Today is a bit of a “nothing to report” day, partly, I suspect because I did today’s run with John last July – so there were few surprises. The route ran from South Leicestershire (just north of the A5 for you motorists out there) through Ashby de la Zouch (great name, plus castle) through Repton in South Derbyshire. Repton advertises itself as the ancient capital of Mercia, but its main claim to fame is its large, rather top-notch public school, which now dominates the northern part of this small town. One of its headmasters, Geoffrey Fisher, went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury (1945-1961). It also gives its name to Hubert Parry’s hymn tune, which is commonly used to accompany the words of ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, the later verses of a poem by the Quaker, John Greenleaf Whittier. The story of how this came about was the subject of a delightful BBC Radio 4 documentary broadcast last year. The hymn tune was given the name of the school, because the idea of putting the two together was that of George Gilbert Stocks, who was director of music at the school in the 1920s. Parry had died of the Spanish ‘Flu in 1918. Repton and Jerusalem remain Parry’s most famous works.
At some point, when you’re cycling north through England, you have to reckon with the River Trent. I crossed it just north of Repton. There followed a gradual climb up from the Trent valley into the southern peaks, which I found surprisingly tiring. I also had my first mechanical snag, which entailed stopping to tighten a few loose spokes on my old front wheel. It now doesn’t make any irritating clunking noises and I also fancy it’s a bit more efficient – maybe just me. A brief stop in Ashbourne, then I was off on the final leg of the journey, via the Tissington Trail (the old Buxton to Ashbourne LNWR railway line) then a brief detour to Hartington youth hostel where I am staying the night. Miles travelled today: 54. Total so far: 146. Tomorrow is going to be a big ride…
It was fairly early into our marriage that my nearest and dearest gave me an honest assessment of my long-term prospects as a worship leader. I’d fallen into it somehow, either because I was the only guy in the university Christian Union who wore a leather jacket or because everyone else was even worse at the guitar than I (except Keith J, who was *good*). But by the time I’d reached my mid-twenties, I’d been playing the guitar and leading worship for a number of years. The problem was that I’d been listening to jazz-funk instead of Christian albums since I was in my teens and it had infected my strumming style with dangerous backbeats, so it was kind of hard to understand my playing. (That’s my version of the story, anyway.) Like most Christians of my age, I never questioned the lyrics, despite the fact that anyone with a passing acquaintance with Freudian psychology cannot sing “Jesus, take me as I am…” without feeling terribly guilty about the sexual associations it evokes.
How refreshing, then, to read Andy Walker Cleaveland’s blog post on Christian cheesy lyrics, with some concrete examples. This is getting familiar territory: Nick Page has tackled the subject in his book And now let’s move into a time of nonsense but his book suffers because he was (understandably) unable to get permission of any of the song authors to actually cite the examples of silly or meaningless lyrics which his book is about. At last, someone’s pointed out that though Mat Redman’s tunes are good (as examples of the kind of genre in which he composes), his lyrics seldom convey much by way of theological substance – in contrast (I would contend) to the much-maligned Graham Kendrick.
But things aren’t as bad as they could have been. My wife’s early ministry of discouragement (“it’s either the guitar, or me”) has probably saved the Christian world from something much worse.
An interesting interview from last year now available from Last.fm – where on earth has Hillage’s hair gong? Are System 7 still going?? Are they now called System X 10.5? (Probably not.) Do you have any idea what this post is about???
We need more of this kind of stuff in the Anglican Church … BOH!
John Martyn has died. Some of us have just become a little older. He struggled with appalling health (partly self-inflicted in earlier years) but as a musician he was capable of true genius. God bless him – may he rest in peace.
I was first introduced to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny after listening to New Chautauqua in 1979. I have not stopped listening to him ever since, although my enthusiasm has waxed and waned somewhat. The jazz purist in me was somewhat shocked as the Pat Metheny Group developed into a jazz-pop fusion: its rich arrangements and soaring chord-sequences were sometimes bordering on the excessively lush. Yet I have continued to take guilty pleasure in listening to him, especially on long car journeys when I’ve need something really rich to pick me up from the road’s tedium. I still prefer those albums and tracks when he expresses (or returns to) the purity of his roots. His earliest albums (before the era of PMG) remain favourites, including his first, Bright Size Life, Watercolors – with bassist Eberhard Weber, another of my favourite jazz artists. I also very much like Pat Metheny Group, the debut of PMG, and some of their earlier albums, although I find that I easily tire when listening to their later work – it’s uncomfortably close to stadium rock for this jazz-o-phile. Then there are some gems of collaboration (such as Beyond the Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden). Another excellent work of his is the solo album, One quiet night which has a wonderful solo guitar arrangement of Ferry cross the Mersey, as well as a lot more besides.
The biggest find of the month, however, has been his collaboration with Polish jazz singer Anna Maria Jopek on an album called Upojenie. It’s a mixture of Metheny and PMG standards, rearranged by Jopek and friends, but with Metheny still playing guitar. It also includes Jopek’s versions of other Polish songs. I don’t speak Polish, so cannot vouch for the lyrics, but it sounds absolutely delightful. There is still the guilty pleasure at some of the lushness, but there are also some interesting surprises with nu-jazz-esque synthesizer programming mixed-in, so a few new horizons open up. I’m amazed I haven’t come across it before – it was released originally in 2002.
Whatever my inner-jazz-purist may make of Metheny’s work as a whole, one benefit of his willingness to be non-purist in his own approach to the art is that he has opened up some new vistas by these collaborations and helped people like me to discover outstanding potential in artists like Anna Maria Jopek. If you can – go listen. Oh and of course it goes without saying that he is one of the best jazz guitarists on the planet today.