The Traveller’s Rest- Prophet With a Beer and a Beard.

Real Life (Angel)

“You have never known dumbfounded
So out of reach and hollowed through
Blue and white the light and sound surrounded
As the music pulls you through
And on that hallelujah morning
In the arms of new love, the peace that you feel’s real life”

On Tuesday night I was able to finally unwrap my final present from Christmas. My eldest son Joel had bought me a ticket to see the band Elbow at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff. Have loved this band for ages and have watched with interest the journey that has taken them from alternative prog band without the guitar solos to almost being a Festival head-liner. Who is to say that step will not come but what a band they have become. Still edgy, still relevant, still life affirming. In Guy Garvey they have a singer and lyricist that is the most un-rock and roll guy you could ever imagine, but underneath that beard is a prophet who writes from the streets where we all walk. Stories of love and loss, of hope and death. Stories of despair and joy, of quiet and loud. And whatever the theme, whether it be first love or lost love, there is always hope, joy, life, being in it together. A connection to the heart of people, normal people who live on the streets and in the houses of normal communities. A connection that is always absent from a church worship service that is always too busy trying to get our focus off this life and onto the next one, from what is seen and onto the unseen. No wonder many people are finding such a big disconnection between church and real life. Prophets prophesy about glorious futures while we really live in the shit of real life and the uncertainties of whether we can make it. Guy Garvey and Elbow connect at a deeper level than that of reality, and look for the small glimmer of light in it all. It connects with those who have just been left with a bottle, with just dreams, with just the room around them. This is real and this is deep. I find listening to them a deeply moving and spiritual experience.

The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver.

“Send up a prayer in my name
Just the same
They say I’m on top of my game
Gentle gentle love
Send up a prayer in my name”

I am often touched by the embrace and community of a gig. From being grabbed around the shoulder to dance together at the Editors to talking about the bands we love in the queues waiting for doors to open at a Sigur Ros gig. This concert was no different; in the queue a complete stranger starts talking to me and asking me about my life, the band, laughing together at memories past. Inside everyone jostles for the best position at the front (when did that last happen in church?). I think what touches me more than anything is the connection with grown men, real men. Men who will sing along at the top of their lungs, raise their hands and sway like a fool. A connection is made that makes them alive. I realise when I see this that this connection is missing in our so called ‘times of worship’. Grown men are often found disconnected from it all while the women and the weird and wild and free guys join in. These men who may enjoy a beer on Saturday night are often enduring Sunday mornings. Maybe all this stuff about heaven, holiness and slushy kissing worship songs about everything being glorious do not fit their world of work, money worries, relationship struggles and pressures of life itself. Seeing the whole crowd sing along and experiencing the joy in the mess was amazing. A band like Elbow understand loneliness and draws the lonely to a place of being together. A place where in safety they can be free. Words that relate to reality and life and yet offer a picture that maybe in loneliness you are not alone.

“Spitfire thin and strung like a violin, I was
Yours was the face with a grace from a different age
But you were the sun in my Sunday morning
You were the sun in my Sunday morning” (Great Expectations)

My Sad Captains.

“Another sunrise with my sad captains
​With who I choose to lose my mind
​And if it’s all we only pass this way but once
​What a perfect waste of time

​The BMX apothecary
Oh my soul
The architect of infamy
Oh my soul
For each and every train we missed
Oh my soul
A bitter little Eucharist”

The thought that wasting your time with the people you want to waste time with is a little Eucharist blows my mind. A connection with my own journey and the new landscape image of fellow-shipping together. Organised church becoming spontaneous communion with those we love and have community with. As Elbow close with One Day Like This there is a feeling of communion that is missing from church much of the time. Yes we have been led but led to a place of the embrace of each other, lost in our unity of the sea of humanity. Before the encores and the build up to this song a camera scans the faces of the audience onto a big screen. People beaming, ordinary humanity of all races, ages, religion or no religion, beautiful humanity full of the image of God. This touches me deeply as we are connected in our anonymity and yet recognising we are in this journey together. This band has connected us in some magical way.

Is this the sound of real people at worship? Spontaneous worship of the beautiful sea of humanity? This clip on YouTube after their gig in Birmingham is just so amazing;

Worship leaders take note. Connection with people is so much more important than you realise. Maybe even more important than trying to connect us with God. I think by connecting with people we actually end up connecting with God anyway. I think we need to invest more into the ‘on earth..’ than we do into ‘as it is in heaven’. By going straight to heaven and bypassing the earthly stuff we may actually miss what heaven is really all about.

New York Morning.

“Me, I see a city and I hear a million voices
Planning, drilling, welding, carrying their fingers to the nub
Reaching down into the ground, stretching up into the sky
Because they can, they did and do so you and I could live together

Oh my god, New York can talk
Somewhere in all that talk is all the answers
Everybody owns the great ideas
And it feels like there’s a big one round the corner”

Garvey also realises that community talks and communicates. He listens and writes what he is hearing. A challenge to keep listening to the earth that cries out. I think Christians need to stop writing about what they think heaven will be like, how perfection looks to them, and maybe start writing about the sites and sounds and where they live, the full picture warts and all. Then maybe everyone may start joining in rather than getting disconnected. Maybe real men could then sing and express how they feel. The nice, perfect world of worship is not where the majority of people really are at. Okay for the dreamers and half full people but what about the sad, the lonely, the broken, the real, the tattoo painted guy with the numerous piercings, the girl with the eating disorder, the separated and the widows. Is there a song for them. Is there a song for the family here in the Rhondda that have just lost a child to suicide? Is there a song for my work mate whose ex partner makes his life hell when he wants to see his baby? Is there a song for my friend whose marriage has ended? Is there a song for my cousin who has fought in Afghanistan and witnessed the horrors? A simple yippee Jesus loves me just does not cut the mustard, but maybe the lessons of a couple of hours with Elbow can.

4 thoughts on “The Traveller’s Rest- Prophet With a Beer and a Beard.

  1. markrandallpixley

    We have it wrong on so many levels…this got me thinking about how we “use” music to our own hurt…I have participated as leaders would say “The worship tram will come and usher in Gods presence”…as if he needed certain tunes/tones/timbres to be just right so He felt safe and honored enough to show up…this God is a jerk…any God that will only show up if the worship team “presses in” and the crowd joins them in somber dysfuntional “crying out” frankly feels to me, like He would much rather be somewhere else…I want to say to Him “Hey if its such a pain in the ass to show up here why bother at all? What the hell was all that tearing the veil from the top down bs about?”

    I’ve lost interest in most christian music because of this…it mostly feels like it is written to appease an insecure God and convince Him to come and spend a few millaseconds with folks He apparently can’t stand without the right mood music…

    Elbow on the other hand…seems like they want to touch me…as does John Butler Trio, Peter Gabriel and even the iconic Yes…

    No one wants a God who cannot get His hands dirty with real life…maybe it’s time christians started writing about that instead of our prozac praise…

  2. Joanna

    There are definitely some very tuned in bands out there. Not heard any lately, but then again I don’t listen so much to radio now, but if I wanted to hear where God was leading in a season, that is one of the avenues I particularly listened to.

  3. Joanna

    Just realise that makes it sound like I pick and choose when I listen to what God is doing – I’m tired! It was one of the avenues I took notice of to hear what God is doing – does that sound better? 🙂


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