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.

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…

When I read yesterday that the prolific American writer John Updike had died, I didn’t feel particularly moved. Martin Amis’s obituary in the Guardian ended with the observation: ‘This is a very cold day for literature.’ Well, Philistine that I am, I haven’t actually read any Updike, so I wouldn’t really know if it was a cold day, a cool day or any other sort of day. Perhaps when I have finished working my way through Dostoyevsky I ought to remedy this and see what all the fuss is about.

But today I was deeply saddened to hear that the great singer-songwriter John Martyn has died. He was one of the great musicians who didn’t really give a toss about playing the game and instead just kept on writing and recording beautiful songs. john-martyn-001Why the difference in response when I heard of his demise only a day after that of Updike?

Much to my horror, I was in someone else’s office this afternoon when I read the news on the BBC website and nobody there had heard of him. Far be it from me to suggest they are cultural pygmies, but… well… they are.

The first time I heard John Martyn play live was in the mid-1980s at the Colston Hall in Bristol. The sound failed and, drunk as a skunk, Martyn struggled to keep a decent show on the road while attempts were being made to fix the problem. He tried (unsuccessfully) to tell jokes. He even tried singing songs from musicals. It was embarrassing and annoying – especially as I had paid good money when I had very little good money to spend.

But there was a rare honesty to his songs and he had a wonderful ability to make the guitar sing. Many people don’t realise that they know his songs because they have only heard them played by other artists: Sweet Little Mystery and Head and Heart are two of his most famous. Over four decades he managed to put into words and music the deepest experiences of a human being exploring the beauty of the world and love and loss at the same time as wrestling with the demons of drugs and alcohol. Out of the struggle came a rare beauty and an integrity that reads in his lyrics like the guileless openness of a child. Complex and inconsistent, he wrote and sang and played of life as it is – not as we think it ought to be.

I have thought for years that it is always the poets and musicians who tell the truth about the world and enable us to keep alive the hope of redemption amid the intricacies of life. It brings us back to Leonard Cohen’s ‘broken and holy hallelujah’. Like the poets of the Old Testament, who (as Walter Brueggemann put it) ‘kept alive the language of home’, it is the raw honesty of these guys that breaks through the polished conventions of ‘life’ and allows light to shine through the cracks of their brokenness into the worlds we inhabit. They articulate in word and sound what some of us struggle to formulate.

Anyway, it is a sad day and a great loss. And I am going to listen to Solid Air (1973) this evening while I read.