BOOK REVIEWS

BONO - SURRENDER; 40 Songs, One Story

Bono Book 1

Bono’s memoir came up in Church. “The problem with Bono,” I suggested, “is that having written a book about him I know more about him than he knows. When I met him I kind of finished his sentences”. “Ah”, replied Alison, “you know the facts but do you know the feelings.”

I laughed and the next day opened Surrender; 40 Songs. One Story where under the chapter headings of 40 U2 songs Bono takes us through his entire life, in a beautifully written poetic prose. It realise magnificently written. Bono might have an even better flair for prose than song lyrics. 

The title had me concerned. I feared a cheap explanation of a clatter of songs. I am delighted to confess how wrong I was. This is broad and deep and high in the memories of a life. In the end the songs give chapter headings, little hangers for Bono to set up his journey, pilgrimage he calls it. Though a general chronological trajectory he does shift back and forward, subject rather than dateline dominated.

Paul Hewson, as Bono was born, has lived quite the life. He is born into an ordinary family in a very ordinary street in Dublin. He loses his mother as a teenager at his grandfather’s funeral. Then, at a cross denominational school in Dublin he meets his future wife. The same week, in the same place, he joins a band. He later becomes friends with super models, American and Russian Presidents, tackles cancelling the debts of African countries, the AIDS pandemic and stands between national and unionist politicians in winning a Peace Agreement in Northern Ireland. He also finds himself pushing his family under a restaurant table during a terrorist attack in Nice just weeks after U2 were rehearsing in another part of Paris during the 2015 Paris attacks.

That is all happening around the fact that that band that he joined as teenager became the biggest rock band on earth making iconic records for four decades and changing the face of what is expected from a live rock show.

Of course I knew all of these facts but my friend Alison was right. I didn’t know the feelings and from the opening pages I was surprised by how Bono wears his heart on his sleeve. Surrender begins with Bono on an operating table in Mount Sinai Hospital in 2016 as a surgeon pulls his chest apart to fix an eccentric heart. It’s raw. 

On it goes. Of course I knew the facts of his mother’s death and his struggles living in 10 Cedarwood Road with his father and brother Norman but the depth of his heartache. I also knew about his dependence of Ali his wife but their early kisses at bus stops; his emotional lack of parental loss getting balanced by the woman who has been his rock.

As well as his heart, Bono lets us into his soul.  That might be what has most kept my interest in U2 down all these years. The book is peppered with testimony, Bible stories and quotations. He ends a chapter with a verse from St. Paul. In the middle of a discussion about capitalism he quotes Jesus. He cannot not! 

Two stories gave me the feeling of Bono’s depth of faith. In the first he tells us of having voice problems and anxiety is likely the cause. He does something he has never done. He goes to a hypnotist who asks him to imagine a room of happy and safe memories. When asked to open a drawer and pick out the best memory Bono finds himself walking by a river with his best friend. “Who?” asks the hypnotist. “Jesus”, Bono answers.

In the other Bono entire family are by the River Jordan and go for a swim. Bono writes - “The symbol of baptism is about submerging into your death in order to emerge into new life, a powerful poetry, and I’m a fortunate man to have a family of foolish pilgrims who will follow me into this symbolism.” 

Bono’s early faith was nurtured in the Shalom fellowship, one of so many house groups that popped up at the time of a charismatic movement that swept the world in the late 70s. It was full of spiritual energy but lacked in wise leadership.

There was no shortage of naivety. I smiled at the story where Bono takes Ali to London and has no money, expecting God to supply. The same naivety though almost costs us U2, all those records and all Bono’s phenomenal justice campaigning. 

Initially seeing U2 as a missional arm to the youth Shalom turned on the band and suggested rock music wasn’t a healthy place for young believers.

Under such influence, Edge left the band. Telling their manager Paul McGinness of their decision he played along to their piety and asked if God would be happy for his followers to not fulfil contracts. The break up was off. A vocation survived and a vocation is what Bono believes he has. 

It is frightening to surmise the amount of things that the world would have missed had they listened to their pastor in Shalom and given up music. Pastors… be careful.

It might be as a result of the Shalom experience that has Bono questioning institutional Christianity. He seems to prefer sitting alone in Churches than being part of communities with Creeds and leaders who might lead badly.

He doesn’t hold back. He writes about how, “at times religion can be the biggest obstacle in your path” and how Christianity seems to have become “the enemy of the radical Jesus”. He also mentions “The Bible belt and its unchristian undertow leaving welts on the bare bottoms of unbelievers.” I did say poetic!

I read someone suggesting that this is the best ever rock memoir. I half agree. It is a fascinating diving deep into the feelings of being in a rock band’s rise to the top. There might not be a book that better expresses how bands begin and develop. It gives great insight into the democracy of U2. Bono shares lessons learned in the music business and how import their manager Paul McGinness was. As to how music comes together in a. Studio or on a stage it is very good. 

However, if the reader is looking for what the cliché states as Sex and Drugs and Rock ’n Roll then they will be very disappointed. This is a book about one man’s relationships with A Girl, God and a Rock N Roll Band… and how through those relationships that have each lasted almost 50 years he has found romantic companionship, musical comradeship and spiritual meaning; salvation in every corner of his brokenness. This is a testimony of the feelings of all of these. 

5 STARS!


BOB MORTIMER - THE SATSUMA COMPLEX

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I love Bob Mortimer. That love is weighed entirely upon his appearances on Would I Lie To You. I have seen nothing else he has ever done. No, my love is all based on those crazy stories he tells in his own inimitable way. His innocent laugh in stories that show the worldly wisdom of an adventurous childhood and youth.

I felt bad at my limited exposure to Bob’s work until I read in his brilliant autobiography And Away... that he felt that he only learned to act during Would I Love To You. Now he is saying that it was in the story telling part of Would I Lie To You that he learned to spin a yarn… hence The Satsuma Complex. 

Now I’ll be honest, I was still a little suspicious. Richard Osman is one thing. Rev Richard Coles another… but Bob Mortimer? Writing thrillers? 

Well, it appears that Bob Mortimer can write thrillers. Having read Bob’s autobiography it didn’t take me long to recognise the main character in the Satsuma Complex is the dull 20 something Bob Mortimer, that gap between the adventurous youth and meeting Vic Reeves who brought comedic colour to his greyness! 

The ordinariness of Gary is very ordinary. Then out having a drink with Brendan Jones, an acquaintance more than a friend, he becomes the last person to see Brendan alive and becomes infatuated by a woman. Suddenly ordinary Gary is thrown into crime, murder and intrigue… and, as a crucial side story, romance.

The Satsuma Complex is laugh out loud funny as Mortimer weaves that tall tales style he uses in Would I Lie To You, dropping names and descriptive words only Bob can conjure. We even have a squirrel who appears regularly to chat Gary through some of the things he needs to think around. 

Mortimer doing the tall tale well and making it very funny is no surprise. What is more impressive is how he weaves the plot, mysteriously building, ever intriguing and, by the end, page turning gripping. 

Bob Mortimer. What a guy. The older he gets the more genius he discovers within himself. Excellent debut novel just at the age everyone else is thinking of retiring! 


PAUL BRADY - CRAZY DREAMS

Dreams 1

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


RICHARD OSMAN - THE BULLET THAT MISSED

Bullet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As I said book Number 4 NOW!


MY SCRIPT AS I LAUNCHED A TRAVELLER PASSING THROUGH

Ruth P

I have never been to the the Holy Land, well not the real one anyway! There are a few streets around Fitzroy but that’s not where Ruth is writing about.

Yet, as a preacher, every Sunday I imagine Holy Land scenes. Bethlehem, Galilee, Nazareth, Capernaum, Jerusalem and the places of Jesus journey’s in between. If the Lord spares me, to quote my Granny, I would love to see those places where Ruth stood in 2018.

For the time being, Ruth’s book will do. 

A Traveller Passing Through; Reflections from the Holy Land is what it says in the tin - the reflection of a pilgrimage. There is a diary feel to it. So we start, usually in the morning on a bus! And we go places. Holy places. I loved it. 

Yes I loved Galilee, on the lake. I mean “The sea Of Galilee is tranquil, sparkling blue. We have already been on a boat trip that gifted us with a glimpse of the eternal ‘now’ of presence.” Oh, I’m jealous. Somewhere else on its shore, the sand between her toes. 

Those last words are very Van Morrison who can get into a near spiritual rant on stage - the eternal NOW… the eternal NOW.

I have to admit I was kind of put off the busyness of Bethlehem and Jerusalem but the hustle and bustle has to be a big part of it!

I loved the poetic, imaginative energy of Ruth’s writing. For example at Jesus birth she has out on the hillside with those marginalised shepherds and writes, 

“When we hear the familiar words, we are, in a timeless moment, transported back to that night when the heavens blazed with stars and the night was filled with a song of hope that reverberates down the centuries and awakens hardened hearts or minds imprisoned by scepticism to the thought that maybe, just maybe it happened. Maybe, just maybe, this world is more than we know. Maybe, just maybe, there is a spiritual dimension, there are armies of heaven’s angels under the command of God whose nature is always love.”

WOW!

Or at the other end. In the Upper Room, doubling as the place of Jesus washing feet, the Last Supper and hiding after the crucifixion … the disciples leave it for the ascension and Ruth writes,

They too leave the Upper Room, as we did. I have an image of the unstoppable energy spiralling outwards through Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the endless beyond.”

There are threads running through the reflections. Awakening and Unlearning are but two. Ruth Patterson has an amazing awareness of our inner terrain. She has a real gift at seeing the right questions that faith asks of our lives -  Who are we? Why are we here? Who is Jesus? How does he make a difference?

I will illustrate it with a close look at my favourite chapter, as I pull this launch into an epilogue or sermonette.

Ruth might be surprised but my very favourite chapter was the one around and in Jericho. The bus hasn’t even got to Jericho before Ruth is painting pictures. 

The heat of the sun. The rugged terrain. Rocky. Dry. Dusty. The isolation. The vulnerability of a traveller on a journey that Jesus knew well. I feel she has taken me there. I am checking I don’t get dust on my trousers. 

Ruth sees the Good Samaritan Inn and it leads us into that favourite parable of Jesus. What’s not there Ruth is asking again. She wants to know what happened the wounded man, how did the hotelier care for him. Did the Samaritan return. Like a good TV series ending - what happened next?

Oh I’d like then to go on into Jericho and sit below Zacchaeus’ Olive Tree and see how he has to “come down” and “let go”. I’ll leave that for you because I want to end back in the Good Samaritan bit. 

Ruth preaches on something I never have - the Inn. She opens up the Gospel importance of hospitality and I believe she is really onto something. She writes, “The whole concept of hospitality is at the core of the Gospels, hospitality between us and God, between the alienated parts if our own inner beings, between ourselves and others, and between ourselves and all creation”

I am so annoyed that I started this chapter this week because on Sunday I had just ended a series of preaching where I looked at sin as a pushing away of God, neighbour, enemy, creation and self. The Gospel, Ruth is showing us, in its love of neighbour, enemy, self and creation draws in. To an Inn. A Welcome Inn.

Ruth asks, “Am I an inn? Am I, in my very self, a resting place of safety and hospitality for others? Is generosity a way of life for me? Have I been attentive to my own inner journey on which I am called to the creation of the beloved community within that I am always prepared to let go and unlearn in order to embrace or be embraced be the stranger, the unseen guest, and be the mystery of the sacred now?”

There’s Van Morrison again. There’s that inspiration to stretch your imagination again? What’s not there? Or what are we not seeing? There’s also challenge there. Ruth’s poetry takes us to the far reaches of the Universe and eternity but also asks every day ordinary questions of how we live as a result. THE SACRED NOW!! THE ETERNAL NOW!!

A Traveller Passing Through is a pilgrimage to three places - geographically the terrain of Holy Land… places that open up the terrain of the Biblical text… which leads us to explore the terrain of our inner most places of soul. Ruth has been the last of these maybe better than anyone else on our island for a long time. The inner. Sin pushing away BUT the `Gospel hospitality welcoming in.

I highly commend it. Read it… and read it again… you’ll grab something new every journey through.


TONY MACAULEY - LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PEACE LINE

Macauley Peace Line

I asked Tony Macauley why he republished Little House On The Peace Line now. He replied, “Of all my books this is the one that speaks most clearly on my hopes for Northern Ireland. With our continued failure to achieve political stability and reconciliation, and the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, I felt the time was right for a new edit of the original memoir.”

If you don’t know about Tony Macauley’s first three memoirs then start with Paperboy. That hilarious description of being a boy on Belfast’s Shankill Road in the 70s was followed by the equally laugh out loud Breadboy and then his University days in All Growed Up. All three are witty gems strewn through with the astute social, cultural and political of growing up in a divided community. 

Little House On The Peace Line is the phase of his life where I best knew the name Tony Macauley. Yes, he was known in his Christian Union days at University of Ulster Coleraine but when he took a job at 174 in the New Lodge his reputation soared. 174 was a brand new cutting edge Christian Outreach and Tony was the Christian talk of the town!

In Little House On The Peace Line Macauley is beyond All Growed Up and is a mature work of a young, almost naive, man taking on almost more than he can chew.

This memoir is darker than the other three. It still makes you laugh out loud but not as often. For a young Protestant to work in a Youth Club in the Catholic New Lodge is a courageous thing. At that time, pioneering. That during this first job Tony should get married and buy a house in this part of the city would be enough to deal with. That one of his young people, Billy, would get shot dead adds even more to the emotional trauma. The book is touchingly dedicated to Billy. Beyond that Tony’s own father commits suicide in this season of his life too. It is harrowing stuff.

Macauley does not make himself out to be a hero but tells his tale in the most honest way. The books starts with feeling of being able to change the world. It ends with feelings of burnt out and moving on. There is a warmth about Tony’s love for the New Lodge, a real passion for peace in his city and passion for the young people that he attempts in his stumbling way to bring hope and a purpose to.

Since Paperboy, the first instalment, Tony has been taking the identity of a pacifist in a war torn city. Early on he had little understanding of what a pacifist was. In Little House On The Peace Line he is a practitioner. It might be why one of his two hardest critiques is therefore the paramilitaries. Was violence, death and mayhem the only way to put forward their cause.

The Church also receives Macauley’s ire! He speaks of the influence of the late 80’s movie Witness starring Harrison Ford and through that discovering the pacifism of the Amish community. Then a Mennonite arrived to work with him and suddenly he realise that there were Churches who believed what he did - “I suppose pacifist Christianity was never too popular in these parts”. That reality is a huge frustration to him and sadly I imagine continues to be. 

174 is a story that needs to be told. Protestants moving into Catholic areas during The Troubles to bring social justice and reconciliation is quite something. Catholic communities allowing them too, is quite something too. 

I have already reviewed another book on these same times in the very same place - Philip Orr - An Ordinary Kind Of Miracle. This is the subjective angle. One young man, following his faith no matter the cost, getting married, setting up home, losing his father in tragic circumstances and somehow in the midst of it all being a particle of God’s light across a dark part of a city in shadows. This is as much of a challenge and inspiration now as it was then. Fair play to you Tony Macauley!


AMOR TOWLES - THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY

Lincoln Highway

“In your time you shall do wrong to others and others shall do wrong unto you. And these opposing wrongs will become your chains. The wrongs you have done unto others will be bound to you in the form of guilt, and the wrongs that others have done to you in the form of indignation. The teachings of Jesus Christ Our Saviour are there to free you from both. To free you from guilt through atonement and from your indignation through forgiveness. Only once you have freed yourself from both of these chains may you begin to live your life with love in your heart and serenity in your step.”

This is the very kind of thing that makes up a Amor Towles novel. Towles uses his work to drop in huge dollops of wisdom for living. I have been using this particular dollop as a way to look back through the spine of the entire novel.

The Lincoln Highway is a very different beast to A Gentleman In Moscow, the Towles novel that gained him much critical acclaim and commercial success. A Gentleman In Moscow is confined to a hotel whereas The Lincoln Highway has, at least in mind, the entire breadth of America from New York to San Francisco. Now that blows the possibilities wide open.

My only spoiler will be that I am not sure about the novel’s title. I guess it gives a sense of that breadth but most of our main characters spend little time on it. Perhaps there will be a Volume 2.

The breadth of Lincoln Highway is not so much about the road itself. The breadth comes in the different kinds of rooms or places where the story works itself out. We are in farm houses, a correction centre, wealthy mansions, a box car, a famous author’s study and a homeless encampment to name a few. These places and the references within takes us into 1950’s America.

If Towles can create locations he is even better at developing characters, characters that you love for their strengths and make you feel nervous in their weaknesses. Towles makes you love most of them and want the best for them but he is very rounded in his understanding of different human psyches, maybe his greatest strength.

I found soft spots in my soul for all the main players, the mainly upstanding Emmett, his wee lovable and gifted brother Billy as well as the wide boy Duchess and his buddy the tender souled Woolly. Sally is the mother figure trying desperately to hold them all together! 

Living in a world where everyone needs to be perfect and the slightest flaw or sin is dragged up and overdosed on social media here is a book that blends humanity’s brokenness and potential for good perfectly or should I say imperfectly. Bible characters like David or Moses or Peter or Paul would fit in well. 

In essence the book is about Sister Agnes’s quotation at the top of the blog. People doing good and bad to each other and getting caught up in consequences or trying to escape them. Towles is kinda an old school novelist with a modern way with his script. Lincoln Highway leans heavily on Professor Abacus Abernathy’s Compendium of Heroes, Adventurers and Other Intrepid Travelers but other texts and as we have seen the Bible make their mark. Abacus Abernethy actually appears in the story.

All in all I enjoyed Lincoln Highway more than A Gentleman In Moscow. Towles has places to take us and wisdom to share. I will be honest there were moments when I felt we were trudging not feeling any freedom of the open road but by its end there was a sense that I had gotten a good return on my investment. Satisfying.


SURMISING SHETLAND SERIES SEVEN

Perez 3

The Seventh Series of Shetland has just ended on BBC 1. Led by the headline that Douglas Henshall was leaving his role as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez it has been by far the most talked about series. 

Having watched every series and itched for this new series I am surmising the finale with very mixed emotions. I am like so many gutted that Perez has gone. How will it be without him? It is difficult to imagine.

His way out was a concern throughout Series Seven. Surely they wouldn’t kill him off?! As the series progressed it became more and more obvious that there was a love interest and that Perez had maybe had enough of the pressure of so many murders on Shetland. The series is no tourist advertisement for anyone who cannot suspend TV fiction for the reality of life on a small island!

As I surmised this Seventh Series I felt that it was actually a poor show. Perez’s leaving was an emotional cover for the weakest plot of any series so far.

Oh there were cliff hangers. How did Tosh get out of that caravan?! Phew! Then there was a tug filled wit a bomb heading straight for a tanker. Well actually, there was no bomb on board! That last car chase when Perez himself headed out across the narrow roads chasing the killer, at last revealed. Surely he was leaving with Meg and not going to get blown up by Jamie Neary.

Jamie Neary. There was a dark horse. Now, I know that the screen writers of thrillers have a tough job these days. Twenty years ago they had ninety  minutes to fill whereas now it is six long episodes. They all struggle and contrive blind alleys like Tosh’s husband’s ex. I love Tosh but Alison O’Donnell struggled a little to act her way through that little thread.

Far too often in these six episode storylines, and this was one of the often, our real killer plays it low key and then suddenly comes into play after four or five episodes of wild goose chases. 

The twist in the tale was that Neary didn’t kill Bill Rogers who had recognised Lloyd Woods in a shop. He knew Lloyd was actually Walter Edwards who was wanted for a murder in Texas. Lloyd or Walter’s wife killed Rogers but Lloyd or Walter is in a cell awaiting extradition. In a 90 minute show this would have been enough.

Anyway as a side bar it actually gets us to the most satisfying bit of Series Seven. It leads us into what I have been accustomed to call The Gospel According To… Shetland. 

Perez believes Walter to be innocent. Just a hunch. It’s another feather light part of the plot that goes by because of the stronger consequences. Perez allows Walter to go, encourages him to flee the island. He knows that that will be the end of his career but is willing to sacrifice his career for such a noble gesture. 

Making sure an innocent man escapes injustice is a good way to leave the police is a paraphrase of how he puts it. It is a powerful five minutes. Gospel like. Maybe worth some of the weaknesses of the hours before.

That is the powerful ending not his his last conversation with Meg which a little dissatisfying too. She seems too easy to convince seconds after playing hard ball. It is hard to follow the Gospel moment!

And so Tosh, Sandy and Billy are left wondering. How can they go on? How can we go on? Will Tosh take the reins or will someone else arrive from the mainland? Surely not Ardal O’Hanlon who did on another crime infested island! 

Series 8 without Perez. It’ll be sad and different but I am sure murders are afoot on Shetland. Like Midsommer they always seem to be! Bring it on...


RICKY ROSS - WALKING BACK HOME

Walking Back Home RR

Deacon Blue’s Ricky Ross set out out his career stall on his very first single, that I picked up by seeming chance in the Corn Market Caroline Music, March 1987. In the middle of one of the best rock songs you are ever likely to hear, about a ship called Dignity, Ross sings ”And I'm thinking about home/And I'm thinking about faith/And I'm thinking about work…”

Ricky’s memoir Walking Back Home is basically a book where the rock star, songwriter, broadcaster and now writer ruminates on home, faith and work.

Deacon Blue fans will no doubt buy it to read about the band. If they want a chronological history then Paul English’s To Be Here Someday published late last year will be a more informative read. What we have here is a look before, behind and around the corner of the band’s main lyric writer.

Not that there are not some wonderful Deacon Blue moments captured. It is his work after all. Highlights for me were Ricky’s early years which through other friends I knew something about but never knew that Tom Morton had covered Surprised By Joy.  

There is a kairos moment when the first classic Deacon Blue finally comes together after a whole lot of previous group efforts.

There are other kairos moments too. A spiritual moment when Ricky’s realises at a solo concert in Dublin that this his songs had potency whatever the audience - he calls the moment spiritual. 

A wonderful moment at Glastonbury in 2011 when, having been scheduled in a tent at the same time that Coldplay were playing Mainstage, the expected no one to bother with them… and then the crowds arrived for what Ricky calls “the true second coming of Deacon Blue”.

Best of all Ricky shares a beautiful scenario before a Hogmanay gig at George Square, Glasgow when a council worker requests Dignity at a soundcheck. The song had come full circle. Sweet sweet moment.

Faith is maybe the strongest piece of yarn threading through the weave of the book. Ricky grew up strict Brethren and has ended up Roman Catholic. That’s not a dramatic story in the book but his stories of faith journey to there, not a ripping of traditions as much as a blend, on a path of discovering God particularly in joy and hope.

Before we get to home, I should mention that there is much travel too. Whether that is while touring with Deacon Blue, spending time in Nashville through his songwriting years or his work with SCIAF (Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund) to Zimbabwe and latterly along with Lorraine to Democratic Republic of Congo. Again the stories are at times funny, meeting Bruce Springsteen, swimming with Bono and Edge or incredibly poignant in meeting Claudette who told her of horrors violated upon her as she sat beside Claud who did some of the attacking.

Home? Home is Dundee and Glasgow, Scotland and family. He loves his home town and adopted city. His early youth work in Dundee and teaching in Glasgow are fondly described. The most fascinating, heart warming and inspiring stories in the book are of Grandads and Grannies and particularly his mum and dad. The poignant stories with them often seem happen in cars but they are the tale of a man who didn’t follow the vocation that his Brethren parents would have chosen or been comfortable with but how love held them strongly together so graciously.  . 

There’s a car journey late in his mother’s life where his mother talks about a broken engagement and it gets linked to Ricky’s failed first marriage. It’s a powerful familial moment. This conversation says a lot about his mother’s coming to terms with her son’s life. I cannot help thinking that her grace is alive and well in the Ricky Ross that I have been privileged to spend some time with over recent years. I have admired his longing to bring different voices together, to listen with respect of the other. I reckon that is his parents living on right there. 

There’s another culmination of events, I need to highlight. Deacon Blue’s last ever concert, or so it then seemed, was May 20th 1994. The day after Ricky and his dad’s beloved Dundee United are playing in the Scottish Cup Final. Ricky and his dad had already attended six such occasions and lost every one. This time they win and Ricky almost gets arrested on the pitch celebrating. Sadly, Ricky’s dad had died quite suddenly in hospital five weeks earlier, actually on the evening of the semi final replay. As they drove home celebrating they passed the hospital.

If you are looking for rock n roll gossip and stories of sex and drugs and rock n roll buy some other book. If you want to know what Real Gone Kid is really about, then check out other places. If you want a wonderfully well written memoir of a life that found his God given niche and touched so many of our lives then this is a beaut. 

As I was writing this review I got to hear Ricky reading some of the book at the Féile an Phobail in Belfast. With that accent and voice, that we have heard for 35 years, the book came even more literary and alive. I’ll be adding the audio edition to the hard back for sure. 

 

Ricky Ross plays Fitzroy on November 25th 2022 - BOOK TICKETS HERE


BRIAN McGILLOWAY - THE EMPTY ROOM

The Empty Room

I picked up Brian McGilloway by chance. He’s a crime writer who doubles as teacher in Strabane. Does that suggest world class? Yet, I had money left on the governments £100 voucher to get the lockdown economy kicking and wanted to give it to my favourite bookshop No Alibis on Botanic Avenue. McGilloway's last novel Blood Ties was looking up at me and was signed. Against the odds, I don’t read thrillers, I gave it a lash.

Forgive me Strabane. How glad I am. Blood Ties was a revelation. The north west is a sea of writers, mainly out of Derry,  and here was an ordinary family man and teacher writing page turning stuff. The Awards and nominations for awards I now fully understood.

So, I started The Empty Room with more anticipation. A stand alone novel, Blood Ties was from his Inspector Devlin series, I wondered early on if it would work as well.

In the end it does. The Empty Room is a tough read. When Dora wakes up to find her daughter missing her world falls apart and we enter the world of a woman who is understandably heart broken and angry in ways that we will never understand. McGilloway tries to unravel her pyche.

He does more. He takes us on how Dora responds and we are on another page turning thriller with constant twists and turns that change the direction without ever feeling jarring or contrived. It is another riveting read. 

What I love about McGilloway is that we are reading more than a thriller. He is turning up all kinds of thoughts that need thought. This one for me was written right into the heart of the Northern Irish Legacy issue, though interestingly, maybe for effect, we are not given a geographical centre for this novel.

How do those heartbroken and angry feel any kind of justice or healing? How do victims of bloody violence ever find themselves again? Is there a danger that in trying everything in your broken heart to get back to yourself you leave yourself even further away?

These thought and many others will linger for days as I ponder for a long time Dora, short for Pandora, opening the Pandora’s box as she sought to find her beloved Ellie and herself in the most harrowing assault life can throw at a parent.