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June 2022

I SURMISE PAUL MCCARTNEY's GENIUS (ON HIS 80th BIRTHDAY)

Paul Get Back

Paul McCartney is 80 today. I started listening to his first band The Beatles in the early 70s and by the middle of the decade I was besotted. There was Wings too and the solo stuff.

Over the 50 years that I have followed him and the 60 of his recording career he has not always been appreciated. He seems to have been the Beatle that people love taking a pop at. McCartney’s soft, they say. 

Now, he has given the naysayers plenty of fuel for their Molotov cocktails. Bringing out Mary Had A Little Lamb just two years after The Beatles wasn’t smart. The Frog Chorus didn’t sit easily alongside his mate Lennon’s imagine or Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. Then there was the Crossroads theme tune revisited… and Mull of Kintyre!

BUT… I want to argue for McCartney’s greatness. It would be far too tricky to draw in all of the 60 years so I want to concentrate on just one month in 1969. Watching The Beatles film Get Back recently I was utterly blown away by the prolific genius of Paul McCartney. 

If you haven’t watched this astonishing 8 hours of music making then go and see it. If you have watched it and missed the McCartney dominance in that room and roof then watch it again.

The Beatles get together after The White Album on which they were rarely in the recording studio together. McCartney had an idea that the band that plays together might stay together. He wanted to rehearse new songs and indeed old ones for a live concert somewhere. Let’s film it all too.

So January 1969 is spent in studios writing what might be an album recorded at a live event. In between playing old rock n roll favourites and very early Beatles’ songs we watch as the biggest band on the planet sit around jamming and writing news songs before our very eyes.

At this stage, two years after Brian Epstein’s death, and a decade after John Lennon was the gang leader it is obvious that Paul McCartney has become the main man of the band. George doesn’t like it and leaves for a few days. John seems to have abdicated to him. Ringo is ever a loyal subject.

It’s not this dominance that stands out though. In these first few days McCartney brings little bits of songs - First of all there’s Get Back, I’ve Got a Feeling and Two Of Us. Then we have a piano tinkling as Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road are literally being birthed in front of us.

As if that is not enough we get Oh Darling, She Came In the Bathroom Window and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer that would make the follow up album Abbey Road and if that wasn’t enough we get hints of the first solo years - Another Day, Back Seat Of My Car and Teddy Boy.

All in a month. The depth. The breadth. So many great songs, some of them all time Beatle classics. 

As I watched, I marvelled. All The Beatles were important to the making of the music of their legend. Yet, this one month in January 1969 tells the truth about Paul McCartney's vital place.

It would be easy to pick 25 Paul McCartney howlers and accuse of him of being twee. I suggest you do the opposite. Choose his best 100 songs and ask if there is any other songwriter who can write like that. 

I remember seeing him Dublin about 20 years ago and for close to three hours he just kept sending out classic song after classic song. It was a joyous never ending bombardment of familiar melodies, riffs and choruses. I have put together a 25 song Playlist for his birthday and didn’t even include Yesterday, Hey Jude or Another Day. Come on!

So Happy 80th Birthday Sir Paul and thank you for the 50 years of amazing music that you have given me. 


LET US DREAM - MY CLONARD SERMON; June 15, 2022

Stocki Cloanrd 22

(photo: Brian O'Neill)

 

How good is this? The Novena is back. Yet, as we celebrate being back together it would be good to stop and consider the world that we are meeting in. It is very different than 2019.

We’ve been through over two years of Coronavirus. It has taken its toll. I think it is like grief. Invisible. Yet exhausting. 

I used to take students to Cape Town to build houses with HFH. We dug three foundations in one afternoon. Now a Presbyterian minister isn’t used to that. My hands were so sore that I couldn’t get the lid off my bottle of water to help me take my pain killer tablet. And I understood. I had seen the work that had made me exhausted.

With Coronavirus and grief we don’t see what makes us weary but we are. Lockdown, isolation, loved ones sick and dying on their own and not able to visit. Masks and social distancing and all the regulations to try and to avoid this killer virus. Then vaccines and boosters and hope yet inconvenience and hospitals not being able to cope. Tiring.

Just as that seemed to be easing we have a war in Ukraine,  refugees pouring out across Europe, oil and food price hikes. 

In our Gospel reading sees Jesus is in the midst of the wearying madness going on around him. So he goes and finds a lonely place to pray and no doubt reflect and refresh. 

And so a nine day Novena might be just the ticket. As in our Ecclesiastes reading there is a time for everything - to be born and a time to die… a time to plant and a time to uproot… They Novena might be a time to reflect.

The theme for this Novena is the title of Pope Francis book Let Us Dream. It was written in Lockdown about what opportunities we had for deep spiritual change coming out of Lockdown.  

Pope Francis speaks of Lockdown as a “stoppage”. God didn’t create Coronavirus but he offers it to us a “stoppage”.  A time out!

I reviewed Let Us Dream over a year ago. I found it personally challenging and inspiring as well as prophetic in our Coronavirus world. Many things caught my attention but let me share my favourite paragraph.

Pope Francis wrote, “In every personal ‘covid’, so to speak, in every ‘stoppage’ what is revealed is what needs to change; our lack of internal freedom, the idols we have been serving, the ideologies we have tried to live by, the relationships we have neglected.”

Let me look at those 4 things that Pope Francis invites us to change.

1. OUR LACK OF INTERNAL FREDOM 

Are we caught by cultural or material dependencies that leave the soul captive and unable to follow Jesus radical call to grace, compassion and generosity…

2. THE IDOLS WE HAVE BEEN SERVING

Are we like the children of Israel in the wilderness. Is Moses lost? Where is God. Let’s create our own idol, the golden calf. Are we struggling to find God in Covid-Times. Instead of God are we trusting idols of materialism, of nationalism, of political correctness or theological purity? 

3. THE IDEOLOGIES WE HAVE TRIED TO LIVE BY

Capitalism… socialism… unionism… republicanism… any ideologies that have become out dated and are getting in the way of the Kingdom of peace and the common good

4. THE RELATIONSHIPS WE HAVE NEGLECTED

Who? Who have we neglected. The homeless? Refugees? How are any government send their refugees to Central east Africa! Is it our traditional enemies? Creation? How is our relationship with the environment doing? With God? Or even ourselves? 

Seven weeks ago Janice and I had the privilege along with Fr Martin Magill  and Fr Dominic McGratton and students from the Catholic Chapliancy at Queens of a private audience with Pope Francis. He is an impressive human being.

During an amazing time Pope Francis told us all that we should carry the gospels in our pockets. Every chance we get… over a coffee or at lunch we should take out the Gospels and read about Jesus. Doing this he said you will eventually wear Jesus. This is astoundingly simple BUT profound advice for the Jesus follower. Cloth yourselves in Jesus life.

Pope Francis believes that the Jesus of the Gospels can rip us free from fears, cultural attachments and relationship neglect. That Jesus can knock down the idols we build when we fear God is not answering. That Jesus can give us a social, political and spiritual manifesto that far out does the ideologies of this world. Check out the Sermon on the Mount!

Pope Francis dream is nothing short of a revolution.

He suggests that if we just tidy up the old normal we miss a powerful opportunity to create a new way to live based around people and creation. 

As we begin 9 days of Novena, let us ask how we can use this stoppage. Can we use it to change what needs to be changed.

Let me finish with a story from Belfast man CS Lewis.In the first of CS Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, chronologically, Diggory and Polly find magic rings that transport them to Narnia this amazing other world through a stagnant pool. Polly is frightened by this strange other world. Diggory plays the tough boy and says to Polly, “There’s not much point in finding a magic ring that let’s you into other worlds, if you’re afraid to look at them when you’ve got there.”

As we come up soon to remember Jesus death. What point would there be in Jesus arriving as a baby in a manger, dying on a cross as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, bursting through the tomb in resurrection power and ascending to God’s right hand… what points would there be in all of that if we left the church the same weay that we arrived. 

Let us use the Novenas as a retreat. Let us change what needs changed. Let us immerse ourselves in the Gsopels so that we wear Jesus as we walk this broken world. Let us dream! 


DEALING WITH LONELINESS

220px-EleanorRigbyStatue

(This is the script for my Pause For Thought this morning on Vanessa, BBC Radio 2... the theme was Dealing With Loneliness)

 

So Vanessa I started thinking about this week’s theme Dealing with Loneliness last week while I was in Covid isolation. 

For the millions of you who have been there, isolation is not easy. I had thankfully a mild dose of covid. The isolation might have been harder to deal with. First I was in bedroom and hearing others downstairs, chatting to them out a window, then they left me totally on my own. 

BUT as an only child I am used to being on my own, indeed other than missing Janice I kind of enjoy being on my own. 

So, it was great to see The Beatles Get Back documentary - all 8 hours of it. So what a perfect time to give a shout out to Paul McCartney who is 80 on Saturday. Paul has a few songs in the catalogue about lonely people. Eleanor Rigby might be the best known… “all the lonely people” - I’ll spare the singing.

The Bible too. The Old Testament and New Testament scriptures both start with God dealing with loneliness. Right at the beginning God sees Adam and says it’s not good to be alone and makes him a partner Eve. 

In the New Testament Jesus tells the disciples that when he leaves them he won’t leave them alone as orphans but that the Holy Spirit will be their companion, comfort and guide. God’s no fan of loneliness.

So in my isolation I had many thoughts on dealing with loneliness. In the end I was grateful that I never really feel lonely but started to feel a deep compassion for those who do. 

I started considering The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby again… Fr Mackenzie writing the sermon that no one will hear. Ouch! 

Then I was thinking of the lonely in the Gospels, that tax collector Zaccheus up a tree to see Jesus and Jesus invites himself to dinner..

The theme shifted from me dealing with my own loneliness to my helping other people deal with theirs.  

Today as I walk through a world full of Eleanor Rigbys… a hello in the street, a thank you in a shop, a text message, a phone call or a wee visit to a neighbour… it can make a huge difference in people’s lives. 

A chance to thank all those who sent me messages to my Covid Cave last week… they all helped. 


DAVID PARK - SPIES IN CANAAN

David Park Spies...

David Park is without doubt my favourite novelist. A humble quiet man from County Down he writes with poetic flare and always engages me with his characters, his storylines and the questions lying underneath. 

Park usually sets his stories here in Northern Ireland but not this time. Though he does drop into Northern Ireland briefly with Bill Clinton’s famous peace-bringing visit of Christmas 1995, the most of the short Spies In Canaan is set in post war Vietnam and the contemporary American Mexican border. 

A couple of depth charges had me surmising. How difficult it is to hold to our personal values when we are caught up in the communal or national. Even more if violence and war are involved. Michael Miller our main man in the script finds himself caught up in deception and hard decisions in Vietnam. 

Decades later Ignatius Donavan, the man who drew Michael into such dilemmas of conscience, sends the by now retired Miller a package that has him adventuring into the desert where Donavan raises more dilemmas. Could he be after all those compromises and their implications be seeking atonement? 

Can those who did despicable things in times of conflict become the protagonists of the goodness later in life? Leopards changing spots and all of that. A question that has ricocheted around our own wee territory.

So too, the thoughts of the old military protagonists wrestling with their memories, their guilt and regret. How do they deal with what they did or were forced to do. Is there a redemption day? 


FITZROY OPEN DAYS - JUNE, 12 & 19, 2020

Fitzroy from across the road

This is the second time that we have attempted Open Days in Fitzroy. If you went to University then imagine your Freshers Bazaar.

This the opportunity for the congregation to see what happens in Fitzroy. The Coronavirus Days have broken up congregational life. The lack of community, that positive gossip over tea and coffee or what we used to have Family Focus curtailed communication. Some who joined Fitzroy just before the 2020 Lockdown and indeed since might have no idea what goes on. 

So Sunday Service will be MORE than worship and sermon. I want to stress that because as I see it the Sunday Service will not end as people leave after singing. The walking around the stalls to find out what goes on, what people can commit to is the practical act of worship tomorrow.

Last Sunday the stalls were all about what is going on in Fitzroy. Those things that are about fellowship, pastoral care and spiritual development.

Tomorrow, 19th, we will be able to see the Fitzroy reach across the world in mission. From the local neighbourhood to almost every continent on earth.

If you are a Fitzer can I urge you to come along. Do not see this as a day off. And if you wish to go to the picnic then bring some food and join us after all stalls have been visited.

If you are wondering about what Fitzroy is like then this might give you a few clues. Everyone welcome.

 

 

 


STOCKMAN SPEAKING AT CLONARD NOVENA 2022

Clonard

I am honoured this week to be a speaker at the Clonard Novenas. The Novenas in middle to late June every year gather upwards of 100,000 people over nine days. It's a veritable Festival right there off the Falls Road.

There used to be 11 Masses per day but that has been cut to just six as Clonard wonders who will return to live gatherings after two Coronavirus years of being only online.

I am leading the way and preaching at all six Masses on Wednesday, June 15th. The times are 7am, 9.30am and 11.30 am then 4pm, 6pm and 8pm. 

I will be trying to set the scene. Lockdown and war and all of the last two years leaves us in need of retreat and reflection. Jesus himself took time out? What is time out? How do we help faith to become the lens by which we see all that is around us, right now in this minute of our lives and in this moment of history.

I will be speaking again on the final day of the Novena - June 23rd.  All six Masses again! The theme that day is Mary! I always seem to be asked to speak or write about Mary. I am queasy about how Catholicism views Mary BUT also concerned that as a result Protestants have missed her courage and model of discipleship. 


SURMISING IN MY COVID CAVE - DAY 7

Me in the Covid Garden

SO… I ventured outside. Captive under Ballycastle blue skies is hard in itself. Anyway I took a sit in the garden. Nice to get fresh air. And even nicer to be sent some lemon drizzle cake over the fence.

It seems that the last diary entry for Day 5 should have read Day 4. The first day that you test positive is counted as zero. So today I am on Day 7 and have surrendered to the notion, of a not so glorious kind, that I am in here until Sunday. 

I am learning about the statistical side of Coronavirus! They say after 10 days whether you are testing positive or not you are no longer infectious and can return to the real world. Janice left on Monday so I am looking in the fridge! 

Covid-19 is that virus that goes on… and on. A good old fashioned head cold has similar qualities BUT not the quantity of snot or time as this bad boy. Apologies about too much information but I am sure most of you have had it by now anyway.

It is wearying too. Two weeks ago I was talking about how living through the Coronavirus Years (I used to call them Days but…) is tiring in a similar way that grief is tiring. After my father’s passing at the end of April I was weary. I guess we came up here to Ballycastle to rest over the Jubilee and suddenly another tired filled bomb hits in the actual virus itself.

Weariness, boredom and seeing Ballycastle blue skies and not able to enjoy them. Covid itself still saps energy. My sinuses are jam packed. A moment of breathing arrives and you think the end might be arriving and a few minutes later we are blocked ups again.

So what have I been doing as well as trying to work out how to squeeze what I cannot do this week into the next two!

Well, as my reviews have shown I watched The Beatles’ documentary Get Back and have been listening to Mary Gauthier’s Dark Enough To See The Stars, R S Rowen’s Battery And Electrical and Mavis Staples and Levon Helm’s Carry Me Home. 

Elsewhere the Playlist has included:

 

The Head and The Heart - Every Shade Of Blue

These guys have become big favourites of mine and here the songs Virginia (Wind In the Night) and Hurts But It Goes Away are as catchy as anything of Lets Me Still and the eponymous debut. 

 

Chagall Guevara - Halcyon Days

Not released yet but out to the kick starter fan base I got a chance to listen to this the follow up to the legendary Chagall Guevara’s 1991. It is not let down. It rocks with typical Steve Taylor drama, poetry and spiritual depth charges.

 

Memorial - Memorial

My daughter Jasmine discovered these guys when they supported Amber Run in London recently. Oh my I love it. Like quiet lo-fi Wilco and at times Simon Garfunkel, this is a late night album to surmise the early hours.

 

The Head and The Heart - Every Shade Of Blue

These guys have become big favourites of mine and here the songs Virginia (Wind In the Night) and Hurts But It Goes Away are as catchy as anything on Let’s Be Still and the eponymous debut. 

 

Graham Nash - Live: Songs For Beginners/Wild Tales

Nash, the N in CSN and CSNY, had all these songs that didn’t make those super group records and made these albums. Last year he took them out and gigged them. Here are live versions. They have a new warm energy and sadly are still relevant, the likes of Military Madness. 

 

NEEDTOBREATHE - Live From Bridgestone Arena

Another band that Jasmine got me into. I love the spiritual joie de vivre of these guys. It’s always celebratory and faith burns bright even in the darker corners. I love Washed By The Water/Lay Em Down, Jon Foreman’s guesting on Carry Me and the heavy workout collaboration with all of Switchfoot and The New Respects on Led Zeppelin’s When The Levee Breaks.  

 

Dawes - Live Time On The Rooftop (Los Angeles, CA 28.8.20)

Discovered this recent live recording and it saves me doing a playlist of the best songs. They are here and they have so many - Things Happen, Crack The Case and All Your Favourite Bands. 


THE BEATLES - GET BACK

Get Back

Utterly magical.

That was my thought as I watched through almost eight hours of The Beatles documentary Get Back. It took Covid to give me the space to watch all of it and boy was that the silver lining of these days of great inconvenience.

It is utterly magical the way that director Peter Jackson dropped us into January 1969, this month in space and time. Like the Bible where we are always looking back through 2000 years of history and differing interpretations of what happened in the life of Jesus, so I have read every book about what happened to The Beatles. 

This however was like we jumped onto the time line. We were experiencing this history as if actually inside it. We were not having to surmise what happened because we were actually watching it happen. Even the events that would fill the next couple of years were prophetically here, alive and energised.

The magic of The Beatles as a group is captured. Indeed if you asked me where you could go to bottle the magic of The Beatles making music this might be surprisingly the perfect month. 

I say surprisingly because all the chat about these sessions in most of the books was about fraught relationships, tension and breakdown. There are hints of that for sure but overall this is The Beatles sitting around, like they maybe heard The Band and Bob Dylan did in Woodstock, jamming, creating and making music.

The way songs develop is magic. Conjured before our eyes and ears. This is where the looking back gets an eye opener. Instead of 50 years of listening to these songs completed we are parachuted in to when they were fragments of ideas. Watching these guys develop the ideas is utterly fascinating.

I mean Get Back starts in a morning warm up jam. I’ve Got A Feeling brings two songs together, genuine Lennon and McCartney. Don’t Let Me Down finds its harmonies as does Two Of Us. To the side we are eves dropping on Let It Be and The Long and Winding Road. To be a fly on the wall. Extraordinary. Magical.

The problems are there too. McCartney is bossing the band at this stage and Harrison cannot be bothered being his side man. Both John and Paul seem aware that George is getting better as songwriter but unaware of how good he has become. 

Harrison is like a butterfly straining to get out of the pupal skin of his caterpillar. I am watching it all and thinking about a triple record All Things Must Pass and the phenomena of My Sweet Lord and understanding why these guys needed to have a break to find themselves. 

Harrison does not want to go back to that live thing. McCartney so does. Lennon’s in a transitional time with Yoko and art. Indeed, John is in a fallow, can’t be over bothered phase and brings little to the party. McCartney is bursting with songs. So prolific. Ringo is just content and to be there. The four personalities and the issues in their lives at the end of their decade are very visible.

Interestingly, Paul who has all the cards here took years to find his post Beatles mojo, John, George and Ringo would revel in solo projects first.

All of this is done in a studio full of comedy and the history of rock n roll. These guys are at the best together when they are mucking about with comedic versions of their songs and the songs that inspired them. You wonder at times how they were able to put the serious face on and get the job done! These are insights into The Beatles relationships that books cannot describe.

The roof. The last gig. The police. Again it’s magic. 

When those four guys (and Billy Preston) count in and go for it. Wow. George isn’t showing over enthusiasm but his playing is great. McCartney is in his element and John comes alive in that live setting. They all seem even more energised by the police arriving. Bless those policemen but they are dull boys to have lived through the 60s.

And it was gone… that was the last show. We did get another record Abbey Road, many of its songs birthed here, and the pulling together of these sessions on the Let It Be album produced by Phil Spector. 

The magic had dissipated. As I say it had to. George speaks of that record of all of his own songs. Paul needed a University Tour on a bus that he got with Wings. John needed to explore music and art and his own psyche with Yoko for a while. Ringo was already off immediately to act in the The Magic Christian movie. 

If it hadn’t been for Allen Klein though… maybe… maybe we’d have got more of this magic again. Yet, maybe they gave us enough magic for one lifetime. 


JONNY ROWEN: THE SOUL SURMISE INTERVIEW

Jonny Rowen

With the release of his new album Battery and Electrical under the moniker R S Rowen I interviewed Jonny Rowen about the record, his influences and how and why he writes songs. 

 

A solo record, 25 years after Pelvis, 10 after Lofires, why now?

I’ve always been a songwriter, at least, in my own head. And the song ideas keep coming. I’m not a businessman, nor a hustler. I’m not in any way, an extrovert. But I write songs. 

Not having had an album out for so long is what happens when you don’t advertise yourself, beg for help, busk, hustle, hassle, or other. 

I’ve learned there’s no point in putting an album out yourself no matter how good the songs are - you simply don’t get noticed. So, having been introduced to the owner of Zen Ten Records, I asked for advice. 

On hearing a few recorded songs, Carlton, already a fan of the Pelvis album from many years earlier, was blown away and that’s where this album began.

You have taken your dad’s moniker? Why did you go for that?

My dad was a battery wholesaler who had started out in business on his own the year I was born. 

Whilst toying with name possibilities for this project I remembered one of his first vans still parked at his house from around that time. I knew it looked it’s age, as do I, and it was roughly the same age as me. 

Red rust on a blue background, the painted letters attempting to ‘hold their own’ against time and decay. The battle-weariness of the image really appealed. 

I was aware, at the same time, that my dad, elderly and unwell, would not be with us for much longer so it was also, in my mind, a tribute to him and his hard work down the years. 

Why the title? - it was all there in front of me, as it had been my whole life. The beauty of something which already existed, having such a rich history for me, needed only to be captured in photograph.

You have talked about growing up in a room full of records of big brothers. What of those records back then have influenced Battery and Electrical?

I’ve always been drawn to melody - or that’s what I would have said when I was younger. But now I realise now what I meant, was, in fact, the combination of melody, harmony, rhythm, arrangement and production. 

The importance of lyrics came later for me. 

All of the records I listened to, as a kid, were from my older brothers’ collections, so I did get a great education from the earliest age. Space Oddity was a big album in our house in the mid 70s, as well as Transformer, the Top of the Pops albums, I recall a Hallmark album of rugby songs, no idea who brought that one in. Oh Dear! What Can The matter Be? - but it was played for its comedic value on occasion. Monty Python Live At Drury Lane, Ziggy Stardust, Revolver, Handel’s Water Music, Jim Reeves - 12 Christmas Carols. I know there were so many 45s I loved, to add to the list. 

As regards influences for Battery & Electrical, I’m sure there’s lots in there. I focus more on moments in songs from the past that resonate strongly with me - there’s so much tied up in my childhood, I’m very nostalgic, so those records are hugely important. The big names for me from those really early days are The Beatles and Bowie and a host of singles by other artists.

Songwriting? What inspires a song to start?

My early memories are of the amount of singing that happened in my home. For me, songs were as commonplace as speech. I preferred songs. Most of my time was spent listening to records and singing along, or going to church/Sunday School and singing the hymns, or every car journey was me singing the whole way there and home. 

But it wasn’t only me; my dad often sang with us, my brother and I would both sing along with him - if we knew the hymn, and if we didn’t have to listen to Brian Johnston ‘Down Your Way’ half-tuned in on the LW battling the white noise and fading signal. In the rain. Heat on full. Wipers, brown-tinted windows, and condensation for added claustrophobic effect as we squeezed into the loaded car in our three-piece suits, shirts and choking neck ties. Sundays had a habit of returning very quickly.

When you looked back on this collection were there any interesting things you learned about yourself and your views on the world?

With the background I have described, there was no other way it was ever going to be, as far as I’m concerned. I love music. I was born to be a songwriter; I believe it’s a gift from God. That doesn’t mean I was born to be a successful songwriter, just a songwriter. 

It’s has such a cathartic effect on me, like prayer, but for the obvious differences. Of course, some songs are prayers. My best songs usually have such small beginnings. Great songs are, most often, I think, very simple in their essence. It can be the hardest thing to do; to keep it simple, clear, obstacle-free in structure and melody whilst presenting something with some originality from the writers’ own experience and vulnerability. 

The Artists’ job, as I see it, is to detail the world around them, and in them, as they see it, and, sometimes, hopefully, to even hint the next move, or at least, question what it might be.

I often sit with the guitar and mess around with intention of writing, I suppose, waiting for a happy accident - a flash of inspiration. The connection for me when a song begins to suggest itself, comes when something happens with melody against the chords being played that sparks an interest, emotionally. 

Once that fragment of melody has appeared, the continued melody begins to suggest itself and I find the chords to suit. That can take a while. Often by the time I have the melody, I’ll have come up with a decent line from which the completed lyrics begin to take shape around that one line. 

A lot of the songs on Battery & Electrical are dealing with themes of loss and isolation, but not without hope. It wasn’t planned that way, but as I look at the songs that’s what they are. Sometimes the journey is messy but when we know what awaits us at the end, that makes the hardships along the way worthwhile from the point of view of what we may have learned, and how we continue to grow.

The record business has changed utterly since Pelvis? What are your hopes for this record

The record business has changed utterly since the late 90s, I’m not sure what to expect. 

But for me to have an outlet, somewhere to bring my songs where they can be accessed by anyone who may be interested in hearing them, that’s a real bonus and a step in the right direction. 

I think being on a great independent label, Zen Ten, and working with Carlton, is a pleasure, and I hope to be releasing more in the future. 


RS ROWEN'S: BATTERY AND ELECTRICAL

R S ROWEN

Jonny Rowen is from the family that Bono called an Old Testament Tribe on the sleeve notes of the U2 record Songs Of Innocence. There are a lot of Rowen brothers and a few sisters. The rest were either Virgin Prunes or speeding too fast on motorcycles and skateboards. 

Jonny seemed to me to be the sensible one. No Rowen is average or ordinary but Jonny seems closest to normal (sorry guys!!). 

At times when you listen to his new record under the moniker of his dad RS Rowen and named after his dad’s business Battery And Electrical you will see what I mean. This seems more traditional songwriting than his brothers post punk art or his neighbour’s stadium filling echoing guitar.

When you listen again though, and believe me you will listen again, there is so much more going on here than some traditional songwriter record. 

I don’t mean a guitar lick here or a piano ripple there. The beautiful Far Away begins with a benign hammond, a strum or two of acoustic guitar and then ends up, before you know it, turning slightly sinister and we are under layers of sounds and harmonies to a climactic glam rock crescendo. 

Like everything else here it’s intoxicating. It’s like Bowie and The Beatles got together in 1973 and gave a male Joni Mitchell some edge.  

Speaking of Bowie, listen to that piano outro on the haunting We Will Make It Through, echoes of Aladdin Sane or the church choir at the end of Photograph and its nod to Sgt Peppers.

Truth is from that same singer songwriter centre nothing on Battery and Electrical sounds like anything else. It’s driving on Waiting For You, country skiffle on Won’t Be Home, early Eagles doing Gospel on Already Gone (they even had a song called that!) and the lyric spitting opener These Tears will simply not remain inside the lines.

Jonny Rowen has had his moments. In 1998 he fronted the next big Dublin band Pelvis and showcased it on Later… With Jools Holland. But now might be his time. Not to be massive like U2 are massive but to be recognised as not the so normal Rowen but another brilliant one with as much risk and imagination as anyone else on Cedarwood Road.