Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Why Folk Music

We are off to the Shrewsbury Folk Festival this weekend - hurrah!!!! 4 days of great music, food, weird stalls (and smells!), workshops and Professor Panic's circus for the kids. I have been wondering - although I love a lot of music from many genres, folk music holds a particular appeal. Perhaps I should use the more acceptable word of 'roots' music as my interest is really in many form of traditional music from around the world - Cuban, African, blues, bluegrass etc.

However, as a resident of this Island I am particularly interested in the roots music of Britain and, as I live here, England (Bellowhead and Eliza Carthy have both played Womad and Bellowhead even describe themselves as 'English World Music'). Folk music has had a rough deal in the last few decades - I guess the memory of Ewan MacColl singing with his finger in his ear is too deep in culture - but there is a revival going on right now with a number of great young artists such as Eliza Carthy (daughter of Norma Waterson and Martin Carthy - probably one of the best guitarists in the world and inspiration to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon), Kate Rusby, Seth Lakeman, Tim van Eyken, Spiers and Boden and their incredible aforementioned Ensemble Bellowhead. In fact, here they are on Jools Holland:

It may seem anachronistic and backwards looking to be doing this, but I really don't see it that way. Why do I like it:

  1. I like the fact that event when writing new songs there is a sense of respect for the tradition of songs passed down through the ages.
  2. Being rooted in culture is important - I can rejoice when I see any new musician connecting with those who have gone before him by exploring his cultural and musical roots.
  3. The songs are narrative - Post-modern before it existed - they tell stories that deserved to be remembered, and we should be telling more stories of life. I think of Billy Bragg's songs, such as 'Tender Comrade' as a good example of this.
  4. It is about community - whether it is singing along, playing or dancing - rather than just a spectator event.
Show of Hands wrote a song recently, Roots, with these lyrics:

'ROOTS' by Steve Knightley.

"Now it's been twenty-five years or more
I've roamed this land from shore to shore
From Tyne to Tamar, Severn to Thames
From moor to vale, from peak to fen
Played in cafes and pubs and bars
I've stood in the street with my old guitar
But I'd be richer than all the rest
If I had a pound for each request
For 'Duelling Banjos' 'American Pie'
Its enough to make you cry
'Rule Britannia' or 'Swing Low'
Are they the only songs the English know?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
They're never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - they need roots

After the speeches when the cake's been cut
The disco is over and the bar is shut
At christening, birthday, wedding or wake
What can we sing until the morning breaks?
When the Indian, Asians, Afro, Celts
It's in their blood, below the belt
They're playing and dancing all night long
So what have they got right that we've got wrong?

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than well ever know
Round the rocky shores of England

And a minister said his vision of hell
Is three folk singers in a pub near Wells
Well I've got a vision of urban sprawl
It's pubs where no one ever sings at all
And everyone stares at a great big screen
Over-paid soccer stars, prancing teens
Australian soap, American rap
Estuary English, baseball caps
And we learn to be ashamed before we walk
Of the way we look and the way we talk
Without our stories or our songs
How will we know where we've come from?
I've lost St George in the Union Jack
It's my flag too and I want it back

Seed, bud, flower, fruit
Never gonna grow without their roots
Branch, stem, shoots - we need roots

Haul away boys let them go
Out in the wind and the rain and snow
We've lost more than we'll ever know
Round the rocky shores of England"

Here is the song - it says it all really.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Barth is my Inspiration

Or at least this little survey tells me so :-)

You scored as Neo orthodox, You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Reformed Evangelical


Modern Liberal






Classical Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

I took this test twice, at different times to see if I would get different results, but it came out pretty much the same each time. Strangely - the responses here don't suprise me that much - although they may shock my church leaders!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Porn stars, womanhood and the wallpaper of our lives

One of the great traditions in Britain is the long line of inspirational, strong female role models. Think of Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Emmeline Pankhurst, Charlotte Mason and Beatrix Potter (her environmentalism was so far ahead of its time).

So, what has happened today. When the biggest role models are Jordan, Posh Spice, Britney Spears or the latest 5-minute starlet to get her kit off for Nuts something has really gone wrong. In a survey a shocking survey 63% of the girls surveyed would rather be 'glamour' models than have a real career (don't try and tell me that being glamour model is a career - you may earn money, but you contribute to the continued subjugation of women through sexual exploitation - choosing this makes you a disgrace to your gender - as reading would make me a disgrace to mine).

I remember catching a few minutes of a Christine Aguilera concert in which she writhed in her underwear with two male dancers, and the editing switched to an 8 or 9 year old girl in the audience watching with rapt attention to the floor show. All I could think was "what kind of message is this girl getting about what it means to be a person and a woman?" Is wanting to be shagged all there is to being a woman in the 21st century - is this really all there is? Naomi Wolf recently wrote an excellent piece entitled The Porn Myth in which she highlights the way porn has become "the wallpaper of our lives", that boys expect porn star looks and porn star sex, and that real women, unable to match up to this, have just become "bad porn". Here is a great quote from the article:

The porn loop is de rigueur, no longer outside the pale; starlets in tabloids boast of learning to strip from professionals; the “cool girls” go with guys to the strip clubs, and even ask for lap dances; college girls are expected to tease guys at keg parties with lesbian kisses à la Britney and Madonna.
So boys grow up with a twisted idea of masculinity and femininity, and girls grow up with the ambition to be either a porn star or (if they are really ambitious) a WAG. And we have the blind complacency to call it 'harmless fun'. God save us.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Harry Potter - a Christian book after all!

Okay - Harry Potter has been out for over two weeks so I feel okay I posting this now. WARNING - there are spoilers in this post if you haven't read it yet.

Harry Potter books are Christian fiction! I don't mean the soppy, sentimental, preachy, formulaic drivel that is often published. I mean writing in the tradition of Graham Greene, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy L Sayers, J R R Tolkien and C S Lewis. Writing with learning, depth, spiritual insights and the thread of biblical truth running throughout.

I remember when the first HP movie came out there was this strange furore. At my church I remember this tape by some preacher being hawked around warning Christian parents of the evils of the Hogwarts bunch. As I later discovered when reading it for myself it was a wonderful example of how to take book quotes out of context to prove a groundless point. After reading the first two books to find out what all the fuss was about, I then ready the last five for the sheer pleasure of a great story reasonably well written. And with the release of the last HP book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the Christian undercurrent that I suspected all along has burst out into the story.

There was one of the finest article on this posted last week by a guy called Jerry Bowyer, Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Fundamentalists. I ought to emphasise that he is looking at the references in both Scripture and Christian art throughout the centuries, so this probably won't all convince the fire-breathers of his title. He puts the case well for a Christian basis to the books including:

  • Harry as a type of Prince Harry/Henry V - the archetypal Christian king.
  • Harry as a type of King Arthur - his upbringing, the wizard guide, the sword from the lake etc.
  • The battle with the Basilisk in Chamber of Secrets as a type of the descent into Hell by Christ, and of the crushing of the serpents head foretold in Genesis.
  • The 'expecto patronum' spell literally means 'I look for the Saviour', and Harry Patronus is a Stag, a common symbol of Christ in medieval art.

This really became so obvious in Deathly Hallows when Harry goes as a willing sacrifice to die, and then returns from the place of the dead he goes to (called King's Cross), following which Voldemort's curses no longer have any power over him. This fulfills the scripture from 1 Corinthians quoted earlier in the book, "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death".

For those who wonder if this is all intentional, this quote from J K Rowling when asked is she was a Christian herself should end any argument:

"Yes I am. Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what’s coming in the books.”

After laying this out, Bowyer makes this devastating comment:

I think the problem is that so much of the religious right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so little Christianity itself. Yes, there are a few ‘memory verses’ from Saint Paul, and various evangelical habits like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and the alter call. However the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of American Christendom, including its leaders.

I can't really add any more.

What are we here for?