Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Two albums that I missed

As I was flicking through a play list just after Christmas, I realised that in my post-infection state, I had left out two of 2014's overlooked masterpieces. So my festive 15 is swelling to 17 (maths never was my strong suit!)

In the car, I found School of Language's second outing Old Fears. School of Language is the side project of the other Field Music maestro, David Brewis. Like his brother, Peter (are they twins?), him of the wonderful Frozen by Sight (who were magnificent at St Giles on the Friday before Christmas), David is full of great tunes, wonderful hooks, quirky time signatures and intriguing lyrical invention. This second School of Language album (of whom the only member is David Brewis) is very different from the first but equally wonderful.

And then, I forgot to include the Pearlfishers Open up Your Colouring Book. This is a ravishing aural treat, 16 songs by Glasgow's David Scott. Again, he writes great pop tunes, pens absorbing lyrics and wraps it all up in wonderful arrangements. He is a hidden treasure who should be getting much more acclaim than he does. The album, was launched without trace in April, greeted by barely a murmur in the music press. There's no justice! It follows hard on the heels of 2007's sublime Up with the Larks, one of my all time favourite albums and a regular soundtrack to long car journeys in the sunshine. If you have not spent an hour with the Pearlfishers, please do because you'll feel so much better for it.

These are both worthy additions to your playlists/CD/album collections

Sunday, December 14, 2014

a festive fifteen...

It's that time of year when I traditionally tell everyone what new music I've been listening to this year. I do it more as a reminder to myself of what I've spent my money on than an example of exemplary musical taste. But some of you might be interested.

So, in no particular order (except my top 5), here are the albums I enjoyed enough to buy this year.

Robert Plant and the Shape Shifters Lullaby and Ceaseless Road; unexpected from the Led Zep vocalist.

the Hold Steady Teeth Dreams: good, honest, quirky American rock - though I have no idea where they come from!

Nick Mulvey's gorgeous First Mind.

Kate Tempest Everybody Down in which she showed herself to be as adept at rap as she is at poetry for the page.

Deacon Blue's A New House - not as good as 2012's The Hipsters but still a cut above the average.

David Gray's Mutineers not one I expected to like but did, possibly because production was by Lamb's Andy Barlow who bought an unexpected vibe to Gray's usual oeuvre.

Duologue Never Get Lost, their follow-up to the outstanding Song and Dance which delivers a very pleasing electronic groove.

Elbow produced their best record since Leaders of the Free World in the lovely, moving The Take Off and Landing of Everything.

Paul Smith (of Maximo Park) and Peter Brewis (of Field Music) collaborated on the quirky, gorgeous travelogue that is Frozen By Sight (really looking forward to seeing them at St Giles Church on 19 December - our Christmas treat).

U2 Songs of Innocence. Ok, I know there was a lot of fuss about it being delivered free to everyone with an iTunes account; yes, it was a tad gauche but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth especially when it turned out to be the best U2 album for quite a long time. Bono and the Edge produced some of their best lyrics and the band set them to some great melodies. Not having to pay for it was a lovely bonus!

And so to my top 5 (I loved the other 10 but these stood out for various reasons):

Jackson Browne Standing in the Breach in which the old trooper and songsmith to the revolution produced a set of ten songs that not only engage with all the important issues of the day in an intelligent and provocative way, but also offered a back catalogue of Browne's many musical styles. Great stuff.

Damon Albarn Everyday Robots the first solo album from the Blur front man. A minimalist, staccato feast of great tunes and affecting lyrics in which he pondered his history and our lives splendidly.

Lamb Backspace Unwind: a barnstorming return by the trip hop pioneers. Andy Barlow's production is quite wonderful and Lou Rhodes' voice has never sounded better - if there's a better female singer around, I've yet to hear her.

Bill Mallonee Winnowing in which the veteran singer-songwriter produces yet another career defining set of songs - just as he did last year and the year before. His ear for melody and his turn of phrase show no signs of dimming on a set of songs that probe faith in a post-everything world. Quite stunning.

Ben Watt Hendra: this probably edges my album of the year. A fabulous collection of songs reflecting on aging, memory, loss of parents and making sense of the world around us. Barely a note out of place in the second solo outing of one half of Everything but the Girl. He also produced a great biography of his parents, Romany and Tom - one of my books of the year.

Each would make a great stocking filler for a loved one or a sneaky seasonal treat for yourself.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I have a piece in the Baptist Times

After the longest bout of illness I can remember having since being a child, I am slowly returning to work and was delighted to see in my in-box today a note from Paul Hobson saying a piece I'd written about Paul and poverty has been published in the Baptist Times.

You can read it here. I hope you enjoy it and find it stimulating. You can, of course, comment about it here or on the BT site.

Friday, October 31, 2014

What is the government's moral duty?

In an article laced with dodgy statistics on the progress of spending cuts so far, not to mention the effects of tax cuts in this parliament, the prime minister suggests that governments have a moral duty to lower taxes.

Is that right?

I would have thought that governments have a moral duty to ensure that taxation is fairly levied so that the government's primary moral duty to support the weakest and most vulnerable in our society has sufficient funds.

That would suggest that a government's moral duty is to progressively tax everyone to ensure that it has enough money for the services for which it is responsible and a measure of redistribution (always a feature of the tax system).

Such would be view of both Warren Buffett and Bill Gates who, last time I looked, were not people of the extreme left.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In praise of Lamb

Listening to the new Lamb album which is a work of wondrous beauty. Backspace Unwind is the band's sixth album and it sounds fresh and original, a lush mix of Lou Rhodes sublime voice and Andy Barlow's electronica. Occasional bass and strings add depth, so the twelve songs on the iTunes mix are each note perfect.

There is an interesting thematic thread running through the album which reflects our sense of being so tiny and insignificant in a vast universe and yet finding a sense of ourselves, even a permanence, in the love of another. It's a familiar enough theme but it's brought to lustrous life by the jittery edginess of Barlow's electronic washes and the fragility of Rhodes' voice.

It's startlingly beautiful throughout.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Not all change is revolution, but little changes can transform communities

We are two weeks into our new way of doing Sunday mornings and so far it's going well. It's not that we've enacted a revolution, you understand, just made some changes to shift the focus of what we're doing more towards discipleship.

So, we start with a block of worship songs that aim to lead us on a journey to an encounter with God. Then we have a 'sermon' (15 minutes) followed by refreshments, a chance for everyone to talk about what they've heard. Once everyone's got refreshments we have a Q&A about the morning's theme or get into groups to talk about we'll apply what we've heard to tomorrow (whatever that holds for us). At the end we get everyone together, draw the threads together, hear from the children and go home.

It doesn't sound too revolutionary but we hope it will be. We have changed the palate of the music we use - more contemporary, stringing songs together to lead us on a journey. We have changed the way we deliver the teaching to make it more focused. To aid learning we have produced a booklet of notes (we are working our way thematically through James) that forms the basis of the conversation both in church and at home groups. We are using the same teaching plan over all three services so that we do not overload on information.

The aim in all this is to focus on our lives as followers of Jesus. That's simple, what every church should be focusing on. It is also our aim to attract and keep people looking for a vibrant, relevant and welcoming worshipping community (something we have been struggling to do over recent years).

Change is always difficult and I am delighted with the way so many of our people have risen to the opportunity that this new way of working. Let's see what the next few weeks brings. I for one am excited.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Exploring Paul and poverty

Today my new Grove booklet is available for download here. For a mere £3.95 you can dive into the debate about Paul's economic location and what he has to say about poverty in his world and ours.

I'd be interested to know what people make of it. So download it, read it and debate the issues it raises for us and our churches here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Why try to answer the West Lothian question?

A footnote to yesterday's reflection on the aftermath of the referendum.

I watched Tam Dalyell on Newsnight last night. He's the instigator of the so-called West Lothian question. It became clear in the course of the conversation he had with Kirsty that he had asked the question originally, not as something that needed to be addressed if devolution went ahead, but as something that in his view scuppered devolution entirely.

The question is unanswerable if you have a devolved assembly within a union of nations. The problem he raises, as I understand it (and please correct me if I am wrong), is that if you devolve certain powers to a regional administration which means that the MPs elected to Westminster from that region are barred from addressing issues devolved there (unless they are members of both assemblies), they should also be barred from discussing and voting on issues in Westminster that apply only to other parts of the union that the said MP does not represent.

So, the answer to the West Lothian question is not the imbecilic 'English votes for English laws' within the current Westminster system or the 'what's good enough for Scotland is good enough for England cry' of John Redwood. The answer is the same arrangement as in Scotland, i.e. an English assembly that has devolved powers similar to those of Scotland with representatives elected to it on the same PR system used in all the other devolved assemblies. English Westminster MPs would, of course, in exactly the same that Scottish MPs currently are, have no say in those English laws (unless they sat in both the English devolved assembly and Westminster).

Merely, having days at Westminster devoted to English business that all other MPs are barred from involvement in, does not replicate the arrangements in other devolved regions in any way equitably.

This suggests that the only way to move forward is to have a federal UK with a number of devolved assemblies around the country - perhaps based on cities or urban conurbations and their surrounding rural areas - with an elected chamber for the UK sitting somewhere in the middle of the country - Northampton or Lincoln - to act as arbitrator when the regions clashed on policies affecting the whole country and foreign policy. I think the NHS would have to be in the UK assembly t ensure that it was genuinely national and remained a public service funded by taxation and delivered by public servants.

This is similar to Gordon Brown's proposal, I think, with his idea of an elected house of Lords or second chamber taking the national and arbitration role. It is, of course similar to the system in the USA which might not be a model of governmental efficiency!

Anything else would not answer the West Lothian question at all. The question remains, of course, whether this would lead to the fragmentation of the UK into a series of competing city states, all out-gunned by London to which the answer is almost certainly, yes.

It's right, as all the headlines this morning suggest, that the union can't survive in its current form. But as the Times banner headline puts it 'Salmond quits as powers for Scotland are blocked' shows, the current government's plans are not going to solve the problem raised by the referendum; they are only going make matters worse. No surprise there, then.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Illuminating our new dark age

I kept out of discussions on the Scottish referendum on social media or here because I didn't have a horse in the race. I have friends on both sides of the debate, not to mention a brother in Aberdeen and other family in the borders. But I didn't have a vote and so any opinion I might have had was somewhat impotent.

I was stirred by some of what I heard - I have to say I was particularly impressed by Gordon Brown's final speech. Perhaps it's true that he can now add saving the union to saving the financial sector that was already on his CV.

Sadly I awoke this morning to the UK's prime minister (not the English one as we don't have one of those yet) reneging on key parts of his promises ahead of the referendum. I guess I shouldn't be surprised but appointing William Hague to chair a cabinet committee to draw up legislation was not part of the offer made last week. At the very least, there needs to be an all-party committee or group tasked with moving devo max forward - Perhaps Gordon should chair it.

But here has to be a lot more than that. I lost count of the number of times over the past few months that I thought 'why can't we have this kind of fundamental conversation about our democracy where I live?' I envied the Scot's their vibrant carnival of democratic renewal and was suitably in awe of the turn-out (over 90% in some parts). I was also delighted by the maturity and engagement of the 16-17 year olds enfranchised for this vote. How can we resist calls for them to be given the vote across all elections?

We need a constitutional conference, a sort of Putney debates for the twenty-first century, where everyone gets a chance to meaningfully contribute to the kind of politics we want across our union. This is not dealt with by solving the west lothian question, which is a best a minor issue and at worst a massive distraction used by miffed little englanders to bash the devolution settlement, and getting on with business as usual.

We need to see democracy cascading down to the level that ordinary people operate at. Politics needs to be taken out of the hands of professionals, those with vested interests in maintaining the tawdry status quo. So let's start talking about the kind of society we'd like to see in our churches and pubs, let's get people together locally to talk about the things that matter to them, to discuss ideas, to dream dreams (and let's not get bogged down in what it'll cost - let's make plans and cost them later).

'In the new dark age no one puts up a fight,' sings Bill Mallonee on the wonderful In the new dark age on his new album, Winnowing. The indy referendum has lit a light hundreds of miles from me - but I can just about make out its glow. We need a lot of lamps being lit everywhere across our land. 'In the new dark age no one trusts anyone,' he sings (how sad but how true); 'the only lamp burning bright...is you.'

So step up, step up; come and see what is illuminated when we put all our lamps together.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Finding renewed confidence

Here's a second random observation from our recent trip to Sri Lanka. I was there partly at the invitation of the Lanka Bible College. So a week of our three week stay was devoted to teaching a course on New Testament social history. I've done this three times before - to different sets of students.

This year I had nine men and women working their way through a masters programme in divinity. It's difficult to gauge what level these students are at compared with students doing a masters course in the UK. My guess is that they are at an equivalent level of second year undergraduate (level 5 I think).

But these guys, after a slow start, proved to be a lively and conversational bunch who by the middle of the week were beginning to make connections between what we were studying and their various ministries in Sri Lanka. We had a number of really good conversations about how we live the good news of Jesus in a way that makes it accessible to others.

The second weekend we were there I was leading a seminar for baptist leaders - lay and ordained. Again, we had a good conversation about how churches needed to be organised to more effectively engage in mission.

Churches on the island still tend to be very hierarchical and ministry is seen as a way of gaining status in a culture where status and honour are still key drivers for people. However, in the course of conversations both in college and at the seminar, I detected what I felt was the stirring of a willingness to explore new ways of being church and new approaches to engaged in mission. I took this to be a moving of the Spirit.

One church talked of using English lessons for Tamils living nearby as a way of making community with those beyond church; another spoke of running a programme for those struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. Both were thinking missionally about their context and church life. I've not found this kind of thinking from Baptist church leaders before and it was encouraging. Churches are exploring how they can use their resources (like the building pictured) to engage more creatively in the mission of making Jesus known in sometimes difficult circumstances.

There is a recognition that the church and culture are growing further apart - something that is all too prevalent in the UK - and of the need to leave the comfort of buildings and well-worn programmes to do something new. It is not easy being a Christian in Sri Lanka - especially outside the capital. But opposition is leading to a renewed confidence in the gospel and desire to share it with others.

I came away from my eight days feeling stirred and encouraged. That is not always how I feel when I reach the hotel for my chill out time. Of course, when you find renewed confidence in others, it stirs in you - and that's great. God is good.

Friday, September 12, 2014

We all love a freebie...

Well, it was unexpectedly wonderful to receive U2's back to basics new album as a gift from the mighty iTunes. There have been a lot of churlish remarks from reviewers and others about it being an example of outrageous behaviour from a rock behemoth and a corporate empire.

But I say, quit your whining and get with the music. Whatever the ethics of this marketing ploy (and they do seem a touch suspect), the album itself is refreshingly direct. Songs of Innocence (possibly a nod to William Blake suggesting that its partner album will be called songs of experience when it arrives full price in the near future) is a series of reflections of adolescence and U2's early days in Dublin.

It's interesting to see that the lyrics are all by Bono and the Edge, suggesting that these are collective memories. And they are set to a stripped back sound that seems entirely appropriate. There are some great tunes - notably The Troubles, The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) and Raised by Wolves - and not a duff track in sight.

The liner notes with the digital booklet are surprisingly illuminating and moving. So, find it in your iTunes inbox, download it and enjoy it... You know you want to...

Monday, September 08, 2014

Everywhere the gap is widening

This summer we returned to Sri Lanka, spending almost three weeks on the island. For eight days I was teaching at the Lanka Bible College Graduate Studies Centre and visiting a couple of baptist churches around Colombo; and for ten days we were chilling by a pool in a great hotel in Kalutara (about an hour south of Colombo).

The picture illustrates some of the changes Sri Lanka is undergoing. It's a new block that I have watched being built from my room at the Graduate Studies Centre in Dehiwala.It actually obscures my view of the sea! It's been built for the burgeoning number of urban professionals in the city. As well very comfortably appointed apartments, the complex boasts 24 hours concierge, a gym and a western-style supermarket on the ground floor.

It overlooks the station that will whisk its residents into the centre of the city for their daily grind in financial or legal services, tourism, government administration or commerce of a whole variety of types. It also overlooks the fishing community on the other side of tracks, a community that still bears all the marks of the 2004 tsunami. Indeed it's a community that offers no evidence at all of any money being spent helping the residents to rebuild after the devastation wrought on that Boxing Day ten years ago. Now, one reason for that is possibly that the community was offered housing elsewhere, inland and away from the area they know well. Many of the communities that hugged the coastline on the western side of the island were moved as the government refused to invest in communities with two miles (ish) of the sea. But it's a stark contrast with the wealth that now overlooks it.

We often walked across the tracks onto the beach, via the ramshackle dwellings, so that we could stroll in the sunshine, dipping our toes into the Indian Ocean and head up to our new favourite beach-front bar (left) that serves excellent food and afforded great views of the sunset most evenings.

Following the end of the war in 2012, Sri Lanka is undergoing something of a building boom, with construction happening all across Colombo and the along the Galle Road where hotel developers are trying to meet the government's target of building two million rooms by 2020; tourism is seen as the driver of economic prosperity. It is making a few people comparatively very rich and leaving more and more trapped in poverty, barely able to scratch a living at the bottom of the food chain.

Inequality is a feature of life across the globe; it is all the more stark in this beautiful place.

But the churches that we visited were in good heart and I'll blog about that in a follow-up to this one.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Taking to the streets in a cause no one's heard of

I was delighted to receive this morning - slightly earlier than expected - a copy of James Meek's new book Private Island: Why Britain now belongs to someone else (Verso 2014). It's an exploration of the actual consequences of 30 years of privatisation, the selling off of public assets (gas, electricity, water, railways, the post office, etc) to private buyers. Has it created a nation of small shareholders? No, it has handed these assets, via the market, to mainly state-owned foreign enterprises. Was this the intention?

There's a flavour of Meek's powerful argument here. It looks to me that the book is essential reading for anyone interested in what kind of society we want the UK - or after September's vote, England, Wales and Northern Island - to be.

On Saturday, I will be joining a faithful few handing out leaflets and inviting people to sign a petition against TTIP. It's part of a 30 degrees day of action against a treaty few people have heard of. The transatlantic trade and investment partnership is currently being negotiated by the EU and the US - the world's two largest trading blocks. It threatens in its current form to hand huge amounts of power to global corporations and strip democratic assemblies at all levels of any power to decide what is best for their jurisdictions.

For example, the UK government will not be able to favour public provision in the health service; all branches of health care will have to be open to any bidder. The EU will not be able to continue its ban on genetically modified organisms in the food chain. It would almost certainly prevent the UK government from introducing a minimum price for alcohol or the sale of cigarettes in plain packs. The latter has happened in Australia but using a similar treaty, Philip Morris looks like being awarded vast amounts of compensation for lost sales (see here)

The key thing about TTIP is that I don't remember any political party asking me about it or putting it in their manifesto; the government has not informed parliament about the progress of negotiations in a way that allows our representatives to represent our interests in those negotiations; it was barely mentioned in the May European elections. Indeed the EU commissioner leading Europe in these negotiations has, apparently, complained that  his mailbag and inbox has been clogged up with submissions from concerned parties writing in response to a consultation he initiated. He has not complained, however, about the huge number of corporate lobbyists that visit and email to make their submissions as to why the treaty should offer companies a blank cheque.

So the thing about TTIP is the thing about democracy: do we value it? Do we want our voice to be heard? Are we prepared to stand up for it when it is under attack? At the moment the jury is out but I fear it will return with a shrug and a 'whatever' and we will kiss treasured freedoms and gains for ordinary people, hard-fought over the past two hundred years, a fond farewell

Friday, August 22, 2014

Soundtracking the revolution

Just a footnote to the last two posts.

My current favourite track on Bill Mallonee's new album soundtracks my response to the Bank America story. Casting his eye over the ruins, looking to see what face the devil is currently wearing Mallonee sings:

could be the new corporate terror
seducing the government
could be the war machine
could be the one per cent

That about nails it!

But it's also a call to arms to be the difference we need to see in the world, a soundtrack of the revolution:

time for banishing darkness
time to do what's right
time for loving the planet
time for stepping into the light

The song opens with Bill singing that it's 'time for closing the wounds up/time for opening hearts' because 'the whole nation is bleeding/how much longer can it last/goodwill and trust/are a thing of the past.'  

We have been left battered and bruised but we have the resources to turn things around. If we open our hearts to the light and start doing what's right, who know what will happen on our streets...

And still no one has gone to prison...

So Bank of America is to pay $16.65bn to avoid justice. Another financial institution uses petty cash to get itself out of jail.

Apparently, law enforcement in the US is saying that no institution is big or powerful enough to escape its clutches. I assume by that they mean that none of the long list of financial powerhouses that drove the world economy to its knees are unable to buy a deal with the supine regulators.

$7bn of the fine is going to help those who have been financial difficulties because they'd been sold one of the bank's junk mortgages back in the day. That's good.

But still no one has gone to prison. A while back the head of Standard Chartered was whining about how unfair people were being to bankers, about how new regulations were stifling risk taking. But still none of his peers have been brought to book, sent down for what their risk-taking dumped on the world.

The coverage points out that the payment is in settlement between the bank and regulators. The bank sold flawed mortgage securities that contributed to the near bankrupting of the world economy but the regulators have agreed a settlement. And the size of that settlement is tiny against the asset base of the bank.

As John Coffee (great name), a law professor at Columbia, pointed out 'there is another shoe that needs to drop before we can assess this settlement. This is the largest fine but yet again we have seen an ability, or a reluctance, to name and go after the individuals responsible.'

These dodgy mortgages didn't create and sell themselves. People created them, bundled them up and sold them on. And they they either knew what they were doing or they shouldn't been in the lucrative positions they held.

There was outrage this morning at the news that shop lifters stealing a little fresh food in the North East of England were not being prosecuted. The full weight of the law should be meted out against them to discourage this outrageous behaviour. I'll agree with that when the first banker responsible for stealing the livelihoods of many of these affected northeasterners goes to prison for a long stretch.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

More trenchant observations from an old beat up Ford

Well, it's been an age since I blogged. No excuses - except that I've been having a really good time, far too busy to write about it!

I've been in Sri Lanka - three weeks of heat and humidity with some of the loveliest people on the planet. I will reflect on that visit later as there's still quite a lot to process from it.

I've also been at Spring Harvest in France (way back in June) and had a really enjoyable time with a small group of people reflecting on how we are all God's works-in-progress. I was working with the lovely Pete James.

And I have been listening lots of new (and old) music. I was surprised that the new David Gray album (Mutineers) turned out to be really good. But I am not surprised that the new Bill Mallonee record, Winnowing, turns out to be a cracker.

He's called his backing band for this one 'the darkling planes' which suggest the mood of the album. On the liner notes he describes it as autumnal. Mallonee's genius has always been to write melancholy songs of faith and hope. Here the faith and hope seem fainter but are still present as Bill wrestles with the darkening landscape and seeks to find the pin-pricks of light in it.

The darkling planes turn out to be him and his wife (Muriah Rose). Between them they provide a lush and sombre backdrop for his reflections; lots of jangly guitars and flourishes of piano. At times - especially on got some explainin to do - he sounds like he's channelling Neil Young. But he is a unique voice in contemporary Americana and one that ought to be more widely heard.

Winnowing is the third album in as many years that reveal Mallonee to be a writer and performer at the top of his game. They are probably the best three records of his 50+ album career. He has hit a rich vein of lyrical and musical clarity and is producing some of the most of the most affecting music I've heard on a long time. Check the album out here - you'll be so glad you did

Friday, June 13, 2014

Catching up with life

Well, it's been a long time since my last post. Life has been very full and busy - and for the most part, pretty good.

We have a new minister at Bromley - a colleague I've been looking forward to arriving for quite a few months - and I've finished my marking at the end of this academic year (always a moment of joy!). And then last weekend we had a great Pentecost festival, celebrating God's creativity in a variety of ways.

Our festival featured Gareth Davies-Jones, Graham Fish and Rose Hilton, lots of conversations on the High Street and a great mini-music festival in the sun on Sunday afternoon.

Tomorrow we're off to France. I'm speaking at Spring Harvest's site in the Vendee, a new experience for me which I am greatly looking forward to. Tomorrow evening I hope we'll be sitting at one of favourite river-side restaurants in Amiens, our first stop on way south west.

Later in the summer we're off to Sri Lanka again to spend a week with post-graduate students exploring the social history of earliest Christianity at the Graduate Studies Centre in Dehiwalla. This will be followed by ten days in the sun in the hotel we stayed at briefly on our last visit. We're looking forward to catching up with old friends and making new ones.

The summer is shaping up to be a time of transition for us and for the church; bring it on - exciting times.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

creating a stadium-full of community

We went to see Elbow on Wednesday evening. Unexpectedly, we were offered really good tickets to see them at the O2. I have been listening to their latest album since it came out and trying to decide whether it's wonderful or just more of the same high class slightly melancholy songs.

Seeing them perform most of it live made me realise that it's possibly their best work to date - better than Seldom seen kid and rivalling Leaders of the Free world.

Elbow consists of four superb musicians with a frontman who is able to create a community in a stadium full of people. He works the crowd like all good singers do but the songs have already suggested that here is someone who gets the fact that we hurt and that we need others to share our hurt with.

So on Real Life (Angel), he sings to a friend in pain

you with the eyes of the met not forgotten
you with the eyes for the lonely whoever
you with the laugh that could bring down a tenement
talking your way to the heart of the citadel
up on the tables, or shoulders of strangers, or
under my arms we add to the waterfall
my little sister with brothers in common
you'll never need fear a thing in this world
while i have a breath in me; blood in my veins
you'll never need fear thing in this world
while i have a breath in me; blood in my veins
you never need fear a thing in this blue world

It speaks volumes to me about being community, being church. I think it's why Garvey is able to turn a stadium gig into an intimate encounter of a few mates around the piano.

Elsewhere in the song he tells her

go straight to the place where you first lost your balance
and find your feet with the people that you love

before assuring her that she'll pull through this time, stronger and wiser:

and on that hallelujah morning
in the arms of new love, the peace that you feel's real life 

Of course, as a Christian pastor, I can't help take those lines and put them into the mouth of the angel who greets us at the empty tomb of Jesus (as I'll be doing in the morning). I know Garvey has no thought of that in this lyric. Indeed, this album ends with the intensely moving The Blanket of Night where, in a song that seems to be slightly influenced by In the Night Garden on Cbeebies, he fears that he and his daughter might sink under the weight of life's events and especially the parting of ways between her mum and him:

paper cup of a boat
heaving chest of the sea
carry both of us
carry her, carry me

from the place we were born
to the land of the free
carry both of us
carry her, carry me

the ocean that bears us from our home
could sail us or take us for its own
the danger that life should lead us here
my angel could i have steered us clear?

gone, the light from her eyes
with the lives that we made
just the two of us
in the night on the waves

moving silent her lips
by the moon's only light
sowing silver prayers
in the blanket of night

the ocean that bears us from our home
could sail us or take us for its own
the danger that life should lead us here
my angel could i have steered us clear?

paper cup of the boat
heaving chest of the sea
carry both of us
or, swallow her, swallow me