Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas is here

It's finally the week where Christmas happens - my family are really quite excited and I hope you are too. SUB wishes you all a very merry Christmas filled with fun. Here's a poem to mark the big day...

Dreams of the Morrow
by Shawn D Standfast

Tinsel bright by starlight mingle
Baubles twinkle with festive memories
As lights are dimmed and candles lit
Shadows flicker in holiday cheer

Footsteps crunch on fresh snow fallen
Downy flakes dance on misty moonbeams
Then back inside for warmth of fire
And to bed to dream of the morrow

As a snowy dawn gently breaks
Church bells echo in the stillness
Carols and songs fill excited air
Then Presents opened and cherished

Customs old and new begin the day
Late risers and arrivals just in time
For roast turkey, deserts and drink
All feed fully and drink most freely

On this late midwinter day
…this day of togetherness
…this day of good cheer
On this day of Christmas

Happy Christmas to one and all!

Posted here with permission - feel free to wander over to Shawn's site and twitter @BooksR4Life

Monday, 15 December 2014

Party frocks

It's Christmas party time - a great opportunity to glam up and strut your stuff. A designer I've been seeing more of (and generally loving what I see), is Elie Saab from Lebanon. Below are some tasters from his Autumn Winter 2014 collection, with the header image from the AW14 Haute Couture collection. Absolutely fabulous, darling!

Fur and coats:



Monday, 8 December 2014

Gothic Christmas Party Music

This week it's my work Christmas party. As a first, we have been asked if we want the DJ to play any particular Christmas song for us to dance to during the evening. This is a nice touch, although I feel it will inevitably result in the same old shopping mall songs being churned out again.

However, it set me to thinking about gothic Christmas music. There's not much of it and most of what there is is not of a tempo or level of familiarity suitable for a work party (no surprise there), so I haven't requested any particular version of the Coventry Carol to dance along to. However, if you want something other than Within Temptation's Gothic Christmas track to listen to this year, here's a few treats I've found.

Terrorizer reviewed some compilation albums from Projekt Records and Black Rain. Going back as far as 1995, these may be a bit tricky to hunt down now, but you can probably find examples of the individual tracks on your favourite video content provider. There are actually quite a few good tracks here, so I recommend hunting them down.

In addition to those, I would also commend to you the Tori Amos Christmas album, Midwinter Graces and the Jill Tracy album Silver Smoke, Star of Night. Both reinterpret classic carols in wonderful and graceful ways. Hunker down in front of your Christmas tree resplendent with black decorations, take a sip from your red wine, close your eyes and let these sirens take you off into a wintry wonderland.

Monday, 1 December 2014

'Tis the season

December 1st already - where did the year go? My family home has now gone festive: the tree is up, the advent calendar started, who is visiting whom and when is organised, pantomimes are booked. A 6 year old helps you focus!

I currently have several piles of things to read, from newspaper articles to books and graphic novels. I also have plenty of games to play, on my phone, the Playstations and table top games too. I'd really like to spend December reading by the fire, a la Nightmare Before Christmas, and playing games with friends.

A personal success of the planning has been finding a way to squeeze in a trip to the British Library for its Terror and Wonder exhibition - yay! My niece is studying Mary Shelley's Frankenstein as part of her 6th Form English Studies, so I think this will be a superb visit for us both.

Strangely, this year doesn't have much in the way of spiritually-centric activities for me. Other than personal thoughts on the season and some themed Sunday morning church services, it will be fairly quiet faith-wise. My church is spending this advent examining the theme of waiting, so this feels kind of appropriate. Spiritually, this year has brought significant changes for me and some of my close friends. I feel next year holds more of the same. What exactly? Well, I guess we'll have to wait and see...

I hope you manage to find space to enjoy the festive season, take a moment (or several) to remember the spiritual centre of the celebration, find calm within the storm to spend time with friends and family, and carve out some space to read or listen to a good ghost story :)

Monday, 24 November 2014


At my church yesterday the morning was spent looking at the spiritual influence of poetry. So, this week I would like to share a poem with you.

It uses gothic references to create wonderful imagery and gives commentary on the place of organised religion within our world. Not entirely damning, but not entirely complimentary either. Something to ponder...

by Elizabeth Bishop

This celestial seascape, with white herons got up as angels,
flying high as they want and as far as they want sidewise
in tiers and tiers of immaculate reflections;
the whole region, from the highest heron
down to the weightless mangrove island
with bright green leaves edged neatly with bird-droppings
like illumination in silver,
and down to the suggestively Gothic arches of the mangrove roots
and the beautiful pea-green back-pasture
where occasionally a fish jumps, like a wildflower
in an ornamental spray of spray;
this cartoon by Raphael for a tapestry for a Pope:
it does look like heaven.
But a skeletal lighthouse standing there
in black and white clerical dress,
who lives on his nerves, thinks he knows better.
He thinks that hell rages below his iron feet,
that that is why the shallow water is so warm,
and he knows that heaven is not like this.
Heaven is not like flying or swimming,
but has something to do with blackness and a strong glare
and when it gets dark he will remember something
strongly worded to say on the subject.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Neil Gaiman & charity

As the son of a minister, I've been around the church all my life. My parents are also missionaries, my father regularly travelling to Eastern Europe long before the iron curtain fell. I've accompanied them on some of these trips, so have a feeling for what it can be like.

Whenever someone was taken on a mission trip for the first time, there would be an "Oh" moment - a spark of realisation about how others in the world live/survive. We may hear the stories and see the news and think we have understood the suffering that others go through, but (generally) it is only when we see first hand that it really hits home. That close encounter usually has quite the impact.

I would heartily recommend you go help a charity or mission organisation overseas if you get the opportunity - just once. To truly understand what other humans go through in countries less fortunate than ours (not that we don't have our own problems, of course), which can be properly understood through a first hand experience. Helping those people in whatever way you can, no matter how small.

This transition from shock to 'let's do something' has recently been experienced and captured by Neil Gaiman, who has released a video in support of UNHCR. Watch it, find a charity or mission to support (UNHCR or not - there are many to choose from, both locally and internationally) & consider helping in a more practical way. Money is obviously very important in keeping the wheels of charity turning, but so is the physical involvement of its supporters.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Other views

With only a week having passed since the Manchester Gothic Festival there have been a few other tweets and blogs written about the Steampunk afternoon. I thought I'd share those I have found:

Via Claire Nally: Why the #Steampunk genre isn't losing steam via @HuffPostBooks #EL0662

Via Humanity Hallows: We continue our coverage of #HIPGothic #Manchester with 'What is This Thing Called Steampunk?' @mmu_hssr @gothicmmu

Via The Blogging Goth: #Manchester #Gothic Festival 2014 - Day Two #blog #HIPGothic via @wordpressdotcom @gothicmmu

Via Catherine Spooner: What Is This Thing Called Steampunk? From the fabulous people @gothicmmu

Also, it was Halloween a few days ago. Online friend and blogger Carla Valentine, curator of Barts Pathology Museum in London, was on the Alan Titchmarsh Show on ITV (available to watch until the end of November) talking about the real-life medical origins of some of the monster legends. Carla has written this up into a very interesting blog, so I thought I'd share that with you. Did you know that Catholic doctrine classed lepers as undead...? I didn't. Read up for loads more interesting facts.

Monday, 27 October 2014

God in the Steam

This week has been quite special (and busy), with the arrival of the 2014 Gothic Festival to Mancunian shores. The Steampunk art exhibition I was part of - Aerial Burglars of Cottonopolis, by the Corpse Collective - was very well received and seen by around 150 people during it's 3 day pop-up. The photo at the bottom of this post shows a lovely nod in our direction by the Manchester Evening News :)

For SUB, the main event was Friday afternoon's Steampunk tour of the Power Hall, afternoon tea and panel discussions. There were some very interesting discussions and demonstrations on fabricating Steampunk artefacts, the Victorian martial art of Bartitsu (used by Sherlock Holmes & the Suffragettes! and no, that's not the name of a rock band... yet) and Steampunk in graphic novels and films.

Claire and I were privileged to be able to present the idea of finding God in Steampunk, which was well received. There were also some excellent questions at the end, in which we were able to confirm that this is not a suggestion to return to Victorian theological thinking and values. Rather, a way of taking inspiration from those times and using that period and this gothic culture to enhance contemporary theological thinking and experience. Particularly to encourage thinking around possible better future worlds, using Steampunk creativity as good stewards of this earth (recycling, up cycling and so on) & to imagine the Steampunk tendency to fix the broken and invent the new being used in the realm of social justice.

I've added this to the Past Events page, where you can find a link to the presentation we used. There were some wonderful people at the event and contact details have been exchanged, so I look forward to seeing where this road takes us in the future. There is so much more to explore in the realm of Steampunk Spirituality and looking through a similar lens more widely at the Gothic - looking through a theological lens darkly!

Monday, 20 October 2014

Steampunk music

Clockwork Quartet ... even though there's quite a lot of them in this picture!
I've been tracking down Steampunk music recently. What I've found on the internet is interesting, in so far as there are bands being listed as Steampunk that I wasn't expecting and the soundscape isn't quite as rigid as I thought it would be.

So, for example, The Dresden Dolls, Emilie Autumn and Jill Tracy appeared on Steampunk lists. I don't think any of those groups would say they are Steampunk, but their music obviously sounds right for the subculture. And how is that achieved? Well, that's difficult to pin down.

It seems to me that there is a clear strand of Victorian/Edwardian inspired music, stretching into the 1940s - so a lot of vaudeville and cabaret sounds, accompanied by sound effects from the early 20th century, such as broken toys, circus noises, etc. This is exemplified by the likes of Abney Park and The Dresden Dolls. There's also a range of atmospheric and ethereal sound featuring in this Steampunk collective, such as from Ethereal Mists and Jill Tracy.

Then there are some quite sonically different bands being thrown into the mix. This can be through lyrical content with clear Steampunk themes, such as 'hip hop' (or rather, 'chap hop') from the likes of Professor Elemental and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer, who write songs about tea and daring adventures and the British aristocracy inventing mad things. But also some outliers that I've not expected, like black metal band Eibon La Furies (who are apparently inspired by Victorian themes) and Emilie Autumn (dubbed Victoriandustrial)...

It's quite interesting to see this wide collection of disparate bands being brought together by enthusiasts under a single banner. It's also nice for a genre of music to be so sonically diverse. May be that represents the diversity of the characters to be found within the subculture. Some of the bands I'm sure would be surprised to be included, but others (like Steam Powered Giraffe) are clearly targeted at that subculture. Just google Steampunk Music and search throughout the resulting lists - I hope you find something new and interesting and if so, let us know in the comments!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Antichrist (2009) - review

This weekend Yvonne and I finally got round to watching the controversial Lars Von Triers film Antichrist (2009). We love movies and have seen a couple of Lars films before, so knew the kind of experience we were letting ourselves in for. He's not our favourite director, but we appreciate some elements of his style, especially (quite importantly for film) the visuals and the sound.

I guess Yvonne and I might be watching his films in the wrong order, as this is apparently the first in Lars' Depression Trilogy - we've already seen the second, Melancholia (2011), which is also visually and sonically great and a bit weird, but not seen the final instalment yet, Nymphomaniac (2013).

Antichrist had a most beautiful and heart-wrenching opening scene that gives us the premise. The locations used were simple, effective and beautiful especially in slow-motion. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg did a great job too - past interviews with them have highlighted just how gruelling the shoot was, as it's an emotionally extreme film. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Charlotte won Best Actress at Cannes for her performance.

Antichrist has several candid and extreme moments of sex and/or violence that make the film tough to watch in places. But it's in context and makes sense - just don't watch the film at all if you are not comfortable with those kind of scenes.

Aside from the subjects of pain, grief and despair (the three beggars central to the film), there are interesting theological references to explore. These include the darker roles of physical nature (the characters travel to 'Eden', but then refer to the nature that surrounds them as Satan's Church) and human nature (the actions of the characters both historically and in the present, consciously and subconsciously). The Pete Rollins (writer, philosopher & challenger of traditional theology) review of the film explores this a little more and is worth a read.

If you've seen the film, let us know your views in the comments.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Manchester's Autumn Festivals - Gothic

I couldn't complete a round up of this season's festivals without visiting the Gothic Manchester Festival. The youngest of the festivals in this blog collection, it opened last year with a bang. This year presents a more concentrated affair, spread over a long weekend rather than all week. But with Manchester Metropolitan University putting on a wide array of wonderful gothic-themed activity all year round (google their HiP programme), this is no bad thing. Keep up the energy and creativity MMU!

Every good festival should have a fringe & this year see's the return of the Corpse Collective with a pop-up art exhibition inspired by the Steampunk theme of the festival (a few SUB members, including myself, have work in this, so would be great to see you sometime Wed night, Thurs afternoon/night or Fri night at Sacred Trinity to guide you through it). While not an official opener, it's preview/launch night on Wednesday Oct 22nd will be the first event you can go to. Support this group of local artists as they explore different facets of Victorian Mancunian Steampunk and get you in the mood for the festival proper.

Thursday Oct 23rd eases you in with evening events at Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation, Friday Oct 24th is jam-packed. Twisted Tales at Deansgate Waterstones opens Friday with lunchtime discussions and readings about horror literature and the politics of austerity. Run from there to MOSI for an afternoon of Steampunk wonder, including afternoon tea, a guided tour, talks and demonstrations (Claire and myself will be on the panel for this, so come along and support us). Run from there to Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation for an event about gothic landscapes. Then come back to Sacred Trinity  from 9pm to mull it all over at festival-endorsed club night ARA (run by SUB regular Kolyn and where you'll find me guest DJing this month as well). Come in your Victorian / Steampunk finery for this VictoriARA theme night, see the Corpse Collective exhibition, chat to friends new and old about the festival and dance your New Rocks off!

Saturday brings a full day at Ian Anthony Burgess Foundation on the subject of Gothic Spaces and Places, with panels throughout the day and a wine reception to conclude. Finally, Sunday rounds off a very full festival with a series of tours (Gothic Manchester, John Rylands, then Monstrous Manchester) throughout the day. In the middle of this is the ever-wonderful Rosie Garland (aka Rosie Lugosi) regaling us with tales from her life and her books in the terribly gothic John Rylands Library. If that weren't enough happiness to make a goth explode, there will also be a fabulous cake from the Conjurer's Kitchen! The festival concludes with a jolly evening of ghoulish fun at Fab Cafe with a Vampire Pub Quiz and entertainment all night long - fancy dress encouraged!

Monday, 29 September 2014

Manchester's Autumn Festivals - GrimmFest

This is coming up pretty soon, so you need to be quick to get to it. However, continuing the festival roundup is Grimm Up North's GrimmFest. This is all about horror and sci-fi movies, shorts, Q&A, etc.

Classics are kicking off the season with A Nightmare on Elm Street (30th Sept), including the chance to win a signed box set. There's an amazing double-bill planned midway through (3rd Oct) - Goblin playing along to Suspiria and Dario Argento's cut of George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead (which includes more Goblin music!). Goblin will be signing in between those films.

It wouldn't be a horror festival without some silly-titled films, so laugh along with Zombeavers (4 Oct) where you'll all be dammed! and Wolfcop (5 Oct), described as Dirty Harry...only hairier.

They've saved some of the best until last (5 Oct), with new release Life After Beth and personal recommendation Dead Snow 2 - I've seen the first film and not a lot beats nazi zombies...except bigger, gorier and funnier nazi zombies!

Let us know in the comments what films you make it along to and what you thought.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Manchester's Autumn Festivals - Science

Continuing last week's theme, here's a few things to highlight from the Manchester Science Festival this year.

First in the lineup is 'The Serpent's Promise: the Bible retold as science' (Oct 23, Blackwell's Bookshop), in which geneticist Steve Jones discusses his book (a re-write of the bible in the light of science) and highlights things the bible got right and the things it didn't.

'The Archaeology of a Revolution' (Oct 24, meet outside the Angel Health Centre) takes you on a guided tour of Manchester's industrial heritage along Chapel Street, which is also where you'll find Sacred Trinity, the home of SUB and ARA.

On the same afternoon, Claire McDermott and I will be part of the Manchester Gothic Festival cross-over event, 'What is this thing called Steampunk?' (Oct 24, MOSI). Join us in the Power Hall for a panel discussion on all sorts of elements of Steampunk. Claire and I will be presenting God in the Steam, a look into the possibilities of Steampunk to enhance spiritual life.

Every good goth loves bats, right? The 'Urban Naturalist: Bats' event (Oct 25, Manchester Museum) will help you gen up on this flying mammal and guide you through the 18 species of UK bat and many more interesting things.

For the artistically inclined, there's an interesting 'Dress of Glass and Flame' (27 Oct, Manchester Art Gallery) on display, which as the name suggests is an artwork of alchemical wonder that presents a glass dress holding a living flame.

For those interested by the subject matter of the SUB service on the afterlife, 'Ancient Egyptian Mummies and Modern Science' (Oct 30, John Rylands Library) might provide some interest as Professor Rosalie David talks about her life and work as an Egyptologist.

Finally, for those who like a bit of sci-fi, MOSI will host a few double-bills presented by Film Hub North West Central and Grimm Up North as part of the BFI 'Days of Fear and Wonder' season:
Brazil & 12 Monkeys (Oct 29)
Total Recall & Starship Troopers (Oct 30)
Alien & Prometheus (Oct 31)

Let us know in the comments what you're looking forward to and give us an update on any you manage to make it to.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Manchester's Autumn Festivals - Literature

Manchester is a wonderful city. There's usually a lot of things going on in and around it. As autumn starts to reveal her colours and its populous has returned from holidays and is settling back into working/learning routines, the city hosts a few big festivals to keep us entertained.

Manchester Literature Festival (6 Oct - 13 Nov) kicks off with Danish Crime and an event with Arne Dahl (Oct 6) followed by a couple of talks about graphic novels (Oct 7). On Oct 8, Manchester Salon Presents 'North & South' at Elizabeth Gaskell's House (local Industrial Revolution era ghost story writer)! Oct 9th brings a personal recommendation of some local writers I know - David Gaffney being joined by Anneliese Mackintosh and Socrates Adams. Oct 10 has a talk on Underground Crime. Oct 11 showcases some more friends - In the Dark (Nija Dalal-Small and others trying to change how we think about radio) and Bad Language (currently hosted by fellow SUB member Fat Roland). A bit more insight comes from Gaskell's Manchester Walking Tour on Oct 15 and the festival just keeps going.

This is just a few of the darker/gothic items from the listing to draw your attention - I encourage you to have a look through and see what you can catch. Let us know in the comments what you see and what you thought of it :)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Delving into the past

Just a short blog entry this week to say that I've now linked to the write up of the Blood service from within the Past Events page. I'll keep adding write ups over the next few weeks and months, as time allows. Check on twitter for future updates on that.

Also, I'm approaching other bloggers for content, so look out for some new guests blogs coming up soon :)

Monday, 1 September 2014

What do we do in gatherings?

At this year's Greenbelt, we were asked for a copy of the service so that people who experienced it on site could take it home to explore further with their home churches and/or to think about in more detail personally. We're really happy to share what we come up with and are encouraged that you want to spend time on that journey with us.

I've pondered the best way to do this and will provide links on the 'Past Events' page of the blog. Each link with take you to a document that gives details and/or script of what that topic covered. Let me know if there's anything else you would like.

We've been plotting a new gathering for quite some time now, but summer preparations, vacations and house moves delayed us a little. We're just trying to sort out a (really fantastic) location to hold this next gathering, themed on pilgrimage. More details when we know them, but we'd love to see you. If you're coming from outside of Manchester, let us know and we can assist you and try to make your journey smoother :)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Greenbelt Experience

Science and Faith argue about certainty and uncertainty

Thank you to everyone who came and supported us at Greenbelt this year. We had a wonderful weekend and the weather held up to allow us to conduct 6 services over 2 days without being rained on!

Just before the festival started, Boughton House informed Greenbelt that the trees in part of the site had just been discovered to be diseased and that it was no longer safe to use that section. This caused quite a bit of pain for the organisers, who did a great job of re-homing everyone. This affected us too, so on Friday we were scouting for a new path to walk our service along.

We started by meeting just outside the Kindred Cafe, where Treygard offered waiting walkers a snifter of peppermint tea and some lovely biscuits (thank you Effie). After an introduction, The Guide took everyone over a small rise to a hidden dell and the first 'station', Brokenness. Then on over a bridge to a pair of trees playing home to Science and Faith (pictured arguing above). Just a little further up the path and Apollyon walked out to greet and bring doom, before the group were led back down to the bridge for some parting words.

At the start of the journey we had given everyone bags (with a SUB logo on, naturally) to carry their burdens in. We had rainbow pebbles of many sizes, to represent burdens, and asked people to choose some to accompany their walk. At each station, we presented a new challenge and an opportunity to pick up new burdens, put down burdens now relieved or help other by carrying burdens for them. The service ending with all the burdens being left behind and the participants travelling lighter into the remainder of their festival experience.

We had 70-80 people share the service with us, which was great. Some puzzled faces, some unsure of whether it was supposed to be funny or serious (a bit of both actually, so that's probably a good response!) and most took something positive away from it.

Thank you to those who requested a copy of the service, to either re-enact back at their homes with friends and fellow church-goers or just to study further. We will add the script to the website shortly.

We hope you have a wonderful year and here's hoping we get to come back to Greenbelt next year to bring you another unique worship service (or something else...). In the meantime, we provide weekly content on this blog and will be holding gatherings in the Manchester area that will be announced on this blog and on twitter @sub_kulture.

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Greenbelt is coming

The Quest

SUB have been privileged to host worship services at the past few Greenbelt festivals and this year is no different in that respect. However, it is different in almost every other respect. Moving from Cheltenham Racecourse to Boughton House, near Kettering, has changed things somewhat.

As such, we will be holding a shorter service than usual (30 minutes rather than 1 hour) and repeating it several times rather than running it once. This will allow us to keep the service intimate, with a maximum capacity of 20, while still allowing many people to join us over the course of the weekend. It even allows for some to experience the service more than once if they wish.

Another change for us is to run the service in the great outdoors rather than using an indoor venue. So no big sound and visuals like usual and this time we will take the group on a (short) walk through the service. It will be really interesting to try out - bring your umbrella in case it rains!

So we look forward very much to meeting those of you we already know as well as making new friends. We continue to be experimental in the kind of service we offer the festival goers at Greenbelt and are excited to experience a service in the heart of nature.

The service will start at the Kindred Cafe
(just near the camping ground, the Roots stage and Star Lake)

it runs on
Saturday August 23 at 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm

and also on
Sunday August 24 at 7pm, 7.30pm and 8pm

Monday, 11 August 2014

More Vikings!

Near the end of my Danish holiday, I visited a small harbour called Hundested where there was a sand sculpture festival. I have to say, the quality of craftsmanship (is that the right word?) and artistry was really high. There were a few Brit's in amongst the contributing artists, which made me proud :)

The theme of the festival was Vikings and Norse mythology, so following on from last week's blog, this was a great chance to have a refresher in the 'old religion'. And again it brought home to me the richness of those stories and some interesting similarities. In particular the creation story, which feels very familiar...

Ask & Embla are the first human couple. The story goes that Odin, Vile and Ve, while walking along the beach, found two trees. Of these, they created the first two humans. Odin gave them breath, Vile gave them sense and Ve gave speech, hearing and sight. They gave them clothes and names. The man was called Ask and the woman Embla. All humans originate from them. The culture is framed by the Midgard Serpent, which holds the world together by biting it's own tail.

Below are some more images from the festival.

Surt, the fire giant, who destroys the world during Ragnarok (apocalypse)

Freya, goddess of love, sexuality and fertility (amongst other, darker things), on a cloud of hearts

Three Valkyries, depicted as clouds, trying to capture a viking ship

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Reconstructed Viking longship, the Sea Stallion

I'm on holiday in Denmark at the moment, so naturally thoughts turn to the Vikings (their 'age' being late 8th to late 11th centuries). Before coming here, I enjoyed watching season 1 of the Amazon exclusive Vikings drama, which uses the story to explore facets of those communities and that culture. Over the last year or so I've also read my way through the Northlanders comic series by Brian Wood (7 novels in total, all highly recommended). Frustratingly, the longest Viking ship discovered so far, the Roskilde 6 (37m), is on a tour having just been to the British Museum, so I won't get to see it!

That said, visiting the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde has been very interesting to see - the quality of the old ships and imagine the bravery of their men and women to explore the seas, ranging as far as they did (North Africa and Central Asia, not just around Europe). The cross-culture pollination this sea-faring, raiding and trading brought is also intriguing; their rich pantheistic belief system slowly changing into the Christianity of those they subdued and enslaved. Misconceptions of the last few centuries have twisted the Viking legacy (e.g. they didn't wear horned helmets in battle), but there seems to be a slow correction underway, as historians reveal more based on archaeological findings.

Heavy metal bands have loved to explore the mythology and history of this age and rediscover the old gods - bands such as Manowar, Bathory, Enslaved, Ensiferum, Amon Amarth and many more. Some of these groups justify a shift of focus away from traditional heavy metal satanic themes as not wanting to use any form of Christian construct, positive or negative. Others, just want to rediscover the old legends and stories. Viking metal tends to have harsh black metal roots, softened with folk influences.

It's an interesting time to see more revealed of Viking culture, their craftwork and hear more of their sagas.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Ode to the beard

By Yvonne M Carson

Matt : I need to write a blog for tomorrow.
Yvonne : I’ll write you a blog, on beards.
Matt : It doesn’t have to be long.
Yvonne : Unlike a beard! Boom boom!

So, I have been pondering the subject of beards for some time - you may picture me stroking my chin as if stroking an imaginary beard of my own - since they seem to be appearing all over the place. That is, they are appearing on the faces of all kinds of people, usually male!

I have issues with beards and identity. When I was 8, my family moved overseas. At the same time my Dad - who had always been clean-shaven and known as ‘Stuart’ - suddenly morphed into ‘Jim’ and grew facial hair. Even my mother gave in and started calling him Jim. Having left the armed forces after 22 years, Dad was finally permitted to let loose with the whiskers in his new job as a civilian.

These days, many chaps see beards as a fashion statement and they sport them like a new pair of trainers or a new hair cut. But through out history and across cultures beards have been much more important as identifiers, for tribal belonging or religious affiliation.

I guess nomadic tribes travelling across deserts have little time or resources to be able to remain beardless, but regardless of practicalities beards have becomes very much an identifying characteristic of orthodox Jewish communities and many Muslim ones too. Then there are sikh gurus, hindu sadhus and many others...

Beards also symbolise rite of passage: a young lad passes through puberty and find his first ‘bum fluff’ on the chin or a muslim man dyes his beard with henna to show he has completed the Hajj (a journey to the city of Mecca).

When I got married, Matt had super short hair and was clean-shaven. Over the last 16 years, he has had: long hair, then cut it all off for charity - the forlorn plait is in a box at home ;( - a goatee, then no beard at all. These days he is sporting a much fuller beard, in what I call an SOA styleee (Sons Of Anarchy - and no, I am not at all obsessed with this TV series), which my sister insists stands for ‘Sad Old Ass’. This from the fourty-something woman who dyes her hair a different colour each Christmas - pot, kettle, black.

It has been pointed out to me that beards are great for storage (crumbs for later; pens; pets).

They are good for insulation - maybe another reason so may nomadic tribes have adopted them, as desert temperatures plummet after dark.

They can be hairy, scary, furry, blurry, fluffy, salt & peppery, but mainly - they are just cool.

PS: Does this mean we females can stop shaving our legs etc now? Maybe that’s a whole other blog...

Monday, 21 July 2014

Necropolis space

In the UK, there are around 150,000 people each year requiring burial. By 2020, a quarter of local councils will have run out of room in their graveyards and will not be able to bury the dead. In London, six boroughs have already stopped permitting new burials. Some grieving families are being charged up to 3 times more to have their loved ones buried in other councils' graveyards. And some graveyards are only allowing new burials into existing graves i.e. for families who already have plots with spare space.

And this is with Britain having one of the highest cremation rates in the world (around 70%). There are other non-burial alternatives to cremation available, such as Cryomation (freeze someone and then vibrate the body until it shatters into dust), Resomation (dissolve a body in a heated alkaline solution) or making cremation a (potentially) more attractive option by taking the remains one step further and turning them into a diamond, using them in paint to have a painting made with them, or repurposing them as a vinyl record, a teapot or some other practical household item! Yet there needs to remain respect for religious strictures, such as in Islam and Judaism where cremation is not allowed and each grave can only hold 1 body.

What are the options?
- Make more graveyards by repurposing other spaces, like allotments or playgrounds
- Reuse abandoned graveyards (requires Ministry of Justice approval), which needs the old caskets to be dug up, the grave dug even deeper, and the caskets reburied, allowing newer internments on top
- Leave your body to science
- Introduce a reuse timeframe. In Germany, graves are only left for 30 years before being reused (the previous inhabitants being dug up and their remains cremated). In Britain, various governments have been petitioned to introduce a 100-year reuse timeframe, but it isn't seen as an important enough issue to make it onto the agenda
- Start burying up, rather than down. Venice has it's own dedicated cemetery island, where there are rows of tombs resembling chests of drawers

It's getting to be a serious problem for those wanting a burial. Let us know in the comments what you want to happen.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Greenbelt 2014

We're very happy to announce that SUB will be running services at the Greenbelt festival again this August. Having moved from Cheltenham Racecourse, this is its first year at Boughton House - the site is very beautiful, so we're looking forward to the festival changes this year.

The theme of this Greenbelt is Travelling Light and SUB are responding to that with a service called The Quest. With the festival having a much lighter technical footprint this year, SUB are changing their service style as well. For the first time we will be presenting an outdoor walking service - no VJing, no DJing! We're not talking about hikes either, just a small meander through a service that takes you from point to point. It will also be a shorter service than usual, so we can run it a few times. That allows us to take smaller groups through the service and give people more flexibility over when they join us. We don't want to give too much away, but it's shaping up nicely and we look forward to seeing you there.

Monday, 7 July 2014

First edition

I love reading and one of my dreams is to be able to afford to build a small library of first editions. The idea of a first editions library just appeals so much - not to have just any old copy of a book, but to have the very first printing of it - the format it was originally released upon the world. It's a total luxury, but for someone total in love with a particular author/genre it must be wonderful.

In my library, I would probably have the following (not in any particular order, although the top 3 probably really are my top 3!):

Dracula by Bram Stoker - first released in 1897 - value around £4,000
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - first released in 1818 - value around £50-75,000
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allen Poe (his first collection) - first released in 1840 - value around £25,000
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov - first released in 1952 - value around £1,250
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll - first released in 1866 - value around £7,500
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick - first released in 1968 - value around £3,000
Complete set of Bond novels and stories by Ian Fleming - first released from 1953 to 1966 - value around £17,500
The Pooh Books by A A Milne - first released in 1924 - value around £3,750
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell - first released in 1949 - value around £1,500
The Hobbit by J R R Tolkein - first released in 1937 - value around £7,500
The War of the Worlds by H G Wells - first released in 1898 - value around £2,750

Feel free to while away a few minutes in the rare books section and dream up your own library - let us know in the comments...

Monday, 30 June 2014

Frankenstein Reimagined

A Bernie Wrightson illustration for Frankenstein

There's obviously lots of versions of Frankenstein made for screen and our iconic imagery of the monster comes from those, especially the early product of Universal Pictures - Boris Karloff in particular, but perpetuated by the likes of Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster.

I wanted to draw your attention to an alternative presented by master comic artist Bernie Wrightson. I've only come across his work in the last few years, but Bernie has been drawing since the 60s and is notable for contributions to the House of Mystery and House of Secrets comic lines. Possibly more significantly, Bernie is a co-creator of The Swamp Thing, along with writer Len Wein.

However, what I want to highlight is his illustrated copy of Mary Shelley's work Frankenstein. This was the original novel reprinted with 50 of Bernie's illustrations, which are inspired by the original text rather than any modern re-imagining by film studios. Bernie drew these in his spare time over the course of 7 years, a labour of love that came to fruition in 1983. The results are striking.

Returning to his love of the monster in 2012, he teamed up with horror writer Steve Niles (prolific in his output, but probably most known for vampire series 30 Days of Night) to produce a sequel to Mary's story in the format of a comic. The release of these issues is unbearably slow, but each is such a treasure. In the 2 years since the series started, there have only been 3 issues, but I encourage you to track them down if you can.

A double-page spread from Steve Niles & Bernie Wrightson for Frankenstein: Alive Alive!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Frankenstein started it

I have the pleasure of knowing a few writers and it's very interesting seeing them explore their craft, explore each other's craft, support each other and strive to be better writers. One such friend, Dan Carpenter, writes a blog that he uses to study individual components of writing and writing influences (amongst other things). He once wrote about the one book that inspired him the most to be a writer, Iain Bank's The Wasp Factory. He then asked fellow writers to blog about theirs and form a blog trail. Although all interesting, the one that stood out for me was David Hartley, with his obsession (probably too strong a word) with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Have a read and be inspired by their love for these works.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Sophie Lancaster Foundation

On 24th August 2007 Sophie Lancaster was murdered for being a goth. Since then her mum, Sylvia, has been on a crusade to "Stamp Out Prejudice, Hatred and Intolerance Everywhere".

And it's working. A large number of people are now aware of Sophie and know of the Foundation, supporting it by organising events to raise money, wearing a SOPHIE wristband, or just donating a few pound.

These funds are used for educational purposes (in schools, but also in police forces), to promote tolerance and to push for parliamentary change with regard to hate crime (to include 'alternative subcultures' or to reference 'lifestyle and dress code' as defining factors). As a result, Greater Manchester Police have been logging hate crime against alternative subcultures since April 2013.

Sylvia has just been awarded an OBE for services to community cohesion.

You can find out how to support at

Monday, 9 June 2014

Punk Spirituality (Part 3)

Malcolm McLaren's Cash From Chaos

by Kolyn Amor

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 1
A definition of chaos (theory): “When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” Edward Lorenz
Sounds a bit ‘punk’…
What’s ‘punk’? 
A dictionary definition:

“Something or someone worthless or unimportant
a young ruffian; hoodlum
an inexperienced youth
a young male partner of a homosexual
an apprentice, especially in the building trades
a boy (prison slang).”

Take your pick!

Meanwhile, a long time ago, in a city far, far away…

“On 6th November 1975, in support of a pub rock group called ‘Bazooka Joe’, ‘The Sex Pistols’ performed several cover songs at St Martin’s College, London. According to observers, they were unexceptional musically aside from being extremely loud. Before the Pistols could play the few original songs they had written to date, Bazooka Joe pulled the plugs as they saw their gear being trashed. A brief physical altercation between members of the two bands took place on stage.
Steve Jones declared, ‘Actually we're not into music. We're into chaos’ (February 1976)”.
By the way, the bassist in ‘Bazooka Joe’ was some guy called Stuart Goddard… Ring any bells?
No? Well, he went on to change his name to Adam (his first wife changed hers to Eve) Ant. 

More of him later...

Meanwhile, something’s started in the true capital of chaos with the 24 hour party people…
“On June 4th 1976, ‘The Sex Pistols’ played Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall to a small room of people. It was one of their first gigs outside London” (the lesser pre made mall - not that I’m a biased, bitter Northerner!) “Like the saying about the first Velvet Underground LP, nearly everyone in the audience that night went on to have a cultural impact on Britain (and beyond).
“A band emerged. The guy who took centre stage took the mike, took your mind. A swagger to make John Wayne look a pussy.” (I know that feeling having had a certain piece of body modification recently!) “A sneer so dismissive of everyone and everything, of God and civilisation in just one pair of twisted lips.” Anger is an energy after all and you always hurt the ones you love…
“That place was real life; that place was the clearing in the undergrowth where meaning and elucidation live…” 
“And God said: ‘Let there be light’ and there was light.” 
Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 3

God moves in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform... The Ultimate Performer?

“But they knew nothing - they just knew their world would never be the same again. A past obliterated and No Future.”
Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and The End (possibly the best track by ‘The Doors’):
“This is the end
Beautiful friend
This is the end
My only friend, the end”

(Don’t forget The Beginning as well).

“There to greet us was Malcolm McLaren, dressed head to toe in black leather – leather jacket, leather trousers and leather boots – with a shock of bright-orange hair, a manic grin and the air of a circus ringmaster; though there was hardly anyone else around… Look at the photographs of the gig and you can see that everybody in the audience was dressed the same way, like a Top of the Pops audience. There were no punks yet. So Malcolm – he looked like an alien to us…”
Ever felt stranger than feeling like a stranger in a familiar place? I suspect Jesus felt a bit ‘E.T.’ in that way - wanting to just phone home, even though He could’ve clicked His long fingers at any point, but He’s too loved up.
“We just stood there, stock still… Absolutely, utterly, gobsmacked.”
The day I met God I got carried away.
“Back on Manchester’s inscrutable streets I find a tatty leaflet stuck on a Peter Street lamppost telling me that the Sex Pistols will play the Lesser Free Trade Hall. They are not the saviours of culture, but the destruction of it – which suits me quite perfectly…”
Chaos. Anger. Destruction.
Flipside/B-side (you used to be able to do that with a long lost article called ‘a record’):
Creation. Love. Order.
I promised to return to Adam - the Ant rather than the first man, but maybe there’s a connection somewhere. You decide.
He wrote a song - in an angry punky way. You might find it challenging. You might find it blasphemous. You might find it liberating.

That sounds a bit like my faith…

“Day I met god
 I got so carried away
 Day I met god
 I got so carried away
 Not with the vision
 But the streaks in his hair
 Not with religion
 But the size of his knob

 The day I met god
 The day I met god
 It was pissing with rain
 And we went

 Day I met god
 I got so carried away
 Day I met god
 I got so carried away
 Not with the vision
 But the streaks in his hair
 Not with the vicars
 Or the nuns or the priests

 The day I met god
 The day I met god, the day I met the big boy
 It was pissing with rain
 And we went

 And the herald angels sang
 Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh
 Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh....

 We were coming back in the van
 From Milan
 And I saw God
 Right there.”

Cash from chaos? Write your own cheque!

(But sign it: ‘God’)

Monday, 2 June 2014

Punk Spirituality (Part 2)

I was discussing this subject with a friend last week, who raised some interesting points. Punk isn't necessarily good quality, which is not the same as saying it's bad - Sex Pistols were not virtuoso musicians, but still produced a great sound. The lo-fi nature of punk is encouraging insofar as it means the focus of punk spirituality can be on content and drive, not necessarily on presentation. For me personally, if I want to do something I usually want to do it to the best of my ability, but that takes time and effort and I don't always have the necessary resources (physical and/or mental) - that may mean I don't do something, because I don't feel I can do it well enough.

May be I should be influenced by punk a bit more and accept that a lower level of quality is sometimes a good thing. A few of my friends thrive on the energy of being late and delivering at the last minute - the pressure of that situation can release creativity and remove mental blockers. It can also mean there's not enough time to get hold of the ideal set of resources, which forces compromise - to look at it another way, this forces even more creativity to come up with alternative solutions, which as a result may be better than what was first considered. So may be lo-fi output is ok...but for me the end result still has to be good somehow, otherwise it's all a bit rubbish.

Also, punk is chaotic, which is another source of its energy. When thinking about applying this to worship, it seemed like punk worship should contradict a formal, linear, led worship. It should present worship in a way that is unpredictable, unplanned...led by the spirit, not by ourselves. In this respect, one could say the Quakers are punk, which is not something I thought I'd ever consider. They wait in silence until someone is led by the spirit to say/sing/do something. This means every service 'should' be different, random, unpredictable.

Another approach is to curate worship, something Jonny Baker wrote a book about. This is to set up a range of worship points and allow people to engage with those in their own way. This method allows everyone to make their own worship trail, with each person therefore worshipping in a different way all at the same time.

Finally, a combination of these elements that Sanctus 1 has tried successfully a number of times in the past, is a DIY service. This is where a number of props are brought together and the first 2/3 of the service is spent by the congregation making the service. Split into manageable sizes, each group can focus on a particular service element. The last 1/3 of the service is where those elements are brought back together and played out as the formal worship.

What do you think - are these ways of worshipping that fit with a punk aesthetic and logic? What other ways of worshipping might punk inspire in us? Leave a comment below...

Monday, 26 May 2014

Punk Spirituality (Part 1)

Punk legend Henry Rollins of Black Flag and Rollins Band

Very recently I've started thinking about creative energy and the emotional energy that often fuels creativity. In particular, how Punk blew the world away with its explosive, aggressive energy. John Lydon's lyric, from Public Image Limited's 'Rise', that "Anger is an energy" continues to hold meaning and relevance through the decades and holds resonance for me at the moment. In past Greenbelt services, ARA has drawn upon Punk source material as part of worship, notably with Sham 69 "If the kids are united" (...then we'll never be divided) and X-Ray Spex "Oh bondage, up yours!"

There's a tension between traditional punk ideologies and the Christian faith that I think is fascinating. On the one hand, Jesus seems to embody punk ethos by way of being anti-establishment, non-conformist, championing equality. But it is (arguably) rare that he embodies other punk ideals, such as aggression and individualism. The punk ideal of being (seemingly) anti-everything led it to a defining culture of DIY - recycle clothing to demonstrate anti-consumerism, make your own records to be anti-establishment, etc.

I'm interested to explore this further and see where it leads. Just how much of a punk was Jesus? How many punk ideals can comfortably sit alongside the Christian faith? Feel free to comment below with your thoughts on the subject.

Monday, 19 May 2014

World Goth Day

These days, there's a day for everything. Well, almost. There's an International Day of Heavy Metal (December 12th), but of greater relevance right now is a World Goth Day! On May 22nd every year, Goths the world over will celebrate their gothishness and be even more goth if they can manage it. gives you the very short history and encourages everyone to be a little more goth this Thursday. To wear a little bit more black. To listen to (and request radio stations to play) some good 'ol classics from the likes of Bauhaus and Siouxsie. I'll be wearing my skull cufflinks as a nod to the corp-goth look and using my Ozzy Osbourne wobbly-head pen (not goth, but close enough!).

Here in Manchester you can pop along to ARA on Friday for a slightly belated celebration, where you are free to properly get your goth on. Splash out with some outrageously beautiful and wild attire. Two-step to the beat in a 17th century church, amidst a swirl of fog and pulsing club lights.

Tell us in the comments what you'll be doing for World Goth Day.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Casual insults

Just a quick post this week. I was in the pub last night having dinner and on my way out a young guy walked in to ask for directions. He was dressed like a modern goth (a little like the image above, although in a red top, with a black over-the-shoulder bag and a pork pie hat). It was an ensemble that worked very well for him and he'd obviously spent time putting it together. The woman at the bar next to him immediately commented "Look, Michael Jackson just walked in" and started laughing.

To his credit the guy took it in his stride, ignored the comment (as most goths do in these situations), got his directions and left. Although I could understand the visual link (see image below), I was surprised that someone could so blatantly insult another person - for all his problems I think Jacko was an extremely talented person and pulled some interesting fashions out of the bag, but in this situation the woman was not giving a compliment. It was such a rude thing to do. For a lot of goths, this is just part of the territory and we get used to it. But we shouldn't have to.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Steampunk Fashion

A Steampunk group at a convention
Victorian base clothing, adventuring accessories, cogs, goggles, brown colours

I like collecting things and as such am an avid user of Pinterest for collating images of things I like and sharing those with whoever else out there is interested. Fashion is part of this and gets drilled down more specifically into gothic fashion and again into Steampunk fashion. Steampunk is something that has been around for a while now, but is only recently becoming trendy. I get frustrated by the volume of outfits that get tagged as Steampunk when they just aren't. So, here's a brief overview of what I think defines Steampunk fashion.

Regular readers of this blog will know that we've touched on Steampunk a few times, but if you're not familiar it is a subculture borne of the exploration of an alternative future society stemming from the Victorian age. Imagine Victorians with better technology, where dirigibles (airships like The Hindenberg) had been refined so they don't explode as much and thus filled the sky; where the power of steam and industry had been harnessed and progressed at a much quicker rate than in real history. Steampunk has the word Steam in it to represent the Victorian age. Other retro-futures have different names, such as the slightly later turn-of-the-century Dieselpunk.

Those wanting to dress as Steampunks should start with clothing that is Victorian in some way or nods to this era of dress. It can depart from Victoriana a bit, but not too much otherwise it slips into a different aesthetic. Brown (as a reflection of brass, used in the futuristic machinery of this period) is a favourite colour palate to work with, but any colours work and it's really nice seeing people experimenting.

From a Victorian style base, accessories are where Steampunk comes into its own. While not essential, a lot of the accessories of Steampunk stem from 'adventurer' characters. So utility belts and braces, invented weaponry, sturdy boots and so on are often part of the outfits created. There are a few overriding symbols of Steampunk that have risen to the surface, namely cogs and gears on EVERYTHING, goggles (usually with cogs and gears and/or brass, otherwise they can look like Cyberpunk googles) as a nod to the (early) birth of aviation and cups of tea.

Someone just wearing Victorian clothing isn't Steampunk. They're just Victorian. This can still be very gothic, but isn't Steampunk. There needs to be something that shows how their Victorian era has progressed beyond the bounds of history.

Just my opinion, but let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree.