New Joni album out yesterday…

Just found out this evening that Joni Mitchell‘s new album, Shine, was released yesterday. So a quick scout around the interwebs revealed that it was on iTunes, but only in those grisly low res DRM’d M4Ps that they sell on there, so balls to that. now have a download store, and so long as you use a US billing address, it’s fine to buy from it with a UK CC/debit card. Hurrah! How smug was I feeling to get the album for the equiv of £4.50 ? very smug indeed until I found out that the album is also on Emusic!!! Balls, I could’ve had it even cheaper… Ah well, it’s lovely – I is listening to it now. Stripped down affair, with very little guitar, lots of piano, pedal steel and words about how we’re all screwed – environmentally, politically, globally. Cheerful stuff, and utterly gorgeous. Proper review will arrive when I’ve had a chance to fully digest its majesty.

The one question though, is: what the hell is Joni doing on Starbucks label? After her quitting the industry over its inherent venal nastiness, it’s contempt for creativity and slave wages, she signs for a company who have a very chequered track record on workers rights, and see music as the background to coffee drinking… But it’s a minor quibble, given that SHE’S BACK! WITH A GREAT ALBUM! HURRAH!

Captive State II – the follow-up

George Monbiot’s 2001 book Captive State was a masterful work – a fantastic dissection of the fallacy of PFI – the ‘private finance initiative’ which this government copied from the last tory government as the way to fund public projects like hospitals and schools.

Even in 2001, Monbiot was able to show what an utter disaster the project has been in terms of the amount of government money squandered on projects that fail the end user and line the pockets of the directors of the corporations responsible for the projects – projects that were frequently late, over budget and woefully inadequate. The technical term for this in political and economic circles is a right royal fuckup. It’s been a disaster.

And how much of a disaster – in today’s Guardian, George posts this follow-up to the story of coventry hospital, or rather what was coventry hospitalS – plural – until the cost of refurbing them was deemed to low and the returns to slight to get any big money investors interested so they scrapped them both and built a new one out of town… initial budget – £174m. Cost of refurbing BOTH the existing hospitals? £30m. As George notes in his article – ” In March 2007, the Birmingham Post reported that the final cost was £410m.”

Go and read it, and be outraged. It’s sick. It’s even more sick that it’s a so-called labour government that did it. At a time when our American cousins are becoming increasingly aware of how having nationalised health care doesn’t mean you become Stalinist Russia, any more than not paying a policeman every time he arrests a crim on your behalf would, we’re letting the government dismantle public services on behalf of big business by not holding them to account for their false duality in presenting us with the options – we were told that we could either have old beaurocratic crumbling NHS (which wasn’t really all that crumbling after all) or new shiny PFI one run by shitheads in board-rooms. It’s a lie, of gargantuan proportions, when a proper publicly funded and transparently consulted and reported overhaul of the NHS would have been both cheaper AND better.

Read George’s article about the balls-up in Coventry, then multiply that up by the number of hospitals, schools, bridges, road-schemes, that have been funded, scale it up over the next 30 years of GUARANTEED revenue, and then throw in British Rail and the BBC as more projects that were sold off under the same false assumption that the options were business-as-usual or sell it off… the cost, both in financial terms and the degradation of public services is astronomical… ‘ever feel like you’ve been cheated?’

The travel-pain of the ecomonkey

So, as y’all know, I avoided a short-haul flight by taking the train/boat/train route to Belfast. Train, fine. Boat, hideous – the roughest crossing I’ve ever had, bar none. A veritable storm which had me retching into a sickbag, and falling asleep on the floor, unable to crawl back up onto my chair. The food was also appalling.

Still, I’m here now, with the lovely and wonderful Gareth, looking forward to a great New Year. Just don’t ask me to go on any boat-rides over the weekend…

On the bits of the journey where I wasn’t asleep or puking, I watched ‘I Know I’m Not Alone‘ again – the Michael Franti film, and read a big chunk of ‘As Used On The Famous Nelson Mandela‘ by Mark Thomas – an INCREDIBLE book. Vital viewing, vital reading. Just don’t try it on an Irish ferry in a storm.

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…

John Peel: A Life In Music

Just finished this book, by Michael Heatley and have come to the conclusion that, should the body of work exist to support such an endeavour, I could happily read about John Peel for the rest of my life.

I say happily – I get the most jumbled mixture of feelings when reading about Peel, ranging from nostalgia for the late 80s, gratefulness that someone like him ever existed and dread for what the music world could descend into in its post-Peel state, all underscored by an aching sadness that he’s gone, and disappointment that I never met him. (He did walk past me once, outside Broadcasting House – maybe I should’ve stopped and said something. I think I was probably lost for words though…)

I can’t think of the death of anyone else that I haven’t actually met that has affected me as much – the more I think about it, the clearer it is what an influence listening to his show had on me in Berwick in the late 80s/early 90s. You’d have to spend a good couple of years in Berwick, without the internet or freeview, to fully understand the significance.

And the weird thing with Peel – and a testament to his broadcasting uniqueness – is that they can’t rebroadcast his shows. It wasn’t about ‘legacy’ music, or playing ‘classics’. It was about playing what grabbed him now. As much as i’d love to listen again to those shows from the late 80s, filled with Cud and Bongwater, Napalm Death and the Bhundu Boys, The Pixies and Marta Sebastian, Kanda Bongo Man and BoltThrower, they aren’t what Peel would play now, and repeating them isn’t what he was about. When Ronnie Barker died, his legacy was palpable, celluloid, archived and repeatable. Peel’s is wrapped up in the experimentation of hundreds of thousands of bands through the last 50 years, inspired to say ‘bollocks to convention’ and try something new, something that mattered. You can’t turn that into a retrospective series, beyond getting endless bands to say ‘yup, without Peel, I’d be driving a van’. And they queued up to do so when he died. Genuine tributes to the man who handed them a career.

In this book, I’m reminded of how so many of those people that I listen to, so much of the music I love was launched on listener’s ears by Peel. Just about every non-jazz influence I have can be traced back to Peel’s patronage.

Anyway, it’s a fine book – read ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ first, but get this one to fill in a lot of the geeky musical info.

I Know I'm Not Alone

Just found the perfect way to focus my thoughts about world politics on a day when everyone’s talking about it. I watched I Know I’m not AloneMichael Franti’s documentary about his time in Baghdad, Israel and the Occupied Territories. It’s a fantastically well made documentary, especially for a first time film maker – fabulously put together, brilliantly edited and profoundly moving.

Franti’s commentary is as you’d expect – insightful, wise, observant, and full of choice quotes about our reponse to conflict, war, and the search for peace.

He says towards the end ‘If I’ve learnt anything from this trip it’s that I’m not on the side of the Americans or the Iraqis or the Israelis or the Palestinians – I’m on the side of the peacemakers, wherever they come from.’ Sounds kind of sermon-on-the-mount-ish, dontcha think?

A blessing be upon the head of Michael Franti for his gift to us of this film. Buy a copy, watch it and take it round to your friend’s houses. And while you’re at it, buy the new Spearhead album, ‘Yell Fire’. It’s amazing.

nice news

this morning I got an email from not-at-all-evil Dan, saying that ‘For the Love Of Open Spaces’, my duet CD with Theo Travis, is included in the new edition of the Penguin Guide To Jazz On CD.

Surely not? Aha, Amazon has a searchable book feature, so I head over there. Do a text search on me, and sure enough there’s an entry for it. Can I read it? Er no, for some reason Amazon tells me I’m not allowed to. So It’s over to The Cheat and his wikkid skillz to get a copy.

He then furnishes me with a JPG of said review, which reads thusly –

***(*) For The Love Of Open Spaces
Pillow Mountain PMR 0014 Travis; Steve Lawson (b). 7/03.

Lusciously beautiful without descending into New Age clap-trap, the music here walks an awkward line with great confidence. Both musicians make extensive use of loop technology (although, as they proudly say, no synths or midi-triggered sounds), and the result is a series of mood poems crafted with skill and a capacious melodic bent. Lawson gets a bit rocky here and there and maybe a couple of the pieces stat around a little too long, but in what is often a threadbare genre they’ve done very well.

How nice is that? ‘Luciously Beautiful’ is a fab quote for posters etc. and 3 1/2 stars is v. good for the Guide (they are, quite rightly, very precious about 4 and 5 star reviews).

And it times very nicely with the recycle collective gig that we’ve got coming up on Nov 16th – all the more reason for you to book that baby-sitter now and come along to the gig!

…just in case you thought all American Christians were as mad as Pat Robertson…

While the fundementalists on the American religous right get all the press, fortunately there’s a huge movement of US Christians from across the theological spectrum that are rejecting the jihad rhetoric of the Bush camp, and attempting to rethink their response to the world and their country’s place within it from a theological perspective, rather than rejigging their theology to put the US at the top as the new Jerusalem, God’s agent on earth.

Probably the biggest organization giving voice to these thinking christians in the US is Sojourners, founded by Jim Wallis, author of the best-selling book, God’s Politics – Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.

Here’s Jim’s response to Pat Robertson lunatic pronouncements, taken from The Sojourners Website – their weekly email, Sojomail is really worth subscribing to.

Pat Robertson: An embarrassment to the church
by Jim Wallis

Pat Robertson is an embarrassment to the church and a danger to American politics.

Robertson is known for his completely irresponsible statements – that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were due to American feminists and liberals, that true Christians could vote only for George W. Bush, that the federal judiciary is a greater threat to America than those who flew the planes into the World Trade Center Towers, and the list goes on. Robertson even took credit once for diverting a hurricane. But his latest outburst may take the cake.

On Monday, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Robertson is worried about Chavez’s critiques of American power and behavior in the world, especially because Venezuela is sitting on all that oil. We simply can’t have an anti-American political leader who could raise the price of gas. So let’s just kill him, the famous television preacher seriously suggested. After all, having some of our “covert operatives” take out the troublesome Venezuelan leader would be cheaper than another $200 billion war, he said.

It’s clear Robertson must not have first asked himself “What would Jesus do?” But the teachings of Jesus have never been very popular with Robertson. He gets his religion elsewhere, from the twisted ideologies of an American brand of right-wing fundamentalism that has always been more nationalist than Christian. Apparently, Robertson didn’t even remember what the Ten Commandments say, though he has championed their display on the walls of every American courthouse. That irritating one about “Thou shalt not kill” seems to rule out the killing of foreign leaders. But this week, simply putting biblical ethics aside, Robertson virtually issued an American religious fatwah for the murder of a foreign leader – on national television no less. That may be a first.

Yesterday Robertson “apologized.” First he denied saying what he had said, but it was on the videotape (it’s tough when they record you breaking the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus). Then he said that “taking out” Chavez might not require killing him, and perhaps kidnapping a duly elected leader would do. But Robertson does now say that using the word “assassination” was wrong and that he had been frustrated by Chavez – the old “my frustration made me say that somebody should be killed” argument. But the worst thing about Robertson’s apology was that he compared himself to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German church leader and martyr who ultimately joined in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler.

Robertson’s political and theological reasoning is simply unbelievable. Chavez, a democratically elected leader in no less than three internationally certified votes, has been an irritant to the Bush administration, but has yet to commit any holocausts. Nor does his human rights record even approach that of the Latin American dictators who have been responsible for massive violations of human rights and the deaths of tens of thousands of people (think of the military regimes of Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, and Guatemala). Robertson never criticized them, perhaps because many of them were supported by U.S. military aid and training.

This incident reveals that Robertson does not believe in democracy; he believes in theocracy. And he would like governments, including our own, to implement his theological agenda, perhaps legislate Leviticus, and “take out” those who disagree.

Robertson’s American fundamentalist ideology gives a lot of good people a bad name. World evangelical leaders have already responded with alarm and disbelief. Robertson’s words will taint and smear other evangelical Christians and put some in actual jeopardy, such as Venezuelan evangelicals. Most conservative evangelical Christians are appalled by Robertson’s hateful and literally murderous words, and it’s time for them to say so. To their credit, the World Evangelical Alliance and the National Association of Evangelicals have already denounced Robertson’s words. When will we hear from some of the groups from the “Religious Right,” such as the Family Research Council, Southern Baptists, and other leaders like James Dobson, Tony Perkins, and Chuck Colson?

Robertson’s words fuel both anti-Christian and anti-American sentiments around the world. It’s difficult for an American government that has historically plotted against leaders in Cuba, Chile, the Congo, South Vietnam, and elsewhere to be easily believed when it disavows Robertson’s call to assassinate Chavez. But George Bush must do so anyway, in the strongest terms possible.

It’s time to name Robertson for what he is: an American fundamentalist whose theocratic views are not much different from the “Muslim extremists” he continually assails. It’s time for conservative evangelical Christians in America, who are not like Islamic fundamentalists or Robertson, to distance themselves from his embarrassing and dangerous religion.

And it’s time for Christian leaders of all stripes to call on Robertson not just to apologize, but to retire.

Jonatha gig number… 6? 7? I've lost count

Jonatha‘s back in the country, as the UK version of Back In The Circus came out yesterday. Last night she played one of the Bob Harris Presents… gigs that used to be at The Stables in Milton Keynes, and are now at The Brook (no E on the end, but close enough for Jonatha to feel at home) in Southampton – a nice enough venue, but nearly all standing, so doesn’t win out over The Stables for me…

Anyway, Jonatha was on first, and fab as always. It’s a great feeling when you go to see someone fantastic that most of the audience aren’t really familiar with – it’s the same feeling going to a Julie Lee gig – you just know that half an hour from now, there are going to be a whole load of Jonatha/Julie/Whoever converts in the audience.

As expected, the response was like she was the headliner. Marvellous.

Brian Houston was up next – I’ve not seen Brian play for a few months, and he was on top form – great songs, great stage show. He’s a really really engaging and entertaining performer. Great stuff.

And Finally Thea Gilmore, who was headlining. She’s good, though the stripped down simplicity of her songs didn’t really follow either the glorious complexity of Jonatha or the bouncy exuberance of Brian so well. Still, most of the audience were there specifically to see her, and she played really well, particularly the cover of The Buzzcocks’ ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone’.

Sadly, we had to leave early as the Small Person, who had been wilting all evening, got progressively iller and iller as Thea’s set went on. I was doing merch by this time (whole catalogue of disaster for Thea – her tech was in A & E with concussion, her merch dude didn’t turn up), so handed that over to Thea’s manager, and took TSP home.

So, go and buy Jonatha’s album!

SoundtrackMasse, a demo of stuff by solo looping bassist/flautist – very inventive indeed; the Works, ‘Beware Of The Dog’.

As one year ends…

This is a great time of year for me – Christmas, then my Birthday (28th – you missed it) and then New Year – lots of time for reflecting on a year gone by, and looking forward to the year ahead. Time to compile daft lists of favourite things from the last year, and make resolutions about things to do in the coming year. To count my (many) blessings, and resolve to see the good things as they happen in the year ahead.

A couple of books that I find useful for this kind of thinking – Proverbs, attributed to King Solomon in The Bible, here translated by Eugene Peterson – some marvellous advice for living. The link starts you off at Chapter one.

And the Tao Te Ching. is an online version, though not a particularly inspiring translation. (my favourite translation that I’ve looked at so far is This one, by Ralph Alan Dale – definitely worth reading.)

So, anyway, I’m 32 now – not that it really means much; you see all those lists in magazines about ’50 things you should have done before you’re 30′, and I’m usually very relieved not to have done three quarters of them – most seem to involve a high risk of either death (yours or someone else’s), disease or at least a serious loss of dignity… No thanks, my life’s quite exciting enough. You never see ‘do a solo bass gig at the Royal Albert Hall’ on those lists…

One of my ongoing resolutions every year is to practice more, and for 2005, I’ve started early. Been practicing quite a lot in the last few days, hoping to keep it up into the new year. Not writing any new music at the moment, strangely, but I am working on a couple of new technical things that I’m happy with…

SoundtrackJonatha Brooke, ‘Plumb’; Brian Eno, ‘Music For Films’; Terje Rypdal, ‘Skywards’.