1982. I was a worship leader, on occasion, kind of. A singer and guitar player. A songwriter. An evangelist. I'd been prayed over, blessed, sent forth with the laying on of hands and everything. I spoke, or at least muttered, in tongues. I was a full-time worker for God, part of a mission team called Scotroc, which sounds now (and sounded then) like a form of cooking chocolate. For a year or so we (Anne, my wife, and Sandy, my son) had been living in a Charismatic community at Overtoun House near Dumbarton. With second son David on the way, we'd moved out, back to Glasgow, but things were moving - personally, spiritually, emotionally - towards utter meltdown.
Faith was falling apart. So was every other aspect of life. But it was happening in the context of having to play, perform, witness, preach and pray in order to live. It was a job. It was what I did. It was who I was. And I was getting to the point where I didn't believe in who I was anymore.
At this point, I'd recorded two previous 'Christian' albums, both released on vinyl, almost all sold at concerts. Now I was trying to write my way through the crisis in my life. The result was this cassette, full of songs which veer schizophrenically from the full-on worship anthems like I Am Empty to desperate, paranoid Costello-lite rants like Loose Talk Costs Lives. There are songs of guilt and depression, and increasingly stark portrayals of a God who seems to delight in inflicting suffering. Pain seems to be the only solution. Contrasted with an immersion in religion both fuzzily reassuring and apocalyptically crushing, bloody and cruel.
Amid all of this, watching my disintegration with no doubt some astonishment and discomfort (I never asked), were some amazing young musicians (and I was only 26). Jane Sidebottom, Ewen Vernal and Andy Brodie. I'm pretty sure Ewen was only 17. All were members of the Scotroc team. Both Andy and Ewen would become highly successful professional players. They have their own stories to tell, and I won't trespass on them here. It was a delight to meet Jane again last year - at an Aberdeen University ceremony. We both had children graduating.
Anyway, I was provoked into rummaging through various nooks and crannies, digging out my only copy of Rough Justice and transferring it into the digital realm, by a mention the other day on Facebook. The Lion Will Return (Narnia in open 'G') is apparently still worthy of inclusion in a sermon. I must admit I do wonder if any of the explicitly worshipful choruses ever surface in churches, or if my cheerfully backslidden state has rendered them unholy.
The tape was recorded over two December days in 1982, almost exactly, as I say, 35 years ago. In the old Gospel Radio Fellowship two-track studio in Argyle Street, Glasgow, live. What you hear is not of the best quality. The only copy I have is a TDK D60 copy made from a cassette, which wasn't that great to start with. But listen hard and you'll hear some of the best fretless bass playing any Bishopbriggs 17-year-old has ever recorded. Some wonderful sax and piano. And, may I be forgiven, some guitar playing I had forgotten I was ever capable of.
Some of Rough Justice is hard going. Some is well, rough. Some is awful. Some is pretty good, I think.