Monday, 31 December 2012

Farewell 2012, it's been a blast!

It's that time again when Bloggers feel the need, just as I do, to sum up the year! In many ways it is a cathartic process, attempting to remember high and lows and gaining perspective on the calendar year...

So, 2012, this is the year that was:

Events / Gigs / Performances:
  1. Paralympic Closing Ceremony. Felt so privileged to have been there. I managed to secure tickets early on having failed in the first round of Olympic ticket sales. At the time the 'buzz' around the whole sporting phenomena hadn't kicked off, so was delighted to get the notification I'd been assigned tickets for a couple of the stadium Athletics events AND the Closing Ceremony. Subsequently it was announced that Coldplay were to take a major part, bonus! Mentioned in my blog post here.

  2. Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV) at the Royal Festival Hall. I have to confess that most Classical Music concerts I've attended I've either been longing to get to the piece in the programme I knew or been longing for them to finish altogether! This was completely the opposite, I was gutted it all seemed to go so fast. The blog post was entitled Gustavo Dudamel, let us be numinous... I'm now absorbed in a biography by Tricia Tunstall: Changing Lives: Gustavo Dudamel, El Sistema, and the Transformative Power of Music. Jonathan Evens and I also discuss the power of El Sistema and the SBSOV in our book The Secret Chord.

  3. Hope & Social in the Greenbelt Festival Performance Café. As mentioned elsewhere, this band never fails to uplift, inspire and amuse. Having already played their Greenbelt Mainstage slot earlier that day their relaxed and mischievous close to the schedule in the Performance Café was unforgettable, including snatches of songs from Grease (yes, THAT song!), The Proclaimers and the sax riff from Baker Street. My review of Greenbelt 2012 'Mud, Sweat and Tears'.

  4. Emmanuel Jal at the Get the Youth Talking event, Camden. This extraordinary artiste and peace activist needs greater awareness. It was an inspiring event which I wrote up here: Emmanuel Jal - Savvy Peace Soldier...

  5. Hope & Social at ADVENTurous, Union Chapel. A second, well deserved entry for H&S in my top five. Set in a totally different acoustic and audience environment they turned in some faultless moments balanced by typical charm and chaos! My hope is to see them continue and thrive in 2013 and beyond, read more in my post, Rolling Sideways here and check out this video of Let's be Bold filmed on the night.


  1. Bruce Springsteen - Wrecking Ball. An extraordinary collection of challenging songs with a prophetic voice throughout. Outstanding track Rocky Ground as above.

  2. Hope & Social - All our Dancing Days. Another appearance from this remarkable beat combo... favourite track Let's Be Bold.

  3. Athlete - Live at Union Chapel. Live recording of their repertoire in a stripped down format. Every song sounds great with this treatment, their everygreen 'Wires' edges it with the uplifting 'congregational' singing during the Coda...

  4. Emmanuel Jal – See me Mama. At the event recorded above I purchased an advance copy of this CD, the final edition includes a remix of his We Want Peace song having enlisted an enthusiastic contribution from none other than Daryl 'DMC' McDaniels (of RUN DMC). Great get up and dance grooves, We Want Peace Re-Loaded video here!

Literature (I've read loads again this year, these are some highlights!):

  1. The Thread - Victoria Hislop. Loved The Island, reviewed here, struggled through The Return but found I was completely captivated by The Thread, her latest.

  2. Itch - Simon Mayo. Absolutely brilliant yarn, ticks lots of boxes, reviewed here, very much looking forward to the sequel, due out February 2013, which will be called Itch Rocks...

  3. The Train in the Night - Nick Coleman. His moving memoir revealing the intimate narrative of how he gradually comes to terms with a terrifying and extreme form of tinnitus. Covered in one of my posts about music here.

  4. Mutiny! - Kester Brewin. I confess that Mr Brewin kindly sent me a copy for review of his previous book, Other, a more weighty tome which I've only made about 2/3 of the way through to date and have yet to review. This smaller, self published work I found absolutely fascinating on lots of levels, highly recommended, really gets you thinking. Kester's blog right here...

  5. This Time Next Year - Liz Hinds. Another inspiration for my own literary work this year with my buddy Jonathan Evens. I adored this book (albeit a somewhat girlie story!) told in a journal form with a great writing style. Be prepared for extremes of mirth and pathos! Check out Liz's blog here... 

  6. The Jesus Discovery - Dr A T Bradford. This was a book my good buddy Ishmael gave me back in 2011, written by a colleague of his, that I  finally read this year. This is effectively a study into the missing years in Jesus' life between around 12 years old until he starts his high profile teaching and miracles at 30 years old. Available direct from here.

Most visited blogposts (taken from Google Analytics):
  1. The Art and Christianity Meme - Part One - Artwork 
  2. Make love your goal...
  3. Athlete's Union Chapel Anthems...
  4. Mud, Sweat and Tears - Greenbelt 2012 review...
  5. Making me loud and proud - 1980-f
  6. In Memoriam, Pete King, missed, never forgotten
  7. Wellington Bomber raid October 1941
  8. The end of the C of E as we know it...
  9. Seven Deadly Social Sins...
  10. World War Two aircrew training day one

That about wraps it up! Thanks for your kind comments and all the very best for 2013.


Monday, 24 December 2012

Good tidings from Hope and Social...

Hope and Social's Seasonal and mellifluous contribution to the Leeds based charity for the homeless 'Simon On The Streets'. This is part of a Christmas compilation of 14 other festive songs which can be purchased for a 'pay what you like' contribution from

Happy Christmas everyone!


Saturday, 22 December 2012

Remembering Joe Strummer through Marley...

Bob Marley's Redemption Song sung by Joe Strummer in one of his collaborations after the heady days of The Clash. H/T to Billy Bragg for reminding us of Joe's untimely passing 10 years ago. In The Progressive Patriot Billy explains how The Clash changed his life at the 1978 Rock Against Racism (RAR) concert in Hackney:
The Clash taught me a valuable lesson that day, which I have in the back of my mind every time I write a song or step out on to a stage: although you can’t change the world by singing songs and doing gigs, the things you say and the actions you take can change the perceptions of members of the audience...

Friday, 21 December 2012

Sensing the Divine in engineering...

Have been a fascinated viewer of the Extreme Railways series on Channel 5 presented by Chris Tarrant. This week's edition featured the Konkan Railway which runs down the West coast, covering mountainous and marshy terrain thought by the British to be totally unsuitable for a permanent way. Built over 8 years between 1990 and 1997 by a wonderfully enthusiastic team who overcame some incredible obstacles despite a heavy price paid in life and limb. The highlight for me was hearing the Chief Engineer Rajaram Bojji proudly escorting Mr T to a vantage point to witness the incredible Panval Viaduct, at 210 feet the third highest bridge in the whole of Asia:
It never stops amazing me, it fills my heart with such a happiness I'm telling you. There must me some kind of ultimately divine spirit which makes humans to think and do things which look apparently impossible.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

That Nativity Factor...

Yep, would you Adam and Eve it, there's been a competition to find a short 3 minute film about the Nativity. You can check out all the entries on The Nativity Factor website and although, in my not always very 'umble opinion, I think some of the entries are a bit naff, I can understand why they picked the winner. However, prompted by His Opinionated Vicar(age), I tracked back the link to the original slightly longer version of the runner up, The Christmas C(h)ord, and also concur with David Keen's view that this one is a bit good! I definitely prefer this longer version, all credit due to the Going Public Theatre Co., written and performed by Dai Woolridge, flmed and edited by Andy Toovey.

Of course, there is a very strong link to another theme from our book, The Secret Chord, it would be wrong not to mention it ;-) In fact, we researched a section about the link between the word 'cord and 'chord' which was edited out, maybe in the next mini-tome?

And now for something completely different, this stunning film has so much context, clarity and authenticity it would be even more wrong not to include it:

First spotted on my buddy Phil Ritchie's blog


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Catching lightning in a bottle... Jools Holland

Last night's fascinating and insightful programme looking into Jools Holland's career in music and as a TV presenter. As well as an unbelievable player along with his encyclopaedic knowledge of recording artistes and industry history, he also commands great respect from many musical legends because of his talent. As a personal benchmark I often gauge an artist, band or solo, by whether they would be good (or quirky!) enough to appear on Later with Jools.

Throughout the programme there were many gems about music, notably in his demonstration about the difference between learning by ear and a typical piano lesson and then when he enthused about his band, "the perfect band". Describing soul singer Ruby Turner, an integral part of his big band line-up:
"she is us... it's not about the sound, it's about the feeling, and then you hear this sound and this is, like, coming from a completely different place to the modern world but touching a thing that's alive and vital now, and it's all those things of the church, of the blues, of everything all mashed up into this thing that hits you like a nuclear reactor."
Another succinct explanation of the core theme of our book "The Secret Chord"...

The full programme available for next 6 days.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Blind Boys of Alabama in the Real World...

From the Real World Gold collection, Peter Gabriel's label, recorded when the Blind Boys of Alabama were on the label. The song was originally written and recorded by Ben Harper but this version demonstrates a real connection to the song. Read more on the collaboration on Canada's CBC Music article here.

Another theme we touch on in our book The Secret Chord...


Sunday, 2 December 2012

Rolling Sideways with Hope and Social...

Photographed by Paul Webster

There's nothing quite like a Hope & Social gig! They are total entertainment, a 'proper' band, with a capability to play either acoustically to a handful, as a full band to a noisy throng packing out a pub or rocking it up with extra players on an outdoor festival mainstage. Each show ranges from energy filled mayhem through to poignant moments which land up captivating all beholders.

They represent one of the new paradigms of how to make a business out of a band, semi DIY and keeping control strictly in-house. Whilst the public perception may be one that borders on them being relatively corporate as a result of a highly creative and comprehensive online image, reality is a bit different. Their mission is to produce quality music, to go out and entertain by giving their all on stage and to do it all superbly. They are not phased by a lack of current worldwide success and have a refreshingly realistic attitude about the modest but desirable extra income that the band supplements with other sources of revenue. These sort of subtle distinctions set them apart and I'm confident careful analysis would reveal even more than covered here.

So despite all the full-on hard graft, the serious amount of traveling and all their crazy mishaps you come away from meeting them thinking they are actually quite happy with their lot. However, the first distinction would be to declare that 'Happy' does not convey enough about the Hope & Social (H&S) phenomenon and instead use the word 'Joy' in preference to 'Fun', and even 'Content' instead of 'Happy'. This is not to say they are not ambitious, but theirs is a compelling mix of quirkiness and contentment with a convincing lack of fear of failure.

They are quick to point out that one of the elements that helps define their musical identity is their studio, The Crypt, which is their inspirational workspace. This is mainly a private recording studio, a rented crypt(!) of a church near Leeds, which they have made their own. With recording equipment they describe as compact yet comprehensive they definitely make the most of it as listening to their recordings clearly shows. Whether the whole band or a subset are in residence there, they then becomes H&S at that moment, the music flows and develops without the potential open chequebook approach when working in a commercial studio.

There is also a candour about how the band works together. Clearly there are different skill-sets and abilities and, because other jobs get in the way, varying availability. However, there is a sense that there is not the strain of jealousy and demarcation that often is rife within other bands. They seem to operate in true community and long may it last!

Last night they nipped down to the metropolis during their current UK tour to play the iconic Union Chapel in London as part of the Greenbelt Festival's inaugral ADVENTurous day conference, of which more soon. It's inevitable that the venue adds or detracts from the performance, out in the audience last night they sounded superb, honed from their current busyness. Early on in the set singer Simon identified that the layout of the Union Chapel, with everyone seated in its formal pews, was radically different to their previous nights gig in a packed Working Men's Club in Halifax and maybe they were not quite as relaxed as usual, having to work harder to woo the seated 'congregation'.

They kicked off with a sublime version of 'Ripples Rock My Boat' from the CD 'April' and rattled through a relatively short set with favourites such as 'Pitching Far Too High' and the walk out into the audience H&S classic 'Looking For Answers'. Songs from their new album 'All Our Dancing Days' included 'Let's Be Bold' and the Springsteenesque 'One Way Home', all played with an exuberance and confidence that so characterises their shows.

H&S are an ultra hard working bunch of gifted guys who love what they do. They are proud of their material, committed to entertain as a primary artistic mission, all with the inescapable sense that the listener may take deeper meanings from the layered lyrics. They acknowledge the influence of the E Street band on some of their writing style and would be proud to wear 'What Would Bruce Do?' wristbands, yet turn out accessible music which is distinctly theirs.

These distinctions occur in the lyrics too. They maintain a balance weighed toward sentiment rather than schmaltz, whimsical rather than emotional and, as mentioned earlier, joy in addition to fun. Their songs make you smile one minute, then you're hiding the tears the next, and it is actually almost too easy to pick songs appropriate for weddings and funerals!

If success could be measured as commitment then they would rule the roost. When Hope and Social take to the stage, wherever and whatever the size, they do exactly that!

Catch them on the last few dates of their current tour:

Dec 04 - The Yorkshire House - Lancaster - buy tickets

Dec 05 - Hare & Hounds - Birmingham - buy tickets

Dec 07 - Fibbers - York - buy tickets


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Former CBS record label mates convention....

Had an unexpected reunion with former CBS records labelmate John Cooper Clarke, still strutting his stuff as the definitive punk poet... On the right (my left in the photo) is one of my son's craft stalls (Sam's Wood) with his wooden creations displayed in the Essex town of Wivenhoe, where JCC now resides.

We reminisced about the various shared acquaintances and personalities from those days, compared notes on our life stories since being 'signed' and generally put the world to rights. Have to say his detailed memory from those heady days is impressive, he hasn't aged a bit ;-)

Here is one of my favourite examples of his work:
I wrote the songs that nearly made
The bottom line of the hit parade
Almost anthems, shoulda been hits
Songs like... Puttin' on the Ritz
Some enchanted afternoon
Twenty-four hours to Levenshulme
Dancin' in the daylight, singin' in the smog
You ain't nothin' but a hedgehog
So close and yet so far
Do you remember they way we are
I'd like to get you on a speedboat to china
From an idea by George Steiner
Ain't no blag - uncle's got a brand new jag
Ain't no slouch - mama's got a brand new couch
She ain't heavy, she's my sister
Not to leave out twist and whisper
Brand new leapordskin pillbox glove
Baby you and me we got a greasy kind of love

Friday, 23 November 2012

Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly...

One of the themes Jonathan and I develop in our book The Secret Chord is the way some music takes on deeper significance when particular associations are made with it. This is a perfect example: a tribute single to keep awareness of the tragedy at Hillsborough featuring a host of pop luminaries under the banner The Justice Collective singing the Hollies emotional song 'He Ain't Heavy, He's my Brother'.

Although engineering a Christmas chart topper is an uncomfortable strategy, with the revelations the recent enquiry exposed this does give plenty of validity. The Justice Collective ensemble is headed up by composer Guy Chambers, Text JUSTICE to 80010 to pre-order the single now. Texts cost £1 + standard network rate with proceeds going to the Hillsborough Families' legal costs in their quest for justice.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Synod stalemate...

...shamelessly nicked from Bishop Alan's blog...

Whilst the synod vote on women bishop's failed to reach the overall 2/3 majority of all three 'houses' and despite the profound sadness so many feel, on reflection perhaps we should consider the outcome may be for the best? Whatever the result yesterday evening there would have been no winners as such, even staunch objectors to the introduction of women bishops concede that there will come a time when women are appointed so. But at what cost would it be if the vote went through yesterday?

Personally I am totally in favour of bishops, regardless ;-) I was also taken by surprise at the depth of sadness I felt when the result was read out. But what I cannot endorse is the idea that we cannot be one in communion when served by a woman. And if the vote had gone through, as has been so more eloquently been expressed by most commentators, it would have enshrined in law that there should be provision BY A MAN for those that objected on theological grounds.

Now I know there are some that are sincere in that belief, however, listening to the live stream from Synod yesterday it was revealing how many that hold that view see it as a 'right', a personal preference for which a theological objection has been tailored. It was also made abundantly clear that advocates of the no vote felt this 'provision' had not been fully documented. I am unsure whether the church (in this case, read C of E) and Bishops in the House of Lords will have legitimate or legal standing to comment authoritatively on other matters whilst condoning the discrimination that is still rife and would have been formalised.

So yesterday has produced a mixed message. On one hand there was an overwhelming majority to accept women bishops, on the other hand the church has not moved any further forward. On one hand the Bishops and Clergy do seem to be more of one mind and yet on the other it would appear the House of Laity do not proportionately represent the rest of us. Furthermore whilst the clergy will feel the laity are a waste of space (see Twitter last night!!!) without us there is no church?

And the best moment during the debate? When the Bishop of Leicester attempted to bring some Christlike perspective with this comment during his speech: "Will this chamber be as full for the Living Wage debate tomorrow. Will the queue for the public gallery be as long?"

There is always hope...


Friday, 9 November 2012

Make love your goal...

The full version of Gabrielle Aplin's The Power of Love which is about to hit our screens as the soundtrack to John Lewis' charming Christmas 2012 advert...

Those of us ancient enough will recall this is a stripped down, alternative version of one of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's number one hits. FGTH, fronted by charismatic singer Holly Johnson, was one of those incendiary yet short lived bands in the 80s that made fantastic music with the assistance of legendary producer Trevor Horn.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Friday, 12 October 2012

Living and breathing the hard day's night...

Whilst it's been a bit of a journey, along with a sometimes fraught learning curve, it really is a great joy to have finally launched our little book, The Secret Chord . This has been a co-authored project with my buddy Jonathan Evens who has been brilliant at curating all my vague ideas into something tangible as well as encouraging me to take the step of now writing words rather than principally music. We have taken heed of others and their projects, too, such as Sam Norton, Kester Brewin and Liz Hinds, as all of whom have completed self managed publishing projects and freely shared their progress.

So far The Secret Chord is available on Amazon Kindle with the paperback hot on its heels for release at the end of this month. If you don't own a Kindle there are some excellent freebie Apps for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and smartphones.

To supplement the book, both in physical form and when reading it on a non internet enabled Kindle, we have embarked on creating The Secret Chord website with all the web links and biographical notes along with some extra goodies. This will be more dynamic as we have plans for lots more content real soon...

We very much look forward to hearing your thoughts, please be gentle!


Thursday, 27 September 2012

Pussy Riot thanks The Voice Project...

A thank you to the Voice Project community from Pyotr (and yep, that's baby Gera in the background sound). More info on how you can support via the excellent

"Seeing all this amazing solidarity across the world is one of the few things that gets the girls going through their brutal and grey prison days..."


Saturday, 15 September 2012

The church is dead... long live church...

Pitching far too High

All that I know now
I'm pitching far too high
I cannot behold
The gilted angel's robe
The guilted pierced soul
I cannot behold

And the heavens roll
And the trumpets blow
And the sun outside burns this uncertain soul

All my learning stops
Whilst trying to join the dots
That pin-prick the night
Sun streams its life through the glass
Scriptures and sermons elapse
Suddenly, I'm with you
I'm old enough now to decide
To leap out and loosen these ties
But something is grounding me
And it's something I like

And the heavens roll
And the trumpets blow
And the sun outside burns this uncertain soul

The truly wonderful Hope & Social - download this song Pitching Far Too High


Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Coldplay put a smile upon his face...

Whilst the London 2012 Paralympic Closing Ceremony could be viewed as a bit old and new age what a gift Coldplay songs were for the creative team to exploit? Without their material so aptly capturing the amazing 'moment' that the games generated it would have all been a bit at the level of a expansive and dramatic variety show. It wasn't just Coldplay's music that lifted the event to a higher plane, it was their committment to the whole evening that was so laudable.

They didn't just come on and 'do' their set, they both played along with the 'superstar' guests and singer Chris Martin actually left the stage to sit amongst The British Paraorchestra for the gorgeous interpretation of Strawberry Swing. What capped it all for me was when up on the screens I spied local boy Mat Fraser, actor, drummer and Thalidomide challenged, drumming on stage with the band as per the clip above. What an incredible demonstration of their lyric 'God give me style, give me Grace'?


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


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.

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.


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...


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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Sunday, 29 July 2012

You are what you Tweet... #openingceremony

Just in case you missed it... some great appearances in my tweetline:

@memorybanks: It's the taking part... Volunteeer actor Neil Smith reveals all: #olympics

@kesterbrewin: Really spot on review of Olympic #OpeningCeremomy by @sarahlyall: < first sentence nails it.

@dpcmike: For those who'd like to understand the the Opening Ceremony a bit more… a superb & quick explanation!

@SimonGCutmore: Los Angeles Times review "it was bloody well wonderful.. part Charles Dickens, part Benny Hill".

@CityFaiths: Danny Boyle Olympics opening ceremony and Britains cultural landscape via @guardian - Good piece on amazing ceremony

@simonmayo: "Danny Boyle wins the Gold": The New Yorker's brilliant verdict on the humour & generosity of the opening ceremony

@MartinWroe: 'Bespoke both destiny of Christian elect and pagan air of festival - elegiac, rejoicing.' #openingceremony

@gtomlin: "A great empire, gone. Military might, ebbing. Sense of humor, very much intact" (Washington Post) #olympics

@dianabutlerbass: Beijing celebrated conformity; Britain celebrates creativity. #OpeningCeremony

@pmphillips: Danny Boyle: "Our show was the volunteers' show. If you want to judge us as an island, these people are the best of us"

@maggidawn: This is great: last para of Boyle's programme notes.

@BBCBreaking: In pictures: The Olympic opening ceremony - the fireworks and the flames, David Beckham and Usain Bolt #bbc2012


Friday, 20 July 2012

Gustavo Dudamel, let us be numinous...

The phenomena that is El Sistema, the Venezuelan 'system' that introduces young kids to playing musical instruments in an orchestral, classical music community which lands up changing their and their families lives has been well documented. Now a good few years since its inception by Maestro José Antonio Abreu, the orchestra has removed the word Youth from it's name and has become the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (SBSOV). Along with the world renown and highly respected conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, the combination is a powerful force that bucks the traditional enclave within the classical music world.

Even if you have the T-Shirt, watched the videos, seen the Prom broadcasts, nothing can prepare you for the experience of seeing them in action live, it is totally overwhelming, the impact it had on me is still fresh and imprinted in my consciousness. There is so much more to say and I will endeavour to explain more in due course, but the overall impact is one of an intense spiritual and worshipful moment that captivates everyone in the room. Performers, conductor and audience find themselves caught up in unison, a rare and numinously transformative place.

Whilst the orchestra's appearance in 2007 won hearts with robust performances of Bernstein and Latin composers, this recent concert in June 2012 depicted above demonstrated their ability to perform principally European works with astonishing sublimity.

However, for me the moment occurs right at the end...

Move the time bar to 1hr46mins45s, the start point for the encore, humbly introduced by Gustavo, Sir Edward Elgar's Nimrod. Then enjoy the performance, again, totally sublime, and wait to see what happens right at the end of the piece. There is a full 28 seconds of silence, a pin drop pause, a selah, before any applause starts.

Everyone is caught up in the extraordinary moment and it is so clear to see the effect it has had on orchestra and conductor. What is notable that neither Elgar's nod to his buddy Jaegar nor the subsequent notion of the piece being so linked to Churchill's funeral were anywhere in the ether, this is a new and transcendent interpretation that only comes with fresh ears and eyes...

...we have so much to learn!


Sunday, 15 July 2012

In Memoriam, Pete King, missed, never forgotten

Friend, brother, soulmate, kindred spirit... Pete was all these and much more. The song claims 'a good heart... is hard to find', yet the word 'good' serves insufficient justice to what an amazing person Pete was. Thoughtful, kind, generous, quick witted and humorous yet he was also one who knew his own mind, taking key decisions with confidence.

And PK (in After The Fire lingo) was, of course, a sublimely brilliant drummer. I can still recall a couple of shows where the rest of us turned round and watched in amazement as he completed a seemingly impossible fill that he'd already embarked upon!

Despite being such a strong and super fit individual it was to be cancer that was his undoing. Strangely, at an early ZipcodeS gig in 1983, when a close friend of ATF already in terminal decline from the same disease arrived in a wheelchair, PK confided in me that he foresaw himself landing up in the same state. Naturally, I dismissed it at the time, now that prophetic remark is a dark ghost in my memory bank.

He was the baby in After The Fire and we all looked out for PK as our younger brother. Yet with his stint depping in ELO and later as a full member of top flight German band BAP, he landed up becoming the most successful musician of us all.

Personally, I miss him dreadfully and I am well aware I am not alone. Conversations with close friends and family regularly land up remembering him. Furthermore BAP nobly braved the potential emotional black hole by recording their deeply personal tribute, as above.

When our post funeral posse stopped off for some sea air by Sheringham waterfront 25 years ago I felt this moment when Pete whizzed past nearby 'up there', just for a split second. And I had this overwhelming sensation that he longed for us to delight in his new incarnation rather than suffer the grief of our loss...


Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Serving up Dylan for Amnesty International...

Eric Burdon is one of the artistes that has contributed to Chimes of Freedom, a 4 cd album set of Bob Dylan songs supporting the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International. Some approach the songs and arrangements pretty much as an homage to the original, others, like this, have a spirit of re-invention. This song is taken from the first of Dylan's 'Christianity phase' albums, Slow Train Coming and features Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers from Dire Straits amongst the musicians on the 1979 release.

It was the 1960s hit for The Animals, 'The House of the Rising Sun', that launched Eric Burdon on his career, followed up by a string of hit singles for the band. In a recent BBC documentary about the Gospel hymn Amazing Grace the Blind Boys of Alabama sang the words to the tune of House of the Rising Sun, an apposite combination.

I've picked out the Eric Burdon track as a highlight, IMO I don't hear many other moments of inspiration and it is difficult to even imagine who this collection would appeal to. Certainly Dylan aficionados will find it painful and, ironically, the least original approaches marginally less so. Supporting Amnesty is a good thing, so cut out the middle peeps and send them some dosh direct instead!


Monday, 2 July 2012

Emmanuel Jal - Savvy Peace Soldier...

Last night I was privileged to attend the Get the Youth Talking event in Camden, organised by a handful of charities linked together by the extraordinary and charismatic singer Emmanuel Jal. The evening was effectively in four parts commencing with a lively panel discussion on how to engage the far flung young and exiled Sudanese to work together to stimulate peace in their troubled land. As well as Emmanuel the contributors included representatives from Amnesty International (student section) and Jeremy Gilley from Peace One Day.

The video above can only give some idea of the fragile situation in Sudan since South Sudan declared independence last year on 9th July, hence the mobilisation to engineer the rallies outside embassies on the anniversary in one week's time on Monday. The panel and audience discussions were revealing, encouraging and sought to gain positive ground with insightful and well informed views.

Part two of the evening was spend enjoying East African cuisine from one of the sponsors, restaurateurs Abyssinia, and very splendid it was too!

Before the host took to the stage the seating was cleared away and Congolese poet JouJou Bola painted a moving picture of reality in African countries plundered for their conflict minerals.

One of the first surprises was to see a full band in action behind Emmanuel rather than the usual decks and tracks accompaniment. Emmanuel appeared at the back of the venue, clambered through the expectant audience bounced and onto stage before proceeding to lead the band through a seriously energetic performance. The set list comprised a selection picked mainly from War Child and his forthcoming CD, See Me Mama, the latter scheduled for an August release.

Throughout the set high energy levels were maintained, the band cooked, the drummer being the star player, and everyone couldn't help dancing to the groove. It was exuberant, colourful, moving and anthemic with the musical direction tipping a big nod towards reggae rather than solely hip-hop or rap. To Emmanuel's surprise and delight the audience was mainly Sudanese, whereas he usually plays to predominantly European or American punters.

After the show I was able to grab a few moments with him and he stressed the We Want Peace movement is an ongoing initiative despite the immediate focus on the worldwide rallies on July 9th and the follow up concert in South Sudan linking in with the Peace One Day 2012 on 21st September. Emmanuel is known worldwide as an activist, he now wants to mobilise people with the same vision as 'Peace Soldiers'. The downside is that all this activism is mainly self financed which has prompted him to start ringfencing his music work, his own label Gatwitch Records has been formed to consolidate this.

See Me Mama will be his fourth full CD album, he categorised his previous work as follows:
  1. Gua (2005) - Expression to God, giving thanks
  2. Ceasefire (2005) - exactly that (also a collaboration across religious divides)
  3. Warchild (2008) - telling my story and developing as an artist
Undoubtedly War Child is his best known album as that was created once sufficient time and healing had elapsed for his remarkable story to be revealed, the song Forced to Sin effectively encapsulating it in a deeply moving, hip hop elegy. As well as the radio friendly title track another song about his late rescuer, Emma McCune, received recognition as it was introduced at Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday gig by kindred spirit, non other than the venerable Peter Gabriel.

Emmanuel's music deserves much more commercial success, one of the down sides of achieving almost cult status as an outspoken activist is that does not translate into sales. However, listening to the advance copy of the new CD on the way back the move toward the sing-along, anthemic style is a potential winner along with the grooves and unique voice. Furthermore, the growing interest from his fellow countryfolk may mean he can overcome the challenge of being a prophet in his own land...

Other important Emmanuel Jal links to check out:
Gua Africa
Lose to Win
Blog post on We Want Peace video

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Monday, 25 June 2012

Making, playing, listening to and hearing music...

In the opening chapters of Professor Jeremy Begbie's authoritative book on Music and Theology entitled 'Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music ' the author makes the distinction between music making and music hearing (p40). Whilst that may seem obvious, he then goes on to expand this further (pp 41-46) by initially pointing out that there may be a prior stage, composition, to the essential elements of performance (making) and listening (hearing). However, let's look at two additional discussions which have expanded the making and hearing aspects of music in line with Professor Begbie's theses.

Bruce Springsteen – playing versus making music:

On his We Shall Overcome - The Seeger Sessions / American Land Edition [CD+DVD] Bruce identifies the difference between performers who simply play music and those that make music together. As the interview progresses it is clear he is referring to the way some players are not content to just interpret a music score (or chord / tab chart) but have the inherent gift to gel together with their fellow musicians such that a new plane is reached where communication is instinctive rather than reactive. The group of players effectively become one and feel the groove enabling co-ordinated variations and improvisations with no pre-meditation.

Historically it is clear when either musical conventions are challenged or there is an 'ethnic' re-imagination then substantial musical developments occur. In relatively recent times we have seen the advent of Jazz, the worldwide success of songwriting bands spearheaded by The Beatles and the Punk explosion. Equally the international popularity of Reggae and Gospel Music on one hand and the UK folk music's crossover into the mainstream with groups such as The Fishermen Friends with their repertoire of traditional shanties. There is a potential division between classical and popular music performers that disappears when they have both the grace and desire to side step such differences. This can achieve a performance and response that transcend any where the artiste could have chosen to stay either entrenched or simply played safe. This was a revelation to cellist and composer Philip Sheppard when working with the late Jeff Buckley which I explored in this post. Clearly there are a vast number of additional parameters that come into play; social, geographical and chronological and this gives more to discuss and unpack to move toward a less generalised explanation of the above.

Nick Coleman– listening versus hearing music:

This former NME journalist and music lover's entertaining yet deeply moving memoir, The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss , describes how his world was changed forever when he was diagnosed as having the condition Sudden Neurosensory Hearing Loss, a combination of partial deafness combined with thunderous tinnitus. He effectively has to re-learn how to hear and for some time during his recovery it is his encyclopaedic knowledge of pop, rock and classical music that sustains him as he psychologically engineers a way to replay his record collection from memory. It is only when he realises that he needs to learn how to listen to what music is saying to him that a sense of hearing is partially restored, albeit accompanied by great physical pain and discomfort. So he concludes that he has to develop a new way to listen, one that is active rather than passive.

If I may suggest:

This provides a clue as to why listening and hearing are different. For example, one method I employ when trying to check something subtle but potentially troubling during a recording session is to play the piece back whilst making a cuppa when I'm not in full close up, focus mode. This synthesises the moment someone hears your work for the first time and corrections can then be effected if there is, indeed, actually an issue anyway. In a similar way there are songs that stand out on the radio as we are driving along, at times I've even stopped the car to catch who the artiste is (so annoying when the presenter doesn't say?!). My proposition is that is an example of when a piece 'speaks' to us, provoking us from a hearing only to a listening intently mode. This endorses what Coleman concludes, that hearing is passive whilst listening is deliberately active.

It is therefore safe to propose that the more acute hearing of most musicians enables them to listen better than someone less musically gifted, and, when playing in an ensemble, engages that ability to promote those special moments of making transcendent music together.


Friday, 22 June 2012

Crowdfunding classical combo ColdPlay cover...

Have recently stumbled across this extraordinary duo, The Piano Guys, a virtuoso pianist, Jon Schmidt, and cellist, Steven Sharp Nelson, playing inventive cover versions and original material. For this project they enrolled charismatic singer Alex Boye who translates the song into Swahili, English, Yoruba (his mother's native language), and his own African "scat". So the original title of ColdPlay's Paradise became 'Peponi' in this brilliant and adventurous cover.

The Piano Guys are inviting folk to join a 'Founder's Club' to help them produce more music and videos... check it out!


Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Bruce Springsteen from boy to Soul and Spirit...

An insightful (and rare) interview with 'The Boss', who talks about the influence of his childhood house and Catholic upbringing in relation to his brilliant Wrecking Ball album. For Apple viewers here's some text but video may still be Flash :-(

P h/t Martyn Joseph

Monday, 11 June 2012

Fathoming Francis... Savvy Saint

My attention was first drawn to Ian Morgan Cron's (IMC) literary output when the Greenbelt highlighted a review he had made about the 2010 Festival which I blogged about here. Subsequently his 'memoir of sorts' Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me was praised by friends such as Maggi Dawn and Martin Wroe so I felt compelled to purchase, despite the J word in the title! To say I enjoyed it is an understatement, it was one of my top reads last year and one I heartily recommend. I was also aware of IMC's earlier book, Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale, a novel about a pastor of an evangelical 'megachurch' in New England who struggles with a crisis of faith, so when given the opportunity to review it I was delighted.

The book is prefaced with a firmly worded disclaimer that Chase Falson is not IMC in disguise... Ha, I expect I will not be the only one determined to find cracks in that defence! It then opens with Chase arriving in Italy to visit his Uncle Kenny after bucking the trend in church by saying what he really thinks and, as an outcome, being given an immediate sabbatical by the church elders (the Sanhedrin?!). The key characters in the church are introduced before the action happens as Chase is 'nudged' to call this enigmatic Uncle, a Franciscan monk / priest, who has persuaded Chase to drop everything and fly to Europe forthwith.

What then ensues is somewhat of a whirlwind exploration of both the physical church connections and the theology of Saint Francis of Assisi in the company of a bunch of lairy guys who are able to impart wisdom through both their love and behaviour. So our erstwhile pastor is thrown into a bewildering world of relatively orthodox Roman Catholic rituals and edifices in the company of these 'disciples' as they unpack the history of St. Francis. As a result Chase starts to write his journal entries directly to St. Francis, another literary medium to impart some deeply personal thoughts about his pilgrimage. There are some notable counterpoints, too, as St. Francis' advanced thinking is explored, for example, I couldn't help notice the narrative as red wine was poured into plastic cups whilst simultaneously discussing how St. Francis was effectively the first Christian enviromentalist. Furthermore, during one of the services of Mass there are disctinct similarities between the young IMC and the adult Chase. Ian, you've been sussed!

Now, just as I was starting to get a little uncomfortable thinking that the answer to all my spiritual quests could only be answered by attending Mass and/or church even more, half way through the book Chase is on his own and lands up encountering Carla, a gifted and beautiful cellist. Subsequently they share a meal with a top notch musicologist who has a major effect on them both.

From then on I was hooked. Ok, music may be home territory for me, but I found myself reflecting that perhaps, as a reader, I need to cover all the same ground as Chase, to be a pilgrim too? From then on I found myself reading purposefully, allowing myself to be absorbed as even more stunning surprises were revealed before the build up to the challenging conclusion, which is neither one of received wisdom or what you might expect. This is then developed in greater detail in the excellent and comprehensive study guide included as an appendix.

Interestingly his two books appear to be directed at different audiences. Chasing Francis is much more of a book for a Christian, churchy type whilst I could certainly give Jesus, My Father, The CIA and me to anyone, regardless of their faith journey or affiliation. As a UK citizen who just has to drive across this country to experience the relatively radical teaching that forms the core of the Greenbelt Festival ethos, I feel much of the theology in Chasing Francis was comforting rather than revolutionary. However, I equally found that an important aspect of this book is the encouragement and endorsement it provides, particularly concerning the arts and, for me, music. One minor warning for non North Amercian readers is some of the language and acronyms may remain a total mystery! IMC's later book translates better in that respect.

Readers will really appreciate IMC's turn of phrase, he has a enchanting writing style that makes this book very enjoyable and, as I said earlier, a great encouragement. More significant are the layers in the narrative that give the reader the opportunity to mine the text for interpretations that match their current condition, which migrates this work from purely fiction. IMC refers to this as 'wisdom literature' in the introduction, an apposite description. And what's really intriguing is the loose ends with many of the characters, roll on the sequel...!

Ian Morgan Cron is one of the speakers this year at Greenbelt 2012