Friday Night Music Club

Here we are again, this week with the penultimate part of my six-hour mix, divided into six parts for your ‘delectation’.

And this week I think it’s fair to say we’re going full-on Indie Disco, albeit one from circa 1992 (with a few notable exceptions).

It’s also fair to say that once we’ve got past the chanting monks at the start of the first tune (and what better way is there to start a mix than with some chanting monks, right?) we go very LOUD before settling down to a mix of songs you’ll know, some you’ll have forgotten about, and possibly some that you’ve never heard before. Which is exactly how an Indie Disco should be, in my book: entertain and educate.

Many of these tunes remind me of when I used to DJ at college, but two in particular remind me of the first time I DJ’d in around 10 years or so (I’m excluding the time Llŷr and I DJ’d at a friend’s wedding, as all I did that day was hand him records to play).

I was at a party at Hel’s old flat in North London; our friend Ruth, her decks set up on the breakfast bar which looked out on to the living room-cum-dancefloor, has just performed a mammoth set of around 8 hours. People were starting to leave, and I figured she deserved a break. It was around 4am when I sidled up to her: “Do you mind if I have a go?” She nearly bit my hand off, and went and sat on the sofa with Hel.

Since they were practically my entire audience, every one else having left or crashed out, I decided to play some quieter stuff. My first choice caused both of my audience to break off their conversation momentarily, look in my direction, and go “Awwww!” I repeated the trick with my second choice. “Ahhhhhh!”, sighed the two ladies.

“Still got it,” I thought to myself, and played for another hour or so, until it was time to pack the decks away so Ruth could go home too.

I shan’t spoil things by telling you which two tunes I played, but you’ll spot them alright. Partly because, if you know the tunes in question (and I’d be very surprised if you don’t recognise either of them) you’ll probably make similar noises to Hel and Ruth when they start (I’ve put them together here, for maximum effect), but mostly because I couldn’t resist putting a massive sign-post in right before them.

I’ve done mixes, playlists, call them what you will, for years in various guises, from mix-tapes played in the 6th Form common room, in the motorway ‘restaurant’ I worked in during the holidays at 6th Form and at college (and for a year after I graduated), and in the video shop I pretended to work in after I finally graduated, all were sound-tracked by an ever-growing collection of mix-tapes. DJ’ing at college was almost inevitable, really. And then, when I left college – bar a very short, unpleasant stint working for a mobile DJ in Cardiff in the early 90s, which I’ll tell you about some other time (if I haven’t do so already) – nothing.

It was in those moments, standing in Hel’s kitchen, playing to an audience of two awake people and several sleeping ones, that I realised how much I missed DJ’ing, which is why I do these mixes.

So whilst the last of the six parts will be here next week, I’m already adding the final touches to the one for the week after. In short: tough luck, I’m not stopping just yet.

Time for the usual disclaimer: any skips and jumps in the mix are down to the mixing software; any mis-timed mixes are down to me (although on this one, it’s all about the timing rather than the mixing, as the cross-fader literally didn’t move from it’s central position throughout this one).

A cross-fader, yesterday

I’m not sure if that’s something I should be proud of, let alone advertise, to be honest…

There is, as usual, a little bit of potty-mouthed effing and jeffing, only on one song (I think), and as you cast your eye down the track-listing below, you’ll have no problem identifying which one it is. Previous mixes have contained worse (and next week’s mix definitely does), but it would be remiss of me not slap one of these on it for those of a delicate constitution:

Here you go:

Friday Night Music Club Vol 6.5

And here’s your track-listing:

  • Eat – Bleed Me White
  • Hole – Celebrity Skin
  • Senseless Things – Homophobic Asshole
  • The Futureheads – The Beginning of the Twist
  • Northside – Take 5 (7″)
  • The Fatima Mansions – Only Losers Take The Bus
  • The Smiths – Jeane
  • Billy Bragg – Sexuality
  • Elastica – Connection
  • Sleeper – Inbetweener
  • The Cure – In Between Days
  • Super Furry Animals – (Drawing) Rings Around The World
  • Teenage Fanclub – Star Sign (Remastered)
  • The Soup Dragons – Slow Things Down
  • Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday
  • Blur – Coffee + TV (Radio Edit)
  • Pulp – Something Changed
  • One Dove – White Love (Radio Mix)
  • Prince – Little Red Corvette

Next week is, then, the final part of this series, where the cross-fader is in full effect as I give you over an hour of dance bangers (as I believe “The” “Kids” say, or used to anyway), which tests my actual mixing skills to the maximum, including as it does what my mate Rob insists is “the hardest tune in the world to mix in or out of.”

Tune in next week to see how successful I am.

More soon.

Janice is Gone

I hadn’t intended to post anything else until the New Year, but, sadly, recent events have meant that I feel compelled to crank the old laptop into life on my first night at home and post something.

I’ve spent the past three nights safely ensconced in the bosom of my family, Lateral Flow Tests dutifully completed before visiting. I had a really lovely time, the only black mark coming late Saturday night/early Sunday morning when the news broke.

I say I had a really lovely time, and I mean that, my time split fairly evenly between eating, drinking and watching TV or, more precisely, falling asleep in front of the TV. This seems to be a family trait, but then my father is in his mid-80s and my mother – who probably won’t thank me for telling you this – moves into her eighth decade in a little under a month, so they’ve both got a much better excuse than I have, and have earned the right to an occasional snooze in any event. By Sunday, my father felt compelled to comment: “You’re like a bloody vampire, you only come to life when it gets dark!”

Saturday night arrived, and my parents decided they would prefer to sleep in a horizontal position during night hours and headed off to bed. I stayed up to watch TV for a while longer and also to have a scroll through Twitter to see what kind of Christmas had been enjoyed by those I follow. But literally the first thing I saw was this, from music journalist, author and broadcaster Pete Paphides:

I felt my heart begin to sink, and immediately checked Janice’s own Twitter feed – nothing since June when she announced he was in a hospital in Liverpool and “bored silly” – and then the BBC news website – nothing at all. Probably some misunderstanding then, I thought.

I scrolled on and came across an exchange between Sean Dickson, formerly of The Soup Dragons fame and Ian McNabb of The Icicle Works:

There was nothing else in McNabb’s Twitter feed so, after noting equally concerned tweets from Lloyd Cole and Martin Rossiter, I figured it unlikely there would be any news until the morning, so, after raiding my parents cupboard of munchies, I headed to bed too.

When I awoke on Sunday, I checked my phone almost immediately. And there it was: Janice Long had died after a short illness on Christmas Day.

As I said right at the top of this, I hadn’t intended to post anything else until the New Year; I try not to make this blog just about famous people from popular culture who have sadly passed away, but the brutal truth is that when you’re my age, the majority of the people whose work I admire are a good twenty years or so older than me. They’re all at an age when that terribly sad news is going to come sooner rather than later.

Here, I try to just write about the ones whose loss I feel most acutely, but sometimes I get that wrong. To this day I rue not writing anything when Caroline Aherne, Victoria Wood and – and it may seem strange to include her in this trio – Sarah Harding from Girls Aloud passed, for these were all deaths which caught my surprise, knocked the wind out of me, and by the time I had composed my thoughts, too much time had passed so that anything I wrote might be considered a bandwagon-jumping after-thought.

So, I’m not prepared to let Janice suffer the same fate.

Janice made a career out of breaking glass ceilings; having joined Radio 1 in 1982, by 1984 she was rewarded with her own daily show on BBC Radio 1, the first woman to achieve this. She was also the first woman to host Top of the Pops; if you’ve been watching the reruns of the show on BBC4 over the past few years, you’ll have noticed that, after David ‘Kid’ Jensen quit the BBC, she was often paired with John Peel, and it was a partnership which flourished. The two obviously loved working together and held a mutual respect for each other (and if you’ve ever read Peel’s autobiography Margrave Of The Marshes you’ll know that this was not a professional courtesy extended to all of his Radio 1 colleagues).

For example:

When her death was confirmed, I commented on Twitter that at least she would be met by her old partner-in-crime and they could get up to some more japes. I bet Peelie’s sad but delighted she’s there, and right now they’re slagging off all the current chart acts they hate, whilst also swapping notes about all the stuff the other has missed out on.

In 1985, she was also one of the hosts of the BBC coverage of Live Aid; here she is interviewing Status Quo shortly after they have came off stage having kicked off proceedings:

After her time at Radio 1 was over, Janice began presenting a Saturday afternoon show on Radio 2, before taking over the post-midnight slot. But this was no Quiet FM show a la Smashie & Nicey, nosireebob – every show would start with an absolute old school indie banger (usually something from her Liverpudlian roots: Teardrop Explodes, Echo & The Bunnymen, Pete Wylie/Wah!) whilst at the same time championing new acts and getting them in for exclusive sessions – Janice was the first presenter to give Amy Winehouse a radio session – a formula (classic old track followed by something more recent, repeat till end of show) which a cursory listen to any of the current crop of 6Music DJs will confirm is copied to this day.

Although I listened to her every now and again in the Radio 1 days, it was here on Radio 2 that I became a regular member of her audience. I loved the mix of the old and the new, but more than anything, it was her style of presenting I adored, which was almost conversational, like an older sister thrusting a record into your hands and saying “Give this a listen, I think you’ll like it.”

Indeed with the advent of social media, texts and tweets, Janice became more accessible to her adoring audience. On a Monday night/Tuesday morning, she would choose a subject and ask her listeners to make appropriate suggestions; then she would pick the best and compose a playlist which would air on Thursdays, her last night of the week. I remember once, perhaps with one twinkling eye on Smashie & Nicey dedicating records to “all the truckers out there”, she asked for listeners to suggest songs about their favourite roads that they regularly drove. I emailed her – not really expecting to get an answer – and said that, as a non-driver, I felt a little excluded this week – could we make the subject our favourite songs about roads instead?

Imagine my surprise when she not only read out my email, but also agreed to tweak the subject to my suggestion.

And then, to cap it all off, on the Thursday she began her playlist with the words: “And here’s the song which kicked it all off, suggested by Jez…” and played this:

Billy Bragg – A13, Trunk Road To The Sea

To my mind, Janice would have been an ideal 6Music DJ, and she was there, for a short time, between 2002 and 2004, hosting Dream Ticket, a show which played current music as well as music from the BBC music session and live performance archives. She should still have been there, but instead, she left Radio 2 in 2017 after her show’s length was outrageously cut, moving to BBC Radio Wales. I’d always meant to tune into her there, but, alas, had never quite gotten round to it

Like many others – go to Twitter, type in the words Janice Long in the search bar and see the outpouring of sorrow at her passing – Janice’s death has left me a little numb.

Trying to find a song which sums all of this up, well…there’s one which is so obvious I can’t help but post it. Written as a comment on her exit from Radio 1 – if memory serves, and I should stress I can’t find anything to confirm this, she was fired when she became pregnant yet was unmarried – this is a pre-fame (short-lived as it was) tune and to my mind the best thing the band in question ever did (and I really like them, as I’ve mentioned before).

I’ve posted this before, here, and if anyone is interested enough, let me know via the Comments and I’ll re-up all the other songs mentioned in that post.

But for now, here’s the Milltown Brothers and their utterly wonderful and sadly appropriate song, Janice is Gone:

Milltown Brothers – Janice Is Gone

It’s a rare event when you can post a song so perfect to mark someone’s passing. I’ve only ever really managed it once before, when posting The Larks’ Billy Graham’s Going to Heaven on the day the death of the evangelist was announced.

But I take no pride or satisfaction in this. I’d much rather Janice was still with us than having to post this song.

RIP Janice. You will never know just how much you were loved and will be missed.

Keep spinning those tunes up there.

More soon.

No Pressure

Many moons ago, when I could be bothered with posting here on a semi-regular basis, I wrote a post where I moaned about stupid things people say on TV quiz shows. You know, back when I used to write about the important things in life, before I became besotted with trivial matters like Brexit, our corrupt, inept Government and the like.

I spotted another one the other day. At least, I say another one, because I haven’t been able locate the original article to check. Let’s assume I didn’t include this one.

It gets said by people in every day life too, but in the world or TV quiz shows, it is usually preceded by the host saying something along the lines of: “You need to get this right or you’ll be knocked out.” (Of the quiz, that is. The quiz show where somebody is beaten about the head until unconscious for getting an answer wrong has not yet aired in the UK. Only a matter of time though. I’d watch it.)

The contestant will then, with air on inevitably, say this:

“No pressure, then!”

It’s always delivered with such chirpy cheerfulness it’s intention can only be to puncture the pressure bubble building up around them, to show some bravado, some fearlessness in the face of great jeopardy. And I understand the latent need to show no fear, but man alive, think of something more original to say, will you? It just makes me want to put some shoes on, so I can take them off again and hurl them at the TV in anger.

It may have been funny, once. Actually, no, I don’t even think it was funny that many times. In fact, I’ll bet the first time somebody ever said it, everybody in their immediate vicinity avoided eye contact, shook their heads and muttered the word “Twat” under their breath.

I’d have more respect for them if they launched into Blackadder quotes like: “I laugh in the face of danger. I drop ice cubes down the vest of fear.”

Or – much as I dislike musicals where the cast suddenly, spontaneously, all break into a song which none have heard before but all miraculously know not just the words to, but also the choreographed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life dance moves – if they broke into song. It would certainly display a maniacal disregard for their current circumstance.

Here’s some suggestions:

Spandau Ballet – Chant No. 1 (I Don’t Need This Pressure On)

Or, for those who love a little a capella (although I wouldn’t recommend this as a sing-a-long, it’s literally only here because of the pun in the title):

Billy Bragg – I Don’t Need This Pressure Ron

Or, finally, those who might want to bop around like it’s 1991:

Sunscreem – Pressure

Look, I know it’s not of much substance, but at least I’ve actually written something.

Or, to put it another way:

More soon.

Rant

Just one week off, please, one week where nothing happens to get my goat, one week where I can post something nice and positive of a Saturday morning. That’s all I ask.

But no. Here I am, banging on yet again about the latest injustice and trying desperately to justify it by tagging a tune or two on at the end.

We’ll get on to the biggie soon enough, but let’s start with some good news for a change.

This week, taxi/private hire company Uber finally gave in to a recent Supreme Court ruling that their drivers were not, as Uber had previously contested, self-employed but were employees, and as such entitled to the normal “perks” other employees were entitled to: a minimum hourly wage, sick pay, pensions.

It comes to something when it takes a Supreme Court ruling before companies will give their workers what they are entitled to, and is indicative of how some companies will try and bend the rules, squirm through as many loop-holes as possible, to try to exploit their staff and maximise their own profits. (Take) That’s Capitalism, folks!

But this isn’t just about the exploitation of your working man (or woman): research by Citizens Advice has suggested that as many as 460,000 people in the UK could be falsely classified as self-employed, costing up to £314m a year in lost tax and employer national insurance contributions. That’s £314m which the Government could be passing on to their mates, so I’m struggling to see why the fight was so hard, the original ruling having been handed down in 2016, but then contested by Uber. Surely Johnson or Hancock or Raab could have waded in, insisting they accept the ruling, hand over the cash in a brown envelope to be swiftly popped into the pocket of old Spewy Dickson – seriously, he was such a laugh at college – who swears he knows how to rattle up a few Covid-compliant face masks or aprons or something?

Uber operates around the world, with the company valued at more than £50bn.

I often wonder: just how rich do you have to be, before you stop being a greedy arsehole?

And then I think of “Sir” Philip Green, his love of other people’s money, and yachts, and conclude: well, richer than him, apparently.

Some of the people I went to school with have ended up being far wealthier than me. And that’s fine, I’m comfortable with that. I rarely meet up with them these days, but on the occasions that I do, I always feel them looking down on me, wondering where things went wrong for me. I was a fairly bright, if lazy, pupil when at school, I could have made money like they did, why haven’t I?

Because I have no desire to be wealthy, that’s why. I’m quite happy, bobbing along in my moderately-paid job, paying my taxes, my rent, my bills, and enjoying whatever I have left after doing so; eking out my monthly salary until the next payday is part of the rollercoaster of life for me, safe in the knowledge that whilst I am certainly not as well off as some, I’m definitely better off than many.

Will I make it to the end of the month without resorting to beans on toast as a staple meal? Yes, usually. Will I have any money left over at the end of the month to pop away in a savings account? No, not usually, for I am far more likely, with a few days to go until payday, to splash out on a takeaway or a bottle or two of something to make my Friday night a go with a whizz.

I can’t think of much worse than being so wealthy the question of whether I can afford something or not never enters my head. How dull their lives must be! To misquote Joe Fagin’s 1984 hit and theme tune to Auf Weidersehen, Pet!: That’s Not Living, Alright?

But I digress: the action against Uber had originally been brought by the ADCU, the App Driver and Couriers Union, on behalf of two of its members, Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, which leads me to the first tune of the morning.

As mentioned last weekend, I am a huge Billy Bragg fan, although generally I prefer his (unrequited) love songs to the political songs with which he’s most associated by those who don’t really know anything much about him.

This song first appeared on his “difficult third album”, Talking With The Taxman About Poetry, but that’s not a version I’m fond of – it’s a bit too Billy-By-Numbers, if that makes sense. Somewhere I used to have a full band version, all fiddles and folk, but frustratingly I cannot lay my hands on it right now (it popped up on a B-side somewhere, I’m sure….I may be thinking of the instrumental version on Greetings to the New Brunette, but I don’t think so….), so instead here are two versions which I found on YouTube when frantically searching for the lost-Billy version.

The first is what YouTube insists is lifted from the closing credits of the wonderful movie Pride, although, whilst I recall the song being used, I don’t recall it having a choir and a brass band on it, as this does. I’ll have to revisit, which will be an absolute joy as Pride is one of my favourite films from the last twenty tears, telling the true story of a London based group of gays and lesbians (before they would have been called LBGT+) supporting a Welsh mining village during the strike of the mid-1980s. If you’ve never seen it, put that right as soon as possible.

The second version I found is a bluegrass version performed by a collective called Pickers’ Local 608. It’s rather good:

As a disclaimer, I’ve not had chance to do due diligence and look into Picker’s Local 608, so I do hope they don’t turn out to be of the redneck Confederate breed.

And so to the grim stuff.

*****

Remember last year, when we watched how Trump dealt with the BLM protests, how multiple examples of police brutality were caught on camera? And remember how, whilst we condemned it, we, privately, breathed a sigh of relief and thought: “Well, that could never happen here”…?

Well, last weekend, it did.

And here too, many disturbing photographs were taken, as the police waded in to break up what was, to all intents and purposes, a vigil, not a protest, in memory of Sarah Everard, the woman murdered as she walked home alone one night.

Around the world these images flowed, none more evocative and widely shared than this one:

Over the course of the day, mourners had left flowers around the bandstand of Clapham Common, close to where Everard vanished. One such mourner was Princess Cathy, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was seen paying her respects:

Not wearing a mask, I notice.

Funny how the police didn’t wade in when she was there, right? You’d think the Royal Family would have welcomed a change in focus after the couple of weeks they’ve had.

But no, it was much later that evening that the trouble started. And by trouble, from everything I’ve seen, I mean the actions of the police who suddenly decided that the crowd needed to be broken up.

Now, it would not be entirely truthful to say that this was simply a vigil, with no protest aspect attached. Placards were displayed, songs were sung. But what protest took place was, again from what I’ve seen, 100% peaceful, until PC Law decided enough was enough.

And, to my eyes, its important to note that both were going on at the same time, but neither vigil nor protest was worthy of the attention the police gave them. Peaceful protest, even in these times of Covid restrictions is permitted. Indeed, the activities of the day, whilst originally blocked by the Courts, were ultimately allowed to take place.

What followed was an upsurge in real life stories from women about occasions that they have felt scared, threatened, or, on far too many occasions, actually been assaulted by men as they made their way home after a night out.

The #MeToo movement over the past couple of years shocked many of us, but I still think a large amount of people considered the hashtag related exclusively to the famous, the celebrities who had been abused or forced to the euphemistically referred to “casting couch”. Referring to it as such allows you to escape the horror of what that actually means, in a way that the victim was unable to.

Personally, I know of at least two of my female friends who have been assaulted as they travelled home. Both in London, but that doesn’t mean it’s a London problem.

This is a male problem.

And I pray that, reading all of the stories women have posted on social media, men finally learn to change their behaviour.

We all need to reassess our actions. I’ve never assaulted anyone, never taken advantage of anyone when they were drunk or alone or vulnerable, but even I can look back at certain incidents in my life and think: “I could have behaved better there”.

The protest which ran parallel with the vigil was, largely, from the Reclaim The Night movement. Put very simply, all this movement asks is that women be allowed to travel safely at night in the same way as men do. It’s such a basic request, that it saddens me to my very core that they even have to exist. Here. Now. In 2021, when we’re all supposed to be equal, except we’re clearly not.

I pray, but I’m an atheist, so I’m not confident anything will happen as a result of my prayers.

I’m certain that the man who wrote this song didn’t do so in order that it might be included in a blogpost about how women should be able to walk the streets without fear of intimidation or assault, but at first blush it seems to fit. It’s the “Because the night belongs to us”, I’m thinking of here as making this appropriate.

I could have posted any number of versions of this song, but I’ve gone for my very favourite:

By way of a reaction, the Metropolitan Police have announced that once COVID lockdown measures are lifted, they plan to employ more plain clothes officers to frequent bars and clubs, in an effort to stamp down on offences of the nature mentioned.

Which rather overlooks the fact that the person arrested and charged with Sarah Everard’s murder is…a serving policeman from the Metropolitan Police.

Yeh, nice one. I’m sure that will put many people’s concerns to rest.

*****

Now, you know when something seismic has happened, where public opinion and sympathy lies in a particular way, because politicians suddenly leap into action and want to be seen to be doing the right thing.

And so it was that our Home Secretary, old Smirky McSmirkface herself, Priti Patel, criticised pictures of officers manhandling women at the vigil, rebuked the Met commissioner, Cressida Dick, and ordered an inquiry.

Quite right too, until it emerged later in the week that Patel had sent a memo to all police chiefs making her position clear: she wanted them to stop people gathering at vigils. (She also promised she would personally urge people not to gather – but she never did.)

And this shouldn’t be much of a surprise to those who had followed a bill which passed it’s second reading at almost the same time Patel was feigning outrage, a bill which written by Patel, further restricts the ability to protest and increases police powers.

What is interesting is that in the debate about the bill on Monday she said this: “On Friday my views were know and they were based on the fact that people who wanted to pay tribute within the locality… laying flowers was the right thing to do.” Which rather implies the opposite of the leaked memo, that she encouraged the Met to let the vigil go ahead, but ho hum, lying to Parliament seems to be acceptable these days, just ask our PM.

Now, permission to protest is one of the cornerstones of democracy; remove it, as this bill seeks to do, and we are sleepwalking into a territory where dissenting voices can no longer be heard in public.

One of the problems with this Bill is that it allows Patel to change the meaning of the phrase “serious disruption” whenever she likes:

In other words, this Bill seeks, amongst other things, to limit the power and ability to protest, whilst also giving Patel the power to decide what is and isn’t acceptable. What the bill should do is lay down the terms, rather than leave it in the hands of someone who has a proven record of being a duplicitous bully to decide.

The Bill attacks, on a permanent basis the fundamental human right of peaceful assembly.

For example, under this Bill, the Home Secretary (Patel, as it stands) could decide that one person protesting in a vocal manner in public should be shut down and imprisoned.

Netpol analysis of BLM demos found that “black-led protests disproportionately faced excessive interventions by police”. This Bill radically increases police power and discretion to impose restrictions on protests. It allows them to impose them not for disruption, but for “impact”, and on the broadest, vaguest and lowest possible basis. It allows police to impose restrictions if they believe a single passer-by will experience “serious unease” from the noise.

These aren’t flashers we’re talking about, likely to cause offence by wanging their wongers in the general direction of some schoolgirls; they’re people exercising their democratic right to protest. Make no mistake about it, this is the most violent attack on our civil liberties we’ve seen since Thatcher blocked flying pickets during the miner’s strike.

I’ll end by quoting the words of Nadia Whittome, MP, as part of the debate on the bill: “There is so much wrong with this bill that three minutes couldn’t possibly cover it. We’re debating it today because the home secretary despised Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter…[The Bill] expands police powers to levels that should not be seen in a modern democracy. If we were debating this legislation in another country, I’m sure members of this House would be condemning that country as an authoritarian regime…We’re sick of male violence. We’re sick of male violence whether it’s at the hands of the state, our partners, our family members, or strangers. And we march because some people don’t survive that violence. The public realm belongs to women too…[The Bill] hands unaccountable power to the police. The same police that were forcing women to the ground on Saturday night.”

The same police which includes the man charged with the murder of Sarah Everard.

It’s cheesy, I know, but there’s only one song which can illustrate this properly:

Ayes: 359 Noes: 263 The bill passed it’s second reading.

There’s still the Committee stage, where the Bill is given a right good going over, so there’s hope.

And there’s still the House of Lords, who might well kick this back for further review and amendment.

Pray this bill doesn’t get passed in its current format, so your voice can still be heard.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

This week, I have been mildly obsessed with Billy Bragg. For three reasons.

Firstly, apropos of nothing, I had this, an extra track on his You Woke Up My Neighbourhood CD single, as an earworm for a few days:

Secondly, because as long-term readers may recall, a load of my vinyl inexplicably vanished a few years ago, stolen either by an ex-flatmate who did a runner, or by some unsavoury types invited back from a ropey local pub and left unsupervised by later flatmates, and amongst the records lost was my entire collection of Billy’s records.

This week, all for the princely sum of £15.00 + P&P (a bargain!), I (re)purchased Brewing Up With…, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy, and a 12″ single of this, :

…which of course includes this on the B-side, guitar courtesy of Mr Johnny Marr:

Billy Bragg – Walk Away Renee

Thirdly, because, to cheer myself up, I bought this bad boy:

No offence to Mr Bragg, but I bet you can guess which of the three tunes I still cannot play.

Nobody plays guitar like Johnny Marr.

More soon.

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.