Holy Mountain | Dave Whitcroft

Slieve Donard, Co. Down

There is something transcendent and ‘otherly’ about mountains. They are a place apart, unperturbed by life on the human scale. They remind us of the vastness of time and creation. Maybe that’s why so many cultures have revered them as special places. 

You’ll find tragic offerings to eternity in the mountains of South America, temples & prayer flags in the Himalayas. In the middle East, Europe & Africa, they were always places to skirt around with a healthy, slightly fearful respect.  Neolithic peoples have left burial mounds, and small monuments.

In Judaism & Islam, Mount Moriah in Jerusalem is deeply revered for it’s historic links with Abraham and his descendants – “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord, or who can stand in His holy place”. In Christianity a hill, Golgotha, is literally crucial. Mountains have been inhabited by monks & crowned with crosses ever since.

I hope as you listen to the interplay of fragility, beauty & adrenaline in this project, you’ll be transported back to that sense of otherness or holiness, the awareness of something greater, experienced at key moments of your life; on a mountain, or at the birth of a child. ~ KDWhitcroft, July 2020.

Amazing Grace ~ John Newton 1779

This universal hymn by John Newton was a favourite of the anti-slavery movement of the early 1800’s. Newton had been a slave trader in the run up to the American War of Independence in the 1770’s and before his conversion to Christianity. He changed career to become a pastor, hymn writer and mentor to abolitionists like Wilberforce & Equiano.

This version of Amazing Grace is a homage to the roots music of the Appalachian Mountains that draws its musical heritage from the ‘Scots-Irish’ or Ulster Scots. From about 1700 to 1800, unsettled Scots Irish ‘feeling the heat’ from England, moved to the Colonies. As people from ‘the edge’ they typically landed in Philadelphia, and quickly moved out to the edge of the New World, which meant mountains & frontiers. About a quarter of them were dirt poor and paid their way with 5-7 years of indentured service. Their music was based around strong melody for storytelling, well spaced call & response for worship, and dizzyingly fast reels for dancing (I’m not too hot at that fast stuff!).

This brief intro to a newer song, is typical of the Call & Response stuff they brought with them, ~ it rises and falls like the waves of the sea

For examples of their story-telling via strong melodies, you could check out the soundtrack to Cold Mountain. It’s from 100 years later, but has the same DNA just with wider imports, such as the banjo from West African music. I really love the playing of Keb Mo, it captures that healthy hybrid music that became the blues.

As soon as I came across this American roots music it was immediately emotionally familiar. I don’t know if that’s cultural memory, or maybe it’s because human beings everywhere ‘just get’ a pentatonic scale, who knows?! Anyway, here’s my ‘escaping into the Appalachian Mountains” tribute to Amazing Grace

Do let me know what you think.

In partnership with Rhodium Publishing and Lowden Guitars

Track 10: Come Lord Come

I recently heard a clip of Tom Hanks being interviewed. He was asked why he felt compelled to act. He cried.

He was searching for a vocabulary, a way to express his ‘loneliness’.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p03t5p63

There is a loneliness that is close to panic. It’s not boredom, it’s much more than isolation, I think the word is ……desolation. Space movies explore this a lot. The horror of drifting off into eternity, waiting for your oxygen to run out. I’ve tasted that sort of ‘existential’ loneliness before I became a Christian, (aren’t teenagers serious), and then since flirted with it the odd time when I was feeling sorry for myself!

And it’s back to Jamaica….

Mainly though, my experience of loneliness since faith became a factor, has been very different. Now it’s a sort of homesickness. This next example could have happened anywhere. I’d had a year of working in Craigavon, London, & now Jamaica, and had just briefly seen Lisa in London. Saying goodbye was not easy, and my first night in Kingston didn’t help.

A friend had suggested staying the first couple of days in her friend’s hotel, as a treat after the London hostel work. So I landed, got a taxi, checked in and went to the bar. A big, red faced, drunk white Jamaican guy with a pistol in a holster, came in & tried to pick a fight. Taking my glasses off playing with them, taunting me by drinking my coke etc. The barman had to talk him down, and I just sat very still, fuming, with my eyes on his sidearm.

So I went to bed, & found cockroaches in my shoes. I cried. I felt so alone. I was praying desperately & felt consoled by that God had recently brought the family through some rough stuff. Even when I felt alone then, I sensed I was not really alone. God can be very close in those difficult moments.

I never saw my friend’s friend, the hotel owner. When I left, I was served a bill which was I think, 1/4 of my 4 month budget! Not a great start. There was one particularly resourceful week where I was down to my last 2 Jamaican dollars, (50p) but stretched it out a bit with music. For the record Jamaicans don’t seem that into tipping buskers, but I suppose I stood out a bit, so it was ok. God bless the few who did donate 😂. All the same, Kingston was magical after that.

A homesick world

That intense spike of homesickness got me thinking, particularly when I came home and had time to process it. There is a huge amount in the bible about homesickness. It’s a longing not to return, but for the ‘returner’. The whole of the New Testament looks forward to the return of the king, the groom for the bride, the anticipation of a distressed creation, the vindicator for the oppressed, the Day of the Lord.

The first two verses of this song make sense of this ‘homesickness’ through Psalm 19 (the witness of nature) the doxology in Romans 11, (the wisdom of God), and Romans 8 (nature groaning in anticipation of liberation from decay, and us awaiting our adoption as God’s children).

The final verse is my personal experience of not being fully alone anymore. I hope it resonates.

Notes for Musicians

This is the richest piece of music on the album. The lyrics are intense & the song matches well. Often a final Master leaps out like the grain on a piece of french polished wood. It’s a testimony to Michael McCluskey’s mixing & production, that the Final Master is almost identical to the studio mix.

Musically, we go to town on the dropped D acoustic guitar & some of the lead instrumentals. John Hegarty adds some lovely tapped harmonics on his strat. The sound for Ian Hannah’s baffling piano arpeggios, is a Native Instruments steel piano, that’s had a reverse effect added to overstate the ‘anticipation’ theme of the song.

Finally, I love the sustained, slightly unexpected harmonies Gillian Brown has picked out. They’re slightly haunting.

You can play this song on just an acoustic & it will work perfectly well, so long as you drop the D strings. Play the F&G chords barring the bottom two strings and let the top strings carry the drone instead.

Lyrics & Chords

copyright 2019 KDMusic

Track 9: We will see

I’ve always thought of misty, shadowy West of Ireland weather as gloomy or mysterious. It wasn’t until I read CS Lewis on the difference between half light (Nordic) & full light (Mediterranean) beauty that I broadened my perspective. He compares a northern landscape & light to water colours, bright southern light to oil paintings. One vivid & exuberant, the other subtle & nuanced. Ambivalent.

Minaun cliffs and Keel surf, Achill, Co Mayo. © 2019 Sarah Whitcroft

Different beauties evoking different responses. One universal response to all beauty he talks about though, is longing. For Lewis, all earthly beauty is partial. A pale imitation or fore-taste of the true intense beauty, that can be found only when creation is in full harmony with its Creator. For Lewis, beauty is suppose to make us long for something greater, heaven, or when heaven re-invades creation to restore it.

Love on earth can be the same. There is simply no way that any of us can perfectly, selflessly love each other as we should. Even the best of parents, children, husbands, wives, lovers or friends, let each other down. There will be times in your life when you feel deeply disappointed that the efforts you make, the feelings you feel, are not returned like for like by other people.

Well, I reckon that just as beauty creates longing within in us for something more, the incompleteness of earthly love, for all its high points, inevitably leaves us seeking for the untiring, constant, intense love that can only be found at its source. John, the ‘beloved disciple’, who stayed with Jesus at the cross, tells us that God is love.

So this song laments the limits of our human love, mentions some joys of life, & looks beyond them both, to the rich peace of being in God’s presence.

I’ve shared this song with some friends who have been through traumatic times. You know who you are. You’re still in mind as I write this.

Melody – Dugort

I’ve called this tune Dugort. For me, the melody perfectly matches the Achill Island village and the folk music that have been part of my life since I was 8. Dugort has a melancholy watercolour beauty, with the deepest of bittersweet histories.

It’s personally poignant, because my dad was driving there with a load of trees to plant, when he got wiped in his car accident in the 80’s. His good friends Pat Lavelle & Vi McDowell, arranged with John Sweeney for the trees to be planted while he was undergoing brain surgery.

St.Thomas’ Church, Achill Mission, Dugort, looking west to Slievemore & the Settlement.

More significantly, Dugort was the site of the Achill Missionary Settlement started in the 1830’s. It was an ambitious & zealous project to bring the gospel to a place that evangelicals considered both overlooked by, & enthralled to, a mediaeval Catholicism. The idealism was real & poignant. Like the rest of the Islanders, the founding members of the settlement suffered great personal loss. There was no personal gain (although the mission as a project got sucked into exercising control as a landlord). In due course they were on the receiving end of an institutional backlash, from an equally formidable neighbouring bishop.

With hindsight you can see the mistakes that were made. Although the mission was Irish speaking, the founding minister, Edward Nangle, (himself a convert from Catholicism), spent too much of his time denouncing the ‘idolatry’ of catholicism, instead of focusing on the core message, that it’s a personal faith in Jesus not commitment to an institution that counts.

Also, you can see they just assumed that modernising imperial methods were best. As well as bringing a message, the settlement dispossessed a number of tenant farmers in order to set up a model village. It championed modern farming techniques, had a printing press, hotel, school, coast guards, and constabulary, all centred around a picture postcard church & Rectory, St Thomas’. We’re all captives of the times we live in. 19th century Evangelicals were at times too wedded to the notions of cultural superiority & uncritical of the social improvement initiatives that went with the global British imperial project (think assumptions about exporting American culture, or the assumed superiority of secular atheism in Europe today).

On top of the controversy, the mission faced the tidal wave of bigger, more tragic events in the 1840’s and 1850’s. The horrendous crop failures & political disaster of ‘The Famine’ struck.

How do you stay true to your vision of spreading a faith, & respond to needs of starving people at the same time? The mission had had some earlier success in seeing people come to a genuine faith. Inevitably this was seen by some as cultural & religious betrayal. Perhaps the mission could have built a community with an alternative vision of Christianity, but if you have trained people up with marketable skills on an island, & famine hits, the sensible thing to do is to take those skills somewhere without famine. The momentum dissipated.

In addition, the mission ended up being the institution that distributed food relief to 2,000 people. If you pastor a church, you have a responsibility to your neighbours, & in particular to your ‘flock’ in the middle of a crisis. It became almost inevitable that the tension between the original aim of the mission, and the duty to feed starving people, led to allegations of ‘souperism’ – (using the prospect of food, as an incentive to conversion).

If it occurred, it was despicable. It’s unproven & I have significant doubts about it. If your worldview is that belonging to institutions makes a difference, then ‘souperism’ might appear to people looking in, as an effective (if reprehensible) strategy by the Achill Mission. But Evangelical Christianity is all about preaching that joining clubs doesn’t save your soul. It’s a personal faith in Jesus that makes the difference. For Nangle and the mission, getting people on the church register under false pretences would have been a fake outcome, an external symbol without a heart reality.

Whatever the real (or confused) motives in those dreadful times, mud sticks. If I were desperate and starving, I would have changed ‘club’ if I thought it increased the chance of saving my family’s life. The desperation circumstances caused deep resentment. The Mission had aligned itself with the Imperial civilising project. The free market, non-interventionist policy of the British government, was an unmitigated disaster that left people to die. The Famine devastated rural Ireland, and the Mission became just another well intentioned but unsustainable project on marginal land, destined for decay.

If you look on the map today, the Missionary Settlement, has been renamed The Colony. I find this a little sad, if understandable. However flawed, I think the self-sacrifice & outward looking intentions of the Mission were about building a new community around a different understanding of faith, in the Irish Language. Perhaps with the passage of time, & generosity, they can be honoured with the name they originally chose for themselves. A Mission of idealists, rather than a Colony of outsiders. The little church still operates, serving a small congregation and summer visitors.

Flip, that was long, sorry! And so to the Music 😇

‘We will see’, is a classic 3/4 lament in Am. You have to play it quite delicately, picking out the lilting melody as you change chords.

If track 2 is the most powerful, then I think this is the most beautiful on the album. Gillian Brown’s voice is both haunting & delightfully pure for the main melody. Gillian’s is a voice that deserves to be heard much more widely, particularly in this genre.

I love the contrast of the 3 part harmony she & Sarah sing in the middle of the song for the punchline. The fuller, ‘otherness of heaven’, is further implied by an echoing counter melody, thanks to Gwyneth Reid’s cello part.

I’m not going to suggest you try this one, but I hope you like it!

Lyrics and chords

We Will See © 2019 KDMusic

Track 8: Pentecost!

Probably the most fun part of my church life has been doing youth work. I love kids’ work, but youth work was my primary degree & first paid job. So, when I stepped away from that to look after family interests, I got a real kick out of being a youth leader, and eventually ended of keeping an eye on all the youth work for our church in East Belfast.

There’s a lot going on. I think we estimated we were dealing with 550 children & teens on an average week, or maybe that was numbers on the books.

My particular favourite was our Sunday Night Youth Fellowship or S N Y F (its a church that suffers from Acronym addiction)! Anyway, SNYF was an opportunity to get alongside people at their most brilliant, most questioning, most mixed up, most hopeful or despairing. It’s an intense, fun, irritating, inspirational stage of life to be working with. All that potential, all those hormones!

We always tried to make up our own songs, it was great for forging the group’s identity. A couple of favourites were a Christian rip off of I’m a Believer by Neil Diamond (revitalised by Smashmouth in the Shrek movie), and then we also came up with this Latin tune, Pentecost. I’d been going through a Santana phase with my cover band, plus both Sting & Clapton has dabbled with Latin music, so it was a genre I really enjoyed. Three of the kids in the group at the time, the magnificent McCarthy sisters, had just come back from being missionary kids in Spain. So it was a fun way to acknowledge their arrival, by rattling out this tune, I think there’s a Spanish version somewhere!

Here’s a playlist with loads of upbeat Latin & gospel tunes to get you going for Pentecost season (the time we send missionaries out to tell the world the good news 😎)

Rose petals sprinkled through the Oculus of the Pantheon, Rome, signifying the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday. It implies the beauty & gentleness of the Spirit, as well as the power & cleansing we normally associate with flames. This tradition was started in the early 600’s AD.

Lyrics

The lyrics are line for line, straight out of Acts 2. It struck me reading the passage that Luke was describing a unique experience that couldn’t quite fit words. A sound ‘like’ wind, a sign ‘like’ flames. Speaking in the many real languages of the world’s Jewish peoples gathered into Jerusalem.

It kind of annoys me that some of us in the modern church ignore the frankly weird stuff going on, & focus entirely on the ‘birthday of the church’, the huge number of people who responded to Peter’s preaching.

On the other hand some of us seem to focus entirely on the experience & the speaking in tongues, to the extent that you’d think the experience was the point, not people hearing and believing.

So this song acknowledges both the supernatural events of Pentecost & the purpose of them. To endorse & empower a very small bunch of fearful people to open the door, go outside, take a risk & as they share the good news, realise God is giving them the words they need to be understood. John Piper has a habit of describing preaching as a miracle. That was certainly the case on Pentecost. Peter punched way above his weight in a way that was clearly inspired.

As far as the song goes then, it should be acceptable to both ‘cessationists’ and ‘continuationsists’, if not, please accept I’ve done my best just to stick to the bible on it.

Lessons from the East

Some Eastern churches have an additional take on Pentecost that’s worth thinking about. As well as the gift of God’s Spirit and the birth of the church, they see it as a reversal of Gods curse at the Tower of Babel. At Babel, humans were arrogant and trying to ‘bring God down a ritual staircase’ so they could be His equal. The curse on them was cultural & linguistic division. At Pentecost, the barrier of language was transcended, and unity was restored, through each believer receiving a share of God’s Spirit. No more special nations, special priests, special prophets. Everyone who believes, great or humble, having direct relationship, with God living in them.

I like that idea, it certainly fits the grand sweep of the bible narrative; curses being reversed, unity being restored, elites being bypassed. It’s been my experience meeting English, Dutch, German, American, Spanish, Argentinian, South African Christians, that nation, language & denomination are so secondary to the delight of discovering we share the same faith, in the same Jesus. We’re united by the same Spirit. That’s pretty brilliant!

Notes for musicians (It’s a group song – honest!)

Ok, I get it, if you’ve only heard the studio version of Pentecost, you probably think it has a snowball’s chance of getting sung in a church context, but that’s exactly how it started out – I have witnesses! It was a guitar, lots of voices & clapping, that’s all. And they really did get into it, so trust me and give it a go, what have you got to lose!

To be fair, we did go a bit nuts on the studio version, so it’s quite OTT. But can you imagine our surprise when we kept adding layer after layer & it tightened up instead of losing definition:

Drums, percussion, guitars, bass, 16 layers of brass (Rick Swann is prolific), then those great Cuban Mutandos/arpeggios by Ian Hannah, followed by lead by John Hegarty. They’re all outstanding players who understand how to listen & interweave.

The outcome is a very complex layer cake, but each layer is simple, laid on top of a relatively straightforward chord structure that’s in constant tension with the samba percussion. Strip it back & it’s just a simple, call & response song.

For anyone that doesn’t like this track, I have some sympathy. It’s been really well executed, but it’s so polished it can be emotionally un-engaging. I have a good friend who thinks the tune needs lighter more fun lyrics. I can see what he’s saying, but for me it was about trying to communicate surprise, energy & cross-culturalism. So, fair enough, let’s call it the ‘Marmite track’ of the album 😂. Such fun to make though! As a recording showpiece, special kudos to Michael McCluskey for mixing in a way that gives everything its place.

Lyrics & Chords

Pentecost! © KDMusic 2019

Track 7: Christmas on the Beach

She: Why are all your songs so serious? Couldn’t you just write something fun for a change? (If you’re happily married after 25 years, you can have a level of candour that would have caused a major domestic in the first decade!)

Me: All serious! I think that unfair! What about all the kids songs, and youth songs, they’re fun?

She: Well ok, but do they ALL have to be about church? Why can’t you write a hit that we can retire on – something just for fun, please!!! (For the record this woman is WAY holier than me, but she has zero tolerance for dreary, self serious worship songs with no zip in them. It’s a personality thing. Can’t sit still. Can’t stop running. Always changing things. Drives me mad. Can’t get enough of her!)

Out of the blue…

We got an invite to cousin Patricia’s wedding in Zambia, her mum Anne was wondering if I could play at it. It was going to be down at Victoria Falls at the end of August. It was a big journey that involved leaving our eldest (20) in charge of our youngest(7) while the middle kid was in Canada. We would be spread over 3 continents if anything went wrong. But it was just the right thing to do. We’ve a particular friendship with our Zambian/Irish cousins the Kapolyos, Anne & Joe were particularly supportive at some key moments, and I look up to them a lot.

Also from a selfish point of view, what an adventure, we could use the trip to celebrate our 25th anniversary. so we went, a bit anxious about leaving the ‘kids’, but really excited about meeting everyone and seeing the falls.

It was the most magical trip. Being there with friends and family we hadn’t seen in ages, meeting Yabs’ family, being part of the pre-wedding outdoor Boma meal they arranged and the wedding day itself. The sense of occasion was just unbeatable.

The wedding venue was a beautiful hotel right on the Zambezi, above the falls within view of the mist beyond the falls edge. You could sit and watch the sun set over the river under a huge amber sky. Words do not come close. I was so moved by the beauty of the sunset. People hushed in reverence at it.

The wedding itself was conducted outside on the hotel lawn at the river bank. A gospel choir from a local church sang, and three of us played – flute, acoustic, and jazz guitar. Patricia & Yabs had their wedding photos down at the falls, and the reception inside the hotel was great fun. It was such an honour to share in everyone’s happiness, and we were able to ‘borrow’ the celebrations for our anniversary.

An epic journey

My younger cousin Simon and his wife Olivia had arrived at the falls by bike. They had decided to build an expedition around the wedding, cycling through 7 countries over 4 months to make the beach in CapeTown in time for Christmas. It was causing quite a stir, one or two thought it was a bit rash. But they were seasoned travellers, and had prepared their kit meticulously. As we followed their trip by blog, https://logansbiking.blog/2017/08/16/gearing-up-for-africa/. it dawned on me that the seasons were upside down and they’d be hitting that CapeTown beach in high summer. Anne & Patricia rightly pointed out that most of the world’s population celebrate Christmas at the height of summer, no pine trees or snow in sight.

So, we had our subject matter for a fun Christmas Song. It’s not entirely brain dead! It makes the simple point that HOW we celebrate Christmas is cultural, but what it’s about is love, joy & peace. It’s finishes with a riff from the traditional carol -Joy to the world.

The video is probably more captivating than the song, although it has a lovely gentle relaxed groove like you’d expect for a beach song. It follows their 4 month cycle expedition and their overwhelmingly positive encounters along the way.

https://youtu.be/P-EtjGUWSvM

It hasn’t made that fortune Lisa jokingly hoped for from a less churchy song, but there’s always next Christmas!

Track 6: Upside Down

Looking down on a rainbow, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

That last blog was pretty heavy, So let’s lift the tone a bit! There are 5 things that have defined my life. My Christian Faith, the woman who married me who is the biggest blessing God has ever sent my way, my 3 kids, music and being part of a great church family at Orangefield in Belfast. So many good friends. So much support. So many opportunities to serve. It is without doubt my extended family, which is what it’s meant to be. A family, a body. We’ve had our moments, some wobbles and challenges, but it’s just chock full of good honest, ‘what you see is what you get’ Jesus loving brothers and sisters.

So when I was doing my stint in charge of the Sunday school there, and someone asked could they have a song for a talk they were doing on Zaccheus, we rattled this one off within a few days. Being the son of someone in love with money, the lyrics came easily to me. It’s loosely styled on Minnie the mooch by Cab Calloway from the blues brothers movie. I wanted Zaccheus to come across as a sneaky prohibition style gangster who rips everyone off. On the edge. Unloved.

Over the years this song has been performed by loads of kids in our church, and lots of other places. It’s best sung with shades on & a fake scowl. Actions come easily on the chorus, it’s great fun!

To finally add some great moody piano from Ian Hannah and backroom jazz trumpet is real icing on the cake. Have fun with it. After the last blog’s rainy day, to hear about Zaccheus getting his life turned upside down and his frozen heart alight, hopefully gives you a bit of a lift. A great one for the car on a long drive, or for a kids event.

Upside Down

#zaccheus #ianhannahmusic #rickswannofficial #jazz #blues #kidssongs #orangefieldpresbyterianchurch #sundayschool #trumpet #piano #harmony #shades #katp19

Track 5: Laughing & Crying

Writing songs starts here….

Sunshine for rainy days

I’ve been songwriting since I was 15, maybe earlier. My mum used to say I was singing songs in my second year, before I could structure full sentences. I’d be rolled out in a pushchair to sing for adults as a novelty act. It’s probably not as rare as it seemed to them. Music touches the depths of us in a special way doesn’t it? When our eyes have faded, and our short term memory mists over, it’s music that will provide the trail of breadcrumbs back out of the dark, to the familiarity of home.

I’d always sung at church, school and community events, but didn’t really feel compelled to write songs until we faced a family crisis in my teen years. Both our parents suffered severe brain injury in two car crashes, within 6 months. Here’s the brutal truth, it would’ve been easier in the long run, but more traumatic at the time, if dad died on the road that day. An already difficult and overbearing (but brilliant) father became a caged beast. He became completely dependent, & as someone who had built a firm with 600 staff with no money from scratch, naturally was incensed at needing someone to shower him, drive him, dress him. Mum, ever in the shadows, wore her brain injury like a crown of confused daisies, wandering through imaginary fields of oil paintings, antiques & collectibles, ephemera. Pleasant, sad.

Dad, the fatally wounded business warrior, had lost self control (frontal lobe damage does that), so the anger, Vodka & Gaviscon milkshakes, & the co-codamol & hobnob biscuit addictions, raged on unrestrained. The detail of domestic violence can be a bit boring, but the important thing I want to get across is that it’s all consuming. You don’t feel you can escape it, responding to it largely defines you. Anticipating violence, avoiding it, fearing it, wondering which dad will come down the stairs, is more exhausting than the surreal adrenaline rush of having to respond to a moment of rage. I’ve two standout memories of it, but there are so, so many. On a holiday in Spain I was 8 & my brother was 4. We were in bed and dad came in drunk. He dragged mum by the hair into the bathroom, and started smashing her head against the toilet. He was very strong. Pete was crying & whimpering beside me. I hugged him, and closed my eyes tight and just kept saying, “it’s going to be alright, it’s going to be alright”. Mum was screaming & I thought she was going to die. To be scared but have to be brave for your wee brother is what you do, but its not fair. Mum suffered a burst ear drum & fractured jaw that night. She wore sunglasses and a scarf for the rest of the holiday. It wasn’t the first or last time. It all came to a head a decade later (post brain injury) when he had a couple of shotguns & a Berreta automatic pistol lined up to shoot the three of us. At that point it was time to leave, under police escort.

Minaun cliffs, Achill, Co. Mayo © 2019 Sarah Whitcroft

I have a bizarre side memory from that night, of a police sergeant & future PCI moderator, our friend & minister Roy Patton, both wrestling with a pump action shotgun in the pouring rain outside the house, trying to remove jammed cartridges. I laughed! It was just weird! It’s what you do sometimes if you’re a bit scared. Still, top notch pastoral care Roy, thank you!

I have to confess, a couple of months before this, I had broken dad’s nose when he tried to throw a pot of boiling water over mum. He was still scarily strong, but his reactions were dead slow. I’m not sorry I stopped him, but I deeply regret how much I enjoyed it. Almost immediately, I realised that he was a wounded animal lashing out, and I wasn’t that far from turning into something similar. I’d just become a Christian, it wasn’t great timing for a first punch up with your father, and I spent a lot of time talking it over with Roy and apologising to dad.

Anyway, after the guns episode, we went to a caravan for a while, got a restraining order, and eventually moved into a wee house a mile away. He used to turn up at the door, shout and try to force his way in…….great way to meet the new neighbours. Thankfully, no, providentially, our next door neighbours turned out to be David & Dorothy McMillan from Newry Baptist church. Their friendship, sympathy, and mentorship was an extra lifeline at just the right time. I think God doesn’t often line stuff up early, He’s pretty good at just in time deliveries!

This song hasn’t been shared publicly before. The perspective of time makes it ok now. Also, I reckon there are a lot of people inside or outside of church who have lived through some sort of family trauma, or witnessed abuse at an early age. I was talking about what we & mum went through with a dear relative recently, she hadn’t realised what was going on. I genuinely couldn’t believe it. I suppose I thought it was obvious just from looking at us, like some sort of gloomy version of the ‘Ready brek glow’ or a sign over our heads. But no, to everyone outside the family ‘Freddie’ was the perfect gentleman, a pillar of the community, that dashing innovator and successful businessman. And of course he was. No one is ever just a monster. The dad who scared and dominated us all, was also exciting, interesting, fun & generous (on his own terms). We were proud of him, and we hated him in equal measure. All the stats show that although Christian marriages are generally much happier, violence and oppression is still going on in and around church communities. I haven’t heard a sermon on it EVER in 50 years. (dad wasn’t a Christian, but he was a ‘respectable church goer’ with some sort of abstract belief in God, who enjoyed the community side of it).

I couldn’t have believed then, that after my first post grad job as youth worker for PCI in the Shankill & New Lodge Estates, I’d end up looking after the family affairs, and dad on the side for 25 years.

That’s the other reason I can share this song now. The story ends well. The man who I genuinely hated and wanted dead, I ended up loving. It wasn’t perfect. I didn’t always handle it well. Sometimes you try, sometimes you pull the pillow over your ears. He was still stinking & inappropriate & struggling with minor addictions, but he died as someone with a more personal than notional faith, who prayed for us every day. The man who smashed my first guitar into bits in the kitchen, eventually prayed for me every day. That’s precious to me. There a little success here surely, two hearts changed for good? Close friends say there’s a book in it. Maybe, but for now, all I can muster the energy for is this short song – a snapshot from my heart, when we’d moved out into that wee ‘safe house’, just after the hammering on the door had stopped.

Laughing & crying

© KDMusic 2019

Laughing and crying,

were two things you were always afraid to do,

so proud to be a self-made man.

To wrap your bleeding heart in paper money

will not ease the pain-ful memories of an empty life.

Helpless and needy were two things

you were always afraid to be

Yet now they dominate your life

For by your fear and violence

You’ve chased away those closest few

Who sometimes….

Saw love twinkle…..

In your eyes………

#laughingandcrying, #helplessandneedy, #fear, #violence, #closestfew, #love, #domesticviolence, #braininjury, #addiction, #longtermcare, #redemption, #prayer, #family, #pastoralcare,

Track 4: Jacob’s Ladder

Most musicians have a tune they unconsciously turn to if they’re bored waiting for a practice to start. Or maybe they’re a bit nervous and need to auto pilot to reassure themselves they can still play. You know, like something you catch yourself singing in the shower or humming when you walk the dog.

For a while, my ‘unthinking twiddle tune’ was the main riff for this song. It’s combines 9th’s & 7th’s with a walking bass line that puts some of the notes back to front when you climb from E to A. Like a wee tongue twister. The sort of thing that makes you say, “what was that, rewind a second?”

So this song is mainly a bit of cheerful fun. The walking/climbing bass line suits the idea of climbing Jacob’s ladder. That’s the story from Genesis, where Jacob had a vision of a close link between heaven & earth, when he was on the run from his family as he slept on rocks at place he called Bethel. Imagine being on the run, and then discovering that even if your family hate you, God cares. It’s a story that’s been covered a lot in spirituals, and there’s a fairly famous old song about it.

So Jacob’s ladder because it matched the climbing riff, and from there it was open the bible at Revelation 4/5 to unpack the imagery of perfect worship, cleansing, and purity in the heaven Jacob caught a glimpse of. This is a bible passage that been majestically translated to song by Kari Job and Andrew Peterson recently. My song does not compare! But what it maybe adds to the conversation, is a bit of the sense of excitement and energy from that picture in Revelation. If it helps your kids remember the bible verses and enjoy singing, maybe that’s achievement enough!

The middle 8 bars of the song are about remembering to trust God in your challenges, that if you fall, He’s always waiting to catch you. That’s about it. High energy to communicate excitement, and some call and response to get those bible verses well stuck in your head.

Notes for musicians

To stop it getting really boring musically, there are lots of ‘hits, runs and hangs’ in Jacob’s Ladder (there’s a nice C9 chord for the hangs).

I’ve always performed this on just an acoustic guitar going round churches or playing outdoors. It was lovely to switch to my strat on a nice crunchy 50’s setting for recording this. A few years after writing this song, I discovered the rockabilly big band music of Brian Setzer (formerly Stray Cats), and we covered a few of their songs in our band. So it was an ambition to add big band brass, backing vocals (for the angels), that crunchy rhythm sound for the riff, and get my friend & favourite lead guitarist John Hegarty in. A bit of John Hegarty lead guitar……..https://youtu.be/vxIp7me4lNo
Rick Swann (all the brass) & John have really hit a groove. My only regret, it’s so full, we didn’t quite get round to adding Ian Hannah on a bit of Hammond, (next time Ian)!

Lyrics: Jacob’s Ladder

© 2019 KDMusic

1. We’re gonna climb up Jacob’s Ladder,

We’re gonna climb up Jacob’s ladder,

Jesus has redeemed us and our chains are shattered,

Jesus has redeemed us and our chains are shattered,

We’re gonna climb up Jacob’s ladder,

So come on up where the saints are gathered to Him, gathered to Him.

2. We’re gonna wear white robes, washed in the blood of the lamb,

White robes washed in the blood of the lamb,

Gonna gaze in awe and wonder in the presence of The Great I Am,

Gonna gaze in awe and wonder in the presence of The Great I Am.

We’re gonna climb up Jacob’s ladder,

so come on up where the saints are gathered to Him, gathered to Him.

Bridge

There’s no way that he is gonna let you fall to ground,

Cos he’ll catch you up in his ever waiting arms.

There’s no way that He is gonna let you fall to ground,

So raise that chin!

Keep lookin’ up not down!

3. Hear the angels sing “worthy is the lamb that once was slain,

Hear the angels sing “worthy is the lamb that once was slain,

To receive power and wealth

And wisdom and strength,

And glory and honour and praise”

I wanna be there! I wanna be amazed!

We’re gonna climb up Jacob’s ladder

So come on up where the saints are gathered to Him, gathered to Him x3

Gathered to Him.

#jacobsladder, #Kdmusic, #rickswannofficial #johnhegartybluesband #zerohourstudio, #katp19, #revelationhymn, #karijobe, #andrewpeterson, #briansetzerorchestra,

Track 3: Sun & Rain

I L-O-V-E summer in France, they really are a blessed nation.

They’ve got the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees, the Alps, great rivers, varied countryside, magnificent villages & chateaux, rich street music, style, speciality foods, sun ripened fruit & veg, and of course, the language of love.

Our own special wee place there has been the Spring Harvest Christian campsite, Le Pas Opton, near St Gilles Croix de Vie, in the Vendee ( between Nantes & Bordeaux).

Christian campsite? I hear you say. Yep, unashamedly. It is not naff, it is not like being stuck in church after a year of being stuck in church. It is simply, wholesomely, lovely. Not perfect, but lovely.

It has been a safe place for our kids to learn to ride bikes, disappear with friends for hours on end in freedom & safety, and for us to dip into or ignore the either wonderful or passable Christian content. It is a place for International friendships, friendly sporting competition, and big meals outside long into the evening.

Our eldest son has a love of learning exotic new words & then scattering them inappropriately & gratuitously through every sentence. I have no idea where he got it from. Must be his ma 😉

‘Petrichor!’

Hey dad! You know that smell you get when the rain hits hot dusty ground, there’s a name for that….. Pet-ri-chor! How I adore Petrichor! Can’t wait for more Petrichor! Do you deplore Petrichor? Etc. Etc. It made for a long evening……

Still he had a point, there’s something special about that combination. Intense heat, dust & a sudden quick drying downpour of rain. The closest you get in Irish summers is the smell of freshly cut grass in the fields, but that’s sweeter & gentler. Sun, dust & rain make a scent like my wife’s freshly conditioned hair, only more intense. Less like perfume, more like aftershave if that makes sense? I know I could do better here, so I think you’ll just have to go somewhere hot & dry to experience it yourself!

It got me thinking, there’s something Jesus said about sun & rain in the sermon on the mount isn’t there? And sure enough, there it was, in Matthew 5:45. Jesus talking about forgiveness as universal as God blessing good & bad people with sun & rain. so I wrote this song with a bible, croissant & a dark roast coffee looking out through an open caravan door at rain hitting the hot ground.

“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:44-45‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Just in case some spiky headed theology numpty (I’m sorry, but such people do exist) wants to have a pop at me for implying universalism or ignoring God’s judgment, this is an example of one of Jesus’ many one liners designed to stick in your head. It’s not meant to be a systematic theology. He sometimes speaks in snapshots, not movies, choruses not hymns. This particular one liner is comparing the outpouring of God’s ‘common grace’ with God’s forgiveness. It doesn’t comment on whether people on the receiving end respond in faith.

I love the fact that whatever our circumstances, God’s love really is being poured out on you & me, on everyone, good or bad, day, upon day, upon day. His forgiveness is there for us in the same way, all the time, like refreshing rain or warming sun. It even smells good and has a special name ……

Perhaps from now on, the definition could be Petrichor “The smell designed to remind you of God’s constant blessing, love & forgiveness….often found in close proximity to its visual counterpart, the rainbow.” (Yip, he still owns that too)

This wee song is probably the closest to a title track for our album ‘Sunshine For Rainy Days’. It’s simple, but it catches the spirit of what we’re trying to communicate. Life can be pretty dark at times, but there is ALWAYS light. Please don’t confuse light or fun songs you’ll hear later in this album with shallowness. Someone very important once said you & I have to become like a little child to enter the kingdom of heaven…….

Note for musicians

This song uses a lot of finger plucked strings and 3 note slides to imply the weather. Think raindrops and rays of sun. Hopefully it creates the right impression! There’s some lovely warm cello for the sun from Gwyneth Reid of New Irish Arts, and great 4 part harmonies & sung chords from Sarah, Gillian and Michael when it gets to the bit about “all men” (sorry ‘people’ just didn’t rhyme, but you know it’s a generic ‘men’ right?)

Sun & Rain – Lyrics

© 2019 KDMusic

Verse

” Storms come, clouds go, but,

God’s love lasts forever,

Life can be, all pain & no gain, but,

God’s love last forever.

Pre-chorus

For just as the sun shines on the bad & good,

Your promise to make us new is for all men,

And just as the rain blesses the right & wrong,

Your love is for everyone, day upon day.

Chorus

You pour your blessings on a-all men,

You pour your blessings on all men,

You pour your blessings on a-a-a-all men,

You pour your blessings on all men. ”

#sun, #rain, #blessing, #forgiveness, #madenew, #stormsoflife, #allpainnogain, #Godslove, #forever, #allmen, #goodandbad,

Track 2. Still Only One Way

Track 2: ‘Sunshine for Rainy Days’, Our debut album cover,
from an anonymous encourager on a Glasgow street wall.

Life is great, BUT, there are a few things about the cultural momentum in ‘The West’ that irritate me, one or two that scare me, and several that fill me with bottled rage. I think this says more about me gaining perspective as I get older, than this snapshot in time being particularly worse.

It’s just another fashion, honest!

For instance, fashion was really bad in the 70’s when I was a kid. My teen years in the 80’s, had ska, skinhead, mods, punk, modern romantic (yes I was a Duran Duran fan) and the early stages of goth, all of it now dated, but class. I’ll skim over the run up to the millennium and noughties brit pop (so optimistic), to now. Now, everything is ‘authentic’ no fashion just ‘authentic’. It’s important not just to stock ethically, you have to carefully market the fact that the produce has a unique provenance. My Instagram feed from framed in fake authentic Kodak film. Every new event, church or non church has to have been ‘life changing & amazing’. Let me be honest, I now consider it an achievement if what I’m involved in manages to scrape up to ‘quite good’ or ‘helpful’! 🙂 It’s all about establishing credibility, and it is, of course, trapped in the same cycle of changing fashion as every previous generation. I don’t mind that, what depresses me slightly is the lack of irony. Maybe the cause celebré of your favourite Christian agency deserves a little critique? Maybe what we take so seriously in church & society would be all the better for laughing at ourselves a bit? Because, when someone is so earnest about their own credibility & ‘authenticity’, you’re not allowed to laugh. How, very, very, depressing 😦

After thought: Yes, I know punks & goths & millennium bug worriers took themselves too seriously as well, fair enough. So it’s just a wee niggle really, but please, lets lighten up!

Cultural Amnesia

Probably the more serious concern is the lack of self awareness in our runaway train of a secular atheist culture, and of course you’ve heard this sort of critique before. There is no truth, there’s just meaning. If it works for you great! But the big sin, is to say, out loud, that some things are right & some things are wrong. Some things are true, some things are lies. Worse still, is pointing out those lies.

The famous 2017 teeshirt slogan. I agree with most of these individual statements,
but they’re abused here to publicly intimidate & close down discussion
about what the words mean.
‘If you disagree with me, you’re participating in hate crime’.

I want to be clear, this is much bigger than the identity politics and sexual ethics highlighted above, they’re just an example. Here’s the thing, when society closes down minority viewpoints, be it a Christian world view, or the promotion of a Caliphate, or genetic modification, anything, with no debate the truth becomes a victim. It becomes impossible to learn, or critique dominant and minority ideas. So let’s protect our secular system (a Christian invention that allows all ideas to compete & have influence in the marketplace), and resist the imposition of a secular atheist culture. And that’s what we’re getting right now.

Truth matters

So, for the sake of both a healthy society and the genuine historical and personal truth of Jesus of nazareth, we’re just going to have to get in trouble then aren’t we? Jesus made it very clear there is such a thing as truth, and a right way, and an only source of real life & purpose. It’s Him. A person. Everything, distilled down, resolves in Him. Concepts, lifestyle, purpose, all boil down to Him. Really.

I don’t want my kids to grow and up say, “You had a chance to speak out dad, but you kept your head down & hoped the thought police would go away.” The bible teaches Christians should ‘Be at peace with all men” as far as it is up to us. That doesn’t mean ‘keep schtum’ and hope no one notices you! There comes a time you’ve just gotta say it…….

Jesus is still the way, the truth & the life, and I’m not going to ‘just be quiet’ about it. He hasn’t gone away you know………

This is one of my favourite songs on the album. It’s visceral & direct, like Jesus’ statement. It’s defiant & countercultural like a protest song, and I can worship through it because it’s full of scripture & personal testimony.

Note for musicians

This song is played on a Lowden fanfret guitar. There’s a second take playing a single strum at the start of each bar to let the chord out while the notes are picked in the first take.

It was written in 3/4 to reinforce the three verses, Way, Truth, Life. It’s played in dropped D (both E strings down to D to create a drone, which is great for implying both constancy & musical tension between it and the chords you play over it). The biggest point of anticipation is the lead into the chorus. There’s an Asus over B flat chord that changes to Asus before landing back in the chorus at the word STILL on a big open D. From memory it’s Capo 5 or so. I love that it’s just a guitar and voices, we were able to build some rich harmonies and sustains to add to the tension into the chorus.

#waytruthlife, #onlyoneway, #way, #truth, #life, #hope, #purpose, #free, #Christsetmefree, #angelsoflight #path,