Christmas Alphabet : C for Chuck Berry ( Run Rudolph Run) & The Chieftains with Rickie Lee Jones

It’s that time of year again.

And, as loyal readers will know The Immortal Jukebox has a tradition of marking Christmas Tide with special Posts.

Songs of celebration and reflection from many genres and from artists famous and obscure.

This year for all our delight it’s a ‘Christmas Alphabet’ to follow up on the ‘Christmas Cornucopia’ and ‘Christmas Cracker’ series from 2016 and 2015 (if you haven’t read those yet start as soon as you’ve finished this!)

From today you can look forward to a Post every other day.

So, let’s start with C for the great Chuck Berry who died this year.

Now, as we all Chuck was a multi MVP, All Star and indeed a by acclamation inductee Hall of Fame Songwriter.

But that’s not all!

Chuck, when he put his diamond sharp mind to it was also a gifted and sensitive interpreter of other writers’ songs.

In the first flourish of his epochal years recording for Chess Records Chuck laid down two superb Christmas singles showcasing his skills as a guitarist and singer.

Let’s get our blood pumping and senses tingling with Chuck’s definitive take on Johnny Marks’ ‘Run Rudolph Run’

I like to clear a mighty big dancing space before I put this one on and I’d advise you to do the same if you don’t want your Christmas decorations to come crashing down around you!

Yup! Yup! Yup!

Chuck cracks the whip and boy don’t those reindeer speed like a Saber Jet through the firmament!

Johnny Marks was a Christmas Song specialist and I think we can allow that he had really got the hang of it when you consider that in addition to Run Run Rudolph he also wrote, ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’, ‘Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree’ and, ‘A Holly Jolly Christmas’.

What Chuck and the storied Chess Studio team brought to Run Run Rudolph was an irresistible brio that grips from the get go and doesn’t let up till the son of a gun hits the run off groove.

Just so you know you’re in good company going wild to Run Run Rudolph it was this song that Keith Richard chose to record for his first solo single in 1978 (and a lovely, extra loud, extra louche, job he made of it too).

Keith, surely, was the Boy Child who wanted a Rock ‘n’ Roll Record Guitar!

Chuck, being the fond of a greenback, canny operator that he was, took the arrangement they came up with here wholesale for his own, ‘Little Queenie’ when there would be no question about whose bank account the songwriting royalties would roll into!

Chuck has a powerful case for being the inventor of Rock ‘n’ Roll songwriting and Guitar style.

Yet, neither of these gifts came out of nowhere.

Chuck loved, understood and could integrate into his own sound The Blues, Swinging Jazz, Country Music and the Latin rhythms coming from South of the Rio Grande and from Cuba and the Islands.

So, when in 1947 he heard Charles Brown singing, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ his ears must have pricked up as he thought, ‘Now that’s one I could do to show off my after midnight singing and guitar style’.

And so it proved.

You can settle back in your armchair for this one and maybe unstopper the Brandy Bottle.

Well, don’t that go down smoothly.

Chuck’s perfectly weighted vocal and hush don’t wake the baby guitar is perfectly complemented by Johnnie Johnson’s lyrical and lush piano.

One to listen to thrice before you move on!

Now a wonderful Transatlantic partnership between two maverick talents.

First, Ireland’s most successful cultural crusaders along with the manufacturers of Guinness – The Chieftains.

Joined here by the bohemian brilliance of Rickie Lee Jones.

The space they afford each other allows each to shine.

Rickie embodies the weary world and the thrill of hope even as The Chieftains evoke the bright shining stars and the glorious new Morn.

Together they make something really special and moving out of, ‘O Holy Night’

Christmas Cornucopia 2016 : Eighth Day

Eighth Day :

A Painting by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos 1541 to 1614)                                      

A Poem by Patrick Kavanagh (1904 to 1967)

Music by John Dowland (1563 to 1626) played by Julian Bream, The Chieftains with Nanci Griffith and The Trinity Lavra Choir

 

Our painting today, ‘The Adoration of the Shepherds’ is a work of blazing, visionary brilliance by El Greco who had the artistic bravery characteristic of genius in all ages.

el-greco-nativity

El Greco depicted the human body and used colour and perspective in a manner that was wholly individual.

The awe inspiring intensity of his vision breaks down any conventional, ‘tutored’ response.

To my mind his art is a true veil shredding glimpse into a co-existing reality : present then and present now.

This painting, more than any other I know, captures the enormity of the event which took place some two thousand years ago.

It is a peerless hymn of exultation and adoration.

Today’s spirit refreshing music comes courtesy of John Dowland who can genuinely be described as a Renaissance Man in view of the time he lived in and the depth of his talents as a composer, Lutenist and singer.

His works will enter your consciousness like a pebble dropped into a pond with ever widening circles of effect.

Julian Bream is another musician with, ‘The Touch’.

Music played by Bream flows purely and naturally from his fingers to our hearts.

 

 

Further music comes from two countries: Russia and Ireland which share a reverence for poets and prophets, visionaries, bards and shamans.

Both have produced more than their fair share of saints, scholars and wayward genuises.

In both lands a sense of the numinous pervades the air and prayers ascend unceasingly heavenward – even in the increasingly secular modern age.

Of course, both countries are filled with a hundred times the number of would be writers to actual page blackening writers and both have to deal with the drunken consequences of frustrated spirituality encountering the demon drink.

Still, veil-piercing poetry and song are central to the cultural life and achievements of Ireland and Russia.

Both peoples love to carouse until they are stupefied yet both are capable of being stilled to silence and tears by a simple lyric or an exquisite slow air.

Let’s listen now to the exquisite, ‘Wexford Carol’ performed by the veritable custodians of Ireland’s traditional music, The Chieftains (here accompanied by a Texas rose, Nanci Griffith).

 

The Wexford Carol may well date back to the twelfth century though it’s widespread popularity is due to the work of William Gratton Flood, who was musical director of Enniscorthy Cathedral in the late 19th century.

The Chieftains play with an authority born of thousands of hours of perfecting their craft as traditional musicians – always respectful of the source material while being alert to each other’s role in bringing a tune to shimmering life.

The Chieftains, led by Piper Paddy Moloney, who has proved to be a natural born networker, have recorded many inspired collaborations with leading artists in many musical genres (though their greatest collaboration is probably with an artist from their own island – Van Morrison).

Here, Nanci Griffith sings the carol with a beguiling gravity befitting the immensity of the events portrayed. Listening I feel as I were marching in a torchlit devotional procession with the same moon that shone over Bethlehem above the sentinel trees of the forest around me.

Next, from a powerhouse of Otthodox Russian monasticism, ‘The Song Of The Magi’. The choir is from the Trinity Lavra (monastery/hermitage) of St Sergius in Sergiyev Posad some 50 miles from Moscow.

This has to be the sound of the breath of the Russian soul. Russian Othodox services provide doorways to contemplate the divine – an opportunity in stillness to be lifted into a different realm of being.

Giving ourselves over to such an experience can be profoundly uplifting and over time transformative.

 

 

Russian spirituality opens itself to mystery and awe accepting that grace cannot be willed but only gratefully accepted.

The Magi travelled long miles in search of a new kind of King and gave their gifts to a babe in a manger. Perhaps, listening to this work we could learn to give the gift of an attentive soul.

The poem today, ‘A Christmas Childhood’ is provided by one of the great figures of 20th Century Irish Literature, the sage of Iniskeen, Patrick Kavanagh.

‘Cassioepeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon – the Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodian’. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse’.

 

This post dedicated to the deceased members of The Chieftains:
Fiddler Martin Fay, Tin Whistle and Bodhran player Sean Potts and the mystical doyen of the Irish Harp, Derek Bell.

 

 

Derek Bell (The Chieftains) and Samuel Beckett – As good as it gets!

Posts for Paddy’s Day 2

My dad, God rest him, was sparing with praise. Only those truly outstanding in their fields got the nod. Sportsmen such as jockey Lester Piggott and Hurler Jimmy Doyle were credited as being, ‘As Good as it got’.

The other accolade, very rarely bestowed, on someone considered unique in character and achievement was, ‘Now, he’s a one to himself’ which I remember him saying only about the actor Robert Mitchum and Muhammad Ali.

Taking up these terms I now use them myself though characteristically with more profligacy than he ever did! Even so it’s rare for me lavish both terms on an individual no matter how high my esteem for them.

But, the exception proves the rule. So, today’s post concerns an extraordinary Irish artist, Derek Bell; harpist, harpsichordist, pianist, oboist, arranger, composer and conductor and bona fide eccentric. If ever any man deserved to be called, ‘As good as it got’ and, ‘One to himself’ it is Derek Bell.

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He was born in Belfast in 1935 and before he was a teenager he was an accomplished pianist and the composer of a concerto. He had rigorous classical training at The Royal College of Music before taking up a series of prestigious posts with classical orchestras as an Oboist.

Incredibly, given his virtuoso status, he did not take up the harp until he was in his 30s. Searching through the harp repertoire in the Irish Tradition he inevitably came upon the work of the great 17th/18th century Harper, Turlough O’ Carolan.

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O’ Carolan is a mythic figure in Irish music and history. A bard, blind from the age of 18, who equipped with harp and horse roamed Homerically throughout Ireland composing and playing exquisite tunes that have immense melodic charm.

O’Carolan’s music has had no better champion than Derek Bell. His perfectly paced performance of the haunting, ‘Farewell To Music’ has a limpid beauty that pierces to the soul.

Here Derek puts me in mind of the great jazz pianist Bill Evans’ playing on, ‘Blue in Green’ ; only musicians of the highest order, secure in their craft and selfless before their music, can play with such simplicity.

It was a 1972 St Patrick’s Day concert of the music of O’Carolan that first brought Derek into contact with The Chieftains (referred to by one of his orchestral colleagues as a, ‘Tatty Folk Group’). The ever alert Paddy Moloney, the ringmaster of The Chieftains, recognised Derek as a great musician and knew that the the addition of a brilliant harpist would give the group an even more distinctive sound and expand their repertoire

So from 1975 Derek was a full time Chieftain, an inveterate tourer and a beaming collaborator with musicians running the gamut from Ry Cooder to Chinese Folk Orchestras. Beyond his musical genius he brought a wholly individual character and impish sense of humour to The Chieftains.

Derek cut a distinctive figure on stage: attired as he invariably was in a crumpled suit, tie and pullover with the short legs of his trousers allowing view of cartoon socks! He was often forgetful of the mundane elements of life. He was once arrested at Moscow airport for carrying a ticking alarm clock in his jacket pocket as he was about to board a flight!

Listen to him here with The Chieftains as they hymn O’Carolan and demonstrate their eminence as traditional musicians – individually brilliant and collectively harmonious.

For Derek what really counted was the music. Like Van Morrison he was a dweller on the threshold who devoted his life to his art with an open heart, an elevated spirit and religious fidelity .

His death in 2002 at the age of 66 was an incalculable loss to music. Ones to themselves don’t come along very often.

Ireland in the 20th Century was blessed with a dazzling gallery of Poets, Playwrights and Novelists who won critical acclaim, popular success and serial Nobel Prizes. To my mind the most eminent of them all was Samuel Beckett.

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I freely admit that I have been obsessed with the man and his work ever since I first encountered, ‘Waiting For Godot’ as a teenager. I have a zealot’s conviction that the tender Irish musicality, humour and precision of Beckett’s prose combined with the rigour of his thought and the scarifying uniqueness of his dramatic vision mark him out as the greatest writer of his era.

Beckett found in the actress Billie Whitelaw a muse who responded with dedication, wholehearted courage and endless commitment to the enormous technical and emotional challenges involved in the roles written for her by Beckett.

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He acted as a composer/conductor and she as a brilliant instrumentalist determined to play a seemingly impossible piece perfectly. The work they did together, just to cite, ‘Happy Days’ and, ‘Not I’ must constitute one of the most significant partnerships in the history of the theatre.

Today I’m sharing a film which showcases one of Beckett’s most intense and poignant late works, ‘Rockaby’. The artful structure and deep musicality of this short play reflects Beckett’s immense theatrical craft and imaginative daring.

The play expertly deploys rhythmical language in descending loops to evoke a dreamlike state where buried memories swirl around a mind and being that is closing down.

Rockaby faces head on some of the deepest questions in human life? Who am I? How do we know ourselves and how do we know another? What moves the rocking chair? How do we come to terms with our extinction?

Billie Whitelaw found the play, ‘very frightening to do’ yet trusting to the truth of Beckett’s vision she produced a performance which is note perfect and almost unbearably moving.

Now, as they say, for something completely different. There was a time when the humour was on me and pints of porter were freely flowing when I would stand up, whatever the company and launch into the mock epic ‘Sucking Stones’ speech from Beckett’s novel, ‘Molloy’. A wondrous performance of the speech can be found on YouTube embedded in Barry McGovern’s legendary one man Beckett show, ‘Beginning to End’

I would suggest you read the text below out loud to catch the full brilliance of its humour. Only Samuel Beckett could have written this. After all, he was one to himself and as good as it gets.

I took advantage of being at the seaside to lay in a store of
sucking-stones. They were pebbles but I call them stones. Yes, on
this occasion I laid in a considerable store. I distributed them
equally between my four pockets, and sucked them turn and turn
about.

This raised a problem which I first solved in the following
way. I had say sixteen stones, four in each of my four pockets these
being the two pockets of my trousers and the two pockets of my
greatcoat.

Taking a stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, and
putting it in my mouth, I replaced it in the right pocket of my
greatcoat by a stone from the right pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my trousers, which I
replaced by a stone from the left pocket of my greatcoat, which I
replaced by the stone which was in my mouth, as soon as I had
finished sucking it.

Thus there were still four stones in each of my four pockets,
but not quite the same stones. And when the desire to
suck took hold of me again, I drew again on the right pocket of my
greatcoat, certain of not taking the same stone as the last time.
And while I sucked it I rearranged the other stones in the way I
have just described. And so on.

But this solution did not satisfy me fully. For it did not escape me that,
by an extraordinary hazard, the four stones circulating thus might always be the same four.

In which case, far from sucking the sixteen stones turn and turn about, I was
really only sucking four, always the same, turn and turn about.

But I shuffled them well in my pockets, before I began to suck, and
again, while I sucked, before transferring them, in the hope of
obtaining a more general circulation of the stones from pocket to
pocket. But this was only a makeshift that could not long content a
man like me. So I began to look for something else …

I might do better to transfer the stones four by four, instead of one
by one, that is to say, during the sucking, to take the three stones remaining
in the right pocket of my greatcoat and replace them by the four in the
right pocket of my trousers , and these by the four in the left pocket
of my trousers, and these by the four in the left pocket of my greatcoat,
and finally these by the three from the right pocket of my greatcoat,
plus the one, as soon as I had finished sucking it, which was in my mouth.

Yes, it seemed to me at first that by so doing I would arrive at a better
result. But on further reflection I had to change my mind and confess that
the circulation of the stones four by four came to exactly the same thing
as their circulation one by one.

For if I was certain of finding each time, in the right pocket of my greatcoat, four stones totally different from their immediate predecessors,
the possibility nevertheless remained of my always chancing on the same stone, within each group of four, and consequently of my sucking, not the sixteen turn and turn about as I wished, but in fact four only, always the same, turn and turn about.

So I had to seek elsewhere than in the mode of circulation. For no matter how I caused the stones to circulate, I always ran the same risk. It was obvious
that by increasing the number of my pockets I was bound to increase my
chances of enjoying my stones in the way I planned, that is to say one
after the other until their number was exhausted.

Had I had eight pockets, for example, instead of the four I did have, then even the most diabolical hazard could not have prevented me from
sucking at least eight of my sixteen stones, turn and turn about.

The truth is I should have needed sixteen pockets in order to be quite easy in my mind. And for a long time I could see no other conclusion than this,
that short of having sixteen pockets, each with its stone, I could never reach the goal I had set myself, short of an extraordinary hazard.

And if at a pinch I could double the number of my pockets, were it only by dividing each pocket in two, with the help of a few safety-pins let us say, to quadruple them seemed to be more than I could manage. And I did not feel inclined to take all that trouble for a half-measure.

For I was beginning to lose all sense of measure, after
all this wrestling and wrangling, and to say, All or nothing. And if I
was tempted for an instant to establish a more equitable proportion between
my stones and my pockets , by reducing the former to the number of the
latter, it was only for an instant. For it would have been an admission
of defeat. And sitting on the shore, before the sea, the sixteen stones
spread out before my eyes, I gazed at them in anger and perplexity …

One day suddenly it dawned on me, dimly, that I might perhaps achieve
my purpose without increasing the number of my pockets, or reducing the
number of my stones, but simply by sacrificing the principle of trim.
The meaning of this illumination, which suddenly began to sing within
me, like a verse of Isaiah, or of Jeremiah, I did not penetrate at once,
and notably the word trim, which I had never met with, in this sense,
long remained obscure.

Finally I seemed to grasp that this word trim could not here mean anything else, anything better, than the distribution of the sixteen stones
in four groups of four, one group in each pocket, and that it was my refusal to consider any distribution other than this that had vitiated my calculations until then and rendered the problem literally insoluble.

And it was on the basis of this interpretation, whether right
or wrong, that I finally reached a solution, inelegant assuredly, but
sound, sound.

Now I am willing to believe, indeed I firmly believe, that
other solutions to this problem might have been found and indeed may still
be found, no less sound, but much more elegant than the one I shall now
describe, if I can …

Good. Now I can begin to suck. Watch me closely. I take a stone from
the right pocket of my greatcoat , suck it, stop sucking it, put it
in the left pocket of my greatcoat, the one empty (of stones).

I take a second stone from the right pocket of my greatcoat, suck it put it
in the left pocket of my greatcoat. And so on until the right pocket
of my greatcoat is empty (apart from its usual and casual contents)
and the six stones I have just sucked, one after the other, are
all in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

Pausing then, and concentrating, so as not to make a balls of it, I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, in which there are no stones left, the
five stones in the right pocket of my trousers, which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my trousers, which I replace by
the six stones in the left pocket of my greatcoat.

At this stage then the left pocket of my greatcoat is again empty of stones, while the right pocket of my greatcoat is again supplied, and in the
right way, that is to say with other stones than those I have just
sucked.

These other stones I then begin to suck, one after the other,
vand to transfer as I go along to the left pocket of my greatcoat,
being absolutely certain, as far as one can be in an affair of this
kind, that I am not sucking the same stones as a moment before, but
others.

And when the right pocket of my greatcoat is again empty (of
stones), and the five I have just sucked are all without exception
in the left pocket of my greatcoat, then I proceed to the same
redistribution as a moment before, or a similar redistribution,
that is to say I transfer to the right pocket of my greatcoat, now
again available, the five stones in the right pocket of my trousers,
which I replace by the six stones in the left pocket of my trousers,
which I replace by the five stones in the left pocket of my
greatcoat. And there I am ready to begin again. Do I have to go on?

There was something more than a principle I abandoned, when I
abandoned the equal distribution, it was a bodily need. But to suck
the stones in the way I have described, not haphazard, but with
method, was also I think a bodily need.

Here then were two incompatible bodily needs, at loggerheads.
Such things happen. But deep down I didn’t give a tinker’s curse about being off my balance, dragged to the right hand and the left, backwards and
forewards.

And deep down it was all the same to me whether I sucked
a different stone each time or always the same stone, until the end
of time. For they all tasted exactly the same. And if I had
collected sixteen, it was not in order to ballast myself in such and
such a way, or to suck them turn about, but simply to have a little
store, so as never to be without.

But deep down I didn’t give a fiddler’s curse about being without,
when they were all gone they would be all gone,
I wouldn’t be any the worse off, or hardly any.

And the solution to which I rallied in the end was to throw away all
the stones but one, which I kept now in one pocket, now in another,
and which of course I soon lost, or threw away, or gave away, or
swallowed …

Van Morrison : Carrickfergus (Elegy for Vincent)

The Unfinished conversation:

‘There you are …… ‘

‘Grand, Grand ….’

‘Isn’t there a fine stretch in the evenings now’

Aye – there’s a fair dazzle of daffodils over the old road’

‘Did you hear that McCoy’s retiring! And didn’t he drive in a 14/1 winner, at the front every step of the way, at his last Cheltenham.’

‘Sure, many a time I’ve seen him near lift an animal over the line to get a winner’ – we will not see his like again.’

‘If you had to guess who, in their seventies, would record an album of songs associated with Frank Sinatra and pull it off who would you pick?’

‘Not Bob! But after the Christmas record who could ever be surprised again!’ We will not see his like again’

‘You’d hardly recognise the lad now – he’s up to my shoulder’

‘God bless him – isn’t it natural. Before too long it’s you that will be looking up at him’

‘Well I can see you need to be on your way. I’ll see you further on up the road’

‘Aye, but take your time, take your time – there’s plenty of road.’

In memory of my friend, Vincent Roche (RIP) who was one of nature’s gentlemen. A craftsman, a scholar of music and horseflesh and a man of wry humour and quiet dignity. Vincent was a proud Irishman from Foxford in the County of Mayo.

We often traded lines from the great ballads of the Irish tradition as opening salvos or payoff lines in our conversations:

‘… And we made a football of his rowdy-dow-dow’

‘… He never tried to go railing from Ennis as far as Kilkee’

‘… One star awake as the swan in the evening moved over the lake’

‘… Down by the sally gardens my love and I did meet’

‘… The pale moon was rising above the green mountain’

‘… And I said let grief be a falling leaf at the dawning of the day’

Today, in his honour, I feature a luminous performance of, ‘Carrickfergus’ by the greatest singer Ireland has ever produced, Van Morrison, accompanied by the legendary Chieftains who provide the sympathetic melodic and rhythmic ground against which Van weaves his profound magic.

Van makes emotionally real the knowledge we have in our bones that our relations and dearest friends are all bound to pass on like the melting snow. Treasure them while you share the same stretch of road.

Wherever we wander most of us keep an image in our hearts of the home place and all of us are mesmerised by the waves of the salty sea ebbing and flowing as they have done for millennia before we were born and as they will do long after we are gone.

P.S. Those of you interested in my more literary efforts and Ireland might like to look up the, ‘Once In A Blue Moon A Poem’ post below.

Christmas Cornucopia – Eighth Day

Today’s music comes from two countries: Russia and Ireland which share a reverence for poets and prophets, visionaries, bards and shamans. Both have produced more than their fair share of saints, scholars and wayward genuises.

In both lands a sense of the numinous pervades the air and prayers ascend unceasingly heavenward – even in the increasingly secular modern age.

Of course, both countries are filled with a hundred times the number of would be writers to actual page blackening writers and both have to deal with the drunken consequences of frustrated spirituality encountering the demon drink.

Still, veil-piercing poetry and song are central to the cultural life and achievements of Ireland and Russia. Both peoples love to carouse until they are stupefied yet both are capable of being stilled to silence and tears by a simple lyric or an exquisite slow air.

My first choice today is, ‘The Wexford Carol’ performed by the veritable custodians of Ireland’s traditional music, The Chieftains (here accompanied by a Texas rose, Nanci Griffith).

The Wexford Carol may well date back to the twelfth century though it’s widespread popularity is due to the work of William Gratton Flood, who was musical director of Enniscorthy Cathedral in the late 19th century.

The Chieftains play with an authority born of thousands of hours of perfecting their craft as traditional musicians – always respectful of the source material while being alert to each other’s role in bringing a tune to shimmering life. The Chieftains, led by Piper Paddy Moloney, who has proved to be a natural born networker, have recorded many inspired collaborations with leading artists in many musical genres (though their greatest collaboration is probably with an artist from their own island – Van Morrison).

Here, Nanci Griffith sings the carol with a beguiling gravity befitting the immensity of the events portrayed. Listening I feel as I were marching in a torchlit devotional procession with the same moon that shone over Bethlehem above the sentinel trees of the forest around me.

Next, from a powerhouse of Otthodox Russian monasticism, ‘The Song Of The Magi’. The choir is from the Trinity Lavra (monastery/hermitage) of St Sergius in Sergiyev Posad some 50 miles from Moscow. This has to be the sound of the breath of the Russian soul. Russian Othodox services provide doorways to contemplate the divine – an opportunity in stillness to be lifted into a different realm of being. Giving ourselves over to such an experience can be profoundly uplifting and over time transformative.

Russian spirituality opens itself to mystery and awe accepting that grace cannot be willed but only gratefully accepted. The Magi travelled long miles in search of a new kind of King and gave their gifts to a babe in a manger. Perhaps, listening to this work we could learn to give the gift of an attentive soul.

The poem today, ‘A Christmas Childhood’ is provided by one of the great figures of 20th Century Irish Literature, the sage of Iniskeen, Patrick Kavanagh.

‘Cassioepeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon – the Three Wise Kings.

An old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodian’. I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodeon,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse’.

This post dedicated to the deceased members of The Chieftains:
Fiddler Martin Fay, Tin Whistle and Bodhran player Sean Potts and the mystical doyen of the Irish Harp, Derek Bell.