15 Albums That Shaped Me

THE KINKS: Arthur or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire
I would include Village Green Preservation Society and Percy and Muswell Hillbillies as well, but you get the idea. Gets better and better every time.
Key song: Shangri La.

THE BEATLES: White Album
One album with about 20 different genres.
Key song: Helter Skelter

PAUL SIMON: Graceland
I used to dance in the lounge to this in NZ.
Key song: Under African Skies

SABIO: Escape
I love pretty much anything Aaron Frith has done, and this is the best.
Key song: Money Makers

'He was cool before it was cool to be cool'.
Key Song: Let There Be Love

When he was so good he didn't have to try.
Key Song: Life On Mars

KEVIN PROSCH: Journeys Of Life
Bits of it are really lame, other bits are out of this world.
Key song: Wheel Of God

DUST: Invisible
I was their roadie at the time, so it meant loads to me that my friends could make music as good as anything I could find anywhere.
Key Song: Stonefall

MARC JAMES: King of Glory, King of Grief
Best worship album I can think of.
Key Song: Power Of The Gospel

Out on her own as the best at what she did. Unsettling and beautiful and funky.
Key Song: Strange Fruit.

The best vocalist there's ever been, as far as I'm aware. Chills down my spine!
Key Song: Respect

OTIS REDDING: Dock of the Bay
An absolute force of nature, especially live.
Key Song: Try A Little Tenderness

The first time I'd known anyone famous. And a stonking pop album.
Key Song: Honest Questions

SPIRITUALIZED: Ladies & Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space
My favourite band at their best. Just ridiculously like themselves and no one else. Brilliant, huge, brilliant, soulful, brilliant.
Key Song: Cop Shoot Cop [with 8 solid minutes of white noise!]

Album back cover
A moment of honesty; I really do enjoy listening to myself, so I better admit it!
Key Song: 131

Observations on Ed Miliband as Labour Leader


I am both attracted and repulsed by politics, in almost equal degrees, and hence try to remain in the loop yet non-partisan.  That's me.  I'm by no means an apologist for the Labour Party, but I couldn't help having these few reflections since Ed Miliband was elected as party leader yesterday:

i.  This is the party of Keir Hardy, Ramsey MacDonald, Aneurin Bevan, Roy Jenkins, Barbara Castle, Dennis Skinner and so on.  I feel quite sorry that they effectively had to choose between Ed Balls and the Milibandii.  Not exactly inspiring options.

ii.  Some Labour MPs got to vote FOUR times: once as an MP; once as a Party member; once as a union member; and once through affiliated organisations (eg. the Fabians).  That's just ridiculous.

iii.  Anyone in the country could have voted: registering for party membership (at the bargain price of £1 introductory offer) remained open all the way until Sept 8.  In the other parties, only those registered on the day the election is announced are eligible.

iv.  The only Labour leaders to have won general elections since the War have been Atlee, Wilson, and Blair.  If Ed Miliband turns out to be of their ilk, I will be very surprised.

v.  The fact that Ed Miliband was not the majority choice of Labour MPs or of Party members (he won via union support) will completely undermine his authority as leader.  He'll be pushed and pulled all over the place by his own party, let alone the Coalition.

Adding it all up then, if this parliament does last until 2015 before there's another election, I doubt that Ed Miliband will still be the Labour leader then.  Although I actually quite like him.

New Amsterdam, circa. 1650

I love the 'what if's of history.  Eg:

 - if there'd been no Napoleon, Americans would drive on the left
 - if the Spanish Armada had succeeded, New Zealand would be Dutch
 - if John Lennon hadn't died, he'd be annoying the heck out of us now

In 1667, the English Government offered the Dutch the territories of New Netherland (inc. parts of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York etc.) which they had recently conquered as a bargaining chip, in exchange for sole trading rights on the Suriname coast of South America.

The Dutch Republic refused, and relinquished its claim on its North American colonies.  The English renamed the capital New York, it flourished, and the rest is history.

Here's a pretty picture of the Dutch settlement at the tip of Manhattan Island, as observed in 1650, along with a map of the area (click for a MUCH larger version).

New amsterdam circa 1650


Mine Eyes Have Seen The Glory

Occasionally, a tune is just so ‘right’ for a particular hymn that a degree of editing is required to get the lyrics to fit.  The moment I sang ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah’ to the chorus of Can You Feel The Love Tonight, I knew that nothing was going to stand in my way.

Which means that this version has a LOT of words chopped out.  Some of them were by-the-by anyway, and not really central to the cause, but others – ‘He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave’ for example – are a sad loss.

So what do we gain from this combination?  Battle Hymn Of The Republic is usually sung to such a militaristic tune that the effect can be quite masculine and hard, when in reality the lyrics are very poetic and full of awe.  The more gentle majesty of this new tune helps bring that out.

A Theology Of …



We (the Church) all have different parts to play, different skills, different locations: a team full of strikers might score plenty of goals, but probably won't win anything (ask Tottenham).

There is a unity of purpose in a diversity of emphases, especially when we pay attention to the instructions of our coach.  Our coach primarily shouts from the sidelines, encouraging and guiding his players, but he is also a player-manager and enjoys getting out onto the pitch himself.



'Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.'
'Whenever you drink this, remember me.'
'Wine is bottled poetry.'
Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water."



God invented trees, in all their beautiful and strange diversity.  Never have any two trees ever been identical – they have different genotypes, different soil, different nutrients, are shaded by different neighbours, fed by different streams and blown by different winds.

Man puts these trees into factories and out the other end are ten thousand identical tables, repetitive, tamed clones.  We are threatened by uniqueness, including our own.


The above: an exercise in trying to keep my theological brain in trim.  The first one I was thinking about as I sat down; the other two were off the top of my head.

God Moves In A Mysterious Way

EVERYONE has heard of this song.  NO ONE has actually sung it.  Not for the past 80 years, anyway.  Ripe for a new tune, says I …

I should make it clear: I love William Cowper (pronounced 'Cooper' for the illiterate among us).  I love the fact that his faith was often tentative at best and was nearly always lived under the cloud of depression.  I especially love the rawness of his words.

William cowper

The common story (possibly apocryphal) about the origins of this hymn relate to a time when Cowper had decided to commit suicide by jumping off London Bridge.  However, the fog was heavy and, after an hour trying to find the way, the cab-driver admitted that he was lost.  Cowper jumped out of the cab and, to his complete surprise, found himself outside his own front door.

Using Greensleeves as a tune carries no great emotional significance for me, and I don't think it brings out any deeper meaning in the lyrics, but to me it feels like they were always meant to be together.  Both are very familiar, but rarely used.

Abide With Me

I'm often surprised by the honesty of hymns.

I don't know whether I've fallen for the myth that all Christians are pleasant, inoffensive teddy bears or what, but it is startling to read the stark heartfelt soulfulness of Abide With Me.

This is what we sing at the FA Cup Final, for heaven's sake!

Combining the lyrics with the tune of O Come, O Come Emmanuel – a song of hope amidst aching exile and bitter captivity – brings that sadness to the fore.  I love that we can be properly upset and express that honestly to God.

Onward Christian Soldiers

There are a number of hymns whose titles I have known my whole life, yet I have never sung – the curse of clunky tunes, alas.  The irony is that the tune-writer in this case was Arthur Sullivan, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame.

But I have never sung Onward Christian Soldiers in my life, and it was one of the first hymns I set my sights upon.  I wanted something that would really let you get your teeth into the lyrics.

I studied All Along The Watchtower in my degree, as an example of 'the apolocalyptic imagination' – it's full of lines and images from the Old Testament.

I think that's what it brings to the hymn, a sense of intense, but absolutely spiritual, warfare; and in the midst of apocalyptic energy, a calm confidence in the the power of God.

And to think that it was written for children …

‘God Forbid’ vs ‘Inshallah’

Yesterday I was being trained to protect myself from various forms of physical assault (which may occur in my present line of work), and it was striking how often the trainer, having described an example of something going wrong, tacked a little 'God forbid!' onto the end.

It's not exactly a phrase that I use, but it is fairly common, and it got me thinking about why we use it – what worldview is expressed by saying 'God forbid' and what that says about us and about our (historical) view of God.

And immediately I was struck by the contrast with the Inshallah of the Middle East (and Islamic nations in general).  Inshallah is used when someone expresses a wish or a preference but, rather than being presumptive, submits it to God's will: 'Can you come to my party?' 'Yes, inshallah.'  Our nearest equivalent is 'hopefully', with no reference to God.  The phrase is nearly always used in reference to something that someone wants to happen.

'God forbid', obviously, is the opposite.  When we have been worried or afraid or concerned about what might happen, we (in our culture) seem to have instinctively presumed that it is God's role to intervene, to protect us, so that all will be well.  The Arabic/Muslim world is far less presumptive.

The God of 'God Forbid' –
Genial, providential, permissive, responding to our wants.  A protective, cuddly God.

The God of Inshallah
Above our preferences, engendering humility and submission.  A high, authoritative God.

Big stereotypes I know, but to me it is interesting that Western Christianity rarely has the humble awe of the Eastern Churches or of Islam, which in turn tend to lack the personal, relational aspect of the Western Church.  In turn, we have relatively little respect for authority and leadership but a far less fatalistic view of the future.

Jesus Isn’t Just For Christmas

by John Hegley – click to listen

Down in the Bible
Some of it's tribal
A tooth for a tooth
An eyeball for an eyeball

Some of it's truth
Some of it's Gospel
A man with a mission
A mission impossible

A man with a tan
A man who liked a parable
'Cast your seed onto land that is arable
– a stony field and the yield will be tarrible'

Born in a manger
Born into danger
Don't take gifts from any old stranger
Especially if it's gold
Especially if they say
"You've been specially selected!"

And they found your address by following a star
With a couple of mates
Who've got gifts as well
Unusual gifts
Just tell em "Thanks, but no ta."

He had a staff to help him with his walking
He had his staff to help him do the talking
He had his path – it never had a fork in
He made a lot of sandwiches and none of them had pork in.

If you had a party
He knew how to cater
He could feed a party
With the one potato

"Don't go thanking me mate – credit the creator"
"The wine's all gone son."
"Don't you worry mater,
Let me have that water for a moment would you waiter?"

Treated like a criminal
Flattened in a hymnal
What the men don't do
Maybe the women'll
A proper dad
He never really had one
It's not on file if the child was a glad one
No trial for whatever-it-was the lad done

If that's a Good Friday
I wouldn't want a bad one.