music


944136BD-7FC6-490E-8C9A-8A1AFEC2DF5COn 16 November I will be doing a gig at a pub in Pontefract with the acclaimed author of a new book on Bob Dylan. Clinton Heylin’s Trouble in Mind fills in all the gaps around Dylan’s three-year three-album Gospel phase. It is detailed, but without ever losing the thread of what was going on for Dylan and those around him at the time.

What comes out of the book very strongly is the discrepancy between the quality of Dylan’s music and the blind prejudice of critics in the media to take it seriously. This prejudice had little or nothing to do with music and everything to do with religion.

What are we to make of music journalists who decline to take seriously the musical or lyrical integrity of their subject simply because they happen not to agree with the musician’s experience or worldview? I found this element of the book (with some faded memories of the time and the three albums: Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love) intriguing as well as shocking.

However, the phenomenon itself continues to have relevance. When university students decide to no-platform someone because they don’t agree with their stance on a particular matter, aren’t they simply prioritising their own prejudices over those of the person now barred from speaking? On what basis – intellectually or morally?

OK, the leap from Dylan in 1979-81 to free speech debates in 2017 is a bit of a big one. But, is it not surely incumbent on students and journalists to have an open (not empty) mind, to enjoy the adventure of provocative new thoughts/ideas, and to identify their own prejudices with the honesty they expect from everyone else?

And before anyone suggests that a Christian like me has no leg to stand on, let me just say this: (a) almost every act of Anglican worship begins with a collective “I seriously get stuff wrong” moment – no room for self-righteous arrogance here; (b) curiosity is the key to enjoying life, the universe and everything; and, (c) certainties should always be subject to challenge – as (I think) CS Lewis put it, “if Christianity is true, it is true because it is true; it is not true because it is Christianity”.

No fear there. (more…)

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1. The Prime Minister has summoned her ministers to Chequers to discuss Brexit today. What are they discussing? Wouldn't I love to be a fly on the wall. At what point will it be recognised publicly that the EU countries with whom we will be negotiating do not have “our best interests” at heart, but will be looking to maximise their own interests? At some point those who have promised much will have to account for why much has not been given. Won't they?

2. Why isn't Rory Butler better known? Just listen to the guitar playing, the voice, the maturity of the lyric and the humour. Unique. He is appearing in Leeds soon, but I will be abroad and can't go. Tour dates are here.

3. Why do I feel sorry for Joe Hart?

4. What will the Germans be saying to us about Brexit when we meet in Munich from next Thursday for the Meissen Commission annual conference? We'll also be discussing the European refugee situation with state politicians.

5. Why do bad things make some people lose their faith when that faith is in a God who opts into the realities of this world and doesn't exempt himself from them?

Now we are into the autumn and the almost-three-year transition (from three dioceses) into a single, functioning and coherent diocese is coming to its conclusion (by the end of 2016), I hope to start blogging more frequently again. Which I realise will be of interest to some and a cause of misery to others. Oh well. We'll see.

 

The great thing about holidays is the space to switch off and read stuff that has nothing to do with work.

This time I am starting with Elvis Costello's brilliant autobiography Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. It was a bit of a silly choice to bring to the beach – an enormous fatty of a tome. But, it follows on from Philip Norman's excellent biography of John Lennon and Sylvie Simmons biography of Leonard Cohen – both perfect, intriguing, funny, poignant and entertaining. They were followed by Bruce Cockburn's epic memoir that laid bare the life and mind behind the poetry and music.

Like Cockburn, Costello wrote the book himself and the same lyrical humour pervades the text. I am only half way through, but can't put it down. Not the usual beach book, but it provides a mental soundtrack that doesn't require sticking headphones in my ears.

Not so much “watching the detectives”, but, in the light of what's going on around the world, more a case of “Poor Fractured Atlas”.

 

The great thing about getting away on holiday is the time to think, reflect and consider. Arriving on holiday to the mother of all thunder storms (started about four hours ago and still hammering), there isn't much to do other than think, reflect and consider.

Or read and think and consider.

At a business breakfast in Huddersfield last month I was given a book – strongly recommended as powerful and moving. That's usually enough to turn me off. After all, I have more books still to read than there is time to live. But, this one has proved its hype.

Nick Coleman is a man who lived music – then lost his hearing. But, his memoir isn't miserable or cloying; rather, the radical loss of music sent him deep into exploring. – sometimes explaining – how music works on the soul. Actually, it isn't just about music; it's about art and taste and love and growing up and mortality and loss. I don't want to quote it here, or give page references for a quick dip into its pages. It has to be read from the beginning. Don't miss his observations on Christmas carols or Soul music. And it is beautifully written.

The book is called The Train in the Night: A Story of Music and Loss.

I read it against the backdrop of two recent albums: Leonard Cohen's Popular Problems and Robert Plant's Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. Both are differently preoccupied with mortality, joy and loss – both with an honest realism that puts regret and self-pity in their place.

Someone said recently that this is the album Cohen's (now 80 year old) voice was made for. I thought that of both Live in London and Old Ideas. Seeing him live at the Manchester Arena last year will live with me for ever – as will having to leave before he finished in order to get the last train back to Bradford, thus missing nearly forty minutes of encores.

They used to say that Cohen's earlier recordings were “music to slit your wrists to”. Of course, they never were. The humour was always there. But, age has brought it out as he has relaxed from the demands of … er … probably his libido. He sings:

There is no G-d in Heaven / And there is no Hell below / So says the great professor / Of all there is to know / But I've had the invitation / That a sinner can't refuse / And it's almost like salvation / It's almost like the blues

Robert Plant, on the other hand, responds to the break up of a long relationship in his new album Lullaby … and the Ceaseless Roar. Again, this is a working out of the experience of loss and renewal, but with the edge that only the artist can bring to us. No wonder, then, that the Old Testament prophets were the ones to scratch away at the memories and imaginations of the people, using words that – in the words of Walter Brueggemann – “linger and explode”.

Anyway, this all comes on the back of seeing Caro Emerald live at the Leeds Arena a couple of weeks ago. The support act, Kris Berry, was lovely-but-bland and couldn't manage to hold the audience – it felt like the audience was trying to help her feel OK. Then Caro Emerald hit the stage with her eight or nine piece band and occupied the space with sheer force of musical personality. You couldn't take your eyes off her. Every song, every arrangement, coursed through your veins, lighting up the imagination and firing the bits of you that want to get up and dance even if to do so would have been unseemly. In my case, that is.

So, that is the soundtrack running through my mind while I begin a holiday from the relentlessness of establishing a new diocese in West Yorkshire and the Dales (and Barnsley and a slice of Lancashire and a bit of County Durham and North Yorkshire…).

(The thunderstorm stopped at 9pm allowing wifi to work…)

 

Last night Rory Butler did a lounge gig in my house. Around 20 of us knocked back the wine while listening to some wonderful guitar playing and great songs by the 22 year old Scot.

I have posted about him before – and can’t work out how to upload the video from my iPhone to this blog (yes, cos I am technologically challenged). So, here’s a link to the previous post; here’s a link to his website; and here’s a couple of badly lit photos of last night’s gig, followed by a YouTube clip recorded some time ago.

Rory Butler 1Rory Butler 2

If you like John Martyn, Nick Drake, James Taylor, Leonard Cohen (without the… er… ‘life experience’ in the voice), you’ll love Rory Butler.

If you fancy a lounge gig from him, contact him through his website. While you’re at it, tell him he needs to be on Twitter, too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn3L8GlTHHk

I am looking forward to August when the diary thins into space. So, a day off today allowed me to get into practice for relaxing into the anticipated thinned space. Three CDs and one book are worth mentioning:

I can’t get enough of the genius that is Father Ted. Endlessly funny no matter how often I see it. So, last week my son-in-law lent me Well-remembered Days, a very funny and scurrilous satire on ‘all things Oirish’ by the co-writer of Father Ted, Arthur Mathews. It is laugh-out-loud funny and, like all good satire, is biting enough about religion to hit a few sensitive buttons.

About ten years ago I met a bloke in Wimbledon who shares my enthusiasm for the great Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn. He lent me two or three compilation CDs on which Bruce performed acoustic songs. Concerts for a Landmine Free World was one of them, but it has taken me ten years to track it down again and get it. It is wonderful, funny in parts, and showcasing some lovely acoustic music from country greats like Emmylou Harris, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nancy Griffith, Kris Kristofferson and John Prine. Lovely stuff and all for a good cause.

Sometimes the best music doesn’t hit the heights of public recognition. I have just listened to two CDs from Scotland – both by friends. Rory Butler has inherited his father’s musicality and produced a beautiful first album called Naked Trees. Mature and moody, he has written songs of love and loss and hope and longing. Rory brings to mind early John Martyn – reflective and guitar that haunts the imagination.

Alan Windram stayed with us recently and sent his CD 10 o’clock to the morning yesterday. I love it. It brought to mind fellow Scottish band Del Amitri. One listen and I had to put it back on again. Then I read the sleeve notes and saw that Rory Butler had also played on it. Just get it and love it.

Anyway, the music shuts out for a while all the Olympics stuff, banking corruption and muckiness – creating space for beauty, poetry and imagination.

Not deep, I know. But, as Bruce Cockburn sang on You’ve Never Seen Everything: “Don’t forget about delight”…

So, here are a couple of samples…

Conversations with journalists often involves challenging the suggestion that the Church of England spends all its time in conflict over sex and women. If 5% of what we talk about forms 95% of media coverage about us and this shapes 100% of popular perception about the church’s preoccupation, no wonder we have a problem.

Well, despite my protestations that the bulk of our preoccupations have nothing to do with sex or conflict, the House of Bishops spent 95% of its meeting this week doing sex and women (bishops). One colleague at the two-day meeting in York, having wondered after months of bad weather what the big yellow thing in the sky was, asked why we couldn’t leave the stuffy room and meet outside – or as he put it, “Can’t we do sex outside?” Er…

Anyway, dispute now rages about women bishops, marriage and associated matters. More anon. Although my meetings this week about the media and the conflict in Sudan won’t hit the headlines…

What has made me laugh today, though, is the prospect of Saturday’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku. The human rights questions there raise enough questions, but surely the biggest challenge this year is how to lose the contest while appearing to try to win it. The country that wins the contest has to stage the event next year. And who wants to do that in the middle of a massive financial crisis?

It will be interesting to see how Greece, Spain and Portugal perform. A win might cheer them up during hard times – music can do that sort of thing – but a noble defeat will prove cheaper. And Ireland has chosen Jedward again…

(I met Engelbert Humperdinck in a BBC Radio 2 studio a couple of weeks ago. I only heard his song yesterday. Apparently they have chosen him because he is very popular in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Nice song, though…)

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