Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Saying Farewell to Woolly Wolstenholme, with John Lees' Barclay James Harvest in Buxton

This was no ordinary gig. When John Lees' Barclay James Harvest stepped on stage on Saturday night at the Buxton Opera House, they were met with the most astonishing outpouring of warmth and affection from fans who had travelled from all parts to be with them that night.

The gig had initially been billed as a celebration of the 4oth anniversary of the release of Barclay James Harvest's seminal work, "Once Again". Tragically, in December 2010, founder member, composer, arranger, keyboard and guitar player Woolly Wolstenholme took his own life after a long battle with debilitating depression. On Saturday night, the band took to the stage for the first time since the tragedy, to play a gig in his honour.

In the audience were many people who had loved the band's music for many years, many fans who had got to know Woolly through the gigs, and an array of his personal friends too. While the band, now a 4-piece, delivered an excellent set of songs drawn almost exclusively from the 'classic-era' of Barclay James Harvest - it was an evening of high emotion. Wolstenholme's influence was everywhere, songs he had written, arrangements he had penned, strange silences between songs where he should have been wise-cracking.... yet the evening was a great tribute by the four remaining members to their fallen friend and colleague. When Woolly used to sing his song, "The Poet", John Lees could often be seen singing along off-mic. On Saturday John sang the song, poignantly alone, his voice loaded with emotion, his hand quivering by his side - the crowd willing him on. I saw people smiling, with moist eyes. The gig ended with the most enthusiastic singalong of Hymn, I have ever heard - the crowd shouting "YEAH", in between verses like in the old days..

The music Barclay James Harvest made has a meant a huge amount to me for more than half my life. I was deeply saddened by the tragic death of Woolly Wolstenholme (about which I blogged here) and as a result made a special effort to get to this gig. It turned out to be a day that will live long in the memory, firstly meeting up with lots of other fans who I usually only know via their odd pseudonyms on the internet, which was fun. And then a most remarkable gig. I am by nature someone who scoffs at public displays of emotion, and would find such things embarrassing rather than affecting. However, the display of warmth, affection and grief from the crowd on Saturday night, was absolutely absorbing. A quite remarkable night.

Monday, February 21, 2011

PERTH Marriage Course Party - this Saturday!

We're holding a Marriage Course Party a party on Saturday night. We're inviting all the people who have done The Marriage Course here, as well as anyone who just wants to find out more about it; for an evening of food, drink, chat, live-music and a short DVD about the principles which lie behind the growth of a healthy marriage. As well as being an entertaining evening, it will also give anyone intrigued by the Marriage Course an opportunity to find out what it's about without committing to the full 7-weeks course. If you are in the Perth area and are interested, let me know!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Posted by Picasa
A wee trip to the capital yesterday...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Valentine's Day - A Moment for Romance...

You may have noticed that Valentine's Day is almost upon us once again, when card-shops tell us that we don't actually love our loved ones unless we make an additional contribution to their already magnificent profits. If any of you have left it just a little too late, and need to get a last-minute card, I suggest you click on the above and print it off. It is after all, it's the thought that counts - not the price tag.

Friday, February 11, 2011

New Camera - 1st pic!

Posted by Picasa
My birthday present yesterday was a nifty new camera - I haven't learnt how to use it properly yet, but here's a quick shot of Perth town centre from Kinnoull Hill direction, to get things started!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

40 - Licence to GRUMP!

I am only a few hours away now from being 40. The enormous leap from being "in my thirties" to being "in my fifth decade" is about to be made.. Happily I received my official Grumpy Old Man Licence in the post today though - which obviously cheers me up no end. Those of you who think that I do not need a licence-to-grump, are of course technically correct - I have been acting like a grumpy old man for many, many years. However - for all that time, I have felt like an under-age-drinker sneaking illicit pints in the pub - but all the while looking forward to my 18th birthday and the opportunity to look the barman in the eye and order a drink without fear of being caught. Now here we are 10-02-2011, and the great moment is upon us. I feel I can groan, and grump and complain to my hearts content - and no-one can say, "Oh stop acting like a grumpy old man". Because I am. And I have the licence to prove it.

Film Notes: Au Revoir les Enfants

Au Revoir Les Enfants, is Louis Malle's autobiographical film about a Roman Catholic boarding school in occupied Vichy France, in the latter years of WWII. The priests who ran the school not only sought to educate young Catholic boys in the faith - but also used the school as a place to hide Jews.

What impresses Au Revoir Les Enfants on the mind so forcefully is its intermingling of the ordinary and the dreadful, into a seamless whole. Malle manages to capture something of the way in which children view their own experience as 'normal' and 'unsurprising' when classmates being rounded up by Nazis is anything but.

The film provides some intriguing insights into life under Petain's regime, a part of WWII history rarely discussed, and features some excellent child-actors.

Much of the film is about the ordinary stuff of childhood in a boarding school, rivalries, fun, bullies, games, and is simply a nicely told childhood tale. All the time however, the nagging horror of the realities of life under Nazi occupation break into the normality, emerging from the shadows to centre stage - eventually smashing the ordinaryness to pieces. The thing that struck me as particularly sorrowful, was the way in which Malle pictured the Gestapo - clearly from his memories. So many war-films unwittingly present such characters as demonic, almost non-human figures, perhaps as a way of coping with the presence of human evil by seeking to externalise it, and make it only appear in ghoulish fantasy figures. The Nazi in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds who stalks France rounding up Jewish people, is perhaps a good recent example of this. However when the Gestapo come to Malle's school in this film, the appalling fact is that they looked so damn ordinary. The man in charge of the ghastly 'ethnic-cleansing', the local agent of evil itself, looked and spoke like a bored bank-manager. This was chilling. He wasn't a creature apart from us - he was one of us. Here is the Christian doctrine of fallen-humanity writ-large.

This film is a profound, moving and delicately told story, poignantly recording the way in which Hitler's 'final-solution' impacted one group of boys in a little school in rural France. Remarkably, Malle gives the viewer a child's perspective on the events - not in a clumsy, obvious way - but through this distressing collision of the ordinary and evil.

Book Notes: Generous Justice by Timothy Keller

'Generous Justice' is Tim Keller's take on Christians and Social Justice, and is a great little book. It may be an increasingly out of date cliche to describe Christians on the 'left' as seeking only to present a Jesus who motivates them to pursue a more just socio-political order; while Christians on the 'right' present him as only interested in saving context-less souls: nevertheless many Christian people have never really thought out the links between the core Christian belief of 'salvation by faith' and the core Christian activity of serving the poor and pursuing justice. In short - they live as though Orthodoxy and Orthopraxis were at best separate compartments of life, or at worst actually in tension with each other.

With an array of fascinating examples, case studies, and the use of thinkers and practitioners as profound as Jonathan Edwards and John Perkins, Keller maps out a compelling vision of the Christian life in which the outworking of salvation by faith is a life committed to pursuing justice for the poor. In fact, Keller argues, an absence of social concern casts significant doubt on the veracity of any claim to conversion to Christ. As he does so, Keller roots the contemporary concern with human-rights as a development from the fully Judeo-Christian concept of the imago-dei, ie. humanity created in the image of God. As such, conversion to Christ, means not simply the remaking of the individual into Christ-likeness; but also the believer's increasing compulsion to treat every other human being in-line with the inherent dignity with which their creator endued them - when he bestowed his divine image upon them.

The book is a very stimulating and encouraging provocation to make compassion and the pursuit of justice central to our response to the gospel of Christ. It doesn't undermine or replace the gospel - but flows from it. The critical link (from Edwards) is that as the recipients of unmerited grace, we must be the vessels of unmerited grace to others. On a personal level the books contains a wealth of stories of individuals who have been moved by their sense of having been loved by God, to care and serve others. On a structural level, key to this is the re-activation of the dormant idea of the deaconate as found in the New Testament (the subject of Keller's doctorate - and the practice in the church where he pastors). In his view (which he describes briefly) the deacons were separated from the elders who led New Testament churches, specifically to enable them to focus on the church's social ministry. The book contains many practical pointers as to how this can be done, as well as a useful discussion on the proper extent of the church's involvement in social and political action.

I was given two copies of this great little book for Christmas, so I have one to give-away! The first person who e-mails me can have it, completely free. My e-mail address is on my blog-profile for anyone who doesn't know it.

Gary Moore 1952-2011

When I was a young teenager in the first half of the 1980s, the young people in the youth group I went to, were divided into two groups. Each group had its look, its music, its heroes, and its places. The Indie/Goth crowd looked either to The Sisters of Mercy or The Smiths for their inspiration, for those of us who were Rockers - our hero was undoubtedly Irish guitarist Gary Moore. The first 'proper' gig I ever went to was Gary Moore, at Hammersmith Odeon, on his Wild Frontier tour, revisiting the Celtic Rock he had enjoyed in his Thin Lizzy days a decade previously.

Memory is one of the strangest capacities of the human mind. Smells, sights, places - all trigger streams of recollections. For me, the music of Gary Moore brings a deluge of memories from those formative years. Our teenage years are critical in forming who we will be for the rest of our days, and Moore's guitar playing was the 'soundtrack to my early teenage years. For several years his music was almost constantly on my stereo - albums like "Live in Japan", "Corridors of Power", "Dirty Fingers" or "Run for Cover", filling my room - and leading to much air-guitaring.

By my mid-teens I was getting bored of the hard-rock format and was discovering all kinds of other music. The pastoral-sounds of Barclay James Harvest would form a strong pull in one direction - while blues and jazz started to pull me in another. The piano-blues of players like ray Charles, Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree, and the Paul Jones radio programme grabbed my attention and these new sounds I heard resonated strangely, and deeply within me (and left my friends thinking I was just odd!). One day in an A-level economics lesson, it was Simon Welsh who told me that he'd heard that Gary Moore had also got tired of heavy-rock, and had produced an blues album, "with some old blues guitarists"....

"Still Got The Blues" was, by all accounts a huge risk for Gary Moore - but one which paid off, massively for him. It's the album of his I have played more than any other, packed full of gems. Moore's guitar was always more suited to Blues than to the hard-rock of albums like "After the War" where the format constrained the melodic, lyrical power of his playing. Moore was never a straightforward guitar-shredder (although he did do the silly thing that all post Eddie Van Halen guitarists do - when they stand and play silly scales, ridiculously fast) - he was in fact an extremely versatile player, who was so at one with his instrument that he could deliver enormous emotion through it. His expressiveness with the guitar "he makes it cry, he makes it scream, he makes it cry", still affects me after all this time.

With Collosseum II, Moore turned his hand to fusion/jazz-rock, delivering a series of albums of electrifying playing, with John Hiseman, and Don Airey. To countless sessions with all manner of people from The Travelling Wilbury's to Paul Rodgers, to Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Cozy Powell - Moore brought his trademark searing guitar. Moore was musically restless, roaming from style to style, always exploring and experimenting - he could play blindingly fast, he could play mournfully slow numbers, he ventured in classical territory, played with dance rhythms, celtic rhythms - with remarkable effect.

Live, Gary Moore was a consummate showman - giving his all in every performance. Having seen several of his rock and blues shows, I personally rate the Blues performances (especially in the days of the full 'Midnight Blues Band') as being far superior. Gary Moore - in full flight, playing songs such as "Midnight Blues", "All Your Love" or his trademark, "Still Got the Blues" was in fact an electrifying experience. His playing still makes the proverbial hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Gary Moore died this weekend, of a heart-attack, while on holiday in Spain. He was only 58, and had several musical projects in the pipeline, including (apparently) an acoustic blues album, that will sadly now never be made. Only the day before his death, I was on his website, looking and hoping for the announcement of new live-dates. I was shocked to read, the next day of his demise. I will be 40 this week - and feeling rather old! What has made this even stranger is that within a few weeks of this milestone, two of the heroes of my youth, Gary Moore and BJH's Woolly Wolstenholme have died. These are the two musicians/bands, who I have listened to more than any other over the last 25 years. I'm not sure which makes me feel older, entering my 5th decade, or the heroes of my youth passing into history.

The final tragedy of Moore's passing has been the disgraceful behaviour of the gutter press - well actually just The Sun, in the UK. Without any proper evidence or sources, and within only a few hours of Moore's death they printed a story (full of lurid detail) about his death, claiming that he had a 'booze-up' on holiday and asphyxiated on his own vomit. The fact that witnesses say Moore left the hotel bar quietly after a couple of drinks at 11pm suggests otherwise - however what is really angering fans is that The Sun knew that a post-mortem had been ordered, but didn't wait for the results, simply sensationalised their 'rock-star death' story: which turned out to be completely made-up. The post-mortem indicated that Moore had suffered a heart-attack, and that this was the cause of death. When Moore's children, friends and family were in grief and shock - they deserved better than this. I hope they sue The Sun - and win such a huge sum from The Dirty-Digger that his noxious News Corp is forced to actually change its editorial standards. I have never bought a copy of The Sun - but if I was a Sun reader, I'd join The Sun boycott.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The late, great Gary Moore

RIP Gary Moore

Reports of Moore's death are hitting the internet.