Thursday, 17 January 2013

Sunday Assembly and being a personal Athiest

There are many atheist writers and thinkers that I enjoy. Dawkins sheer passion and clarity of thought is inspiring and reading Hitchens makes me wish I was smarter and more charming. However, I can always guarantee that Alom Shaha will always make me reconsider what I think about being and becoming an atheist.

Recently, he has been attending a Humanist Sunday Assembly and has been regularly tweeting his experience. Blogging on the rationalist website Alom describes why he enjoyed it and why he thought it was a good idea. His blog feels like it suggests these assemblies can be a rallying point for a kind of humanist congregation. The BHA asked for people’s reactions and I provided my tuppence worth, which wasn’t as negative as some but was a bit knee jerk. As I said, I always enjoy Alom’s writing as it makes me think about what I think so I’d like to expand a little on my tweet.

My gut instinct is that I don’t like Sunday Assemblies. I recall that those first times that I started not –believing (or at least thinking about whether or not what I was being told in church was true) happened precisely there, when I was in Church.
At home, nose pressed to a book or among those 14 hours a day I seemed to spend on a bike the idea of faith or God hardly crossed my mind. On Sunday however, I thought about it a lot. Initially, it was the boredom and repetition of church that started me wondering if this was a good idea. Totally un-engaged, I probably day-dreamed as a young child and railed against it as an older one. The droning ceremony seemed to belie the glory that I was supposed to feel. Looking around at the “flock” mindlessly (or so it seemed to me) re-canting the same prayer and Hymns each week made me question do they really believe this?

I couldn’t see why people I knew in the “real” world would dress and act so differently just because they were talking to God. The idea that he needed a special place or sacrament to understand his creation’s wants and needs seemed absurd. I have friends who while religious, felt the same way and now have prayer meetings in their home; I just didn’t stop questioning and couldn’t believe any longer. So the idea of sitting in a big room with people in their Sunday best (and church was always a social event with all the pretentions that entails) singing along to Imagine by John Lennon immediately transports me back to those days of boredom.

Alternatively, the most recent years where I started to take my non-belief seriously have been the most intellectually and spiritually rewarding. I adore the informality of the various associations, opinions and online groups for atheists provide – the complete lack of mantra and ceremony is what made it so attractive. There isn’t any particular way that you should be an atheist. Finding your niche in (or indeed outside) any atheist group was easy and encouraged. In fact I’m not certain I enjoy describing my atheist experience as being organised – based as it is on catching up with friends and discussing “Hitch” in amongst the films, football and family. My soul has been far more nourished during a chat and a biscuit at a friend’s living room than ever it was in communal worship.

I’m reminded of an early chapter in Susan Cain’s book on Introversion “Quiet” where she describes meeting an Evangelical Christian who feels guilty as he cannot whip himself into the requisite fervour of his particular strand of faith. He longs for a quiet place to contemplate his relationship with his maker. Likewise, I take deep solace in the wonder of the everyday. As the Feminists of the 60’s & 70’s demanded that the “Personal is Political” I feel the same about my relationship with the universe. It’s personal. I initially rejected religion because it tried to format that relationship.

Alom rightly identifies that we are a tribal animal and a communal experience is best when it is genuinely shared. I do greatly enjoy collective activities. Without a regular trip to watch terrible football a group of old school friends and I wouldn’t have an excuse to meet and the habit of doing this is a joy. I’m also aware that football has its own rituals and I don’t baulk at being on the terrace at 3 o’clock on a Saturday singing the same songs as last week. So why do I feel that a Sunday Assembly would be different? I suspect that it might be context.

The Sunday Assembly just feels “churchy” and reminds me of all the things I left behind along with my belief. The ape-ing of religious service feels a bit contrived and I wonder if these people would gather together for a sing song in any other situation (although that is probably a positive reason for having these assemblies). Ultimately, it doesn’t appeal to the inner teen rebel that I’m desperately trying to nurture as I slip into middle age. The setup of the Assembly, the choice of songs…it isn’t very…cool.

What it does demonstrate though is how open atheists/ humanists/whatever you are can be. With no dogma, if you are an individual who needs a collective ceremony to share how you think, wonderful. If you are a wall flower who prefers to meet like-minded creatures virtually that’s wonderful too. If you are misery, who'd rather sit at home and listen to your choice of Music - thats OK to, we'll meet you later for a pint.

I’m not a student of religion but suspect that religious groups early in their formation were similar until the codification of their rules. I am aware of bloody consequences from all the arguments they have had about whose rules were best. I don’t believe that Sunday Assemblies are in any way likely to invoke a heretical witch-hunt, but we must make sure we never allow one person to tell another - this is how you be an atheist…

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Collider: Paraguay Zero

And so our journey through Collider ends where the Great Men story began: our first ever track.

CW - I’m not interested in football, so when the World Cup approached in 2006 and I realised I’d lose my friends, housemates and living room for the summer, I took action for the positive and decided that when football left me under siege in my room I would have the duration of the match to write, record and mix a track. This project, which has also spanned the 2008 Rugby World Cup and 2010 Football World Cup, is called “Widdleman VS The World Cup”. The very first one I did was “England 1 Paraguay 0”, which a couple of years later became the first song Regan and I would learn to play together.

R-Man - 1st thing ever.  Debuted in my living room to 3 people who I think were honestly expecting us to be pointless noise.  We sure showed them...

CW - For other Widdleman Vs The World Cup victories, check out our Live in London EP, or Shazam session videos, for a couple of tracks that came out of the 2010 World Cup: Spectators at an Execution (England 0 0 Algeria) and Messerschmitt (bits of Uruguay 2 3 Netherlands and Germany 0 1 Spain).

Monday, 17 December 2012

Collider: No Fear Of Humans

CW - The heavy riff and guitar solo in this one originally came from a track I did in my room in Lincoln Hall at the University of Nottingham, called ‘Night of the Badger’. It was inspired by a news story about a badger going on a rampage and attacking people; one witness said the badger had “no fear of humans at all”. The commanding bass line is all R-Man, and the post-rock second half was born from jamming in Regan’s living room back in the early days when I used to use his Akai Headrush (long since retired).

R-Man – Heavy, Heavy, Heavy– I remember a friend of ours who was a big fan of Zero 7 telling me the quiet bit in this was their favourite bit.  I felt a bit sick.  The logistics of getting the manual switches for the drum machine right always turned Chris into some form of nodding tap!

CW - He said Tap dancer.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Collider: Number 6

CW - I wrote the original version of this in 2008, with a whammy bar, slap bass, and samples from superlative 60’s TV series The Prisoner (hence the name). Recording this was great fun; I got a little silly on the solo and looked up to find Benn creased over laughing, which only encouraged me to get sillier (and try not to fall apart whilst recording)!

R-Man – This is a classic example of Chris’ dream of a percussive funk classic being ruined/improved (delete as applicable) by my smearing a kilo of sleaze all over the bass track…

CW - Some years after writing this song, I also watched the recent Battlestar Galactica series. This song hence has no relation to the Number 6 Cylon, and is all about Patrick McGoohan. The Prisoner is a tremendous piece of work that still reverberates through TV now. And the theme tune is one of all my all time favourites.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Collider: Lady Cakes

Track 1 of Collider is Lady Cakes. Here's what Mr Regars and I have to say about it:

CW - I think this might be the finest song we’ve written together. In terms of recycled material, only my clean guitar part comes from a previous composition, everything else was written in the spare room at Regan’s house. I’m especially fond of the guitar solo in this. A friend of mine said the first time he saw us live that when we hit the unison riff in this track, he nearly fell over.

R-Man - It’s not until I’ve tried to explain it that I realise quite how complicated this track is.  It’s doing about 5 different things but always driving.  I couldn’t begin to remember how it came about- the pieces just happened while we were at the height of our powers.  It’s something I’m immensely proud of.

Some time between the recording and the release of Collider, we did a live session for Shazam and Lady Cakes was the only album track we included; here's the video:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Collider: MSP

CW says - The riff that comes in halfway through the track is one that I wrote in my university room sometime in 2002/2003. 6 or 7 years later I played it in Regan’s living room and he told me it sounded like Manic Street Preachers. I was abhorred; as a former teenage metaller I had catalogued the Manics (based on ‘Design For Life’ and ‘If You Tolerate This...’) under “wuss music”. After being thrust a copy of their Holy Bible album, I was forced to recant any previous opinions: Holy Bible is now one of my all time top albums. MSP is also the airport code for Minneapolis-St Paul.

R-Man - THAT riff is a super pop hook, and sure fire million seller.  We’re just a bland vocal and a dodgy haircut away from never having to work again.

There is a moment after the intro where we had a choice of which guitar track to use...if you listen carefully you can hear some string buzz on the one we chose.  A little organic garnish on a bed of machine mash!

CW - Oh yeah, since I’ve not mentioned the dweebery yet, the guitars on the whole album are my Gibson SG Special and Squier Classic Vibe Telecaster (the ‘Black Lodge’ Tele with my custom paint job, but before we rewired it I think), basically just into a Rat into a Vox AC30. For pretty much the whole album there’s just one track of each guitar, playing the same thing, however Benn decided to mix it!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Collider: Riots

This week you get not only myself and R-man's liner notes for the track Riots, but also a brand new exclusive video from award winning directors the Turrell Brothers!

C-bomb - This has its roots in a track of mine called Hot Riots, but is rawer and heavier. I really love the interplay between the guitar and bass in the middle section, it’s one of our most beautiful bits as a duo I think. Benn and Regan did the first mix of this without me and to my surprise and delight they’d gone for a “space bass” sound in the mid-section (a hallmark of my solo work that is usually shot down well before it makes it onto a GM track!).

R-ManThe unmistakable sound of small arms fire; this highlights the mixture of inspiration and mundane practicatility that goes into creating a GM track. We used to listen to a lot of Thelonius Monk who was famous for a stop/start technique with really heavy percussive attack. Riots reminds me of this, but i think its sound actually lies in my sloppy playing.  When I was a kid I listened to and learned to play along to  Reggae and Dub and so in Chris’ ears I was coming in “late” (or “right” as I was concerned) I recall having to really exaggerate the on beat in songs to get out of the habit, with this as prime example.  The middle section is pure Jah Wobble of course...