Greenbelt 2014, reflections…


We are just unpacking from our road trip down to Greenbelt (topped off with a visit to family and a few hours spent at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.)

Greenbelt was great- new site was lovely, if a challenging place to get camping gear on and off (they must improve this for next year.) It has much more space and landscape interest than the old one.

Absolute highlight for me was meeting up with so many of the poets from the new Learning to Love book. The readings, even at 9AM in the morning,  went really well- in fact they felt very worshipful, particularly with Harry Baker and Chris Read’s contributions- their new EP ‘But in Silence‘ is an essential download.

I saw/heard very little this year- I spent far more time in conversation- including laughing a lot in the Jesus Arms with David and Mary-Lee, seeing our lovely old friends and former neighbours the McGoos and generally catching up with many people who Greenbelt gives me the pleasure of connection with.

Musical highlight for me would be Lau- who were simply brilliant, weaving folk magic from the mainstage.

I did not hear any of the main speakers- could not get into their venues, so need to download talks.

Main communion event made me weep. I think one’s bladder moves closer to the eyes as we get older. A field full of people singing gently, passing communion…

Here are a few photos, randomly selected;

Greenbelt 2013…


Will and I are just back from GB 13- the 40th year anniversary of the first festival, back in 1973. We had a lovely time. I spent time with some old friends and as ever immersed myself in new music and ideas.

I did not take a camera this year- we were on the train as far as Preston and so took a minimalist approach (the photos here are all pinched from the GB website.) However, I thought I would pick a couple of highlights from each day;

On Thursday Will and I were picked up at Preston station by Andy and Hannah, and set off down the M6 into bank holiday traffic. The inevitable happened- and accident closed the motorway in both ways and so we all got out of our cars and had a chat to one another. In fact, Will and I went over onto the empty opposite carriageway and had a game of cricket. That evening we really enjoyed Eliza Cathy and Jim Moray.

Saturday, rather amazingly belonged to Graham Kendrick. Firstly he did a worship set- all the old favourites, including the dreaded ‘Shine Jesus Shine’. Kendrick was charming, in a geeky slightly fey kind of way. We even had a ‘give God a round of applause’ moment. Hands were waved and (please do not judge me) I cried.

I think I cried for what I was, what I loved, what has gone, but was (despite all the foolish edges) still beautiful. Music does that to you.

Later Kendrick did an acoustic set of his folk songs- the things I listened to back in the early 80s when you were listening to the Clash and the Sex Pistols.

The other highlight for me was Dave Andrews– telling stories of a life of community activism- trying to live a life motivated towards the poor.

Sunday highlights would be; Jim Wallis, another man living a life of protest against those in power. I also enjoyed John Bell’s talk about the operation of power. Musically, the Moulettes were simply stunning- unusual, quirky, gorgeous music, including the use of a Bassoon.

I really enjoyed the wall of noise that was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club too…


Monday morning saw Will and I listening to Pete Rollins, weaving stories, jokes, theology and philosophy together. He is very entertaining, and some of his points hit home. There is a knowingness about Rollins that has an elitist edge however which I do not warm to. He seems to be at his most creative out beyond the edge, looking at us all with a sardonic grin. It is an approach that excludes and intimidates me a little.

Finally, I might as well mention the Greenbelt institution that is Martin Joseph. Songs that are mixed out of fragile emotion. Each one teeters and might fall on each note, but in spite (or because) of this it all soars heavenward.


Off to Greenbelt…

Mud greenbelt 2012

(Hope we do not get a repeat of last years conditions!)

Will and I are going down to Greenbelt Festival on our own this year- Michaela and Emily are simply too busy with other things. In fact, it was a late call to decide to go down, partly because Will was desperate to go, and also because I get the chance to meet up with some old friends. Oh- and my mate Andy had some spare tickets!

This year we are going as punters- no responsibilities, no installations to set up/services to lead. I have strangely mixed feelings about this however. Greenbelt has provided for me a sense of loose ‘belonging’ to a wider ‘church’, and I am not sure that it will be quite the same experience without actually contributing something to the festival. It will certainly be a lot less stressful however!

I watched a DVD last night called Greenbelt/40, the journey so far. It was full of the music of my youth- trips to the festival in the early 80s. It was a slightly surreal experience- like watching your life pass away into the distance. It did leave me wanting to look forward, not backwards however….

May there be sunshine, good conversation, great music and new ideas…

Sam Hill is recording again…

If anyone asked you to tell them what was the best live performance you ever heard – the one that sticks in your mind most – what would it be?

All that variety of music I have heard – the first stadium rock gig (U2) the first chorale (Bach’s Mass in B minor) the first time I heard Bruce Cockburn play the guitar and make a masterpiece out of words and virtuosity.

Yet the one I would select would be the performance of a man called Sam Hill, along with a band, playing at Calvary Christian Fellowship some time in the early 90s. Everything was lovely- I was there with my friends and my wife, most of us made music together, and were familiar with the sound rig, the acoustics, but what Sam was able to use them to achieve was sublime. Beautiful songs, delivered in a butter smooth Lancashire accent, soaring fiddle playing, and skillful guitar.

I played a support gig for Sam a year or so later- I still have a recording taken as a direct output of the sound desk. We sound scratchy, amateur, even though we had fun. Sam (who had turned up late, with half a band, guitars with pick ups that did not work) sounds gorgeous.

I lost touch with his music. We both moved away from Lancashire, me to Scotland, he to Cornwall. The next time I stumbled across anything he did was a lovely album of poetry and music that he did with Steve Stockman.

Flash forward ten years or so, and I was sitting with my mate Andy in the performance tent at Greenbelt Festival. Incidentally the last time Andy had been at Greenbelt (back in the 90s) he had been playing guitar in support of Sam. Someone had dropped out and so they had brought in a special guest- some bloke called Sam Hill.

The years had not been easy on him. The songs were dark and the voice had gathered some gravel. But every now and then, the music would break out of the cage and come alive.

I mention all this as Sam has been recording again it seems. Another old friend (Bob Fraser- another talented songwriter) posted this on FB. Get the album when it comes out, I will!

(No idea why this video will not load on the page- you will need to click on this link;)

Where the streams come from- poetry/soundscape release…

As part of our Greenbelt installation, we put together some soundtracks of poetry and field recordings/sound scapes around wilderness themes- Sea, Woodland, River. The intention was to project them onto sculptural representations of the three locations using ultrasonic speakers, but the technology let us down somewhat, not to mention the appalling weather conditions.
Anyway, rather than letting it go to waste, the poetry soundscapes are being released by Proost as an audio download. Each one is around 10-11 mins long.
You can download it here for the bargain price of £1.99.
This is the Proost blurb;

Poetry and meditations by Chris Goan and read by members of Aoradh.

All streams flow into the sea yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from, there they will return.
(Ecclesiastes 1:7)
This collection of poems and meditation was first created for an installation used at Greenbelt Festival, but could be used for both personal and collective meditation. It combines soundscapes recorded in wilderness locations with poetry by Chris Goan and read by members of Aoradh, a community based in Dunoon, Argyll. The voices used in these recordings range from people aged 8 to 78 and with many different accents;
Netta Shannon, Simon Richardson, Helen Richardson, Emily Goan, Michaela Goan, Chris Goan, Sharon Barnard, Audrey Forest, Nick Smith, Paul Beautyman, Skye Beautyman.
Aoradh (meaning ‘adoration’) is shaped in many ways by our location and the wild places that surround us. It seeps into the words we write, and becomes the place where we seek to make worship and pilgrimage; from beach Pentecost bonfires to wilderness retreats on tiny islands.
The three meditation are as follows;
1. Sea.  Soundscapes recorded on a beach on the northern shore of Iona, and supplemented by further recordings made on the shoreline near Dunoon.
2. Woodland. Soundscapes recorded in woodland behind Chris’s house in Dunoon and on an early spring morning along Loch Striven, Cowal Peninsula.
3. River. Soundscapes recorded near streams flowing down into Loch Eck, Cowal Peninsular and Pucks Glen, near Dunoon.
Price: £1.99

Brokenness as a place of becoming…

Simon and I did a talk at Greenbelt festival about community, based on some of our experiences in Aoradh. We spoke a lot about the challenge, the exposure and the pain of community- how it was impossible to move closer to one another without also being wounded, hurt and (hopefully) changed.

If I were to pick one man to discuss this with in more detail, it would be John Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities. He speaks and writes with such gentle integrity about his own experience of being broken. I was reminded of this recently when reading a short review of one of Vanier’s books From Brokenness to Community.

When we follow Jesus, writes Vanier, we are called to reject certain aspects of the world. We accept loss of wealth and status and comfort. We embrace downward mobility and climb back down the world’s ladder of success. This process can begin when we discover our mutual brokenness. We acknowledge our poverty and then we understand what it means that Jesus came to serve the poor. We recognize our infirmity and then we discover God doesn’t work primarily through those who think they are well, but through those who know they are sick. All this happens in the context of community—a place of pain and trial, but also reconciliation and celebration. Community is where the ego goes to die, and in its place we find resurrection, communion, and even salvation.

Here is Vanier himself talking about the same things;

It is worth watching some of the rest of the clips in this series. There is a deep sigh in me when I hear him speak about love and community and the possibilities of finding our being as we give it away in love of others. I know these things to be true.

I also know them to be elusive. I know them to be things that can not be grasped or owned- they are not aspirational as one might seek promotion or personal fulfilment- they are rather discovered in the shit of our own failure.

May we find the place of becoming, not because enlightenment is something we can conquer, like some spiritual Everest, but more because this is the only honest and hopeful thing possible when faced with the brokenness in me, and also glimpsed in others.

A flash of the old Charismania…

I have just been reading a review of Greenbelt 2012 by Tony Cummings on Cross Rhythms.  Suffice it to say that Tony was not overly impressed. He thought it only a matter of time before GB announced itself no longer a ‘Christian’ festival, and records how he chastised openly gay C of E minister (and former Communard) Richard Coles. He compliments Bruce Cockburn on his music, but regrets lacking an opportunity to correct his theology.

Tony clearly comes from a particular theological position;

The Scriptures have been a light unto my feet wherever I’ve clumsily put them. Put simply, the Bible, all the Bible, is God-breathed. Over the years I’ve had informal chats, often at Greenbelt, with people who’ve called my attitude to the Bible “legalistic” or in more recent times “literalist”. They’ve been hard conversations to conduct in an atmosphere of love. It’s not easy to be gentle and loving when someone’s calling you names and it’s harder still when you’ve come to prayerfully believe that pejorative words like literalist or fundamentalist truly don’t bear any resemblance to what I believe or how I live my life. It seems to me all this theological name-calling, whether it emanates from Bruce Cockburn, Pat Robertson, Martyn Joseph, Dave Tomlinson or thousands more who call Christians deluded charismaniacs, liberal backsliders or post evangelical heretics, are continuing to slander the Church. The love the Bible tells us the Church should have one for another is still elusively far off.

This is an opinion piece and I do not intend to dwell on it too much, apart from an interesting exchange between Tony and Robin Vincent. I missed it, but Robin was part of an event at GB entitled Molten Meditation & Soul Circus’ Sacramental Charismania and Tony Cummings had a bit of a go at it all in his article.

Robin responded via his blog. I liked this;

What I find interesting is that the term “charismatic” used to describe a style of worship is increasingly a red herring. I’ve found the use of the gifts, the move of the holy spirit in every expression of church I’ve come across. This years Greenbelt programme actually had the word “charismatic” all over it describing things like the Blesséd Mass and the Accord Evensong and was ever present in the Rend Collective and Andy Flanagan. There’s a real desire to step up and reclaim the term and demonstrate how my video needs to become an archaic curiosity, a snapshot of what once was – so we can move forward without the baggage. To do that we have to lay the baggage at Jesus’ feet – that’s what I tried to do last Sunday night.

It all comes flooding back.

Me on a stage with a guitar and a sense of confused excitement. Something is stirring, there is a crackle in the air like electricity.

I try to find the wavelength with music, reaching out into what for me is mystery, but into which others all around me are claiming to be directly plugged into- wired in to the God-current.

And I hope. I try not to notice all the contradictions. The so called transformational charismatic events that seem to have no lasting significance in people lives. The selective mundanities pasted together to make clear ‘instruction’ from God. The power given to people who claim special gifting, despite their tendency to abuse and wound others.

For me and many others, it became impossible to dwell within all the contradictions of this experience and to this day, I struggle to understand what of my experience could be regarded as genuine, spiritual, God-related and how much just manipulated hot air.

My working conclusion is that both were present, but in what percentages I could not say.

Tony Cummings differentiates between the ‘Charismatic’ and ‘Charismania’. In my many years of immersion within Charismatic churches, I find this distinction very difficult to define. This might be because of my ‘lack of discernment’ (this being one of the spiritual gifts highly valued in Charismatic circles, but totally subjective in application) but also might be simply because these things will always contain both. To be an active participant in the excesses of Charismatic worship has to involve a setting aside of any kind of defensive reserves and going with the movement of the crowd. Whether the crowd is being shaped by Spirit of God, or the effect of a few charismatic individuals on the many is always difficult to say, particularly when being swept up in the moment.

It is not as if there have not been many warnings of how things can go wrong. Check out this list of Evangelical/Charismatic scandals.

The fact that Greenbelt is allowing a debate about this seems to me to be important.

As for Mr Cummings, I hope that he remains part of the debate- but hatchet jobs written with Evangelical goggles firmly in place really help no one.

Greenbelt 2012…

I am half man, half compost- as will be most attendees of this year’s Greenbelt festival.

This is partly the highly digestive social-spiritual mulch that Greenbelt always is, but also down to more corporeal matters;

I live in a place famous for rain sweeping in from the sea and using us as blotting paper, but the rain that fell on the festival on Saturday was something else. Half the site was flooded and thirty thousand feet mixed anything not tarmac to gloop. The less stoical left, but the rest of us had more room to skirt the deepest mire and enjoy still some fantastic music, conversation, art and poetry.

Highlights for me;

Social- meeting up with friends from Lancashire, from Wales, from London, from Leeds etc. Sharing many a cup of tea and catching up with lives lived at a distance.

Spiritual- I managed to miss all the well known speakers like Tony Campolo, Tom Wright. I enjoyed Dave Tomlinson talking about a being a Bad Christian. Jonny Baker was really good on ‘A different world is possible’ too. I also loved being in the old Cathedral for the pre festival feast hosted by Feig (thanks guys!)

Musical- Bruce Cockburn– my guru for decades – was like a comfortable woolly jumper on a dark night. I knew every song, and most words too. Phantom Limb (Country, R and B, Eagles-like harmonies) blew me away. Then there was the folk fest on the last day- dancing in the mud to the Imagined Village (simply brilliant) and the wacky theatricality of Bellowhead. Martin Joseph reduced me to tears with one song.

Art- LOVED Si Smith’s new work on the book of Job.

Aoradh’s contribution to the festival was characterised by technology issues! Our sculpture/soundscape installation became, well, just sculptures as the ultrasonic speakers failed to deliver what they promised. They still looked great though. As the weekend unfolded the ground beneath them turned to deep oozing brown sucking mud, but they remained defiant and proud.

Our talk/discussion entitled ‘Don’t do it like us, making real community in small towns and ordinary places’ was very well attended, and we were bombarded with questions. The power failed for half of it so we had to shout!

Another great festival, that somehow, despite the long distances and the conditions, has nurtured and encouraged me.

Now, need to get down to DIY!

Off to Greenbelt!

We are heading down south for a few days to be part of Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham.

This year Aoradh are doing two things- some sculpture/soundscapes called ‘Paradisecasts’, and a talk entitled “Don’t do it like us; making community in real and ordinary places” which will be on Saturday 2.00PM in the ‘Living Room’.

Really looking forward to it all now, even though we have packed nothing yet…

On the Aoradh workbench…

We are doing some work for installations to be used at Greenbelt festival– a combination of sculptural pieces and soundscapes/poetry. It is so lovely to be actually producing something- much of our work of late has been of the mental/community building kind.

There is an interesting old discussion which has at times been quite heated in Aoradh– what comes first, the task or the community? One of my friends actually left because he found the community bit too ambling and directionless- he wanted to get busy and use time efficiently. The business of community is rarely efficient. However, community for the sake of our selves, with no reaching out, no service, no connection- this would be a pointless thing, and certainly not  a Jesus-like thing.

This years GB theme is ‘Saving Paradise’ and our part of contribution involves three pieces, representing sea, forest and river. We will use this in conjunction with soundscapes made in wilderness locations, along with poetry. These will be projected using ultrasonic speakers, which is a bit of tech that I am looking forward to playing with.

The sculptures are a bit trial and error, but here is the work so far- firstly the ‘Sea’ piece, which will have ‘sails’ attached;


Then there is the work that Pauline has done in designing some ‘flowers’ that will be attached to another piece of wood to represent ‘forest’. They look great- better than I had imagined they could be. Here is the prototype along with William for scale;