Is Paul Simon Homeward Bound?

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Lennon, Dylan, Alice, Jesus – and Who Else?

Greg Laurie, Salem Books

This read-in-a-day book is very enjoyable, if you are interested in the spiritual side of rock – but be prepared for a highly subjective view.

From the title, I was expecting an in-depth look at the three titular musicians, but no, this “Spiritual Biography of Rock and Roll” hurtles like a train, stopping at key stations as it travels from the gospel roots of the genre in the late ‘fifties, terminating at MC Hammer and Justin Bieber (hmm, are either actually rock and roll?).

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Understanding Pope Benedict XVI

In 2010, with Pope Benedict XVI coming to the UK, I interviewed award-winning film-maker Mark Dowd, whose Benedict: Trials of a Pope was being shown on BBC1 and BBC2 in advance of the visit. I wanted to know what he learned from his research in making the film. The interview was originally printed in The Church of England Newspaper and I’m posting a version to mark the Pope’s death today.

If Mark Dowd did not already have respected films behind him, critics in the press may have been gunning for him before they watched his BBC2 film, Benedict: Trials of a Pope, because Dowd is a Catholic.

He recognises the danger, especially given the Pope’s controversial reputation and British Catholics running at under ten per cent of the population, “A lot of people watching this film are not going to want to see a Catholic giving the Church an easy time,” he told me, “but on the other hand, I don’t want to do a hatchet job. So it’s quite tricky finding the right level of questioning and probing that stays on the line of respect, but still gives the audience a sense of, ‘This is an interesting programme’.”

He added, “We don’t want a love-in. If Alex Ferguson had to do a film about Manchester United Football Club, you’d be a bit worried, wouldn’t you? So where do you get the tension in the story?”

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Breaking Up Badly – The Banshees of Inisherin

I know that plot is important, but sometimes art’s atmosphere or style draws me in and leaves a bigger impression.

I vividly remember the day in my teens when I discovered the Titus Groan / Gormenghast novels and was hooked from the first few minutes, simply because the author was also an artist and conveyed such a visually striking world through his words. The plot was irrelevant, not least because the eponymous Titus Groan was only seven by the end of the first book in the trilogy.

Film can similarly succeed through style, but also doing the show-not-tell. The excellent The Banshees of Inisherin does both. You could pretty much cover the plot in two lines, but it is thoroughly Irish (a pitch for this would never be considered in Hollywood) and makes a bold statement about relationships, stubborn pride and loneliness that burns in the soul long after the credits roll.

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Cliff Reminds us of the Heart of Christmas

Cliff begins his new Christmas album with “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” – something he should know about, as it’s been peak sales time for him since the ‘80s.

The superb “Little Town” scratched at the door of the top ten; “Mistletoe and Wine”, “Saviour’s Day” and “Millennium Prayer” all topped the chart; “21st Century Christmas” missed that spot by only one place; and “Whenever God Shines his Light” – a duet with Van Morrison – made the top 20.

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Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited Live: Seconds Out

Seconds Out: You could probably guess the sound and quality of this album with some 95% accuracy, even if you haven’t heard it. Hackett has spent a quarter century specialising in recreating the best of his former band Genesis’ songs, and doing so with unerring accuracy, as if they are perfect museum specimens looked after by specialists. And as this is a recreation of Genesis’ own best live album Seconds Out, stuffed full of classics, Hackett has already covered them many times. So little will surprise anyone here.

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Held by Trees – Finding Solace

Over my life, I’ve witnessed the evolution of how people reproduce other’s music. When young, it was either orchestras playing classical pieces or choirs singing popular songs, often from musicals. As I began to buy records, the cheap copies came in – session musicians attempting chart songs to make pre-‘NOW’ compilations, but with none of that innate drive that made the originals so popular. Soon after that came tribute bands, as cheap entertainment for Abba fans and the like. Again, it was always going to be second best.

But that changed as the original bands split or stopped touring. Like a modern-day version of classical music, rock acts are now copied for the fans that love the music and want to experience it being performed. Sometimes – like the Australian Pink Floyd – they will have the blessing of the original artists and might even own some genuine band equipment.

Now Held by Trees have come along with yet another variation, taking the inspiration of original artists – in this case, largely Talk Talk, including original collaborators – but adding the freshness of original compositions and improvisations. It works.

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John Smith on Hillsong: Money, Sex and Power. Part 1: Prosperity Gospel.

It’s a very ordinary name for an extraordinary man. Rev Dr John Smith, Founder-in-Chief of God’s Squad Christian Motorcycle Club, was a one-off. Likened to John Wesley on a bike, he was a minister to the marginalised – but he still got a message from Bono at this funeral service in 2019, which was attended by well over a thousand, including some rival biker gangs.

Although Smith has sadly left us, his words about the prosperity gospel – born of his first-hand experience of the early days of the Hillsong phenomenon – are (also sadly) still very much needed.

This piece is a re-working of my still-relevant interview with Smith from 2004.


Hillsong is a global mega-church for celebrities (Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Chris Pratt and Vanessa Hudgens are among those have attended) and their vibrant image is a huge attraction. But Aussie Smith knew the leadership and the tactics they have employed to court the wealthy. So when he likened the brand to cancer, it was a serious and informed accusation.

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John Smith on Hillsong: Money, Sex and Power. Part 2: Body of Influence

In Part 1, I looked at Hillsong Church’s love of money. Here – at a time when the organisation is ‘rocked by scandals’ – I cover Smith’s insider-view of Hillsong’s approach to sex and power (adding a smattering of Delirious?) from my 2004 interview. Yes, the warning signs were there over a decade ago.

Brian and Bobbie Houston (from Instagram)
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Solace – a Place to Unwind

This ambient, instrumental album, brilliantly-pitched as a successor to Mark Hollis’s latter Talk Talk work, is far more than a tribute.

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If hedging your bets were a sport, this one would be a medal contender.

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Dave Bainbridge – To the Far Away

One thing you can guarantee with Bainbridge is that the sound will be rich, layered and succulent. He treats ears like Cordon Bleu chefs treat taste buds. Feast on the details.

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Yes- The Quest

The pioneering prog rockers’ first new album in seven years stands above much of their later work. This is a subtle reinvention and a worthwhile addition to the canon.

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Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh – the Sea Maiden

This is the way to do traditional Irish music. The 28-minute EP Thar Toinn/ Seaborne shows a wonderful sense of restraint, and its simplicity means that there are no distractions from its key features: Nic Amhlaoibh’s voice, the strongly Celtic setting and the tremendous focus on melody throughout.

I’d put some wellies on love, you’ll catch your death like that.
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A Trip Down ‘Memory Lain’ with Caravan

Releasing a 37-disc box set is a brave affair: the fans will already have a lot of the best albums, while those who do not know the band are unlikely to splash out several hundred pounds to buy it. But Caravan’s Who Do You Think We Are? has some very tasty contents that should tempt any prog-lover.

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Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe

So much is epic about this release, from the less-than-modest title and the ambitious approach to production to the power of the music and – of course – the musicianship behind it all.

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A Song for Change

Can a song change lives or communities? Three songwriters hope that We Seek Your Kingdom will do just that. So does the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity (LICC), who have commissioned it, along with the Thy Kingdom Come movement.

Revd. Graham Hunter (who co-wrote the song with Noel Robinson and Andy Flannagan) believes that the songs we sing in church shape the content of our faith. He explains, “We need songs that help us see that following Christ is an everyday-life thing. Maybe we’re a builder, a nurse, a teacher, but we need to know that our faith is active and meaningful, and that God is on our front line, wherever that might be.”

That is where this song is different. Sung to the tune of Abide with Me, the lyrics of We Seek Your Kingdom open with the plea, “We seek your kingdom throughout every sphere / We long for heaven’s demonstration here” and go on to mention specific areas like culture, media, trade and the economy.

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Waterboys – Good Luck Seeker

Fisherman’s Blues this certainly isn’t – but it’s exhilarating, just the same.

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Revisiting This Planet

This is what happens when one of the biggest-selling artists in Christian music reworks the genre’s first landmark album. Kevin Max treats us to a re-imagined version of Only Visiting This Planet.

Image via
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Hackett, Steve – Under a Mediterranean Sky

We may not be able to travel the Mediterranean at the moment, but Hackett gives us an impressionistic tour with this acoustic-and-strings project as he continues to broaden his scope.

I often find it fascinating to hear an artist’s work and catch the bits that are intrinsically ‘them’ and this release has Hackett’s DNA running through it.

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