ANGEL HEADED HIPSTER; THE SONGS OF MARC BOLAN & T. REX

Angel headed Hipster

This is great and well over due. A tribute album to the work of Marc Bolan & T. Rex that is not only a wonderful, celebration of his work but surely will have the work reassessed for its wonderful originality. 

Even I reassessed that. I shouldn’t have had to. I was a Bolan fan from the age of 11. Telegram Sam and Metal Guru were in the ether as pop music obsession began its seep into my life. Then when it had taken hold of me Children Of The Revolution, Solid Gold Easy Action and 20th Century Boy grabbed my fandom by the throat.

I loved Marc Bolan. I love the Glam Rock boogie of the hits. I Love To Boogie seemed a perfect soundtrack. I also loved the earlier folky acoustic stuff too. I loved the double package of My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair... But Now They're Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows and Prophets, Seers & Sages: The Angels of The Ages. Apparently that is the longest titled record ever to be number 1.

I was heartbroken when he died so young, though as a 15 year old I had no idea how young 30 was on that September morning in 1977 when I met my mate Rab to walk to school and he told me. It was the month after Elvis. What was going on?

Over the years I never lost my love. Any footage on TV and I was loving it. Yet, my obsession got hidden, crowded out by The Beatles, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and so many more. Their lyrics were not so weird! I am not sure that I could get A Gospel According to… T. Rex. 

Listening to Angel Headed Hipster took me back to those glory Bolan days. This is such an endearingly put together collection by the late Hal Willner who sadly died of Covid 19 in April. 

Willner was able to draw a star studded cast and so U2 with Elton John on piano, Nick Cave, Joan Jett, Peaches, Kesha, Lucinda Williams and both of John Lennon’s sons to name a few. 

A stellar batch of artists, no matter how good, will not go far. Angel Headed Hipster’s strength is ultimately Bolan’s songs. They elevate his gift for melody and song craft. Nick Cave makes Cosmic Dancer a revelation, Lucinda Williams takes Life Is a Gas into swampy blues, Peaches gives contemporary energies to Solid Gold Easy Action. 

These are the songs of my youth. The songs indelibly marked. What Angel Headed Hipster has done is to make them the songs of my late fifties. It goes further. It has me falling in love with songs I had missed first time round. It has had me realise that I loved Marc Bolan when I loved the 7” single. There are album tracks to find. I found some here!

A wonderful tribute.


WHEN I ABSENTED MYSELF FROM THE POWER OF PRAYER

Buthelezi

(My script for Pause For Thought on Vanessa on BBC Radio 2 on January 22nd 2021. The theme was The Power of Prayer)

 

I remember once I absented myself from the power of prayer. I was doing prayers in the church I belonged to. As I walked up to the lectern I was debating if I could pray the prayer. I had my notes with me. It was written on my notes. But I wasn’t sure I could say it. Did I believe it enough to pray it. Should I? Do it Steve. Hope. Faith. Believe. 

I didn’t say it! It was April 17th 1994. 9 days before South Africa’s first post apartheid elections. BUT there were not going to be elections because Chief Buthelezi’s of the Inkatha Freedom Party was refusing to stand and if he didn’t it was all heading to the ditch.

I copped out. I didn’t want to pray what wouldn’t happen. My faith was too weak. I can’t remember what I did pray BUT I left Buthelezi off my notes.

A couple of days later, I walk into my office and my colleague David greets me with a “So Buthelezi’s in.” WHAAAAT?!?! I froze, not only in disbelief but in horror of my lack of faith.

A couple of years later I discovered that on the day I didn’t pray Buthelezi was at a prayer rally in Durban. It was at this prayer rally that he decided to stand for election. 

Darn it. This was a major moment in history and when I decided not to pray for it I bailed out of the power of prayer that shaped it. 

After 50 years of praying, Prayer is for the most part still a bit of a mystery to me BUT it seems to me that it puts us in some kind of partnership with God. 

It is firstly a conversation with God, potent in itself. BUT then, I believe, there is this other power to it, a power that seems to be able to look on the inevitable and somehow interrupt it with transformation. After the Buthelezi moment I am keen to go for broke! Not being involved in the power of prayer taught me a lesson about the power of prayer.


BELFAST BECOMES A CATHEDRAL...

Carter

Rain rings trash can bells

And what do you know?

My alley becomes a cathedral

 

I’ve long loved this Bruce Cockburn lyric. The entire song actually. It is from his very first record in 1970. Cockburn asks almost as a prayer:

 

Oh, Jesus, don't let Toronto

Take my song away

 

It is as if the city is the bad guy. To hold on to faith and love and everything spiritual we need to get out of the city. 

Declare me guilty. I love those walks on Ballycastle beach that I mention so often in these blogs. There, with the sound of the waves and the wonder of God’s creation all around me, uncluttered I sense God.

Or I remember almost 30 years now, driving through the red stone deserts of Nevada and Arizona and understanding why the apostle Paul took three years in the desert to prepare for his ministry. There was something sacred about it all. Something that you don’t feel as you look down a back alley with black bins over flowing with rubbish.

Bruce Cockburn asks that the trash and traffic wouldn’t take away his song.

Yet, my Canadian songwriting companion has spent the rest of his career finding that the alley can become a cathedral. He finds God’s light so lyrically in some of the world’s darkest places. 

I was drawn back to Cockburn’s work reading Richard Carter’s book The City Is My Monastery. 

Rev Carter was a member of an Anglican religious order in the Solomon Islands who found himself in parish ministry at St Martin-in-the-Fields, smack bang in the middle of London.

I can hear him singing Bruce Cockburn…

Richard’s book is not some memoir of how he came to terms with that shift in vocational call and geographical space. It is a work book (Rowan Williams’ words for it) for how to make the city your monastery. Or as Cockburn put it how to find a cathedral in an alleyway.

Under the headings With Silence, With Service, With Scripture, With Sacrament, With Sharing, With Sabbath, Staying With and When The Me Becomes Us, Richard leads us into how to be a pilgrim, disciple, in the clang and clamour of a city in the 21st century. 

He does so with real spiritual insight and also with lots of beautiful poetry scattered through it. 

 

Our monastery is here and now

Where you are today

The person you are speaking with

The room you are sitting in

The street where you are walking

The action you are doing now

This is your monastery

This is your prayer

Eternity is now

The city is our monastery.

 

This is all a good thing when we stop to consider that the Bible is different to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. We do not, as Joni suggests, have to get ourselves back to the garden. The culmination of Scriptures is not that garden back there BUT a garden city. The new world longed for is a a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven with a river running through it.  

We are delighted that Richard Carter is speaking at this year’s 4 Corners Festival. Imagine our lockdown house is our monastery… our cathedral. 

 

Discovering Our Ability To Be Resilient

To complete our focus on resilience today, the award-winning broadcaster and journalist Seamus McKee chairs a panel discussion that includes Rev. Richard Carter, Associate Vicar for Mission at St Martin in the Fields, London; Rev Kiran Young Wimberly, an American-born Presbyterian minister and folk singer based in the Corrymeela Community, on the north Antrim coast; and Br Thierry Marteaux, OSB, of the Holy Cross Abbey, Rostrevor, Co. Down.

BOOK NOW - https://4cornersfestival.com


IF ONLY WE ARE BRAVE ENOUGH TO... - AMANDA GORMAN'S POEM

Amanda-Gorman-at-Joe-Biden-inauguration

I am writing two articles for different papers today and I was struggling. Then the amazing Amanda Gorman reached in to all our lives and I have a torrent of possibilities. Someone suggested I do a sermon series. I am conjuring The Gospel According To... Amanda Gorman!

Wasn’t she amazing? The performance itself was so poised and powerful and then the words. Words of hope and healing. Words of the common good and the possibilities therein. “… isn’t broken/Just unfinished”. Nice!

America has had a few tough weeks, many would say years. I remember a conversation in Ohio a year or two before Donald Trump where some were fearing violence, the divisions of red and blue and black and white were so tense.

I think it would be wrong if Amanda Gorman’s poem was so attached to Joe Biden that the 70 million who voted for Donald Trump missed it. Light from any quarter the Reformers advised us. There was lots of light in Amanda Gorman’s poem and for ALL of America to miss that, every nook and corner (and indeed the rest of us) would be very sad.

Tears rolled down my cheeks when she found herself in her own poem. 

 

We the successors of a country and a time

Where a skinny Black girl

descended from slaves and raised by a single mother

can dream of becoming president

only to find herself reciting for one

 

Perfect. Beautiful. Actual.

I left watching the inauguration just about the end of her poem to speak at a Public Meeting in support of the Belfast Multi-Cultural Association. I found myself unrehearsed quoting her almost immediately. Surely that made me one of the first people to quote the poem in a speech. I’ll claim it anyway! Apparently in doing so I quoted from Hamilton. I had no idea but it made me cool with my daughters!

Amanda had used one of my go to verses from the prophets. To hear her quote Micah 4:4 was like my team scoring a goal in a Cup Final. 

 

Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.

 

It is now twenty years since I started taking teams to Africa and Micah 4:4 has become very precious in my theologising of the work we have done in Cape Town and Arua. That I had to quote it in South Belfast brought some reality to the state of our world but it seemed appropriate. Here is God’s will for every human being. Shelter. Security. Vocation. Shalom. I believe it is what Jesus calls me to bring to the world. 

Which leads me to the words that I am using in the articles I am writing. Her ending. Oh the ending. 

 

“There is always light

If only we are brave enough to see it

If only we are brave enough to be it.”

 

Jesus said he was the Light of the World. We need to see it. It takes courage. Even more courage to respond when Jesus looks at us and says “You are the light of the world.”

 

If only…

Brave enough…

To see it…

To be it.

 

Wow! I’m in and I’m not even American!


A PRAYER FOR AMERICA (on Inauguration Day)

America

America

Today I pray for you

Grace and imagination

 

Take a moment… or more

To take a deep breath

In

To calm

The body

The heart

The soul

Breathe in 

To slow down the political adrenaline

That has been raging

Through veins of hyped up opinions

Breathe in

To stand still and look around

To gain perspective

Of self

Of neighbour 

Of nation

Breathe in

Breathe in the grace of God

Grace 

That forgives

That resets relationships

That draws in fraternity

That restores peace.

 

America

Today I pray for you

Grace and imagination

 

Take a moment… or more

To take a deep breath

Out

Across streets and alleyways

Mountains and deserts

Coastlines and prairies

Breathe out

A vision for this gift of democracy

Inspiration to shape the good of all

Compassion for the least of these

Breathe out

A role model of healing for the world

A care for the stewardship of planet earth

A future of well being for the cosmos

Breathe out

Breathe out the imagination of God

Imagination

That orders justice

That shapes community

That creates shalom

 

America

Today I pray for you 

(and for us all)

Grace and imagination

Breathe in

Breathe out


MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WITH DONALD TRUMP...

Trump-4-1

My biggest problem with Donald Trump…

One of the few gifts I feel that I have is that I read people well. Donald Trump frightened me from very early on. I sensed a narcissist, a man who likes his own voice, a man who yearned for power. I didn’t sense a man with much empathy or compassion. 

Of course as well as those haunches I was concerned to see a man becoming a leader of a world power who was racist and misogynist. He had a love for putting others down. His belittling of others swaggered. He was also careless with the truth and almost poetic in his hyperbole. I was fearful of that as a role model. What would a society look like after a few years of that kind of behaviour in vogue and, even more frighteningly, respected.

Please notice that none of the above has anything to do with politics or policies or whether Trump is Republican or Democrat. It is about a human being who looked in all intents and purposes to be a dictator with little concern for anyone but himself. Just one week into his Presidency I had seen enough to be concerned that it would be hard to get him out of office, that he might encourage violence to keep himself in office.

I find most of what Donald Trump says and does and the patronising way that he says and does it to be reprehensible. 

Tonight, though, that is not my problem with Donald Trump.

As a follower of Jesus my biggest problem with Donald Trump is that I am called to love him. The theology that drives my life is that Donald Trump is made in the image of God which makes him precious and fascinating. I also believe that Jesus was prepared to lay down his life for Donald Trump - “For God so loved the world…” 

As my fried Ken often says, “Darn it Steve, being a follower of Jesus can be a real pain in the proverbial” (my paraphrase). It is not likely that I will ever have to love Donald Trump in a personal way. Donald is not likely to move to Belfast and join Fitzroy. More likely a colleague from the Church of Scotland maybe.

Yet, tonight as I am aware that it is his last night in the White House I find myself praying for him. A post White House Trump will be fascinating, and perhaps equally exasperating, for all of us. It might even most fascinating for the man himself. I believe that he has many needs in his head, heart and soul and I am praying that God meets his needs. I am praying that he finds wholeness, peace and redemption. I think that if it comes it will arrive with a great deal of repentance and change but I pray that he is blessed, not in selfish outward ways but in his soul.

I do not find that an easy prayer. Yet I am aware that I am flawed human with many needs. I am aware of the wonder that God’s grace is in my life. I am aware that God calls me to love everybody… even Donald Trump. 


JONNY FITCH: BREATHE - 4 CORNERS FESTIVAL 2021 THEME SONG

 

Breathe, at least for me, is the theme song for this year's 4 Corners Festival.

It was written a number of years ago. There was one of those too regular tense moments in Belfast. At a meeting to discuss the crisis someone said that we needed a breath of hope. 

A few months earlier in a tense moment at a 4 Corners Festival event David Campton stepped up to the podium and to bring a moments calm said, "Breathe in... breathe out..."

On the telephone one evening when I was feeling down about the impact of all of our peacemaking efforts Fr Martin Magill encouraged me with words of St. Ignatius, "Run towards your doubts!"

The talented Jonny Fitch made the lyric song and then during Coronavirus we tweaked the lyrics to include the idea that God is always hovering over dark places, creating, just as he did in Genesis 1.

The question is will we be the dark... or the light... the kiss... the breath. Which?

Delighted to add that as we blog the song this week Jonny is Number 1 on Youtube with the Sidemen! 

 

Book for 4 Corners Festival 2021 here https://4cornersfestival.com


JONI MITCHELL: ARCHIVES - VOLUME 1; The Early Years (1963-1967)

Mitchell Archives 1

What a box of goodies this is!

First of all it is 5 CDs of unreleased Joni. At least officially! It is also of a very good quality indeed.

For me Joni Mitchell is ever ensconced in Laurel Canyon. It is 1970, somewhere between Ladies Of The Canyon and Blue. She is writing the best songs in a songwriting genre that she founded. She’s the queen of the scene. Songs about her romances with rock star boyfriends and the contemporary zeitgeist like Woodstock. 

Well, Archives - Volume 1 sets Joni Mitchell in a whole other world. It is Pre-Canyon. 

Oh I knew she was from Saskatoon. I loved the fact. I lean way more towards Canada than America. I have family in Toronto and had sabbatical in Vancouver. Yet I had missed the fact that it was here in the Canadian prairie where the Joni Mitchell gift was born. 

These five CDs are filled with the development of Joni Mitchell’s muse, from being brilliant to even more brilliant. This is a feast of radio shows and early demos. From old folk songs as early as 1963, I got a particular kick out of Molly Malone, to her early songs to live versions of songs that would litter albums for a few years to come.

That was the other revelation. Or maybe mystery. All of these recordings are before David Crosby took into recording studio and set that amazing recording career moving with Song To A Seagull. Glancing across this track listing and I wondered why that record was not the best debut album ever made - It could have had Circle Game, Both Sides Now, Chelsea Morning, Morning Morgantown and even Little Green that didn’t come out until Blue. 

Even more incredibly is Urge For Going. Now I know this song. Yet why Mary Black and Crosby Stills and Nash’s versions were known to me before Joni’s finally came out on the Hits compilation in the 90s is another great mystery of life. Hearing it here just opened up the wonder of her poetry and writing and utter genius.

 

I awoke today and found the frost perched on the town

It hovered in a frozen sky, then it gobbled summer down

When the sun turns traitor cold

And all trees are shivering in a naked row

I get the urge for going but I never seem to go

 

Now I know Tom Rush and Judy Collins has made some of Mitchell’s songs famous and maybe that caused her wanting to get other songs out but STILL!!

When I heard about this first instalment of this box set series I was a little unenthused. 1960s demos. How good could they be? Well it turns out that they are extraordinary in a whole plethora of ways.


WE NEED YOU GOSSIPING

 gossip

Running Festivals eh?! Not easy at the best of times but… in Coronavirus Times…

Now for the most part we have conquered the actual putting on of the Festival. Take a look at the programme. It is strong - https://4cornersfestival.com

Some of our planning committee were shrewd back in March. They were sure that we would still be in some restrictions and needed to be flexible in our planning. As a result, in the strictest of lockdowns we are ready to roll out a festival. It is online… it is virtual… BUT it is rocked up!

Where it gets tricky is letting people know that a Festival is on. There are many things that I believe we will discover over the years about our time in lockdown. One of them is that we lost the power of gossip.

Now I hear you. Gossip is bad. Well it is when it is hearsay, rumour and judgemental. I wonder if a blessing of lockdown has been a whole lot less of that sort of gossip. That is not the gossip I mean.

I mean that every day chitter chat through which we communicate so many things that none of us read or watch on TV or studied at school. Little nuggets of information that pass across tables in cafes, desks in work, counters in shops, pews in churches. 

Every year when we do our surveys about the 4 Corners Festival and ask how people heard about it the majority answer “word of mouth”. Now you can see why I am grieving the loss of gossip. The most powerful way to communicate events or news or truth is in potency of conversation. Jesus liked it better than preaching!

Of course there is another way that people find out about 4 Corners Festival. The programme. There it is on vestibule tables, all over church coffee areas, even in shops and librarys and cafes. There are thousands of them. You cannot stay away from them.

Except… in 2021 if you are ever in the vicinity of places where we would have had programmes you are probably breaking the law! 

What about Billboards I hear you say. They are probably cheap at the moment. They are. Less traffic! 

So… you can see our problem. Could you help? We will need the lockdown alternative gossip - or maybe we should call it, the more respectable, chit chat - share/retweet/message/text… We do believe that the Festival will be a breath of fresh air across the city, giving us all an opportunity to breathe in some grace and then breathe out some imagination. Spread the word! 


MUMFORD & SONS - THE DELTA TOUR EP

Deltalive

Long before I ever heard they released anything my students ( I was a University Chaplain at the time) were raving about Mumford & Sons. Their live act is perhaps what they are actually about. It is about the happening and the joyous or time lamenting vibe created within a community. That some of the band started out doing worship music makes more sense of the experiential in the DNA.

It is also perhaps why they have been releasing live DVDs and CDs throughout their career.

This is a most delightful souvenir of their Delta Tour in 2019. In just six songs they have documented that trademark organic energy as well as their love for the communal; Gang Of Youths, Milk Carton Kids and Dermot Kennedy guesting.

As well as three guests, there are three covers. The last one With A Little Help From My Friends has the mighty Irish voice of Dermot Kennedy joining in and it is a perfect sign long for that community aspect of a Mumford gig.

Most intriguing is their attempt at Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt. Hurt became iconic as the last testament of Johnny Cash. They Mumfords do a. Great job at belting those two versions together starting out stark and then lifting to the loudest of raged out crescendos. 

The third cover is originally by Australian band The Middle East and the guests are another Australian band Gang Of Youths who were the support act on the Delta Tour. Blood is a mysterious lyric, poetic and meandering. There is a lot of death and it is that cathartic side of Mumford, blending lament and hope:

 

And you’ll find somebody you can blame

And you’ll follow the creek that runs out into the sea

And you’ll find the peace of the Lord

 

The other collaboration is on a vintage Mumford original. The Milk Carton Kids. Their lo-fi feel makes Awake My Soul into this meditative near liturgical piece. I want to play it in my daily devotions and seek the Spirit’s grace and imagination to live its proverbial wisdom:

 

“In these bodies we will live

And in these bodies we will die

Where you invest your love

You invest your life

 

Awake my soul”

 

Delta Tour EP is an utter treat. Side 2 with Hurt, Awake My Soul and With A Little Help From My Friends is one of the tastiest sides of a live EP you’ll hear in a long while.