This morning, while breakfasting on my porridge and blueberries, I listened to this wonderful CD by Mikel Kennedy, entitled ‘Isn’t It Good’, and it wasn’t difficult to concur! The title track, the first track of the CD, is in some ways another wonderful morning song – ‘a song for celebrating every day new..!'( I love ‘love-life’ morning songs!), and so very suitable for breakfast listening. When or in what circumstances he wrote it I don’t know, but the song was used in the musical presentation ‘Ah there’s the celebration’ which the Fisherfolk showcased at the Edinburgh fringe in 1976 (see essay number 37 ‘I’d like to sit you down’) and in that context represented the Son’s confident delight in his Father’s love.
But I must have first heard Mikel’s very distinctive voice on the album ‘Celebrate The Feast’ with a beautiful song about the eucharist ‘When You do This‘; there’s also a track where his acoustic style deftly interprets the old testament lesson, singing and playing the bulk of the Isaiah lyric in ‘Who Has Measured The Waters’ (Maggie Durren’s voice reciting the middle section against his acoustic guitar). There is something quite captivating about Mikel’s voice and ‘performance’ on both those tracks; as a wannabe folksinger myself I may even have been a little envious of his ease of delivery.
The Fisherfolk’s album ‘On Tiptoe’ brought us quite a few ‘solo’ performances. I suppose I was becoming aware that even though this ‘worship band’ came out of community lifestyle, it was inevitably made up of individuals, with individualistic musical styles and concerns. So, in ‘On Tiptoe’ (and probably on most of the other albums, if I stop to think about it) we become aware of particular composers -Jonathan Asprey, Jodi Page, for instance -not that this distracts from the community focus. It is a reminder that even where intentional community occurs, and people work to live harmoniously, that harmony is always made up of a variety of human beings, all with different wills, backgrounds, personalities, creative leanings – amazingly ‘submitting’ these, with a sense of calling, common purpose, and love. Mikel Kennedy’s contributions to this particular album are lovely, and I was reminded this morning of my particular fondness for ‘Never In My Life’ which is a kind of unadorned ‘testimony’, an expression of sheer gratitude for the affirmation, the sense of worth we rediscover in acknowledging the unconditional love of God. The delivery is simple, understated: there’s a key change before the last verse and there’s a lovely string-section homage to ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus’ most appropriately woven in to the presentation.
One strange thing was that as I listened again to this much beloved song, I realized that one of my own songs ‘Reconciled’ very much echoed the sentiments of this song. ‘Never thought I’d make friends with myself again…’ etc – all the same sort of wonderment at the grace of the Almighty, the sense of discovery and surprise… There’s so much that I love about this song, but I think what touches me is that there feels like a sensibility quite complex here (‘my hands were always quick to shed innocent blood/for things like independence, freedom, pride..’) who has been humbled and awed by something divinely simple – the song ends ‘Now that you’ve come in/never go away again/for never in my life/did I know someone could take away my sin’. That kind of gratitude-song, for our redemption and forgiveness, seems almost too simple, too intimate; but I know its validity.
I know little about Mike Kennedy the person: I have a feeling I’ve read his conversion story somewhere – remembering that he’d been drawn to the Church of the Redeemer as quite a troubled young man, and had found God, and healing, there ;his friendship seems to have touched many; reading between the lines, I’ve worked out too that he didn’t stop being a ‘real person’ even when Jesus took hold of him: i.e.he encountered some struggles, I believe, especially in the community’s life as lived out in their Scotland base. There are inevitably struggles in any community, between the call to share together and the pull of our own individuality; still, for Mikel, the excitement and the commitment of the call to share is evident in his beautiful setting of Psalm 133 – ‘Oh how good and how delightful it is/for us to live together like this..’ But we would be naive to think that this was always easy, especially for the creative person he was perhaps? The only time that I saw Mikel Kennedy perform as part of the Fisherfolk was in that Edinburgh festival – first of all as ‘Jesus on a step ladder’ (see again essay no. 37), but also in that same week – we’re talking August 1976, I think – a late night concert venue – amongst all of the worship songs drawn from the Fisherfolk’s own heritage, Mikel also sang Guy Clark’s haunting song ‘Desperadoes Waiting For A Train’. At that time I was surprised by the ‘secular’ song choice! Which strikes me now as a bit silly and hypocritical! Like me, Mikel appreciated a good song – but maybe it was indicative of the growing difficulties of remaining within the strictures of that particular covenant community ? I don’t know.
Mikel died in 1998, and The Community Of Celebration was sensible enough to honour his legacy, by putting together and releasing a compilation of some of his great songs, from Fisherfolk albums and from his own private tapes; the wonderful Fisherfolk cellist Max Dyer did much of the spadework that made this possible. This is the CD I listened to over breakfast this morning – warmed by the opening song, as I said, I was made oddly tearful by a couple of the others! Betty Pulkingham’s ‘ sleeve notes’ are wonderfully moving: ‘Mike will for ever be a part of us. His warmth, his uncanny ability to come alongside another person…’ And it may seem a bit daft, I know, for someone who has never really known him in this life, but in so many ways I can only agree with Betty, finding no better words : ‘over the years, Mike has been turning up regularly in my life through the beauty of his songs….. I expect him to be turning up again and again for each one of us, until that day when we join him in that ‘larger place’ Jesus has prepared for us all….’