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Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire, United Kingdom
Broadcaster, musician, song writer, tea drinker and curry lover.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Beatles Anthology

Some people may, I suppose, still not "get" The Beatles, but love them or hate them, you have to concede that they irrevocably shaped modern pop music for good. I've just been watching the ten dvd "Beatles Anthology" set for the first time, and a number of thoughts struck me as I watched this beautifully made series.

It is interesting to note that from the start, The Beatles were a rock and roll band, brought up on a diet of pre-Elvis and Chuck Berry standards, which were the first songs they learned to play. These songs also formed the backbone of their formidable Hamburg era sets, along - strangely - with a few Motown standards, most notably "Please Mr Postman" but also including love songs such as "You've Really Got A Hold On Me". When the band returned to the UK to blitz the pop charts, the self-penned pop they were dealing in was a lot tamer than the rock and roll they were playing out in Germany, a fact backed up by the necessity to cut their hair and invest in suits. All this was at the behest of manager Brian Epstein, and it strikes me that they must have trusted him a lot, to dilute their sound and their look the way they had to, which must have been frustrating in a way.

Another thing that emerges from the documentary is the absolute rightness of the decision to stop touring. It's easy to forget that back in the early to mid 60s, large scale concerts were an innovation, and as such, adequate provision for the band to be able to hear themselves was non-existent. Monitoring had not been invented at that point, and when you think that the guitarists were operating out of 30 watt amps, which were their only source of monitoring (stadium concerts utilized the stadium sound system, which back then was woeful), and poor Ringo had no way of hearing himself over the screams, the decision to come off the road not only made complete sense, but was totally understandable. After all, as Ringo himself says, he needed to look at the guitarists backs and body movements most of the time to figure out how to keep time, and as a result of not being able to hear what they were doing, the playing of all band members suffered, not to mention the frustration that audiences were coming to SEE the band, and not LISTEN to them. Artistically very unsatisfying.

Coming off the road allowed the band to really flourish in the studio and just a cursory listen to the period from "Rubber Soul" onwards (my favorite period) shows a wealth of arranging styles and the sympathetic and masterful production of George Martin.

One final - and sadly, hypothetical - question came to me as I watched the break-up of the band. I wonder how much longer they would have gone on if manager Brian Epstein had not committed suicide when he did, because it seems to me that the band lost a lot of its business direction when Epstein died, and a lot of energy had to be diverted away from the creative process into thinking about and dealing with that, and as a result came the disastrous Apple Boutique venture. Would Epstein have allowed that? Would the band have been less likely to squabble if their energies and attention were solely on the music, as it would undoubtedly have been had Epstein been there?

I guess we'll never know, but at least we have a legacy of wonderful songs to enjoy for ever.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Amazing Grace

I finally got to see the Amazing Grace dvd after...way too long, and it had a very surprising effect on me.

What really struck me was the truth in the words of the famous John Newton hymn which brought home to me my own sinfulness.

I really felt that God used that movie to convict me of things in my life which I needed to straighten up, and as soon as I'd finished watching it I set about doing just that.

Of course, Amazing Grace also happens to be a very well made movie which clearly portrays the struggle Wilberforce experienced to pass his Abolition bill, and it was beautifully acted and sensitively directed by Michael Apted who will be helming the 3rd narnia movie due out in 2010.

But it was some simple words written by a former slave ship captain who saw the light, that really impacted me powerfully...

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound!

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, But now am found

Was blind but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear.

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares

I have already come.

'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home!

The Lord has promised good to me,

His word my hope secures;

He will my shield and portion be,

As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,

And mortal life shall cease;

I shall possess within the veil,

A life of joy and peace!

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God who called me here below

Shall be forever mine!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Shack

There's been a lot of attention given to William P. Young's novel "The Shack". I've heard some people say that it changed their life and their attitudes to God and people.

When I read it I found it interesting, if not life changing, but it left a bad taste in my mouth since it appeared to cheapen God and almost make fun of both Him and the Bible.

I couldn't quite put my finger on what disturbed me about it and so I have kept quiet until now.

Today's Breakpoint commentary by Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship - on the subject of "The Shack" - puts it better than I ever could, and so I will post his comments below.

"When the prophet Isaiah and the apostle John caught glimpses of God, they were overcome with despair at their own unworthiness in the light of His glory. The same could be said of Daniel or Paul, or any number of figures from Scripture.

But when the protagonist of a new book called The Shack is introduced to the Father of heaven, he is greeted by a "large, beaming, African-American woman" who goes by the name of Papa.

If you have not heard about The Shack, there is a good chance you will soon. A novel self-published about a year ago by William P. Young, the book has gained quite a following in Christian circles. It is still among the top 10 sellers at Amazon.com. And when it receives a glowing endorsement from a scholar whom I respect, like Eugene Peterson, it is not a phenomenon that discerning Christians can ignore.

The story is about a man named Mack, who is struggling in the aftermath of the brutal murder of his young daughter. One day he finds a note in his mailbox—apparently from God. God wants Mack to meet Him at "the shack," the place where his daughter was killed.

When he arrives, the shack and the winter scene around it transform, Narnia-like, into a mystical mountain paradise, perhaps meant to be heaven itself. Now dwelling in the shack are three mysterious figures—the African-American woman, a Middle Eastern workman, and an Asian girl—who reveal themselves as God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the book is basically a discussion between Mack and the three persons of the Trinity. While the discussion is mostly on the deep topics of creation, the fall, freedom, and forgiveness, too often the author slips in silly lines that, frankly, seem ridiculous in the mouth of the Godhead. Jesus, looking at Papa, says, "Isn't she great?" At one point, Papa warns Mack that eating too many of the greens in front of him will "give him the trots." And when Jesus spills batter on the floor and on Papa, Jesus then washes Her—or is it His?—feet. Papa coos, "Oh, that feels sooooo good." Ugh.

Okay, it is only an allegory. But like Pilgrim's Progress, allegories contain deep truths. That is my problem. It is the author's low view of Scripture. For example, Mack is tied to a tree by his drunken, abusive father, who "beats Mack with a belt and Bible verses." The author reflects derisively in another spot that "nobody wanted God in a box, just in a book. Especially an expensive one bound in leather with gilt edges, or was that 'guilt' edges."

The Bible, it seems, is just one among many equally valid ways in which God reveals Himself. And, we are told, the Bible is not about rules and principles; it is about relationship. Sadly, the author fails to show that the relationship with God must be built on the truth of who He really is, not on our reaction to a sunset or a painting.

That is not to say The Shack is without merit. The centrality of Christ and God's breathtaking, costly love come through loud and clear. But these truths are available everywhere in Scripture, everywhere in Christian literature. You do not have to visit The Shack to find them.

As Papa warns Mack, God is not who Mack expects He is. But He is also not what our creative imaginations make Him to be, either.

He Is, after all, Who He Is."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Newsboys Live

I recently had the opportunity to see Newsboys live with their full US show. I'd seen the band once before 2 or 3 years ago in Scotland, but that was a scaled-down performance. The full thing is quite something to behold.

I've long been a fan of Newsboys' music, but they also have great visuals and manage to make the whole experience thoroughly enjoyable.
Of course, the highpoint is the dual drum solo where both Peter's mini riser at the end of the catwalk and Duncan's riser climb to around ten feet off the ground, and then Duncan's tips forward and starts to rotate, but the whole show was inspiring, uplifting and musically brilliant.

A word too for one of the three support bands, Canada's "Newworldson", who are a kind of jazz/soul/surf pop combo, and who were absolutely wonderful. I got their CD and it is just as good as they were that night.

Laughter In Heaven

My friend Len died yesterday back in the UK. Together with his wife Rosemarie, he was a great supporter and encourager of my career path, and I greatly valued that.

My late father and Len got on really well. They'd always joke and mess around together, so I would imagine that now they're reunited in heaven they're causing all sorts of mischief, terrorizing the angels!

Rest in peace Len, and thanks for your encouragement.