Remembering Kirsty

It was twenty years ago today, as the song almost goes, that we were robbed of one of the most wonderful musical talents the UK has ever produced: Kirsty MacColl.

Every year (provided I remember in time) I try to post something by Kirsty to remember her by. Here’s what I wrote the first time I wrote one of these posts:

In case you don’t know the story of her untimely demise, on 18 December 2000 she and her sons were on holiday in Mexico, and went diving in a designated diving area at the Chankanaab reef, that watercraft were restricted from entering. As the group were surfacing from a dive, a high-speed powerboat entered the area. Kirsty saw the boat coming before her sons did; Jamie (then 15) was in its path but Kirsty was able to push him out of the way. Tragically, in doing so she was struck by the boat and died instantly.

The powerboat involved in the accident was owned by Guillermo González Nova, multimillionaire president of the Comercial Mexicana supermarket chain, who was on board with members of his family. One of his employees, boat-hand José Cen Yam, stated that he was in control of the boat at the time of the incident. He was found guilty of culpable homicide and was sentenced to 2 years 10 months in prison. However, under Mexican law he was allowed to pay a punitive fine of 1,034 pesos (about £61) in lieu of the prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay approximately £1,425.22 in restitution to Kirsty’s family, an amount based on his wages.

To add insult to quite literal injury, eyewitnesses contradict Cen Yam’s claim that he was in control of the speedboat, and people who have spoken to him since say that he has admitted to receiving money – presumably from Nova – for taking the blame.

In May 2006, Emilio Cortez Ramírez, a federal prosecutor in Cozumel, was found liable for breach of authority in his handling of the MacColl case.

But Kirsty and her family have never found justice for her death.

*****

Here’s the first record I ever bought by Kirsty, the song which catapulted her to the pop-stardom she’d been flirting with the idea of for a few years prior to its release in 1984:

It’s ironic that someone who became so well-known for the brilliance of her own compositions should gain fame via a cover versions. But the writer of A New England has never forgotten that boost the song gave to both of their careers; to this day, whenever he plays it live, Billy Bragg still dedicates the extra verse that he penned for her version to Kirsty:

R.I.P. Kirsty.

More soon.

Tuesday Short Song

More ‘importing stuff to my iTunes’ discoveries for you this morning.

2019 – remember then? When all we had to worry about was Brexit and Trump? – saw the release of Best of Billy Bragg at the BBC – 38 tracks by the man himself lifted from various sessions between 1983 and 2019.

I imagine there’s a lot more than 38 tracks nestling in the archive, but this will do us for now. Each song is significantly different to the version we’re familiar with – the addition (or removal) of Dave “Woody” Woodhead on trumpet here, a topically mangled lyric there – so as to make it compulsory listening for any life-long fan such as I.

And of course, amongst those 38 tracks, there’s at least one which clocks in under the two minute mark:

Billy Bragg – The Busy Girl Buys Beauty

(Janice Long Paris Theatre, London Live, October 1999)

If you’re a fan of the Bard from Barking – and why wouldn’t you be? – this is an essential purchase.

More soon.

Carry On Ranting

Saturday morning used to be the time when I would have a rant on here about whatever was going on in the world that just happened to bugging me at the time.

But a few weeks ago, I decided I’d try and curb this side of things, and write fewer such posts.

If I may misquote Lloyd Bridges in Airplane!: it looks like I picked a hell of a month to give up ranting.

Because, well…there’s just so much that gets my dander up these days, it’s a wonder I’ve not exploded from bottled-up fury.

So, in no particular order, let me get some things of my chest.

August kicked off with The Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) announcing that since the Covid-19 crisis led to the abrupt closure of schools and an end to the 2019/2020 academic year, results would not be based on exams, because nobody had sat any. Instead, teachers were asked to use their professional judgement to estimate a grade and band for each pupil.

But that wasn’t the end of the process: the SQA then “checked and validated” the teachers’ estimates, and then “moderated” them to “ensure consistency across schools and colleges, and with results from previous years”.

Which, on the face of things, seemed fair enough. Until it transpired that one of the factors taken into consideration was how well each school had historically peformed; those pupils who attended schools which had performed poorly in the past were marked down, those who were fortunate enough to go to “better” schools, either had no amendment to their results, or got marked up.

In other words, it made not one jot of a difference how well a pupil had done, rather it was the school they attended which became the most crucial factor in the grade they received.

It will come as no surprise that schools which perform badly were, by and large, in deprived communities; those which did well in more affluent ones.

The process, in effect, disregarded the possibility of any pupil from a poorer, working class background achieving above and beyond what normally happened at the school in question.

Unsurprisingly, this caused quite a lot of upset, until, finally, earlier this week, there was a U-turn, when the Scottish Education Secretary, John Swinney, told the Scottish Parliament that 124,564 affected results would revert to the grades estimated by the pupils’ teachers.

A rare example of common sense prevailing, you might think. And you’d be right.

Except…

“Hold my beer” said the English Government, and the day before A-Level students were due to get their results (there’s nothing like forward planning, and this was nothinglike forward planning), announced that practically the same process as had shown to be controversially calamitous in Scotland would be used south of the border.

And who’d have guessed the outcome: 36% of entries had a lower grade than teachers predicted and 3% were down two grades.

Of course, the stock answer when challenged was that everything was fine and fair. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said the “majority of young people will have received a calculated grade…that enables them to progress to the destination they deserve, with the added safety net of being able to appeal on the basis of their mock results, as well as the chance of sitting autumn exams”, seemingly unaware that autumn is when the 2020/2021 academic year commences, and thus any pupil sitting an exam then would almost certainly be too late to find a place at their desired university, or even at an alternative one.

That “…progress to the destination they deserve…” bit is interesting, because, as in Scotland, it transpired that those pupils who had their results downgraded just so happened to be from more deprived areas; those that had their results left as is or improved, from more affluent ones.

Billy Bragg – To Have and To Have Not

Oh hang on a minute. Sarah Vine has had a pop at the Government about their handling of this, describing it as “confused and chaotic.” Maybe I’ve got it wrong and everything really is just fine and dandy then….

Where next? How about long-time staple of my rants: Brexit. How’s that going?

Well, despite the country grinding to a halt because of Covid-19, and our Goverment’s focus being on cocking right-up our response to that, the date by which we could ask for an extension to the transition period has passed, which means that come January 1st 2021, the UK will be leaving the EU, irrespecetive of what, if anything, has been agreed to replace it.

If there were a monthly “It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious” award, perhaps a trophy depicting someone slapping their forehead…

…then surely August’s recipient would be former Conservative party leader and ardent Leaver – I hate the term “Brexiteer”, it imbues them with a far more swashbuckling persona than is accurate, like they’re similar to the dubiously-named (and pronounced) Juan Sheet from those kitchen towel adverts (but without a foreign acccent, obviously) – Iain Duncan Smith.

For this month, IDS (an abbreviation which always makes me liken him to an irritable syndrome for a part of the body staring with a ‘D’ – I’ll let you make your own joke there) said this:

“Whilst the UK wants to have a good trade relationship with the EU as a sovereign state, the EU has different ideas…They want our money and they want to stop us being a competitor. The Withdrawal Agreement (WA) we signed last year sadly helps them…To avoid their own budget black hole, the EU gets £39billion as a “divorce payment” from us, reflecting our share of the current EU budget. But it gets worse. Buried in the fine print, unnoticed by many, is the fact we remain hooked into the EU’s loan book…the problem is the WA. It costs too much & it denies us true national independence.”

And that is estimated to be a further £160 billion that we will owe them.

Ordinarily, I’d be delighted that such a prominent Leaver seemed to be finally seeing sense, albeit it being tantamount to the stable door being closed so long after the horse had bolted that the horse has completed a long career in dressage, spent years retired on a city farm somewhere and has now been melted down and flogged to UHU.

But look at that “Buried in the fine print, unnoticed by many…” bit. And then remember that IDS voted for the WA and also attempted to stop the House of Commons having more time to discuss the agreement, as well as voting to reject the House of Lords amendments. Five times.

So, to be clear: IDS voted against proper scrutiny of the WA agreement, voted for it to be passed without amendment, and now says that he didn’t read it properly and wants it changed.

The Hives – Hate To Say I Told You So

What a numpty.

Sultans of Ping F.C. – Stupid Kid

Elsewhere in “one rule for them, one for us lot” news, a different vote from 2016 to the one I normally moan about came to prominence earlier this month, when news broke on that a senior Conservative MP had been arrested on suspicion of rape.

Now, I appreciate there is a whole seperate debate to be had about those directly involved such cases, by which I mean both the accused and the accuser, and their right to anonymity, and I can see both sides of the arguments which are usally proffered. On one hand, releasing the name of a high profile accused may lead to others who have suffered at their hands to come forward and thereby build a case against them. On the other hand, should the allegations prove to be unfounded or unproven, the ‘innocent’ accused’s name is irretreiviably tarnished.

Take former Blue Peter presenter John Leslie. Having left the world of children’s television and forged a career presenting game shows like Wheel of Fortune, and daytime TV show This Morning, his media work dried up when he was arrested in December 2002 on one count of rape and two concerning indecent assault. All charges were dropped in 2003. But mud sticks. I think the last time I saw him on TV was on the steps outside the courts on the day the case collapsed.

Not that I have much sympathy for him, especially when a quick bit of research to confirm the dates revealed that he was arrested again in June 2019, and charged with sexually assaulting a woman back in December 2008.

But here’s the thing: Leslie, and anyone else arrested on such charges, can be and often is named, irrespective of the irreperable damage this might cause them if cleared of all charges.

But Members of Parliament charged with identical offences cannot be named. For whilst there is no law that states that the accused in sexual abuse cases has a right to anonymity, Parliament, in that vote in 2016 I mentioned, voted to keep MPs’ arrests secret from the public. It stripped the public of any right to know if their MP is arrested for anything.

Want to know how good an idea that is? It was pushed through by Chris Grayling. You remember him, right? The muppet who awarded £13.8m to British firm Seaborne Freight to provide additional cross-channel freight capacity in case of a “no-deal” Brexit, only for it to later transpire that the company had never run a ferry service and owned no ships.

Anyway, allies of the MP arrested on suspicion of rape rallied round him, arguing that publishing their name would make it easy for people to discover the identity of the victim (who is entitled to remain anonymous, irrespective of status) who is known to be a former parliamentary staffer of the accused. Which would be fair enough if the accused had only ever employed one female. Perhaps the solution is for MPs to join the 21st century and start employing more women. But how many women are going to want to work in an environment where an accused sex offender continues to work?

Because in this very current example, the accused has not even been suspended whilst the police investigation continues.

They also argued that should an accused MP’s name be released, it would constitute a breach of their “right to privacy” under the Human Rights Act. But a reminder: they have no such qualms about the right to privacy of you or I should we ever be wrongfully charged with any crime.

Of course, rumours and speculation as to the accused’s identity has been rife. I have a sneaking suspicion who it is, someone normally perfectly happy to be seen in public or on TV but who has been noticeable by their absence for a few weeks. I’m certainly not going to name them here, or anywhere, though.

So, because everything I’ve written about so far is so grim, here’s a gif of Peter Griffin from popular cartoon Family Guy doing a funny dance, included for a bit of light relief, and completely unrelated to that last topic:

De’Lacy – Hideaway (Deep Dish Radio Edit)

The mention of ferries and crossing the English Channel to reach our sunlit shores leads me on to my final whinge, and it’s a double-header. On Thursday evening, the Goverment announced some additions to the list of countries on return from which travellers are obliged to self-isolate for 14 days.

This led to good honest British holiday makers starting an almighty Cannonball Run-type rush to get home before the deadline – 4am this morning – kicked in. Plenty of them were interviewed on the news throughout the day yesterday, many moaning about how unfair it is, and that they didn’t want to be inconvenienced by self-isolating on their return.

How terribly considerate of them, not for a second stopping to consider that they’re returning from a country where Covid-19 has spiked. Well, excu-u-u-u-use me, but if there’s a chance they might be carrying the virus, then we don’t want them wandering around over here, spreading their droplets all over the place. It’s the anti-masking, “Sod You Jack”, mentality writ large.

The countries removed from England’s exemption list to take effect from 4am this morning were (from the Government’s own website): Aruba, France, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands or Turks and Caicos Islands.

It’s confusingly worded, in my opinion. At first blush, that makes it sound like you don’t need to self-isolate if returning from any of those locations after 4am this morning, when actually the reverse is true.

Generally, the news coverage was fairly sympathetic to these poor, put-upon travellers, which was in direct opposition to how some other people trying to cross the Channel by much less established – and safe – modes of transport were portrayed: refugees.

(Annoyingly, the only shareable footage of the BBC’s coverage I could find to illustrate this comes via a discussion piece released by Novara Media, “an independent, left-wing alternative media organisation”. I’d rather not include any of their content, not because I particularly disagree with everything that is said in this clip (nor do I agree with everything said), but because I don’t really like to promote any media company which has a political agenda, be it left or right wing. So please do not take their inclusion here to be any kind of endorsement on my part; they’re there simply beacuse I don’t have the means to edit them out):

Imagine you’re crammed into a boat that size, with 20+ others, risking your lives to reach a new country and try to make a better life for your family. You see a boat coming towards you: it’s not the lifeguards or the police, and for a moment you think help is on it’s way. You’re saved!! And then a film crew start capturing a bloke with a mic boom in one hand shouting “Are you okay?” at you, giving a thumb-up in your direction, before turning back to the camera and describing how you were having to empty water out from your boat to prevent you from sinking.

We’ve been here before, of course. You’ll remember how the media whipped up a storm when the last asylum seeker “crisis” arose, and you’ll no doubt recall the moment that public opinion changed, when we suddenly realised how desperate these people are not just to reach safety, but to escape the horror and devastation that war is bringing to their own countries :

We’ve gone backwards again, haven’t we?

And then there’s our Home Secretary, Priti Patel, who seems to have forgotten that she herself is the daughter of Ugandan-Indian migrants. Priti wants to blockade the Channel and wants France to co-fund it. Sound familiar?

I suspect Patel’s suggestion will be met in France with a response not dissimilar to the one given by former Mexican President Vicente Fox:

Although, there will probably be a nonchalant shrug thrown in for good measure.

Some points that Patel (and she’s Home Secretary, so I would hope she knew all this at some point) would do well to remember: firstly, illegal immigrants only become illegal immigrants once their application for asylum has been considered and declined. Until then, they are perfectly legitimate asylum seekers, irrespective of how they got here.

Secondly, there is no law which states they must seeks asylum in the first country they arrive at. They are entitled to continue to travel on through any number of countries until they arrive at the country where they wish to seek asylum.

Thirdly, many of them are fleeing countries where the British Government has made a pretty penny from arming, and more than occasionally training, the agressive militia. If we have nothing else, then we have a moral obligation to help those leaving areas where that is the case.

Fourthly, they are human beings. Wouldn’t it be nice to treat them as such?

*****

Earlier this year, we had to ship in Eastern European workers to fill the defecit of fruit-pickers caused by many overseas workers, who were already living here legitimately, vacating our shores due to Brexit and the way they were being treated by some of those who voted to Leave. You know the ones I mean, and I certainly am not implying that all Leave voters did or would behave the same way.

And why weren’t those unskilled jobs filled by ? Because British people don’t want to do back-breaking work for very little pay. They’re too busy trying to find fame and fortune on whatever the latest reality TV show is.

I’ll wager every single person on that boat would happily do those jobs.

And they’d doubtless pay their taxes too.

R.E.M. – Let Me In

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could let in all those who want to work and contribute to our society, and cast adrift all the racists, the trouble-makers, the ne’er-do-wells who don’t?

More next time my blood pressure gets dangerously high. (Soon, probably.)

Mixing Pop and Politics

This morning’s post was going to be the next instalment of The Chain, but I’ve decided to have a jiggle around with the running order, so this will appear over the next few days.

In the meantime: I’ve been listening to a load of old cassettes recently, 90% of which are mix-tapes, 95% of which have no covers or explanation attached. The purpose is to a) see if they still play (most of them do, which given that they haven’t been near a tape deck for the best part of 20 years is, frankly, amazing) and b) to find out what the heck is on them.

One of the mix-tapes I found has the above title, a picture sleeve (which I hope to be able to scan on and share at some point) and a track listing. Looking at the tracks on it, I think I must have made it when I was away at college, which would date it around the 1988 – 1990 mark.

Since I’m on a self-enforced hiatus from talking about ISSUES, I thought I might post some of the songs which feature on said mix-tape, all by performers who are far better at articulating succinctly than I am.

And where better place to start than with the song from which that title is shamelessly pilfered?

“Mixing pop and politics, he asks me what the use is?

I offer him embarrasment and my usual excuses.”

I speak, of course, of none other than Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards, the closing track on (in my opinion) that last truly great album that Billy Bragg made, Worker’s Playtime. (Don’t get me wrong, there are more recent albums by him that I like a lot, but this was the last one that I truly loved.)

Waiting…. is such a wonderful song, starting with just Billy and his guitar and building to a call and response crescendo, backed by a full band. It’s laced with comic observations, historical references, and words of hope and frustration that The Great Leap hasn’t happened yet.

Most of you will know this record of course, but for those of you who don’t (and for those of you who do and just want to hear it again), here you go:

Billy Bragg – Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Magnificent.

The other thing I love about Billy’s output at the time, is that every record had that “Pay No More Than…” written on the front. This was, I believe, standard for the Utility label on which it was released; certainly I own other records released on the same label which carried the same instruction. What this meant was that retailers couldn’t charge more, as UK trading law stipulates that where there are multiple prices for the same item, they had to charge the lowest one shown.

And yes, I can hear some of you young ‘uns muttering about how a download these days only costs £0.79 per song on average, but consider this: back then, a single would cost you a couple of quid and unlike now, where you just get a button to press to play, back then (and again, now, with the resurgance in vinyl) you used to get an actual item, which you could hold, read, physically remove from its sleeve, place on a turntable and drop a stylus on to it.

Oh dear. I appear to have a) made A POINT and b) turned into a bit of an old “it was better when I was young” fuddy duddy.

Ah well. I can live with that.

As a special treat, then, here’s Billy performing Waiting… at a gig I’ve got buried away somewhere on an old VHS tape. He’s joined on stage for the crescendo by Michelle Shocked and various member of The Beatnigs. And if that’s not enough, luckily for you, there’s a few songs before we get to Waiting…, namely A New England (without the extra verse dedicated to Kirsty MacColl, which dates this to before her sad passing), Tender Comrade, Ideology (with an extra verse likening the UK Government of the time with the apartheid-loving South African Government), and then there’s Waiting… which, let’s just say Billy has a lot of fun updating the words to (as he often does, regular Bragg-gig attendees will attest).

More soon.

Never Buy The Sun

Not content with merely propping up the most dangerously stupid Government in history, and having already hounded one woman out of the country this year, we learn today that a female celebrity has committed suicide following constant targeting from the red tops.

Billy knows what and what not to do:

Billy Bragg – Never Buy The Sun

More soon.

Billy’s Uncle

For my sins, given how badly they’ve played so far this season, I’m off to watch Tottenham in the Champions League.

Ordinarily, a football related post would most appropriately be accomanied by a tune by Half Man Half Biscuit, who have a wealth of footie-related references spattered all over their back catalogue.

But not today.

For tonight’s opponents – Red Star Belgrade – bring one particular song to mind, and a rhyming couplet which I’ve not been able to get out of my head since I got a DM on Twitter from my old mate Richie asking me if I wanted to go.

This one:

Billy Bragg – Sexuality

More soon.

How (Not?) To Do A Cover Version

I’m a little torn about whether this is a good or a bad cover version.

The problem is that both versions are by the same person.

In 1986, Billy Bragg released this as the second single from his “difficult” (but brilliant) third album, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry:

Billy Bragg – Greetings to the New Brunette

But then later – and I must confess, I’ve been trying to establish where this version first appeared, with no success (it probably tells me on the album on which it appears that I own a copy of, but as all my CDs are currently boxed away I can’t be arsed with digging it out) – he re-recorded it with a full band, and whilst he was at it, he re-titled it too:

Billy Bragg – Shirley

See, it’s not a terrible version, and in many ways I think it benefits from the full band treatment.

But here’s two reasons why the original is better:

  1. It has Johnny Marr playing guitar on it, and
  2. It has Kirsty MacColl doing backing vocals on it.

I rest my case.

More soon.

Hey Hey Hey, Here Comes Richard

Back in 1983, Billy Bragg released the very wonderful Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, seven tracks of love and politics, all just Billy and his trusty electric guitar.

In October 2013, it got the 30th Anniversary remaster and re-release treatment. As a bonus, it included the EP being played in it’s entirety, recorded live at London’s Union Chapel earlier that year.

And in between these two dates, sometime in either late 1986 or early 1987, I was introduced to the charms of Billy by my mate Richard.

Other than my father and my brother, and much later LlÅ·r, Rich was possibly the greatest influence on my musical taste. It was he who first played me The Smiths (of whom I was aware, but generally indifferent to), and, on the same evening, it was he who first played Billy Bragg to me (ditto).

And today, it’s Richard’s 50th birthday.

So here are those live tracks from that 30th Anniversary reissue, in the order he played them (which isn’t the order they appeared on the original release – he jiggles around with it to ensure A New England, complete with bonus verse “for Kirsty”, rounds things off nicely), complete with an explanatory introduction from Billy himself, which is just as well as he absolutely rips through the rest of the set:

Billy Bragg – Intro (Live)

Billy Bragg – Lovers Town Revisited (Live)

Billy Bragg – To Have and to Have Not (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Busy Girl Buys Beauty (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Man in the Iron Mask (Live)

Billy Bragg – Richard (Live)

Billy Bragg – The Milkman of Human Kindness (Live)

Billy Bragg – A New England (Live)

Happy 50th birthday, my old fruit.

And thank you.

More soon.

Believe

There was a really interesting article in The Guardian on Friday, detailing some of the rather more unconventional methods Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino has used during the team’s training sessions in the build up to today, which focus on increasing the players belief and faith in themselves.

Pochettino – and, indeed, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp – are both men of religious faith, but some of the methods mentioned here (walking on hot coals and breaking arrow tips with your neck) go a little beyond that in my book.

That’s not a criticism, especially not should we win, they just raised an eyebrow in Dubious Taste Towers.

Some fairly predictable songs, then:

EMF – I Believe

And final-ly…

More soon.

Ivor Gift for You

Last weekend (or was it the weekend before, I lose track so easily these days) I was at a friend’s 40th birthday. The DJ, a very lovely friend of mine, played Kirsty MacColl’s version of A New England. I was stood at the bar, awaiting service, when I became aware that a couple next to me were singing along to it, with pleasingly appropriate gusto.

It always fills my heart with joy, that. Not just to hear that record, but to witness others loving it as much as I do.

Prepare to have the wind sucked out of your sails.

The guy called to his spouse: “It’s a Billy Bragg song, but I’ve no idea who’s singing this.”

The woman shrugged.

I couldn’t help myself.

“Kirsty MacColl. It’s Kirsty MacColl. Famously, it’s Kirsty MacColl.” I spluttered/interjected.

“Is it?” the chap answered.

I braced myself for the follow-up “What’s she up to now?” question.

But instead, this, from his lady friend:

“He’s due a come-back, isn’t he, old Billy?”

I have rarely had to bite my tongue so hard.

“He’s never gone away….!” was all I could proffer.

And as proof, this week Billy has been given the Outstanding Contribution To British Music at this year’s Ivor Novello Awards.

Billy is a man who has stayed true to his principles whilst never losing the knack for bashing out a truly great tune.

I bloody love Billy.

Here’s one such great tune which features not only the dulcet tones of Ms. MacColl on backing vocals, but also one Johnny Marr, who plays guitar. Obviously.

billy-bragg-greetings-to-the-new-brunette-lineBilly Bragg – Greeting to the New Brunette

And here’s a slightly reworked version, which crops up on his B-Side heavy compilation, Reaching to the Converted (and probably, therefore, on a B-side somewhere, but I can’t be arsed with finding out which one):

R-803889-1433016018-4715_jpeg

Billy Bragg – Shirley

“How can you lie there and think of England when you don’t even know who’s in the team?” What a lyric.

Congrats Billy, this is long overdue.

More soon.