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?


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.

Politics & Current Affairs

Israel: You Only Sing When You’re Winning


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.

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.


Politics & Current Affairs

The Moral High Ground

As a writer, I have an almost instinctive objection to the old cliché, a picture paints a thousand words. Sometimes, though, one encounters just such a picture. This example, by Peter Brooks, which appeared in The Times on August 1st, justifies every letter of that trite and hackneyed old saying. No further explanation is required.

the moral high ground

Politics & Current Affairs

If Nottingham Were Gaza…

IMG_3702First published by the Nottingham Post, July 2014. Photo by Sue Paterson

The County of Nottinghamshire consists of approximately 835 square miles and houses a population of around 785,000 people.

Gaza, on the other hand, comprises only 141 square miles yet is home to nearly 2 million souls. It is the most densely-populated land-mass on the face of the earth. The occupants of Gaza – their captive status barely qualifies them as residents – exist in a desperate world of poverty and squalor. Food and adequate medical provision is in dangerously short supply and in every way the contrast between Gaza – in reality, the world’s largest open-air prison-camp – and our own County of Nottinghamshire could not be greater. Gaza is ‘home’ to 800,000 children who are being shelled, shot and bombed by the world’s 4th largest military power. Civilian deaths on the Gaza strip are horrific; over eighty percent of all deaths are non-combatants.

One wonders how Nottinghamshire residents would feel were they to find themselves evicted from their homes, their possessions and belongings stolen or destroyed, herded into Mansfield and prevented by force from leaving only to suffer the terror of bombs dropping upon their children as their schools, hospitals and playgrounds explode around them?

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Nottingham, with our colleagues across the UK, are not prepared to remain silent while this indiscriminate slaughter continues.  For the last couple of weeks – joined by hundreds of Nottinghamshire residents – we have been protesting outside the BBC premises on London Road at the biased and inaccurate media coverage of the continuing massacre on the Gaza strip. Our members have been involved in meetings, petitions, protests and other activities, all designed to publicise the plight of the Palestinians and to raise awareness of the brutality of Israel’s continuing illegal occupation of Palestinian land and its murder of Palestinian civilians.

This Thursday we will be marching from the BBC headquarters at 5.30pm to the City Council chambers on the Market Square. We will be presenting an official demand that the City Council boycotts all Israeli goods and services. We will demand our elected officials listen to the people they purport to represent and do the right thing for the people of Palestine.

There are those who say that we have little chance of the City council joining our fight. They say that the UK’s support for Israel, and given our political class’s all-out austerity attacks on its own people, means that our politicians are fatally compromised and will not help. Again, we disagree. We believe that Nottingham Councillors are made of sterner stuff. We believe they will do the right thing and stand with us, on the side of the Palestinians. We believe they will join the boycott, along with their colleagues in other local authorities around the UK. After all, who among our Councillors would disagree with Desmond Tutu when he said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”?


Talent Borrows, Genius Steals

Talent borrows, genius steals.

Chatting to my good friend and fellow music journo, Ian Winwood, recently, the aforementioned phrase cropped up (widely attributed to long-gone-to-seed purveyor of embarrassing dross, Paul McCartney, if you’re interested).

If true, then Dutch symphonic gothsters Within Temptation are surely occupying the same cerebral plane as Stephen Hawking. Covered in Roses, from the current album Hydra, is little more than a cheeky reworking of a tune from their preceding album, entitled Faster. Which itself was a homage to Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. Still with me? OK, but it gets better because said homage was actually inspired by HIM’s cover of Wicked Game. Confusing, I know, so allow me to sum up; what we have here is a band ripping-off their own song, which was a rip-off of a cover of someone else’s song. A rip-off of a rip-off of a cover. Cheeky, eh?

Personally, I don’t really care. Sharon den Adel has one of those voices that simply slays any objectivity to which I might aspire. Add in a canny and shamelessly commercial melody, a move-your-feet-now-muthafuckers rhythmic sensibility and a perfectly-judged tempo and your argument is invalid. As the kids say.



Politics & Current Affairs

Gaza: Resistance is Not Terrorism


Photo by Sue Paterson

Despite the avalanche of propaganda from Western media outlets, not least the disgraceful coverage by our own BBC, attempts to paint Palestinians on the Gaza strip as aggressors and terrorists are failing. Instead, growing revulsion at Israel’s continuing bombardment of the most densely-populated area on earth is almost palpable. Good and long overdue. However, an insidious and dangerous alternative philosophy is emerging, one that, in its own way, is just as damaging to the besieged and beleaguered Palestinians as the unashamed brutality and war crimes of the rogue terrorist state of Israel.

Liberal pacifists are the new enemy of Palestine. Those who, while opposing Israel’s state terror, are just as quick to apportion equal blame to the Palestinian cause. “Oh, both sides should stop the violence,” these worthies cry. On the hard left, too, there are those who say Hamas are terrorists and that socialists should have no truck with ‘clerical fascists.’

Such views are unacceptable and unwittingly or not, place the supporters of such sentiments firmly in the imperialist camp and render them apologists for continuing Zionist slaughter.

Violence does not exist in a vacuum. It is not an abstract, moral question. One should not allow pro-Israeli propaganda to neuter our critical faculties and turn us into political Quakers. The fact is that violence is neither objectively good nor bad; as with most things in life, context is everything. So let’s look at that context… [read more]




Matters of Life and Death

It’s been a while and I’m sorry about that, folks. Sorry, too, for the lack of reply to the emails, over the last few months. I will be replying to each and every one, over time.

I’ve been very busy since the book came out on March 1st, via Five Leaves Publications. I think I can speak for my publisher, Ross Bradshaw, as well as for myself, when I say we’ve been chuffed to bits with the response. The first edition was gone in a couple of weeks and the second took a battering, too, very quickly. I was overwhelmed at its reception. People really seem to love it and the dozens of emails from readers made worthwhile every single second of terror, self-doubt, excessive drinking, alienated family, unwanted weight-gain and sheer panic that comprised the writing of the bloody thing.

Reviews have been, without exception, excellent and it’s a buzz to have the critics as well as the readers respond so positively to my work. I can only say thank you; you’re all wonderful people.

The promo work was a great deal of exhausting fun. Talks, signings, lectures at literary festivals, trade union events, bookshops and appearances on TV and radio. One particularly mental scheduling clash sticks in  my mind; after speaking as a guest of North Ayrshire Unison, on a Friday night, I crawled from hotel bed at 3.00am to drive to Derbyshire to attend a very special event for a close friend.

I’ve also been very fortunate to receive outstanding support from people like Seumas Milne and Paul Mason. Seumas, with whom I had the honour of appearing at the excellent Five Leaves 30th anniversary strike celebrations, on my adopted home-turf of Nottingham, wrote a very generous endorsement-line for the front cover and Paul Mason, who is surely now one of the UK’s very best broadcast-journalists, wrote a moving afterword.

On a more personal note, I recently became a grandfather after my eldest son, Adam, and his partner, Katy, blessed us with the arrival of Fae Iris Paterson. To say I’m smitten is understating the case by some considerable distance. Fae’s arrival also underscored what has been a year of births and deaths. Beginnings and endings. The joy of her arrival contrasted with the horror of so many Palestinian deaths, many of whom have also been children. 2014, so far, a bitter-sweet symphony and no mistake.

So, as you can see, with one thing and another, the last few months have been busy, eventful but very enjoyable. Thanks to everyone who stuck with me during that time and for the support of some of the best readers an author could possibly have.

Apart from the bread-and-butter day-job commissions of a musical nature, I’ve had most of the summer off before I start the next book in the autumn. I’ll be spending as much of the down-time as possible with my granddaughter and getting involved in the various pro-Gaza and pro-Palestine campaigns that have, sadly, become vitally necessary over the last few weeks and about which you’ll be reading much more on this blog.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, folks, and remember; use the hashtag #SupportGaza when you Tweet.


Joe Bonamassa: N.I.A. Birmingham

Part I: In The Beginning

Verily, I sayeth to you, that God did visit his earthly dominion and the people rejoiced.

God’s marketing people have been revamping the Old Man’s image and approach, of late. After the last few thousand millennia, all that stone tablet nonsense, burning bushes and whatnot are now deemed wholly outdated, inappropriate and oh-so BC.

The message has certainly suffered as result of the hopelessly old-fashioned medium and in a sense that medium has become the message. Not good. All that resulting confusion, conflict and war, with myriad pygmy sects all convinced they and they alone have a hotline to the Big Man.

Well now he’s back; revamped, refashioned and rebranded. A deity fit for the digital age. He’s ditched the stone tablets and parting of seas, along with the other retro trappings of yore, and now, armed with an array of both electric and acoustic guitars, God is taking it to the people direct.

Of course there might be still be some lingering confusion regarding His real identity, not least on the part of the Divine dude himself; after all being both your own son and Father with a sprinkling of Holy Ghost added to the mix would confuse even the most well-rounded of Supreme Beings. The smart money knows the score, though; Joe Bonamassa, The Artist Formerly Known As God, is here in the flesh and Birmingham is ready for The Rapture.

Part II: As It Is on Earth

Confidence isn’t something you affect. It’s an essence. Something that stems from a core of knowing you can break rules and still succeed. In turn, it springs from only two places; deluded arrogance or unearthly talent. Sauntering on stage, sitting down and kicking-off your show, unplugged style, with barely an acknowledgment that in front of you are 12,000 souls, might seem risky and arrogant. But no. By the time He’d seared through the opening quintet of Palm Trees, Seagull, Jelly Roll, Athens to Athens and Woke Up Dreaming Birmingham had already had its money’s worth. Yes, really. There are few artists who make watching one man and an acoustic guitar such a thrilling experience.

One could scribble for hours, seeking to adequately describe the talent that Bonamassa displays with such effortless class, but that talent has an equal; commitment. While many top-flight artists are content to charge top-dollar for short-changing displays of complacent laurel-resting and water-treading, He pours every fibre of his being into the infinite litany of licks and motifs that cascade from fingertips like tracer-fire from Heaven.

No gimmicky effects, no arty backdrops and no Spielbergian lightshow; just The Man locking and loading with three consummate musical artisans. Despite the presence of 12,000 punters, reduced to stunned, pin-dropping silence on several occasions, the effect was akin to catching the hotly tipped next-big-thing in a packed sweat-box club. One of those I-was-there-when gigs that go down in rock ‘n’ roll history.

Part III: Revelations

It’s actually quite unnerving to realise that He’s actually getting better, too. No vocal slouch to start with, the voice now has an authority, a seasoned maturity and an authentically bluesy ache, that breathes added delight into old standards and self-penned gems alike. Here, too, there is improvement; Driving Towards the Daylight is now it is offered up as the universal paean to the human condition we always knew it could be.

Slow Train, slow-burn but high-octane, ramped up the energy as thousands of feet stomped in approval. Mountain Time was God’s gift to the weekend and then came, “… for the umpteenth time Sloe’ freakin’ Gin.” If you were there, you’ll know.

Absence of objectivity in a critic is a bad thing but not telling the truth is even worse. Whether it offends the cynics or not, one can only report that Joe Bonamassa is one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll talents currently working.

Hell of a show and no mistake.