Where did you hear them first? I remember where i first heard the Band and it stopped me in my tracks. I was at my Grandpa’s house in Hawkhill, Dundee. I had been listening to Jonnie Walker on the lunchtime Radio One show he used to present in the early seventies, at least this is how I remember it. This voice came through the transistor radio and it was the voice of Levon Helm.

He was singing ‘I Shall be Released.’ Now at that time I didn’t know much but I did know that Bob Dylan song. Hearing it sung in such a strange falsetto and in such odd circumstances set me on a quest. Who are these guys? Within a short time I was to get hold of Before The Flood which was the record of the tour The Band and Bob Dylan performed around 73 – 74. I was enthralled. It was a second hand copy of a double album and it asked as many questions as it answered. Who was singing? Who was playing what? What were these songs about? It didn’t take too long to find out as The Band were to stop being The Band with a magnificent last hurrah. We (my generation of music lovers) would all go to the cinema to see The Last Waltz – still, in my opinion, the only film of a rock gig worth watching. We went to the Gaumont or The ABC in the Seagate and how we loved it; Joni Mitchell singing Black Crow, Neil…..Diamond and Young, Emmylou and Van. (Oh Van, that suit! Those high kicks! Perhaps the best band Van never had)

All very well Rick, I hear you sigh, but where is this leading us? On Friday’s show we welcome Amy Helm (the Late Levon’s daughter) who gives us an insight into the music of The Band, the Midnight Ramble and the loves of Levon. She also performs two songs – a beautiful cover of a fave Buddy miller song included – live in session exclusively for the show. Amy is charming, talented and a great credit to her father who has sung so much of the music I love.

Also Phosphorescent, The Louvins, Low and from Scotland State Broadcasters and Sienna. It all starts at five past seven on BBC Radio Scotland.


On Sunday…

Another chance to hear about the visit I made to Brazil last year. Here’s my blog from that time:

Going Back

In 1998 I was asked to visit Brazil and in particular, the work of MST in the state of Sao Paulo. This was a great experience for me then and the memories of that trip remain with me to this day. What did I learn?

I learned that, no matter how impoverished we perceive our own country to be, there is a deeper, sadder and more brutal poverty in the developing world than we can ever imagine.

Getting the opportunity to see this at first hand is wholly worthwhile. I also understood the real importance of fair land distribution: how can any society expect people to commit to their own betterment of they remove access to the places where this can happen? Finally I understood the reality of a theology of liberation that unites Salvation with true freedom. Seeing people celebrating mass after years of struggle was a wholly different experience of the eucharist than I had ever had before.

So next week I will return to Sao Paulo, to Promissao and see again what is happening to the people of MST. I will try to tell you as much as I can along the way. I hope to meet old friends, see some children who are now adults and meet some new friends. Till then, Ate´Logo.


It’s Tuesday morning in Sao Paulo and despite my luxury accommodation with my Scottish Brazilian hosts the mosquitos still love me.

We got here last night around rush hour and I discovered that rush hour lasts a good 3 hours in Sao Paulo. Mara, who is the main person at Christian Aid here in Brazil met us at the airport and on the journey in I peppered here with questions. In the gathering dark however it was difficult to make out much of what passed before us other than a sprawling mass of urban living. Estimates about the size of greater Sao Paulo vary but it seems a reasonably conservative estimate that 12 million people live here.

One of the projects I hope to see tomorrow is a recycling cooperative. This involves homeless people from the city centre who gather rubbish – cardboard, plastic etc.. and recycle it for profit. It seems it’s a job that gets left to them unofficially but the cooperative now run a small business supporting these people and we’ll see that tomorrow. On the way here a bedraggled man in full length plastic coat to keep out the daily tropical storms was piling cardboard and paper onto a precarious looking supermarket trolley. I suspect he is one of those I will meet tomorrow.

However right now I sit in Christiana’s serene garden interrupted by the nothing more than the drone of the gardening tools and the chirp of tropical birds. It is a gorgeous day (27º) and after yesterday’s very long journey I’m very grateful to be sitting here in this beautiful place.


It’s the end of a long day and we’re standing in a rubbish dump. When I say rubbish dump I should be much more accurate; where we are standing is right next to a rubbish dump and it is a recycle centre called ‘Coopere Centro’ and there is a very satisfied smile on Rene’s face. Rene´is one of the founding coordinators of Gasper Garcia a neighbourhood centre supported by Christian Aid here in Sao Paulo. Rene’s satisfaction is not misplaced. He’s been a fine guide on our tour round some of the work being carried out in the city and he’d be right to feel proud. However he’s also pointing to the roof of Coopere which he designed and built…and heck, it looks good too.

Coopere is a recycling cooperative which takes people who may would otherwise be eking out a living on the street and brings them into one of the earliest recycling waste centres in Sao Paulo. Support comes from Gasper Garcia and throughout the day we have been made aware of how important their work is. There is a movement abroad to cleanse this sprawling mass and the city centre is undergoing a huge change to show the world a new improved Sao Paulo in 2014 for the World Cup. However the cost of this is to move thousands of families out of their poor housing without offering them real alternatives. Many of these families will be squatting in old property or bits of land where they will live in one roomed houses with next to no sanitation and rather dangerous looking power supplies. For these families Gasper Garcia offers support and legal advice in either establishing permanent tenure of their dwellings or organising them against sudden expulsions organised to beatify the city in time for 2014.


If you want to gauge how serious a threat this is I asked Tito, a lawyer from the centre, if he now would prefer the World Cup not to happen he gravely nodded. had he known how bad the outcome would be for these families he said he wished it had never been planned for Brazil. From a football loving country that’s quite a statement.


Tomorrow I go to the countryside and return to meet some old friends who have made the land their own in Promissao.




Jen (my Christian Aid travelling companion) said to me yesterday, “What has been your favourite moment so far?”


it really wouldn’t have happened to me had a series of slight misadventures not taken place. Firstly we were delayed getting out of Sao Paulo on Thursday. Various items had been forgotten and so we were already getting near to the end of the daylight by the time the minibus broke down just outside Barrau. By the time a brilliant ‘Dunkirk’ like flotilla of

MST vehicles picked us up and whisked us on our way to Promissao the dark was falling and we could only hope we would catch the sights again tomorrow.

It was the gathering dark however that allowed me to witness one of the most amazing changes since I’d been here the last time. As we headed towards Promissao Mara pointed to both on both sides of the road where we could see little twinkling lights breaking through the night. This was the lights of Dandara, the encampment I had visited in 1998, now a settled community with houses and farms dottted all around. It went on for miles.

My thoughts turned back to having coffee and bread in the tents by the roadside and asking people if they had ever expected to see a day when they would be living on their own land. Seeing the task ahead of them I often wondered how possible it would be to achieve success, but on that long road at the end of a long journey I realised how completely the MST families had realised their dream.

The Way Home


And so I am nearly home. Amsterdam is a long way from home but you know

you can’t be too far away when the British tabloids are on sale at the newsstand.


It’s now that I think on some of the amazing people we met over the last week:


Rene – a selfless campaigner on Human Rights whose work to repsesent slum dwellers in and around the centre of Sao Paulo continues at the Gaspar Garcia Centre.


Claudia – whose joined us on our way to Promissao where she lived as a child of the settlements and is now a full time organiser in the area for MST.



Our hosts Luiz and Lourdes who gave us their beds at the settlement  of Reiunidas and, having slept on sofas for the night serenaded us on their veranda with old folk songs in beautiful harmony before we left the next morning.


Luiz and Lourdes

Gloria – a friend from 1998; then and now at the heart of the community, serving food growing vegetables, looking after children and organising the next phase of the struggle.

Gloria’s mother Argentina Maria was killed – some say murdered by vengeful farmers – coming off a bus outside the encampment of Dendara where she was visiting and helping families in 2002. A mural of Argentina Maria takes pride of place on the wall of the community centre at Reinidas.


Menerinho – a travelling organiser and singer with MST. His great spirit typifies so much of the movement. Perhaps most importantly he made everyone he met start to laugh – a real gift.


Luis – a communications organiser with MST who has joined the movement despite not growing up in an MST settlement and coming from the city.


Itelvina and Antonio Miranda at MST headquarters in Sao Paulo. Articulate, strong and considered in their understanding of rights for landless people. Having grown up on settlements themselves they are now full time with the movement, working to bring the promise the constitution of Brazil proclaims…that every person should have access to the land.


Before I go back to life in Scotland let me share one last story: On Friday afternoon we took a little trip along the road from Relneidas to Dandara.There we met Lucia who used to camp on the roadside near here. Now she and her husband live in a little house in the middle of their own farm. The house is by no means luxurious but it is a dream away from the tent in which she stayed for seven years. Behind her bright blue front door there hangs a story which explains so much about Lucia and MST – her front door keys. At the end of the day she locks her door; not because she fears crime in Dandara – it’s not that kind of place – it’s because she can. For many years nothing more than plywood, bamboo and plastic came between her and the elements and now she has a tiled roof, a brick house and a locking front door. From her kitchen window she can see her cattle in her own field. That is quite a change from when I saw her and many others all those years ago on the roadside.


As of now there isn’t a ‘Friends of MST’ website in Scotland. I think there are at least two people touching down in Glasgow today who would happily join it.



Finally I want to say a huge thanks to all of the staff at Christian Aid in Scotland especially my great companion Jennifer, Mara and Anna in Brazil who pulled so many things together to make this trip possible. I should also pay a huge tribute to Christiana and Eduardo who looked after me in Sao Paulo. Till the next time folks…