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Priest suffering from cancer creates a song based on the sounds of his MRI scanner

31 March 2023

John Callaghan

A still from the Revd Matthew Simpkins’s rock video, created by John Callaghan

A still from the Revd Matthew Simpkins’s rock video, created by John Callaghan

A ROCK musician who became a priest has created a song based on the sounds generated by an MRI scanner used to study his cancer.

The Revd Matthew Simpkins, Priest-in-Charge of St Leonard’s, Lexden, in Colchester, was diagnosed with a rare skin cancer in 2019, only four years after he was ordained. “I was a musician before I was ordained, and I went back to writing and making music when I first got ill,” he said.

In spring last year, his condition worsened, and he had a series of CT and MRI scans. “They were whirring and buzzing and producing these extraordinary rhythms. It has a sort of tempo that I could use, and when that changes you have the interesting cross rhythms of a rock song.”

Lying inside the scanner he worked out the keys of the sounds and created accompanying harmonies in his head. Then, over the past year, working with a fellow musician, Ben Brown, he downloaded the MRI noises from the internet, and layered them digitally to develop what he calls a “slightly silly” song, “Spooling”.

John CallaghanA still from the Revd Matthew Simpkins’s rock video, created by John Callaghan

That was recorded with his band Pissabed Prophet, and released on streaming sites last Friday. It will feature on an album released on 12 May 12. The associated video is online here.

“The clattering MRI machine noises put it more in the early ’80s, new wave, strange synth style,” he said. “I just thought it would be fun. There was something about taking the experiences I have been through which allows me, not to master them, but to accept them, which I think has something importantly Christian about it.

“It’s not an overtly Christian song — we are not a praise band — but I write music as a Christian, and I hope the approach that I took to the experience was a Christian one. Writing the music and putting the album together has really been the best of my therapy.”

The song, he said, had been very well received, and he had even had messages from radiographers who were interested in the musical aspects of their scanners.

“It would be great if people who are feeling nervous about a scan hear the track — maybe it will be a bit less scary when you see a hairy vicar sing a song about it. I hope they find it and enjoy it.”

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