ARTICLES/INTERVIEWS

STOCKI INTERVIEWS GLEN HANSARD in 2003

Frames Iveagh

(photo:Paul Bowman)

Yesterday, The Frames played a gig to celebrate 25 years of great music. For some unknown reason I wasn't there! I was there 25 years ago. I bought The Dancer on 7" with a ropey home made cover. I saw them in a London club when very few others wanted to bother. I have loved the music, attitude and downright human being likeableness that is Glen Hansard down the years.

In 2003 I got the opportunity, for an article for Paste magazine, to interview Glen by email. The band had just finished work on Burn The Maps and I was in love with For The Birds. I was also interested in the Dublin music scene and where The Frames belonged to that as well as how much Van Morrison had been an influence and his interest in spirituality and Jesus.

This weekend The Frames celebrated 25 years and many of the old players joined in a celebratory gig in Iveagh Gardens in Dublin. A compilation, Longitude has been released too. I revisited this interview and thought it was still a fascinating read. Hope you enjoy...

STOCKI: How does it feel that after 13 years The Frames have finally got some of the recognition that you deserved all along?

GLEN: We feel that were doing what we set out to do. It was never a case for us of getting recognition from media… us, our audience and our peers have always been our concern. The media has never been a particular friend or foe, it’s just never been our goal to be its favourite band. We’ve done what’s been asked of us in regard to press, and no more. I think its a dangerous place to put yourself…at the mercy of something so insecure…it seems to me that popular culture has always been led by those who care least for it, not those who follow it's lead… if it truly matters nothing to you, then you may just end up its darling one day, although if you were truthful you won’t notice it either way.

STOCKI: It seems that since I first saw you in the Subterranean, London in 91 that you have been on the cusp but never dropped over the edge. How have you found the stamina to not say SOD IT and walk away?

GLEN: Because walking away has never been an option. I left school at 14, I’m not qualified to do much else. Which puts me in a strong position…do this well or give up…the latter is not a very promising prospect. I never gave myself that choice. Whether on a stage or on a street…music is what I do.

STOCKI: The Dublin scene is so strong at the moment with Damien Rice, Gemma Hayes, David Kitt etc. This is a new generation but you seem more part of it than you did of the old regime so to speak. Do you feel it is a good time for the Irish scene?

GLEN: Yes I think there is a very healthy atmosphere in Dublin, I think a large part of it is to do with the confidence of the Irish nation rising…people are no longer afraid to like bands that come from there own town. When The Frames started back in 1990 you had to get some nod from foreign press in order for people at home to pay any attention…we were ruled by the English music press…which is purely based on the cult of personality and not the tunes, fashion and rock ‘n roll stories are its agenda. I don’t regard it, and I’ve never bought it. Dublin is thriving because there is so much great music being made here. It seems that every decade, real quality emerges.

STOCKI: For The Birds is a little more laid back and ambient than most of what you do. What as the reason for that? Was it the Kittsers et al influencing the sound?

GLEN: No, it was just time to make a record of what was coming out…the natural stuff. For so long we'd been told by the industry that fast means big, loud means lots, slow means nothing and i was just so sick of that logic. The songs I was writing were slow…so that’s what we did. We were happy to make a record that might show our natural selves even though we might be ignored for it...it's not like we were applauded for our other records anyway… it just didn’t matter as long as we could stand by it and be proud..

STOCKI: What happens next? Is there a temptation to do For The Birds Part 2 to keep the new fan base?

GLEN: Records are just what they turn out to be. There’s no radical game plan…that’s for the world domination bands… I’m just mapping a life with songs. We don’t stand around under lit tables and plan our fan base strategies…forget that…if those who like The Frames like the record then great. I won’t try to con anyone that we’re the horse to watch. How base would that be!?

STOCKI: There must be songs sitting ready. What stage is the follow up at?

GLEN: We’ve just finished the basic tracks in Chicago, were happy with the work we’ve done and we will do some more work on it in the coming weeks and mix it sometime soon after that. If the basic emotion of the songs translate well…then we’ve done our record justice.

STOCKI: What kind of sound can we expect?

It's a collection of songs and so it has no set thread other than we made them. There are elements of our last two records in there and some new elements too. The song in its basic form is often the most pure…then we throw the bells and whistles on and sometimes it looks ridiculous… other times a new beauty emerges.. it’s alchemy it’s fun and at best it's art.

STOCKI: Are there more of those sad love songs about waking up in the ex's garden?

GLEN: Yeah! Lots more..

STOCKI: Are there any themes taking shape?

GLEN: I suppose a sense of well f*** it we’re lost in the middle of this life and each day brings a new possibility for adventure and safety. It’s more about enjoying the chaos now and not moaning about it anymore…what’s the point…the whole thing is so much bigger than us…so lets just enjoy the time we have here.. with its questions and doubts and abstractions and joy. The human condition is the basis. Connection with other humans is what we crave…and sharing the light keeps us alive…very Christian eh?

STOCKI: Thematically where do the ideas come from?

GLEN: From a life of map making and song. Everything’s an influence… everything.

STOCKI: How will losing David Odlum affect the next record?

GLEN: It won’t. He's still my friend…we still make music together. He's following his own north star and it's leading him toward a life of engineering and producing and there's nothing in the world that justifies keeping a person from their dreams. With regard to a noticeable sonic difference? Well I’m sure his presence will be missed…but not his spirit.

STOCKI: The live show is simply astounding. Do you prefer the stage or the studio?

GLEN: The studio and the stage are such different environments. For the longest time I thought that to recreate the live energy on tape was the desired effect...but through tearful endeavour I’ve realised it's a different process…one which we are still learning about…playing live is definitely where we are comfortable…the energy is clear and it flows in one direction…away from the band.. and the energy that returns is then converted and used instantly…it’s a very random animal the live show.

STOCKI: Covers of Tim Buckley and Van Morrison sit side by side with the Pixies in live shows. Would you call the things you listen to eclectic?

GLEN: Yeah growing up as a busker it’s all about songs and not styles.. a good song crosses the street and unlocks the passer by…to achieve a response no matter how small.. these people write great songs and I thank them for many a meal I’ve eaten through singing their tunes. Thanks from all the buskers!

STOCKI: You specifically mention Morrison as an influence to not just yourselves but to David Gray et al. For you is there an Irish kinship there?

GLEN: I think it’s the troubadour thing…the power of a man with a guitar and something to sing about. I don’t think it's particular to Ireland…it's the old way.. the poets take on the world around them.. a solitary voice that sings of a territory that’s unseen…that’s inner and abstract and emotional.. and somehow comments on us all. There’s great medicine in ramblings of a lost soul…no patronising tone to the words. I love Van Morrison because he always seems to be searching.. never found…I don’t know about his personal life but in his music he gives the listener only a question…the answer lies elsewhere…to be attained someday.

STOCKI: There is also a depth of religious imagery to what you and Morrison do. East Belfast and Dublin city have not been great ads for the Jesus of the Protestant and Catholic faiths of those respective places. Yet the message both of you have is a positive spiritual vibe. Why do you think that is?

GLEN: I’m not really sure where that comes from. My earliest memories of singing was being bathed in the sink by my mother with the suitcase record player on the sideboard, playing Leonard Cohen and Simon and Garfunkel records. She taught me the words to Bird on the Wire and the Sound of Silence, and as a very young child I just learned the sounds of the words. I was too young to know what they meant, never mind their deeper meanings. As I grew up those songs got deeper and revealed more to me. We weren’t a church going family, although my mother was and is very catholic. Apart from a 5 year falling out with God in the 90's she has always been a very strong believer. She always said, “we don’t have to go to church to talk to God”… and she viewed the church as a place of gossiping and comparisons. The whole wearing the Sunday best and showing up with the rest of the town for the weekly sermon just wasn’t high on her list of priorities. She stayed at home and cleaned on Sunday mornings with the record player so loud that she could hear it clearly over the Hoover…the rising dust caught in the sunlight were the angels ascended.

STOCKI: At a recent Belfast gig, you mentioned Jesus whipping the money changers out of the temple. Do you read a lot of stuff about him?

GLEN: I find the Bible fairly tough going as a book, but I love the imagery. It’s full of great tragedy and redemption, the fire and brimstone nature of it definitely appeals to me, although I suppose that the whole style of writing at the time was very poetic and decorative so when it says, “Jesus healed the blind, it may mean that he gave the unsee-ers back their faith…therefore restoring the vision…therefore healing the blind… and if you apply this method of thinking to every aspect of the bible and it's miracle stories then it becomes much easier to believe he really was as powerful as the book describes…because these surely were miracles, real miracles. The power and vision of a man to change the minds of people, to change laws to overthrow powers that be…it took the will and strength of a true prophet…and the book of Luke was the place were this became most clear to me. The idea of an angry Christ struck a deep chord in me…because the floating yoda we see so often in imagery never convinced me. I think he must have been a very strong and powerful man to have had such a lasting impact on the Christian world…and the whole world in fact… a great revolutionary and a deeply spiritual leader.

STOCKI: Finally, how do you go about "making your life make sense and make amends?"

GLEN: I suppose I try to remain open to the signs and to the moment I’m in. I really believe in the idea that if we are open, the mystery and the wonder are revealed to us through everything we encounter…the magic is in the moment. Although that line was born out of a sense that I wasn't in control of my own destiny anymore and I and we The Frames needed to get clear of the place we were, and to strike out on our own path and see where it brought us. So the amends we made came partly through making For The Birds and setting up our own record label and being our own bosses. The personal amends never stop…that’s the work of the everyday.

 

THREE BELFAST MAYORS CHALLENGE THE CHURCHES

3 mayors

Interviewing our most recent three Lord Mayors Of Belfast last week at the 4 Corners Festival event, 3 Mayors For All 4 Corners, I asked them all what they thought the Churches could contribute to making Belfast a peaceful and prosperous city.

The current Lord Mayor, Nichola Mallon, encouraged us to be confident about our faith. Nichola had spoken about this confidence of faith earlier in the interview. When I had asked her about what she had learned about herself in her year in office it was that she had become more confident in her faith. I had watched this from the peripheral and could see what she was talking about. On the stage at Summer Madness just after her year began she spoke of her faith in a prayerful, humble and positive way. 

Over the year I have watched a woman come out of the shadows of two very strong predecessors. Most of Belfast felt sorry for Nichola in who she had to follow as Mayor. In her life, her vocation and her faith those of us with the privilege of getting close to her have watched the flourishing of a human being. Tonight right bang in the middle of those predecessors she shone her own light in her own way; a star. Nichola’s faith has been a huge resource to her achievements and so she had earned the right to call the rest of us to find confidence in our faith so that our lives and vocations could make significant contributions.  

That confidence of faith is what will be needed if we are take up the challenges laid down by Gavin Robinson and Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. Gavin, a committed Church goer, was passionate in encouraging the Church out of its walls. This needs to be taken very seriously by a Church that has lost much of its influence in society. 100 years ago everyone flocked through the doors of Churches on a Sunday morning to be shaped by Biblical teaching and hymns. As numbers have fallen the Church has become so tame within its bubble that Jesus is no longer impacting our society. Gavin’s challenge even went beyond the Church to Church relationships. We need not think we are radical if we meet up across denominations. We need to have the confidence Nichola spoke about to get our hands dirty, on the streets, at the interfaces. This is exactly what the 4 Corners Festival is aiming for. As minister of Fitzroy I was fuelled by Gavin’s words to push further and further out with the light and salt of Christ.

With the confidence in our faith that Nichola inspired, the gauntlet thrown down by Gavin to get out of our safety zones, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir gave us something concrete to follow up on. The First Minister and Deputy First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly have agreed to allow Syrian refugees into Northern Ireland. Countries have signed up for so many each and though the rest of the UK are taking none we are allowing 100-150 very needy Syrians in. Máirtín has spoken often about not being a person of faith but believes that Belfast’s most radical places are the faith communities. His challenge was simple but still very much a challenge. The Churches should be at the forefront of the welcome of these Syrian refugees. We should be the ones to help the cultural entry, language classes and general generous welcome. I believe Máirtín is absolutely right in offering us this opportunity. This is what we say we are about. Welcoming the stranger is a Biblical mandate from the Books of the Law to the New Testament Letters to the Church.

So let us prepare ourselves. Let us find a confidence in our Christian faith that will propel us outside the walls of Sunday mornings to be contributors to a peaceful and prosperous city. Let us be ready to respond to the Syrian Refugee need and more. Let us hear the call of our last three First Citizens and step up. 

“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world.”


FITZROY BLUES NIGHT BOOK LAUNCH - INTERVIEW WITH GARY BURNETT

GB Blues

On Sunday night in Fitzroy (February 15th 2015) at 7pm we will hold our 4th Blues Night. In the midst of some cracking blues music from the an array of talented players and singers... Martin McVitty's guitar playing needs to be seen and heard to be believed... and then there is the stunning voice of Chris Wilson. Gary Burnett will be sharing about Justice and The Blues. It all doubles up as a Northern Ireland launch for Gary's book that was published at the end of 2014.

Shortly after I became the minister of Fitzroy I started bringing rock  music into congregational life. When one of the congregation, who I knew as a New Testament lecturer, suggested a Blues Night I jumped at the chance. We have now done three. Out of those nights I discovered more of a love for the blues than I had previously had and we all got the brand new book; The Gospel According To The Blues. 

I had the privilege of endorsing the book. I wrote: "Gary Burnett's office is shelved with theological books, guitars fill the floor, and the drawers are crammed with CDs. In The Gospel According to the Blues, Gary brings his vocation as a New Testament teacher together with his passion for the blues and gives the reader scholarly knowledge and wise insight." 

I took the opportunity of asking Gary about his love for the Blues, the New Testament and how the book came together…

STEVE STOCKMAN (SS): When do you remember first being interested in the Blues?

GARY BURNETT (GB): When I was a teenager, my friend, George Lowden (of guitar making fame), lent me a couple of blues albums. One was a compilation of stuff from Eric Clapton, Savoy Brown, John Mayall and a few others, and the other was an acoustic country blues album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. I was more into Bob Dylan than pop stuff at the time and so this kind of built on to that – I suppose it was taking me into the roots of what I liked about Dylan. Something about the rawness of the blues appealed to me, there was just something visceral about it that grabbed your insides. Which is what the best of music can do, whether it’s Mozart or Brahms or it’s Bruce Springsteen or whatever. It’s honest, it touches you. And the blues, for sure, is honest.

SS: Who are your favourite bluesmen? And women

GB: Of course there are so many – reaching back to the early days, you’ve got to mention Robert Johnson, who was not only a fantastic guitarist, but sort of synthesized a lot of the early blues and made it into something quite special. And I’m a big fan of Blind Willie Johnson, who did the most wonderful gospel blues – and who also was a brilliant slide guitarist. 

Moving forward a bit, I’d want to mention Lightnin’ Hopkins from Texas, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi John Hurt. If anyone wants to learn finger-picking guitar, John Hurt’s your go-to guy – great guitarist and singer and, by all accounts, a really nice guy. 

Oh, and let’s not forget Rev Gary Davis – a gospel blues singer and once again an unbelievable guitarist. Once you get up to date, then you’ve a lot of choice – but some of my favourites are Eric Bibb, Keb’ Mo’, Kelly Joe Phelps, Walter Trout and Joe Bonamassa.

Apart from the early days, the blues have been traditionally dominated by men, but today there are a lot of really great artists who happen to be women – Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Carolyn Wonderland and Beth Hart are some of my favourites.

SS: What is it about the Blues that you find so engaging?

GB: Well the blues really are the basis of all modern rock music. It’s the source. Musically its very simple, but when it’s done well and honestly, it’s music to stir the soul. But more than that, there are two things about the blues that I highlight in the book – firstly the blues brings you face to face with everything that’s gone wrong with the world. The songs are really a lament about the way the world is. But at the same time – and this is important – there is hope for a better day as well, that things could change. As B B King says, “there must be a better world somewhere.” And of course, it’s in these two aspects that theology begins to intersect with the blues – the biblical acknowledgement that there is something critically wrong in the world, but also the hope that, through what God has done in Jesus the Messiah, God is beginning to transform God’s world.

SS: On the other side when did you first take an interest in theology of the depth you are now engaged? How did you end up teaching New Testament

GB: In the late eighties I did an evening course at the Belfast Bible College and during the 2 year period I realized that this guy who had attended church all his life and thought he knew his bible inside out didn’t know so much after all! Those were very formative years for me and at the end I thought – I need to know more! And for me the way to do that was pursuing a theology degree, which I did part time at the University of London. I loved it all, kept an open mind as I did it and just gobbled it all up! Then I did a PhD in New Testament, specializing in Paul.

I then got the opportunity to teach in the Institute of Theology at Queens University Belfast, mostly in Union Theological College. And recently I’ve been doing most of the New Testament Greek teaching at Union, as well as teaching Paul and the gospels. I consider myself very blessed to be able to do what I do – this New Testament stuff is really the most exciting, engaging, hopeful material that you could concern yourself with and to get to teach it and try and inspire a new generation with it is fantastic.

SS: When did you think that the two things blended

GB: I suppose a few years ago, when we did some evenings at Fitzroy, with your encouragement, Steve, where we explored the connections between Christian faith and modern music. And one of the nights we did was a blues night, where we had lots of live music and where I began to explore the connections between the blues and faith. And we did a number of those evenings over several years, each time taking another aspect of the blues and seeing how that might spark our thinking about the gospel. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to do another night before long! 

SS: When did the idea for the book first cross your mind?

GB: Well, as we did those blues nights at Fitzroy, there seemed to me to be a rich vein of material to be mined in terms of the blues and the social history of the blues. And I’d essentially made a start on the project through doing those talks. So happily Wipf and Stock, a major US theological publisher, liked the idea of the project and I spent my spare time in 2013 writing the book. I thought carefully about how I would go about it – so it’s doesn’t just follow the way I approached the blues nights in Fitzroy or my Down at the Crossroads blog. What it does, actually, is to use the social history of the blues as a springboard to consider the Christian gospel as we see it in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

SS: What would you like the reader to gain from the book?

GB: At heart the book is an exploration of Jesus’s teaching, hopefully asking some hard questions about what the gospel really is, and what I do is to bounce back and forth between the Sermon and the Mount and the blues to help tease out the relevance of Jesus’s teaching for today. So, there’s a lot of the blues in the book and there’s a lot of theology. I’m hoping that readers go away with, on the one hand, a better understanding of what the gospel is, or at least have their understanding challenged, and on the other hand, will have found the blues material to have been interesting and engaging. For those who don’t know the blues, it might encourage them to go and listen a bit! I’ve included listening suggestions at the end of each chapter. And of course, a book should be enjoyable! I hope it is.

SS: Give us a short playlist to listen to while we read.

GB: A good introduction if you’re new to the blues is listening to Eric Bibb and Keb’ Mo’ do modern versions of the blues – it’s an easy way in. Try Eric Bibb’s Blues Ballads and Work Songs and Keb Mo’s 1998 Keb’ Mo’ album. And definitely go for Avalon Blues, which is an album of Mississippi John Hurt songs covered by a variety of top modern artists. You can then work back from there. But you can check out the best blues albums, both electric and acoustic for the last couple of years at Down at the Crossroads - click here...


THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE BLUES - Interview With Author Gary Burnett

GB Blues

Shortly after I became the minister of Fitzroy I started bringing rock  music into congregational life. When one of the congregation, who I knew as a New Testament lecturer, suggested a Blues Night I jumped at the chance. We have now done three. Out of those nights I discovered more of a love for the blues than I had previously had and we all got the brand new book; The Gospel According To The Blues. 

I had the privilege of endorsing the book. I wrote: "Gary Burnett's office is shelved with theological books, guitars fill the floor, and the drawers are crammed with CDs. In The Gospel According to the Blues, Gary brings his vocation as a New Testament teacher together with his passion for the blues and gives the reader scholarly knowledge and wise insight." 

I took the opportunity of asking Gary about his love for the Blues, the New Testament and how the book came together…

STEVE STOCKMAN (SS): When do you remember first being interested in the Blues?

GARY BURNETT (GB): When I was a teenager, my friend, George Lowden (of guitar making fame), lent me a couple of blues albums. One was a compilation of stuff from Eric Clapton, Savoy Brown, John Mayall and a few others, and the other was an acoustic country blues album by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. I was more into Bob Dylan than pop stuff at the time and so this kind of built on to that – I suppose it was taking me into the roots of what I liked about Dylan. Something about the rawness of the blues appealed to me, there was just something visceral about it that grabbed your insides. Which is what the best of music can do, whether it’s Mozart or Brahms or it’s Bruce Springsteen or whatever. It’s honest, it touches you. And the blues, for sure, is honest.

SS: Who are your favourite bluesmen? And women

GB: Of course there are so many – reaching back to the early days, you’ve got to mention Robert Johnson, who was not only a fantastic guitarist, but sort of synthesized a lot of the early blues and made it into something quite special. And I’m a big fan of Blind Willie Johnson, who did the most wonderful gospel blues – and who also was a brilliant slide guitarist.

Moving forward a bit, I’d want to mention Lightnin’ Hopkins from Texas, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Mississippi John Hurt. If anyone wants to learn finger-picking guitar, John Hurt’s your go-to guy – great guitarist and singer and, by all accounts, a really nice guy.

Oh, and let’s not forget Rev Gary Davis – a gospel blues singer and once again an unbelievable guitarist. Once you get up to date, then you’ve a lot of choice – but some of my favourites are Eric Bibb, Keb’ Mo’, Kelly Joe Phelps, Walter Trout and Joe Bonamassa.

Apart from the early days, the blues have been traditionally dominated by men, but today there are a lot of really great artists who happen to be women – Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Carolyn Wonderland and Beth Hart are some of my favourites.

SS: What is it about the Blues that you find so engaging?

GB: Well the blues really are the basis of all modern rock music. It’s the source. Musically its very simple, but when it’s done well and honestly, it’s music to stir the soul. But more than that, there are two things about the blues that I highlight in the book – firstly the blues brings you face to face with everything that’s gone wrong with the world. The songs are really a lament about the way the world is. But at the same time – and this is important – there is hope for a better day as well, that things could change. As B B King says, “there must be a better world somewhere.” And of course, it’s in these two aspects that theology begins to intersect with the blues – the biblical acknowledgement that there is something critically wrong in the world, but also the hope that, through what God has done in Jesus the Messiah, God is beginning to transform God’s world.

SS: On the other side when did you first take an interest in theology of the depth you are now engaged? How did you end up teaching New Testament

GB: In the late eighties I did an evening course at the Belfast Bible College and during the 2 year period I realized that this guy who had attended church all his life and thought he knew his bible inside out didn’t know so much after all! Those were very formative years for me and at the end I thought – I need to know more! And for me the way to do that was pursuing a theology degree, which I did part time at the University of London. I loved it all, kept an open mind as I did it and just gobbled it all up! Then I did a PhD in New Testament, specializing in Paul.

I then got the opportunity to teach in the Institute of Theology at Queens University Belfast, mostly in Union Theological College. And recently I’ve been doing most of the New Testament Greek teaching at Union, as well as teaching Paul and the gospels. I consider myself very blessed to be able to do what I do – this New Testament stuff is really the most exciting, engaging, hopeful material that you could concern yourself with and to get to teach it and try and inspire a new generation with it is fantastic.

SS: When did you think that the two things blended

GB: I suppose a few years ago, when we did some evenings at Fitzroy, with your encouragement, Steve, where we explored the connections between Christian faith and modern music. And one of the nights we did was a blues night, where we had lots of live music and where I began to explore the connections between the blues and faith. And we did a number of those evenings over several years, each time taking another aspect of the blues and seeing how that might spark our thinking about the gospel. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to do another night before long! 

SS: When did the idea for the book first cross your mind?

GB: Well, as we did those blues nights at Fitzroy, there seemed to me to be a rich vein of material to be mined in terms of the blues and the social history of the blues. And I’d essentially made a start on the project through doing those talks. So happily Wipf and Stock, a major US theological publisher, liked the idea of the project and I spent my spare time in 2013 writing the book. I thought carefully about how I would go about it – so it’s doesn’t just follow the way I approached the blues nights in Fitzroy or my Down at the Crossroads blog. What it does, actually, is to use the social history of the blues as a springboard to consider the Christian gospel as we see it in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. 

SS: What would you like the reader to gain from the book?

GB: At heart the book is an exploration of Jesus’s teaching, hopefully asking some hard questions about what the gospel really is, and what I do is to bounce back and forth between the Sermon and the Mount and the blues to help tease out the relevance of Jesus’s teaching for today. So, there’s a lot of the blues in the book and there’s a lot of theology. I’m hoping that readers go away with, on the one hand, a better understanding of what the gospel is, or at least have their understanding challenged, and on the other hand, will have found the blues material to have been interesting and engaging. For those who don’t know the blues, it might encourage them to go and listen a bit! I’ve included listening suggestions at the end of each chapter. And of course, a book should be enjoyable! I hope it is.

SS: Give us a short playlist to listen to while we read.

GB: A good introduction if you’re new to the blues is listening to Eric Bibb and Keb’ Mo’ do modern versions of the blues – it’s an easy way in. Try Eric Bibb’s Blues Ballads and Work Songs and Keb Mo’s 1998 Keb’ Mo’ album. And definitely go for Avalon Blues, which is an album of Mississippi John Hurt songs covered by a variety of top modern artists. You can then work back from there. But you can check out the best blues albums, both electric and acoustic for the last couple of years at Down at the Crossroads - http://downatthecrossroads.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/best-blues-albums-2013/

 

 


STOCKI IN CONVERSATION WITH MIKE SCOTT

Mike Scott

(Way back in 2003 I had the privilege of interviewing Mike Scott, of The Waterboys, for a Paste Magazine article. This is the blog I wrote then. It seems appropriate to re-blog on the day I seek that Ulster Hall 1986 feeling, yet again!)

The Waterboys’ mainman, Mike Scott is a gentle spirit, full of wide eyed wonder and open hearted love. When I asked him what triggered the spiritual journey that is so evident in his music he responded “if you mean what triggered my whole spiritual journey, it was being born on planet earth of course!” For Scott life is big and every moment is full of the hugest potential. He brandishes his brush way outside of the lines but the lines are never ignored, just used as signposts to something higher, wider and deeper than the confinement of definitions. God is spirit, within and without, way in and way out. When I ask him to label his Creed he responds with a seemingly unconstrained freedom and yet the clearest conviction, “And what creed might that be? I have none. I personally believe we are truly One in our deepest truth; that there is One Life in creation, and all our adventurings and learnings are leading us to that realization. This is the perennial wisdom and it has been around as long as God.”

As a musician Scott is a performer of gigantic proportions, a charismatic rock figure who holds concert halls in the grip of his hand. As a writer he is a visionary, a man of poetic words and sublime melodies. His songs seem so familiar, so comfortable, so beautiful. His sound is big even when stripped back to the acoustic guitar. When you hit his music with his faith you get a spark that lights the entire cosmos and the tiniest most hidden corners of the soul. It seems simple but is most profound. It seems effortless and casual but is focused and driven. It is inspirational; it lifts you, buoys you up, and takes you higher, never ignoring the darker side but shining that light over it, under it and through it. You feel that you could reach for the stars and actually touch them. You get less satisfied with the crescent; you want to grasp the whole of the moon.

The Waterboys new album is another instalment in Scott’s spiritual diary. Universal Hall sees the mystical troubadour back at the Findhorn Foundation, a spiritual community in the north east of his native Scotland and the place where Scott found “my school” through the writings of the one of the Foundations founders Eileen Caddy. I suggest she is a bit of a guru to him and he is quick to deflate such a lofty title. “'Guru',with all its distortions, would be the last word Eileen Caddy would use to describe herself. She is a teacher, certainly, primarily by the example of her own life. She's an ordinary woman who has lived in an extraordinary way - following the inner guidance of the 'still small voice within'- the voice of God within - wherever it leads, however strange its instructions might appear to human values. Her whole teaching is to turn others inward to find that inner divine source within themselves (the mark of the true spiritual teacher), and that is what I've learned from her. I love her a whole lot and am very grateful for the privilege of knowing her.”

There are many Christian reference points in Scott’s writings and yet he is sometimes hesitant about any affiliation with mainstream Christianity. I asked him about his name dropping of Iona, CS Lewis and Jesus himself and he was quick to talk about each one of them. “I don't reject Christianity. It is the religion of my race and like everyone else here I grew up with the stories of the example and teaching of Jesus - and how could I be untouched by that? But I am not a practising Christian. I'm not even sure Jesus would be if he incarnated today! As for CS Lewis, yes, he was a committed Christian, but I find if a writer or teacher is infused by the true divine spirit, as Lewis undoubtedly was, this is magnified and transmitted through their work regardless of the name of their faith. Iona is well known as a Christian centre because of the work of St. Columba who brought Christrianity there in the 6th century, but it was a Druid centre of power before then, and the island has a spiritual quality or soul that is divinely and powerfully Itself - and accessible to all who have eyes to see, regardless of their spiritual background or religion. Lastly the Christ to me is the divine energy that Jesus manifested on the physical earth - hence his bearing the name 'Jesus Christ', but I believe the Christ energy existed before Jesus, and is a universal energy infusing every part of creation, and every human being, whether they call themselves 'Christian' or not.”

Looking back at the twenty years of The Waterboys there have always been hints of the divine but it was 1995’s Bring Em All In, the first of two albums that Scott released without The Waterboys moniker, that the spiritual became such a force. The previous album recorded in New York after his few years in the west of Ireland had suggested a spiritual awakening as he sang “I just found God where he always was” but Bring ‘Em All In recorded in Findhorn was an album of spiritual songs of a man most sure. After his second solo album Scott who told a Greenbelt 94 audience “I am the Waterboys” took the band name back and made his most rocking album in over a decade A Rock in a Weary Land which looked at the tired dumbing down that the big city brings and holding on to the transcendent when the mundane is what is being celebrated.

In 2001 Scott and his wife visited Findhorn again and they “both got a 'yes' feeling to moving back.” And so Universal Hall the sacred space where both bring Em All In and the new album was recorded sees a return to the acoustic and more meditative. Without doubt The Waterboys albums are always effected by location. Does Scott go different places like you might use some musical instrument to purposely effect the music. He told me, “I generally make 'em wherever I find myself but on occasion I have made a decision in advance to, for example, write and record in the West of Ireland (late 80's), or to record the new Universal Hall album in Findhorn, in the spiritually charged atmosphere of the Findhorn Community. I am always inspired by the places I live and by what I feel and see around me, and this inevitably flows into the music and the albums.”

Another injection to the muse of Universal Hall is the reunion old Waterboys pal Steve Wickham. Wickham is a mesmerising Irish fiddle player who makes anything dance that comes into his vicinity. In the middle of the eighties Scott came across the Dublin based player and the hybrid fusion of Scott’s big music and Wickham’s folk rock fiddle brought to flower one of the most powerful live shows the world has ever seen. I still use their Ulster Hall, Belfast gig in April 1986 as a yard stick to all good rock shows and nothing has ever come close. Sadly the band took too long playing at their music and before they released their next album the sound had dropped a little too far off the Irish traditional balance scale and Fisherman’s Blues just never reached the heights it could have.

I told Scott that when I watch him perform now I get the impression of a man at peace with where his art has taken him. he could have been a megastar but decided to get off the beaten track and head west to Galway. He seems to be very content at the level of his success. The songs seem more important than the riches, fame or house in Malibu. Am I right? His answer is characteristically philosophical, “Whether I 'could have been a megastar' is unknown. As CS Lewis liked to say 'We are never told what might have happened'. Nor am I interested in what might have happened! I've always followed my heart, guts and fascinations and I have learned to surrender to the places - both physical and inspirational - to which they take me. Yes, the songs and creativity are more important than any riches that could result, but I have nothing against houses in Malibu. Malibu is a very fine place indeed.”

In November 2000 I was back in the Ulster Hall trying to revisit those old feelings of 1986 and though enjoyable it was getting nowhere near and then for the encores out stepped Steve Wickham and the crowd went wild. The old magic bow weaved again and suddenly we were transported to those enchanting places. How did they get back together? Scott tells the story, “Steve and I are great friends and even when we weren't working professionally together we were always in touch. In 1999 Steve invited me to Sligo, where he lives in the west of Ireland, to do a show. So I went over and we did a two-man concert together. It was a great success and I knew we had a lot of music still to make together. Then I asked him to guest with us at our shows in Dublin and Belfast in 2000. It went so well I asked him to rejoin the band, and, to my great pleasure and delight, he is back and playing the greatest rock fiddling ever!”

It is hard to argue with that but what then does he add to Scott’s muse well over a decade later? “Steve gives the music wings, a sense of the elemental, a sweetness, a gateway to the unseen.” Does the writing change with the fiddle on stand by? “Yes, indeed. 'Peace of Iona' was a hypnotic chant until Steve's fiddle entered the picture and turned it into a sonic evocation of the island and the elements.” Last Wickham question has to be about how he feels with the spiritual concentration of the songs and recording in a spiritual community. Scott is loathe to speak for his friend, suffice to say, “Well, I can't answer that for him, though we had a great time together in Findhorn making 'Universal Hall'. He has visited many times.”

Universal Hall is an album full of spiritual reflection, meditation and at times almost corporate worship. Many of the songs have only a few lines that become almost like Taize prayer chants. I wondered what had inspired him to the economy of words. “I'm familiar with Taize chants because they are very popular in Findhorn, and I also work with affirmations, so I'm used to the idea that a few short lines of words, carefully chosen and repeated aloud or inwardly, can have a powerful inspirational effect. When my songs started coming in this minimal form, with only 2 or 3 lines, the challenge was to allow them to be so, and not to be tempted to flesh them out into a 'normal' structure. I resisted the temptation!”

Finally, I was curious to know if the spiritual belief that ignites these songs gives an extra expectation to what Scott hoped that they might achieve. Again his answer is intriguing showing so clearly that we should never differentiate between the so called sacred and secular. If it is important enough top provoke songs it all should have similar hope of impact. “My hope is the same whatever kind of song I'm writing - that I may express myself and my inspiration authentically, in a way that thrills me and takes my writing somewhere it has never reached before, and that the listener will have every chance to 'get it' and receive the same inspiration I did when writing.” And what would he hope we might take away from Universal Hall? “A feeling of love inside.”


MARTYN JOSEPH - THE FACEBOOK INTERVIEW ON BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN COVERS RECORD

MJ 7

My friend Martyn Joseph has a new record out called Tires Rushing By In The Rain (link to my review below). It is an entire album of Bruce Springsteen cover versions. As Martyn is playing The Errigle Inn in Belfast tomorrow night (Oct 30, 2013) I thought I'd shoot him a few quick Facebook questions about the record and his hero Bruce Springsteen...

A whole album of Springsteen? When did that birth itself as an idea?

I have often thrown in a Bruce song through the years and was often asked about recording an album of them. The final push I needed was when Dave Marsh said he would write sleeve notes. I thought he knows the man well and if he is up for doing that it must have some merit.

You've been a Bruce fan for a long time. What was the first record of his you bought?

Think it was tunnel of love. I have a distinct memory of flying into Nashville with it playing on my cassette walkman in 87. I think it’s my favourite though it’s so hard to choose.

How did being a Springsteen listener affect your own songwriting?

It set a high standard and something to aspire to. His ability more than any other artist to articulate the ‘male’ journey was always fascinating to me. He just tells it so well. I would throw stuff away because If i put on one of his records you could see that your work wasn’t up to scratch.

 What sets him apart from other artists that you take time over?

Well there is a huge integrity there and a heart full of passion and urgency worn on a sleeve that gets life with all its contradictions. And he grows as we do and tells it like it is and that will always be appealing. Cool is not important as such, its just obvious that he cares and more than most.

When did you first cover a Springsteen song and how did you choose?

Think it was Thunder Road many, many years ago. I just went for the ones I loved and that had resonance with me. The Promise is my favourite I think but not many folk know that so I thought it would be good to open up some of the lesser known material. Others like The River just have to be there really.

Were there any Springsteen songs you thought about and then thought it didn't fit in the Joseph career?

No, there were a bunch of others I could have done but I thought 17 was probably enough!

What do you hope this record achieves in the listener?

Well the beautiful thing is that big time Bruce fans are saying nice things. Primarily that its opening the songs up in a new way. You get so used to a sound and the subconscious sometimes ignores what is actually being said and it seems some are listening to songs they have known for a long time with fresh ears and finding new things. That’s amazing to me. And I’m getting Springsteen fans coming to shows who had never heard of me before and that’s nice too. Gives me a chance to win them over to my stuff!

You bring a different slant to some songs. How did you find your way into your versions? 

Well it’s not hard as I have been listening to them a long time and you know they have come alongside many times and whispered truth to me. So it’s a joy to sing material like that and there is a big emotional connection. So i sing them for me as such but its hallowed turf and you tread gently.

Are you sending it to Bruce?

Personally no but if it does make his ears someday I hope it’s received as an act of gratitude for thats what it is. I won’t be doing this for anyone else.

read Stocki's review of the record here


STOCKI TALKS TO MIKE SCOTT

(was reading Ian Abrahams' biography of Mike Scott - Strange Boat - and came across my name as he quoted this interview... so thought I... with the 6 CD Fisherman's Blues about to be released... let's blog it again!)

 Mike Scott

STOCKI: Environment has a huge influence on your work - Spiddal on Room To Roam, Findhorn on Bring Em All In, London on A Rock In A Weary Land. Are you strategic about where you go to write and record?

MIKE: I generally make 'em wherever I find myself but on occasion I have made a decision in advance to, for example, write and record in the West of Ireland (late 80's), or to record the new Universal Hall album in Findhorn, in the spiritually charged atmosphere of the Findhorn Community. I am always inspired by the places I live and by what I feel and see around me, and this inevitably flows into the music and the albums.

STOCKI: So what took you back to Findhorn?

MIKE: My wife and I visited in 2001 after several years living in London and both got a 'yes' feeling to moving back.

STOCKI: Maybe that is a chance to sketch us your spiritual journey. What triggered it?

MIKE: If you mean what triggered my whole spiritual journey, it was being born on planet earth of course ! I've always been wondering who I am, what are we here for, what is God etc. I got an early sense of the nature of the divine from CS Lewis's Narnia stories as a child. Then as a young man I discovered the world of metaphysical and esoteric teaching and wisdom - this was around 1983. That began a long period of deepened learning - some high, some painful. Finally, after many adventures I found my school - and that was the Findhorn Foundation.

STOCKI: How did it lead you to Findhorn?

MIKE: My mother had been there on a healing workshop and told me about the place. I remembered hearing about it years before, so I checked out a video featuring its founders, especially Eileen Caddy. She was talking about the power of gratitude and unconditional love and it was exactly what I was ready to hear. I went there as quickly as I could and did an 'Experience Week' there during which God came down from my head into my heart. A very beautiful and transformative experience.

STOCKI: Eileen Caddy seems to be a bit of a guru. Tell us about her? What drew you to her stuff?

MIKE: 'Guru',with all its distortions, would be the last word Eileen Caddy would use to describe herself. She is a teacher, certainly, primarily by the example of her own life. She's an ordinary woman who has lived in an extraordinary way - following the inner guidance of the 'still small voice within'- the voice of God within - wherever it leads, however strange its instructions might appear to human values. Her whole teaching is to turn others inward to find that inner divine source within themselves (the mark of the true spiritual teacher), and that is what I've learned from her. I love her a whole lot and am very grateful for the privilege of knowing her.

STOCKI: In a world of definitions would you label your creed "new age"?

MIKE: And what creed might that be ? I have none. I personally believe we are truly One in our deepest truth; that there is One Life in creation, and all our adventurings and learnings are leading us to that realization. This is the perennial wisdom and it has been around as long as God.

STOCKI: You have been reasonably clear if quiet and gentle about rejecting Christianity and yet Iona, CS Lewis and Christ are all very much a part of your belief?

MIKE: I don't reject Christianity. It is the religion of my race and like everyone else here I grew up with the stories of the example and teaching of Jesus - and how could I be untouched by that ? But I am not a practising Christian. I'm not even sure Jesus would be if he incarnated today ! As for CS Lewis, yes, he was a committed Christian, but I find if a writer or teacher is infused by the true divine spirit, as Lewis undoubtedly was, this is magnified and transmitted through their work regardless of the name of their faith. Iona is well known as a Christian centre because of the work of St. Columba who brought Christrianity there in the 6th century, but it was a Druid centre of power before then, and the island has a spiritual quality or soul that is divinely and powerfully Itself - and accessible to all who have eyes to see, regardless of their spiritual background or religion. Lastly the Christ to me is the divine energy that Jesus manifested on the physical earth - hence his bearing the name 'Jesus Christ', but I believe the Christ energy existed before Jesus, and is a universal energy infusing every part of creation, and every human being, whether they call themselves 'Christian' or not.

STOCKI: Why Iona?

MIKE: My grandmother grew up on the neighbouring island of Mull and from an early age I was familiar with the idea that Iona is Scotland's sacred island - a special place set apart. When I eventually visited it I found the spiritual peace and presence there and loved it.

STOCKI: What is CS Lewis's greatest contribution to your own journey?

MIKE: Infusing me with a sense of the divine when I was a child. Later, with his books 'Perelandra' and 'That Hideous Strength' he taught me a lot about the topography and inner life of what we call evil. That was useful too.

STOCKI: Who do you see Jesus of Nazareth as being?

MIKE: One of a succession of divinely directed world teachers who incarnated at successive periods of human history when as a race we were ready to go through initiations. And I see Jesus as being a real and available spiritual presence right now.

STOCKI: While we are there, Pan with his cloven hoofs. Who is he/she? The cloven hoofs is an image usually given to the devil.

MIKE: The 'devil' image was superimposed on Pan by the early church fathers in order to discredit the pre-Christian nature religions, that they sought to replace. Pan is not the devil, but a principle of creation, and - in my book - a divine ally of the Christ energies.

STOCKI: I was there in Belfast's Ulster Hall when Steve Wickham came on stage and the crowd went wild. It was echoes of my favourite gig ever in the same venue in April '86. How did you get back together?

MIKE: Steve and I are great friends and even when we weren't working professionally together we were always in touch. In 1999 Steve invited me to Sligo, where he lives in the west of Ireland, to do a show. So I went over and we did a two-man concert together. It was a great success and I knew we had a lot of music still to make together. Then I asked him to guest with us at our shows in Dublin and Belfast in 2000. It went so well I asked him to rejoin the band, and, to my great pleasure and delight, he is back and playing the greatest rock fiddling ever !

STOCKI: What does he add to the Mike Scott/Waterboys muse?

MIKE: Steve gives the music wings, a sense of the elemental, a sweetness, a gateway to the unseen.

STOCKI: In the writing of these songs does a fiddle on stand by effect where the songs go?

MIKE: Yes, indeed. 'Peace of Iona' was a hypnotic chant until Steve's fiddle entered the picture and turned it into a sonic evocation of the island and the elements.

STOCKI: How did Steve take the spirituality of the piece and how did he enjoy Findhorn?

MIKE: Well, I can't answer that for him, though we had a great time together in Findhorn making 'Universal Hall'. He has visited many times.

STOCKI: Some of the new songs are almost Taize chants. What inspired the economy of words?

MIKE: I'm familiar with Taize chants because they are very popular in Findhorn, and I also work with affirmations, so I'm used to the idea that a few short lines of words, carefully chosen and repeated aloud or inwardly, can have a powerful inspirational effect. When my songs started coming in this minimal form, with only 2 or 3 lines, the challenge was to allow them to be so, and not to be tempted to flesh them out into a 'normal' structure. I resisted the temptation ! >

STOCKI: When spiritual belief ignites the songs does that give an extra expectation to what you hope that they might achieve?

MIKE: My hope is the same whatever kind of song I'm writing - that I may express myself and my inspiration authentically, in a way that thrills me and takes my writing somewhere it has never reached before, and that the listener will have every chance to 'get it' and receive the same inspiration I did when writing.

STOCKI: What would you hope the listener takes away from Universal Hall?

MIKE: A feeling of love inside.

STOCKI: When I watch you perform now I get the impression of a man at peace with where his art has taken him. You could have been a megastar but you decided to get off the beaten track and head west to Galway. You seem to be very content at the level of your success. The songs seem more important than the riches, fame or house in Malibu. Am I right?

MIKE: Whether I 'could have been a megastar' is unknown. As CS Lewis liked to say 'We are never told what might have happened'. Nor am I interested in what might have happened ! I've always followed my heart, guts and fascinations and I have learned to surrender to the places - both physical and inspirational - to which they take me. Yes, the songs and creativity are more important than any riches that could result, but I have nothing against houses in Malibu. Malibu is a very fine place indeed.

STOCKI So, where next?

MIKE: This is unknown !


MEETING JOSEPH ARTHUR in 2001 - REDEMPTION'S SON

Joseph Arthur

I left Joseph Arthur’s small and intimate gig at The Errigle Inn, in Belfast, speechlessly quiet in my half yard of spiritual solitude. And it wasn’t the gig, though we’ll get to that. After the gig as this lanky, arty and obviously laid big dude just sat down at a table alone, someone asked about product. Not for Joseph the table at the back strategy. No he got up almost hesitantly and opened a bag full of EPs, some on CD but some on 12” vinyl with individually sketchings by the man himself. I stood in line, two from the front and one from the back, and when it came my turn I asked my prepared question.

During the gig I could not help, as a Presbyterian minister, be aware of the copious amounts of spiritual references. When he asked what people do for fun in Belfast and one, inebriated to the point of loud wag, shouted ‘Church’ and everyone laughed. Joseph said that after his 10 mile 4am run he always went to Mass. When asked what Americans do for fun he replied that he just sat in front of the TV and smoked pot. There seemed to me to be a great deal of irony in both statements and so my question stuttered out, “So, does the spiritual depth of your lyrics come from going to Mass or smoking pot in front of the TV?”

Arthur’s laid back eyes gained a sparkle and we began to converse about faith. He chatted excitedly about how it is his subconscious coming out and how it is his search and struggle and holding on to faith when the world suggests giving it up. I shared the frustrations of a preacher, the lines of whose picture are always too confining to really get to the soul of the human experience like a singer can; like he had just done. Immediately he proved my point, had the house sound switched off, lifted his guitar and sang to the thirty of us who remained a new song called Redemption’s Son that was simply breathtaking. It was all about Jesus being the only one who really knew him and the struggles of relationships of father and son. It was a prayer for the angel of light to shine upon us. And of course it was far from theological watertight, that is not his trade or his concern but it opened spiritual pores in the souls of that crowd that Billy Graham could never do. It was like he threw out these melodic seeds that fell, where they fell only God knows, but they fell and they were potent because as he threw them they were landing in the depth of the man who sang in the same sense as the ones who listened. Not the arrogant aural brutality that closes the heart but the humble, honest, vulnerable sharing of the search that smashed down the thickest doors in the gentlest way.

And ooh yes, the gig. Well I arrived not sure what to expect. I loved ‘In the Sun’ the most famous of his songs, covered by Peter Gabriel and the single off his last album Come To Where I’m From. Yet I thought that sometimes it was over cluttered and too harsh for my forty year old ears. When Arthur walked out and started singing I was blown away. The voice, the melody, the articulate poetry of the songs and the depth of the questions. Every few songs he’d use his foot pedal echoing effects to conjure rhythms and guitar layerings that made it sound big, big, big and though there were moments when he got so into his art that this became just a little over self indulgent, it made the gig flow up and down and kept the whole thing fascinating. Though a more than original artist there are the parts in Arthur’s influences, that add up to way beyond their sum. The poetry of a Cohen, the harmonica of a Dylan, the clutter and clang of a Waits, a bit of melancholy trip hop and the angst of a Cobain. Yet, that angst never goes the nihilistic way of Cobain because it is always wrapped in the flickers of light that the search always seemed to let seep in. God, and Jesus seems His incarnation in these songs, is a given but who and how and where are the search at hand. There are strongest hint of resurrection and eternity and the cross as a main mover in these things is never far away.


BETHANY DAWSON: THE SOUL SURMISE INTERVIEW

Bethany Dawson

With Bethany Dawson reading from her debut novel My Father's House in Fitzroy this Friday night (21.6.13) at 8pm (£5) Stocki asked her a few questions about her writing, her novel and her faith...

STOCKI: When did you first start writing?

BETHANY: Last week I found a folder of stories I wrote in Primary School so my love of the written word goes quite far back. It took me a while to discover the genre to which I was most suited but storytelling is certainly something I have always enjoyed.

ST: When did you then think, "I could write a novel?"

B: In the final year of my BA English undergraduate degree. I had to choose a subject for my dissertation and managed to persuade my lecturer to allow me to focus on my own creative writing rather than a study of English literature. It was the first time it was done and I wrote the opening chapters of a novel. When I graduated, I spent six months in Zimbabwe finishing the manuscript.

ST: You did creative writing at Trinity. What did studying writing do for your craft?

B: It was a hugely formative period in my writing life. The intense group dynamic, lots of time to write and positive feedback made for a huge growth spurt in my craft. It was the first time I allowed myself to believe that I could make it as a writer and I remember it as one of the best years of my life.

However, the manuscript I worked on that year was never published and the high generated by the master course did not last. I decided to persevere and that’s when I wrote My Father’s House.

ST: What sparked the idea for My Father's House?

B: The idea for the book changed so much over the three years I spent writing it. It started as a dual narrative with a female Polish character, went through a brief thriller period, experimented with Northern Irish politics and emerged as a rather slow-paced study of the complexity of a family in crisis.

ST: Once an idea comes what are your methods of developing that idea?

B: I write and write and write until it’s time to edit and then I mercilessly hack through it. I never know the direction the story is going until I try to push it down a certain road and it falls flat. My characters very much determine the pace and storyline. They seem to take on a life of their own and it is impossible for me to coerce them to do anything that isn’t consistent with who they are. 

ST: Were there twists in the story that took you by surprise?

B: The mother surprised me throughout the book. I find her a difficult one to understand and that fascinates me.

ST:. What would you like the reader to come away with?

B: I would like my readers to feel something about the characters. It doesn’t have to be a positive emotion but it would be great if Robbie, John, Margaret, Wendy or Elizabeth’s behaviour resonated with the readers in some way.

ST: You have a Christian faith. How does that influence your writing?

B: Hugely. I would have given up writing a long time ago if I didn’t believe it was something I was created and gifted to do. My personal beliefs also influence what I write about and how my characters develop.

I feel very strongly about writing about what is real. In My Father’s House I didn’t want a happy ending with all the loose ends tied up because I don’t feel that reflects true life. Sometimes people don’t change, can’t accept grace and there isn’t a moment of character redemption. Other times they change a little bit and it’s not great but at least it’s something.

ST: Do you feel you have to consciously sneak your faith into a novel... or do you have to consciously keep a rein on it?

B: I don’t think about it in those terms. I am already shaped by my faith in terms of my perspective and the lense through which I see the people and situations around me. I write from that place.

ST: You are coming to Fitzroy on Friday night. Do you enjoy readings and the promotional side?

B: I’m getting better at it. I feel more comfortable on paper than on stage but I understand the necessity of developing a public presence and I love to meet people and talk about writing.

 ST: And we are looking forward to having you!


STOCKI TAKES THE BELFAST TELEGRAPH QUESTIONS OF FAITH

Stocki 12

Last Saturday night in the Belfast Telegraph your blog host answered a few big questions with a few small answers... 

Your idea of Heaven?

The Kingdom fully come. The reign of shalom.

Eternity, would it not be boring?

Boredom isn’t a fear I have! Jesus came to bring life in all it’s fullness! My belief is that it is a fulfilment of our humanity and I am never ever bored!

Could God be a woman?

Well, the Bible describes God as such on occasions; The Queen Of The South, a mother hen, a women searching for her lost coin. If men and women are made in the image of God then God is both masculine and feminine. We are different versions of the one God.

Your finest moment of spiritual enlightenment?

When you realise that the God of the Universe loves you as you are. Wow! Grace is the greatest word.

The person alive today you most admire and why?

Nelson Mandela. I’ve been to Robben Island many times and how a man of such grace, mercy and vision came off that prison island is amazing.

If you had just one question to ask God face to face, what would it be?

Why does he leave telling me the most vital thing that should be in Sunday morning’s sermons until I’m preaching it on Sunday morning!

Your favourite book/music/film?

Book: Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend In A Coma; Film: Bruce Almighty; Record: Over The Rhine’s Ohio... all 3 have enough theology to start a seminar!