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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Mud, Sweat and Tears - Greenbelt 2012 review...


...the rains came down and the floods came up - inside the G-Source marquee...

It will be inevitable that Greenbelt 2012 will certainly be remembered for the mud! For some the effect the torrential rain and resulting quagmire(s) was very acute, particularly traders in the infield area of the racecourse where the mud matched the images of a rain soaked Glastonbury. The media usually describes such conditions as those attaining 'Biblical Proportions' and, at times, the deluge was as dramatic. Despite these conditions, a surprisingly joyful spirit pervaded throughout the festival and my abiding perception was that it was a good year!

Prior to the festival I contributed to the Greenbelt Five blog, outlining a selection of events I hoped to attend, I landed up scoring a measly 2.5! So let's start with the music programme, it was exceptional this year with astonishing highlights, here's a top five with some extras:

In fifth place I'm going with Nitin Sawhney. It was clearly a coup to persuade such a respected and an artiste with such cult status to appear. And for the audience such a joy to allow the gorgeous sounds to massage the senses with an audio chill after all the cerebral input that happens at Greenbelt.

Next up is Bruce Cockburn with his welcome return to these shores. Whilst being familiar with his catalogue I had never seen him perform live and love the way his solo approach heightened the lyrical beauty of his canon.

In third place is the performer I've seen most, Seth Lakeman, love his material, playing and was delighted to see the incredible percussionist Cormac Byrne in the line up for this Greenbelt appearance. I've blogged before about the Seth Lakeman trio which features both Cormac and Bellowhead's Kirkpatrick.

The Proclaimers made a most welcome return and provided everyone of all ages a delightful, warm and nuggly feeling as we all celebrated their enduring songs at the top of our collective voices, splashing out 500 miles (and 500 more!) together. I'm placing them at two and a half ;-)

So in 2nd place, only by a whisker, is the brilliant Bellowhead. I've been reflecvting on how best to describe their exuberant performance and musical skill so am going with symphonic folk. The arrangements of the songs tips a nod towards an orchestral structure but with joy and instinct rather than being culturally elite. Sometimes what was happening was simply breathtaking in its sophistication and virtuosity.

Retaining their top slot for a second year running is the phenomena that is Hope & Social. Check out their blog to learn more about the chapter of trouble that befell them on their way... then they still deliver a couple of stunning shows. I've already established that whilst some songs will be delivered in a fairly straightforward manner, the rest is totally about the unexpected! Be prepared for an experience... a unique event.


... a poignant reminder for all those singing along at the Performance Café gig...

In their mainstage late afternoon slot they, as in 2011, started with playing to a sparse audience which grew and grew. Their energy levels, despite the lack of sleep, is remarkable. The entertainment value interminable, the audience engagement powerful and charmingly natural. I persuaded a good handful of friends to make the pilgrimage across the swamp up to the Performance Café for a brilliant, vibrant and deliciously intimate event which won over everyone's heart, I truly hope they will be given better mainstage billing as they represent the epitome of what Greenbelt is all about.

Other honourable mentions must go to:
  • The Hobbit of the Austin Francis Connection with his breathtaking (geddit?!) beatboxing.
  • Karine Polwart for her charming offer of hope in The Rising singing 'The Sun's Coming Over The Hill'.
  • The Tim Crahart Blues Band - caught their excellent set when trying to secure a table prior to Hope & Social's one.
  • Willy Porter, the incredible acoustic guitar thrashing virtuoso!
  • Abigail Washburn and Kai Welch
  • My buddy Rob Halligan's set in the Performance Café
So onto the Talks which I endeavour to try and not overload and land up devouring far more than planned every year! Again there was much to see (or miss!)...

Having earmarked Dave Tomlinson's wonderfully entitled How to be a Bad Christian... talk as a must see it delivered all it promised. A wonderful affirmation of your feelings about there being more of the image of Christ in everyday folk than the established church would acknowledge all imparted in a gentle and inclusive manner.

My next 'Greenbelt Five' plan was to endeavour to catch the first uk showing of Steve Taylor's film 'Blue Like Jazz' drawn from Donald Miller's book of the same title. Various impromptu encounters and delicious Southern Indian cuisine courtesy of 'Lalitas' meant that I landed up in Centaur instead for another keynote speaker, the much hallowed Tony Campolo.

Whilst what he said one couldn't fault, the style was very much a shouty, loud tirade. I was not alone in being a puzzled beratee. The irony was that he made a great case for condemning coercion through use of power yet, by the end, you could only conclude that his preaching style was, well, coercive! Overall the points he made were good, particularly making clear the distinction between use of 'Power' versus 'Authority'. Much redemption was gleaned when he directed some scorn at modern worship music ;-)

The Saturday was all a bit hectic, starting off with Giles Fraser's wise words on 'The Trouble with Growth' then legging it round to the lovely new venue, Eden, for a talk on 'Forest Church'. This was both seriously inspiring and challenging, speaker Bruce Stanley had us all exploring new senses and experiences that are neglected or latent.

I then managed to squeeze into the seminar entitled: Does God love Radio too...? This included representatives from the BBC and the independent production company for Radio 2's 'Pause for Thought' and Radio 4's 'Thought for the Day'. In addition three of the regular presenters of the Pause for Thought were on hand to discuss the working relationship and to give us a first hand read through of one of their own scripts. Here the impressive Abdul-Rehman Malik stole the show with his endearing tale of failing to secure the leading part in a school musical!

From then on the storms started to brew in earnest and the mud started to emerge! My son, Sam, the camera man in the first video above, was keen to go to the Big Top for Frank Skinner and I decided to tag along... a very good move! He was, as expected, funny and articulate, yet it was the extent to which he has explored deep and profound theology that was uplifting. His journey back to a Catholicism included attending services of other denominations and religions, much reading and an acknowledgment that Catholics have ritualised many things that are not biblical. However, it is interesting that now he simply accepts that and goes along with it, seeing it as relatively unimportant. It struck me that Anglicans haven't reached that point in their development yet, devoting far too much time trying to justify all the bits they do that aren't in the bible with absurdly flaky theology. There was no vulgarity, just a couple of suggestive comments which, with perfect timing, coincided with a substantial increase in the sound of the rain pelting down which he made the most of!

Sunday kicks off with the communion service, this year labelled an elemental Eucharist. When I arrived and examined the service sheet and saw 'Lord of the Dance' as a closing hymn I confess I walked away and considered simply chilling instead. However, I did go back...!

The first half of the service was very ponderous and anachronistic with its rather lengthy, earnest and wordy prayers. However, delightfully, the Mike Scott's wonderful song 'Bring 'Em All In' was sung as a congregational hymn and this triggered a different engagement so that from there on it was all rather good. Another important contribution was down to the instrumentation for the accompaniment; acoustic instruments playing in a ceilidh, celtic style that even breathed new life into Lord of The Dance! Immediately after that hymn the band burst into a jig and reel... brilliant!

So, how can I put this gently to avoid derision from my friends? It is an undeniable fact that I, Peter Banks, was actually partaking in, and enjoying, moments of Liturgical Dance... only at Greenbelt, eh??!! (pssst, liturgical dance = dosey doe)

Next was a bit of a reunion as after I listened to 'The Next Factor', an enlightening talk on Optimism for the English and Brits I met speaker Cole Moreton for the first time since he was in my youth group 30 years ago... another one of those Greenbelt moments!

Then there was one of those unfortunate clashes which meant I missed out on another one of my Greenbelt Five selections. Sadly I had to leave Ian Morgan Cron in favour of Hope & Social on mainstage, consoling myself with the thought that I could, at least, get the MP3 of Mr Cron.

My final talks moment of the day came attending the Literature venue, The Hub, for some novel reading by authoress Kate Charles. This made me think I must attend more @greenbelt_lit moments next year.

The first talk on Monday, Ciaron O'Reilly and Ben Griffin on Faith based non-violent resistance, I have already blogged about here, this was my unexpected seminar; unplanned, shocking yet motivating to the extent of wanting to become involved.

My final talk attendance, after my 'note to self' moment re literature, was listening to science fiction author Simon Morden talk about the changes within the publishing world presenting challenges and opportunities, another unplanned moment that proved seriously informative.

So what was there not to like? Not a lot! Just the weather and resultant mud... although I found there were some talks I simply couldn't make either because of programme clashes or because I didn't want to break away from conversations I was having. I felt this was a great festival, a real sense of celebration as Greenbelt moves inexorably toward it fortieth year. As a veteran of the inaugural Greenbelt in 1974 I do harbour a personal hope to be involved in some way next year. Equally I also heartily endorse the implication within the title 'Life Begins' that it should, as a priority, be about looking forward.

To illustrate this another one of those special unplanned moments was stumbling into the Performance Café and hearing Harry Baker giving his Slam Poetry some serious welly. Check out his performance of Paper People here. Here was new blood, effectively another generation spearheading new creativity with vibrant humour and aplomb.

Long live a festival that's all about joy, justice, the planned, the unexpected, nurturing, giving, receiving, faith, hope and love; distinctly Christian regardless of denomination, belief or creed

P

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Greenbelt wisdom in the mud...

Ben Griffin and Ciaron O'Reilly preaching faith, justice and peace across the Sea of Galilee...

Prompted by one of those amazing moments when a chance encounter (with a GB angel!) at this year's Greenbelt Festival meant I landed up listening to Ben's incredible story yesterday morn. With only a handful of intrepid souls making it up across the marsh and slurry there are at least another 22,000 who should listen to this one talk above all others IMNSHO...

The Greenbelt programme blurb reads as follows:
Ben Griffin (Veterans For Peace UK) served with the SAS in Baghdad, handing Iraqi civilians to the US for advanced interrogation. Ciaron O'Reilly with the Pitstop Ploughshares community broke into a hangar at Shannon Airport and disabled a US warplane en route to Iraq. They share their experiences and reflect on war, faith and non-violent resistance.
P

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Steve Earle taking a whirl...



Love all the noodling around on the mandolin before Steve launches into the song fully... we now have this as one of the Café Musica repertoire, thanks to a good call by James.

P

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Muamba's Miraculous Moments...

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OK, I confess this stirs a deep seated response within me... whatever our faith (or not!) I am comfortable with this 'miracle' story, especially bearing in mind the sense of this extraordinary medical community working together as one. This is about action, even without a belief (faith?) in a positive outcome. Meanwhile the hashtag, #prayformuamba, became a Twitter phenomena reflecting the reaction of players who demonstrated a fundamental instinct to fall on their knees and pray.

One thing for sure, I feel comfortable with accepting this reveals the hand of the Divine at work rather than one of those dreadful, coercive, churchy moments that are claimed to be miracles performed in God's name?

It's not a 'fairy tale' ending, like everyone, I was saddened to read Fabrice is to retire from the game. Whatever happens for him now there is no-one who would not wish him well...

P

Friday, 3 August 2012

Chariots of Fire... Let the Athletics commence...


This a re-post from way back in January 2010 of my Drama selection for the Art and Christianity meme commenced by Jonathan Evens. With the start of the Athletics at London 2012 today and the re-release of an enhanced version of the film it just seemed the right thing to do ;-)
Artwork: Antony Gormley - 'Field for the British Isles'
Drama: Film 'Chariots of Fire' (1981)
Music: J S Bach - St Matthew Passion
Novel: Victoria Hislop - The Island
Poem: Wilfred Owen - The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Drama: I have chosen the film Chariots of Fire - Pleased to say I saw it way before the Oscar nominations and other plaudits poured in, so I was an early 'adopter' of this great period piece set around the 1924 Olympics (so expect to see it on the box a few times over the next couple of years!).

There are many issues tackled in the film which revolves around the counterbalance of ambitious Englishman Harold Abrahams, who is Jewish, and Eric Liddell, an instinctive Scottish sprinter who, as a devout Christian, makes the wonderful statement 'I believe that God made me for a purpose (i.e. supporting his mission work) but He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.'

The story doesn't end with the film, Eric went on to become a respected missionary in China and despite his athletic physique still died at a young age during incarceration in the Japanese Weihsien Internment (read concentration) Camp from a brain tumour. However, it was the film that nudged my interest to read more about him and Sally Magnusson's excellent book, The Flying Scotsman, was where I turned first in those pre-web days.

This film has so many resonances for me and refreshed me when the church simply didn't or couldn't. Athletics was the sport I was best at plus I had a relatively strict upbringing which meant we kept the Sabbath (Sunday!) holy. Creatively I love the daring combination of a period drama with the symphonic and quirky synthesiser music soundtrack composed by Vangelis on devices I know my way around. However, it is the example of Jesus that Eric clearly was that is so moving and challenging that gets to me everytime.

He did not get out of China when he could because it would desert friends and family. For example he was able to support his exhausted brother in a rural mission station. He was also fiercly anti-class and to demonstrate the importance of equality shared out some extra food with everyone that had been bought by oil company inmates who'd bribed their guards.

His example was remarkable and sacrificial, despite much personal hardship he never stopped putting others first and whilst passionate about his faith he led by example rather than proselytisation or seeking any glory for himself. This was highlighted in a recent revelation that when he was offered, as a former high profile athlete, an opportunity to take part in a prisoner exchange he gave his place to a pregnant woman. During his time in the camp he even took part, as referee, in a football match on a Sunday to prevent the teams from fighting because he was trusted to be completely impartial...

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