Posts Tagged 'Psalms'

Suffer Little Children

“Oh Manchester, so much to answer for”

from “Suffer Little Children” by The Smiths


When asked to associate music with Manchester, I suspect most people will make a connection in their minds with the “Madchester” scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s and the Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, et all.  Alternatively, they will think of Oasis. 

Mancurian bands on my iPod?  Joy Division, New Order, Badly Drawn Boy and The Smiths amongst others. 

I’ve only been to Manchester a handful of times.  The most significant trip was on 11th August 2001.  My sister had got two tickets to see U2 on the Elevation Tour.  I’d idolised U2 in my younger years and, had they been available, probably would have worn a wristband with W.W.B.D (What Would Bono Do?) on it. 

I’d largely lost interest after “Rattle and Hum”‘s release in 1988 and had only really begun to listen to U2 again when “All You Can’t Leave Behind” was released in 2000.  I hadn’t seen them play live since the Joshua Tree tour in ’87 and was looking forward to the gig, but wasn’t over excited.

When we got to the Manchester Evening News Arena we were ushered down to a standing area right in front of the love heart shaped walkway that protruded from the stage.  We were merely a few feet away from one of the biggest groups in the world. 


It was amazing to see them in an indoor venue and, after all the razzmatazz of the “Zoo TV” and “Pop Mart” tours, this was a group playing on the strength of their songs and performance.  It was like a stripped back U2 show, where Bono was trying to connect with the crowd every bit as much as he had done back in the early 1980s.

That gig was a revelation.  I realised that whilst I had shunned U2 in favour of more alternative or edgy bands, their back catalogue had been so much a part of the soundtrack of my life.  It dawned on me that their music had almost been omnipresent in my teenage years and into my twenties.  I recognised afresh how much faith, doubt and social justice permeated their lyrics.  I appreciated how honestly Bono often wrote and wrestled almost like the writers of the Psalms.  That resonated with me so much more than the trite cliches and bad theology we often sing in church.  That evening, I saw anew that Bono had often been the voice of one calling into my wilderness in the desert years where I had been attending church, but not walking as close to God as I could or should have been. 

It caused me to look above and beyond the stage and to recognise that there was a still small voice within the noise.  A voice that had guided me through the years and spoken to me and shaped me in the most unexpected ways.  If the church will not speak up, it seemed that God would speak through the rockstars.

As the band wrapped up “Walk On” they went into a refrain of just singing “Hallelujah” over and over again.  To hear 19,000 people singing along was a truely spiritual experience.  It really felt like worship – not of U2 – but, for me, a way of really saying “thank you” to a God who had watched over me when I was short of peers in those teenage years where you try to square confusion, hormones and God. 



Bad Architecture

I read an article in The Guardian about 18 months ago bemoaning the decline in sales of poetry within the UK.  The journalist posed the question as to whether singer songwriters were writing prose for a new generation?  He cited the likes of Joanna Newsom and I have to confess that experiencing her perform her album “Ys” live with a 21 piece orchestra was one of the most artistically original, breathtaking and noteworthy concerts I have ever had the good fortune of witnessing.  So, if archaeologists discovered the sleeve notes of our records or CDs (sadly mp3s rarely have an equivalent), would the words without the music read like poetry or the psalms?

Following the theme of my previous post I’ll let the following lyrics do the talking.  If you want to hear the accompanying song you can download it for free here as one of the tracks on the “Sergeant Howie’s Holy Stamina Test” EP.  That said, there is the option to make a donation and, given that this is the artist’s livelihood, I would encourage you to promote art and creativity by doing so. 

“I’ve always believed in the old stories of rising from the dead.

But where is my heart? What’s my priority?  Is it just to retread

a comfortable blanket of philosophy  that’s only in the heads

of a deluded community that’s lost all its stability

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Why am I ashamed of what I hold to be the heart of what is me?

What am I afraid of? Is it only laughter at what I believe?

The same old stories.  The death of me.

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Let’s take them apart, all of these old beliefs and go back to the plans.

Burn them down to be rebuilt to house the lonely and the damned.

Bad architecture will never last.

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?”

“Bad Architecture” by Calamateur

Read. Think. Pray. Live


“I waited patiently for the Lord

He turned and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the pit

out of the mire and clay.

I will sing, sing a new song

I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song?”

From “40” by U2

I clearly remember the first time I heard “40” from the crackling vinyl that spun on our stereo in Aberdeen in 1983.  As Bono essentially sang Psalm 40 to a new tune, I heard a benediction that thousands could sing (and have sung) along to.

As I read the Psalms now, the words and language contain such brutal honesty, emotion, doubt, vulnerability, power and truth.  I often forget that many of them originated as songs and, therefore, a means of expressing oneself in more than words alone.  After all these generations the Word remains and the musical style is inconsequential. 

If we rewrote the Psalms today, how would they sound?  Broken and stripped back at times?  Angst ridden and frustrated?  Full of joy and wonder? 

I’d love to hear an album where artists were asked to find a Psalm that they could identify with and put it to music.  I could imagine a track listing including the minor chords and sombre tones of Leonard Cohen, the dirge of Nick Cave, the brokenness of Tom Waits, the diluted emo of Death Cab For Cutie, the conviction and political force of Woodie Guthrie, the sense of miscarriages of justice of Bright Eyes, the abandoned bliss of Polyphonic Spree, the elation of a Philharmonic Orchestra, the rush of a dance-floor filler, the anthemic gush of Coldplay, the cries from the workers of the barren fields we have raped to serve our Western comforts, the honest doubt of Pedro The Lion, the glorious noise of Aerogramme, the chaos of Iggy & The Stooges, the creative wordplays of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphopricy, the communal sounds of Ladysmith Black Mombazo. 

It would sound unlike any “The Best Praise and Worship Album In The Word Ever Part Six Squillion” compilation.  Man, they should just make a raw and honest album like that…

What would your personal psalms read or sound like?

I came across something truly beautiful on another blog this week and it inspired this post.  Please click here.

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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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