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Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Way Beyond (The Sea)

clacton pic

Nursing home piss and jerking knees
Retired colonels feeling pleased
Johnny Foreigner just got told
Essex masses’ fool’s gold
Flocking, flooding over ‘ere
Send the message loud and clear
Carswell’s smug he just won
Him wot won it not The Sun
Xenophobic Eurosceptic
Noxious creed long turned septic
“Bongo bongo land” was such a laugh
Howler, clanger followed gaffe
But it’s not funny anymore
For non-white faces or the poor
Or the working toiling class
Turkeys queuing up for Christmas
Ed, you and yours can take the blame
You ought to die from burning shame
Oh what a lovely place to be
Welcome to toxic Clacton-on-Sea

Categories
Life

A Love Supreme: Alloa Athletic and Me

Alloa 1There was never a time in my life when I decided to support Alloa Athletic. It certainly wasn’t a matter of familial tradition, given my auld man loathed ‘fitbaw’ and all my uncles – all of them – are Huns (don’t judge me). No, the mighty Wasps have been a part of my life for so long they may as well be part of my DNA. I simply can’t remember a time when I didn’t love Alloa Athletic.

After a spell in Alloa’s infamous ‘Bottom End’ my auld man got us a flit to the Hawkhill scheme and our house on Thistle Street was a scant few hundred yards from the hallowed ‘Recs’ (now horribly renamed the Indodrill Stadium). For as long as I can remember the Saturday afternoon roar of the crowd excited me to a degree that compared to nothing else in my pre-pubescent life. The hordes of black-and-gold-scarf-wearing men streaming down Thistle Street and along the Clackmannan Road thrilled me to bits. The fact that these ‘hordes’  totalled an average gate of around 450 in the mid-70s and the ‘roar of the crowd’ was little more than a semi-excited murmur was something I wouldn’t learn for a number of years.

My gran knitted me the traditional Alloa bar scarf of back-and-gold and on match days I’d wear it hanging around at the end of our path, soaking up the atmosphere, vainly trying to be all nonchalant, as the local hard-men and their equally hard kids, similarly bedecked, would saunter by and cry out “awright there, wee man? Ye no’ comin’ doon the game then?” I’d casually explain I was waiting for a pal. It was easier than the derision which would inevitably have accompanied the truth; that my folks wouldn’t let my nine year-old self anywhere near a football ground in the hooligan-infested seventies.

At age ten, Kenneth Greenhill and I pulled the time-honoured childhood blag – I’m at his and he’s at mine – on our respective parents. The pre-internet age, no mobile ‘phones and with only about three landlines on my scheme and a similar number on the Mar Policies – Kenny’s scheme – meant we were pretty safe. So off we went. Handing over our forty pence and clicking through the turnstiles, trembling with excitement. The noise, the colour, the spectacle; the experience was enormous. All of which I’d many years later realise, after visits to Parkhead and Ibrox, was nothing of the sort. But then, my love was requited. We were joined.

The following season the old boy over the road, ‘Mr. Mac’ had a son signed to the Wasps and he kindly offered to take me to the home games. My folks grudgingly agreed to see how that went. It just couldn’t get better than that. And it didn’t…

Then came the second broken heart of my young life. The first being Eleanor McGill kissing Gary McPhail at the primary seven Christmas party. It was 1978 and we were on the march with Ally’s Army. The entire nation had gone mental. Scotland had already won the world cup before we even set foot on Argentinean soil. If you weren’t there, you simply can’t imagine. It was insane. You’ll recall how it ended though and as I sat there, after Archie scored that goal and it simply not being enough, tears streaming down my eleven year-old cheeks, the auld yin cheerily remarked, “you think that’s bad? Next week we’re flitting to England!” He wasn’t joking.

If life hitherto had contained challenges, they were as nothing to the tribulation of those first three years in Nottingham. A stranger in a strange land, the odd kid with the weird accent, with no fresh rolls from Williamson’s bakers next to the Recs of a Sunday morning, no square slice from Aitken’s, no Ochil Hills, no cousins, no pals, no tablet and, even more devastatingly, no Alloa Athletic. The 5.00pm results on the BBC and no match report in England-oriented Sunday papers were as good as it got. And that wasn’t any good at all. Relief efforts from family came in the form of the Alloa Advertiser posted down every now and then, so some connection to my own true love could be maintained. But the fag-end of the seventies and the early eighties were our wilderness years; the period when our star-crossed relationship was defined by the estrangement enforced by insurmountable distance. When love threatened to tear us apart.

Grimly, I hung on, spurning the would-be temptresses of Nottingham Forest, Derby County and Notts County. By then I’d made a few pals. They urged me to move on. To get over it and find a new love. But I couldn’t. While my brother would eagerly lap up any game on TV, English football meant nothing to me then. Without a dog in the fight, it seemed remote. Disconnected. Forest in those days, under Brian Clough, were on the cusp of their golden years with European glory winking sexily just over the horizon. I remained unmoved. We love who we love, right? We don’t choose that love. It just is.

Adulthood, money and, crucially, a driving license meant our relationship finally moved seriously to the next level. The ups and downs that followed were easily absorbed, given the previous challenges we’d met and conquered together. 620-mile round-trips via plane train and automobile were taken in my stride.

Like the time my best pal – or ‘ma big neebur’ as we used to say in Alloa – Stiobhan and I made a weeknight roundtrip visit to Ibrox for a cup tie. Stiobhan, a hulking Welshman, committed republican and equally committed Celtic fan, considered several hundred miles behind the wheel of his Mini small beer for the remote chance of seeing his pal’s wee diddy team inflict a humiliating blow on the Evil Empire.

I was working in a dyehouse at the time and my shift finished at 2.00pm. He picked me up and we drove the 320 miles there, saw the game, had a curry and a couple of drinks and then drove straight home. Arriving back at work in Nottingham at 5.30am, just in time for my next shift. We figured we’d sleep when we were dead.

Looking for parking in Glasgow’s south side, it became apparent we’d need to ask for directions. Stiobhan, worried his obviously Welsh accent might still be mistaken for English, instructed me to do the talking. Which I did. Slipping instinctively into the patois of my youth. He needn’t have worried. After all, at Ibrox, only an orange sash, a bowler hat or a Union Jack would receive a warmer reception than an English accent.

The highs and lows have been many. The nail-biting ’98 league-winning season, for example. When my wife had given birth to our youngest son just two days before the last game of the season. Which my eldest son and I still attended. Obviously. Then the time our goal machine, Willie Irvine, a prison officer in his day job, threw crucial fixtures into doubt when he was taken hostage by a prisoner at Glenochil jail. Or when Martin Cameron – butcher’s boy by weekdays, the black and gold Ronaldo on Saturdays – was out for three games because a frozen cow had fallen on his toe. Or something. And who can forget the glory of gubbing the hated Stirling Albion 7 – 0?

And so all the way up to this season where already relegation is a distinct possibility but has provided a win against Hibs and the hated Huns pushed to a draw. We sail those storm-tossed seas of fate, smiling together and will continue to do so. Till death do us part. Ours is a love supreme.

Categories
Music

Love Deadly Love

It’s the Michael Schenker-era UFO that garners all the plaudits. Fair enough. From 1974’s Phenomenon up to its valedictory triumph – Strangers in the Night – Schenker-driven UFO is one of British rock’s most celebrated bands. And rightly so.

But there’s so much more. A renaissance given birth by former shredder’s shredder Vinnie Moore resulted in a string of high-class albums from 2004 onwards. Even before that there have been highs the equal of anything achieved on Schenker’s watch. Take the bafflingly underrated 1992 offering, High Stakes and Dangerous Men (just prior to Schenker rejoining for a second shift with 1995’s Walk On Water).

It’s an album packed with great songs. As with a lot of late-period UFO, there is a tenderness and wry acceptance to much of the material. Mogg, sounding even better than during the band’s commercial peak, is partnered beautifully by Laurence Archer on guitar and the embarrassingly-talented but criminally-underemployed Stevie Lange is drafted in to lift the arrangements to divine heights.

You’d be hard pushed to name one song better than another, all killer no filler being the operative maxim here, but Love Deadly Love is a strong contender. It’s easily one of the best songs ever written by the band. Lyrically, Mogg’s cinematic tale of love, infidelity and revenge is a masterpiece of musical short-story telling and from the opening piano shimmers to the addictive drive of Archer’s guitar; all the way through to one of the band’s finest choruses, there is nothing in the Schenker-era that’s any better. As good, certainly but better? I don’t think so.

Categories
Politics & Current Affairs

‘Touts Will Be Shot’

hamas

It is believed that the deaths yesterday of three high-ranking commanders of Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, were facilitated by intelligence given to Israel by Palestinian spies inside Gaza.

The trio are Raed Attar, imprisoned for five years by Israel and who, Israeli intelligence sources claim, was the mastermind behind Hamas’s tunnel network, as well as overseeing the operation that led to the 2006 capture of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, Abu Shamala, South Gaza Military Operations Commander and Mohammed Barhoum, a senior quartermaster and finance chief.

US news agencies also report that the targeted strikes killed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades Commander-in-Chief, Mohammed Deif. While Hamas have yet to confirm this, it is known that Deif’s wife and baby son perished in the attack.

In response Hamas has executed a number of people in retaliation for allegedly spying for Israel. Twenty-one suspected informers were executed in three batches with a Hamas spokesman stating that “The same punishment will be imposed soon on others.”

A press release issued in the name of the ‘Palestinian Resistance’ said the executed were “collaborators who betrayed their religion and sold their people and land for a cheap price, and achieved many missions for the enemy”.

As with much surrounding the conflict, these events have been liberally seasoned with predictable cant and double-standards.

Hamas has been condemned in Western media outlets and by various human rights organisations yet many of these same organisations have remained silent on Israel’s extra-judicial murders.

It would be naïve to automatically assume Hamas has ensured a strict application of due process and natural justice for the accused spies, prior to their executions, and should such be the case, then the organisation will be in contravention of the relevant international statutes governing conduct during times of war. That said, the New York Times quotes a Hamas official saying, “The judiciary procedures and measures were completed against the accused.” However, much of the outrage is focused on the executions themselves, as much as the presumed absence of fair trials for the accused.

Palestinian law provides for the execution of spies and traitors, in much the same way as many states around the world. The Geneva Convention allows the execution of spies as do The Hague Convention and the International Criminal Court. All of which state that non-uniformed combatants engaged in espionage shall not be treated as prisoners of war and may be prosecuted by the country against which they are spying. This can include the death sentence for those convicted.

Regarding any abuse of due process, one can only wonder at Israeli and Western bourgeois hypocrisy. After all, if true, Hamas is merely emulating the governments of Israel, the UK and USA. Extra-judicial killings, rendition flights, torture and detention without even charge, never mind trial, at Guantanamo Bay, all appear to be perfectly acceptable.

Interestingly, Israel’s use of Palestinian collaborators is widely known to rely on extreme pressure and blackmail. Which in itself is a serious breach of Article 82(b)(XV) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which explicitly proscribes, “… compelling the nationals of a hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country.”

All the above aside, the issue, in essence, can be reduced, yet again, to oppressors insisting that those who they oppress follow rules advantageous to their oppressors. Israel and its Western allies aren’t satisfied with occupation, murder and imprisonment of the Palestinian people; they even want to dictate how the Palestinians resist.

Under the circumstances, there is only one rule that should morally inform Palestinian resistance and that can be summed up by the following slogan – By Any Means Necessary. If that means, to borrow an old Irish Republican slogan, that touts will be shot, then so be it.

Categories
Music

Heil Herbert?

A mate of mine, Nottingham poet Neil Fulwood, got a few of us talking about Herbert Von Karajan, recently. With tongue firmly inserted in cheek, I referred to the late HVK as the ‘Nazi conductor.’ Not, as it quickly transpired, a particularly wise move as one devotee of the departed maestro quickly took up arms – figuratively, that is – in defence of his hero.

For the record, Von Karajan’s membership of the Nazi Party is generally accepted by most historians and musicologists to have been prompted by an amalgam of self-preservation, expediency and shameless opportunism, rather than any sort of ideological commitment. Certainly, his biographer Richard Osborne goes into fascinating detail about this period of the great maestro’s life and does not spare his subject. There is no one more authoritative than Osborne and he also tells of Von Karajan very courageously resigning his Party membership during the war, following his marriage to second wife Anita, who was of Jewish heritage (as an aside, Osborne’s book, at a gargantuan 900-odd pages, is simply fascinating and well worth the parting of a few of your readies).

So, with that potentially divisive issue behind us, our attention turned to HVK’s legacy. Positioned by Neil’s friend as that of, “… a great conductor whose musical legacy continues to inspire listeners the world over some 25 years after his death?”

Now I’m a man of peace and my ways are the ways of peace but somethings simply cannot be allowed to go unchallenged. My own take where HVK is concerned is a tad more qualified. Certainly, he had greatness within him and some of his contributions to recorded music are peerless. Both his Mahler 9ths are probably the best ever recorded by anyone, Strauss (another Nazi, by the way. JOKE!!!) never sounded better than via Herbert Von Karajan and his ’63 Beethoven set is, for my money, still the best recording of that over-recorded ubiquitous symphonic cycle ever committed to vinyl, tape or disc (I think Herbert recorded the complete cycle an astonishing five times, too).

He also deserves huge respect for his humility and good judgement where Mahler is concerned. Too many maestros assume they need to record the complete cycle when they just aren’t up to it. HVK, at least, eschewed such arrogance and the Mahler he did choose to tackle is amongst the very finest you will hear.

However, he suffered from Deutsche Grammophon’s (successful) efforts to market him as classical music’s first rock star. There are dozens of howlers forced out to make a buck and to hear him rushing an under-rehearsed, lead-footed and elephantine BPO through the Brandenburg Concerti is to know pain at its most real and acute.

I can live quite happily with Neil’s counter-take when he said, “I can happily write off the baroque stuff for the utter majesty of the Bruckner cycle, the ’63 Beethoven set (only Bernstein’s VPO cycle on DG really compares), the Strauss (his Vier Letzte Lieder with Janowitz is the finest I’ve heard), the Schumann (a composer HVK never got the due credit for his recordings of) … the list goes on. Sure, he was (and still is, in terms of reissues) DG’s licence to print money. But if some dodgy baroque recordings were the quick buck that got the magnificent symphony cycles recorded, then who’s counting?”

Whatever your take, there is no doubt that Von Karajan was responsible for some of the greatest interpretations of some of the greatest music ever written. So, with that said, here he is doing what he did best. And better than most. Enjoy.

Categories
Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Darkness, Darkness

photo 1One of the more enjoyable aspects of the promo work for my book, earlier this year, was crossing paths with other writers whose work I admire. One such was John Harvey. Connoisseurs of British crime fiction will know Harvey well, of course. In a lengthy and impressive career, taking in poetry, broadcasting and much else, John is, perhaps, most celebrated for his creation Detective Charlie Resnick, the Nottingham-based copper,  who I can’t help thinking of as the English John Rebus.

I met John in May when he was speaking at Waterstone’s in Nottingham about his final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness. I’d held a signing there myself, a couple of weeks previously, and the Events Manager, knowing of my fandom, generously furnished me with some tickets for John’s event.  Mr. Harvey was a delight; witty, engaging and interesting. The event was pretty much sold out and he fielded a variety of questions from the punters before concluding with a long queue of eager readers clutching copies of Darkness, Darkness to be signed.

My publisher, Ross Bradshaw, the Managing Editor of Five Leaves Publications (and, more recently, the proprietor of the thoroughly excellent independent and radical Five Leaves Bookshop) has had a long professional relationship with John. When the two did a couple of additional promo events in the County, Ross very kindly had John sign me a shiny 1st edition of Resnick’s last case and his dedication very kindly references my own book; a great honour!

photo 2Of both personal and professional interest to me, the book is set during the miners’ strike, thirty years ago. The research is first-rate and John conveys an authentic and accurate flavour of the times. That said I was amused when Ross observed, “It’s not often I can say that I changed the course of literary history, but after I read a proof copy of John Harvey’s book I emailed him to say he had got a small but important detail of the aftermath of the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire wrong and that he was not as conversant with the history of the local Robin Hood Railway Line as he could have been.

John received the comments on the last day it was possible to make changes, and, rather than responding “nobody likes a smart-arse, especially one who knows about trains”, he was able to get the publisher to make the changes. There we have it then, another novel saved from sin… or at least two small sentences amended that perhaps nobody else would have noticed, but still.”

It falls to me, then, to point out that both John and Ross still managed to miss a couple of things. Firstly, no Notts strikers marched back to work behind a brass band, with the Area firmly under the control of the scabs. And secondly, John cites the Area as having twenty-five pits; it actually had twenty-seven, at the time of the strike, with a further four workshops, making a total of thirty-one NUM Branches.

Neither of which detracts from what is a superb swansong for Charlie Resnick. Nuanced, rich and beautifully evocative, Darkness, Darkness is easily among the finest British crime novels published this year. Highly recommend.

Categories
Life Politics & Current Affairs

Black Dog

black dog

Following the death of Robin Williams, it’s been truly moving to see the outpouring of compassion, empathy and understanding with regard to depression.

I clearly underestimated the well-informed nature and generosity of spirit of the average person in the street.

Which is nice because now we can all look forward to an immediate cessation of the attacks on and sanctions of ‘benefit scroungers’ suffering from exactly the same condition, right?

Categories
Music

Listen Without Prejudice

As all fathers know, life affords few opportunities for deep satisfaction comparable to embarrassing one’s spawn. My love for My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade being a particularly apposite case in point.

My sixteen year-old son, Satanicus Maximus, seems to find no contradiction in his recent worship of Black Veil Brides while pitilessly mocking his auld man for numbering The Black Parade among his all-time favourite albums.

Lurch, however, the Elder Spawn, at a Methuselahian twenty-four might, you’d think, be above such things. You’d be wrong, of course. He is still unable to restrain the sardonic curl of his upper lip when, on a visit to his old home stead of Patersongrad, he encounters my bad self happily spinning the offending disc.

Such genre snobbery is, of course, not new. I well recall my early 80s self keeping my passion for the work of Marc Almond firmly in the closet, lest my teenage metal creds be dashed forever. The admiration I had (still have) for the supremely talented Mr. Almond and Soft Cell being, to continue the rather tasteless metaphor, very much the love that dared not speak its name.

Be all that as it may, to return to the album in question, I will say this: it is a brave, imaginative and superbly-executed piece of work. The young band deciding, in the midle of the digital, disposable, attention-wrecking noughties, to release a concept album inspired by the great dinosaur rock acts of yore. The listener, therefore, will find a deliberate and brilliantly-wrought homage to Queen, Pink Floyd, ELO, Yes and others.

But it’s the powerful and distinctive voice of a young band at their peak that really scores. All the stereotyping and scorn the too-cool-for-school poseurs heaped upon the band’s collective head count for nought in the face of one of the very best albums of the last thirty years.

Gerard Way, far too frequently maligned as a self-indulgent, self-pitying emo poster boy, turns in a career-defining performance and the lyrics, all bitter asides, witty irony and biting cynicism; nestle snugly with moments of real heart, real beauty and a humanity that moves. Once described as The Dark Side of The Moon for the Tim Burton generation, The Black Parade is angry and celebratory, tender and bitter and very special indeed. Haters gonna hate, of course, but listen without prejudice, my friends. The Black Parade deserves nothing less. And so do you.

Categories
Politics & Current Affairs

Israel: You Only Sing When You’re Winning

israel

They say you should never meet your heroes. As a man in his forty-seventh year, I reckon I’m a little long in the tooth and too world-weary to have heroes anyway.

Having said that, there are those who once were but are now simply people I admire and respect. Usually for the integrity, honesty and high-quality of their work. Mainly writers – both fiction and non-fiction writers – and would include people like Mick Wall, Seumas Milne, John Harvey and David Pratt. To name just a few. Some of these I’m proud to call close friends and their work and their friendship enriches my life.

Charles Shaar Murray, who I won’t insult by introducing here, is also someone who I’ve grown to hugely respect. Obviously the man’s work is an important part of our cultural landscape and is as innovative and influential as anything by, say, Lester Bangs and, for the most part, superior to that of most of his contemporaries. Certainly enough there for a writer to admire and respect.

However, there is a further reason. CSM consistently displays great humanity on wider social and political questions. A Jew himself, he consistently defends the Palestinian cause and has been principled and consistent in his unsparing critiques of Israel.

It was, then, as disappointing as it was disgusting to see the man insulted to a particularly appalling degree by none other than Nick Cohen.

Cohen has certainly been no hero of mine and his previous makes it a cast-iron certainty that he never will. His bizarre insistence that the left is anti-Semitic, his support for the invasion of Iraq and his US apologia place him in a political space somewhere to the right of Blairite fundamentalists. Which, as you might have noticed, isn’t really how I roll.

Even so, to brand CSM a “… fascist-loving fucker” during a Facebook exchange, earlier today, was unworthy even of the red-baiting Islamophobic Cohen.

On one level, it’s just Facebook though, right? Not a medium renowned for inculcating sober and reflective contemplation of weighty geopolitical issues. On the other hand, however, Cohen’s outburst is typical of the increasingly hysterical denunciations meted out to those who oppose the brutality, immorality and illegality of the Zionist terror state. They’re desperate to make Jews synonymous with Israel; ergo any criticism of the latter is de facto anti-Semitism. Look no further than the Zionist outrage currently levelled at the hapless members of the Tricycle Theatre Company.

Notwithstanding the discomfort and upset caused to the Charles Shaar Murrays and Tricycles of the world, in one sense all this is actually good news. The increasingly shrill protestations of Israel’s apologists are because the mask has slipped. They’re losing the PR war and they know it. When even natural allies like Boris Johnson are forced into making criticisms of Israel’s literal and figurative overkill, you know the tide is turning.

You only sing when you’re winning and you’re not singing anymore.

Not singing but whining.

Categories
Politics & Current Affairs

When Pigs Fly

Good evening and here is the news from the BBC.

Talks between Palestine and Israeli militants are entering their second day.

But Likud, whose armed wing continues to bomb Gaza, says there is no agreement and there is a big gap between the two sides’ positions.

The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – has warned of renewed fighting if Palestine does not end its resistance to the blockade of Gaza’s port. Four weeks of fierce fighting between Palestinian forces and Israeli militants has claimed more than 1,900 lives.

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State told the BBC, “The armed wing of Likud – the Israeli Defence Force – is a terrorist organisation and Palestine has the right to defend itself. We support that right. Meanwhile, we are hopeful that progress can be made by continuing dialogue over the next seventy two hours.”

The issue of human shields continues to cause controversy. BBC reporter, Jeremy Bowen, recently returned from Gaza, said, “I saw no evidence of Palestinian forces using Israelis as human shields.” By contrast, Israeli militants have been condemned for their use of human shields. Recent photos of a captured Palestinian teenager, handcuffed to the bonnet of an IDF vehicle, drew statements of condemnation from several world leaders.

British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said, “Any organisation which exploits and abuses civilians in this way is a terrorist organisation and until such people renounce violence and these heinous acts there can never be a lasting peace.”

In other news Oceania is still at war with Eurasia.

Israeli_army_using_Palestinians_as_human_shields