Tag Archives: Surfing

Looking for Europe 9: Glasgow – 500 miles

October 25th

I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening. I cannot believe this is happening.

And yet, my alarm is ringing at 5am and I am ready to go!

This was my third time following Switchfoot on tour; it was also the first time I’d followed a UK and Ireland tour, and what has been blowing my mind since it was announced is that it comes within five months of their last visit. I have never known anything like this to happen. Having concluded that I probably wouldn’t try to follow every date on a tour again after the beautiful chaos of the last tour, I immediately went back on my word when these dates were announced. Perhaps if it involved travelling to new cities and countries I would want to spend more quality time there seeing the places I was visiting. But these shows were happening in my own country, in towns I mostly knew and was quite likely to revisit in future, so the pressure was off to go sightseeing. So tickets were booked, and travel plans forged (in that order; always buy tickets first, figure out logistics later!).

The last few days before leaving dragged by. I’ve had a countdown app on my phone since we first found out last year that they were playing BCDO here this spring. When the first of these dates was announced, during tour part one, I set it going again. Since it hit 50 days left, time has disappeared remarkably quickly; it felt as though 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 all came within a week. And then, 7 days left. Each day of that final week seemed a week long in itself! The morning of the 24th I looked at the clock on my screen at work after I’m sure being at my desk for around 5 hours, only to find it was just approaching 10am! It may have been the longest day of my life, and my mind was definitely elsewhere!

However, that 5am alarm eventually rang, and shortly afterwards I was on the train up to Glasgow, cradling a takeaway cup of tea and admiring the autumn colours as the sun came up on this beautiful day.

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I arrived in Glasgow at lunchtime, met up with my concert buddy friend from France, and we checked into the hostel with just enough time to pack our things for the show and head back out.

We caught the bus up to the university and found our way to the Queen Margaret Union. We then realised we weren’t sure exactly where we were meant to be! It was an open students’ union building with several venues inside and students coming and going continually. Clearly we weren’t meant to be outside the building, so we looked around inside, and eventually asked in the reception and were pointed in the right direction. A small group of us gathered outside the door to the room where Switchfoot were playing, but after waiting a while the staff asked us to go up and wait in the bar on the floor above until 5:30.

The wait for the VIP event to begin was somewhat awkward, a small nervous group of us waiting impatiently. I got chatting to folks, and it got even more awkward when it transpired I was following the tour and had done before, I pretty much got interviewed about the whole experience!! I didn’t mind but really hope it didn’t sound like bragging, this is all about making back many years as a fan fail and I still owe the guys a lot of belated support.

But no matter how many times I’ve met them, I admit I was freaking out a bit; for many reasons I don’t usually give them gifts, but this time I did have a birthday gift for Jon and I felt nervy about handing it to him. I also had a birthday card for him full of sweet messages from the SwitchFam, and the thing I was perhaps most anxious about handing them, yet another letter, this time just making sure they knew how political references to ‘Europe’ would be on this tour, letting them know there was no obligation to take my ‘Europe is where the light shines through’ flag on stage if they didn’t want to go there, and explaining that they were really helping me to grapple with these difficult political times, that Europe is the UK’s wound just now and that wherever we stand on it, we should be able to agree on that and try and seek the light through it.

As we waited we had some great conversations about how we’d come to know Switchfoot, about past shows we’d seen, about their music and how important it has been to us.

Time crawled past in slow motion; it was 5pm for about an hour!

Suddenly we realised that through the floor we could make out they were soundchecking Hello Hurricane! I tried to wait until we were called back down… but Jon was singing and I couldn’t stay put. I cracked and ran down to listen outside the door, and everyone else, equally desperate for an excuse, took it as a cue to move too. Oops!! 😀

Finally Chico came out to hand us our VIP passes and let us in. He didn’t ask my name. Drew had also seen me in the queue earlier and said he recognised me, and called me the queen of the UK SwitchFam, to which I said I don’t know if I can claim that, Jude isn’t here yet!

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In addition to Hello Hurricane, we heard them soundchecking Bull (In A China Shop), Love Alone Is Worth The Fight (LAIWTF), Travis’ Sing (wow, they sounded great!! This song used to be on their preshow playlist but I’ve not heard them cover it before), then we were let in for Float and I went straight to the barrier and danced like it was a concert!

Jon took a request for their second song from everyone there. He listed them back as best he could remember and asked Tim which they should play, and they agreed on Yet – which was my random request as I’d been listening to it a lot the past week and had seen it on a recent set list. He then asked whose request it had been, and there was mutual embarrassment when I sheepishly put my hand up (‘We honestly hadn’t arranged that!’)! I’m pretty sure he used my name too, which stunned me; I’m not surprised he recognises me by now but to remember my name straight away before we’d been reintroduced was special :O They spent ages setting up to play Yet, it was so sweet of them to do it. They had to work out how they were going to play it; they said they hadn’t played it in ages, though I’d seen it on a setlist from their summer tour, hence requesting it. Chad came to the front with muted drums, and Jon jammed on the harmonica, even leading us in ‘If it doesn’t break…’ the way I’d heard him do on the live album, despite there only being a few of us, it was very cool. You can watch it here.

Then it was Meet&Greet time. I got a poster signed for somebody I was planning to send some things to, then handed my gifts to Jon. I showed him the local hot sauce and chocolate coffee beans I’d put in, which again he seemed extremely enthusiastic about, despite being less jetlagged than they had been in Amsterdam! Then I showed him the card we’d made; I flicked through it to show him all the messages at a glance, highlighting one or two to him, and he seemed really touched by it. Afterwards we headed back outside to wait for the show.

The venue was very small, and a little grimy, but in my experience that can make for a great show! I went to Drew’s side of the stage, but as the venue filled I got pushed towards the centre. I had a great conversation with one of the other VIPs, a guy originally from Nigeria, about the depth of Jon’s lyrics.

A band from Sheffield called the Alvarez Kings were supporting Switchfoot for the whole tour. They played good, catchy tunes with a lot of energy; their drummer is very good, the bassist lively, and they threw in a lot of nice harmonies, plus a bit of swearing!

Then it was Switchfoot time!!

They kicked off with the full electric version of Hello Hurricane, which they haven’t played much for some time.

Keeping the energy up, they went into Stars. Part way through, Jon climbed up onto the amps, then broke from the song to get the crowd singing The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond (appropriate as they’d spent the day there), then  jumped down and went into 500 Miles by The Proclaimers!! Well, that brought the house down!! Jon barely knew it at all, but belted out as much of it as he could remember before just descending into ‘DAH DADA DAH!’, the crowd laughing and jumping and filling in his singing, it was the best! 😀

Meant To Live followed, starting with an awesome intro jam on four guitars transitioning into the opening riff, which was passed around the band between their guitars, quite a dramatic effect. It was already getting sweaty, Jon pouring water over himself!

Then he went into the crowd for Bull and worked the crowd from a railing at the back, holding a hand to balance himself. It was a lot of fun.

Tim kicked off This Is Your Life with his powerful bass riff. Jon got everyone singing ‘Yeah!’ with him as a call and response, and then as the ending of the song repeats the title question he picked out individuals in the crowd to direct that question to each time he sang it.

Drew was improvising from start of Your Love Is A Song (YLIAS). The solo began with a duet between Jon’s harmonica and Drew’s guitar, then Jon left Drew to it, and he gave us a really epic solo; there were some precious smiles between the guys.

Jon introduced the band, and then Where The Light Shines Through (WTLST), saying ‘Let’s hear it for wounds!’ He did take my flag up on stage briefly, saying ‘Glasgow is where the light shines through’, and Josh got it back to me immediately. They started with a solo, throwing in complete pauses, which was awesome! Similarly to Budapest, Jon and Drew played a sort of solo trading game with Jon playing a phrase and seeing how Drew would respond to it, and like Budapest it seemed like he was cheekily throwing him some weird ones for him to play with! And he again got the crowd singing ‘Yeah-eah-eahhhh!’ in response. This song really is incredible live.

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Clearly having fun, Jon introduced Gone by throwing in the opening riff from Chem6A! There was much forgetting of lyrics; he got the crowd to help with the first verse, holding up the mic stand to us, grinning, before taking back over and having no trouble with the rest of the song! They rocked up the ending with a drum jump.

Bringing it back down, they played Only Hope, acoustic to begin with, with the band simply adding chilled ambience. They left out the second verse and went straight into a rocked up ending, and transitioned straight into I Won’t Let You Go, which was beautifully sung with evident feeling.

A short interlude of Shadow Proves… introduced LAIWTF, and then Jon got everyone ‘oreo’ing along. Then they played (If The) House Burns (Down Tonight), dedicating it to the firefighters who have saved their homes and communities many times, and to the feeling of driving away from your home not knowing if would be there when you return, and realising that the human souls there in the car with you are worth infinitely more than all you leave behind.

Dark Horses just rocked, and they ended with When We Come Alive.

For the encore they came back on to play Float; Drew seemed to start in the wrong key but quickly adjusted. And oh the joy – they brought the bubbles and disco ball with them!! This is the first time I’ve ever known them bring the fun stage effects they use in the States with them across the pond, and it was so much fun! And of course Jon crowd surfed, and thanked us for his first proper surf since arriving here 😀 Live It Well followed, introduced as a campfire song, Jon asked us to picture it. And they finished with Dare You To Move, which was just gorgeous.

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Then there was a proper encore, and they played Where I Belong. Jon took my banner, and this time actually threw it back to me at the end! 🙂 I closed my eyes and just soaked in that end yell like I was just receiving it. At the end there were emotional thanks from Drew, and the crowd carried on singing long after the lights went up.

Overall the show felt like a truly joyful start to the tour. However the sound hadn’t been quite right; the guitars were turned up extremely loud compared to the rest, so they drowned out everything else when really going for it.

I managed to meet a couple of friends I’d only met previously online, one doing photography, and the other waiting for an aftershow, both lovely. The wait afterwards was cold!! I put on all my layers, plus the wet banner to dry it off and attempt to keep warm! But Jon did eventually come out to us. There was much joking with him about the temperature (‘You’re cold?! I’m from San Diego! This is Scotland cold!’ ‘No, this is Scotland tropical!’). He played Caroline (‘Southbound Train?’ ‘This one’s like Southbound Train… and also in the right key for my harmonica!’), Inheritance, 24 with its back story, and Your Love Is Strong. He said he’d seen a rainbow over Loch Lomond that morning and said it was like finding gold. He said these moments could be like gold, and I said that they are. He thanked us at the end, and we let him go.

My friend and I just made last bus back! We wished we’d had time for photos, it was so pretty.

We got back at 1:30am, in time for not nearly enough sleep before getting back on the early morning train back to Bristol 😛

Day 2, and I was already wondering what in the world possesses me to do this?! 😀

‘And I would take the train 500 miles, and I would take the train 500 more…’ 😀

(You can find my write ups of the spring Looking For Europe tour starting here)

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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.