Tag Archives: Inspiration

Home…

And suddenly, just like that, they’re gone, as a wave sweeps clean away a sandcastle, leaving the beach a blank canvas for the next day’s adventure…

I was barely home from tour* myself when the wave first arrived, still processing all the memories in my mind, still figuring out the lessons I’d been learning on this journey. Switchfoot’s #home wave. They were not just home from the European tour; they were really home.

Jon himself first broke the news in an interview, that the teasing wave was a sign of a sea change; my band are taking a ‘hiatus’, at least from touring, and as for the future, simply ‘we’ll see’.

Ahhhh…. I knew about it already, after speaking with them and their crew during the tour and them telling us they were taking a year off from touring. So one one level, this is no surprise. On the other – it really hit hearing it from Jon. Moreover, rightly or wrongly, this seems to have developed from ‘a year out from touring’ to ‘an indefinite hiatus’. Here is the official announcement.

I am immensely proud of my Switchfam; everyone has taken it so well, the response overwhelmingly full of love, understanding and positivity, even though I know there’s also fear and sadness. We evidently care about them first as humans and not just as a band, and understand they need to do this.

For myself – honestly I feel everything. The day it came out, I had to take a long walk to disentangle my head and heart, name my feelings and get my thoughts in order. It’s all overwhelmingly positive; relief, joy, excitement, encouragement, happiness for them, certainty over my own plans, hope, trust, honour, deep gratitude… but also a lurking fear, and yes, grief. Light and heavy.

Emotionally, I am left carrying so much, and spending a few weeks off social media (and therefore away from friends who get what I’m experiencing) during Advent whilst this wave was breaking all around me has been very tough.

To call Switchfoot my favourite band would probably have been sufficient 15 years ago. But today they are so, so much more to me than that. It’s impossible to adequately explain, or to say just what they mean to me, but they’ve been part of my life for 18 years, given me so much support and guidance over that time, have become (in purely human terms) my greatest heroes and inspiration, and we’ve become extended family, again in a more real sense than is easily explained. I can’t claim at all to be personally friends with them, not even close, but there is still real relationship there.

This latest tour contained the very best shows I’ve ever experienced. The guys were mixing up the setlists a lot more, really on top of it, and it felt like they could do anything. I’ve now had moments of connection with each of them, moments when they let their guards down and let me in a little. I came away from it with a profound sense of grace, that it’s all enough. Jon has given me more than enough already and owes me absolutely nothing. At all. And God… so, so much more so. Everything, every breath, is a mercy gift, and to have been given so much more on top leaves me deeply humbled. I ended the tour by walking the labyrinth at Norwich Cathedral, meditating on the incredible journeys of grace that have marked the past 18 years, both with my band and with my God, in silent awe, and worship of the Grace-Giver.

It’s all deepened my understanding of this strange phenomenon that is fan-love. I’ve already learnt that it is more of a two-way process than I thought, that artists need to experience the personal support of their fans. But what is it that I want and need from Jon? Only that he continues to make music that reaches me, and that I can continue to find ways to communicate back to him my thanks and support, even from afar (and hopefully to learn to do this better!).

Like all love, it reaches for eternity; I don’t ever want this distant ‘conversation’ to end. The lovemiles I can live with. Even a temporary silence. But I want us to remain a part of each other’s lives, and if I’m honest, in moments like this when I see clearly its fragility, I fear to lose that. This break brings to the surface both the fear of losing Switchfoot altogether, but also a huge sense of relief, that they are clearly not going to plough on until they burn themselves out prematurely, but are thinking about sustaining themselves longterm.

I still ache after 8(?) years without Delirious?, who were never much more to me than a favourite band. The grief has softened with time, but I still feel it. I enjoy the music similarly in both cases, but Switchfoot… through the lyrics and the journey I’ve been on with them it’s become a lot, lot more; deeper, more personal, more influential on my journey, more connected with them and the fan family. And my God works in me through them. They matter immensely, musically, collectively and as individuals. And I don’t know how this will pan out. Neither do they. Everything is wide open just now. And the combination of gratitude and grief, and a myriad other things that I’m carrying is overwhelming.

This is my constant reality. I live always with the separation and the knowledge that I may never see them again. That is not new to me. Everything is grace upon grace, nothing taken for granted. I know very well, and have even said already, that I know it could have been the last time for me. But this new twist brings it all home. I feel it full on now, all the distance, the feeling of the bonds I’ve been building up all year tearing, the possibility it could all change. The unknown. The what-happens-when-the-end-comes. This isn’t it, but it makes me see with a raw freshness how finite everything is.

But I also know this is real love, love that can let go freely, knowing to do so is in the best interests of the other, and will not cling on. It is wonderful seeing them all so excited, feeling the love and enjoying the freedom of normal life. And I trust.

The strongest and most powerful emotion I’m experiencing just now is the thankfulness. These past 18 years, and this year more than anything, have been grace upon grace upon grace, to the point I’m moved to thankful tears whenever a fresh realisation hits. The songs, the shows, the sheer amount of time and music we’ve been blessed with, the aftershows and side projects and writings and laughs and life examples… I cannot ask for more! I’m even still riding the highs from this year’s shows. I am so, so happy and thankful!

And I know enough to truly believe they sincerely intend to be back again, and are even now only talking about ceasing one aspect, touring – which I myself have previously even encouraged them to think about! They work incredibly hard; it’s absolutely deserved.

I think they are playing for keeps – and so am I. There will be more sandcastles yet.


*The rest of my blog following Switchfoot’s second Looking for Europe tour starts here

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Looking for Europe 16: Norwich – where I belong

November 2nd

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My 15th Switchfoot show in one year, and they’re finishing up at my former university, just five minutes from where I once lived ❤ This is some kind of strange and happy dream ❤

Before the show we had a little bit of time to explore Norwich, and it felt so good to be back ‘home’ I wondered again why I’d ever left. We looked round the ever-amazing market, buying fresh dates as I always have (is it the only place in the country that sells them?!) and delicious vegan wraps from one of the new street food stalls. Then we walked round the town a bit, taking in some of the lanes, the river and cathedral close before heading up to the B&B we were booked in to, and then on to the university.

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UEA was a parallel universe, so familiar and so utterly different! New buildings had popped up so navigating us in felt confusing. Once we found the carpark, memories flooded back; rabbits and buses and field trips and long-lost friends and late night student capers with talking car alarms… We headed onto the campus. It still felt, and smelt, exactly as it had before! We passed the notice board where I received my degree results, the cafe we used to hang out at in breaks, the chaplaincy centre, the square where I’d taken part in so many events and demonstrations. There’s a new fountain in it now. I wonder if anyone puts green bubblebath in it these days?

But it was another students’ union, and yet again we were faced with the same awkward situation of not knowing exactly where to go, made all the more awkward by the fact I in theory ought to know! However, although I could very much tell it was the same building, the whole inside had been completely revamped and nothing was quite how it had been rather too many years ago! We found the interior doors to the LCR without a problem (doors I’d gone through for numerous freshers’ fairs and poster sales!), but they were closed. We hung out there for a while with other lost VIPs, before hearing from our American friends that they were at the exterior door and we were meant to be out there! Oops 😀

We chatted to them whilst we waited to go in about British accents; apparently we sound very like Australians, and literally is literally the most British thing we say! It was very funny! M wasn’t coming to the show, so he brought his ukulele with him so he could hang out and work on songs whilst we were inside, and he played some songs for the VIP queue.

Eventually we were let in, and immediately discovered that the purple-painted LCR still has a sticky floor! I wonder if they’ve cleaned it at all since I left..?

We’d found confetti on the floor of every venue so far. To begin with it seemed UEA would buck that trend, but once we got to the barrier we discovered that there actually was some there on the other side of it. It was as if some other band with a confetti cannon had been touring the same venues a night ahead of us! 😀

For soundcheck Switchfoot played We Are One Tonight! That’s such a last night of tour song; they ended both my previous two tours with that one :’) I rocked out even though there were only about 15 of us there, tearing up. They took requests and decided on playing Thrive next. They were about to start when Jon asked ‘Do we need to test the fancy mic?’ to which one of the crew from the back (Travis?) shouted ‘You’re fancy!’ Jon laughed and said ‘That’s like the most demeaning word isn’t it. Fancy and little… ‘how’s that fancy little job of yours?” It was funny, and Thrive was beautiful and sung with a lot of feeling.

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Then it was Meet&Greet time. Tim asked me if I’d been bodyboarding! I laughed and replied there aren’t that many good waves in Norwich! 😀 Drew thanked me for sharing my story the previous day (he is so sweet and sensitive, always remembering the personal details) and the poster, and I said to him, Tim and Romey that they’d been such a big part of my journey the past 18 years, and that that’s a whole lot of inspiration over the years, and they really mean a lot to me. Then I told them this is my old university, and my favourite place I ever lived, and asked if they’d seen the city. Drew had, and the brothers had walked round the campus and said they loved the forest. Drew asked had I seen a lot of bands in this room? I said actually only one, and it was my second favourite band, Delirious? They told me Tim Jupp had been at the show last night, which was pretty cool! I told them I miss them, I used to see them a couple of times a year but I only ever waited for them to come to me, but I realised I had to make more of an effort for Switchfoot! I told them I was gutted I never saw them play together, I don’t know what I was playing at!

Some group photos were done, and I brought out the comedy chins for the last one! Each of us had already picked one (mine had a beard), and I asked each of them to pick one from the remaining stack.  They thought it was hilarious! After the group photo they swapped chins and did their own photo with them on, they looked absolutely brilliant :D! Tim said afterwards ‘Thanks, that was one of the funniest pranks of the tour!’ I asked him would he prefer to keep them or for me to take them, not wanting to presume either way, and he thought for a moment and decided on keeping them, so I gave him the box! Drew at the end said ‘Thanks for this; thanks for everything’. Tim said ‘We’ll see you next time.’ I replied ‘I’ve been very blessed to be able to do this, and I have no idea if I will ever have the chance again; I will if I possibly can but I never know’ and he said ‘Yeah, none of us know what the future holds, but it’s in God’s hands.’ ❤

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A very small queue had formed outside when we got back out, and it didn’t grow too much whilst we waited either. When we got in there was no rush, so I went Drew’s side of centre on the barrier. Even at the front we ended up with enough space to pile bags up next to us instead of having to keep them on our feet, penguin style, as usual!

Tonight Alvarez Kings played their intro song twice as they didn’t come on right away, and their mic was off for the very start of their set, but thankfully that was sorted promptly and they played a very energetic set, sweating! They were great but I couldn’t help noticing some fellow Switchfoot fans talking disparagingly about them, even during their performance, which I just found rude.

I was worried about that crowd; it seemed disappointingly small with the venue maybe only about half capacity, and I wasn’t sure they were that switched on either, with lots of drinking and chatting going on. It could be a difficult one… :/ Josh got loud cheers for testing the guitars during set up – was that a good or bad sign..? I couldn’t tell. A guy we’d met the previous night had a sidestage ticket tonight and he started leading the crowd! As it got towards the start of the show, everyone began chanting and clapping… What will Switchfoot make of this one?

The lights went down and there was much whooping. Then they came on to different intro track – the Needle intro from the Hello Hurricane tour featuring the voice of a child reading the song’s lyrics! Wow. I’d never heard that in person before! Switchfoot were full on right from the start, and caught that crowd up into their energy. It felt very meaningful to sing ‘It’s no accident we’re here tonight, we are once in a lifetime’ in that place, at the end of this amazing tour.

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Again they went into Stars next, and it was already pretty hot! No-one had pushed forward to join us on the barrier, and I found I had so much space in the sparse crowd I didn’t have to keep hold of the barrier at all so I just stepped back and rocked out! That was quite a novel experience!

They followed Stars with Dark Horses, this time with extra screaming! By this point I was enjoying having that extra space. Jon introduced the crew and hugged Josh, and then got Ryan’s name wrong, which was amusing.

 

Drew played a rich melodic solo during YLIAS tonight, and Jon’s harmonica playing was epic and seamlessly blended into a scream from Drew’s guitar. And oh those vocals..!

Bull and LAIWTF came next, and Jon disappeared off into the crowd, clearly connecting with a lot of people. I remember seeing Delirious? playing here, and Martin Smith popping up at the back there at one point, so it was extremely special seeing Jon now over where he had performed.

 

Back on stage, they brought the energy back down a little, playing IWLYG. I got a video of it tonight, which you can see here. I sang it back to them as a way of stating that I was sticking with them for the journey ahead.

Then Jon introduced House Burns, telling us he’d had ‘an authentic college experience, spilling some books in the hallway, burning the roof of my mouth on a slice of pizza (not that it affected his singing one jot! I was really into that voice tonight) and going for a walk in the woods’. He said the venue reminded him of his old college pub, and told us the story of how Chad had once been caught climbing on the glass roof there to watch a show inside! He dedicated the song to firefighters again. There was lots of windmilling tonight with the four guitars up front!

Then Jon told us he wanted to play a song they’d not played yet on this tour and wanted to bring Norwich something special; they played Mess Of Me, and woah! That yelling! I was rocking out completely; had we been more closely packed in and I’d been doing what I was doing it would definitely have been moshing, but here I had the space to go for it without jumping on anyone else – though I did fall over a couple of times! 😀 This show was getting very sweaty! I absolutely loved Jon’s solo where he sings and mirrors his singing on the guitar, it’s very creative and he does it so well.

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After that Jon said to us ‘Growing up, so many of our favourite bands were from this part of the world, so we’ve been playing a song on each stage of this tour from each city we’ve visited – but Norwich… we really put google to the test and came up with about 5 bands that came from Norwich, which didn’t leave us much choice! I think we can probably all agree that Led Zep is probably better than any of the 5 bands from Norwich!’ This got some cheers! And they played Ramble On again.

What. A. Voice. Oh my gosh..! 🙂

Then the ‘fancy mic’ came out again for Hello Hurricane; to begin with, Chad started a little too far away so Tim shifted him inwards whilst they played, and Jon accidentally hit Tim at one point, bringing some amused smiles! 😀

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And then Where I Belong. Once again I got my banner out, Jon asked for it, I threw it and he held it up before wearing it. Nothing new in one sense, but this time it took on so much meaning; not only the song, but here in this Switchfoot family, and here in Norwich, a place I’ve somehow always had a soul connection to. It all brought on the tears properly that had been prickling the back of my eyes since I arrived. In that moment, I was where I belong, and I soaked up every second. Forever, now.

Meant To Live blew me away, again feeling overwhelmed that there is more than this.

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Jon was still in awesome voice for the encore, adding an interlude where he got the band to play ‘a little bit softer now’, then ‘a little bit louder now’.

He began playing Live It Well, and then got Alvarez Kings up on stage to finish singing it along with them. They were so stoked! At the end, Simon picked Jon up and carried him round the stage; the drummer ruffled his hair, and there were lots of bear hugs and smiles between them!

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Finally, Dare You To Move. I got out the ‘Thank you Jon, you inspire me’ banner, and he repeated it back to us saying we inspire him; he has no idea how much I mean that though! He decided it felt right to go into the crowd with the mic stand and guitar to play it, right in the centre of the crowd. Tears, tears. Although he came back through the crowd a way from where I was, I went through the crowd to help him up as there weren’t enough people there to lift him. Today never happened before! :’) After the show ended I couldn’t move, still in tears; I just wanted to stay in it.

Eventually I faced up to it, and packed my things. I bought some merch and met up with M, somehow sneakily inside the venue! Drew was by the side of the stage signing stuff and thanking us, so I got my setlist signed and said thank yous and goodbyes. I told him this place was so full of happy memories for me already, but this was the best thing that ever happened here. Regardless of my doubts about that crowd, it had been an incredible show, and had felt really, really good.

We left.

A small group of us hung out by the bus in the increasing cold for about two hours, waiting to see if there might be an aftershow, and then at least just to say goodbye.

M fulfilled another long-held ambition by ‘hijacking the aftershow’, giving us an aftershow of his own by playing the uke and percussion jamming on his water bottle and cookie box!

Drew eventually came out again. Jude got to show him a letter she’d written and have a good chat with him, and I managed to say thanks and goodbye again; he said ‘See you next time’, and again I said ‘If I possibly can, I will’.

We waited some more and eventually Jon came out to the bus. He came over and gave me a high five. He said hi to everyone he knew then saw M and asked his name. I introduced him as my husband, and he said it was great seeing him at a few of his shows and said he always remembers the tall people, and thanks for the cookies! M said afterwards that Jon had spotted him in the crowd in Birmingham and pointed and smiled 🙂 Jon signed stuff for some of the others, and I thanked him. One of my American friends asked him about 25in24 and whether he had any plans for new solo material. He told us a bit about the movie (I told him I stayed up to watch the whole thing, and really loved being a part of it even via the internet!) And he said he still has about 20 Wonderlands songs saved, including some of his favourite songs he wrote for his daughter. He was so honoured we liked his music! But eventually we had to say goodbye and safe travels, and he got into the bus and was gone.

There were no tears till he’d gone. The taxi arrived almost immediately for the Americans, and we said goodbye, and then there were lots of tears. This is so, so hard!!

We eventually headed back to the B&B we were staying at. As we walked back across the campus, the rabbits were out in force just as they had been on many a late night back in my days there, and we passed the site of my old hall.

So many tears. But wow what a way to end!

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(And here is the next chapter in the story ❤ )

Looking for Europe 12: Belfast – embracing the chaos

October 28th

Today may have started with two of the worst cups of tea I have ever consumed, but it certainly improved from there!

Although we were not looking forward to taking a rail replacement bus over to Belfast the journey was actually pretty good, and we saw lots of autumn colours on the way there. Belfast itself was a surprisingly beautiful city. I realised as soon as I saw it that I had no mental picture of how it would be, but it still surprised me with its art and architecture.

The hostel was just a short walk from the venue and the VIP event wasn’t due to start until 5 so we had plenty of time to chill out. We took our time getting ready for the show and playing Switchfoot, but eventually the pre-show angst began to get to me, and I decided I needed to take a bit of a break from Switchfoot until the show before it got too much, so I went out for a walk along the river, grabbing a silly photo of our mascot KittyJon with a striking statue before rushing back to the show.

When we arrived at venue we could already hear them soundchecking Lonely Nation! We stood and listened through the door. This time we didn’t have long to wait before they let us in.

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We wanted to hear Lonely Nation so much that they agreed to play it again for us inside,  after a lot of jamming. Jon’s yells right from the start were really overwhelming, especially to such a tiny audience!! I was almost knocked off my feet 🙂 They took more requests, and were going to play Afterlife, but something happened and they changed the plan to do Meet&Greet straight away. And then our friend from Dublin arrived, having made the snap decision to come up to Belfast for a second show!!

Jon came over as they were setting up and I told him his yelling was awesome! I was so tonguetied! He said he liked my t-shirt (Fiction Family) and I said ‘I like your band!’, which made him laugh. Chad came over and told us that following them on tour means a lot to them; he thanked us and said it was special arriving in a place they’ve never been before and seeing familiar faces.

During the Meet&Greet Jon was chatting to another fan, saying the transitions between songs were as important to them as the songs themselves so they put a lot of thought into the structure of the setlist so it flows with some rise and fall. Romey gave me a hug. It was a rather confusing VIP event this time as there was a lot of stopping and starting, the guys kept coming over and hanging out, and we were never quite sure where we were meant to be!

However we got our photos; Jude was plotting something again! After we got my picture Tim again thanked me for following the tour. Jon had disappeared but I told the rest of them they’d been my top band since about 2001 and it had taken me over a decade to see them first, and then I had thought ‘what am I playing at, I need to make the most of this’, so I was making up for lost time. I got to tell them I took up bodyboarding this summer too. I was a bit embarrassed to tell that to pro surfers as I’ve really no clue what I’m doing, just got really into it, and I told them that. Tim said ‘That’s awesome, my wife loves it too, keep it up!’

Jude’s picture was indeed funny; she had found some guitar-shaped comedy sunglasses for Drew and he looked hilarious in them! Then she got me in the next picture with Switchfoot temporary tattoos on. Drew asked me should he take the shades off, and just looking at him creased me up so I said ‘No keep them on – for the show! They suit you!’ 😀 He looked so perfect! 😀 And then Jon told me I’d been in the picture the day before in my absence!! Jude showed me later – she had printed out an embarrassing picture of me wet from the sea and had it in the photo! Oh dear 😀

Then Jude got permission from Chico to go in the pit with a photographer’s pass; she was so stoked!! It was still confusing where we were meant to be as the event sort of just drifted seamlessly into the gig set up and no-one showed us out. But eventually we went out to queue and fangirled outside the venue, and we were joined by someone from inside the venue who had seen Jon and rather liked the look of him, which was pretty funny!

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The venue was a brick built club, larger than Dublin’s and plastered in band posters. And it was cold again; I had to keep my scarf on until Switchfoot started. I got a front row spot again, this time in front of Drew.

The Alvarez Kings were delayed coming on; it turned out that there was a lift between the green room and stage, and they had got stuck in it! But the rest of the set was much looser and smoother, with no pranks or mishaps this time, and they looked really pro. I had the feeling even before they started that I was going to be the No Resolve mic stand tonight, and I was correct!

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Switchfoot opened with Afterlife, the request from soundcheck that wasn’t played, which was a nice touch. They sounded amazing!

Tonight I admit I put far too much attention into testing my theory that Jon has certain lines from certain songs he always finds me in the crowd to sing to – and yes, as predicted, when they sang Stars I was ‘partly cloudy’ once again!

They then played Oh! Gravity again. I love how much they have been playing this one! To begin with Jon was having some trouble with vocal effects on the pedal but it nonetheless sounded as epic as ever, and they rocked!

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Then they played YLIAS, and then Bull and LAIWTF, for which Jon was in crowd, coming up by me during LAIWTF, and I lifted him back up to the barrier. I just love watching him interact with people whilst singing in the crowd!

They played Needle (And Haystack Life) for the first time of the tour; that’s the song I’d previously noticed Jon singing a particular line to me in so I was keen to see if he’d stick with it – but no, he didn’t tell me not to let go 😀 Maybe he has a new target 😀 This one really got the crowd singing. Drew was all hair tonight, really going for it!

Although it wasn’t on the setlist, Jon decided to go into Only Hope, saying it felt right. Again he omitted the second verse.

And then he introduced IWLYG: ‘There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world. I look at twitter, I get depressed. I look at the news, I get depressed. There are a lot of reasons to give up; but I realised a while back it’s always going to be this way. I want to be aware of what’s going on, but I also want to be aware of the transcendent love of the Maker Himself. When I write songs I want to acknowledge the darkness in the world and within, but I don’t want to let that be the end of the story.’ This was a new perspective on this song; perhaps it is a bit political and not just personal? None of this (world) is in your control. It’s an amazing song even just taken as a song about God’s love for us, but this gives it a new layer of meaning. As they played, the guys all had their eyes closed, as if each were playing to an audience of one.

Suddenly the last thing anyone expected happens: Jon decides to embrace the chaos, asking ‘Any questions, comments or concerns?’ in the middle of the show, and it goes weird! It went something like this:

Person in crowd – ‘What’s your favourite colour?!’ Jon – ‘The blue of the Pacific, or Atlantic (crowd – ‘wooo!!’), ocean!’

Another person in the crowd – ‘When’s the next album out?’ Jude – ‘Soon!’ Jon – ‘Ahhhh… Soon!!’

Person 3 – ‘Wanna come to my house for dinner?!’ Jon – ‘What’s cooking?’ Person 3 – ‘Whatever you want, your choice!’ Jon – ‘Some sort of really traditional Irish meal??’  Person 3 – ‘Then you’ve got stew! We’re going surfing tomorrow too.’ Jon – ‘Got spare boards? More importantly got spare wetsuits..?!’ Me – ‘It’s warm!!’ Person 3’s friend – ‘Got 1 year olds too!’ Jon – ‘What else you got?!’ Jude – ‘Chocolate!!’ 😀 So much hilarity! ‘Questions, comments or concerns?’ is a tongue-in-cheek question he frequently asks at sound checks and aftershows, but I cannot believe he did that in the middle of the show, especially right after IWLYG 😀

Somehow he managed to bring it back and play Hello Hurricane around the fancy mic! He said ‘We’re family; we’re going to get stew and surfboards and 1 year olds and chocolate…’ 😀

They again played the Thin Lizzy cover they’d had so much fun playing the previous night, the gleeful grins on their faces were infectious and we could tell they were having a blast.

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Then I got my last chance to test my song line theory, as they played House Burns – and yup, same line again! Jon wasn’t even my side of the stage, but shot over to me at that line. It’s just a little weird!

As with previous evenings they closed out the main part of the show with Where I Belong and Meant To Live. And they stuck to the same encore routine, except that when it came to Float the disco ball was broken and chugged round super slowly, causing a lot of amusement! Live It Well Jon again invited us to imagine we’re at a California campfire, and he said to ‘person 3’ ‘You’re bringing the stew!’ There were lots of smiles, and they were really grooving with it.

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Then they finished with Dare You To Move. Suddenly poignant, Jon said ‘I never know how many more times I will be able to do this; I live each day like it’s my last. Thank you for a beautiful last night in Belfast.’ 😥 Lump in throat. Cannot even go there. He began the song with a yell and Tim filled in with lots of bass. And then it was over, Josh once again returning me my banner.

There was no aftershow; a halloween party was coming in and it was raining so we went away eventually and got chips. My fan love was going crazy. Jon is full of miracles. 🙂


October 29th

The next morning I realised I had made a crucial error: I forgot to air the Where I Belong banner. Oops. I could see the sweat on it last night!! 😛 😀

I couldn’t believe we were half way through! At the same time, tour life had begun to feel like normal life. Perhaps I could live like this..? A voice in the back of my head reminded me that that would be pure escapism however; I do this to keep me fuelled and inspired for facing the real world with all its trouble and pain and injustice. It would be a lie to run away…

Today was purely a travel day; we had a chilled morning, getting up late and having a good breakfast in a cafe together with our Dublin friend, including a decent cup of tea! We went to the station, taking pictures of the venue as we passed…

But then chaos descended again. We arrived at the station to find that the bus we had booked on helpfully did not exist. The next one was going to be later and only arrive at 1:30, which was the last check in for the ferry, and it wouldn’t go to the terminal. I sent out another emergency prayer request!! We almost got put in a taxi, but that too fell through. So, we got on the bus, and prayed.

Embrace the chaos. None of this is in your control…

We arrived back in Dublin just after 1pm and got straight into a taxi, arriving at the ferry terminal just before 1:30… and ha, no way, the ferry was 30 minutes later than I thought, and we were well on time!! 😀 Suddenly all the stress dissolved into hilarity and thankfulness! Oh my gosh 😀 Oh well 😀

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The ferry journey was fab for me, less so for Jude! She got sick, but I spent the voyage up on deck. It was a fast ship and woahhh when it got going was it fast!! It almost literally blew me away! 😀 I found myself stuck fast to the railing with all my layers on, and a big grin on my face, wind beating against me, spray lashing, and the boat pitching! The spray threw up rainbows as we powered along and dissolved Ireland into ‘salt hazy pearls’ to quote one of M’s songs, and the sky was beautifully dramatic with a sunbeam-filled sunset as we arrived back in Wales. I saw a pod of common dolphins race past, leaping out of the water, and also guillemots and a shearwater. It was incredible! We got back to land with me saltcrusted, frozen to the bone, and totally stoked 😀

After a long drive featuring much singing along to Switchfoot, we arrived back at Jude’s for a chilled evening, sleeeep, and a fairly relaxed morning at home before setting out again for more adventures.

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Liturgy in the waves

Whilst I’ve been quiet on the blog, I’ve got really into bodyboarding this warm sea season.

I’ve been having an occasional go for about five years now, but this is the first time it’s really got hold of me. My previous attempts were embarrassingly laughable. I’ve joked that I spent more time clinging to the underside of the board , thinking I’m sure this isn’t how it’s supposed to work and wondering what went wrong, than actually riding on top of it! And I was only half joking; upside-down boards happened far too frequently! I was scared of any waves approaching my own size or bigger. I couldn’t read the sea so waves would rear up and take me by surprise. My attempts at catching them were complete trial and error, launching at waves of any stage of formation and just hoping I didn’t fall off if I happened to time it right. And most of the times, I did fall off! But it was so much fun when I did catch one – even if at some point down the beach I did end up on the wrong side of the board.

This summer we had two consecutive weekends away in good surf spots with different sets of friends who wanted to spend time bodyboarding. Over those two weekends we had five whole days catching waves, and although I had boasted of my unfortunate talent for upside-down waveriding, I was surprised to find I was actually staying on top of the board. What’s more, over the five days, I found I was making a lot of discoveries and truly learning something each day. By the end of the first weekend I was reading the waves, knowing when to launch, and catching the majority of the waves I attempted… and pushing out further into the larger waves further out too. I learnt how to choose a good wave, how to steer, how to angle the board, and how the waves change in mood, power and difficulty from beach to beach, day to day, tide to tide. Of course I developed a new special talent for overshooting the board when launching out and sliding right over the top, and once or twice found myself barrelled head over heels under a massive breaker, momentarily wondering how I was going to escape, but on the whole it’s been going great.

I’ve been out boarding several times since to take advantage of the nice autumn sea temperatures and quieter beaches. I’ve officially got the bug!

So, is it play? Is it therapy? Or is it worship?

I think it’s definitely all three, but the mix varies depending on where the sea and I are at. It began as pure play, but it’s been healing at times too, and I’ve started to find it can be an act of worship.

A couple of Sundays ago I was in Wales with fiends. We spent the morning celebrating Harvest at St David’s Cathedral, and then went down to Whitesands Bay for the afternoon. Wowww!! I was already feeling celebratory and full of joy and thankfulness as a result of the Harvest service, but the place was so stunning and the waves so beautiful and glittery it all just overflowed. The worship on the beach felt like a seamless continuation of the worship in church.

First of all, it is nearly impossible not to bodyboard in a state of mindfulness. All the senses are involved, and you have to pay attention to what is immediately going on around you and be immersed completely in the moment, fully awake to where you are and what you are doing. You smell the sea air; your eyes feast on the colours, light, contrast, drama and movement of the sea and sky and wildlife and other beachgoers; there’s no avoiding the taste of saltwater; you hear the hiss, fizz, and roar of the waves, and your own laughter and whooping; and you feel all the textures of the sea, the sting of salt, and of cold water on hot skin, the feel of the board, soft sand, rough stones, the sometimes violent slap of waves, gentle rising and falling, warmth, wet… In the sea I am really in the now, and it is incredibly centring.

At risk of sounding clichéd, it is something like baptism with every wave or spray that breaks over me, reminding me of what is washed away and blessing me with new life.

It’s a humbling experience. In the sea I get the smallest glimpse of the size and power of its maker, and my contrasting insignificance. It’s amazing to be out in nature, surrounded by this huge unknown, unpredictable, power, tumbled about in it, but to be able to play in its edges and get to know it a little nonetheless.

I find myself full of thankfulness! It’s a grace experience, an undeserving land creature immersed in such beauty and laughter that’s completely not my own element, and seeing waves presented to me as perfect curls to play with. At its most beautiful I can never believe I’m experiencing it. Every good wave finishes in hallelujah, thank You, as it brings me to rest on the beach. More often than not I find I fetch up in a prayer posture, on my knees or face down at the edge of the surf, and thanking the sea and our God just flows, before I get up and run back in. It comes naturally, but I’ve also begun to make a conscious discipline of turning to say thank You for every good ride, as it develops in me a lasting attitude of thankfulness.

There are moments of quiet contemplative solitude…  and then there are moments of shared joy when catching the same wave, high fiving and cheering at each other’s good waves, and teaching one another skills.

At the end of a good beach day I come away full of joy, re-set, with a bigger, truer perspective on our size and significance compared to our beautiful world and the one it comes from. I am reminded so much how good the world can be, and that for all its problems, that is only ever part of the reality and there is still so much to enjoy and celebrate. We get immersed in the big news of the day, and forget that we are transient, and that some things are that much bigger and better and more lasting than we are. The sea brings me back to that truth.

I come home with waves in my mind, still feeling the rise and fall of the swell, the sea still alive before me every time I close my eyes.

Bodyboarding is no substitute for church. That day at Whitesands was made all the more meaningful following on from a service, and a service of thanksgiving in particular. But it can definitely be a powerful, playful worship experience, as the formal liturgy of church finds its way into the everyday world, and I hope I never lose that.

Looking for Europe 6: in London, with Jon Foreman, for the first time

June 1st

Today. Wow.

We checked out of the hostel and pretty much spent the whole day travelling back to London for our emergency appointment with a Jon Foreman solo show! We had planned a morning in Köln and an afternoon in Brussels, but in the end had only about 30 minutes to get a drink in a café in the Brussels train station (featuring a rather awesome statue of a horse dressed as a zebra sat at one of the tables!!) before boarding the Eurostar. Once we got back we had to repack the car since we had an extra person to fit in that evening, and still had to actually properly pack away the tent, which we had hastily shoved wet into the car after BCDO. Miraculously that worked out pretty well!

Then we headed into London, with Jon’s music playing on the stereo. At one point we found ourselves following a white van, which had the words ‘all dead inside’ written on the back in the dirt – which was firstly a really weird thing to see written on the back of a van, and secondly a Jon lyric (I commented that ‘nothing left inside’ would have been more usual if you were going to stick a line of that song on a van…)! Driving in felt like a treasure hunt. London had a magic to it suddenly!

Unfortunately there was a horrible incident involving an unreliable satnav, car parking in London and a panic attack, but once we were all safely parked up and at the show in a little venue opposite Great Portland Street tube station, we met up with more wonderful SwitchFam and the magic returned.

The show was delayed starting because, having sold out despite being announced only two days beforehand, there was apparently a queue right round the block to get in and Jon wanted to get everyone inside before starting. My heart was happy at hearing that! I hope he feels the love, and realises how much he is wanted here. He came out on stage and explained, and then brought out Josh the guitar tech, and said he would guitar tech for him that night instead and let him play us a few songs whilst the venue filled up. Josh was very good, and seemed so happy to be playing in London! It was amazing of him to be doing that on what should have been his day off.

Eventually the show began! To begin we saw tour manager Chico in the crowd handing out paper on which to write our request set list, but the paper never reached us – I think it only got half way round the front few rows! We thought we might miss out on putting requests in but as the show went on we started to write requests on any bit of paper we could find and started passing them forward. Jon was picking up papers by the handful and only choosing one song each time, so we ended up putting our requests in multiple times as we saw ours passed over again and again! There were some funny awkward left/right jokes about which side of the stage was winning on the requests (‘… your left, my right..!’) And he started to have fun with what the requests were written on, reading out the wrong side of the notes (receipts, theatre tickets..!). I was torn between wanting to record the entire show, and just wanting to put the ghost machine away entirely and just fully immerse myself in the moment. After recording a couple of songs, the camera made the decision for me by declaring itself totally full, so I don’t have a lot of pictures or videos.

Jon played:

Caroline

Terminal – watch here

The World You Want

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The Shadow Proves The Sunshine – watch here

Resurrect Me – ‘Can anyone play the guitar..? No, seriously?’ He pulled a girl up on stage to play whilst he jammed on the harmonica, and she was absolutely brilliant! I loved seeing the two of them jam together! There was a lot going on in him as he sang this one, he showed some real frustration, anger even, on the line ‘but I’m still waking up with myself’, it was intense.

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Live It Well

Wouldn’t It Be Nice – there was a disco ball!! 😀 Jon asked for the lights to be put out so we could just have that! He said it kind of made him think about asking a girl to skate at a roller disco and just how incredibly awkward that is when you’re 15 😀

This Is Home

Just Rob Me – at the request of one of my friends!

In My Arms – this was requested by a couple who had the song at their wedding; when Jon asked who, several of us admitted we’d had it at our weddings! He seemed honoured 🙂

The Blues! Wow! What a powerful song, I don’t think he’s played that in a long time but it was amazing

Only Hope – this he prefaced with a bizarre introduction involving hitchhiking, surfing and tomatoes, which had pretty much nothing to do with the song except ‘… and this song was on our next album.’ 😀 There was also a really funny moment when whistling broke out across the audience, he said there was an incognito whistle chorus group infiltrating the audience but they won’t let on who or where they are! 😀 He couldn’t see who was doing it, it was hilarious 😀 Watch it here and judge for yourself (It’s not my video so it’s infinitely better than any of mine, but it’s such a beautiful thing I had to share! More videos from the night on that channel too, and all brilliantly filmed 🙂 )

Cure For Pain – this was my request! It’s one of my absolute favourites of his, which I’ve never heard live but know that he does play. Plus it felt appropriate. He said as he picked the paper up ‘I’m going to play this one because it says ‘Cure For Pain – please??’ – so polite, so London!’ Score. 😀

House Of God Forever – he got some girls to sing together on the second verse, which was lovely. None of us were brave enough to sing on our own, but they dared to together. And they took a selfie on the stage afterwards, so sweet!

Dare You To Move

Vice Verses – Wowowowow!! This was the most beautiful performance of this I’ve ever seen. He was really feeling it for one thing; as he introduced it he talked about sitting on his rock in the ocean in the night, the place he goes to think and wrestle with the darkness, the only thing that doesn’t change… 😥 But the way he sang it too… My legs disappeared from under me almost completely! I really would have fallen under it except the stage was high and I didn’t want to miss anything, so I leaned onto the edge of the stage and just soaked it in, and the weak knees spread into head to toe happy shivers… wow!

Lean On Me – I got out my thank you banner, the only one I brought with me, and Jon bent down to it and gave me a sweet, emotional smile and put his hands together in a silent ‘thank you!’ 🙂

Your Love Is Strong

Here is a friend’s playlist of almost the whole show, including Josh! You won’t get the full effect of being there, but it is a little taste.

 

So that was my first ever solo show, finally 🙂

I was SO, SO happy!! Wowow*. I really don’t think I was prepared for how wonderful that would be, even after years of listening to Jon’s music, seeing him play with Switchfoot and at aftershows, and watching solo shows online. Nothing prepared me for the first-hand experience of being immersed in that beautiful voice, just minimally accompanied, for a full two hours, and how nice it would be to be a part of Jon’s inclusive, participatory performance style. I was absolutely blown away.

Afterwards me and the other ‘fam just had massive grins on our faces and I was literally bouncing and skipping, I felt like a little kid! I ended up just sat on the kerb outside the venue reliving it all inside, smiling and smiling in a happy dream. All is well. I felt so fully healed from the pain of missing the last show. I got everything I need…

And Jon so completely owns me now as a fan, I am 100% sold out, for life.

Yes.

Great Portland Street is now by far my favourite tube station!

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*I know what you’re thinking, but I’m thinking I haven’t said ‘wow’ as many times as that show warranted 😀

Read Part 5 here

Switchfoot’s ten albums

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With their 10th album releasing today, here is my take on each of Switchfoot’s albums. I’ve found there are particular moods or sets of circumstances for which each one is just right for the moment; this is how it looks for me. For each album I’ve picked out one song that I think illustrates it best, and you can listen along by clicking on the links, which will open the song  in a new tab. Enjoy!

1 – The Legend of Chin

Listen here

This album is perfect for my questioning moods; it raises questions, and helps me process questions. Who am I, why am I here, what should I be doing, what’s my aim, what’s the point, why don’t things make sense, what do I do with doubt, is it a good thing, what do I believe when it comes to it, what matters…why…?

“It’s a longer way from yesterday to where I am today… all that’s in my head is in Your hands… scream to no-one, take your time, sing it louder, twist and shout… all of your hoping and all of your searching for what… ask me for what am I living… could it be true, can life be new, can I be used… give me a reason for life and for death… not in me, in You…what’s your direction..?”

2 – New Way To Be Human

Listen here

This was my first introduction to Switchfoot. Jesus found and rescued me late 1999, and shortly after, a friend gave me an old-school mixtape to celebrate. New Way To Be Human was the final track on side B, and it fell off the tape half way through! But it was enough – I borrowed, and then bought the album, and the rest is happy history! So this album has been with me right from the beginning of my walk with God, and is deep enough to have been there for me throughout the journey, wherever it’s taken me. It’s even helped shape that journey as it has thrown in interesting philosophical ideas about life and faith, asked the deep questions, made space for the doubts and the wrestling with God, and taken me on some exciting adventures in vulnerable prayer. I’m so glad they’ve kept that depth over the years when so many other Christian musicians have felt the need to have all the answers and to always put on a show of positivity – that phoniness has put me off so many others, but Switchfoot’s honest questioning just keeps drawing me deeper in. I can’t fault New Way at all, except as with all of them, it’s too short!

“Divinity blends with a new way to be human… you’re the missing person now… give me a motive, swallow me whole… condemned to be free… oh God I believe, please help me believe… dreams of shrinking… all my sandcastles spend their time collapsing… let me know that You hear me… hey, I give it all away… sing to me of the song of the stars… out to start a fire in a barcode plastic world… breathing You in to blur the lines that mark where I begin and where You end… I’m an already-but-not-yet resurrected fallen man, come break this limbo, come define me… deep is the soul is the space I control…”

3 – Learning to Breathe

Listen here

It’s an extremely close call but I think if I had to pick a favourite album this is it (though Nothing Is Sound, and Edge Of The Earth if I can count an EP, pretty much tie with it!). It actually feels like blue skies and a breath of fresh air to listen to, and as a sky lover I appreciate all the atmospheric references. I love these delicious songs for many reasons, but I come back to it time and time again when I’m in need of grace, especially when I’ve messed up, as there are so many lyrics in there that connect me back in to God’s grace and a heavenly perspective on myself. This is where they became my favourite band, and I couldn’t have found a better band to follow if I’d tried.

“I could use a fresh beginning too…I want to lose myself in grace…you’ve been given innocence again… grace is high and low… do me a favour ‘cause I’m playing for keeps… we are bruised and broken masterpieces but we did not paint ourselves… sweet Erosion, break me and make me whole…”

4 – The Beautiful Letdown

Listen here

This one carries a sense of feeling far from home, that the shallow everyday is not all there is… this sense of holy discontentment has been very important to my faith journey over the years, keeping my eyes on the things that matter eternally (which come down to love), and from becoming too attached to the things that don’t (which come down to personal gain). Listening to Switchfoot, and this album in particular, I can never forget that what we see as normal is actually completely upside down compared to how it should be, and I should never become complacent in accepting things as they are but keep striving to make them better.

“We were meant to live for so much more… we want more than this world’s got to offer… more than oceans away from the dawn… we’re the issue, we’re ammunition… the tension is here, between how it is and how it should be… I don’t belong here… she believes in living bigger than she’s living now, but her world keeps spinning backwards and upside down… there’s more than what you’ve heard… I’m standing on the edge… I want to see miracles, to see the world change… I am the second man now…”

5 – Nothing Is Sound

Listen here

This is a strong contender for a favourite, partly because it’s my favourite evolution of their sound so far, partly because it was when I really realised how much of a good thing I was on to with this band, and also because it’s carried me through so much. This is where I go when ‘nothing is sound’ to the extent I have no words to express it or to pray – when I’m frustrated with myself, when there seems no hope, but more often when nothing seems right with the world and all the news is bad. (For example, where do you start when your country’s whole political narrative is being driven and dominated by mass-media xenophobia, but you know we are one, allied to a country without borders..?) Here I find the prayers and heart cries, big-picture hope on the horizon without being sold short with easy answers. And it helps me look at the situation with compassion too, overcoming the tendency to respond with anger.     

“I want more than my desperation, I want more than my lonely nation… we are slaves of what we want… I’ve been thinking about the meaning of resistance and a hope beyond my own… when will all the fighting end… nothing is SOUND!… please Lord don’t look the other way… does justice never find you, do the wicked never lose, is there any honest song to sing besides these blues… they’re selling shares of me again, I’m not buying it…I pledge allegiance to a country without borders… I don’t want to lose the common ground with the whole world upside down… let it go, open up your fist…”

6 – Oh! Gravity.

Listen here

I know it wasn’t the best time for Switchfoot, but they seemed to channel the pure energy from that difficult period in a way I’ve not heard from them before or since, it’s amazing. I think if I had to name a single thing that makes me the fan I am it would be how they take imperfect raw materials, and work them into something sublime, far better than ‘perfection’ could achieve. There’s a stunning level of musical and lyrical creativity in this one. And when I’m feeling restless inside and need something new to push and pull at my thoughts, disturb my normal, wake me up from sleepwalking through life, break out my own creativity, or just to yell, this is where I go.

“There’s a fracture in the color bar, in the back seat of a parked car… are you really as tough as you think, you blink and you’re over the brink, you bleed but the blood runs pink with dirty second hands… you’ve been talking in your sleep about a dream we’re awakening… I want to wake up kicking and screaming… another line, another freeway, another freefall…  I hated what I saw, golden eyes were dead… the future is a question mark of kerosene and electric sparks… souls aren’t built of stone, sticks and bones… as the dead moon rises, and the freeways sigh, let the trains watch over the tides and the mist, spinning circles in our skies tonight…”

7 – Hello Hurricane

Listen here

Songs of love for God, humanity, partners, children, and self; love in all its forms, inspiring without being idealistic. Whatever the storm, where there’s real love of any kind, it will pull through. ‘Needle’ illustrates it best for me; a love song that doesn’t shy away from real-life imperfection of life together, but is yet euphoric. The highs and lows. And when they play it live for us I know they understand it works just as well for the artist-fan relationship too.

“We are once in a lifetime… it’s hard to free the ones you love when you can’t forgive yourself… Your love is a symphony all around me… love is the final fight… there is no song louder than love… back from the dead and all our leaves are dried, you’re so beautiful tonight… when I try to reach above I only hurt the ones I love…  this is the day you were born and I am always yours… love is the one true innovation, love is the only art, don’t let ‘em blow it apart… she’s got teary eyes, I’ve got reasons why… if it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love… take what is left of me, make it a melody…”

8 – Vice Verses

Listen here

As an activist, it’s easy to get worn down by the constant battles against the injustices of this world; the endless cycle of wins and losses in the things that I really care about, steps forwards and backwards in environmental and social justice, takes a toll on me. This album has a lot of ‘fight’ for the times when I can’t find it in myself; so many times I have come to it broken, and it lets me have my cry out, but then gives me the kick I need to press on and come back fighting again. The lyrics meet me at my lowest ebbs of hopelessness, and carry me through it, never letting me fall too far from the energy and determination I need to pick myself up and keep going.

“I’ve tasted fire, I’m ready to come alive, I can’t just shut it up and fake that I’m alright… every fight comes from the fight within, I’m the war inside… running hard for the infinite with the tears of saints and hypocrites… we’re still on the air, it must be the truth, we’re selling the news… no I’m not alright, feel like I travel but I never arrive, I want to thrive not just survive… hope makes the blood change courses… just another scarecrow choking on a cough OH COME ON!…  the curse is spoken, the system’s broken, let’s rise above it… I want to see the earth start shaking, I want to see a generation finally waking up inside…”

9 – Fading West

Listen here

This album is full of sunshine, and it sounds incredible on the beach or at a summer festival. But whether or not it feels ‘sunny’ at the time, these songs are full of brightness. This album landed in my life during a really difficult winter (along with Fiction Family Reunion – took me a while to track that one down!) when I was in an awful housing situation, and those two albums lit up that dark period. I’d take them with me on long cycle rides down to the sea, sit on the dunes, watch the waves and be reminded of better things – that whilst I didn’t have anywhere to call ‘home’ right now, maybe this was a reminder that ultimately nowhere here would ever be ‘home’ when I was made for something bigger… that difficult times pass… to put aside my own circumstances and focus instead on making the world I want, and supporting others in the stuff they’re struggling with, and breaking down ‘us and them’ divisions in society… There’s an element of escapism to it, but the lyrics remain rooted in reality and a true perspective.

“I’m trying to find where my place is… eyes open like a child… it’s gone, yeah but we carry on… is this the world you want, you’re making it, every day you’re alive you change the world… every breath is your religion… our hope is just a metaphor for something better… let my soul fly, let it go… we won’t stop till we’re getting it right… sick of all the small-talk dripping non-stop from the open mouth graves of the faux hawk cinderblock malls… I can feel the ocean… my heart is Yours and what a broken place it’s in, but You’re all I’m running for and I want to feel the wind at my back again…”

10 – Where The Light Shines Through

Listen here

Even after these nine incredible albums, this collection still surprises. As with Oh Gravity, it’s a stunningly musically creative album, and the band sound very much like they’re having fun experimenting with styles and pulling it off beautifully. Running through it all is a theme of hope for broken relationships, whether personal or within wider society. It’s been with me less than two weeks as I write, but it’s already put its finger firmly on a few of my issues, and pointed me to the hope that they can heal. I’m not feeling like I’m in a place where I can talk more about that yet; it’s early days, some of it is very personal, and will take some dealing with to get to a point where I can share about my particular ‘wounds’ and the healing process, but I find these lyrics already at work. It’s also arrived at a point where things look pretty dark politically in both the US and UK, and here I find songs to sing into that darkness. Finally we really get to hear their musical skills, so evident when you see them live. This is an album we will be able to hold up to show what they’re capable of.

“Your wounds are where the light shines through… if the house burns down tonight I got everything I need with you by my side… my enemies weren’t the ones that I had fought, my liberties weren’t the freedoms I had sought… I keep feeling like we fall apart better than we fall in love… bring me the music for the revolution, I’m singing for more than just a dead solution… everybody wants to rock and roll but a couple of years and it takes a toll and I want to start healing… America who are you, do you get what you deserve, between the violence and entitlements, which nation do you serve… Your hope is the anthem of my soul…”

If you like what you hear or want to explore more, you can buy the music and read more at switchfoot.com – please support this amazing band! 🙂

2015 – An intense year

DSCN73852015 was a crazy year for me; I’ve never known a year so packed or so intense in my life! There’s been some bad-intense moments, but overwhelmingly more good-intense experiences. I’m left feeling pretty humbled by it all.

Life in general

It began particularly intense for my husband; 3 major deadlines in the first 3 weeks of the year (requiring a lot of all-nighters to finish it all), and culminating in a two week trip away from home to the USA for a conference and visit to his relatives, and a first experience of properly cold temperatures and American snow. And so the year continued from there!

We’ve been away a lot; my work has taken me away from home more than ever before, with 10 trips to London alone for meetings and climate rallies, plus visits to Bradford and Sheffield to lead workshops, a training weekend in Derbyshire, and several festivals. We went to three weddings, and our band managed to meet up eight times for performances and recording sessions, we attended a very geeky reunion weekend for our old university, and visited family in different parts of the country a few times too, during which we were introduced to three new ‘fur baby’ relatives.

And then there were the two holidays of a lifetime; the second, a trip to the incredibly beautiful Isles of Scilly with my family, and the first, following Switchfoot’s European tour and taking time during our travels to visit friends and family in London, Edinburgh, and Freiburg as well as some quality time exploring European cities together. Both adventures have left us with the most precious memories of happy times together. And we’ve seen some incredible wildlife too; cranes, storks, black woodpeckers, sunfish, dolphins, starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, seals… amazing.

We’ve had a lot of visitors when we have been home; now we live in a nice part of the country a lot more of our friends and family have been keen to visit, and we’ve been busy giving tours of the local sights. There have been a fair few daytrips just as a household too, including some long cycle rides, hikes on the moors, a fossil hunting expedition (in which M actually found a dinosaur bone), a pirate festival, and trips to the beach. I’ve done a lot more sea swimming than usual; it usually takes a lot to get me in the sea but one day in the autumn the sea was so lovely I spent over an hour swimming!

The little time we have had at home, to ourselves, we’ve spent trying to redecorate our whole house, which has obviously not got all that far given how little time we’ve been able to give to the DIY project! But we’ve learnt to put up wallpaper, and crammed in time for a little housewarming party too once we got the worst of the DIY out the way.

So that’s what my life was like on the whole last year; this is how things panned out with my faith, politics, poetry and fandom:

Faith

Two recurring themes of this year in my relationship with God have been grace, and death as part of the resurrection process. This was a really significant year for me as it was the year I could finally celebrate having been ‘alive for half my life’. I’d been thinking about it a lot as the anniversary approached, and these lessons God has been teaching me seemed really fitting; a time to refocus on all I have been given, both in having my life saved in the first place, half my life ago, and all that I have been given since, and then to question what happens next in this process of being reborn, recreated and resurrected.

Grace has impacted me in so many ways in the past year, and I’ve encountered it from so many people as well as supremely from Godself. I’ve posted here already about the profound grace experience I encountered through my meetings with Jon Foreman whilst following Switchfoot on tour last spring, and also about a very different grace experience, which came about as the result of what felt, to me at least, a real epic fail, but which opened me up to a fresh sense of God’s love for me and my absolute dependence on that Love for strength, goodness and second chances. But I’ve also experienced a huge amount of grace from others through my failures, struggles with health and work, and my political activity; my husband has met all of this with forgiveness, love, patience and humour, and my friends, family and colleagues have been so amazingly supportive, offering prayer, sympathy and practical support over and over again, regardless of whether or not they’ve agreed with me. I feel deeply humbled by it all.

The intimate connection between death and resurrection has been on my mind a lot over the year. It began, logically enough, at Easter, as I remembered again how in Christ death itself died to bring life to us all through the resurrection. But I am a Jon Foreman fan; this past year he has seeded my thought life with so many new songs exploring life, death and resurrection, as well as the older songs that had accompanied my musings over Easter. As I spent the year looking back to the day one version of myself died and a new me came alive, and forward to the future, a day-to-day process of learning to die little by little to myself and live more fully the life I was made for to play my part in bringing in the Kingdom of God, it has been extremely powerful to share the journey with these songs. There have been some beautiful contemplative moments, experiencing God close by in still moments in festivals and out in nature. And I’ve seen more answers to prayers, big and small, than I can possibly count, everything from miraculous healings of people we’ve prayed for at church to good weather when I’ve needed it for travels and work. God is good.

Politics

Politically, this past year has been a battle, and it has taken me beyond what I’ve been able to handle – which in itself has meant depending more and more on grace, and sacrificing a little more of myself to allow more life in, but it has also stretched me to breaking point. I spend a lot of time campaigning for social justice and environmental protection, both with two of my ‘jobs’, and in my personal life, but this year has been very tough, with the election, the Paris climate summit, and the fall-out of both to deal with. It has felt like we’ve had to push extremely hard just to hold our ground, and at times it’s felt like things are heading in a backwards direction instead as poverty, inequality and xenophobia have risen, and climate change and nature protection measures have been in most cases cut, just when we need to be becoming more internationally cooperative, working more actively for peace, and pushing hard for real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and a halt to species losses. So we’ve been working hard. And unfortunately I’ve felt extremely isolated in it all, working alone from home most of the time, and not having a good network of activist friends living nearby to rely on for help and solidarity.

For the positives – I’ve had a few different chances to speak and lead workshops this past year, including taking part in my first panel event on faith and the environment, I went on my first ever pride march, had wonderful encouraging visits to other activist groups, particularly with SPEAK, which reminded me I’m not alone and that good things are happening, and went to some really inspiring events, including Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp training weekend/ minifestival. And since it has been so hard to move things in conventional ways, I’ve turned to non-violent direct action; firstly supporting a fairly low-key prayer rally and banner drop in the Church of England synod meeting calling on the Church to disinvest from fossil fuels for the sake of those we should be showing love towards, and secondly, whitewashing and ‘rebranding’ the Department for Energy and Climate Change to expose the deadly policy changes taking place behind all the government’s talk on climate. And both went about as well as we could have hoped, and have received a lot of support. I just hope they lead to meaningful change…

Poetry

I haven’t written a lot of poetry this past year; however, I have managed to write, and actually finish, four songs, which is pretty amazing for me. It was mainly a year for the music; my band worked hard to release a new Christmas album at the end of the year, so we had a lot of band meetups and recording sessions to get it done. We also performed at two small festivals and two weddings, which was nice. In the process I have begun to learn to sing out loud, performing with a microphone, singing a duet with M, and finally recording a lead vocal! And improbably, despite our disorganisation, we did get the album out on time, and it’s quite fun!

Fandom

Wow this really has been a year of change in my life as a music fan. Although I’d largely given in to the inevitability of becoming a megafan years back, even up to the end of 2014 I was still fighting myself over it to some extent, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t an integral part of me. After spending some time fasting from all things Jon Foreman at the end of the year, it became clear to me that trying to detach myself too far from my fandom was actually unhealthy, and that I was fighting against my own self. I decided that whilst an occasional short ‘fast’ could be a good thing to stop me becoming too obsessed or unhealthily dependent, on the whole it was far better for me to give in to it completely, stop fighting myself and just become all that it can make me. And it has been an incredible ride!

As well as finding out just how much I can be changed for the better through it, I’ve also been learning what it is to really be a fan; that an artist-fan relationship is not the one-way, purely commercial process that I had previously thought it to be, but that it truly is a two-way relationship, that artists need our support in so many ways, including hearing from us personally.

So. I joined a couple of online fan forums to meet fellow fans. I took the chance to follow Switchfoot on tour around Europe back in the spring. I got tickets for five shows, plus all the buses, trains and hostels that involved to make it all possible. And I made some fan art to take along to show the band, a t-shirt and four banners, plus a couple of letters. And it worked out so incredibly, beautifully well! I made some great new friends, had some wonderful times with M and friends, and finally felt I’d made the connection with Jon and the rest of the band that I’d missed making all these years. I’m still even now getting the happiest flashbacks to it all that make my heart skip a beat or two, it’s hard to get my head around. It even spilled over a little to my relationships with other artists; if I’d been a bad fan to Switchfoot in the past I’d been a worse fan to band #2, Delirious. But last year I also finally got a message of appreciation through to the band’s Stu and Stew too, which helped heal some of those old regrets too.

And the intensity of the last year of fandom did not end when I returned home from that tour either; all last year Jon Foreman was releasing a series of EPs collectively called The Wonderlands (and ended the year by giving us a new Switchfoot song, New Year’s Day) – new music that has had, and continues to have, a lifechanging impact. For someone like me, this is more than ‘just music’; a major release like this becomes a significant life event, new songs become friends, lovers, mentors to me, guiding my walk with God and shaping who I am. I won’t go into details on individual songs here, I’ll leave that for a future post, but these songs truly make me who I am.

I was obviously a huge fan already, but by the end of the year my fan-love really was off the scale; he topped everything by celebrating the final release of The Wonderlands by performing 25 shows in 24 hours in a whole series of different weird and wonderful locations around San Diego, featuring each of the 25 songs from the project played at its appropriate hour, and all done to raise money for local disadvantaged kids. I couldn’t be there in person, but I was more than there in spirit; I stayed up the entire 24 hours, watching social media and periscope to catch as much of the event as I could and sending supportive messages and chatting to fellow fans watching from home too. Oh my heart! I don’t think I can exaggerate how beautiful the whole thing was! I’m not sure what I expected but Jon earnt my admiration hundreds of times over that day, not only keeping going but getting better as it went on, showing a lot of kindness to the fans and fellow musicians there, and having a lot of fun with it all too. There were some absolutely classic moments. It has been filmed, and trust me, if the film gets released you really do want to see it! For now, I collected a playlist of as many fan videos as I’ve been able to find.

Wow wow. Where does it go from here?!

 


 

2015 was also the year I:

  • Got a smart phone
  • Got locked out of facebook over changing my name
  • Discovered I like hazelnut lattes
  • Watched a solar eclipse
  • Tried again to join a samba band…
  • Found out how to chop down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring
  • Had my first eye test for 10 years, and found I have the beginnings of long sight
  • Became a music reviewer
  • Got my first henna tattoos
  • Discovered cheesy chart music
  • Enjoyed a stunningly beautiful autumn
  • Saw my work colleagues in a panto
  • Quit 2 jobs
  • Had a deep conversation with a random guy on a megabus journey
  • Gatecrashed a thanksgiving party

It’s been fun! 😀