Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond

Entries Tagged as 'Rant – Politics, Spirituality, etc.'

Londoners – don't forget to vote tomorrow!

April 30th, 2008 · 2 Comments

It’s the London Mayoral Elections tomorrow, and our chance to choose between the different flavours of turd on offer… As much as I think Ken has overstayed his welcome, the idea of Boris as London mayor is too horrific to consider. Not because of his affable buffoonery, but because of his horribly reactionary politics. He’s tried to rebrand himself as a Cameron-esque new Tory-Of-The-People, but it’s bollocks.

Brian Paddick just doesn’t have anything like the track record or spirit to be London Mayor, which of the serious candidates leaves Sian Berry of the Green Party – I’m pretty sure I’ll be voting Sian 1, Ken 2…

Here’s how it works – in London we have Proportional representation in this election, which means that EVERY VOTE COUNTS. This is great in terms of us feeling represented, but the downside is it means the BNP will benefit greatly from a low voter turn-out driven by the apathy towards the two main candidates.

Put simply, if you don’t vote for SOMEONE, it’s a step closer to the BNP getting onto the London Assembly. So vote. Get out and vote for the person you believe in. This is one election where voting Green actually means something in tangible terms. The Greens already have two members on the London Assembly, who have been integral to the environmental steps forward in the city. They’re looking to double that, so if you’re a green supporter, get out and help them do that.

For more on why the BNP are such a tragic option for any political situation, see A lot of people are disgruntled with the way the political situation has gone in the UK of late, and the cynical opportunists at the BNP have targeted those disaffected voters with their hateful message. Don’t give them a foothold.


Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

April 7th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thankyou Gordon Brown/Olympic committee…

Someone’s got to say it, so on behalf of the various campaign groups concerned with ending the Chinese occupation of and brutality in Tibet (none of which I officially represent or am a member of), I’d like to thank Gordon Brown for a day of phenomenal free world-wide publicity, at the expense of the reputations of his government, the olympic committee, the Metropolitan police force and London as a whole.

I mean, he can’t POSSIBLY have thought that the protests weren’t going to happen can he? He must have known that the strength of feeling about the ongoing MASSIVE human rights violations being carried out by the Chinese government in, well, just about everywhere they can reach in a 3 hour plane ride, was going to spill out onto the streets, given that the nonsense that passed for a ‘procession’ was going to be tracked by every major news agency on the planet.

Someone in government handily arranged for a bunch of turquoise track-suited Chinese body guards to run stony-faced alongside the torch, like a phalanx of David Icke-obsessed ninjas, waiting to seriously kick some ass should any of the protestors step out of line. Except they needn’t have been there, because lovely accomodating Meester Brown had arranged for the Police to overreact to everything, bundling people to the ground in the full glare of the world’s media lens. So, sadly no Jackie Chan-style ninja-skills from the Icke-ettes, but still plenty of amazing photo-ops, including but not limited to:

***the dude you tried to wrestle the flame from Konnie Huq (who helpfully said afterwards that she was fine with that, given the reason)
***The genius who attacked the flame with a fire extinguisher – hurrah!
***The ignominy of the regal olympic flame being carried on a bus along Oxford Street by the Sugababes (stopping off for a ‘My olympic torch went to London and all I got was this lousy cigarette lighter’ zippo on the way)
***the other numerous heavy handed arrests of anyone jumping the barriers as assorted sport-monkeys and D-list celeb-lackeys ran past carrying that great symbol of, uhm, flameness.

Oh yes, ’twas a masterpiece of engineered publicity for the protestors, handed to them on a plate by the Government.

So thankyou, Mr Brown, thankyou. Good one Gordon, you’re a legend Gordon. All we need now is for you to admit that was the plan and for you to openly laugh at the idea that you’ll be attending the opening ceremony. For example, you could say ‘…hosted by that bunch of murdering fuck-heads? not likely!’

I’d be happy to write you a speech. For freebs.

(oh and big thanks to my local MP, Tessa Jowells, for not blowing the story early – she must’ve been bustin’ to say ‘but we planned it all along!’ all day…)

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Iraqi Refugees in Jordan video

April 5th, 2008 · Comments Off on Iraqi Refugees in Jordan video

Christian Payne is a photographer and photo-journalist who went to Jordan, supported by the UNHCR, to tell the stories of the Iraqi refugees there. Powerful stuff.

Tags: cool links · film/tv · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Records changed my life. Why Michael Arrington is Wronger than Wrong.

March 25th, 2008 · 15 Comments

OK, a little backstory – the marvel that is Billy Bragg wrote a piece for the New York Times last week about how social networks are ripping off artists, and we deserve a piece of the cash when they sell for hundreds of millions.

Billy’s logic is fine, it’s just a little out of date, and as the post I’m about to disagree with vehemently says, if that’s the problem, don’t put your music on there. It’s a trade off, and our best way to deal with it is to get involved with the unions and collection agencies that are supposed to be fighting our corner but won’t be able to accurately unless we tell them what our corner is.

Anyway, in response to Billy’s piece, Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch wrote a response entitled These Crazy Musicians Think They Should Still Get Paid For Recorded Music.

I’m not a big fan of his abrasive writing style, based on this post, but here’s the quote with which I take most umbrage –

“Recorded music is nothing but marketing material to drive awareness of an artist.”

See, I can understand that from the point of view of an artist whose whole Raison d’être is playing live. Great, use MP3s to give away. But to suggest that the art of making a great record is JUST there to drive awareness is horseshit.

Why? Because records changed my life – there are records that have become part of the fabric of who I am, how I see the world, have even brought me together with some great friends. The ART of making records stands alone as an artform in its own right, it’s not there to serve a marketing need.

The need to market, to recognise that attention is a monetizable currency in the new media world is vital, the need to spread the word about what we do is paramount if we want people to connect with it, but we as artists need to hang on to what’s important.

As I commented over the weekend about the danger of social network marketing changing the way we write, this new media model can really fuck things up creatively, in just the same way that record companies desperate for singles scuppered the careers of album-oriented bands for years. Some triumphed (Talk Talk, for example) and made great records DESPITE it. Some other acts no doubt took the challenge and wrote some killer pop songs that became part of the fabric of our lives. But to have such a heinously mechanistic view of the art of making records is anathema to what we do and love, and what made the records that changed our lives so special.

I’m sure Michael writing about it from the perspective of Tech Crunch is going to skew his thinking in a mechanised techie direction that ignores what music is FOR. The inference in his post is that the music is there to serve a market, when the opposite has to be true if you want to create ART. And I don’t mean ‘art’ in any pretentious lofty sense, just music that’s anything other than a glorified jingle. Music-as-advert is a million miles away from everything that makes music special to me as an artist and listener.

The big issue is how we keep that artistic integrity in a world where we don’t have other people to do the marketing side of things for us. In an ideal rarified never-existed-in-the-first-place version of Music 1.0, record labels left the artists to create, and got on with the marketing. Now we have to do it all, and keeping the two separate requires mindfulness, and doesn’t require us to listen to the ill-conceived BS from tech-heads like Arrington.

So, comment thread – what were the records that changed your life?

mine first (incomplete and in no particular order) –

Stealing Fire – Bruce Cockburn
Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury – The Disposible Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Dusk – The The
Michael Manring – Thonk
Hejira – Joni Mitchell


Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

Critical, pragmatic, self-belief – an artist's life-blood…

February 27th, 2008 · 4 Comments

Had a lovely morning giving a lecture/masterclass at the ACM today. It was extra-fun because I was given a topic I hadn’t spoken on before, but was given it at too short notice to have time to prepare so I had to wing it. And it went great, at least from where I was stood (which as we’ll discover, is the best place to judge it from…)

I was asked to talk about putting together a set list, and preparing ‘programme notes’ or promotional material… we didn’t spend much time on the last bit, as I got really into the theme of the first bit.

The first thing I highlighted was the danger of mechanistic formulae for ‘how things work’ – in any creative pursuit, following the tried-and-tested paths to the letter is a recipe for mediocrity, for blending in, disappearing into the general morass of non-descript music. This doesn’t mean that learning about those formulae was a bad thing, just that there is no ‘if you do this, then you’ll be great’ about any creative pursuit. Everybody wants the ‘one piece of advice‘ that’s going to send you over the edge – as I mentioned in the Bull-Schmidt podcast I once heard a kid ask John Scofield what kind of things he’d play over a Dmin7 chord, obviously hoping for some magical one line key to unlock sounding like Sco… clearly, that’s bollocks. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t find within Sco’s phrasiology some repeated ideas that are common to the way he plays over min7 chords, it just means that those aren’t what makes his playing connect… Using the 9th a lot isn’t a formula for sounding great, even if it is what a particular soloist does a lot…

So where do we start? Well we start with a guiding principle, but instead of it being one to lock things up and give us a tidy outcome, it’s wildly open ended, and ultimately a call to being mindful of every bit of music or performance you come into contact with… The principle is one of ultimately trusting your instinct, your gut, your own taste.

Why? Why trust your own taste? Primarily because it’s pretty much all you’ve got. There are so few people in the world who can successfully and repeatedly second-guess the taste of a particular music buying audience, that it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re not one of them. And, as Jeff Schmidt pointed out here, so much of it is completely random anway… So, your own taste – why go with it? Because unless you’re the kind of person who gets off on the sound of the fridge door opening and closing, the chances are there’s something pretty standard, broad and interesting about the music that excites you. It probably won’t be completely ‘mainstream’ (serious musicians with completely mainstream taste scare me) but will probably feature an appreciation of some stuff that your more snobbish listening-only friends would dismiss as ‘too pop’…

So you embrace your own taste, you reconise that there’s a reason why you like the things you do, there’s a way they make you feel, there’s a way that the music you choose to put on soundtracks your world (here comes the pay-off) – and you attempt to write and perform music that makes you feel the way that music makes you fee. That’s a very different thing from trying to sound like someone else. Soundalikes are generally compared unfavorably to their primary influence. You might convince some short-termist record company goon that you’re worth a punt because the band you’re ripping off are successful. You might even sell millions of records. But it’s phenomenally unlikely, and not really a good bet, given that your stake is ‘every waking hour’…

No, if you go with your taste, and aim to write and perform music that soundtracks your life in the way that the music you love does, you’ll be writing music you love, but music that tells your story. You’ll be combining the emotional imprint of the different things that inspire you, and building up a range of emotions and stories and feelings to soundtrack.

However (there’s always an however), what needs to happen then is to critique your own taste and filters. To critique your perception of what you do. Because as well as being most in touch with your own taste, you’re also the one most likely to be seduced by the idea of what you’re doing do the point where you mis-judge your own execution of that idea.

And that, dear bloglings, is a life long process of refinement. Of listening, playing, resting, listening, of being surprised and disappointed, restless, enthralled, of peaks and troughs and plateaus. And advice.

The advice bit is a real headache. Why? Because everyone will want to give you their opinion on what you do and most of them will be a waste of oxygen. Again you ask, why? Because precious few people will take the time to try and understand what you’re trying to do, to offer advice that helps you reach for your goals. So few people realise that their taste has pretty much nothing to do with whether what you do is ‘right’ or ‘good enough’ or whatever.

It’s why posting your music on a web forum and asking ‘what do you think?’ can be a very effective promotional method, but is worse than useless as part of the critical process. It just provides taste-based opinions entirely without context and as we’ve said many times before context is everything. It’s quite possible for people to say that great music is great for all the wrong reasons. It’s possible for positive feedback to be deeply unhelpful.

The interwebs are full of people who will tell you why they don’t like what you do, what you’re doing wrong, why your songs are too fast/slow/ repetitive/poppy/ rocky/obscure/ bassy/trebly/ spikey/dull/complex… the list is endless, and the ascii-rendered brain-vomit that they produce is pointless.

What you should really be trying to build is a council of referencea group of people who have demonstrated beyond doubt that they get what you’re trying to do, who are sympathetic to your approach, desires, inspiration and goals, and who want to help. A few groups of people are immediately disqualified –

  • anyone with a dispensation towards jealousy when they hear other great music, *anyone who’s on your pay-roll (if they feel their job is at risk if they piss you off, no-one’s going to tell you you need to work harder),
  • people who are always telling you how other people should be doing their thing.

Finding those people who have a desire to help, to support encourage and to push you to be the best you can be is a rare rare treasure. Hold onto them. And perhaps even more importantly – both in terms of the learning exercise and the karmic fall-out – BE THAT PERSON TO THOSE WHOSE MUSIC YOU HOLD DEAR.

What does all this have to do with putting a set list together? Everything. Getting, as our ‘merkin friends say, your ‘ducks in a row’ is vital before starting to decide things like this. Guiding principles are vital because our thoughts need guiding.

When you’re thinking about what the first song in your set should be, there are loads of things to consider. Firstly, who your audience is – do they know who you are? Do you have a reputation to them that is bigger in their minds than their actual knowledge of what you do? Are they already onside? Is it a genre-specific event? From those and other related questions, you can deduce an approach, based on whether you want to confirm or confound those expectations. Do you want to ease in gently, or lay your cards on the table?

Gigging to a new or new-ish audience is the art of seduction, you’re trying to draw people in, get them interested, get them feeling positive about what you do, and expectant for what’s coming next. You can lay out a manifesto in your first song, or just put them at ease. You can be confrontational in a ‘this is us, screw you if you don’t get it’ kind of way, or your can say ‘come on in, the water’s lovely’ and invite people to join you in your soundtracked smiley world.

And from thence the journey continues – how long is the set? do you have a long time to do the slow build, or do you only have four songs to wow them? is there a ballad or two that you want to fit in. Where do you fit the freaky song in? do you want to throw in a curve ball, and do a song just bass, spoons and four part harmonies, even though you’re a screamo band?

It can all work, there are no hard and fast rules, and for every formula there’s a breath-takingly great band that have printed out said formula and wiped their arses with it.

Do what works, but constantly critique what it is that you think works. The key to keeping a balance (and well done if you’ve read this far!) is a principle I apply to just about everything, that of ‘pragmatic self-assurance’ – I assume I’m right and operate as though I am, whilst being constantly open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Any criticism that has context, that is shared by someone who wants you to grow not fail, who has proven they understand your goals and wants to help you towards them, is to be cherished and heeded. Reviews in fanzines and critiques from muppets on web-forums and email-lists, who write to belittle what you do for whatever odd pointless reasons are to be avoided. Don’t even read them. Go elsewhere for the critique you need, to a deeper place.

And never stop learning. (this’ll be my last point in this hugely overly-long blog post) – for any music student, it’s catastrophic for you to study music with the idea that there is some kind of difference between what you’re trying to do and what your teachers or other pro musicians should be doing. We’re all trying to play the best music we can, and to communicate it as best we can to an audience. Passing exams is neither here nor there. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also no indicator of whether you’re going to be ‘successful’ at what you do. It can provide a useful framework for learning, I’m not suggesting that formalised education is a bad thing, but it has to be about you as a musician growing, learning and more fully realising who you already are. I didn’t stop studying when I left college, and I didn’t start being a creative musician when I ‘turned pro’ – whatever that means. All that changed was how the bills got paid. On an epistemological level, I’m doing the same thing now as I did when I first picked up a bass and started whacking the strings with a thumb pick. I’m trying to develop the control and awareness I need to make music that soundtracks the world around me.

It’s simple in concept, and lifelong in execution. Enjoy the journey.

Tags: journalism · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

role-models, goal-models and the quest for admirable qualities.

December 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on role-models, goal-models and the quest for admirable qualities.

I heard a discussion on Radio London this morning about role models. A term came up that I’d not heard before as an alternative – ‘Goal-models’ – people who aren’t neccesarily who you want to be, but may have achieved something you wish you’d achieved, or are planning to achieve….

The whole notion of role-modeling is fraught with problems, not least of all in how we define success. Two were mentioned on the radio this morning as being common choices of ‘role model’ – the first was Richard Branson, and the other Muhammad Ali… to both, my response was ‘WTF?’ – Ali spent his ‘working’ life attempting to inflict brain damage on his opponents before they did the same to him, and is now a shell of a man thanks to having been punched about as a job. His ‘success’? fame, money and a lot of other people equally fucked up thanks to him pounding them with his fists. Great role model.

Branson? The dude who talks about his concern for the environment but is still going ahead with his plan to offer the first commercial flights into space… He seems incapable of recognising that protecting the planet is going to require LESS flying, not just ‘greener’ flying. Branson is a shining example of someone imprisoned by their wealth, unable to make the ethical decisions that are staring him in the face, thanks to the constraints of his enormous financial empire.

Neither of them are people I’d want to model myself on, or would want my kids looking up to…

The problem seems to be that ‘success’ is measured in terms of surface things – wealth, fame, ‘power’, desirability… none of which are ‘qualities’, just consequences of luck, by and large… There are venal mendacious scumbags that are rich, and poor. There are inspiring famous people, but equal numbers of inspiring poor unknowns… Ordinary people living extraordinary lives. People who make alchemical magic out of the clay of their own lives. Who don’t need to transcend their situation to shine, but instead, transform anywhere they are into a place of grace and redemption and inspiration.

Most of the people who inspire me are of modest wealth, little or no fame, and most of them are parents – bringing up kids is just about the biggest and most exciting responsibility anyone can have, investing in the formation of an independent mind and spirit, setting them off on their journey… So I look at people who spend the time required to give their kids that kind of start, who invest in the things that matter, and I’m inspired. I want to be mindful as they are mindful, even though I don’t have kids.

The other people who inspire me are those who choose to walk away from ‘fame’ for the sake of doing the deeper thing, whether it be working for a smaller company so you can have an positive impact, staying at home to raise their kids, or even just playing the music that’s in their heart and mind instead of trying to write lowest common denominator music just to meet a marketing man’s idea of what will sell…

Bottom line is, ‘roles’ and ‘goals’ are transient ephemeral things – you can have an impressive role in life and still be a scumbag, or you can work in a chip-shop and change the lives of the people you work with just by being kind, friendly, generous and creative.

Maybe we need ‘journey-models’ – people who just do what they do with a degree if dignity, grace, generosity and selflessness that is worthy of emulation, regardless of their station in life or the ‘goals’ they have reached or will reach…

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Buy Nothing Day

November 22nd, 2007 · 1 Comment

buy nothing day ad

Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day – an annual institution instigated by AdBusters as a day to buy nothing and think about over-consumption – in a similar vein to No Music Day.

So go on, Buy nothing tomorrow (or on Saturday if you’re not in the US, or be radical and have two days of buying nothing…)

Tags: cool links · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

managing copyright in a global environment…

November 3rd, 2007 · Comments Off on managing copyright in a global environment…

One of the big problems for artists distributing music (for free or profit) online is that copyright laws are different the world over. That’s why there are Russian websites selling very cheap downloads of ‘illegally’ ripped CDs. There’s very little law enforcement in most of the former soviet union, and if a site is hosted in a particular country, it’s subject to those hosting laws…

…at least, it seemed to be. Tom from the forum sent me a link to this BBC article about a public domain sheet music site in Canada who had fastidiously made sure that all the music they posted complied with Canadian copyright law, but were then threatened with being sued for copyright infringement when Europeans downloaded the scores! (the salient legal point being that copyright in Europe remains with the estate of a deceased composer for 20 years longer than in Canada).

The interesting thing here from a moral/ethical standpoint is that the point was a) contested by the Europeans, and b) there wasn’t an option to add a disclaimer to the site. Interesting that one of the synonyms for this in the web world would be porn, where the laws related to what you can and can’t look at are hugely different across the globe (I’m not sure if they still do, but the UK used to have MUCH stricter laws about what could be published than in the US…) – I’m sure there’s a hell of a lot of stuff available on sites that are legal in the host country but illegal in other places. In the US, it’s probably true across state lines! But has anyone been prosecuted? I’ve not read about it if they have (but to be fair, I tend to read a lot of news stories about legal issues in the music industry, and not too many about the porn industry…)

So it’s kinda sad that porn goes on unchecked and able to get round localised legality just by hosting off-shore, and a wiki established by a student strictly within the laws of the host country, attempting to provide a great resource for musicians firstly in Canada, but then across the world, is curtailed…

The pernicious onward march of Capitalism, I guess – he who can afford the best lawyers wins…

…though it’s definitely worth comparing the worlds of sheet music and recorded music here – this was, apparently, the largest public domain music score library on the internet, and was being widely used. Is there much of a community for trading public domain recordings? I know there was a bit of a kerfuffle recently when a bunch of still-living crusty old jazz dudes were getting upset that they were about to lose the rights to their own recordings which were now 50 years old (that does seem a bit weird, though not really top of the list when looking at the positive and negative impacts of copyright…) No, copyright infringement in recorded music is now seen as a matter of not getting caught – the RIAA prosecute a bunch of school kids for downloading and think it will frighten everyone else into compliance.

But they screwed it up for everyone by trying to make it an issue of illegal action followed by legally enforced action. They excluded themselves entirely from any dialogue about the impact on creativity, or as I keep saying, and the impact of the music life of the listener when you have no filter. So in a digital world, where community ethics seem to have far more influence on behaviour than any notions of legality, they pushed the discussion into communities that proceeded to laugh at them, use Lars Ulrich as as totem of out-of-touch-millionaire-rock-star-greed and were then able to ‘morally’ justify all the filesharing as a blow against ‘the man’.

Actually, I guess what’s worth throwing in here (damn, this is a disjointed blog post!) is the case of the Real Book – a book of jazz scores written by a load of (I think) Berklee college students, with some pretty heinous chords in them, which was sold by the hundreds of thousands the world over. I’ve no idea who was duplicating it, but it was sold under the counter in shops for YEARS before anyone did a proper legal version – then Chuck Sher came along and published a great book called The New Real Book, which has the proper chords for things in it, neatly printed arrangements, a load of unneccesary pictures of jazz stars (huh?), but is generally a great resource. There are about 5 volumes, as well as Latin versions (that’s Latin music, not jazz scores in Latin) and a ‘Standards Real Book’ which I haven’t got, but is probably the most useful of them.

However, there are digital versions of this kicking around as well – some enterprising young file-sharer has scanned in the New Real Books and uploaded them somewhere. I guess they see themselves somehow in the tradition of the old Real Book, keep the music alive, or whatever… I dunno, it’d be great if Chuck would put out a legal PDF version of all the books for a sensible fee. It’s great to be able to support the people who write these tunes.. There is also now a legal version of the old Real Book – cleaned up, some corrected changes, much cheaper than the Sher books…

Anyway, where did this start? Ah, yes, sheet music, porn, cross-border copyright problems… My last point to note is that there’s already cross border protection for buying digital music – you can only access iTunes in the country you’re a) from and b) in – I can’t buy from UK iTunes while I’m in the US!! That seems completely mad. One central store, in the host country of the company, so occasionally someone else gets a break due to fluctuations in exchange rates. Surely that makes the whole thing easier and more fun? :o) Even my favourite legal download site, emusic has different costs for stuff in different countries. There aren’t many online industries that bother with that – if you’re looking to buy domain names, or web hosting, you just pay the fee for the country where the service is being provided…

Anyway, I hope the music library is able to just stick a disclaimer at the top of certain works saying ‘this music is still illegal to download for free in Europe, please go and buy it’ and get their archive back online…

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

stop the war protest, London, Oct 8th

October 9th, 2007 · 2 Comments

So yesterday was the Stop The War protest in London. Starting with a rally in Trafalgar Square, and then a march down Whitehall to Parliament Square. It was a relatively small affair (relative to the 2 million who descended on london on the eve of the war back in 2002), but the ranks were swelled by the Government’s attempts to declare it illegal – something on which they wisely made a u-turn at the last minute.

The speeches were the typical ‘preaching to the converted’ arrangement – does anyone go to a rally like this to get information? To have their opinions changed? I guess they have value as part of the process of disseminating information, statistics and updates on things that haven’t been in the press, but having lots of lovely trade unionists shouting at a government who aren’t listening to ‘get out of Iraq’ seemed a bit of a waste of time… Anyway, Mark Thomas and Mark Steele were both good value as always, George Galloway was as self-aggrandising as usual, and the former-SAS soldier was rather poignant. I didn’t get to hear Walter Wolfgang or Brian Haw, but I guess they were probably interesting too.

The march then proceeded down Whitehall, which was fine til we arrived at Parliament Square to find the square itself fenced off, and the police blocking the road and not really explaining to anyone what was going on. I asked a friendly looking officer, who told me it was ‘probably to get the people through into the square in larger groups’, as opposed to the stretched out nature of the march… Fair enough, would’ve made sense to let people know.

So they proceeded to let the march through in chunks, and herd people off down Millbank, instead of allowing them to assemble in the square, which quite understandably pissed off a lot of people. There didn’t appear to be any reason not to allow people into the square. Tempers flared a little, and a group of anarchists staged a sit down protest in the middle of the road at the junction between whitehall and the square. Nothing major kicked off, but it did expose the lack of a plan that the police had…

Anyway, a few observations… As Jyoti very wisely points out, while the minor altercations between the police and anarchists in the square became a protest about the right to protest, the main purpose of the day was to continue to voice the need for the UK government to a) be held to account for their part in the political disaster and human tragedy that is Iraq, b) to call for the withdrawal of troops who only seem to be rubbing salt into the wounds of a deeply lacerated country, and c) to call on the government to be unequivocal in condemning the disastrous idea of a US or Israeli military strike on Iran. Those are not, by their nature partisan political demands. They don’t require a subscription to a particular doctrine or left/right divide. So it’s a shame that the terms of engagement are defined by the old school left, the trade union movement, and the constituents of the march itself were largely dominated by the ‘usual suspects’ – trade unionists, students, hippies, religious activists and leftie political groups.

This is certainly to the shame of the anti-war contingent to the centre and right of the political spectrum, but is also a reflection of the culture within which such protests are formulated and implemented. In this ultra-brand-conscious times, the Stop The War coalition is only a partial coalition, of the aforementioned groups, and has managed to marginalise those whose opposition to the war is through a broader ethical and humanitarian framework, and less through a strongly held belief in the democratic right to protest in the tradition of the post-Marx left, trade unions and the ‘real’ Labour movement…

I’m not sure what needs to be done to change this – perhaps such people enact their democratic right to protest in other ways, via web activism, personal lobbying of MPs, signing petitions etc. But as a show of strength of opinion, few things carry the same weight in media-savvy times as footage of hundreds of thousands of people on the streets. I’m not sure how many were there yesterday – 10,000? perhaps. As a percentage of the number of people who distrust the government over their actions on the middle east, it’s paltry. Still enough to make a noise, but certainly evidence that a hell of a lot of people don’t feel inspired by or included in the Stop The War Coalition…

Anyway, it was good to be there, very lovely to see Jyoti again, and important to be a part of such a thing, and lend my support to such an obviously positive message.

click here to view a slideshow of my pictures from the day

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

File under 'who'd have thought it!'

October 5th, 2007 · 2 Comments

“Wish I had a home with ten million rooms/I’d open up the doors and let the street children through/Wish that I could scoop up all those children in my arms/Give them all they needed to protect them all from harm”

That’s a lyric from the new Ian Brown album, an album that apparently tackles other socially conscious subjects such as war in the middle east and environmental concerns. It’s great to see someone doing this, sad to hear that he’s been getting swiped at in the press for it, but as is so often the case, Andrew Collins writes about it in a great way.

It’s such a shame that labels such as ‘earnest’ and ‘worthy’ are applied pejoratively, and artists who dare to express an opinion on anything bigger than their own sex lives or fancying the woman opposite you on the tube are considered ‘self-important’.

As someone one said, artists are the nerve-endings of society, and can either reflect back it’s concerns – or lack thereof – or can seek to offer something of substance in terms of a way forward or a change in focus… I for one am delighted that Ian Brown’s writing about things he thinks are important. Long may he continue.

It’s also the first time I’ve been interested in actually buying anything he’s done since the 12″ of Fools Gold came out, so that can’t be a bad thing!

Tags: music reviews · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.