ABBA - 50 YEARS (And I Confess That They Are...)

Waterloo 50 2

50 years ago. Abba launched on the world with that famous Waterloo performance on Eurovision.

To be fair it is the historical that hits me first. I was being baby-sat by My Granny Kernohan and Mrs Gillan. They were formidable themselves, exuberant in their judgemental remarks, full of a good laugh and dangerous if you ever crossed them. Best behaviour, Steve.

I am 12. I love my music though at the time it has not yet matured. Coming out of glam rock and the Osmonds I am big into Suzi Quatro and Mud, with a wee bit of Alvin Stardust, that particular week. 

It is Saturday night. It is my parents turn for the alternate weeks of Saturday with Uncle Jimmy and Aunt Rosemary, not actually related but omnipresent enough in my childhood for such respected titles.  

There are only 3 TV channels but I hadn’t the lack of respect I now have for Eurovision and it was live and exciting. 

I remember it from the first beat. It is the only year that I was ever so sure of the winner. The strange blue trousers. The boots. The blonde hair. I was only 12 but these young women looked good. Their harmonies, the catchiness of the chorus and the effervescent feel of it all. Even as a 12 year old it was pure pop genius.  

Straight to Number 1 as of course it should. 

It would be almost a year before SOS would let us know that these victorious Swedes were not one hit wonders. I loved SOS but very soon I had lost my ardour. I discovered The Beatles in the spring  of '76. My tastes were maturing. 

Then my school mate Willie Ireland took to Abba like a soccer team. He was a huge fan and would argue to me about their success against The Beatles. It was perhaps this teenage classroom banter that hardened my prejudice against our sublime Swedish number 1 makers.

I wouldn’t have been thinking about Abba much in the decades since they broke up in 1982. When I heard a song I kind of dismissed it. 

Then the Mama Mia phenomenon. Those films arrive just as my daughters are beginning to like their own thing. Abba are suddenly in my ear shot. A lot. And, to be truthful, much as I belittled, it is hard not to love Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes It All, Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight and Knowing Me, Knowing You. All glitzed up for a movie. These songs have something.

Eventually, Abba released a new album. Voyage, four decades after the last one. It was needless to say a big musical talking point. I usually have a big mouth on such talking points. What would my blog say? Would we do a Gospel According To Abba in Fitzroy?

YES! Though I left the talking to my good friend, the novelist Tony Macauley, an even bigger Abba fan than my old mate Willie Ireland. Tony did the most amazing Thought For The Day around the song titles on the new record. So, we did our Gospel According To Abba and it was good.

Again, my prejudices were being rattled somewhat. Those who sang the songs, or may even more the musicians spoke of the complexity, the difficulty to get it right. Abba were so good, they tried to convince me.

And then this past 50th Weekend. On that famous 50th Anniversary BBC Radio 4 do a documentary on Abba and choose my good friend Iain Archer to host. Now my prejudices are working in reverse. 

Iain and all the other contributors do a great job. I found it funny that the UK didn’t give Abba a score on that amazing magical night in 1974. Wow. Maybe my prejudice is not lonely out there! 

Then Iain tells us about the band being influenced by West Coast Rock on their 1977 Abba The Album, uncovering the Fleetwood Mac influence on the opening Eagle. This intrigues because in 1977, a year after discovering The Beatles it is Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt that mature my own tastes.

Is it conversion. Not quite. I might go the Church of Abba - maybe do an Abba Alpha course. It is time to have a deeper dive into albums. For sure. 

Yet, had I in 1976 gone down the Abba route, instead of the Beatles, I am not convinced that I would have lived the life I have. I often say that The Beatles opened up the questions for me that I could only find the answers for in Jesus.

I will give it to Abba. I will confess my error all these decades after debates in Mrs Sloan’s GCSE class. Abba are good. Probably great. Sophisticated and pop geniuses. Yet, I found being a Dancing Queen a little fragile. I was more interested to Give Peace a Chance.


Slade Xmas

Wham! Last Christmas! Number 1! How on earth?! 

Fairytale In New York, maybe with all the emotion of Shane's passing, but Wham!

I have blogged before about how privileged I feel to have been 12 in 1973. At my Ballymena Academy first year Christmas Party benefitted from the prefects playing the tunes of the times. As the girls sat over one side and us boys, very intrigued but terrified, on the other they played a lot of The Beatles' Red and Blue albums released that year. I was mesmerised by Paperback Writer and Can't Buy Be Love. It changed my life.

Not only that but 1973 was the year of the Christmas pop song. Wizzard and Slade slogged it out for the coveted Christmas Number 1, Slade's Merry Xmas Everybody beating Wizzard's I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. It was the era of glam rock and the tinsel and glitter was perfect for these catchiest and most joyous of pop songs. The prefects played Slade over and over.

50 years. It is 50 years since that amazing night and year. Thankfully we have had updated new mix and additional tracks versions of the red and blue albums, even a brand spanking new and very last Beatles' song but... somehow we get Wham for the Christmas number 1!?

There is something more to Slade's seemingly throw away, if utterly brilliantly written, Christmas hit. It has a spirit that we could all be tapping into this particular Christmas. 

When I was discovering girls at that first year party,  Britain was in the throws of a recession. Around that time there was a fuel crisis that led to the television closing down at 9pm every night, there were three days weeks in industry and more strikes than Slade number 1s. It was not a happy or hopeful time.

Into that depressive state, Slade sprinkle their four minutes of exuberant happiness. If this doesn’t lift your spirits, then nothing can! If you listen closely into the long list of Christmas things like reindeers, stockings, snow and momma kissing Santa Claus we have the line, “Look to the future now/It’s only just begun.” There is the hope. There is light up ahead. 

I am genuinely in disbelief that Slade, Noddy Holder or whoever owns the song have not been making hay out of the 50th Anniversary. With all that is going on in Gaza, Ukraine, killings this week in Prague and our own eccentric Northern Irish shadows Slade would be a great wee sing along. 

Wham? It's a good thing that Christmas is about forgiveness!



D'Arcy& Horslips

As the crowds mingled outside the Olympia after Bono's theatrical Moments of Surrender plug for his memoir I noticed Barry Devlin walking towards me. I have missed such chances and wasn't missing this one. I walked across and said, "Mr Devlin I want to thank you for the music of Horslips. Book Of Invasions opened up the Irishness of my Northern Irish Protestantism. Thank you!" We had a nice moment.

Last week Devlin and fellow band member Jim Lockhart were interviewed on the Ray D'Arcy show on RTE 2. Lockhart, struggling with my name, name dropped me and a similar story, I think informed by my friends at the Thiefdom of Horslips on X. I was chuffed. (check out last 5 minutes HERE )

So here is the story of Horslips influence on my life...


It was June 21st 1979 in the Astoria Ballroom, Bundoran, Donegal that a rock gig changed my life. It was the first time I saw Horslips live. Actually, it was the first time I had heard Horslips, at least that I can remember. They had been on my radar for a few years. They were mentioned by the boys who were into heavier bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Genesis. Somehow I dismissed them as too heavy or prog for me.

How my mate Rab and I missed them I do not know but friends of friends in Omagh had taken me over to the Astoria and I was utterly mesmerised from the very first riff. It was intoxicating, life affirming, joyous, thought provoking. I was caught up in it and at moments I stood back and asked myself just what was going on. I was into Omagh the next day to buy The Book Of Invasions and The Man Who Built America. I was smitten. 

Horslips ticked every box. The music was unique and immediate. No other band before or since has fused the traditional and the rock formats in quite the same blend. This was rock but there were fiddles and concertinas and mandolins. Then it hit the feet. This was early in my gig going life BUT no one ever bounced a crowd like Horslips.

There was something going on though that was more than a rock gig. It was that fusion thing again. We were at a rock gig but we were involved communally in some ceilidh like happening. It was like a set dance set up without the intricate steps. It was sweaty, as sweaty as has ever been.  Finally after converting ears and feet came the head.

Horslips were not about the every day 3 minute pop songs. These songs took you back hundreds of years and covered the history of a nation. Holding the record sleeves in my hand the following day led me into a journey through the past. 

It was maybe that journey through the history of Ireland that changed me the most. Last week as I spoke to the Causeway Coast Peace Group about my journey into peacemaking with my friend Fr. Martin Magill I came to realise for the first time that I was converted to Jesus and the music of Horslips all within the same two months. The impact of Jesus is seen in that today I am Presbyterian minister. Horslips of course made a less seismic mark on my life as they have no divine or redemptive qualities! Yet, don’t underestimate the effect. 

Horslips records were immersed in an ancient Irish mythology and history. Their second record was The Tain a tale from the early Irish literature when Queen Medb of Connaught takes on Cu Chulainn Ulster’s teenage hero. A few years later they had their very finest moment with The Book Of Invasions; A Celtic Symphony. This one is about how the island came to be born with a series of invasions. After this record the band moved into two more recent historical stories, Aliens being about the Famine and emigration and The Man Who Built America being about what the Irish Americans did and were still doing 

All of this made an impression on a seventeen year old boy seeking some sense of identity. If Jesus was helping me make sense of my place in the universe and indeed in history and eternity, Horslips led me to ask questions about my Irishness.

I was caught in a bit of a cultural void in my not being allowed to be Irish but not really feeling any sense of Britishness. Horslips opened my Irish side and birthed a love to all things on the island that I live on. These tunes carried me into a love of Irish music and art and cultural things.

I came to believe that they were as much the property of a Presbyterian from Ballymena as anyone else. I can settle nicely in the venn diagram that is Northern Ireland. Horslips words like fusion and blend became descriptions of who I am in national identity. 

It took another thirty years but when I started to become involved on the fringes of active peacemaking in Belfast I think it could only have happened because I decided to give my soul to someone who said Blessed are the Peacemakers and commanded me to love my enemies and also because Jim Lockhart’s flute on Trouble With A Capital T opened a door in that soul that allowed me to cross some cultural boundaries.


In my review of Roll Back, back around 2005, I wrote, "They were the best live band in the world and the world didn’t want to know. I’d never danced so much and much as The Waterboys would try I never did again. I fell in love with my island, its heritage and its artistic brilliance." That is as close to the exuberance of those Bundoran gigs as I can get.



(A short story written for Fitzroy's Fabula event...)


Toronto. It has almost been a mythical place for as long as I remember. My Uncle Bobby, my mum’s brother, moved there from Ballymena in the mid 50s. Our homes had more than the average numbers of maple leafs. Uncle Bobby was missed and loved and a little legendary as a result.

When Bob and Shirley and cousin Deborah visited Ireland in the summer of 1978 I put my spoke in.

Very quickly it is July 1979. I was a skinny 17 year old. Long disheveled hair I was just finished lower 6th. I wanted to be an adventurer. Uncle Bobby was the only member of our family who’d left Ballymena, even up until today. 

But I was pretty naive and innocent. The furthest I had been was Newquay and it was hardly big city. I did though want to see Canada and arrived on July 1st for two months. My Granny was with me. My mum would arrive at the end of July.

It was needless to say, a fabulous time. The sun was always shining. It was hot. My cousin Deborah only 10 at the time would go to Swimming Lessons in Glen Watford and I would go to the vending machine with my quarters and grab a Grape… Grape I say… Fanta. They even opened differently than ours.

I’d then sit and read Rolling Stone on the grass. It was there that I read that Bob Dylan had become a Christian and was working on a record called Slow Train Coming. I had just become a Christian a couple of months ago and this sounded so cool. Everything about Toronto was cool.

We’d visit other family members, Uncle Bobby would take me to local football matches where all the accents were Scottish and Irish and I’d spend hours in the basement playing pool or watching trying to figure out how to play Baseball. 

One night Aunt Shirley said, “pAss the salt Robert Stevenson”. I wondered how she knew my name and went to grab the salt but my Uncle got to it first and I learned for the first time that I was named after him. 

Aunt Shirley was like a mum for that first month. She was the real Canadian. She had the accent - all out and aboot. From Wiarton out in rural Ontario  she held those rural values, the best of them and she carried them gently. She’d have been giving me grief about this hair with a wee Shirley grace filled chortle.

I never asked Aunt Shirley what she was up to when she leaned in and pulled out as much courage as she could find inside me. I look back and see it as a dare or a tactic or something even smarter.

She was a small town girl. When she arrived in Toronto at the end of the 50s she must have had to find courage to live in that new environment. She met a small town boy and made a wonderful life. She lost my Uncle Bobby to a work accident in 1993 and showed great courage to deal with it.

Maybe she just wanted to step on my 17 year old arrogance that a month living with me at that time might have annoyed. Looking back I could understand that. Maybe she just thought you are 17. You’re running around with your Granny, your aunt and your ma. Grow up. 

I like to think she was being more strategic. That she was mothering me. Eeking out a courage that she knew was there but I’d never looked deep enough to find.  

It was shortly after my mum arrived. My cheeky arrogance had been suggesting that I might head into the city on my own some time. Now, as much as I wished I could do this did I really want to do it. Did I actually have the courage

Anyway, not long after my mum arrived, maybe within hours, Aunt Shirley drops me in it, “Margaret, Steve says he’s going to go into town on his own.” She had me. I remember something in my gut. Oh no! I’m not sure that I want to… but I now have to. I had a couple of big sleepless nights and then… 

I took a hearty breakfast and headed out alone, down Pitfield Road and round the corner to the Midland train station. There were a few boys got on the same carriage. My age but way more mature. It was the first time I has seen jeans with holes in the knee. I put that idea behind my ear and concentrated on when to get off, taking in some of the scenery on the 25 minutes into Bloor/Yunge station.

When I got out of the station I had the best day of my young life. In and out of Sam The Record Man’s HMV beside it, the Eaton Centre with its Ballymena connections across the road. I stocked up on vinyl. I remember a Rory Gallagher, George Harrison, Steve Forbert and a Lynyrd Skynyrd. Neil Young’s Rust Never Sleeps though I think it was on another trip in the next week. Check me out!

I had one other sweet surprise. About six months before I was wrestling with a God that I didn’t think existed. So I looked at my CD rack. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Street Survivors was on the front. So I said, Ok God take the flames off that album cover. 

Of course he didn’t but there in Sam The Record Man in very late July was that same record without the flames. It seems that after the band were in a plane crash the record company took the flames off… in the American version. That was a wee lesson in how miracles might work. 

My aunt Shirley passed away three weeks ago. As I thanked God for her life. I thanked her for being my Canadian mum, so many times, but particularly for the courage she dragged out of that wee boy… 

I wish I could say that that was that. The birth of courageous Steve. However 10 years later, almost to the day, I arrived at Liverpool Street Station in London. My first visit. All Toronto courage was gone. I climbed the stairs and looked out on London and quickly scampered back to safety. I sat there until a girl called Janice came and led me out. She’s been my courage ever since.


Me and dad 7

It is one year today since my father’s passed away. As I read to him from Psalm 73, “and afterwards he will lead you into glory” he breathed his last. 

Catholics do death better than Protestants. I have been impressed, and deeply touched after both my parents death that it does not matter how far after the death if I meet a Catholic friend they will always go out of their way to give consolation. 

I think the monthly mind Mass is a helpful way of leading people through grief. A Mass a year later also helps us remember and again take another step in mourning. Protestants close the gate of the cemetery after the funeral and never speak about the person again. I am so thankful to those who still share sympathy with me.

I have spent 52 weeks surmising and wrestling with THAT week. In THAT week, I experienced over 5 days the very highs and very lows of this adventure of life. It was indeed life in all its fulness; the fulness of joy, the fulness of grief.

It has been hard to get my head and heart and soul round that shift in emotion. One moment we are laughing and throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain and the next I am falling through the hole in my dreams to land, with a bad news bump, in a side room in the Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

That juxtaposition was like a violent rip in my soul. I am in Rome. The sky is blue. There is some heat on my back. I am with Janice. And Fr Martin Magill, our dear friend. As well as us there visna team of Catholic students led by Fr Dominic and Shannon and Fr Eddie. The craic is high. Pizza across from the Colosseum. 

In the middle of all of that we all get a private audience with Pope Francis. For Fr Martin and Janice and myself that was an honour for 10 years of the 4 Corners Festival. Having the freedom of the Vatican was utter fun. All of it was an utter honour.

I am so thankful that the call came about my dad the morning after we had met Pope Francis. I was mentally free in the Vatican. BUT the next morning all changed. Should I go home immediately? My daughter Caitlin stepped in. It looked like I had time… and then doctors said I hadn’t.

There is that stress of changing flights, catching flights, buses from Dublin airport not every half hour as they used to be. Twelve hours from the Irish College to Causeway Hotel. 5am. Alone with a dying father. Awful coffee. What just happened. Where have I ended up.

My dad has had dementia for many years and was asleep the entire three days. Yet, I had as good a time as saying goodbye to a parent can be. BUT it was a traumatic shift in mood and life experience.

I have not come to term with that. I have tried to write a poem. I used to unpack my life with rhyming couplets. I haven’t got past a line or two and have written nothing else. The first year in 45 years not to write a lyrical rhyming poem.

I am stuck in the making sense. Its as if I have unfinished business in Rome. We lost two full days and we had lovely plans that we missed. Dad though has not more business to do. 

One good thing. I have my dad back. He was my dementia ridden dad for years and now I am able to go back to the years when he was leaving me advice, mostly about sport. All his phrases are trotting out of me and I am back when he first said them. As I sang to him minutes before he left me, Luka Bloom’s “The man is alive in me…”

Rome. It certainly had lost some of its glow by my dad’s passing but this week I have been celebrating with those students from the QUB Catholic Chaplaincy and I am beginning to release the joy of those few days and that one special hour. 

Grief is a journey. This is a bit of my unique one. Be vulnerable. Open up to it. Surmise.


Granny  Mavis  Me  Sharon and Paul

(At then back of 95 Moat Road, Granny Kernohan's house, when I was around 8... cousin's Sharon and Paul then me with Granny Kernohan with Aunt Mavis)


At our Church weekend we were thinking about Church. Erin Thompson and I were asked to talk about our childhood memories of Church. I dug deep. 


There were two senses of place in my childhood - Maine Park Galgorm, the housing estate I lived on until I was 7 and Harryville Church. Both ends of Ballymena. A Galgorm Stockman, a Harryville Kernohan. I was set and safe!

So, Church for me as a child was very very important but I never went to Church.

Let me explain. When I say we never went to church, we never went to a Sunday morning service. My dad went in the evening when he was on the count. Adding up the money. 

BUT I never remember the three of us at a Sunday morning service. Later I would go, once a year, to collect my annual Sunday School prize.

For me Harryville Church was about Sunday school which happened before Church, Boys Brigade on cold winter Friday nights and eventually Youth Club on teenage Saturday nights. I at least started going because, my mum told me later, she wanted to keep her baptismal vows.

All of this took place in the Sloan Hall tucked in beside the Church on Francis Street. The Church was on Casement Street, after a Ballymena Academy knight of the realm who was executed for being an IRA gun runner! See his memorial at Murlough Bay. I always found Francis Street by checking for the mark my mum left with our Ford Cortina on the telegraph post at the Larne Road end.  

Sunday school wasn’t so much fun. I remember sitting around in circles. I did learn about fundraising, saving thru-penny bits for our New Hall but most of the rest of my memory is football chatter with Roy Harris whose family went to Australia and came back a year later for £10, Brian Crockard who later played for Ballymena United before tragically dying in a holiday accident at 22 and Philip McCrea who like me became a minister and helps us with the 4 Corners Festival.

BB was more fun. I hated the marching… but football. I got to play with future Irish international Steven Penney and win cups. I also got to be runner up in NI BB Quiz and was lead singer when we were joint winners of the NI BB Choir competition… that latter took place in First Antrim where 15 years later they would become very familiar buildings in my five years as asst minister there! 

I also remember during a Squad Inspection night… holding on as long as I could and then peeing all over the wooden floor, watching it darken the wood below my shiny white plimsolls, now slightly yellow. Everyone then had to walk round my puddle when we were marching. I could see the titters and though no one has ever said, I imagine they knew it was the future minister of Fitzroy!

Youth Club was for teens. For me it was about girls and music and eventually God, with snooker and badminton and a little footie thrown in. I remember putting my hand through a window one night when a Johan Cruyff turn went wrong. Your arm through a window. Time stops and you think “should there be blood”, “Will I die” “Is my arm cut off”. Then you bring it back through very slowly hoping none of those things come true.

Back to music and girls. I remember my mate Rab breaking up with the 13 year old love of both of our lives, Janet. Janet played some soppy love song, maybe Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, on the record player pointed at Rab. Quick as a flash Rab put on Smokie’s Don’t Play Your Rock N Roll to Me which might have been the first time I watched songs being linked - a trait I’d take into my radio show 25 years later. 

I had 4 good atheistic years at Youth Club before God caught up with me. In a bus of youth clubbers on the way back from visiting a GB weekend in Portrush a few weeks after I had another God bothering moment at the GB display I finally realised that God didn’t only exist but wanted to do something in my life! I started going to Church the very next week.

In the end, though I never went to Church until I was 17, Harryville Church was a major shaper in my young life.


Iain and Andy

It was a very powerful moment in a very special evening. 

By wonderful happenstance a few friends found themselves in the same geographical space for the first time in decades. A gig broke out. Just a gathering of people who might appreciate the songs of Andy Thornton and Iain Archer. A beautifully eclectic mix of people gathered. 

It was a unique evening that had the template of a concert but not the blue print. There was chat and laughter and relaxed informal playing on each other’s songs. Doug Gay joined them for a stunning song of his own.

Andy took us to Lahore and back, musing on his own vocational life, social justice concerns and big questions about God. Iain led us into songwriter sessions with Jake Bugg and James Bay, playing us his own versions of Lightning Bolt and Hold Back The River. 

Iain and Andy shared about their own friendship particularly life in Glasgow around 1992. This nostalgia trickled out across some of the small crowd. It hit me deep in my memory, then heart and soul as I stood behind the Fitzroy coffee bar.

I was looking out over the head of Helen Killock. Helen introduced me to the music of Andy Thornton in 1989. I was a Deacon Blue super fan and Helen suggested that Ricky Ross’s mate Andy Thornton was worth hearing. I went to Greenbelt in 1989 to see Bruce Cockburn, Peter Case and Andy’s band Big Sur. Sunday morning and we sat at the same table as Andy for breakfast…

About a year later Helen suggested that we should try and bring Andy over for Youth Night an annual rally at the Presbyterian General Assembly. There was laughter in the Fitzroy Welcome Area as it was recalled how Helen and I were unceremoniously sacked from the planning group after Andy said ‘crap’ during the evening! Honest!

In the midst in the midst of the laughter that followed I suddenly became aware that that was the moment when my Presbyterian belonging took a turn. Oh it played out over another 5 years of more major slaps in the soul but that was the first hurt in a long line of painful rejections. My story from golden boy to black sheep started right there.

I was still enjoying the gig. Yet, my head is now swirling with events from almost exactly half of my life ago. We are now in songs and chatter dealing with the fulcrum moment of my life. That is not only about my popularity in my denomination going down the plug. This was the place were two roads diverged and I took the one less traveled and found the life in all its fulness that Jesus gifted me and my life’s vocation.

At that same Youth Night event where Andy was using the word ‘crap’ we both met Iain Archer, again through Helen Killock. Right there the events that led to this night three decades later were set on a roll with my life transformed in the rolling out. 

Andy then sang Rage In The Darkness. He’d written it just before that Dublin night in 1991. It’s a prophetic song against all the oppression of religion. It spoke to me back in 1991 and behind that coffee bar in Fitzroy I realised that I had been living out that song ever since. It was a soul map to the road I have ever since been travelling. 

Rage In The Darkness is a song that looks inside the narrowness that some flaw in our human imagination can make out of the goodness of God’s freeing love. It suggest that we are led into slavery with a promise of being set free. Religion chains the best intentions of faith into systems and controls. Humans in our messed up religious systems get God so badly wrong that God almost stops believing in himself. 

It closes with the truth that “love conquers evil”. Whether 1 John 4:16 “God is love” or John 3:16-17 that “God so loved the world…” or Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates his love for us in this…” it is this love that we twist and unfathomably lose sight of. 

As Andy sang it in Fitzroy, it brought deep catharsis for the hurt of years of rejection, it refilled me with resilience and gave me back  the edge for how Jesus has called me to live and work. 

Oh there was much more happening at this happenstance but for me this’ll be the depth charge rippling out. It was quite a night.



I was a little heartbroken to hear of Christine McVie’s death. There are musical artists who are so deeply embedded in your life. Christine McVie was one of those.

I remember becoming a big boy in my listening tastes when I discovered The Beatles in 1976 and then by 1977 I was buying Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and of course Fleetwood Mac. 

I fell in love with Rumours. The entire thing is perfect in the brokenness of romantic break ups of the players. I loved every song but You Make Loving Fun was all Christine. Songbird was just an all time classic from the start. 

I later read Ken Caillat’s insightful book about the album called The Making Of Rumours and have been ever fascinated by how they recorded it in Zellerbach Auditorium, just Christine, spotlights and a bunch of flowers on the piano to get the right ambience.

In 1978 after cleaning up my mates in the afternoon golf sweep I redirected my Chopper through Ballymena to buy the white album Fleetwood Mac in Camerons. Warm Ways. Oh my! And the pop piano propelled Say You Love Me. 

Oh of course I had a teenage crush on Stevie Nicks. Of course she and her witchy ethereal haunting voice was the one who became the big solo star but I loved Christine no less. Her voice was sublime and her understated ways were her own lure. 

I looked forward to the McVie songs on future Mac albums - Over and Over, Angel and Brown Eyes, Everywhere, Little Lies, Only Over You, Love In Store. I was gutted when she left for all those years and even more so when that was the period that I saw Fleetwood Mac live.

I have since gone back to her Chicken Shack days and I’d Rather Go Blind, her Fleetwood Mac work before Buckingham and Nicks arrived and her solo work that was featured this year in her Songbird compilation. I was a big fan of her record with Lindsay Buckingham in 2017. Red Sun and Carnival Begin among those best Fleetwood Mac songs not on a Fleetwood Mac record.

Songbird will be her legacy. It will be sung forever probably alongside Bridge Over Trouble Waters, Yesterday, Something and You’ve Got A Friend. It will always remind us of the talent that Christine McVie was and hopefully send the inquisitive back to find almost 60 years of a great catalogue of songs.

Thank you for the music Ms Perfect.


Read my review of Lindsay Buckingham Christine McVie here



Stocki smiling in pulpit

(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is the final part of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...)


Always Fitzroy

The last big gig

The only gig in town

Who else was welcoming my wild imaginings

Who else was as wild in theirs

So began in my 50th year

We took off

At the speed of a teenager

Clonard Novenas

Gospel According To…

Community Carol Services

Communion in Museums

Bruce Cockburn and Over The Rhine

Irish Language classes with some priest

Martin Magill


A couple of coffees with Martin

Something beyond us was happening


Ideas sharing


Pilgrims together

Contriving nothing

Marinating everything 

Holy Spirit conjuring

The 4 Corners Festival

Ricky Ross

Gary Lightbody

Being interviewed on The View

Speaking at the Sinn Fein Ard Fheis

Touring the Mid-West of America

Being awarded the Civic Leadership Award

And sharing our 60th to raise money for Embrace NI

Watch for us on BBC Book Week!


Fitzroy 200


Hall renovations

Contemporary space

For a contemporary ministry

Opening to the neighbourhood

And tithing for a school building

Not a financial transaction

But a relational partnership

With Fields Of Life

In Onialeku, Arua, Uganda

Taking a team for the Opening

Falling in love

With children


And community

Dancing together

Grieving together

Praying for each other

Mutual sharing

We were rich in shillings

They were rich in love, hope and resilience

A fence

A well

A girls’ toilet block

Text books


Annual visits

So much love and hope and joy


Craft stalls


Even a sabbatical

Writing From Killing Fields To Fields Of Life.


In Fitzroy

Learning to preach

Learning to pastor

Learning to listen to all

And not just hear one

Learning to slalom the genius and madness

Of congregations

Our gifts

Our foibles

Seeking 10:10 - 

As much in John’s Gospel, as my birthday

Life in all its Fulness

Stumbling and tumbling after Jesus

Being particles of light across the city

God’s Kingdom on earth as in Belfast

Grace and imagination

Realigning our place in God’s order of things



Discovering gifts

And deep gladnesses

That met this particular deep need

Online Church


Belfast Telegraph Column with Fr Martin

Pastoring by phone from the kitchen table

Wild imaginings

For a time such as this

Maybe when all is said and down

My best time


Not all easy

Everyone wanting you in their image

Everyone thinking they can do your job

Creating community you can’t be in

Feeling the isolation 

Laying your insecurities on the line every Sunday

Limping with your inferiorities

And the family not called like you are

But still having to be called

Learning who you are

Learning who you are not

Learning that it will pass

Learning to trust

Being vulnerable enough to learn


The night before my licensing

In the Portstewart sand dunes

Alone with God in his vastness

Another Larry Norman song

“I am a servant getting ready for my part

There's been a change, a rearrangement in my heart

At last I'm learning, there's no returning once I start

To live's a privilege, to love is such an art

But I need your help to start

O please purify my heart, I am your servant”


Like Jesus

60 years in 

And still tumbling and stumbling after

Seeking forgiveness



For 10:10

In the next 10

As it has been in the last 60

God willing.



(As I arrive at my 60th Birthday... here is part 5 of a series of 6... as I try to express each decade in as few words as possible...


At 40

Wonderful wife

Two lovely daughters

University Chaplain

Weekly music show on BBC Radio Ulster

Live sessions

Concert on the Lagan

A popular website

Only review of Radiohead’s Mandela Hall gig in the world


And then

Walk On - a book on U2

Number 99 on Amazon chart

85,000 sales

Touring America

Calvin College

Festival Of Faith and Music

Taylor University

Messiah College

Ohio Wesleyan

Westmont College

Kenyon College

Cathedral of Advent in Birmingham, Alabama 

Then back to earth

With students who didn’t care much

An album - Gracenotes

With Sam Hill 

And gigs where I learned the importance of monitors!

This really is life in all its fulness - 10:10


Cape Town

Habitat For Humanity

A mission trip to mark the Millennium

Money left over

Go again

And then again and again and again

Bible study on the field

Poverty of Khayelitsha to Century City’s marble mall

HIV visits in Guguletu

Fair Trade Vineyard with unjust trade on other side of the fence

Peace and reconciliation with Alex Boraine’s ICTJ

Even FW De Klerk met in our tiny hostel


Hair cut for 3,500 to fund a house and a half


Poetry books

Photographic book with Gordon Ashbridge

Hundreds of thousands raised

150 students taken

Over 40 house built

And lives changed 

Especially ours





Even Caitlin and Jasmine’s

A year to prepare to go

A year to respond to having been

Always Cape Town


Always Cape Town 

In my mind and heart and soul


I cannot be me without you

"All because of you, I am” U2 called it

Loving God and neighbour as self, Jesus called it

“I wake up every morning

And thank God that I am Black South African and a Christian

Because every day I get a chance to forgive my enemy”


“If you are are serious about peacemaking, two things

First, check your motives to the very marrow

And second check them again in case you have missed anything”


“Don’t leave your money

Leave your heart”




Come come away

Allowing the candle to flicker

Instead of the pressurised burn

The beach

The being still to know

The empty days


For the next thing


And then



A nudge to something

“I am a little fearful Fitzroy might phone”

“You wouldn’t go there, they talk to Catholics”

“Hello Steve, would you consider Fitzroy”

Fitzroy weren’t looking for a minister

I wasn’t looking for a Church

And we found each other


Fifteen years before

Ken Newell the minister of Fitzroy said

“Steve, when you get to 50, know who you are

Most of my peers have no idea

Looking over their shoulders at their peers

Be your own person”

Fifteen years later

A year from 50

In my dining room 

The same dining room Ken shared with me

On the cusp of 50