I had a dream. My favourite songwriter is at the front of Fitzroy. I am asking him questions about art and faith. I am pretty much choosing the set list. I am stretching him. A song or two that he hasn’t done for a while. Favourite songs of mine with spiritual depth.
He is opening up to every question… and the performances are astounding. There were a few hundred people patiently allowing me to go my own way. They seemed to rather enjoy it. It was quite a dream. It came true. Dream perfect. Dream complete. Ricky Ross played the 4 Corners Festival in conversation with me.
I have been listening to Deacon Blue since March 1987 when I picked up a 12” single of their very first single Dignity because their singer had the same name as my best friend and I thought I had read about him in a Greenbelt magazine. It was almost a year after my discovering of the band before a re-release of Dignity made the Top 40. In 1987 I was their greatest evangelist. Ricky Ross’s songs have been a soundtrack to my life ever since.
This was a unique evening. It was not a concert, not even in the storytelling type of solo concert Ricky has been doing recently. He put himself at my mercy. He had no guitar which limited the set list somewhat but with a list in my hand I was the director, allowing one song to lead to another. While Ricky was singing one, the lyrics sent my mind racing to the next choice. There was one moment when I had three directions of possibilities.
The reason that we had felt that Ricky Ross was the right person for The 4 Corners Festival was not just that he would pull a crowd. The conversation made those deeper and wider reasons obvious.
Ricky Ross has rarely been about the hits, which is a good thing because there were very few hits performed. No Real Gone Kid or Fergus Sings The Blues! Ricky has been about the power of the song to open discussion, to break down barriers and to change the world!
Faith has always been important in Ricky’s life. He grew up Brethren, he was a Church Of Scotland youth worker, before Deacon Blue, and is is now finding his spiritual belonging in the Ignatian thread of Catholicism. He spoke about all of that with a deep sincerity of a faith that cannot be labelled but is rich in wisdom from across the Christian traditions.
Of particular humour and insight was his attempt to do an Ignatian exercise of Scripture reading on a plane to Dublin. The plane sadly was full of those enjoying a hen weekend. As the pop stars self righteousness started welling up into anger at his inability to be silent with God in the midst of this noise nuisance, God suggested to Ricky that actually Jesus was not so much sitting with him in his prayerful contemplation but with the women around him having a good time!
That spirituality led us to the sermonette at the end of the evening. Having been a committed advocate of the Yes Campaign in the Scottish Independence referendum Ricky spoke of the divisions still, three years after the vote. He spoke about his concern that people were still stuck in their referendum positions and how he had found himself reaching out across that polarisation, becoming friends with those on the the other side.
In a festival about breaking down the apartheid barriers of Belfast’s 4 Corners Ricky’s grace and intentionality of befriending those he disagrees with was a depth charge. The audience was asked to do the 4 Corners thing and get the mobile number of someone they considered “the other” and grab a coffee!
Oh… and there was music… a packed set list of songs crammed with lyrical deftness and clout at the same time, resonating melodies and Ricky’s stunning voice. My stumbling from song to song had him sing Surprised By Joy, one of the first things he ever wrote; Bethlehem’s Gate, the nativity town that Ricky comes back to often; Riches, written for pioneering youth worker Jim Punton; We Can Overcome The Whole Wide World, for his daughter Caitlin who believes human slavery can be ended; Only God and Dogs, the theology of grace in the voice of a dog!; and A Gordon For Me that Ricky wrote about Gordon Aikman, after his untimely death, who was an opponent of Ricky’s on the Referendum vote after he passed away.
Yes, there were Raintown, Wages Day, The Believers, Dignity (“thinking about home… faith… work) and many others. As well as Ricky the audience was at my mercy too. I was the one in charge of the choices and the questions. I was the one seeking out songs I hadn’t heard for a while. In the end, if I missed your song forgive me. My mission statement for the choosing of songs in this, or any kid of setting, is “songs that are not just good but good for something.”
The songs in this gig, I pray were just that, at a personal level and at a national level. May this Ricky Ross concert and conversation have touched minds, hearts and souls to dream up a world of shalom and then to live out that dream. Just like I lived the dream to make it happen!
This article was written by Steve Stockman and was first published on his blog ‘Soul Surmise’.