as my best mate growing up. I thought I would give it a try. 

Wow. The lyrics - “sipping down Raki/And reading Maynard Keynes”. The story of a street cleaner dreaming. This was about more than a boat and I was particularly caught by the idea of “a place in the winter for Dignity.” Then there was the: “And I'm thinking about home/And I'm thinking about faith/And I'm thinking about work.”

Home, faith and work. Deacon Blue were like the band next door. They were singing about the streets of their city, the working men and women of that city. These were subjective songs yet all dressed up in objectivity. There was sharp social observation and critique but it all felt personal. Though never explicit there was something about faith in there too. 

Then there were the stories. As well as the road sweeper of Dignitythere is the title track that gave you the mood of the Oscar Marzaroli’s grey bleak photograph on the cover. Chocolate Girl about the wrong kind of guy. Not confining it to Glasgow on Looks Like Spencer Tracy Now we got the atmospheric story of Harold Agnew, an American nuclear physicist who wanted to collect personal photographs of the Hiroshima bombing. 

In the end though it is a record set in Glasgow. It is not a concept album by any means but the way it is sequenced is a little artier than the normal debut album of the time. The slow little vignette of Born In a Storm was no hit them with a hit intro but it was creatively perfect and by the time you get into the second verse of the closing Town to be Blamed you feel a circle completing.

Then there is the sound. Raintown has a full energetic sound that shifts moods and styles. There is a pop sound immediacy but it has too much artiness and it rocks too. There are the wondrous Gospel harmonies on When Will You (Make My Telephone Ring), there are the hints of Springsteen and Morrison throughout.

Yet, in a sea full of Scottish bands like The Big Dish, Aztec Camera, Del Amitri, Blue Nile, Danny Wilson et al Deacon Blue’s sound might never be called unique but it had a pumping energy that carried you right through the entire piece.

That sound was built by a gathering of the best players in town. Dougie Vipond was the crack young drummer. Add the sophisticated bass playing of Ewen Vernal and you had a back beat like no other. Jim Prime was the experienced session man with Altered Images and John Martyn and his piano playing made Ross’s songs soar. Graeme Kelling was playing guitar with every cool band in Glasgow and every riff or fretboard dance added detail to every song. Lorraine McIntosh added her whirling dervish in sound and vision. These guys rocked. It would have been a more remarkable story of they hadn’t made it big!

It was immediate with me. From Ricky’s raspy “That hurricane day…” I was in but the general public needed more time and remixes! I felt like an isolated evangelist for maybe a year before the world caught on. I traveled to the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow that November to be among the faithful for an hour or two as much as to experience the band live. 

Thirty five years later and the very cover of the album takes me back. Yet, don't leave these songs back in nostalgia. Dignity still has a poignancy. War and big bombs are threatening and Loaded is as good a commentary on Boris's Britain as you can find in a catchy piece of four minute rock music.

Ricky Ross would admit that this wasn’t the happiest time of his life. As he has done in his song writing throughout the last thirty years he was somehow able, in the midst of such a time, find hopefulness and even create joyful songs out of difficult times.

The old negro spirituals from the slave plantations did that. A mixing of emotions to dance while you grieve. To dare to hope in the dark. To look inside and be honest but look forward to what can still be. Raintown has all of that and more: -  

One day all of us will work

We'll stand outside this orchard and we'll talk

When all is said all is done

We'll still be thinking about home

They say that love might be the very thing

If only it could be…



Grief is disguised as a trickster

Conjuring weariness from the invisible


But look again

Grief has you digging

Deep into sacred spaces

For precious memories long buried

Grief has you pushing and pulling

The love lost in the void

Bereft of a heart to embrace

Grief has you carrying

The hod filled with sorrow not seen

Pressing heavily on your soul’s shoulders


Grief is actually a labourer

Tilling the rugged ground of hardest parting 


Grief is exhausting

Be gentle with yourself.