Photo credit: Manuel María De Miguel Alonso de Medina
Earlier this year, my wife and I went to see one my favourite musicians, guitarist extraordinaire and singer-songwriter Mark Knopfler, in concert at the LG Arena, a large indoor venue near Birmingham. (You can read my review of his most recent album Privateering here.) It was the second time I’d seen Knopfler live, the first time being some ten years earlier at the same venue.
There was no support act, so once we’d been our seats half an hour or so, an announcer came on and introduced Knopfler and his band.
Now, I’ve been to gigs before where the band and the material were good but the sound was poor, or where the performers just didn’t seem quite on form, or where it was difficult to see. But this time, everything was just right: our seats were in a pretty good position, up high to once side of the stage with a commanding view of the whole band; the sound was excellent; and here we were to watch and listen to one of the world’s great guitarists. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation, and from the very first note that was played, I knew this was going to something special.
What we were served that evening was a two-hour musical feast. Any one of the six or seven musicians in Knopfler’s band was probably good enough to hold an audience’s attention on their own. Combine their skill and creativity with Knopfler’s sheer virtuosity and the quality of the material they were performing, and the result was electric.
There wasn’t a moment I didn’t enjoy, but there was one particular moment that sticks in my memory. During one song, each of the musicians, including Knopfler, gradually dropped out one after the other until the only ones still playing were a double bass player and a fiddle player. The lights faded so that all eyes were on these two, bathed in the light of a single spotlight. They proceeded to improvise for about eight minutes (I made a point of noticing the time), each riffing off the other and neither dropping a beat. You could just see Knopfler in the edge of the spotlight, a faint smile on his face as he watched his two colleagues with rapt attention. Such was the intensity of the moment that it felt as though every one of the eight thousand or so people in the audience were sat on the edge of their seats. Apart from the sound of the music, you could have heard a pin drop. It was utterly mesmerising, and I was almost afraid to breathe for fear the spell would be broken.
But beyond the technical and musical prowess of Knopfler and his band, I found that the whole thing moved me in a most unexpected way. This might sound odd, but I’m hoping you’ll understand what I mean: I found it was actually a deeply spiritual experience. I don’t mean I was transported to some realm of ecstasy; in fact, it’s quite hard to describe just what I do mean. All I can say is that a moment came when I suddenly realised that I felt closer to God in that arena than I had at any other time for quite a while.
Maybe it was partly because music is such a dominant language for me, a language that speaks to something deep inside me. But I think there was also something else happening in that room. Knopfler is a secular musician, and there was nothing explicitly religious about the songs he performed. But there was such truth and beauty on display: here was a group of guys creating art that was a celebration of nature, humanity and the rich tapestry of life in all its glory and messiness. And this was a powerful example of something I’ve recently come to believe, or rather to realise: where you find beauty and truth, there you also find God.
It might be at a rock concert or a classical music recital; it might be in a museum or an art gallery; it might be while watching a film that in some way captures the exquisite reality of life on this celestial sphere; it might be while taking a walk as the sun goes down, releasing its fiery colours to bleed across the dusking sky. It might even be an evening spent with good friends, with no other agenda than to enjoy one another’s company and share a brief moment of life together. In all these places and in all these ways, I believe God revels in the beauty and the variety of His creation, and if you look hard enough, you’ll find Him there.
It didn’t matter that most of the people at that Knopfler concert were probably complete pagans; it didn’t matter that it was a “secular” concert and that the band was not playing “Christian” songs (whatever that means). God was still there. I’m convinced that, as the band revelled in the joy of shared creation and the audience looked on spellbound, God was there too, taking it all in, smiling, with a twinkle in His eye, maybe even tapping a foot from time to time. I think He really enjoyed that gig.