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