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October 2023


4 of Us - GS

photo: George Sproule


In the early 90s 4 Of Us concerts were the most bounced around and shape throwing gigs that I had ever known. I remember exiting a couple of gigs in London sweat drenched and exhausted from the best 90 minutes of live rock music a body could ask for.

Here we all are three decades later in a Church. It just happens to be the church I am minister. We sit through until the last couple of songs. Even then sweat is a long way off. In 2023 it’s the heart that the two of The 4 of Us that are left are aiming for.

The 4 of Us are quite unique in the shift of sound that they discovered as they grew from 4 to 2. The last fifteen years has largely been just frontman Brendan and his, throwing guitar hero shapes, brother Declan. Declan makes up for numbers with all kinds of acoustic guitar sounds through the pedals taking up his side of the stage. 

Brendan takes us through the show as much as DJ as a singer, linking every song with stories about childhood in Newry, the beginning of the brothers as a band, how Robert Plant took more to Declan than him when they supported him a few years ago and so much more.

The use of their dad’s Casio keyboard for rhythms in the earliest days is amusing but there is no doubt that the songwriting across this 30 year set list has matured. Indeed the two songs that stand out for me tonight are the new ones. 

St. Gabriel’s Drive has some nifty couplets in a song of getting caught up in the Troubles and the fears of mothers. Miracle Every Morning is a beautifully delicate love song that you will want to sing to your lover immediately.

It was in the latter that I noticed most a Willie Nelson sound to Brendan’s voice. It’s a long way from Songs For The Tempted to Willie Nelson-esque song writing. The Murphy boys have done it with ease. 

It would seem that songs like Sensual Thing and Drag My Bad Name down both given guitar sonics and shimmies and shades tonight are from a different rock altogether from Sugar Island or Gospel Choir but then Washington Down reminds you and Mary, with everyone on their feet giving it a vocal work out, particularly nudges you to realise that this deft songwriting skill was there from the very beginning and where we might have missed its subtlety in the sweatiness of the early days we are enjoying the ultimate fruits of Brendan and Declan’s vocation all of these long years later.  

They end with James Taylor’s deep groove Traffic Jam and I am thinking that a Taylor song is maybe the perfect place for the boys from 1992 to meet the boys from 2023. The Songs For The Tempted t-shirts we all bought, back then and again tonight, is looking back but I am hearing a new record being mentioned and would much prefer that!


Fitz Sermon Podcast

This week's Sermon Podcast is up in all of the usual places.

This week we were looking at the fulcrum in the history of engagement with God. 

For centuries the Jewish people engaged with God through the keeping of the law.

Jesus shifted the entire deal. In the Lectionary Reading John 8: 31-36 Jesus explained this to the Jewish Leaders in the Temple Courts. They had been slaves to the law but now a righteousness apart from the law had arrived - Jesus himself.

We then look at Romans and Galatians and Philippians and bring out this new freedom in Jesus, the truth of who Jesus is and living his ways, the good news for all people invited into this cosmic possibility of being the human beings we were created to be.

There were also warnings that as the Jewish Leaders of Jesus day we can go down roads that make us dogmatically arrogant, judgementally self righteous, pushing others away in a pharisaical exclusively.






I am surmising that All That Was East Is West Of Me Now is Glen Hansard most important record as well as the one who title I might never get right.

Hansard is 53. He has been releasing records for thirty years. This past year he has played live with his first band The Frames, done an American Tour with his old love Markéta Irglová as The Swell Season and by Christmas I’ll have seen him twice this year under his name Glen Hansard. It was at his Mandela Hall gig in March that I got excited about these songs.

In those different formats I always felt Hansard had an outlet for those different sounds. Never did I imagine the three things blend as they do rather brilliantly on All That Was East Is West of Me.

Musically robust and diverse, at times driving like The Frames, at times soft and tender Hansard then takes on the angst of the world of his day. Since his last experimental record The Wild Willing, most present here in atmospheric Between Us There Is Music, the world has dealt with Covid, a war on European Soil and in Ireland Brexit.

Hansard sets up a near apocalyptic mood in the opening Feast Of St. John:


See a man of good standing pushed to the ground

And his lover attending and her arms all around

And hеr anger, and her ire, and hеr blood raging full

Muster, muster to the depths of your soul


The terror builds but resistance too in Down on Our Knees :


Pandemic, famine, war, privation, mass migration

Four horsemen riding, knights of the apocalypse

We'll all go down on our knees

Won't we all go down on our knees



In this one there is a near congressional chorus, Hansard touching Gospel


Throw your arms to heaven

Throw your arms 'round me

Throw your arms to heaven

Give, and you will receive


There’s No Mountain ups the resistance and the hope that threads its way through it all


But we climbed it, and we scaled it

And when the wind and the weather were with us

I knew we wouldn’t fail

And we see it, and we take it

And if we fall by the side at least we’ll know that we tried

To leave a little light on our way


The album sets out in the rage and then calms and slows. Sure As Rain shifts the direction. Leonard Cohen’s influence enters the set and love wins.

From here it is about what we can do in a Short Life. How we can contribute to Bearing Light. What light we can leave. A man coming out of the world as it has been with a pram now in the doorway. Fascinating time to make a record. We all benefit from it. This is urgent and helpful and sounds great.


Washing Feet

READ: Matthew 20:20-28

All world leaders come to power. It might be by a majority vote, or it might be hereditary or it might be by military force but it is called coming to power. The power comes with some might. Most of our 6 o’clock news bulletins are about power struggles. It is how the world rolls.

It is these ways of power that were in James and John’s mother thinking of when she approached Jesus to get her boys promotion. Could they sit with Jesus when he came to power. The other disciples were not pleased at their attempt to get one over on them.

Then Jesus explains, yet again, that that is not the way he rolls. His ways are not at all like the ways of the world that we are used to. This mother and the disciples are thinking about the power of Rome, ruling over them in brutal force or even the religious leaders oppressing the ordinary Jewish people.

Jesus talks revolution. But it has a very different power source. Jesus Kingdom was going to be nothing like the world they were used to. His Empire was going to be upside down. 

Jesus is God and not just a King but the King of Kings. Not just a Lord but the Lord of Lords. However he who has every right to rule in power and might does it differently. To rule in Jesus kingdom is to serve others. Power is servanthood. By humility. By grace, mercy and love.

In Jesus Kingdom the last are first and the first are last. In Jesus Kingdom we do unto others as we would have them do to us.

I have a mantra in Fitzroy that we are the people of the manger, the donkey and the cross. But as I prepared these First Thoughts I have added another -  foot washing.

Here is this new way to live. God was not born in a palace of riches. But in a stable. When Jesus came into Jerusalem to conquer the world, he didn’t come on a stallion but on a humble donkey. When Jesus wanted to show his disciples about how to use power he got on his knees and washed their feet. When Jesus took on the evil powers of the universe he did it dying on a cross of wood. 

This is a strange way. This seems a crazy way to rule a Kingdom. Yet, if we wanted to turn the world around and find peace and equality and justice. This is how it works. This upside down empire is our great hope. 

It is so radical that it takes us decades to come to terms with it. Perhaps even longer to start living it.  

James and John’s mother should have been asking Jesus how can my sons serve the marginalised of the world alongside you. 

Us too. As I attempt to follow Jesus into this weekend I need to remember that I am following a person of the manger, the donkey, the foot washing and the cross. 


Climate Tree

Fitzroy's Harvest Service saw me riffing off two songs by our friend Paul Keeble who brought us two songs that he had written.

The first This Is Your Doing was a song of praise and thanks for God's spectacular creation inspired by Psalm 118:23 - The Lord has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.

Out of that song I looked at Psalm 104 and asked how God sees his creation and where he holds it in his heart.

The second song What Will it Take asks just that - What will it take?/How many times must creation cry out? 

Out of this I suggest that our faith is least credible in our complicity in the climate crisis. Do we hold it in our hearts or see it as God does?



The Collective

Fitzroy were back to their Gospel According To Series with Sinead O’Connor the focus. It was another astounding evening of great playing and singing - thank you to my Fitzroy Collective, I never take you for granted. The groove in Mandinka and all the vocalists doing such amazing jobs at Sinead’s voice. 

Here’s the playlist and most of the Preach-Jockeying…



Why are we listening to Sinead O’Connor songs in Church?

My question is why so long. We’ve been doing these for 14 years, always looking for a female artist and it took Sinead’s sad passing in the summer to get us here.

Here was an Irish women, broken, fragile and at times with the strength of a lion… seen as a wayward controversial who never stopped talking about and to God.

A frightening experience with her mother when she was young and how she sensed Jesus and the Holy Spirit there with her, “I never asked Him to come; He just arrived.”

During one of my difficult times as a child she made a deal with God to sing for him all of her life. Even after her life here are the songs she sang bringing God before us again.

Oh with four children, only one of which was with one of her four husbands reminds us that she coloured way outside the religious lines BUT I came to respect her yearning for God and we’ll engage with that tonight.

Sinead O’Connor will take us to church.


Thank You for Hearing Me (from Universal Mother) 


Take Me To Church (from I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss)


Hozier’s Take Me Too Church might be the best known and I am fascinated at Sinead within a year of Hozier’s releasing a song of the same title but more positive about the Church. 

What is different about O’Connor’s view of Church is that she knows it is where her hope lies but she is critiquing its failings too. For some the Church is beyond criticism. For some it is a curse of humanity. Sinead knows its worth but is aware that some Churches hurt more than heal.

It is that “but not the ones that hurt/‘Cause that ain't the truth/And that's not what it's worth…”  Are we the Church that Sinead could find the grace she needs to become the new creation she yearns to be? 

This past month I have spoken to too many people hurt by Church, whose hearts were frozen or their souls pushed away, and it has pained me, frustrated me, angered me. 

I pray God that Fitzroy will always be a place that heals the hurts and doesn’t add to them; a place that reveals Jesus to every Sinead that seeks to be taken to Church!

We now go back to the beginning…

I first heard Sinead O’Connor’s awesome voice on an In Tua Nua song Take My Hand and then there she was again on a soundtrack that U2’s Edge had written - Heroine. 


Heroine - (from the Heroine soundtrack)


John Trinder introduced Mandinka from The Lion and the Cobra as a protest song, antislavery…


Mandinka - (from The Lion And The Cobra)


After The Lion and the Cobra came the mega single Nothing Compares To You. Our girl was just about the biggest pop star on the planet… but then… 

She then tore up a photograph of Pope John Paul II on Saturday Night Live, a pice of theatre that cost her two weeks later when she was due to play a song at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert. The crowd booed and Kris Kristofferson consoled a disturbed Sinead.

Sinead’s memoir helped me understand it a bit more. 

Sinead O’Connor didn’t want to be a pop star. She wanted to be a protest singer. Bob Dylan was perfect for her. 

Her brother, the wonderful novelist Joseph O’Connor, had brought home Dylan’s Christian record Slow Train Coming and Sinead loved it. Protest and faith mingled.

She also had the hurt of an Irish theocracy childhood, with an abusive mother and then the edges of the Magdalen Laundries. She was angry at the abuse within the Catholic Church. She raged, misunderstood at the time but latterly finding prophetic being used about her speaking out.

Finally in November 1978 Ireland got its first Number 1 in the UK charts with the Boomtown Rats Rat Trap. As a young Sinead watched Top Of The Pops Bob Geldof ripped up a photograph on screen of Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta as Rat Trap had knocked their hit fromGrease, Summer Nights, off the top!

Sinead carried that photo of the Pope around with her, she was protest singer… this was her moment.

As a result we lost a cover from Slow Train Coming at Dylan’s 30th… A song of new conversion…   


I Believe In You - (from The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration - Remastered 2014 Edition)


Her next TV appearance after the Dylan show was on The Late Late Service, anchor man Gay Byrne like a secular priest and pastor and prophet. At the end if the show you could see he extra careful with Sinead. They had planned a song but as Sinead approached the microphone she said she’d changed her mind. You can see a little apprehension on Gay’s face and then unaccompanied Sinead sings…


Make a Channel of Your Peace - (from Diana Princess of Wales - Tribute)


Sinead the protest singer was an artist who saw the marginalised and longed to reach out to them. 

On her album How About I Be Me, she takes a verse from Isaiah 1:18 - “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”

The lyric goes -

Oh, so long I've been a junkie

I ought to wrap it up and mind my monkeys

I really want to mend my ways

I'm gonna call that number one of these days

I'm gonna reach a hand out to you

Say "Would you pull me up?" Now could you?

I don't want to waste the life God gave me

And I don't think that it's too late to save me

It's not too late


Reason with me

Let's reason together

Reason with me

Let's reason together

Let's reason together

Reason with me

Let's reason together

Reason with me


She covered this well known song as an extra track on a CD single. It could be the Streets of Dublin… or Belfast… but in the song they are…


Streets Of London (from Fire On Babylon single)


In Rememberings Sinead writes about her Theology album -


Around the year 2000 I went to college for a brief period to study theology. The books of the prophets were where my passion lay. 

Theology is the only album of mine I’m taking to the coffin. I love it. I took virtually all the lyrics from Scripture. The way I worked was that I laid down on the floor huge pieces of paper and I wrote down all the lines that I loved that were in the Scriptures and decided to put them them together and not change them but make them rhyme where I could. And there are some beautiful songs already written by God in Scriptures.


Steve - The Theology record - From Rememberings


Out Of The Depths  (from Theology)


Caroline introduced In This Heart as a favourite of hers and for her written for God… I agree…


In This Heart - (from Faith and Courage)


I Don't Know How to Love Him is a song the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Webber and Rice have Mary Magdalene bearing an unrequited love for Jesus.  

In Rememberings, Sinead says that though she always loved the song that the record company made her do it… maybe so that we would hear Shannon sing it tonight… 

You can see what the record company saw… heard… Sinead, a little like a Mary Magdalene… a probable outcast of the synagogue… but good friend of the holy Messiah


I Don’t Know How To Love Him (from Theology) 


We are born with different circumstances. Sinead O’Connor had many obstacles to negotiate in the race of life. 

As she did she engaged with God, Catholic, Biblical, as a Priest. Rastafarian and latterly Muslim…

Our wee countries evangelicalism would add another theological obstacle before Sinead…

BUT Sinead’s faith in God, its purity of desire, it’s purity of living and its purity of thought are in the end between her and God… 

Her prayer to God as a child was pretty much lived out

Or her confessional in The Lamb’s Book Of Life from her record Faith and Courage…

"I know that I have done many things
To give you reason not to listen to me
Especially as I have been so angry
But if you knew me maybe you would understand me
Words can’t express how sorry I am
If I ever caused pain to anybody
I just hope that you can show compassion
And love me enough to just plain listen

As Caroline sang earlier on I Believe In You - 

I believe in you even through the tears and the laughter,

I believe in you even though we be apart

I believe in you even on the morning after

Oh, when the dawn is nearing

Oh, when the night is disappearing

Oh, this feeling is still here in my heart


Please God may our last song be Sinead’s experience…


Your Troubles Will Be Over (from God Don’t Never Change - The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson)


Performed by - Laura Campbell, Claire Nicholl, Caroline Orr, Shannon Moore, Norman McKinley, John Trinder, George Sproule, Matthew Fitch, Peter Greer, Laurence Andrews, Ryan Kee and Danny Moore



Josh Ritter is something. The day after this gig he was turning 47 and I’ve been following him along since he was 25 and supported The Frames in The Limelight.

Tonight was special. It is beginning to be the case in the new Mandela Hall. The pristine sound allows a different intimacy. I felt that I really got to know Josh Ritter.

When he sings I realised that everything he utters whether near spoken verses to big choruses is full of melodies and the catchiest thereof.

Then the songs. He is of course a novelist too but his story songs have characters, place and twists and turns like few other. Henrietta Indiana! 

There are near apocalyptic visions. Wings.

God, battles with the devil and little proverbs from the Bible are riddled through this entire night and at times he sounds like the preacher. He calls it “messianic oracular honky-tonk” which was in best evidence tonight in Getting Ready To Get Down from of course the album Sermons On The Rocks.

Tonight however it was Truth Is a Dimension (Both Invisible and Blinding) that was the biggest revelation. Again off Josh went on a long and winding wordy story to a melody that held you in. Subjective and Objective truth of heart and universe were surmised in just a few minutes with a killer line at its end. Clever, I thought. Very, very clever

That is it. Josh Ritter is the cleverest songwriter around. He is up there with the best in structure, melody and rhyme. He has killer couplets BUT above all of that he is so clever with all of that. 

Someone in the crowd at one stage welcomed Ritter home. Ireland has played a major part in his career. His omnipresent smile suggested that he was genuinely grateful. When they sang happy birthday he was visibly moved. 

Tonight he played us his early classic record Hello Starling all the way through. Kathleen and Snow Is Gone were received like big hit singles, sung along. That twenty years later Ritter is carrying his fans with him shows as they also sang along to For Your Soul from the recent Spectral Lines.

The entire night was captivating and clever. 


Stocki and Dana

The Soul Surmise Podcast Autumn 23 series carries on with part 2 of the Dana Masters' interview at this year's 4 Corners Festival. Those who filled Fitzroy that night will remember an amazing evening of conversation about music and faith and social justice. For me it was a riveting conversation with someone who was gifted artistically but also insightful and articulate. 

Here in Part 2 (of 4) we look at how singing is pastoral or "almost like intercession"... singing with Kanye...singing with Van Morrison






Mojo TP

I miss Tom Petty so much. Seeing that MOJO from 2010 is getting a re release I thought I'd re-blog that brilliant record. This is my review almost word for word...


“I’m slowin’ down a little bit
Takin’ my time
Slowin’ down a little bit
Yeah when I was a young boy
Honey my fuse was lit
Yeah when I was a young boy
Honey my fuse was lit
Losin’ my way
To somethin’ stronger than me.”

So there are reviewers giving Tom Petty grief that his fifteenth album ain’t like his definitive third one Damn The Torpedoes. Damn The Torpedoes was one of my favourite albums and deserves its elevation to Classic Album status with its DVD of the creation process.

However, that was 1979 and I was 17 and Petty 28. Tom and I were thirty years older when Mojo came out and need something... well, thirty years older; something well described in the words at the top of this review from Taking My Time.

That is what Mojo is, the mature work of a band that had genius at 28 and matured that genius into a hot cooking blues groove. This is a resplendent piece of work and again has more in common with Petty’s Southern State roots than his latter days on the Californian coast.

The late great Tom Petty has always lived in the shadow of The Boss, Mr. Springsteen, and you see my beef with Bruce is that he has been unable to recreate the E Street Band. Any of Bruce’s work that shows maturity has been without the band of his youth; the Seeger Sessions for example!

Springsteen's players, brilliant and all as they are, seem to struggle to change the formula. The Heartbreakers are made of different stuff with the long term members like Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell having played with a plethora of other acts down the years, causing a flexibility that allowed Petty’s aging concerns and wise counsel a place to authentically minister from.

Indeed, the first thing that hits you about Mojo is Campbell’s guitar playing. The genius sideman has been given his stage and there are nifty rifts and long shifty guitar passages that are complex and astonishing. Though it never gets to Free Bird’s epic length you can tell they are from the same state.

Don’t minimise Tench’s contribution though. Listen in and his Hammond organ and piano thread together the entire record, bringing a subtlety and layering that is again a mark of this band’s musicality.

Petty’s ragged voice suits the terrain and that terrain is a journey through struggle with just enough little lights in the road to navigate the harshnesses of an America coming out of tough confidence denting years. Almost every song has people moving in one way or another. As the quote at the top suggests there are always hints of something transcendent happening around the bumps, bends and climbs and always the hope of a better place lying on up the road. The whole thing could be summed up in the lines of Running Man’s Bible - “Here’s one to glory and survival/And stayin’ alive/It’s the running man’s bible.”

There are all kinds of questions that need to be asked as the pioneers of rock music age. Should wrinkled men with straggling hair still be playing that youthful stuff? Do they look a bit old swinger and embarrassing in the genre. No worries for Petty. As natural as the wildlife in the Florida’s everglades he has changed and grown into an elder statesman of rock with a band that are not relics but continuing to journey and explore the artist’s life and muse. Mojo was no Damn The Torpedoes and that’s one of the many positives on a very fine record indeed!



Irish Heartache

It was more than a Rugby World Cup Quarter Final. It was so much more than a Rugby match. It was more than just a defeat. This defeat was seismic.

This was more than than the fact that this the only time in the history of Irish Rugby that we had an opportunity to win the World Cup. I mean more than that this was the one and only chance in the history of the island that we could win something of this sporting magnitude. 

We were top of the world rankings. We hadn't lost in a long time. We beat the reigning champions South Africa in the group stages. We had even got used to beating the All Blacks. Then it was all gone. 

At the final whistle, after lots of late optimism, there seemed a silent disbelief on the pitch, in the stadium and everywhere in Ireland. No Zombie pumping out, just the hush of coming to terms. It was hard to take. Heartbreak. Not only no trophy but we are still the only rated team to never make the World Cup Semi Finals. Argentina have made their third!

I was surmising so much more. This was not only a loss for a rugby team. I would like to Surmise that it was a lost opportunity for the entire island of Ireland political, socially, culturally and every other way.

I mean, can you imagine the mood across the island of Ireland if we won a major sporting cup. I remember the mood in the north when Northern Ireland qualified for the 1982 soccer World Cup Quarter Finals. That win over Spain. Gerry Armstrong. Billy Bingham.

I remember the atmosphere in the Republic of Ireland qualified for the 1990 soccer World Cup Quarter Finals. That penalty shoot out over Romania. Packie Bonner. David O'Leary. Jackie Charlton. 

So, can you imagine the entire island, both north and south celebrating together a World Cup Final victory. The motorcade across 32 counties. What would it have done to relationships across borders? Across old divisions? Everyone celebrating together everyone's win. I had this aching hope. 

I could only perceive that it would have speeded up the breaking down of tensions that are still alive and well across the island. I was hoping that such a once in a generation event might have had an impetus towards healing and sent the island down new relational paths. 

The sporting pain of defeat only lasted a short time BUT had we achieved what had been actually possible in two weeks time I think the implications would have rippled out across Ireland for generations to come.

We lost more than a Rugby World Cup Quarter Final...