Reads 21

So, I am getting ready for novel reading holidays. People suggest, now and again, that I am well read. I don't feel that I am. I read a book every 6 weeks at home. Slow. By the sea, however, I can get through a good few more. I'll in no way get through all of these but they are what I will be choosing from... unless one fo thee suggests another!



I have been looking forward to this since I heard about at late last year. Subtitled Harrison, Clapton and Other Assorted Love Songs it is about my favour era of music - 1968-1973. Womack and Kruppa look at Harrison's All Things Must Pass and Clapton's Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs and tell the Ballad of George and Eric. That the 50th Anniversary Edition of All Things Must Pass comes out in a couple of weeks helps even more! This one is first up!



Booker winner, this one should probably have been read last summer but it won't go away in friend's recommendations. I am expecting as much heartache as beauty but when the two blend perfectly it doesn't get much better and that is what friends are saying.



Of the most talked about this one caught my eye because it was about a friendship built on music getting rekindled years later. Music always attracts me. Album references etc. That both Colm Tóibin and Tracey Thorn endorse it fascinates too.



A teenage love affair across the boundaries in post Agreement Northern Ireland, Tony Davidson tipped me off on this as Sue grew up in his congregation. She has a Masters in Peace and Conflict so I am drawn by that too. In the current Dig With It Shirley-Anne McMillan bigs it up as "absolutely charming"



The wonderful, and missed every day, Lucia Quinney Mee introduced us to Lauren St. John way back when our girls were very young. That this one is dedicated to Lucia and that David, Rachel and Alice write in the back about organ donation draws me back. I gotta read this one in the place where  we miss her the very most. About surviving storms, it seems appropriate.



I like my books pretty much et in my day and more often than not where I am. This one is set in 1922 Moscow but I am down to the back cover comment, "Can a life without luxury be the richest of all". Recommended at a recent Fitzroy walk by Sheila McNeill and Moyna McCullough, they are always worth listening to!



Noticed this just as I finished Tracey Thorn's My Rock N Roll Friend and thought it would be a great kind of follow up. I also love biographies that take me to albums I missed. Not sure that this one does as it seems to only go up to 1983 and Magazine. Still, you simply need to know more about Rickie Lee Jones!



I love Sinéad's voice and work. Her life though seems a little anarchic and at times sad. I have followed her down the years and wonder if the biography can tell me more than I fear I know. I am not sure I can pluck up the courage but it needs to be there!



The back cover says:

"Do you believe in the human heart?
I don't mean simply the organ, obviously.
I'm speaking in the poetic sense
The human heart. Do you think there
is such a thing? Something that makes
each of us special and individual."
I gotta read that!














Kings Hall 13


Friends remind me that this photo was taken 8 years ago today. I was meant to be going shopping for paint! A phone call told me there was a free Bruce Springsteen ticket. When were they heading down I asked. In half an hour they said. Why? It'll not start until 8. Oh no, he'll do a wee set if we get in with the first in the queue. Really?!?!

It was a hot July day just like today. I enjoyed sitting with Glenn and Mark as much as I enjoyed the gig. They told me tall tales of their Bruce bromance. I thought I was a fan! In their shadow, maybe not! 

Bruce did play the wee secret set for the crazies. I was so thrilled to be among them. The entire gig was amazing. My review can be read HERE

Glenn gifted me that ticket. He never said. He and Mark made up more tall tales of how an extra one arrived in the post or how Glenn's son needed to go to Dublin.

He gifted me that ticket! It was who he was. It was an amazing day. As well  as the ticket he and Mark welcomed me into their gang. We partied. We made memories that I am basking in again today.

Thank you dear brother. It was a Glory Day. Wish we could do it again. I'd buy you. We'd pay anything for just one more song!


I loved when you took me chasing God

Up ahead and never looking over your shoulder

We knew everything when we were young

But relished all the questions, getting older

And you’re thoughts took us out there

But you always landed them, flesh on

In the hidden quiet moments of generosity

That’s where peace, love and justice got done.


And we’re standing in the King’s Hall sun

South Belfast basking in a saxophone wailing

The smile on our faces lighting the evening

Our big hearts and sweet souls are sailing

Between Atlantic City and Bangor pier

Our sails so full and the skies so clear


If we ever had the time again

Then I would make more time

In the meantime I’ll hear your whispering

In every Bruce Springsteen rhyme.


Magic Rings

I didn’t want my soul to be saved from hell as much as I wanted to know God. God. Imagine that. God. I couldn’t. As David Gray said, probably not about God, “we are trying to spell what the wind can’t explain”.

The first step of following Jesus for me was a leap into the biggest adventure that I could imagine a human can take. I was Jonathan Livingston Seagull, from Richard Bach’s short novel, wanting to fly like no other gull has ever flown… or human being had ever lived. I was seeking that “life in all its fulness” that Jesus invited us into in John 10:10.

As a seventeen year old I felt like Digory in CS Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew. In that, the first novel chronologically in the Narnia Chronicles but not first published, Digory and Polly find magic rings that bring them into Narnia through a dank pool. Polly wants to go back to safety but Digory says, “There's not much point in finding a magic ring that lets you into other worlds if you're afraid to look at them when you've got there.”

I believed that Jesus life and cross and resurrection was the miraculous act of God that had tossed me into this other world. I wanted to spend my life looking. I was mad keen to jump headlong into mystery and vastness. 

It feels that what then happened was that they handed me a couple of books. Here’s all you need to know in this tome of systematic theology. God confined to a few hundred pages! Here’s another one about what to do and not to do. They told me it was very clearcut. Biblical they called it. There was no room for questions or doubts. No room for mystery for that matter. Adventure and risk seemed frowned upon. 

Forty years later and I am still seeking more. More about God than was in the books. I am still seeking the Holy Spirit’s leading into what the Bible really does say. I am mad keen to find out what it sounded like to those who wrote it and heard it for the first time. I want to know where our cultural lenses over 2000 years have shaped it, perhaps wrongly. I find a lot of wrongly!

Oh I know that my cultural glasses will make errors too. I am aware that I might shift the swing of the pendulum too far. But I am not into this for some safe sitting around at the corner of the stagnant pool talking about the colour of the magic ring or I how held it to get in. I want to step out beyond. I am up for the daily dynamic of the dilemma that is discipleship in a mad crazy 21st century world, not simple do this and do that following.

So, in this week that I have been given to reflect and read I am reading about the culture of Jesus day, about how the Bible works and how to preach better. The preaching is why I was born, my reason to be magiced the rings, my place in this vast ginormous kingdom that I am still exploring daily. 

None of the books might be deemed to be safe in certain theological jurisdictions but as CS Lewis also said, “Aslan is not safe but he is good.” Aslan, he also said, was on the move and I am up for the chasing after!



The vibrant sounds of the hot hot summer of 2021. Dublin’s, Inhaler are top of the UK album charts so fast that I didn’t get a review done quickly enough and I might need my to use my Ventolin.

I have followed the lead singer’s life since the day he was born and wondered at one point (in a dither over a move to a Dublin church) if my daughter might have been in his class at St. Andrews College (she’d have been a year below me thinks!).

It’s not easy being a rock stars son when you are trying to be a rock star. Ask the off spring of Lennon, McCartney, Simon or Taylor for example. Young Eli Hewson does it with ease, backed by a tight wee band - Ryan McMahon, Josh Jenkinson and Robert Keating.

I struggled a little with the early singles. I wasn’t at all convinced. Yet, here they are fully bloomed and booming out the most intoxicating guitar rock sound since… well there have been some since his dad’s band… but that’s always going to be the reference for this one.

In the end I guess it should be. The immediate sound is more Joy Division and Interpol than U2 but if people are trying to see Eli as more Elisha to his dad’s Elijah then it does have U2’s accessible grab for radio and big full stadiums. 

The current single Cheer Up Baby and the title track are all over your ears immediately. The latter a perfect song for lockdown and the coming out there of… It Won’t Always Be LikeThis. Indeed! Yet, it was written way back in the day. As a first song ever written it was some sign of potential. 

Everything, as you’d expect is bouncy and youthful, though they can change gear nicely as on My King Will be Kind and Totally. 

The former gets angry and personally, though I can handle bad language as long is it for poetic intent, “She says I’ve got no love, I fucking hate that bitch” is a little out of keeping with everything else I am hearing. 

Love and heartache and finding belonging are all readily made themes for a debut record by a young band. If they were keeping one thing from the singer’s dad’s band I’d hold on to the eternal spiritual questions. That might more than anything be the reason that Eli and dad are going to end up competing in some awards night or best of the year poll!

I do love their ode to America, A Night On The Floor. This is perhaps as close to U2 as the young pretenders get. It’s that recurring U2 theme of a love/hate relationship with the States. 

In an Apple interview Eli, after sharing a love for America, says, “And it’s just sad to see America in that kind of state, because it symbolises so much to us. It feels like, I guess, the States is having a bad hangover or something. It needs to get off its arse and have a coffee or something.”  

The falls close to the tree there but I do love the lines : “This for all you sinners/Saved by saints/God bless the madness/Of the 50 states.” 

So Inhaler have arrived with a big relieved puff. They deserve their number 1 and they might just be the saviours of guitar bands. As a first album it is up there with, yip, Boy as a more than impressive debut.


Boris Freedom Day
Cooped up for too long, freedom day at last
No longer confined, no more concerns
Cast away caution and throw all your masks
Good riddance, goodbye, normal life returns
Farewell restrictions, go put them behind
Open your arms to the shops and the bars
Personal freedom for all and you’ll find
Chaos will reign in this country of ours
No matter what’s’ wrong, no matter what’s right
There is one thing that you must understand
I’ll do what I want and go where I like
Rampant and raging, I’ll course through this land
On the same page as Covid deniers
Freedom is mine – says Coronavirus
My mate Paul has been writing a poem every day since we went into Lockdown. This is #511. Two books of his diary of poems are available. To read my review CLICK HERE
On this so called Freedom Day in England, Paul nails it. That which is most free is Coronavirus. It's freedom is freed up when we start playing free and easy with it.
I am hearing the parent say, "You are free children to eat bags and bags of sweeties, bars and bars of chocolate and lashings and lashings of ice cream. Big big risk. Might kill you. BUT I'm not stopping you..." 


Crawdads Sing

Where The Crawdads Sing is something else. After a slow thirty pages or so Delia Owens, in her debut novel at 70 years of age, charms us and grabs our attention. With the most beautiful of fictional characters and gorgeousness of geographical locations we find ourselves captives to a page turner.

That central character Kya is a mesmerising. Reese Witherspoon is making this into a film and Kya will be a brilliant part for someone to play. Owens draws us in as this child watches her mum leave, no longer able to live with her drunken dad. The brothers and sisters leave. Dad eventually too. A child left in a swamp like a female Tarzan, making friends with gulls, marsh, sand and sea. How can we not love Marsh Girl? She even eventually becomes a published expert in her field - or should we say swamp!

Marsh Girl is what the local townsfolk call her. White trash is how the good living exclude her. There is a theme of prejudice. The difference between the posture of the white and black churches is glaring. Near the end, there’s an insightful sentence that can be applied to all of our particular prejudices - “Did we exclude Miss Clark because she was different, or was she different because we excluded her”. Challenging.

Alongside the almost pastoral coming of age story of Kya, we have running alongside it the murder mystery of a local Quarter back handsome hero, Chase. 

As we read we discover that Owens, who is a zoologist and has written non fiction about life in the Kalahari, is more at home in the telmatology of the swamplands of North Carolina and what it is to live an isolated life than she is at writing murder mysteries and, as the stories come together, court room dramas.

Owens’ grip is the zip and wonder of a young girl discovering herself on a boat through swampy inlets. Rejected by her entire family she flirts with two loves and again feels that they leave her. Love it seems is ever insecure. She can trust the birds.

Owens’ brilliance is her lyrical almost poetic prose that throws out quotable sentences like a Bob Dylan:


“I wasn’t aware that words could hold so much. I didn’t know a sentence could be so full.”

“She laughed for his sake, something she’d never done. Giving away another piece of herself just to have somebody else.”

“Here the bed loomed as the masterpiece, but the room didn’t look like love.”

“I guess somethings can’t be explained, only forgotten or not.”

“She feels the pulse of life, he thought, because there are no layers between her and the planet.”

“She closed her eyes at such easy acceptance. A deep pause in a lifetime of longing.”


As I have said there are quite a few things that just don’t ring true in the plot, particularly in the last third of the novel but you can still see why Reese Witherspoon is making it into a movie. It is a novel with everything and perhaps a script writer can repair the frays. 

Personally, I cannot wait for the film. I am so in love with Kya that I cannot wait to spend time with her again.. Whatever, Where The Crawdads Sing is a beauty of a summer read. 


Fitzroy Board

My last Fitzroy preach for a good number of weeks. I wanted to do Psalm 23 but thought it was too contrived then discovered that it was the Lectionary Psalm for this week! Perfect! I will be drawing from that most familiar Psalm lessons from lockdown, lessons for the summer vacation and lessons for post summer, all wrapped in that Psalm 23 benediction...

So on Fitzroy TV from (11am) with SU's Damian Wharton on summer camp prayers and George Sproule doing Bruce Cockburn's version of the Psalm post benediction.

And live in Fitzroy with Chris Blake, Peter Greer and Chris Blake on worship... also at 11am.


Iain Archer 3

Iain Archer and James Bay with their Ivor Novello awards for Hold Back The River


I caught my friend Iain Archer on the BBC Northern Ireland news this morning. He was giving evidence to MPs about the injustices going on in the music industry as a result of streaming.

For some time I have wondered about how to buy music. The simple answer is that I do not need to buy music at all. I stream it for free or very very cheap.

For this music listener, however, streaming simply doesn’t work. Oh I enjoy the immediacy. I used to wait months until my parents would take me on holidays to find a shop in Edinburgh that stocked All Things Must Pass. The 50th anniversary edition of that classic George Harrison record is out soon and I can stream the odd track already. Something is lost.

But there is so much more. I have also worked with musicians. Managed them in an amateurish way, booked them for festivals, played them on my radio show, interviewed them and reviewed their work. I value them.

I want them to have a career so that they can make more of the music that I like and not force them into jobs that they are not made for.

Iain has been part of Gomez’s Tom Gray's Broken Record campaign that has been demanding that the government look at the injustices of streaming. They are calling for a “complete reset” of music royalties.

They have quite a case. When you listen to a song on Spotify the writer might get £0.0038 and Apple is not much better at £0.0059. 

Iain explained to MPs that a million plays of a song might earn him £450. Using the song Be A Nobody that he co-wrote with Soak, after 1,402,712 streams in a year his publisher collected a mere £118.80.

It doesn’t take you to be a business brain to catch a whiff of the scandal. It seems that the streaming platforms and even the music industry is making money that the creators of the art are not. Call this slavery, call it unfair trade, call it what you like… it is a serious injustice.

Though I have continued to buy music throughout this streaming era in order to support artists, I am finding that a tricky dilemma these days. Record companies are not making it easy.

The CD is on the wain. I don’t put CDs in CD players any more. Cars don’t even have CD players. I listen online more than anything BUT I want to pay and I want more than an mp3 for my money as I am not even sure that I own that!

Vinyl is how I prefer to listen to music. The quality of the sound is so much superior than in the late 80s. The packaging is still the best. That collecting aspect comes into it. Setting the needle down and sitting back makes the listening more quantifiable than listening off my lap top as I blog!


Vinyl is costing over £20, often times £30. Oh the CD is £12 but, as I have said, that is neither functional nor as satisfying. It doesn’t seem worth the extra £12 from streaming it. The vinyl hits the spot BUT I am being priced out of that. Or if I buy I won’t be able to afford many.

I see myself as the honest, industry supporting, collector that record labels want to target but as you can see they have me in a functional and financial dilemma that could leave me concluding that it is easier to stream.

Fans need a good deal too. Something has to change in music or we are going to lose those that we need most… those who make the music. Here’s to all of us supporting the Broken Record campaign. 

Rock Against Injustice to Rock Musicians!


Janice July 1

photo: Janice Gordon-Stockman


Waves lapping, sound like prayers

I am led along these quiet waters

Weary sun lays down the burdens

Of everything this day brought her

The beauty of creation’s disposition

Envelopes, a chamber of soul calm

Being still to know that you are God

And a little bit more of who I am. 


Bonfire 12


I have nothing against responsible bonfires on Eleventh night. It is a part of the culture of a large percentage of our Northern Ireland population. However, when flags and effigies, symbols of the people that God loves and Jesus gave his life for, are set on fire on the bonfires then it screams of a culture of hate. I pray for, and commit myself to, creating better cultures across our land.


Strike the match of supposed tradition

Listen for what the flames tell

In every flag or effigy burning

There’s a crackle of the devil’s yell

This is no cultural celebration

This is the hate of the clan

Sectarianism in petrol and wood

The fires of hell being fanned


So, let’s take all those empty pallets

Old tyres, their tread worn thin

Pile our pride there, way up high

With all our arrogance and sin

Hurl on myths that we’ve been told

All those lies and exaggerations

The caricatures we paint ourselves

That cripple our children and nation

Watch the sparks of repentance fall 

Our Troubles burn in the flickering light

Warmed by loving of even enemies

On a glorious bonfire night.