Clinton at the Labour Party Conference

So Bill Clinton’s been bigging up Blair and Brown at the Labour party conference, describing Blair’s government as a ‘stunning success’, and Brown as having a ‘brilliant vision for the future’.

I, on the other hand, prefer George Galloway’s description of the two from a few months back – ‘Blair and Brown are two cheeks of the same arse’.

I can’t even be bothered to watch the coverage of the conference. It’s all either nonsense about the leadership challenges or it’s labour monkeys telling us not to concern our pretty little selves over the leadership squabbles and to focus on issues.

Well, we are focused on issues – issues like those expressed by the 50,000 people who demonstrated in Manchester earlier in the week, calling for Blair to resign now, and for an end to the balls up in Iraq. Ah, I’m guessing our faux-labour-new-tory chums would rather not talk about those issues… let’s not forget what happened to Walter Wolfgang last year… So instead we can continue to talk like the succession of Blair to Brown is a foregone conclusion.

Two cheeks, bloglings – where’s the left wing option when we need it? Billy Bragg for prime minister?

Tim Bowness/Steven Wilson live in Norwich

Norwich is an awful long way to go to watch a gig. Norwich is an awful long way from anywhere. Which would be fine if it was a stinking hole, but it’s a lovely city, and someone should pick it up, drag it 50 miles west and join it up with Cambridge – Camwich would be a really really lovely city.

But I digress. It’s a long way, but I went anyway. on the main bill were Tim Bowness with his band, and Steven Wilson. Tim was the singer I gigged with last Friday. This time he had a whole band with him, featuring the truly marvellous Andrew Booker on drums (the last time I saw Andrew play drums with Tim, Brian Eno was at the gig, and wanted his phone number… did he ever get it? I don’t think so… a miss opportunity methinks).

The show was opened by Andy Butler – a looping guitarist, using multiple echoplexes. Sadly, because the gig started earlier than advertised, we (by ‘we’ I mean me, Dweez and Mrs Dweez, who all went for food, planning to be back in time for advertised start) missed all but the last few minutes of Andy’s set.

Steven Wilson set was really enjoyable – I didn’t know any of the songs (for some reason, despite liking all the stuff I’ve heard of theirs, I don’t own a single Porcupine Tree album… must rectify that), no, I lie, he covered ‘Thankyou’ by Alanis Morrisette, and that I knew. Anyway, most of it was just electric guitar and voice – something that I’m always amazed more people don’t do. Billy Bragg is the absolute master of that format, but i’ve heard others do it well (Iain Archer is another that plays brilliantly with just a elec. guitar and no band). I had a brief chat with Steven afterwards (we’ve got a fair few mutual friends, not least of all Theo who has played on Porcupine Tree things and opened for them at Shepherd’s Bush).

So all in a great night, and what’s more I got to meet up with Myspace chums Jeffrey and Samantha, here from New York. Much fun.

Margrave Of The Marshes

I finished the John Peel autobiography, ‘Margrave Of The Marshes’ last night. I say ‘auto..’, he actually wrote just under half of the book, his wife Sheila finishing the rest of it. The changeover between the two, the sudden nature of his part stopping and her picking up the story, is one of the saddest moments in any book I’ve ever read. It’s odd to think of a 65 year old man as having so much unfulfilled potential, especially one who was already arguably the most important figure in the development of pop music in the UK. I’d argue that anyway.

His life story is candid, heartwarming, beautifully written as you expect from the presenter of Home Truths, full of his love for music, his family, tales of his frankly insane youth and young adulthood. I’m not sure I’d have liked him if I’d met him in the late 60s, though even then, the excerpts from his diary that Sheila quotes reveal a man I have an enourmous amount of empathy and respect for, despite his opportunist deceptions involving the Beatles and deflowering numerous american highschoolers…

His marriage to Sheila is an inspiration, his love for his family equally so. His impact on me as a musician and music fan has been written about here before, but it bears repeating – growing up in Berwick on Tweed, pre-internet, music information was pretty hard to come by. There was the mag trinity of NME/Sounds/Melody Maker which, whilst nowhere near the cheap nasty nonsense they are now, were still pretty trend-driven, even if those trends were a little more underground that they are today. No, the only real source of information about music-without-boundaries was Peel, and I devoured his show voraciously, recording it onto Tandy cassettes, making compilations of Pixies sessions before they were released, and collections of tunes by The Wedding Present, Bongwater, Napalm Death, The Stupids, Rob Jackson (not THAT Rob Jackson, sadly), Billy Bragg, The Bhundu Boys, Extreme Noise Terror and hours of obscure Soukous and strange German techno squawks.

The overall effect was that of removing all possible labelling from the process of making music. This allowed me to be simultaneously a fan of BoltThrower, Weather Report, The Cure, Wet Wet Wet, George Benson, John Zorn, The Alarm, Yes, The Housemartins and just about anything else that came along. I was often being accused of having ‘no taste’ – not bad taste, just no discernment about what to listen to at all. Truth was I did, I went through obsessive phases (just as Peel did), and kept the best of it as I moved on. In 1986 I voted the Mission and The Smiths the worst bands in the Smash Hits readers poll. By the 1990, I had every album the Smiths had ever released, along with having cultivated a near-obsession with The Cure and The Pixies that lasts to today. Only this week I’ve been introducing various students of mine to the majestic delights of Kim Deal’s bass playing via ‘Debaser’ and ‘Hey’.

The more poignant, funny, engaging and revealing the book became, the greater the pain at John’s loss. The greater the sense of anguish for the family at having lost him – as much as I miss his broadcasting, and regret never having met him, it quite obviously is nothing compared to the excuciating pain of losing a parent/husband/brother/friend.

The tributes when he died were effusive, though not a surprise. I was one of millions of teens from the laste 60s onwards who saw the world of music though Peel-tinted specs, who dispensed with the style fascism of most teen music-factions and took on the mantle of music-lover. I think it’s safe to say that without that exposure, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today. My relationship with music would have been very very different indeed, and that desire to explore as a listener would never have spilled over into that desire to explore as a player that lead to me playing solo.

So go, read the book, remember John, tell your kids about him, make them read the book, and buy them a copy of the new Billy Bragg boxed set, the Hardcore Holocaust’ Peel sessions compilation, The Shed Sessions by The Bhundu Boys and any other weird nonsense you find in the hope that they’ll grow up to view labels like ’emo’ and ‘goth’ and ‘pop fan’ to be as erroneous as they really are.

John, you are missed.

Heroes in unlikely places

Was watching a great programme on tele this evening – Dickens In America, presented by Miriam Margolyes. It was a fascinating premise anyway, following Charles Dickens’ journey into the heartland of America in the mid 19th century.

But the best thing about it was the presenter – I was reminded again why Miriam Margolyes is one of my heroes, and in my ‘most like to meet’ list along side David Attenborough, Billy Bragg and, um some other people (Peter Ustinov was on the list before he died… if the list were just a fantasy one, he’d still be on it…)

There’s just something about Miriam that I warm to, that I admire greatly, and that makes her seem like one of the most marvellous people on the planet. Every time I hear her interviewed she makes me laugh uproariously, she’s got a fantastic grasp of the english language and revels in the art of speaking (her recording of ‘the queen and I’, in which she plays every member of the British Royal Family is the biggest-selling audio book in the world).

It’s all a bit random really – most of my big heroes are political and spiritual figures – MLK, Mandela, Gandhi – same ones as everyone, really. But there are a handful of people who make me feel like Britain isn’t such a dreadful place after all, that there’s something uniquely wonderful in our heritage here, and Miriam is one of those people.

So raise a toast to La Margolyes!

Soundtrack – Abraham Laboriel, ‘Guidum’.

Dropping bombs on the moral highground…

over in The forum, Cryptic just posted a link to This article in the Independent by Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. He highlights the complicity of the UK government in torture round the world, both by using the ‘evidence’ gleaned in such a way, and by actively aiding the torturers by shipping off suspects to be tortured.

Now, how embarrassed are you to be British right now? This morning I was listening to the radio, hearing Billy Bragg interviewed about a project writing songs with terminal cancer patients – Billy is one of a handful of things in which I take pride as an englishman – he couldn’t have come from anywhere else, and is a national treasure. So I got out of bed feeling better than usual about being from here.

Then I read this article, and it’s catalogue of state-sanctioned abuse, torture and murder in Uzbekistan, with the tacit blessing of the UK government.

That we would be silent on the subject of torture would be a great evil. That there are people actively pushing to change the law in favour of using confessions acquired under torture in British courts is so unspeakably foul that I’m at a loss for how to describe it. And we have the audacity to invade Iraq over claims about Saddam’s human rights record. Yes, he was a sick, twisted murdering scumbag, just like the rest of the sick, twisted murdering scumbags we’re now treating as allies and friends in the ‘war on terror’. It’s unbelieveable.

thank God for people like Craig Murray – his own website looks like a great repository of information on the sickness of the euphamistic crusade that is ‘the war on terror’.

Time to contact your MP?

SoundtrackJonatha Brooke, ’10 cent wings’; Dave Matthews Band, ‘Under The Table And Dreaming’ (was there ever a more blatant case of a band getting hugely successful making vibrant interesting music and then going very bland very quickly in a quest for even greater commercial success?? UTTAD is such a lovely record, such an interesting album to listen to, so much going on, and it’s successor, Crash, was pretty damn fine too. After that? Forget it.)

Eric's Funeral

Yesterday was Eric Roche‘s funeral. I was hugely grateful to Thomas Leeb for forwarding the details to me, and I drove up to Haverhill yesterday lunchtime.

The turnout was amazing – hundreds of people including the great and the good of the UK guitar scene turned out to pay their respects to a musician we all loved and admired so much.

The service itself was lovely – the vicar did an amazing job, helped by the fact that he’d known Eric for over a year through his illness, and had spent a lot of time with him talking about his plans for the funeral.

The eulogies were very moving, particularly the ones from one of Eric’s oldest friends who’d been with him since he was in his early teens, and the one from guitar legend Martin Taylor – Martin had produced Eric’s last album, the truly brilliant ‘With These Hands’. The job of playing one of Eric’s tunes – the title track from that album – fell to Stuart Ryan, who did an amazing job of it. That was a role that no-one in the room would have relished, and Stuart played beautifully.

Funerals are a mixed affair generally – it’s often difficult to get past the mawkish hyperbole about what a great person the deceased was, but in Eric’s case, the vast majority of people there were just repeating what they’d been saying for years – he was a deeply inspiring person, amazing musician, hilarious to be around and hugely encouraging to his students and peers.

The get-together afterwards was an amazing gathering – guitarists and writers from all the UK’s major guitar mags mixing and chatting about eric, about guitar about gigs – all the things that Eric did so well.

The more I chatted to people the clearer it became that we were running a parallel course in so many ways – for years we were both teaching at music schools, writing columns for magazines, releasing solo CDs, playing at tradeshows and mushing it altogether into a career. Eric was way more marketable that me, and an even better self-publicist, and was, tragically, on the edge of moving into much bigger things. He was already selling out in provicial theatres, and was the star attraction at guitar festivals across Europe, even visiting China earlier this year. It would surprise me at all if he became the Eva Cassidy of the guitar – though it will be tragic for all the people who from now discover him through his records not to be able to see him live.

Still, you’ve got to get With These Hands – it’s genius, it’s beautiful and no CD collection is complete without it.

The main thought I had going through my head during the service was how unfair the whole thing was – some people live who seemingly don’t deserve to, and others die needlessly due to the genetic russian roulette of cancer. But that’s just it, I guess. Life isn’t fair, never has been. The world is a lot of wonderful things – it’s beautiful, inspiring, funny, there’s music and art and love and nature and rain and the sea and cats and mint tea and friends and family and all kinds of magical beautiful unfathomably wonderful things. But it isn’t fair, and we can’t earn our health, or the right not to get cancer, or the right not to get run over or mugged or blown up on a tube-train or… We can limit the chances by taking care of those things that we have control over – eating properly, not smoking, avoiding situations where people might run amok with an automatic weapon. But we’re not in control, and there’s no system of fairness that apportions tragedy to those who deserve it and witholds it from those who are ‘nice’ or ‘clean living’ or whatever.

I was looking at Eric’s parents and thinking that no-one should ever have to bury their own kids. It’s the great injustice. The order’s all wrong. Eric was only 37, which is no age at all. Two little kids and a wife. A family full of love. It’s too much to even think about, really.

But some things live on. the music definitely, and the memory and the inspiration, in big and small ways. Eric’s most well-known peers have expressed a desire to do something to help, to organise benefit gigs for the family. Some are already taking place (Martin Taylor is playing in Cambridge in October, and we’re talking about getting something to happen in London in January). And we can spread the world about the music – that’s the easy bit, it spreads itself.

There are small things that live on – Eric inspired the best tune I’ve written in a long time – and there are big things, like the ACM in Guildford renaming their guitar course after him (Eric was head of guitar there for years, and wrote the guitar course).

And you, you can go and buy his CDs – start with With These Hands, it’ll blow you away. Go on, you’ll discover some great music, and his family will benefit too.

So all in, the funeral was a fitting tribute to a much loved guitar genius, and a testament to his influence. On Radio 2 yesterday afternoon, Billy Bragg – who has been working on a songwriting project with terminal cancer patients – commented that the one thing that cancer gives you is time; time to get things in order, to plan your funeral to say what needs to be said, in a way that a sudden tragedy doesn’t.

SoundtrackKT Tunstall, ‘Eye To The Telescope’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Juliet Turner, ‘Season Of The Hurricane’.

Edinburgh MPH March/Live8

So, despite it being Wimbledon finals weekend, I didn’t see a stroke of tennis played… But for good reason.

On Friday I drove up to Berwick–On-Tweed (the Lawson ancestral home), in order to go up to Edinburgh on Saturday for the Make Poverty History March and rally, arranged to coincide with the G8 summit meeting in Gleneagles this week.

Estimates on the attendance at Edinburgh vary working upwards from about 200,000, but that’s the figure for Fringe Sunday in August, and this was WAYYYY more crowded than Fringe Sunday.

The march itself was just huge – for a lot of people, they were waiting for almost three hours just to get out of The Meadows (that is, a secret location, known only as ‘the meadows’). The atmosphere was fabulous, though the food was a bit crap for veggies (I’ve got too used to ‘london food’). The first people to set off on the march were back at the start by one o’clock so the continuous white band lasted for a good few hours.

The talk from the stage was largely good – Billy Bragg was on form as always – talking not playing (at least not that I heard, sadly), Jonathan Dimbleby was marvellous. Some twat from the Church Of Scotland was congratulating Gordon Brown on all he’s done so far… hello? Done what exactly? Announced a supposed debt relief package so tied to IMF trade and services liberalisations that it’s virtually worthless? FFS, stop pandering to these goons – they’ve done just about nothing as yet, the situation is still brutally inequitous, and so far Gordon Brown has done pretty much sweet FA.

Anyway, the rest of the talk was good.

We got back into Berwick, and in front of a TV at the time The Killers were on at Live8, who made no impression whatsoever. The evening was definitely all about the old guys showing the youngsters how it was done – Floyd, Robbie, The Who and Macca all rocked the party that rocks the party, while the Scissor Sisters were dull, Velvet Revolver were shit-on-a-stick, Joss Stone and Mariah both did well and Peter Kay was the only Accapella singer of the day and lost the americans royally.

I was struck by how little comment was being made about the cause, both between bands, and by the bands. Now that I’m watching the AOL online feed of the show, I see just how much the BBC had edited out in the name of impartiality. Good God, I hope I never rely on the BBC’s impartiality to save my life from rapacious world trade laws. How can you be impartial on this? Grrrrrrrr.

So all in all, a monumental event – the biggest ever public protest in Scotland, the biggest ever worldwide TV audience for a show, millions and millions of people signing up th the MPH campaign. Surely this will send a message to the tossers in the G8 that things need to change?….

…apparently not, that arch-enemy of freedom, democracy and all things decent, George Bush, has announced that there’ll be no climate change deal in the G8 – you know, right now, I’m wishing someone would blow up Gleneagles. I know something of how Bruce Cockburn felt when he wrote ‘If I Had A Rocket Launcher’, with it’s censor-baiting line, ‘if I had a rocket launcher, some son of a bitch would die’ – why does the G8 even exist? The idea that there is a coalition of the wealthy deciding the mortal future of over half the planet is disgusting. That fuckers like George Bush would come into the meeting saying he’ll be doing what’s best for the US only…

From the bbc news site
‘But he rejected the idea he should support the British prime minister’s G8 plan in return for his support during the war in Iraq.

“Tony Blair made decisions on what he thought was best for keeping the peace and winning the war on terror, as I did,” he told the programme.

“So I go to the G8 not really trying to make him look bad or good, but I go to the G8 with an agenda that I think is best for our country.” ‘

He’s an evil, pernicious, twisted blight on the planet, and anyone who voted for him should be seriously ashamed of themselves. There is a political will within sections of the G8 to improve on these issues but while Bush, under the influence of his PNAC cronies, undermines anything that makes the rich accountable, that makes the rich empire-building countries of Europe and North America feel any sense of responsibility for the fuck-up that is modern day African economics. The most resource-rich continent on earth is its poorest. It makes me cry.

If the G8 don’t listen, who’s in for a revolution?

Soundtrack – The AOL Live8 stream.

Festive Fives Pt 3

OK, fave live gigs of 2004 (no particular order etc.)

The Pixies – Brixton Academy
Billy Bragg – The Barbican
John Scofield – QEH
Show Of Hands – The Stables (and The Bloomsbury, The Borderline, Greenbelt…)
Julie Lee – The Station Inn (and Tower Records, Greenbelt, The Basement…)

and…

Juliet Turner – The Borderline
Spearhead – Jazz Cafe
Gary Husband – Turner Sims
Carleen Anderson – Jazz Cafe
Psychodots – Cincinatti
Sam Philips – The Belcourt, Nashville

Soundtrack – Beck, ‘Sea Change’; The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’, David Torn, ‘Best Laid Plans’.

Still can't believe he's gone

I know I’ve blogged about the death of John Peel before, but this evening I finally got to watch the back to back documentaries about him that were on a week or so ago (thanks Neil!!).

The first was various celebs who knew him talking about him post-death. The second one was a doc that was made for his 60th birthday – 5 years ago, and what really struck home was that then, when he was alive, he was getting more effusive accolades than most people get when they die. His influence on the UK music scene really is immeasurable. I have numerous records in my collection that would never have been there if it wasn’t for Peel – both those that I bought as I direct result of hearing the bands on his show (The Fall, The New FADS, The Pixies, etc.) and those who probably wouldn’t have reached the attention of the listening public if it wasn’t for his championing (The Smiths, Billy Bragg, Pulp, etc.)

Listening to Peel’s show in the late 80s told me that it was OK to have no boundaries on your listening. Thanks to Peel, I knew metal-heads who bought Ivor Cutler records, and I ended up owning a compilation album called ‘Hardcore Holocaust’, featuring bands like Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror, The Electro Hippies and Dr And The Crippins!! The feeling that stylistic boundaries meant absolutely nothing permeated my record buying and my own music experimenting – I bought ACDC records and John Zorn records, Yes albums and Sade albums, Nick Heywards and Charles Mingus, The Fall and Mendelson… I had no boundaries to my listening at that time, and it did me no-end of good when it came to finding my own musical voice. I avoided the musical myopia that people learning instruments often get caught up in, playing along to The Cure and Stu Hamm, The Pixies and Olivier Messiaen.

A huge amount of that can be traced back to Peel and, as was noted in the documentary by Benjamin Zephaniah, the completely matter-of-fact way that he would introduce the most extraordinary music on the planet, juxtaposing hardcore punk with techno, reggae with folk, records from the 30s with electronica from Belgium, Japanese Pop with English protest songs.

I just can’t believe he’s gone. The hole it leaves in the middle of British music broadcasting landscape is crater-sized, with no chance of ever being filled. Johnny Marr commented in the doc that he was a total one off, and wasn’t even training up a protege. There really is no one that can fill that space, and the British radio airwaves will feel the lack of it for ever.

We were exceedingly lucky to have grown up with John on the airwaves – he championed just about everything that’s been intersting in music in the last 40 years. Rock ‘n’ Roll, hippie folk, prog, jambands, punk, hip-hop, electronica, rap, folk, hardcore, techno, indie, protest, african and utterly unclassifiable music. Radio formatting was shown to be the shallow market driven bollocks that it is.

And once again, the second documentary brought it all back to the pain of his wife and kids. Regardless of his legacy, they’ve lost a dad and a husband. I just hope and pray they find some comfort in the way he changed british music for ever.

Soundtrack – Nick Harper, ‘Double Life’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Between Here And Gone’; Ani Difranco; ‘Little Plastic Castles’.

Blog in the media…

Got a text message earlier from Rob saying that my website was name-checked in todays Observer Newspaper – intrigued, I bought a copy, to find that in their regular ‘What’s The Word’ feature about weird words, today’s was Gigalicious (a word that crops up here rather often, given that I lead such a gigalicious life…) – and my site was held up as the earliest useage recorded on the net – in 2002, using the phrase ‘it’s been a gigalicious year’ (probably in my year-end round up on the news page, which strictly speaking was my pre-blogging blog…)

Anyway, it’s always nice to get media coverage, even if it is for using made-up words instead of making music.

Sarda sent me a link the other day to audioscrobbler.com – a site that logs whatever you’re listening to in your chosen media player! Rather fun, especially to see what rubbish other people are listening to, and to see if my stuff is being played by people who have the software (not enough, so get it, and start playing the new album! :o) )

Anyway, from now on, I’ll try to remember to link to my audioscrobbler page from the ‘soundtrack’ link at the bottom.

soundtrack – Scritti Politti, ‘Cupid And Psyche’; Tom Waits/Crystal Gayle, ‘One From The Heart’; Ani DiFranco; ‘Little Plastic Castle’; Billy Bragg, ‘Talking With The Taxman About Poetry’; Sarah Masen, ‘Dreamlife Of Angels’.