Monday, 21 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

As far as I'm concerned Christmas 2009 has been unparalleled for discovering new Christmas music. I've loved having a renewed soundtrack to Christmas and it's been great to say goodbye to Slade, the entire Christmas Crooner selection and the usual seasonal tat and replace it with music that is both original and yet still evokes that Christmassy feeling. Here's a few of my new favourites.

Firstly, I got hold of a copy of Sufjan Stevens 'Hark! Songs for Christmas' collection. A few tracks can be downloaded for free on his offical website - check it out here. I love the sounds of these records and they have enough quirkiness to make it really fun.



Next, I listened to Bob Dylan's double helping of the Christmas Theme Time Radio Hour. There are some great songs on this show - and some very funny moments, too. You can check out the tracklist here or download it from here. My personal favourites are 'Merry, Merry Christmas' by Alton Ellis and the Lipsticks and 'Santa Claus' by Sonny Boy Wllliamson II.



Now if that wasn't enough (around 70 tracks), there are some other great songs I've discovered. Steve Earle's 'Christmas in Washington' is magnificent and pretty much everything on 'The McGarrigle Christmas Hour' that features plenty of Rufus and Martha Wainwright.



And so all that remains is to wish you a very happy Christmas! And happy listening...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Happy Bobmass!

Christmas music is contentious in our household. My wife loves it so much that until recently it was not unusual in our home to hear it pretty much any time of the year. It all came to a head a couple of years ago, when coming into the house on a very warm sunny July afternoon I heard the strains of 'chestnuts roasting on an open fire' drifting from the lounge. Later that evening I gathered all the Christmas CDs from the storage rack and sneakily hid them away in the attic. A couple of weeks later when my act of cunning was discovered, I promised to reveal the hiding place - but only on 1st December! Now it is generally agreed that waiting until the appointed time, and the opening of the first window on the Advent calendar, makes the wait all the more worth it.

So... what a dilemma I faced when Bob Dylan decided to release his Christmas album 'Christmas in the Heart' in mid-October! I openly admit that my increasing fanaticism around Dylan has rendered my ears incapable of hearing anything negative in his music (except perhaps Self-Portrait), so the quality of the actual renditions of the Christmas songs was not something I was concerned about. My key difficulties were how was I going to 1. find a way to persuade my wife that that the £8.95 was worth spending on pre-ordering the item, so it would arrive on release day; 2. listen to it immediately and not wait until 1 December; and 3. avoid my listening to it before the appropriate time becoming a 'free for all' on all Christmas music before the 1 December deadline.

Well, here's what happened. Firstly, I pre-ordered the album without telling my wife. This was truly justified because I didn't buy it for myself - it was a loving gift from husband to wife. Secondly, on it's arrival, allowing my wife to rip open the package I spontaneously swiped it from her hands and declared - 'I know it's early but because you love Christmas music so much I think we should put it on now, what do you think?'. Of course she consented. And so Bob was slipped into the CD player, the volume turned up and Christmas came to our household in October. And the best thing of all - since all the other CDs are still in the attic well it wouldn't hurt to play Bob's CD again and again and again until they come out on 1st December would it?

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Steve Earle>City of Immigrants

Four nights ago I had the pleasure of seeing Steve Earle playing live in London. And for once I had a great seat at the gig - front row! I have to say I enjoyed it immensely when I strutted through the theatre past the lesser seats to park my backside on the front row and then neatly place my jacket and drink on the stage. Earle was pretty impressive - alone on the stage, in an auditorium that seated 2000 people, he kept us all spellbound by his majestic songs (and covers of Townes Van Zandt) interspersed with some witty narrative.

It struck me as I cast my eyes over the audience that Earle clearly plays white man's music. In a city as diverse as London you might expect some racial diversity - but if skin colour is anything to go by, there wasn't much diversity going on in the Barbican on Wednesday night! This struck me as fairly ironic when Earle burst into 'City of Immigrants' from his Washington Square album (2007). This is a song written about New York but could just as easily be written of London. The lyrics state: 'City of black, city of white, city of light, I'm livin' in a city of immigrants, All of us are immigrants, every daughter, every son'. It's a great song, with great lyrics that are absolutely true. It is a smart antidote to the pathetic attempts by the British National Party (amongst others) to claim the contrary and to conveniently forget that, yes, we are all immigrants - not just those who have arrived on British shores since the 1950s.

And so, reflecting on this after the show, I realised that indeed Earle the agitator knew his audience better than I. Of course, if anyone needed to hear his thoughts on immigration it was probably one that looked like this.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

The Cure>Plainsong

If I'm really honest and come clean - the songs that mean the most to me - the ones that get under my skin and touch deep, deep down inside are the dark and moody ones. Don't get me wrong I like light and fluffy, too, but the ones that leave me satisfied are songs that when they've finished feel like they've gone right to the pit of my stomach and twisted me up inside. Some bands/songwriters simply do this better than others and for me The Cure are masters of this kind of song.

During the late '80s The Cure were one of those bands that everybody either loved or hated - there was no middle ground. Nobody I knew ever said, 'well, I like some of their stuff.' Pretty much all my friends claimed they were 'too depressing'. Strangely, though, they all turned up their radios when 'Love Cats' or 'Friday I'm in Love' came on. They couldn't bring themselves to admit they liked these tunes because according to them, The Cure were depressing and yet clearly these songs were not.

Well, I'm not afraid to admit I love depressing! Perhaps it's my dark side - but gloomy, gothic, indie rock reaches places in the pit of my stomach that other genres can't reach. I love much of The Cure's work up to the early '90s and in my opinion the gloomier the better. Take 'Plainsong', for example, the opening track of Distintegration (1989) - it's magnificent. It's almost a parody of the goth rock genre - lyrically and musically - yet it captures the wild, untamed, dark side of the human condition. And how I wish for an open place for this in church. Increasingly, my experiences are leading me to see this dimension of God himself - He's downright mysterious, wild and untamed and as it says in the song, He makes 'me feel like I'm living on the edge of the world'.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The Sunday Service: The LEONARDiction

Thanks to Phil's recent blog post over at Philip's Tree House regarding my CAVEspers I've been spurred on to come up with a new Sunday Service. So here it is - The LEONARDiction.

My long-held view is that the title of most inspired song-writers belongs to the holy trinity of Bob Dylan, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. Having compiled a DYLitANy and CAVEspers already, I felt it was time to give the honour to Mr Cohen. (Incidently I've been very fortunate to see all three leading worship in London during the last 18 months.)

Why 'The LEONARDiction' - well being a traditionalist I had to come up with some kind of religious pun, however paltry. Also, the Benediction - or blessing - that usually accompanies the end of a church service or prayer time is somewhat appropriate for Cohen. For some reason a benediction is always 'prounounced' - and in my experience that means the minister or priest delivers it with a sombre yet uplifting tone. And surely if such contradictory adjectives were ever to be attributed to a singer's voice - it has to be Cohen's. So here's the 'setlist'...

Processional Hymn: Hallelujah (Various Positions, 1985)

Praise and Worship:
Love Calls You by Your Name (Songs of Love and Hate, 1971)
Dance Me to the End of Love (Various Positions, 1985)
That Don't Make It Junk (Ten New Songs, 2001)

Intercessionary Prayers: The Future (The Future, 1992)

Confession:
Everybody Knows (I'm Your Man, 1988)
Tower of Song (I'm Your Man, 1988)

Bible reading: The Story of Isaac (Songs From a Room, 1969)

Sermon: Anthem (The Future, 1992)

Response: If it be Your Will (Various Positions, 1985)

Recessional hymn: Here It Is (Ten New Songs, 2001)

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Jim Reeves>Bimbo

The summer's gone and my holidays are finished. On the whole August was a fabulous month - time spent with the family, lazing on the beach, watching the breakers roll in on the Cornish clffs, good food and of course England winning the Ashes. But amongst all the frivolity was the tragedy of Bimbo.

He was our guinea pig - my 6 year old daughter's pride and joy. Travelling through Cornwall we sang his song in the car, remembering him back home. Happy campers could hear the strains of 'Bimbo, Bimbo where ya gonna go ya' through the thin walls of their tents as we sang along to Jim Reeves. And now, our furry friend has gone - a sad end to a lovely pet and a beautiful summer.

And so, in his memory here's his song - he's gone but not forgotten.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

The Duckworth Lewis Method

I have relatively few passions in this world but when two of them come together in such a great combination it certainly adds to life's rich tapestry. I've already confessed to my penchant for The Divine Comedy in an earlier post, so imagine my delight when I heard that songwriter Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy had just released an album inspired by my favourite sport - cricket. And just in time for the Ashes!

When I was a child I spent many an hour watching cricket - initially England getting ground into the dust by a rampant West Indian side and then as I grew older I got used to Australia consistently hammering England. Over the last couple of weeks my ear's been glued to the radio (can't afford SKY for live TV coverage)as I've kept abreast of England's heroics on their way to regaining the Ashes (I hope).

But I've listened to the streaming version of The Duckworth Lewis Method's album online and I've got to say it's great. Somehow it evokes the feeling of a lazy summer's afternoon at the cricket - a far cry I must say from the gut-wrenching agony of being an England supporter during any Ashes series. I never thought that an album on cricket would ever be written but the Divine Comedy have lived up to their name and produced a classic! There must be a God after all.

Here they are performing on Grafton Street, Dublin. Did you see them Cosmo?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

U2>Miss Sarajevo

On the whole I've given U2 short thrift on this blog - I'm not really sure why because I've always been a big fan. I suspect it's because for the last couple of years I've found Bono's earnestness just a little too much. However, prompted today by my wife's departure for 8 days to Bosnia on an interfaith trip I checked out a song I've loved for a long time - Miss Sarajevo (The Passengers, 1995).

As I watched the video of the song - as below - it all came back to me. I remember being glued to the TV news during the war watching with grim fascination the pictures of the ordinary people of Sarajevo literally having to sprint for cover on the way to work to avoid the bullets around them. It was the weirdest of things seeing normality and war going on side by side. And U2 capture the sense of this paradox in the song magnificently (read about the song here). And as the beauty contestants hold up the sign saying 'don't let them kill us' the futility and pointlessness of it all becomes so stark.

I love the lyrics, too with their echo of Ecclesiastes. Until today I hadn't seen a translation of Pavarotti's part. Here it is:

You say that the river
finds the way to the sea
and like the river
you will come to me
beyond the borders
and the dry lands
You say that like a river
like a river...
the love will come
the love...
And i don't know how to pray anymore
and in love i don't know how to hope anymore
and for that love i don't know how to wait anymore


Powerful stuff, eh? And so, perhaps you'd like to spare a prayer for the people of Bosnia who have with such dignity begun to rebuild their country and my own 'Miss Sarajevo' who is there today.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Radiohead>No Surprises

There was a time when I was convinced that Radiohead was the greatest band on earth. Now I would review that considerably - they're good, but short of a truly inspired critique, I will simply state that I find them a bit depressing! However, I find very little to criticize about my favourite song of theirs - 'No Surprises' (OK Computer, 1997). It's a masterpiece.

Let me tell you why this song is so great! Firstly, it's got one of the most sublime guitar riffs in rock. Secondly, Thom Yorke's voice is so sullen and tired that it captures the mood magnificently. Thirdly and most importantly, it's a song to inspire a revolution. Some songs are written with uprising in mind and they put it all out there in clear and obvious ways - think the Clash's 'London Calling' or the Sex Pistols' 'Anarchy in the UK' for example. Having listened to and enjoyed those songs on many occasions I can safely say that by the time they reach their raucous final bars the anger and angst inside me has all but dried up. I have always preferred the subtle, however. 'No Suprises' contains three minutes and forty-eight seconds of such irony and monotony that by the end you're ready to get up and go and do something rebellious to prove Radiohead wrong - that you're ready for a life that breaks the mould and really will bring down the government.

And so perhaps I'm back to Alinsky again. Recently, I've become convinced that those who seek to follow Jesus can never be satisfied with just doing good things and at the same time maintaining the status quo. That in it's own way is like embracing a world of 'no suprises'. That's a case of cheap grace. Costly grace involves a deeper work where risk and revolution have their place - where the injustices of our communities and neighbourhoods are challenged to their core. Listen to 'No Suprises' and you'll hear what I mean but don't blame me when it stirs you up.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Sufjan Stevens>The Perpetual Self or What Would Saul Alinsky Do?

Well, here's to the song with the longest title I'll probably ever attempt to write about! If you know anything about American singer-songwriter and player of pretty much every instrument you can imagine - Sufjan Stevens - you'll know that long song titles are one of his fortes. A lot could be said about Sufjan and his religious connections but no time for that right now - what I'm particularly interested in writing about is why I chose this song of his. Mainly it's because of the man mentioned in the ridiculously long title of this song - Saul Alinsky. And he's someone who I have recently become very interested in.

Saul Alinsky is known as the father of 'community organising'. The term was probably not that well known until this time last year when its most famous proponent started banging on about it on his way to the White House. Having got involved in community organising here in East London through London Citizens a couple of years back, I've read Alinsky's two short books - Reville for Radicals (1946) and Rules for Radicals (1971) and been gripped by them. They're not quite like anything I've ever read - irreverent, funny, passionate, political and ultimately empowering. If you want to do politics or social justice it's the only place to start. I'll never be the same again having read that stuff (and incidently, I've seen the principles work here in my neighbourhood!).

So what's this song about? Truthfully, I'm not sure - every version of the lyrics on the internet are different and none of them are obvious in meaning. Having listened to the song carefully a few times I would suggest that it appears to be an Alinsky anthem of sorts. You'll just have to listen to it yourself - strangely uplifting despite the opening salvo of 'Everything is lost...'. But then in an odd kind of way that is Alinsky's message - when you're down and losing, get organised, act together and you're on your way up. And make sure you have a lot of fun doing it!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Steve Earle>John Walker Blues

It feels appropriate for a post on Townes Van Zandt to be followed by one on Steve Earle given his recent TVZ covers album and general hero-worship. Also, as I write the news is on in the background and I'm being told that President Obama is currently in Saudi Arabia trying 'to reach out to the Muslim World'. Obama would do well to listen to Earle's 'John Walker Blues' (Jerusalem, 2002) as a starting point in American relations with Islam. (Actually, if my take on this song is right - he probably has!).

The song is about John Walker, an American convert to Islam, who fought with the Taliban in Afghanistan before being captured in 2001. He's currently serving a 20 year sentence in the US. Lyrics can be found here. Now I can imagine that this subject is a pretty emotive issue for lots of people - Walker is considered a traitor and his story came as a shock to many.

However, I don't think for a moment that Earle is condoning violence or fundamentalism in this song. What I think he does instead is to transfer the emotion to a different place by writing the song from Walker's point of view - a regular guy looking for meaning in life and who follows his convictions (however misguided) once he finds something that makes sense to him. I personally find the song very challenging because it cuts through so much of the hysteria surrounding Islam - it is an individual that is being sung about, not the breathtakingly overstated 'clash of civilizations' agenda. The 'blues' is not just a take on Walker's own story of being hauled back to the US as a prisoner but in America's failure to offer Walker something in the first place that touched his soul. Of course we could offer many excuses for why that may be - no doubt his family, his upbringing would be cited - but then again we in the Western world could perhaps take a hard look at ourselves and wonder why we're surprised at all.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Townes Van Zandt>Waitin' Around to Die

If you're feeling slightly low or depressed please click away now! If you're in a emotionally-secure enough place to be moved - read on.

The East End of London is just the most vibrant, interesting, and sometimes challenging place to live, work and raise a family. After 6 years of being here it takes a lot to surprise me about people and the way they live - but there's always one place that just touches my soul in a way nowhere else does. Every Wednesday morning I play football with a group of men from a drop-in centre that provides breakfast for those with no permanent place to live. At 10:30 I pass by the centre to see who will play with us that day. 20m from the door the smell of cheap and nasty beer hits you in the face. A group clutchering their cans of lager crowd around the door. Once inside there are people milling about - some getting showers others drinking tea - whilst more are lying across the tables trying to sleep. The last two times I've visited one character with a hat pulled low over his face is marching up and down the room talking to himself in a loud voice. I always wonder what the stories are behind the faces - so many things, so much hardship, so much sadness.

This week, as I looked around the room trying to find someone who was either sober enough or awake enough to come and play football the opening strains of Townes Van Zandt's 'Waitin' Around to Die' played like a soundtrack in my ears. You see, I've asked myself numerous times why we do what we do - why those with chaotic lifestyles seem to choose more chaos. And the answer is in the song - it's easier than just 'waitin around to die'. If you can watch the clip below and not shed a tear like the guy in the background then you have a heart of stone!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Bob Dylan>This Dream of You

Now to my favourite song on Dylan's new album. If Together Through Life's opening track 'Beyond Here Lies Nothing' sounds like a denial of any form of heaven; if 'Life is Hard' takes us into Dylan's dark night of the soul; if 'Forgetful Heart' seems pretty conclusive about Dylan's state of faith with the final lines: 'The door has closed forevermore/If there ever really was a door'; - if all this is the evidence we can glean regarding Bob's current spiritual state from Together Through Life, then we can agree here is a man who has lost whatever hope he once espoused. And yet... and yet... there is one track that contradicts all of the above.

'This Dream of You' is a magnificent track - the best on the album for me. It has a very similar feel to the gorgeous 'Red River Shore' (and I have written about that one already). Take a look at the lyrics - worth a full outing here:

How long can I stay
In this nowhere cafĂ© ‘fore night turns into day
I wonder why I’m so frightened of dawn
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me living on

There’s a moment when
All old things become new again
But that moment might have come and gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me living on

I look away but I can see in it
I don’t want to believe but I keep believing it
Shadows dance upon the wall
Shadows that seem to know it all

Am I too blind to see
Is my heart playing tricks on me
I’m lost in the crowd, all my tears are gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me living on

Everything I touch seems to disappear
Everywhere I turn, you are always here
I’ll run this race until my earthly death
I’ll defend this place with my dying breath

From a chairless room
In a curtain gloom, I saw a star from heaven fall
I turned and looked again but it was gone
All I have and all I know is this dream of you which keeps me living on


Incorporated into the lyrics are several Biblical allusions - see how many you can spot!? You may have your own take on this song but here's mine for what it's worth. Bob is addressing God. For whatever reason, God is distant - a memory of sorts - but ultimately it's all he's got. And despite the distance between them, there are fleeting moments when even earthly reality pales into insignificance compared with the presence of the living God. But try and put your finger on it or pin it down and it melts away like a dream.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Does Bob Dylan have 'the blood of the lamb' in his voice?

Slowly but surely the official lyrics from Together Through Life are being released. There's been nothing printed on the CD sleeves so most reviewers and commentators have had to use their ears - not as simple as it sounds when Bob's voice is so ragged. I noticed today that one or two of the song lyrics had been put up on BobDylan.com but not the one that has caused some discussion. In the song I Feel a Change Coming On Bob sings: 'I've got the blood of the land in my voice'. Or does he? Some very reputable music critics claim to hear 'I've got the blood of the lamb in my voice.' Not sure what I was hearing myself I started a discussion on Expecting Rain - the ultimate Bob fan site. 53 replies later and no-one's the wiser. I think we're going to have to wait until it gets put up on the offical site. Listen to it yourself below - 4mins 9 secs.

Does it really matter, though? Well, for the hard-core dylanologists it does because they hang on to their prophet's every word. As someone pointed out on Expecting Rain - perhaps both versions are correct - after all in Bob's own analysis of songwriting there is no complete perfect song - it's an organic and developing process which can change with every performance.

So even if we assume that when the lyrics finally are published it'll be 'blood of the land' (I personally think I hear a 'd' sound at the end of the word!), does this mean that Bob hasn't got the 'blood of the lamb' in his voice? Absolutely not - you just have to listen to his songs since he began and the voice of God shines through time and again. I don't need Bob to confirm this in a lyric, it's there for all to hear - well if you have ears to hear that is.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Bob Dylan>LIfe is Hard

Bob Dylan appears to like ironic titles for his more recent albums. Take his previous release, Modern Times (2006), for example - clearly nothing modern about it since it's a collection of songs (mostly great songs!) based on structures and themes of times gone by. So what should we make of Together Through Life his latest effort? Well, not be taken in by the title that's for sure. I've been somewhat puzzled by a number of reviews that have suggested that Dylan is 'enjoying' himself on this album - I can only surmise that they've forgotten to listen to the lyrics and more importantly his voice. For me, Dylan's voice is usually the key to his albums and on this record it's ragged, scarred and suffering. And that's the image of 'togetherness' that Dylan is projecting through these songs - basically a 'togetherness' that is lost, betrayed and hewn with violence on a personal, spiritual and communal level.

According to his Bobness the inspiration for the album came from the track 'Life is Hard', a song he was recording for a movie soundtrack. The rest of the album followed in a rush, clinging to the coat-tails of this song. It's a terribly sad song that brings tears to my eyes as it weaves a tale about the loss of friendship and love and the resulting emptiness of life. Now, I have absolutely no evidence for what I'm about to write and yes it is a song for a movie, but I cannot help but project Bob Dylan into this song. The fact that this theme is picked up time again across the whole album I believe that Dylan is singing about his own spiritual loss - a dark night of the soul if you like.

Should I be worried for Dylan, then, when I hear this song? Perhaps, but then it's not the last word. A couple more songs to write about later...

The lyrics:
The evening winds are still I've lost the way and will
Can’t tell you where they went I just know what they meant
I’m always on my guard admitting life is hard
Without you near me

The friend you used to be, so near and dear to me
You slipped so far away, where did we go astray
I passed the old school yard, admitting life is hard
Without you near me

Ever since the day, the day you went away
I felt that emptiness so wide
I don’t know what's wrong or right
I just know I need strength to fight, strength to fight that world outside

Since we've been out of touch I haven't felt that much
From day to barren day my heart stays locked away
I walk the boulevard, admitting life is hard
Without you near me

The Sun is sinking low I guess it's time to go
I feel a chilly breeze In place of memories
My dreams are locked and barred admitting life is hard
Without you near me
hummmm
Without you near me


Listen here:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Bob and I are back!

Well, my two most loyal readers have commented that they haven't heard from me for a while so it's time to put fingers to the keyboard. Now let me say, there's also a VERY good reason to post something and that is that Bob has released a new album - something that was only a wild web rumour last time I put up a post. Today, my CD dropped through the letterbox - one day after release date thanks to our pathetic postal system!

This weekend I had the joy of seeing the great man twice in as many days - once up close and personal in a relatively small north London venue. I loved the gigs and was able to share them with my friend Nick as well as my Mum and Dad, which made them extra special. Dylan clearly gave it everything - not something he always does - but you could see the sweat pouring off him!

Now to the new record - my Dad just called and said there were at least 3 tracks on 'Together Through Life' that would bring tears to my eyes. As I type, I'm having my first listen of the whole album and I must say I'm loving it. And, yes there are tracks that deserve whole posts of their own because they clearly say something about Dylan and God. I endeavour to put them up over the next week, so let's see...

Monday, 19 January 2009

Johnny Cash>San Quentin

I recently finished reading Johnny Cash's autobiography. It was good read - gave some insight into what drove the man. Most interestingly he talks frankly about his faith and his failings - clearly evidenced in his music. On the one hand you have the whole 'man in black' thing, his drug addictions and the singing of songs about murder, death and pain. Then suddenly you have what sounds like a sermon and he breaks into a gospel song. You get the feeling that Cash is a man of extremes and probably does everything with a fair amount of gusto!

The live prison albums - Folsam and San Quentin are brilliant examples of his work. The setlists demonstrate the many sides to his character. My favourite track off these albums has to be the song he wrote for the prisoners at San Quentin. This song shows his rebel spirit and the reaction of the prisoners is amazing. Check it out below and thank God for a man with fire his belly and in his heart. We could do with someone to fill his shoes...

Monday, 5 January 2009

Kate Rusby>The Miner's Dream of Home

Happy New Year! A resolution and a track to talk about. First the track. Kate Rusby is a youngish British folk singer who has provided the soundtrack to our Christmas. On recommendation from my friend Pete I bought my wife a copy of Rusby's new album - Sweet Bells - a collection of Yorkshire carols. I love all the songs but particularly for New Year I suggest you try and get hold of 'The Miner's Dream of Home'. The song tells the story of a young man's dream of returning home on New Year's Eve after ten years away. As the family are reunited the bells are ringing in the new year - the past is gone, 'sin is banished' and the new year offers new possibilities. Rusby is great - check out the video below.

And so what are my dreams at the beginning of a new year? Well, I have made a resolution. It all goes back to my summer holiday when I sat with my five year old daughter at an outdoor swimming pool in France. We were just drying off after a swim when she pointed at a man in the pool and whispered into my ear - 'Daddy, that man's muscles are much bigger than yours!' I tried to brush it off - 'no they're not, he's just a bit fatter' I replied. 'No', she insisted, 'look how massive his muscles are - he must be much stronger than you.' Later that evening I discovered the very same man pitching his tent two down from mine - and as I suspected every time he appeared from then on, I had to hear how much stronger than me he must be. So this year is the year of the muscle! I'm very, very skinny so I've got a long way to go - but let me assure you of this - the next time I hear Kate Rusby singing that song (I packed the CD away in the attic with all the Christmas things) I'm going to be fitter, stronger and a match for anyone!