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October 2022



I use the word sublime too freely. That might be annoying for the reader. I promise you that it is even more annoying for me when an album like this one comes along. It leaves me wishing I had never used the word ever before…

Rolling Golden Holy is utterly sublime. It is beautiful. There is not a note played that does not make its gentle holy mark. The vocals have an other worldly ethereal feeling. 

The songs? Well, you see I think they take you back to more classic, maybe folkier times BUT when I heard Summer Dream and its references to Van Morrison I thought that that is the avenue they have gone back in time through. 

On top of this heavenly sound there are spiritual questions to be asked about who we are, why we are here, how love works and what might happen beyond it all. 

I came to Rolling Golden Holy without having heard the debut record, not that my friends didn’t warn me. It has come as the sweetest surprise as the year flows towards best of lists. One of the first records of 2022 to be up for that list was Anais Mitchell’s eponymous album. Here at year’s end Mitchell’s supergroup collaboration with Josh Kaufmann who has played with The National, Josh Ritter and Taylor Swift to name a few Eric D Johnson of shins and the Fruit Bats is pushing herself close.

Surely on everybody’s list. Certainly on mine. An utter beaut!




Stormont Chains


I drove back into Belfast

I see it still says no

Anyone sowing the seeds of love

Should be told they never grow

The times, are they-a changing

Because it seems too much the same

Past their sell by date ideologies

Holding all of us in chains

The homeless dying on the streets

While the charities rattle their tins

Preacher shouting for others to repent

Ignoring his very own sins.


I drove back into Belfast

Forgetting that it never forgets

Steals, kills, destroys itself

Where's the blessing of regret

The comedians can be prophetic

And the politicians risible

Long waiting lists and Foodbanks

For protocols and principles

A new face to the skyline

It shines in all its splendour

But souls inside seem old and cold

The futility of 'No Surrender'


'Love thy neighbour as thyself'

Authorised verse that never applies

I surmise is it not a compromise

Not to compromise.


I wrote this in the early 90s when I used to drive back into Belfast from Dublin where I lived from 1991 to 1994. 

Belfast was stuck. It was pretty hopeless.

Brian Gormley wrote a great tune and made it a song. 

I found it this week and was sad how it still might be a relevant blog. I believe we have moved a long way since 1994 BUT we have still such a long long way to go. I rewrote a few lines...




A Soul Surmise Podcast in which I chat to my good mate, the Welsh singer songwriter, Martyn Joseph.

Knowing Martyn for 30 years I was keen to talk to him about stage craft. Martyn can do up to 200 gigs a year and was just back from the west coast of North America when we spoke. Over the years I have chatted too him about the live show, watched him eagerly seek ways to do it better and more importantly watched him grip a crowd.

So, how does a gig come together and how might it change mid show?

Secondly, I wanted to chat about 1960, Martyn's most recent and maybe best record ever when he trails through his life and in the subjectivity of his life touches all of our lives.

Listen to the interview here, with a sneaky wee live snippet, almost bootleg sounding, of Martyn's very first social comment song - Ballad For The Children Of Ireland.

Listen to the podcast here:

Apple Podcasts




You can buy tickets for Martyn Joseph's concert in Belfast HERE


Weather Oct 22

I stepped out tonight. It was around 10pm. I realised that it was the first time I had done it since March 2020. My first post Covid-19  trip to the Petrol Station. It’s almost Halloween… and I didn’t need a coat. Late October… Belfast… no coat! Whaaat!

My father-in-law has commented most days recently after he has lifted the leaves in the garden about how amazing the weather is. 86 years of late Octobers and he can hardly believe it how mild it is. He is loving it. Michaela Strachan on BBC’s Autumn Watch called the weather extraordinary! 

Then at the Fitzroy Zoom Prayer Meeting Tony started sharing in what we call our Big World Prayer Points. Tony took us to Kathmandu where there is a dengue fever endemic. The particular mosquitos that carry dengue have moved into the Kathmandu valley because of the change in the weather and temperature, making lots of people ill and killing many.

I was suddenly reminded of a few lines from the late great songwriter Mark Heard who sang on Some Folks World - 

Rain can ruin your weekend
Or rain can spare your life
Depending on who you are and what your thirst is like

It is almost an upside down version. The effects of our climate crisis gives us a warm and lovely Halloween while it is causing deaths in the Nepalese capital.

Let us not be fooled though. There are no long time winners with the crisis of climate change. Yes, I believe that for sure the poor will feel the brunt of the early changes to our weather systems. We should not be complacent. The long term results will impact us all, or at least our children and theirs.

So as we bask in crazy late October temperatures and wonder if we will ever need our heavier tog duvets let it be an alarm bell going of. This is not a glorious new world but the warning of a doomsday to come unless we act NOW!


Dreams 1


I remember in the early 90s seeing Paul Brady live quite frequently. Every time he sang Nobody knows what Ruby had to hide” my mate Tim and I would shout in unison “Who’s Ruby!”


We eventually concluded that it was Jack Ruby who shot Lee Harvey-Oswald who shot JFK. However, Paul Brady’s new autobiography gives a page to the song that the line comes from - Nobody Knows


Confirming that Ruby was Jack Ruby tells us that at the beginning it was Reuben Carter, the boxer convicted of murder whose innocence Bob Dylan pleaded in song Hurricane. The biggest revelation for me was that the song starts on a rooftop, imagining a band doing the Beatles Get Back concert with nobody watching. How had a I missed that!


The book took me through a lot of what I had missed in Brady’s ludicrously blessed career. I use blessed rather than successful as in the musical statistical terms Brady was never as big a star as those he hang out with - Dire Straits or Eric Clapton for example.


Yet, for a boy coming out of Strabane, what a life. My favourite stories have to be when he’s sitting face to face with Carole King writing songs, when he appeared on stage to Tina Turner’s surprise to sing Paradise Is Here, when he is standing with Elton John in Elton’s bedroom admiring the art and most of all when he is putting the fingers of Bob Dylan on the guitar strings as he teaches him his version of Lakes Of Pontchartrain! Bob Dylan for goodness sake. Wow!


In Crazy Dreams, Brady takes us through every concert, tv appearance, management change, song written and album recorded of his illustrious career. Never the top of the charts outside Ireland he could still sell albums and tours across the world.


The book is almost broken in two. About 170 pages on his early folk career and then another 170 on his song writing career. 


I learned so much about his years with The Johnstons. I had no idea that they made seven records! Then his shifting the sonics in Irish Traditional music with Andy Irvine and finally as a solo artist before writing Crazy Dreams, Dancer In The Fire and Night Hunting Time sent him a whole different direction.


We do hear about the down times, especially at the end of The Johnstons time and mention of wife, daughter and son are threaded through. If I was being critical I would have loved a little more depth about some of the more personal. His marriage is a resounding success in rock music terms but it seems that it wasn’t always easy and he might have had insights on how he and Mary survived that would have been worth sharing. However, as Ricky Ross taught us in his memoir Mary’s story is hers to tell, not Paul’s. We will put it down to wise discretion. 


There are also insights into Ireland, the traditional music scene and The Troubles and our divisions. Brady is for sure a nationalist but always seeks respect across the traditions and beliefs. He is the peacemaker of The Island for sure. He also suggests that even the Irish hid the wee sessions of folk as the music of the peasants. I’d love to do a PhD on that!


I found Crazy Dreams as riveting music memoir read. I couldn’t get enough. I learned a lot and probably discovered, as Brady did as he went, where his own rhythmic guitar sound style emerged from and how unique it was. 


I am back listening to songs across his career - ones I loved and ones I missed. That’s what a good music biog does!


Stocki and Jani 5

Down by the edge of the ocean

I’m splashing with a laughing child

Dancing in the joy she brings me

She has her mother’s eyes

Then in the moonlight evening

I hold her mother tight

Discerning minds and burning hearts

Through the shadows and the light.


I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.


Intolerance and arrogance

Give way to divergent unity

Those who have give those who need

In a loving community

Vision becoming crystal clear

Dressed in purist white

The groom delights at the altar

In the beauty of his bride.


I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.


Bars of steel and stigma

Fall away before the just

The needy not only want no more

They’ve also learned to trust

And every colour’s neutral

The streets give up their names

My people learn to love my people

Where we are all the same.


I’m going to dress my dreams in denim

And I’m going to work for what is true

With one eye on forever

I’m going to see this vision through.


I was scanning old blogs and came across this poem from the very early 1990s. 

It started with a Charles Swindoll quotation from a book I had bought in Toronto as far back as 1979. The idea of dressing your dreams in denim really caught my imagination. Denim. Denim was my identity. I wore it all the time much to my poor mother's chagrin. I was a child of the 60s - hippy scruff. I would even end up getting married in denim!

Denim, as Swindoll pointed out, was the cloth of work. Indeed, the first person I ever remember wearing denims was my uncle Bert. He was a carpenter and his dungarees always told me that he was working.

I used this phrase a lot in my work with young people that was the concentration of my vocation in my 20s and early 30s. 

This poem however is very much subjective. I am living in Dublin. My years in Dublin from 1991 to 1994 were so formative. I got out of the often too restrictive Northern evangelical pressures. I was able to take space to think through my faith for myself. I was discovering something wider, higher and deeper than what I had known. This was very much a mission statement, a vision for my life as a follower of Jesus and a commitment to it.

What amazes me as I read it tonight is how detailed it is on the thirty years that would follow it. It is even hard to believe that my wife and daughters are some years away. If I wrote it now I would understand but I cannot believe that my 30 year old self was well enough rounded to be so clear about where my following of Jesus was going to take me. 

Even more interesting is that it both describes my last thirty years and is also statement of faith that I need to waken up and recommit to every day of my early 60s. Oh vocationally I will be ever committed to this pragmatic outworking of my faith. I guess job wise there will come a time when I need to ask do I want to put those work clothes on anymore. 


LC 2


Of the half dozen Here It Is is the most recent. It is also the classiest. The proof is written on the front of the cover - Blue Note. 

Close friend of Cohen’s, Larry Klein, has put a top quality jazz band together and then chosen some of the world’s top singers to set Cohen songs on top of the band’s gentle breeze. 

It is so good with nearly too many highlights to name - Norah Jones on Steer Your Way, Gregory Porter on Suzanne and Mavis Staples on If It Be Your Will.

The surprises for me are Peter Gabriel who shifts sonic backgrounds on a measured Her It Is, Nathaniel Ratelift’s disciplined Famous Blue Raincoat and Iggy Pop’s menacing You Want it Darker.

Perhaps after the overexposure and far-too-many covers of Hallelujah we should give a special word to Sarah McLachlan for a sublime version of that old hymn!



First Aid Kit curate an evening of the Canadian sage’s poetry and songs and then invite actors and singers and musicians to put it together sublimely.

There are deft touches elsewhere, adding just a dash of Anthem to Famous Blue Raincoat, a male voice to shift the spiritual lightsome on Show Me The Place. You Want It Darker into If It Be Your Will brings more depth of spiritual reflection. The Future with spoken word weeks out it’s prophetic breadth.

There are a plethora of ways that this is great. If you’re a First Aid Kit fan, you’ll love it. If you are Cohen fan, you’ll love it. If you want a musical night at the theatre you’ll love it. If you want to take Leonard Cohen into some place of spiritual retreat then you’ll love it.



Jennifer Warnes’ finest hour, Famous Blue Raincoat probably relit Cohen’s reputation in 1986. Warnes did such an immense job, particularly on Bird On A Wire, Ain’t No Cure For Love and Came So Far For Beauty. Warnes even co-wrote the beautiful Song Of Bernadette and introduced to the world First We Take Manhattan.


I’M YOUR MAN - The Film Soundtrack

The live performances from a concert film tribute. Heavily Wainwright heavy. Martha’s Tower of Song and The Traitor are gathered with her brother’s Chelsea Hotel #2 and Everybody Knows and her mum and aunt’s Winter Lady. Best of the others has to be Nick Cave’s I’m Your Man and the very best of all a collaboration of the man himself and U2 on Tower of Song.



The shiny sheen one. Elton John, Billy Joel, Still et all. All a little perfect for me. Bono’s spoken word Hallelujah might be the best of all, experimented with long before it was in the American Song Book!! Suzanne Vega’s Story Of Isaac might be the other best thing.



The original Tribute from 1991 had the mighty REM to lead it off and all the indie stars of the day in it, The Pixies, The Fatima Mansions and That Petrol Emotion among them. Nick Cave’s Tower Of Song was like him starting to reach for the mantle. Among my favourites were The Lilac Time’s Bird On A Wire, Lloyd Cole’s Chelsea Hotel and John Cale’s Hallelujah.



I haven't been to many gigs post Covid and suddenly find that I have now six gigs in just 29 days! Not only that but all six artists are among my very favourites of all time!



I haven’t went to a Bob Dylan gig in 30 years. In the early 90s I saw him at the Hammersmith Odeon a couple of times, while Janice was living in London. The last time we went was February 1992. It was a cold winter’s night. London streets were covered in snow and slush and our feet got soaked. Bob was awful. Graham Parker his support much better! I was disillusioned with chat on the Tubes going home that Bob was amazing. They sounded like teenage boy band fans!

So here I am giving Bob one last chance. But for a few good friends who were going I wouldn’t have much considered it. Yet, this is the Rough and Rowdy Ways Tour and I loved that record. So I am hoping for a few good songs from it as well as a few of the classics. I am hoping that as with the album Bob’s voice, even in its ageing limitations might be used like a new instrument to bring some poetic drama to the deal.




I’ve been following the Junkies since the Trinity Sessions was released in 1988 and rediscovered them a few years ago by reading their brilliant biography Music Is The Drug and loving their 2018 record All That Reckoning.

I never really imagined seeing then live and getting to experience Margo Timmins’ ethereal vocals and that atmospheric sound around her. Looking forward to hearing them in the spanking new Mandela Hall in the Queen’s University Students Union. I’ve been going to gigs there since 1981! Intimate I’d say. 



Two years later we are finally getting to see Jason Isbell. Isbell has been my favourite songwriter of the last few years and so I am very excited to get to see him live and hear my favourite songs from Southeastern and Reunions. 

The Olympia is an old favourite stomping ground so I looking forward to a favourite artist in a favourite venue.



If seeing Isbell and Cowboy Junkies will be new experiences then I am just as excited about seeing my old friend Martyn Jospeh for the umpteenth time, the first of two nights in my own church. 

Martyn is a consummate songwriter whose recent album 1960 might be his best collection of songs in his entire career. Live he is a feisty energy of political and social commentary mixed with spiritual insight and balm for the soul. There are dollops of humour and an underrated dexterity on his guitar!




In 2018 I had the privilege of having Deacon Blue front man Ricky Ross at my mercy in an evening of conversation and song where I Got to interview Ricky and this direct his playlist. It was intimate and Ricky shared openly about home and faith and work.

Though I will not being interviewing Ricky this time I expect music of the same. On stage alone Ricky will play Deacon Blue hits stripped back and his own solo songs too. As well as songs from his recent record Short Stories Volume 2 expect some reflections from his new memoir Walking Back Home.  




The first week in December and Janice and I are back in the Mandela for one of our all time favourite live acts. We’ve been going to see Glen since he was lead singer of The Frames. I think our first time was at the Powerhaus London on April 6th 1991. 

The man never ceases to conjure a live atmosphere. I have often said that he is still a Grafton Street busker who got to live the dream with a real PA, stellar musicians and the great songs that he writes himself. Seeing Hansard in Ireland in December has become a bit of an island wide tradition. Cannot wait!



It is hard to get enough of Richard Osman’s Thursday Murder Club series of novels. This is the third and the boy has really hit his stride. The writing gets better and better. I cannot wait for the next one!

For those who don’t know the back story - catch up NOW! - our former Pointless anchor taken the idea of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and set it in a Retirement Village, Cooper’s Chase, in the south of England.

There, in a village much like the one his real life mum lives, Osman has brought to life four endearing characters Elizabeth and ex spy, Joyce an ex nurse, Ron an ex Union man and Ibrahim an ex psychiatrist. 

Never under estimate retired folk with energy and a great deal of life and vocational experience. Instead of a Bridge Club or Book Club our gang of four start a Murder Club where they see if they can solve cold cases!

In this the third book they seek to uncover the mystery of the murder of local Television celebrity Bethany Waites. It gives them a chance to get into their favourite television shows and meet their own favourites celebrities as well as sending them off on a complex whodunnit with the cleverest twists and turns.

Osman’s most ginormous genius, maybe even as huge as himself, is the way he weaves underground crimes, kidnappings, guns and death threats into a foundation of comfort, humour and warmth. Nobody wrote does the weave of tense drama and laugh out loud better. It's a gentler form of killing and comedy than Tarantino for sure!

As someone who doesn’t laugh out loud when it comes to books, I laughed a lot during this one. Elizabeth and Joyce interviewing another TV celebrity Fiona Clemence is pure stand up.

There are so many great scenes but my favourite is when the Joyce comes back to her little apartment and finds herself face to face with a man with a gun. He has come to kill her as he promised Elizabeth that he would if she didn’t kill Victor, a former KGB agent. 

Joyce takes it all in her seeming naivety, carrying on as if her potential killer is an old friend, eventually getting him to have a cup of tea by which he ends up on the floor. Drugged by the seeming gullible one! This isn’t even part of the main investigation in the novel.

As if this wasn’t enough to make Osman the best seller that he is there are other issues running through. In this third episode takes on dementia, again gently but beautifully, as Elizabeth’s beloved husband begins to realise that things are going a little strange. Poignant and helpful.

As I said book Number 4 NOW!



God help us

We need leaders

You ask us to pray for our leaders

And we have

But we wonder if you are listening…


Whether in London

Or in Belfast

We shake our heads in disbelief

We would laugh uproariously 

If it wasn’t so sad and serious and tragic

Damaging mental health

Physical health

Care for the sick

Costing lives.


We have people at wits end

Wondering if can they feed their children

And not the historically poor

But the working middle classes

With heat or food dilemmas

And what food they can afford.


Meanwhile our political leaders,

Playing games for self and votes and seats and power

And seemingly losing every game they play

Seem bereft of wisdom, judgement, vision, credibility

Or care for all of those at wits end.


God help us

Find leaders

Who are compassionate and pragmatic

Who love neighbours as they do themselves

Who serve humbly for the marginalised

Who give the hungry something to eat, 

Who give the thirsty a drink

Who invite in the stranger

Who cloth the naked

Who look after the sick

And visit the prisoner

Who will let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream.


God help us

Please be listening.