Category Archives: Katie Melua

Is God on the Drums or in the Dance?

Durban September 2008 An intriguing song from Katie Melua’s latest album is “God on the drums, the Devil on the bass” written by Katie and her original producer, Mike Batt. The song as a whole has a Phantom of the Opera feel to it. That might just be me or perhaps it’s Mike Batt’s influence, since he co-wrote both.

I don’t know what Katie and Batt meant but it seems as if they are saying that life is a dance. With God on the drums and the Devil on the bass, we have to find our space somewhere between them. As we enter the dance floor we hear the music that’s been playing for a thousand years, without beginning and without end. Nothing is wrong or right, black or white, and those who hold to those extremes are just “trying to start a fight between God on the drums and the Devil on the base.”

Parts of the Old Testament might seem to suggest that sort of constant struggle among human beings to move away from the Devil’s side of the floor to God’s side, with the Devil’s drums seeming to have more pulling power. But the birth of a baby in a Bethlehem stable paints another picture entirely.

Sydney Carter’s song, “I am the Lord of the Dance” comes to mind and I think that, as long as we are on this earth, it’s the Devil who’s playing the music. God has abandoned the drums (if ever he was on them) and has joined us on the dance floor. He is humming a different tune in our ears, calling us to dance to a different rhythm. As we learn the steps and discover its beauty we can move more freely around the dance floor, engage with others, and introduce them to this new and liberating dance.


Filed under Katie Melua, Odds & Ends

Katie Melua: The Flood

Katie Melua I’m quietly celebrating Katie Melua’s birthday (16 September) by writing about some of the songs that I enjoy and that challenge me.
(See Katie Melua, “Spider’s web” and Happy Birthday Katie.)

I don’t pretend to understand all (or even most) of the lyrics on Katie Melua latest Album, The House, but “The Flood” really appeals to me. I also know nothing about Katie Melua’s faith. Although her background is Eastern Orthodox and Catholic her songs are not Christian songs. But if I could preach as eloquently as she sings, I (and the congregation) would be very happy.

Quite different from her earlier song, “Spider’s Web”, “The Flood” has a similar theme. The “How do I know which is right?” of the former becomes, “I am certain nothing’s certain” in the latter.

In “The Flood” she sings, “What we own becomes our prison”. In “Spider’s Web” she says that what we believe becomes our prison; we focus so much on our differences that we fail to see the colour of the music we could create together.

In “Spider’s Web” the emphasis is on right and wrong, and how cautious we should be in passing judgement. In “The Flood” Katie takes that a step forward:

Blame no one is to blame
As natural as the rain that falls
Here comes the flood again

When there is so much crime and corruption, there are plenty of people we can blame. When the markets crash and our savings are gone, it’s easy to point fingers. Sometimes the blame is warranted but it doesn’t restore our fortunes or deal with corruption. We can blame others; we can blame ourselves; we can blame our past and our circumstances but it doesn’t do anything for us. When the flood comes and we are clinging to a rock in the swirling waters, it makes no difference where the flood came from, or whose fault it is or what we might have lost. What are we going to do now? Katie suggests something radical: let go of the rock. We can become prisoners of our possessions and of our certainties but Katie says,

See the rock that you hold onto
Is it gonna save you?
When the earth begins to crumble
Why do you feel you have to
Hold on imagine if you let go….
Wash away the weight that pulls you down
Ride the waves that free you from your doubts

The imagery is stunning and far more eloquent than most of us manage for a Sunday service. Let go; let go of guilt and of blame, let go of plans and certainties, let go of possessions and power.

She goes on to say, don’t trust your eyes (it’s easy to believe them) or your mind (it’s not always listening);

Know with your heart that
You can leave your prison

Didn’t Jesus warn us against trusting only what we can see and touch? And faith goes far beyond the intellectual understanding of the mind.

Keep it up Katie. “God on the drums, the Devil on the bass” next.


Filed under Katie Melua, Odds & Ends

Katie Melua, “Spider’s web”

Durban, September 2008 I’m celebrating Katie Melua’s birthday (16 September) with a few posts reflecting on some of her songs.

My favourite Katie Melua song is on her Piece by Piece album.  It’s one she wrote herself called “Spider’s web”. In it she touches on a number of issues that create tension and conflict as we take up our entrenched positions. She writes about racism, bullies, and war and peace, but always she asks, “How do I know which is right”? Because, as she reminds us in the chorus,

… the line between
Wrong and right
Is the width of a thread
From a spider’s web
The piano keys
Are black and white
But they sound like a million colours in your mind

Christians tend to struggle with this idea. Aren’t things supposed to be clear-cut, right or wrong? Aren’t we supposed to be decisive? We are uncomfortable with the lukewarm, “whatever” culture in which we find ourselves. We reject Katie’s uncertainty and want to make a stand on the issues that confront us. No compromise! We so easily retreat into that guaranteed conversation-stopper, “The Bible says….”

But such conviction is not as straight forward as we like to pretend. Sometimes the line between right and wrong is, as Katie sings, very, very fine. Most of the time when we say, “The Bible says…” we actually mean, “This one verse in the Bible says…” or “This is what I think the Bible says on this subject.” In fact the Gospel, and the entire history of God’s dealing with his people, is not about being right but about being in relationship. It’s not about law but about love.

Sometimes we focus so much attention on the colour of the keys that we fail to enjoy the colour of the music we can create together.


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Happy Birthday Katie

It’s Katie Melua’s birthday today.  Happy Birthday Katie.

IMG_2195 Katie and I go way back, as you can see. This picture of Katie Melua staring up at me was taken when she visited Durban in September 2008. Well, OK, to be brutally honest, it’s a picture of me staring down at a poster of Katie………

Anyway, Jen and I fell in love with Katie’s voice, music, and lyrics when we first heard “Nine million bicycles”. It’s a beautiful love song that Jen and I have claimed for our own. Since then I have bought all of her albums, the only artist I have ever collected. Friends often point me to other artists with a similar style but there’s something about her Georgian-Irish-British voice along with her stunning good looks and simple style that appeals to me. I also like her lyrics—some of my favourites are her own words and some are by her producer, Mike Batt.

William Orbit, who produced her latest album, The House said, “I have been hypnotised by the many colours and moods of her voice, and the deep emotional waters of her lyrics and melodies. She is one of the most complex and intriguing artists that I have ever worked with.”

I know too little about music to be able to agree with that, but the parts I do understand resonate with me. When I was about 12 years old I received a telephone call one Saturday morning from a dear lady from the church who was preparing us for a Sunday School Anniversary service. It was the day before the service. I remember only that it was a long conversation about this and that until she finally plucked up the courage to ruin my life. She said, “Er…..Ian, please don’t sing too loudly tomorrow.”

You will therefore understand that I cannot critique or even review Katie Melua’s music, except to say, “I like it.” But her words, well that’s another story.

The “Bicycle” song is a delight in its simplicity, born out of the words of a Chinese guide when they were on tour in China. It was one of those fairly useless facts produced for a guidebook. Batt turned it into:

There are nine million bicycles in Beijing,
That’s a fact; it’s a thing you can’t deny
Like the fact that I will love you ‘till I die.

I was sad to read on her website that Katie is suffering from exhaustion and has been ordered by her doctors not to work until after Christmas. Looking at her tour programme, which has had to be cancelled, one can understand; it’s a punishing schedule. I did add a note to her web page wishing her well but as I was number 19,724 to do so, I’m not really expecting her to notice.

More about Katie’s songs tomorrow.

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