Posts Tagged 'U2'

Unknown Caller.

“Restart and reboot yourself .
You’re free to go.
Ho, ho.
Shout for joy if you get the chance.
Password, you, enter here, right now.

Ho, ho.
You know your name, so punch it in.
Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak.
Shush now.
Ho, ho.
Then don’t move or say a thing”.

From “Unknown Caller” by U2.


There can’t be much of a bigger contrast between the last two gigs I have seen and, yet, both were brilliant.  Prior to last night, the most recent gig I had been to was Neil Halstead at Captain’s rest in Glasgow.  It was one of those particularly intimate gigs as Neil strummed an acoustic guitar and played his brilliant, stripped back, ballads to a basement full of about 20 people all attentive to his every mumble.

I’ve been to literally hundreds of gigs over the years – a majority of them with my long serving gig-going bro’.  Much as we love live music, I don’t often get all that excited before hand. In fact, the Neil Halstead gig mentioned earlier was one of those few recent gigs where I have genuinely been excited.

In stark contrast we were in a crowd of 59,000 who packed out Hampden last night to witness the latest U2 extravaganza.  Whilst any indie loving tike such as I ought to be referencing bands like The XX or some other noteworthy young upstarts, the truth is U2’s catalogue has been a constant presence in most of my coming of age and growing up. 

Whilst many music critics have been quick to liken this phase of U2’s career to the time of the “Pop” album – a period where their latest release has failed to generate the level of record sales usually associated with the biggest band in the world, last night’s set included recitals from the “War”, “Unforgettable Fire”, “Joshua Tree”, “Achtung Baby”, “All You Can’t Leave Behind”, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” and “No Line On The Horizon” eras.  Songs transport me to places, remind me of faces and incidents.

The stage structure was phenomenal.  We were about 4 or 5 metres from the walkway surrounding the stage with a perfect view of Edge and the rest of the group. The 360 degree screens gave a brilliant view of the evening’s proceedings.  It was a far cry from having been at the SECC in 1987 at the Joshua Tree tour, before contact lenses, when I barely saw a thing as we were so far from the stage stuck behind a huge abyss of vacant floor space which surrounded the sound desk. 

Last night may have been less spiritual than being feet from the band at the 2001 Elevation Tour in Manchester when the music came back to life after a decade of relying on huge information overload through the likes of Zoo TV and the lemon.  It was a far better experience than Hampden in 2005.

The set opened with “Breathe” and the tracks from the new album actually stood up well live, although finishing with “Moment Of Surrender” seemed a bit of a strange choice.  The stand out track for me from the new material was “Unknown Caller.”  The crowd really seemed to come alive for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, “Vertigo”, “One” and “With Or Without You”.  “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was still used to relevant political effect to highlight the plight in Tehran.  Sadly, the sound system seemed to die during “Walk On” which was being used to raise awareness of the life and present situation affecting Aung San Suu Kyi – rumours that the Burmese had something to do with sabotaging the sound-desk last night are yet to be confirmed.  Desmond Tutu’s address was riveting.  After all these years, the band are still trying to use their position to expose situations and to try to galvanise change.  Many call it naive, but would I have ever joined the likes of Amnesty or Greenpeace had I not devoured the liner notes of the Joshua Tree 22 years ago?

It may not be cool to like U2, but I can’t ever imagine not turning out for one of their tours and I can’t imagine not being affected by it.


The Ocean.

“A picture in grey.
Dorian Gray.
Just me
By the sea.
And I felt like a star.
I felt the world could go far,
If they listened
To what I said.
By the sea.

Washes my feet.
Washed my feet.
Splashes my soul”.

From “The Ocean” by U2.


One of my favourite views is when I first see the sea off the coast of Stonehaven on the drive to Aberdeen.  It’s a dull stretch of road which is suddenly transformed by the vastness of the sea. 

Something within me draws me to water.  Living as I do now by the Firth of Forth, I like to know that I can see water from many vantage points in the city I call home.  That said, I miss living within easy walking distance of it like when we stayed in Cramond.

There’s something about staring at the sea.  It helps me put things in perspective.  The decision to ask someone out, who later became my wife, was arrived at after a lunch hour spent with a notepad and bible looking at the water.  At the time we almost split up, my natural inclination took me to the beach, were I contemplated alone and kicked the sand and wondered what would happen before finding peace simply sat on the beach surrendering as I stared at the sea once more.

Like the lyrics above suggest, maybe there is something strangely powerful in the simple meeting of ocean and beach.  The washing of feet, the splashing of soul, the realisation of the love of a Father whose thoughts for me outnumber the grains of sand.

The song that has inspired these thoughts remains one of my favourite U2 moments.  A short interlude on the “Boy” album, a gathering of thoughts before a song about suicide.  With hindsight it is interesting to see the lyrics, thoughts and themes that inspired a young Dubliner as he expressed his adolescence in music with no idea where that would take his three friends and himself in the future.  Amongst these, being by the sea seemed to provide a sacred space to gain perspective – to dream, to be refreshed and restored.

Beautiful Day

“It’s a beautiful day,

Sky falls, you feel like

It’s a beautiful day,

Don’t let it get away.”

From “Beautiful Day” by U2


Yesterday seemed to put everyone I met in a better mood.  The sun seemed to have lit the entire sky and I found myself squinting as I tried to negotiate the traffic to get across the road to the bus stop.  There was a haze that looked like smog from the traffic but was met with a briskness in the air that blew my fringe out of my eyes.

As the day progressed the glances I made away from my PC monitor and out the window, over the roof tops and chimney pots, were back-dropped with a perfect bluebird sky.  Everyone’s thoughts seemed to turn to being somewhere else whilst simultaneously being pulled to the here and now of the tasks in hand and deadlines to be met.

My working day was happily interrupted yesterday by a call from my sister advising that she’d managed to secure my wife and I tickets for the U2 360 gig at Hampden on 18th August.  She’s a subscriber to and was able to get access via an earlybird ticket release ahead of the date of the tickets officially going on sale on Friday at 9am.  This is not the first time she has managed to secure me tickets for a gig I really want to see.

It was a beautiful day.  Thanks, Sis!

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. 


No Line On The Horizon


I suspect, like many folks in my generation, I can make an association between defining moments in my life and which U2 album was out at the time.  Whilst not the “coolest” band to name drop into conversation, they are undoubtedly the single band whom I have listened to most consistently throughout the years. For this reason I guess, like many of the record buying populous, I plan to purchase “No Line On The Horizon”, U2’s twelfth studio album upon its release date tomorrow. 

Whilst U2 are largely recognised as a fairly mainstream rock band, they have not always been so.  As a child I religiously watched Top Of The Pops hungry for new sounds and sights.  I distinctly remember the first time I heard U2.  It was August 1981 and their first appearance on the show.  They were promoting the single “Fire” and Bono has been quoted as saying, “We must have been the only band to have appeared on Top Of  The Pops whose single actually went down the following week!”

For posterity the appearance is captured below:

This Old Town


“Rain don’t fall the same as it does round here.

Street lights don’t sparkle like in this old town.

Though time changes things, it’s still the same…

The same old town…

Same old faces doing the same old things.

Familiar places bring back old memories,

Of good times and bad times right here.

In this old town…

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change.

And Sunday mornings never matched the ones spent here.

It’s a day for dressing up in suits and ties.

N0-0ne cares what’s in your heart,

Just look good for this old town.

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change.

You know it’s funny the way people act round here.

Make one mistake – that’s all to fall from grace.

Jesus Christ will forgive and forget,

but not the people round here…

This town won’t change.

This town won’t turn.

This town is cold.

It’s grounded in tradition.

This town won’t change…”

From “This Old Town” by Split Level

The above lyrics come from a song I doubt any of you will have heard and, yet, it is one I have listened to fairly consistently ever since I’ve owned it. (100 times the first week I heard it and now, maybe, 10 times a year).  It’s one of those songs that says some of the things that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected a band largely playing the Christian circuit to acknowledge or confront…

Like my wider family, Adrian Thomson who wrote the song hails from Northern Ireland.  I think these words and music help me make sense of the frustration I saw in religious division and tradition even as a child returning to Northern Ireland and being whisked around relatives on summer holidays.

One of the largest shouting matches I ever had with my parents occurred on one such holiday when I was merely 8 or 9 years old.  I couldn’t understand why I had to wear a blue tie to church in Ireland, when I could wear whatever I wanted back in Scotland.  I appreciate now that my parents were just wanting to be respectful, but I remember shouting at them that “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart”. 

Growing up, I felt embarrassed by the news reports of the troubles in Northern Ireland.  I couldn’t understand the segregation between “Protestant” and “Catholic” nor why people conducted these awful attacks in the name of a belief system which seemed to condemn such atrocities and actions…Blessed be the peacemakers, anyone? 

When as an adolescent I discovered that people like Bono, Mike Peters and Maria McKee all claimed to have a Christian faith, I gravitated toward something I found attractive, relevant and real.  Their music often connected with me on a different level.  It seemed urgent and passionate and not boxed in by man-made systems.  It often addressed the tension of being in the world but not of it. 

All those experiences in my formative years led me to have a real frustration with images of churches offering cold, constricted, expressions of what I understood my faith to really be about.  I have wrestled with these things ever since.  To paraphrase another Northern Irish songwriter, “We don’t need religion, but we could use the love of God”.

I love being part of the church community I am committed to and passionate about.  I have attended a particular denomination for the last 21 years, but I don’t consider myself to be a Baptist.  In fact, I doubt that I could give you an articulate answer as to what specifically defines one.  I also feel no connection with the other adjective that is attached to the name of the church we belong to, given that I have never lived in that particular area of Edinburgh.  As our church grows I wonder how alone I am in that?  I wonder if the word association is off putting to those outside of the church?  Then I wonder if they would ever even think about that?

 I do, however, feel a vibrant and very real connection with what that church family is all about and get excited by the sort of vision that is being explored.  I feel indebted to so many folks there: people younger than me who inspire me; people older than me whom I can learn from in how they have orientated their life and modelled things; people in leadership; people who hold down regular jobs, but contribute to the vitality of church life in so many areas.  I love the fact that you would struggle to keep me away from that place on a Sunday just in the same way I couldn’t imagine life without the little small group collective who inhabit our home every week.

One of my close friends belongs to a non-denominational fellowship elsewhere in Scotland.  As they consider planting a church in the village he lives in, he and others are wrestling with whether they should do it jointly with another denomination or not?  Would they be shackled by traditions or interpretations of things that they would find unhelpful?  Does the partnering of denominations working together actually convey something very positive to those outside of church?  Does having a denomination give you greater credence and prevent people thinking you are “unaccountable”,  “dodgy”, “liberal” or “a cult”?

Do we spend too long musing upon these things when those outside the church aren’t even interested?  Do we judge eachother by minutiae and preconceptions and misconceptions?  Do these thoughts simply continue a message of disunity and in-fighting between us all?  Do we discard traditions only to bind ourselves to new ones?  Do we simply all learn things in different ways and find different expressions helpful?  Is it rarely a particular denomination that we gravitate towards and is it actually the style of teaching, community involvement, family, music and outreach?  Are we asking the wrong questions at times?

Miss Sarajevo


“Is there a time for first communion?
A time for East Seventeen?
Is there a time to turn to Mecca?
Is there time to be a beauty queen?”

From “Miss Sarajevo” by Passengers.

I’ve always loved this U2 collaboration.  I like the questions and the juxtaposition of notions and ideas.

First communion is a big thing in certain church traditions – almost like some rite of passage or defining moment.  Whilst empty rituals concern me hugely, there still seems something sacred about treating communion in this way.  The whole issue of communion is explained in 1 Corinthians as follows:

23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Whenever approaching communion I am also always mindful of the verses that come straight after the above quote, namely: ” 27Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself”.

I love the fact that the church community I belong to challenges my thinking.  Last week our Pastor announced that we would have all age communion this Sunday.  He explained that the onus was on parents to explain matters to their children and to decide whether or not they should partake.

Having a four year old girl, I have to confess that it still sounds horrible if she ever says anything about “killing” or “being dead”.  This is maybe extenuated by the fact that one of our church members lost her four year old daughter in a horrific hit and run car accident a couple of years ago –  an event that shook our community to the core.  Yet, when I was four I expect that I was often playing soldiers and imagining killing and death.  Is that just a difference between the sexes or are we over-protective parents?

We have spent this week focusing on the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection when reading the bible with our daughter.  She seemed surprised and intrigued that Jesus had died.  We emphasised that He also came back to life and what that means.  We tried as best we could to explain what communion was about, what it symbolised and why we do it.  We wrestled with whether or not it was appropriate to let a four year old take part?  We explained to her that it is for anyone who knows and loves Jesus, to which she replied “but, I love Jesus”.  How does a parent discern what a child understands or means by such a comment?

So this morning the children came back in at the end of the service whilst the whole congregation had the opportunity to share communion.  As I have thought and prayed this week, I was struck by the verses quoted above, but I also remember how Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me” in Matthew Ch19 v.14.  So, we both still felt a bit unsure of how to handle this part of today’s service.  My own gut feeling was that having explained it repeatedly during the week, we should let our daughter make the decision for herself when the moment came. 

So, as the elements were passed around, we told her again what it meant and asked whether or not she wanted the bread and wine?  We made sure she knew it was important.  My eyes were wet and I had a lump in my throat as she asked to take it.  We whispered to her about what it was all about the whole way through the process.  My wife was fantastic at this and I am so grateful that all of this is hugely important to both of us as parents.

Today seems like a defining moment.  It feels very real and bereft of ritual.  It feels as if we have explained a truth and the whole thing seems more meaningful than it has done for a long time.  As we looked around and saw lots of families explaining things – some partaking, some not – there was a real sense of unity and community.  Others we spoke to who do not have children or are single also said that the approach gave them time to reflect on the significance of something that can become ritual. 

I think we are called to child-like faith not a childish one…As someone I respect enormously said in conversation over dinner on Saturday night, “Our role as parents is to give our children roots and wings…”  It’s weird to think that one day our little girl will leave home and embark on a whole new journey.  Hopefully, we can help her to be well grounded for whatever life may hold.

Read.  Think.  Pray.  Live.

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