the reality TV myth…

The reality TV people do like to tell us that it’s all about finding talent, people with star quality, the ‘x-factor’ as the show-title goes. Which makes this quote particularly laughable –

“after last year’s winner, Steve Brookstein, sank without trace, X Factor bosses are confident they have found a real star this time around.” (from the daily record).

look, if they can’t find hugely talented people with a nation wide search, a TV budget and a captive audience of 10 million, the whole thing is a charade. I think I’ve said this before here, but the best that reality TV has thrown up so far is Will Young – an above average white-soul singer. Gareth Gates has vanished, Hearsay have vanished. Liberty X are hanging on, getting closer and closer to performing naked in the vain hope it’ll keep them an audience. If the shows had ANY validity at all they’d be finding the people who are genuinely the most mind-blowingly gifted musicians, singers and songwriters in the country. But they aren’t. They are unearthing malleable brainless pop-star wannabes that they can trap in usurious deals, make a load of money off then dispense with. No time is spent developing talent, no time is spent helping them to find a style, to practice their craft. It’s all about the ‘rags to riches’ story of someone who sings in the bath and then ends up on stage because of natural talent.

the problem with that is that that kind of ‘natural talent’ doesn’t exist. Some people have developed a musical sensibility sort of by accident, but to become a performer, to work with a band, to write songs, to communicate as a musician, you need to work hard. You need to do gigs, to spends weeks, months, years in rehearsal rooms honing your craft. That doesn’t happen in the bath.

I’ve worked with ‘naturally gifted people’ – they’re a pain in the arse. They sound great if the arrangement is exactly the same as the one they’ve been singing along with on the radio, because their skill is mimickry, not being a musician.

The reality TV shows aren’t set up to find musical depth, just one hit wonders and losers turned ‘boy dun good’ stories like Darius Dinesh and The Cheeky Girls. It’s shameful, and a blot on the music life of the UK.

All we need to remember is that it’s got nothing to do with us – we just carry on making the music that matters to us, avoid all the crappy competitions and flash-in-the-pan dancing for chicken BS. Music is worth more than that. Simon Cowell can shove it up his arse.

mad laws…

As a general rule, I’m a big fan of the PRS. They send me money when my music is played on the radio, they send me a portion of the ticket price when I do gigs etc. I like them.

However, This story in the Macclesfield Express is just mad – apparently music shops now have to pay a PRS licence if they want people to be able to try out guitars, cos an 11 year old kid playing Sweet Child O’ Mine really badly in a shop is public performance.

That’s nuts. Proper nuts. Making them pay if they play the radio or CDs in the shop is fine – that’s the same for any shop that plays music. But for demoing guitars?? Who are they hoping to benefit? Do the shop owners have to submit a play list ‘today’s songs – 20, minute-long version of smoke on the water; Sweet Child O’ Mine – intro played 9 times, close enough to be copyrightable, 3 of those. etc.’

Come on, PRS, that’s not a proper law. Spend your time and energies elsewhere. I like you, I really do, but this is just silly. Running an instrument shop is a precarious enough job at the best of times – don’t make it harder.

art vs totalitarian religion

I’ve just been listening to a fascinating interview with comedian Stewart Lee, on BBC Radio London – Stuart is the writer of Jerry Springer The Opera, a stage show that had a hugely successful run in the west end and then became the biggest watched opera or music in the BBC’s history when it was shown on TV. It also racked up 67,000 complaints from lots of people who hadn’t seen it and probably wouldn’t have understood it if they had.

The controversy arose from the supposed depiction of Jesus in the show – Jesus being a guest on the Springer Show, dressed as a baby. So the show was accused by a few people of blasphemy, and as the church loves a good scandal, an email campaign was started which lead to tens of thousands of complaints to the beeb and threats to the writers and members of the cast (oh yes, how marvelously Christ-like).

Anyway, Stuart on the radio made a very apposite observation, the the effect that ‘Good art is about questioning everything and then leaving those questions open to the interpretation of the audience. Bad or repressive religion is about absolutes and certainties’.

Which is true – I’ve been around a few repressive religious scenarios where questions and doubting were seen as dissent of the worst kind, and blind faith was encouraged. If you’ve got a question, just ask the leaders and believe their response, however bizarre it may be.

Conversely, I’ve also been around a lot of good people of faith, people who see the life of faith as a journey not a destination, one on which we have to constantly reassess our take on things, to question everything, to leave ourselves open to questioning and scrutiny, and keep searching, open to the possibility that we might be wrong. And I’ve met people like that from a whole range of faith traditions, be they christian, jewish, muslim, hindu, buddhist or agnostic/athiest. Whatever it is that you place your faith in has to be tested and questioned.

Which is where art like Jerry Springer The Opera comes in – satire is a very powerful tool in asking questions, a great way to expose elements of belief systems that require exposing, and should be a debate starter not a debate crusher. One of my favourites of late is the Church Of The Flying Spaghetti Monster – a spoof religion set up to counter the decision of the Kansas School Board’s decision to teach 7 day creationism as the alternative to Darwinian evolution. It’s hilarious, both as a pastiche of religions in general, and in its treatment of its main target.

The problem, of course, is that you end up in a situation where the two camps are polarised and the more mystical middle ground is ignored – either you believe that the world is 4000 years old, and God is the supreme bull-shitter who made the world look like it was a lot older just so he could send a load of people to hell, or you reject any notion of there being a creator who was involved in the development of the universe. The evidence for evolution in the trad darwinian sense does have a few gaps in it, but is nowhere near as impossible to grasp as the notion that the world was made 4000 years ago! But neither are where my head is at. I don’t see Genesis 1 and 2 as supporting a literalist interpretation of the jewish creation myth, but neither do I think that all of this could happen by accident.

Ultimately, if your faith in either god or there being no god is reliant on the veracity of the jewish creation myth, you really need to get out more…

Anyway, back to Springer the Opera… So they are off on tour – I’m told the show isn’t actually all that good, but I still really want to see it to support people who are asking questions, to have my own faith challenged and see where the answers sit. I missed the west end run, sadly, but will see what I can do to get to the stage show. And if I’m offended, so be it – it does us good once in a while to have our sensibilities scandalised. I can’t quite imagine what could be in it that would offend me though…

State sanctioned murder?

After a very high profile campaign to get him off death row, Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams was finally executed today.

It’s a sad day for the workings of the US justice system, that within a system that allows the death penalty, the idea of someone reforming whilst on death row is impossible. It’s pretty stark in its contrasts to execute a man recently nominated for the nobel peace prize…

But, the best comment on this came from Hugo Schwyzer who comments to the effect that the problem here is not that he was reformed, but that the death penalty exists at all. The problem with the death penalty is not that someone innocent might get killed, it’s in the process of killing someone full stop.

As he comments:
“One of the few things I’ve been consistent on throughout my life is my opposition to the death penalty. That opposition is not rooted in a fear that the innocent may be executed; it isn’t rooted in an ignorance as to the horror of the crimes invariably involved. It is rooted in the conviction that everyone who participates in an execution is invariably brutalized, even if they aren’t entirely aware of it at the time. The guards, the wardens, the witnesses, and the citizens of the state in whose name the execution is carried out are all a bit darker, a bit less human, as a result.”

Can’t put it any clearer than that.

A sad day, as it every day when someone is put to death in a so-called civilized country.

Soundtrack Iona, ‘Beyond These Shores’ (one of my all-time faves, but one I’d neglected of late. But not any more – it’s unbelieveable, I’m reliving the magic of the first time I heard it all over again. A truly remarkable album.)

'…fire in the sky'

How on earth did no-one get killed???

A fuel depot in Hemel Hempstead blows up, the blast is heard IN FRANCE (!!), windows and doors are blown out in houses surround the site, and yet no-one is killed. That’s amazing. A lot of amazing unthinkable things have happened in Britain of late. That no-one died in this disaster is one of the best bits of news for a long time. The blast itself is clearly not good news – the environmental impact is going to be outrageous, not to mention the huge disruption to those whose houses have been damaged in the blast – but the zero loss of life is amazing. Apparently there have only been two serious casualties so far.

The fire services are warning of potential further explosions, while the firemen and women are there working like mad to get the fire under control and out – that’s got to be one scary job! Hurrah for the fire-service.

Reports suggest that some people have been panic buying petrol, afraid of a shortage, even though a) most of the fuel burning is aviation fuel b) it’s only the fifth largest depot in the country c) if there’s a fuel shortage, USE PUBLIC TRANSPORT – don’t drive to the petrol station to make the situation worse, you morons.

SoundtrackStuart Ryan, ‘The Coast Road’ (fabulous solo acoustic guitarist – he played at the Eric Roche tribute gig last week, and was one of Eric’s favourite guitarists. From this CD, it’s easy to see why).

Britain – fighting valiantly against totalitarian states

So, we invaded Iraq because Saddam was an evil dictator, who tortured people and took away the freedoms of the people of Iraq. We’re told the terrorists ‘hate our freedoms’ or whatever bollocks excuse it is this week.

And then this – Maya Evans was arrested and received a criminal conviction for standing outside Downing Street and reading aloud the names of the 97 British soldiers who have died in the Iraq conflict. Yup, it’s now an offense to remind the government of who their policies have killed. I wonder what would have happened if she’d started reading the names of Iraqi civilians killed – perhaps the fact that she knew their names would single her out as a terrorist sympathiser and she’d have been shot. It’s quite clear that the government don’t know anything about the numbers of civilians killed, and nor do they show any signs of caring.

The law under which Maya was convicted is Section 132 of Blair’s shiny new ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005’ – which prohibits any kind of protest within one mile of westminster.

OK, so we used to be a democracy. Surely in a democratic country, the right to dissent has to be upheld above just about anything else. The right to voice your protest at the behaviour of your ELECTED officials. Now, it’s illegal to stand out side parliment and say you disagree with the decisions being made inside.

On BBC radio London this morning, a guy from the people’s picnic – a weekly protest in parliament square told the story of a guy arrested for eating a cake with ‘freedom of speech’ written on it – this was an act of protest within one mile of westminster, and he was thus nicked. It was thrown out of court, but he still has a criminal record and DNA/photos/scary stuff was recorded.

This is insane, peoples. How the hell did we end up in this mess? How can the government seriously be considering whether evidence gathered under torture is admissable in court here when we claim to have invaded iraq over saddam’s use of torture!!! How can we be pretending to oppose totalitarian regimes when we arrest people for eating seditious food stuffs near Westminster.

We’re screwed. again.

but for now, Maya Evans, I salute you.

We're screwed

I’ve just been reading a couple of incredibly depressing articles on George Monbiot’s website. The tragedy of them is that, he’s not being melodramatic at all, just telling it like it is.

The two articles are on the whole area of climate change, fossil fuels and alternatives – the first is his speech to the climate change march in London last Saturday and the other is from yesterday’s Guardian.

Simply put, if we keep consuming energy at the rate we’re going, we’re screwed. the planet is screwed. Those of us in the wealthy 3rd will stay un-screwed for a bit longer than those we’re working hardest to destroy, but long-term we won’t fare much better. and it’s not just a matter of finding energy alternatives. We need to use less, consume less, travel less. It’s not nice, it’s not easy, it doesn’t make life more fun, but there really doesn’t seem to be much of an alternative.

the biggie for me is air-travel. As a travelling musician, I fly a fair bit. I’m off to California in January to the NAMM show. I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’ve booked the flight, and can’t really get out of it (cheap ticket ‘n’ all that), but I’m going to have to rethink my travel plans in the future, decide whether I can justify any air-travel. Is it ever legit to fly? Questions, questions. I think it’ll take me a while to come to some decisions.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in pondering this stuff – generous.org.uk is home to the ‘year of living generously’ – effectively a support group for people who want to make a difference. there are tips on ways of living generously, from using less energy to giving more time and resources to others. Travelling less to composting your vegetable peelings. And it’s normal people, not just eco-warriors. There’s no brow-beating, no hectoring, just a lot of people who are quite a way ahead of me on many of these things. People I can be inspired by, and maybe inspire a bit in return. That’s the plan. I’ve signed up, you should too!

Forgiveness

Christianity quite often comes in for a lot of stick as being some kind of ‘crutch’ – Marx’s ‘opiate of the masses’. And often quite rightly so – it’d be pretty tricky to argue that the overwhelming support for Bush Jnr by US christians, despite his representing just about nothing of the qualities historically recognised as those of followers of Jesus suggests that somewhere along the lines, the critical faculties of large sections of the American Church have been squashed and replaced by a desire to hear someone say the right things, namecheck the right deity and thus gain the right to bomb anyone, sanction torture, crap on the poor, bolster the opulence and bloated wealth of the super-rich and reduce corporate responsibility for the welfare of those they employ. I don’t think it’d be considered a radical view point at pretty much any other time or place in the history of the church for those things to be considered profoundly anti-christian. While the powerful within the church have abused their position for centuries, the widespread support of such an abuse of power seems largely unprecedented on this scale…

Anyway, every now and again, along comes someone who takes jesus’ challenge to live radically seriously. One such person in the news of late is Gee Walker, the mother of Anthony Walker, the young black guy brutally murdered in a racist attack in Liverpool. His killers have just gone to jail, and Anthony’s mother has been all over the news, her pain visible on her face but deeper than any of us can imagine who’ve never been through such a thing.

Her words about forgiveness have been mind-blowing. Not flippant or overly-religious, certainly not an easy crutch… calling for the death penalty would surely be the obvious emotive response to such a situation… I know that my instinctive reaction to such brutality and evil isn’t to look for ways to forgive.

Is she just kidding herself? Is it possible to forgive? I dunno, I’ve never been in that situation, never been in the position where it’s been in my power to forgive something so heinous. But Gee Walker saw the challenge of Jesus extending forgiveness to everyone as a way of seeing the world. Not looking for vengeance or death, but looking to forgive.

Here are some thoughts by John Sentamu on Gee’s forgiveness – he’s the new Archbishop of York, who was beaten to shit by Robert Mugabi’s henchmen in Zimbabwe, has faced racism, and continues to face racism in the UK, and yet follows this model of radical forgiveness.

Meanwhile, Dubya is telling us that God told him to invade Iraq, and I’m just reminded of Peter Sutcliffe tell the Yorkshire police that God was telling him to murder prostitutes…

It’s scary that religious belief can be such an agent of change and an agent of manipulation and destruction. that in itself is a huge challenge to those of us who claim some kind of religious affiliation to question everything, to expose the darkness in our own hearts, and in the mechanisms of the church or whichever faith we adhere to. To cover it up leaves us in the disastrous mess the Catholic church are in over paedophile priests, where instead of turning them over to the police and supporting the abused children in bringing prosecutions, and building in safe-guards to make sure it never happens again, they just moved them to a new parish and allowed it to happen again. Unthinkable.