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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, March 11, 2004
    Twice reborn
     
    "Pilgrims grow thirsty. By chance, here is the Trehafod Hotel. It's ten years since I stood in the public bar and I'm trying to understand what's changed. Nothing, it seems. Nothing apart from everything. Because I'm a new man. Since I last stood here every cell in my body has died and been reborn. The carbon is new, the hydrogen is new. Like those Hopkinstown homies I'm priceless with new gold."

    As for Robert Minhinnick in I Know Another Way, so for me on this holiday, so close to, yet so faraway from places familiar to me half a lifetime ago. Twenty-one years since I lived in Snowdonia, on Minhinnick's appraisal I've been reborn twice since then.

    The unforgiving mirror in Bryn Tirion these past days has shocked me into realising this new me is a very different shape than my previous incarnations. The instant I took to decide to leave the white face of Holyhead Mountain for others to climb, opting instead to shuffle around the earthworks below, made me wonder where my ambition - and/or fitness - has gone.

    But the great epiphany came right at the start of the holiday - in Bangor's Cob Records. When I lived in Llanbedr on £9 a week pocket money Cob was my salvation, my temptation, my temple. This store and its sister on The Cob, the toll road across the estuary at Porthmadog was in the 80s at the heart of a thriving market in vinyl exchange. You could buy and sell with Cob Records via the NME; living down the road from it was bliss.

    Days off meant rattling down the Cambrian Coast Line with a bundle of albums under my arm, returning with a smaller - but hipper - selection some hours later. I was skint then so any monetary gains I made at Cob were welcome. I was also a young believer, in thrall to self-appointed authorities on youth/culture etc whose rants against the evils of rock injected tension into my fond hobby of music collecting. Sad to say some of those albums I dumped at Cob I dumped because I thought perhaps those I oughtn't to be listening to them any more. The twice-reborn me now regrets those incidents greatly.

    "Maybe minds too are reborn. Perhaps there is a renaissance of the imagination," Minhinnick's Pontyprydd reflections continue. I think so. I hope so. And to affirm that, I felt a frisson of spiritual healing at Cob on Monday, when buying a live album by Nick Harper.

    Nick is son of Roy Harper, one of the artists whose albums I jettisoned two lifetimes ago at Cob. Roy Harper's records, caringly collected over four years, had to go because I was worried I shouldn't be listening to his broadsides against the pious and powerful. In truth his songs thrilled and empowered me then, intemperate though they were.

    And now Nick Harper has provided the soundtrack to my week. An extraordinary solo artist, a very English Jeff Buckley bending and caressing his strings, hollering and whispering, storytelling and shouting, laughing at himself and lambasting the powers. He is Page/Plant, Public Enemy and (probably) Pentangle all rolled into one. On walking into a performance cafe at Greenbelt 03 I was shocked and awed to see him onstage there. He made my world spin then, hearing him and making all the connections. And he has done so again this week, this artist of great skill and integrity, his father's son.

    What's twenty years? A moment. With grace and healing.