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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



G20 protests – a change is gonna come.

April 1st, 2009 · Comments Off on G20 protests – a change is gonna come.

picture of protesters outside the Bank of EnglandToday I went down to the protest outside the Bank Of England that coincided with the meeting of the G20 in London. It was a multi-angle protest, seeking to bring together the shared concerns of the environmental movement, anti-capitalists, the climate change brigade, the stop the war coalition and those who wanted to see a greater degree of culpability placed on the financial systems and institutions that presided over the current global economic collapse.
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Tags: 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.

Violence over being called violent

September 20th, 2006 · Comments Off on Violence over being called violent

Much has been said about the events following the Pope’s perhaps unwise comments about Islam – see here and here – but it’s worth repeating. Unwise though the pope was, does it really do any favours to show your displeasure at being accused of being a violent religion by killing nuns or calling for ‘a day of anger’? If the pope was feeling particularly rash he’d probably just go ‘see???? you nutters are proving me right!’.

What is clear is that there are a heck of a lot of Muslims who aren’t into violent retribution for nonsense talked by the pope. But the ones who do declare fatwas on people for trash-talking the Prophet or the Koran could clearly do with a reality check. Either that or just say ‘yes, we are indeed a violent religion – you, in the robes, outside, now!’

Every faith has its extremists – America has it’s gun-toting so-called-christian militia (otherwise know as the GOP), but they aren’t generally referred to in the press as ‘Christian extremists’ – same with the troubles in Northern Ireland. Our language is very different. Perhaps because the terms we use to describe the different levels of commitment to a religion don’t really work for Islam – moderate doesn’t seem to be a word that any muslims like, with its connotations of being watered down and less committed. Perhaps what we need to support are those muslim leaders who challenge muslims that it is more intrinsically muslim to be anti-war than it is to be pro-violence.

A very wise friend once commented that the problem with George Bush isn’t that he’s an evangelical christian, it’s that he’s not evangelical christian enough. The culture of right wing Evangelicalism in the US has very little to do with any Biblical notions of ‘christ-like’ behaviour. Blessed are the peace-makers? Is it possible to read the whole story of the bible and not come out with the conclusion that God is on the side of the poor? the marginal? Sure, it’s easy enough to proof-text any level of craziness, in the same way that Armando Ianucci can edit a Blair speech for Time Trumpet to make him look like he’s into all manner of surreal weirdness. But if you take the Bible seriously, it seems to me pretty clear that the calling on people who are inspired by Jesus is towards peace, reconciliation, justice, care for the poor, sick, disenfranchised. All very politically charged things. As Desmond Tutu once said ‘when people tell me religion and politics don’t mix, I have to wonder if they’re reading the same bible as me’, or words to that effect…

So in the same way that the deranged war-monger in the White House needs to be exposed not as a religious extremist, but as a having a violent, neo-imperial agenda utterly indefensible from the Bible, so it’d be great to see more public dialogue about the nature of ‘true’ Islam, rather than just some late night channel five discussion show chaired by Terry Christian (which was the last one I saw – truly dreadful).

For reference, my favourite book deconstructing the theology of the far right in the US is Ceasefire – Searching For Sanity In America’s Culture Wars by Tom Sine – it’s pre-Bush Jnr, but pre-empts it perfectly, and is still prescient. Would love to see Tom Sine update it, but he lost a hell of a lot of friends when he wrote it…

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Antiwar march on Saturday

March 19th, 2006 · Comments Off on Antiwar march on Saturday

Saturday’s anti-war march was a fab event – met up with Jyoti, which was a delight, always nice to put a face to a blog. The march itself seemed rather upbeat, pretty huge (biggest one I’ve been on since the BIG ONE three years ago – organisers estimated 100,000, the police laughably suggested 10-15,000. Using the patented ma lawson method of doubling the police figure, halving the organisers and splitting the difference brings it to 40,000, but I’d say that was on the low side.)

The issues were a bit simpler than for the last few – people get very tetchy about protesting about military situations where there are British soldiers committed, as though it’s somehow treason to complain once they are there. Not much thought given to how little they want to be there, and the legality of them being there in the first place… This one was easier because of the dual themes – troops out of Iraq, and don’t attack Iran. The threat of a military strike on Iran is just nuts. Sure, the Iranian president is a crack-pot, but if anything is likely to bring together the myriad disparate factions in Iranian politics, it’s an attack by the US/UK Team America-stylee crack commando team. A damn fool thing to do, for sure.

So, I got to protest the lunacy of our jumped up nobhead of a prime minister, and hang out with lovely peoples all day.

And now I’m breaking my own rule and am using TSP’s laptop to access the net, as my desktop has bizarrely decided not to connect to the web. It’ll access email, chat, ftp, just nothing with an http in front of it. There are no proxies set up, and I can’t find any changes to the firewall settings (and switching it off doesn’t seem to change anything either) – any suggestions, lovely blogling geeks?

Here’s me on the march, from Jyoti’s photos –

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Theatrical debut

March 13th, 2006 · Comments Off on Theatrical debut

Had a v. fun gig last night.

If you remember back as far as last year’s Edinburgh Festival, you may remember that on before me in the venue I was in was a fab theatre company called Subverse – a lovely collection of leftie eco-monkey anti-war political actors and playwrights doing a collection of short sketches that were alternately moving, hilarious and downright confusing.

Three of the pieces they performed – the three that most strongly resonated with me at the time – were three monologues in verse by a writer called Adrian Page, and it was these that I was called in to soundtrack last night.

The gig was at Theatre 503, at the Latchmere pub in Battersea, and our bit was the second half of the show. I missed the first half due to a lovely trip to eastborne for my nan’s 87th birthday party.

The three pieces each had a very distinct flavour – the first, ‘Peace Police’ we did as a beatnik/tom waits kind of vibe, with the genius that is Andy Williamson on sax, the second was ‘There Is No Left Left’ – dark despondent piece that I took in a twisted abstract direction, manipulating and processing Lara’s voice to further the sense of dislocation. And the last of the three, ‘the Clever People’, was a bubbling drum ‘n’ bass track, which the performer, Penny, hadn’t rehearsed but performed to a T – I started up building a basic track of percussive stuff, bassline and chords, then played over it and used the pause, restart, double speed/half speed and reverse functions to try and follow the contour of the text.

All in all a huge success – I interspersed the monologues with solo tunes, and finished up with a version of my Erich Roche-tribute tune, which I again got Andy Williamson to come and play on, which he did beautifully.

I’ll hopefully be back there before long, and will get the SubVersives along to do the three monologues at Recycle Collective soon as well…

Tags: Musing on Music

Galloway – Dereliction of Duty?

January 11th, 2006 · Comments Off on Galloway – Dereliction of Duty?

The ever thought-provoking Sid Smith has blogged today about George Galloway on Big Brother, quoting the following excerpt from the Respect Party website

“I will talk about racism, bigotry, poverty, the plight of Tower Hamlets, the poorest place in England sandwiched between the twin towers of wealth and privilege in Canary Wharf and the spires of the City. I will talk about war and peace, about Bush and Blair, about the need for a world based on respect. Some of it will get through.”

As Sid points out, there’s no way on earth that Channel Four are going to allow the Big Brother broadcasts to be a platform for political rhetoric. From what I’ve seen, there’s been none so far. There have been A LOT of conversations edited for content – those conversations could be libelous, commercially sensitive or overly political. I think George is going to be sorely disappointed when he gets out and sees the footage.

I’m with Sid on this one – I said from the start that I thought Galloway’s decision left him in dereliction of duty as an MP – he’s been democratically elected to represent the people of Tower Hamlets, people who are voiceless. He’s missing the parliamentary debate on The Crossrail project, he already has the third worst attendance record as an MP (last year he was second worst, behind Blair – I’m guessing someone somewhere is off on long-term sick). He’s just not doing his job.

My feelings towards Galloway are mixed – his anti-war stance is great, his opposition to the Blair/Bush lunacy and lies is laudable, and his performance in the US senate last year was one of the outstanding political acts of my lifetime. But the Respect party is a bizarre mis-match – a union of the far-left Socialist Workers Party and the rather more authoritarian Muslim Association of Great Britain. I wouldn’t vote for either party in isolation, and I’m certainly not about to support them in their bizarre union, though I guess one has to applaud the pragmatism of those involved – there can’t really be much of an ideological cross-over between the two groups!

But all that aside, I really don’t think Galloway should be in the BB house – and it’ll be interesting to see if he gets called up in front of a select committee and fined or punished in anyway… But it’d also be nice to see the papers being a bit more balanced in their political reporting, so MPs like Galloway don’t end up doing reality TV to try and get a point across! what a bizarre world we live in. I’m sure part of it is just that Galloway is a bit of an ego-maniac, but if there’s any truth in his appearance being part of an attempt to reach the apolitical masses, then the media is failing to educate and inform.

However, it is fun to see Galloway being exposed to the seedier side of life via the conversations of Jodie Marsh and Dennis Rodman, who are both utterly foul. Dennis Rodman comes across as one of the most sexually predatory people I’ve ever seen in my life, and Jodie seems in capable of any degree of self-restraint, she’ll seemingly say anything to out-filth whoever else is talking, even to the point of sounding wholly unconvincing in the process.

It really is a rum bunch of no-marks in the house. A lot has to do with the way it gets broadcast, and in general we see very little of Maggot, Rula, George and Faria in the shows, unless they get caught in the crossfire of another conversation about sex/orgies/boobs/surgery/yada yada yada. Is that really what people are interesting in hearing about these days? I am, as Liz said in the comments the other day, hopelessly out of touch…

Don’t forget that if you want the latest news, forget the BB website, and follow codenamelizzy’s updates – far more entertaining!

Tags: Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

A recycled week!

October 21st, 2005 · Comments Off on A recycled week!

This has been a busy week of recycled collective stuff – I’ve done the flyers and sen them off to the printers, written the press release, been tweaking the website (no doubt to be tweaked further as I change my mind about how I want to pitch the whole thing), and sent out the first gig date to all the listings people with the press release.

Now I’m trying to get some radio interest, and get the web-promo moving.

the thing I’m most proud of thus far is the look of it all – from the website to the flyers to the press release, there’s definitely a unified look and feel that says what I want it to say. What fun!

Tonight I’m playing a benefit gig for the Pitstop Ploughshares people, who disarmed an american plane that was on the runway at Shannon airport, bound for Iraq, and are in court for it next week. The whole area of civil disobiedience is a fascinating one – what actions are worth breaking the law over? – and I think protest at the illegal invasion and occupation of a country is as good a reason as any.

Hopefully the court case will raise the profile of the anti-war feeling in Ireland, where a lot of people are livid at it being used as a stopping off point for US planes on their way to Iraq. see warontrial.com for more details.

Soundtrack – Jenny Scheinman, ’12 Songs’; Shaun Colvin, ‘Cover Girl’.

Tags: Uncategorized

Best gig yet, and my first two shows seen this year!

August 12th, 2005 · Comments Off on Best gig yet, and my first two shows seen this year!

So yesterday started with seeing my first show of this year’s fringe – Dan Mayfield – ‘Live Looping’ Musical Experience is how it’s billed, which was at Sweet Ego, a tiny lil’ venue north east of Prince’s Street.

Dan’s loop set-up included an acoustic guitar, two electric violins (one of them seriously drop-tuned to what sounded like almost Cello register) and a glockenspeil. For looping, I think he was using SooperLooper – I forgot to ask.

The music was the perfect antedote to afternoon madness on the fringe, with the layered violin parts being especially effective – Dan’s intonation on the violin was spot on, which is absolutely vital if you’re layering loads of it. A few of the tracks had really heavily filtered vocal parts, the most effective of which was a reading of a poem written by the mother of a resident at the care home where Dan works – the weaving of the stuff that is going on in his life into the music worked beautifully.

All in all, a lovely gig, and a great way to escape the madness of the fringe for an hour.

After that it was back to flyering, before tea with my mum (that’s one of the best things about coming up to this bit of the UK – my mum is only an hour’s drive away and visits regularly, and helps out with flyering.

I then saw my second show of the fest – Subverse – a series of short sketches on a geopolitical theme; there’s a heck of a lot of anti-war-on-terror stuff here this year, and these sketches were a slightly leftfield take on it, with two of them being monologues in verse that were particularly effective. All in all, good quality brain fodder. Recommended stuff.

And then me – my best show of the run so far, the chat and the music both were on top form for me, with some fine improvised banter with the audience (all 31 of them – a very good sized crowd for a thursday, methinks), who were with me all the way through (got another nice 5-star audience review on my Edfringe.com page. The improv track was another pretty leftfield rhythm – the first two nights have been the most coherent thus far, after that we’ve been getting into some very odd time-signatures…! But I was really happy with the show, and so it seems were the audience.

And tonight I’ve got Guy Pratt on the show, so that’s going to be lots of fun. I think I’ll do a version of Highway One with him on – I can leave off the bass part and let him play around with that, and I’m sure he’d take a fantastic solo on it, so that’ll be it. Yes, I’ve decided, thanks for being such good listeners, bloglings.

Tags: Uncategorized

fine gig in Berwick

July 31st, 2005 · Comments Off on fine gig in Berwick

Today was my gig at the Borders Green Festival, in Berwick on Tweed. Playing in Berwick is always odd (well, I say always – I’ve only played here twice since I left 14 years ago!!), obviously, as it’s coming back to where I grew up, and today was particularly odd as the soundman was the same guy that did sound for one of my earliest ever gigs, At one of the first ever local band nights at The Maltings In Berwick!

That was with my first gigging band, EARS. Today was a solo gig at a very cool little festival. The idea behind the fest was that it was a showcase for all things sustainable, renewable, local, therapeutic and generally marvellous, so there was a resources marquee with lots of info about local action groups anti-war stuff, environmental pressure groups etc. there were teepees with various things going on in them – a massage tent, a talks tent and a making cool stuff out of old crap tent. There were stalls from a lot of the local fair trade and organic traders, and lots of fun things for kids to do, as well as obivously the music stage.

The music was very varied indeed, ranging from some very fine local folk musicians to a rather good local rock band, to, er, me. A real spread from solo Bach piano to Balkan folk tunes.

In my set I leaned heavily on the floaty soundscape end of things – No More Us And Them, Kindness Of Strangers, Grace And Gratitude, Highway One – nice big long improv-enhanced versions of everything. The big problem I faced was that the sun was so bright, I couldn’t see the illuminated panels on the front of any of the processors, particularly the Lexicon, so was half guessing which sound to use next. There weren’t any train-wrecks, but it was close at times! Certainly a nice warm up for Edinburgh.

Anyway, as an event, the Borders Green Festival was a resounding success – loads more people there than they expected, no disasters at all, some great music, and a fantastic message. Roll on next year!

Tags: Uncategorized

Paul Vallely on Iraq

July 18th, 2005 · Comments Off on Paul Vallely on Iraq

I’ve just read the most thorough and razor-sharp critique of The War on Iraq from a Christian perpective that I’ve ever seen. I always find it really odd that the vast majority of the Christians I know in the UK are adamantly against the war (the anti-war movement always has a very strong church presence – it’s fantastic to see vicars marching with muslim leaders in solidarity against the war) in contrast to the situation in the US where the war is seen as some sort of righteous crusade. It all adds up to one confusing portrait of belief in the 21st century.

Well, now Paul Vallely (Associate Editor of The Independent and
principal author of The Commision For Africa’s report) has written a stunning article entitled ‘The Fifth Crusade: George Bush and the Christianisation of the War in Iraq’, critiqing the crusade mentality of the US invasion of Iraq and the kinds of human rights abuses and gross misjudgements that such a mentality has inspired.

It’s in a downloadable journal called Borderlands (1.8Meg PDF file), which also features a marvellous article by Tom Wright – the bishop of Durham – critiquing the Da Vinci Code. The journal is published by St John’s College Durham – and beyond that, I know very little about it, but they have some world class writers.

And all thanks to it being emailed to me by the marvellous David Dark.

SoundtrackJughead, ‘Jughead’ (Matt and Gregg Bisonette, with Ty Tabor from King’s X and Derek Sherinian from Dream Theatre – a genius album, that owes more to the Foo Fighers and The Beatles than it does to any of the band members better known projects)

Tags: Uncategorized