Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Festival of St. Greenbelt 2011

And so it came to pass... another year of the very wonderful Greenbelt Festival has lifted the spirits, given succour and encouragement despite being a little more cold and damp than the last few August Bank holidays. However, there is much to celebrate about this year's edition.

Even from the way the site was laid out, alterations to various locations and the schedule it was clear the Greenbelt team have made many changes that are, overall, for the better. It did seem there were less traders there and also organisations exhibiting in the G-Source marquee, of course that may be because of ongoing financial restraints in these tricky times economically. Regardless, the feeling of greater space and more elbow room was comforting, exemplified by the area in front of the Jesus Arms fellowship station... and there is a new winner for the best on-site food! The Southern Indian Vegetarian cuisine stall just to the right of the Jesus Arms, absolutely amazing and a great story of how they created the business via Twitter.

The Talks

Despite always reminding myself to not try and take in too many talks the rest of the time I failed yet again! The talks were particularly good this year, thank Greenbelt you can catch up on the ones you miss because of schedule clashes, so much going on with 50 venues, will just mention some highlights:

Brian McLaren's talk on Christian Identity in a Multi-faith Context on Monday was the best talk for me over the weekend. I would vaguely categorise it as Analytical and Practical Theology rather than Theoretical Theology. Also I managed to get a ticket for the filming of his Greenbelt TV slot which succinctly summarised his concerns for the future. I have to say I find his talks easier to assimilate than some of his books but will give his latest another try once I can get through my current reading matter!

As someone who had immensely enjoyed reading Sisters of Sinai it was another joy to sit through author Janet Soskice's outline of the book from both a content perspective and her brilliantly engaging presentation.

I always like to go to a seminar that seems as though it will be opposed to my faith journey. My choice was Pádraig Ó Tuama's talk 'Our Lady of Greenbelt' which included an exploration of Roman Catholic Marian dogma. Having had a strict Exclusive Brethren upbringing and subsequently been immersed in Protestantism this seemed a scarily suitable selection! I have never, ever prayed 'Hail Mary' before, yet during the shared Liturgy at the end of his amazing talk I was readily able, albeit a tad wet-eyed, to join in the prayers with genuine conviction.

The Music

Even as a musician myself, I have focused on the talks more than the music offerings. However, this year one of the most noticeable changes was the substantial improvement to the choice of musical acts, particularly those chosen for mainstage appearances. This was evidently more acute after many of the artistes featured at Greenbelt 2010.

Friday night started cold and damp, then a rollicking mainstage set from a very much on form Show of Hands had everyone smiling again. This was followed by home favourite Martyn Joseph and Billy Bragg closed the bill with his passionate 'one man Clash' performance. Somewhere and somehow in all that I managed to nip over and check out a couple of minutes of Adrian Plass' irreverent take on church attitudes and behaviour over in the Big Top... note to self, add that talk to my download list!

Saturday was topped and tailed with rain showers and my musical attention was drawn to the Performance Café, both as listener and player for the Rob Halligan set... The 7pm time slot meant I missed Willie Williams' Big Top presentation along with most of the mainstage, only catching a bit of the enigmatic 'Get Cape Wear Cape Fly' set.

Sunday was overcast and cool, great music from Duke Special who chose to end his set with a moving version of Joy Division's classic anthem 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. Then after the start of Idelwild's set it was time to leg it back to the Performance Café for what turned out to be my out and out favourite band of the weekend.

Hope and Social are absolutely brilliant! To me they represent everything that is Greenbelt in a musical package. Joy, exuberance, fun, great songs, thoughtful lyrics, great band rapport, great singing and some wonderful 'moments'. There was no-one there that would not have been won over with such an engaging and charismatic performance.

Hope and Social also played the mainstage on Monday (pictured at the top of the post), but at 2:45pm, and with a schedule clash with in vogue comedian Mark Thomas elsewhere, the audience only grew from a relative handful after the set was past the half way mark. On mainstage the band had a full line up including a brass section and were in top form. Another cracking 'moment' ensued when singer launched into a gentle version of 'Don't Cry for Me Greenbelt Festival' narrating a woeful tale of the band's pre-festival stomach disasters due to a 'paltry' (their word!) Kentucky Fried Chicken encounter... one word: priceless!

So it was onwards through the rest of Monday's strong mainstage bill featuring folk fave Kate Rusby, Canadian Ron Sexsmith then The Unthanks. Whilst on a usual warm, balmy August night it would have been delightful to listen whilst languishing on the grass recovering from all the cerebral stimulus of the festival, in the relative cool it was only really Kate who connected with the Greenbelt congregation. This was in stark contrast to the final mainstage act, the legendary Gospel singer, Mavis Staples. Monday nights at Greenbelt must always represent a programming challenge to try and persuade as many as possible not to delay their departure. Well, if you left early you missed an amazing treat!

Everything about it was excellent... I loved the stripped back band, just drums, bass and guitar. The musicians were top notch, playing with fantastic groove and feel, great to watch up close, too. As I said, everything was splendid... lots of light and shade, for example, they started with an a capella piece and worked up to some serious rhythm and blues (old style!).

About half way through the set something clicked. Performers and audience engaged more, the band started smiled broadly, everyone then had an even better time, especially Mavis, who readily took us there...

So well done Greenbelt, the music, and particularly the mainstage line-up, is a visible flagship which represents the artistic side and, often, the faith component, too. One of the differences betwixt this and the previous year is that some of the GB10 artistes, whilst often protesting about injustice, were simply anarchic rather than challenging. It's a subtle, yet important, difference.

The Confession

On the Sunday morning everything halts for the service of Holy Communion. It is incredibly tough to curate a service that will be loved by everyone and encompass both some orthodox and new elements. Reading through the service sheet now it is clear the content of the service was excellent. I have to confess I am a Still Small Voice person rather than an Earth(quake), Wind and Fire person when it comes to music in services of worship. Rev Vince Anderson was excellent technically, you couldn't fault the quality of the music but... it was SO loud! Everyone who experienced the delight of the unaccompanied singing at the start of Brian McLaren's seminar on Christian Identity will know what I mean. However, it is a joy to share the Eucharist with that once a year congregation.

A Conclusion

There is one conclusion I would like to make. I am uncomfortable with the notion that Greenbelt is a church in itself... that implies an institution. I notice there were some events appearing which contradict much of the teaching we hear in the seminars. In fact, one such event I found deeply disturbing, representing a legacy of all that is bad about church, colonialism, Victorianism and empire. Of course, it is us as human beings that make up the church, not the practices, denominations or personal preferences. Long may Greenbelt continue to be a celebration, a feast, a coming together of people to experience the divine in a human way...

(and I haven't even mentioned the wonderful Methodist Church Art collection, half the bands I saw, the discussion panels I managed to get into, the drama, the brilliant conversations with friends old and new...!)
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Monday, 22 August 2011

Remove the causes, not remedy the effects...

The sixth entry in my father's WW2 journal, extraordinarily salient at this moment in national and international affairs. Previous posts from the journal:

Entry 6 - January 13th

Are we thus merely to attempt to subjugate our passions, or allow them to be mass controlled, mass produced and swayed by mass hysteria as our public opinion today is swayed by the machinations of the propagandist? Is sadness and sorrow to be removed entirely from the ken of men? Sadness and sorrow have given us many great inspirations and temporary genius. Is this new renaissance to be just another step forward in the advance of the machine age, where our emotions are laid down for us, on tap, to be utilised, as and when, our leaders think fit?

No, God forbid! It is our part to lay our hands on the root of this cancer, this rot which is our social disease. It is our part to remove the causes, not remedy the effects. We must aim at the creation of a world of universal contentment. We must allow all men equality of opportunity. We must study our fellows not as a herd of cattle, or of sheep, but individually so that we collectively form a race, a species to whom life has, at least, revealed some purpose Our creative, our spiritual minds must be instructed that our contentment, our happiness is dependent wholly and solely on the happiness of others and it is our individual task to further the happiness of others so that posterity, in time, will realise the full value of that gigantic creative effort which we shall have undertaken.

Then how can this be brought into effect? To whom can we look to for leadership? What practical basis have for putting our ideals, our theories to the test?

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

World War Two aircrew training day one...

This is the first entry in my father's journal from the 2nd World War, pictured top left above in one of the Wellington bombers he flew in. An earlier post, Wellington Bomber raid October 1941, narrates all the action pretty much in real time.

Entry 1 - January 7th HARWELL

I hope to be able, in these ensuing pages, to record a few of my impressions during the forthcoming year. Today has not been very productive in so much as we have done nothing.

My literary effort has been overcome by writing a foreword for Johnny's book, which has been bashfully completed. I should like to feel, that, if this book is to be read by any one other than myself (for whom it is primarily intended) they should tolerate it owing to the writer's complete lack of genius and to the environment in which it was conceived.

Harwell is an operational training unit where air crews are polished up for operations and many of us feel that, at the moment, we bear the mark of an early demise. If this is the case I hope that this book will be a close link between me and my closest friends and my parents.

Tonight I am feeling, as usual, fed up and we have expressed our feelings in no undisguised manner by turning our bunk into a beer garden. I have often wished to get to the bottom of the repression the RAF typically describes as 'browned' or 'cheesed'. I think it consists of many subsidiary feelings. Perhaps it is combined with a sense of homesickness and, above all, a sense of the futility of our present position.

Today, tuning the 1082 receiver I listened to a choir of German voices rendering a past song. I am no musician but to me it seemed inordinately beautiful and there swept over me a feeling which is practically impossible to describe. I was suffused by thought that all that was beautiful and worthwhile in this world was being overcome by brute force and not only that but I was subscribing my own effort to overcome them.

I feel in complete harmony with that group of German people, unknown to me, in a new spiritual sphere and the sense of futility is overwhelming. Am I still essentially the pacifist that harangued and argued in 1938? Have I not outgrown the out and out idealism? It seems these questions will probably never be answered and all that I stood for and set my heart on before the war will be wrecked. Could I but forsee the outcome of the next decade and I feel I should be able to die happily. Isn't something to be done for us who languish in despair at the probably fate of this world should we win or lose?

Douglas George Banks 1920 – 1989 written in 1941

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Friday, 12 August 2011

Loving your neighbour...

Some serious wisdom from Russell Brand about the past week in the UK:
But I know, as we all intuitively know that the solution is all around us and it isn’t political, it is spiritual. Gandhi said 'Be the change you want to see in the world.'

In this simple sentiment we can find hope, as we can in the efforts of those cleaning up the debris and ash in bonhomous, broom-wielding posse’s. If we want to live in a society where people feel included, we must include them, where they feel represented, we must represent them and where they feel love and compassion for their communities then we, the members of that community, must find love and compassion for them.
Read Russell's full article here.


Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Wednesday Wisdom...

Some recent links that caught my attention (and that, maybe, have yet to write about!)...

Mike Rimmer's eulogy for Gravy Train's guitarist, Norman Barratt
Have to confess the news of Norman's passing came as a tough one. Here was one of my contemporaries, we played many of the same stages, I admired his never flashy, expressive technique... The image of him playing his favourite cherry red Gibson 335 (special edition with Bigsby tremolo!), always reaching for the controls betwixt every phrase, while carefully chosen notes swooped and soared above everything else going on... He was a true musician's musician and a special guy.

Shane Claiborne and the Simple Way guys give out packs for school kids... click to help

A brilliant set of online jigsaw puzzles

Financial Times comment on the C of E's money troubles

St Luke's church Kentish Town gets, ahem, born again


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Chords for Contemplation...

Been privileged to have been asked by Tim Abbott to compose and produce some music for CYO, a Colchester based organisation that provides resources to support Sanctum, who visit schools and create spiritual spaces that give students an opportunity to contemplate.

The four pieces are instrumental versions without the voiceover yet retaining the same title as each of the 'spaces' they were written for.


Monday, 1 August 2011

Subway Sandwich Sensation...

We like this... Featuring beatboxer Yuri Lane demonstrating his technique of beatboxing through a harmonica. An advert you actually want to watch!