Thank God it's not 'goodbye'

On his BBC London breakfast show, Danny Baker has been making reference to this being his last week on the show for a while. The thought of him leaving was too horrid to comtemplate, so I’ve been hoping against hope that this was just another weird Baker joke.

So I was delighted to find this article on the BBC London Website – apparently he’s taking the summer off, and will be back in the Autumn. While I’d rather have him there for the summer as well, I can see the need for some time off after getting up at 4am for years on end. Here’s hoping he has a marvellous break and is back fully of mind boggling weirdness on our airwaves before too long…

four more years of winter…

Went to see Show Of Hands at the Bloomsbury this evening. They are, without a doubt, one of the finest live acts in the UK. They offer everything a great live music event should – they are moving, funny, exciting, energetic, soothing, virtuosic, inspiring and authentic. Just brilliant. On one song, called ‘I Promise You’, all about being in a bad patch but looking for promises of something better, Steve Knightly ad-libbed the line ‘I promise you… four more years of winter’. It refers to the line that follows all the good promises in the song – ‘but first we must face the winter’.

The feeling that we are facing four more years of winter is pretty strong right now. Last night’s election result has left us without hope of something better. I wasn’t a huge fan of, or believer in John Kerry and the Kerry message. Sadly he was no where near as ‘liberal’ as the Bushites were trying to paint him (if he had been, he’d have had my vote for sure), but he was new, and electing him would have got rid of the Chaney/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft axis of evil, and offered ‘the chance’ of something better. Kerry’s voting record didn’t fill me with confidence that he’d sort out the fuckup in the middle-east, but his domestic promises on taxing the rich and channeling the money into primary health care would have been a huge step forward in a country with the kind of deficit that Bush has run up.

All he would have offered would have been a glimmer of hope. The hope that he could have been lobbied and cajoled into acting at least partially in line with the democratic model he was inheriting as that party’s candidate. Clinton did a fair amount of damage to the Democratic principle, and throughout the latter half of the 20th century, democratic presidents in the US were pretty hawkish, but there was that hope. A hope that is now gone.

So what’s the best that can be hoped for now? What on earth is the future in Iraq? I’m neither a military strategist or an expert in middle eastern politics, so have no suggestions for whether a partial withdrawal, total withdrawal or a firm military approach would sort this out, but the man who started this utter fiasco that has lead to the deaths of more than 100,000 Iraqis (so much for Saddam’s record as butcher of his own people) has been re-elected, to carry on. He wasn’t promising a change of plan, wasn’t appologising for the balls-up thus far, just spouting shite about being ‘tough on terror’ – there is no war on terror. I’m hardly the first one to say it, but you can’t have a war on terror. It’s like having a war on bad stuff, or a war on attitudes. The word war is at the root of the problem, because it’s that kind of imperial behaviour that fosters terrorist motives. So the more you bomb, the more you turn moderates into radicals. If my family were living in faluja, I’d be feeling pretty extremist right now too.

That’s not to justify the behaviour of the ‘militants’ – al sadir and his ilk are evil murderous tyrants who need to be stopped. This is no time to go soft on psychopaths, but it is a time to acknowledge that the invasion has given motive and a localised legitimacy to some pretty messed up groups, who are no recruiting like mad to fight the aggressors.

Those that were opposing Saddam for all those years and are opposing the US invasion too are caught in a really really tricky situation. According to an arcticle by Nick Cohen in The New Statesman this week, they are largely trade unionists, who have been sidelined by well meaning anti-war protestors choosing to paint the ‘insurgents’ in Faluja as freedom fighters, rather than as yet another screwed up faction in a war of people who really shouldn’t be there.

So who knows what Kerry would have done? Maybe the same as Jnr, maybe worse, but there was hope. And now it’s gone.

The best we have is inertia. God Bless America.

It’s weird, I really like america. I’ve never met an American visiting the UK that I didn’t like (well, OK, there was one, but he was very odd). I have a great time every time I visit the country, and have no trouble at all separating the actions of Bush PLC from the love, warmth and positivity of the American people I know and love. But that’s the problem, I can’t find a connection at all. The US seems like the most divided country I’ve ever witnessed (at least since Thatcher’s britain in the mid-80s, anyway).

I guess it’s back to thinking global and acting local. Macro-politics are just to depressing to even consider. So buy low energy light-bulbs, drive the car less, eat organic, shop fair trade, smile at people on the bus, and wait to see what happens in the UK elections next May…

SoundtrackMiranda Sykes, ‘Don’t Look Down’ (Miranda was singing and playing double bass with Show Of Hands this evening – very talented, and her CDs damn fine too); Show Of Hands, ‘Dark Fields’.

Talking of Show Of Hands, they’re on tour at the moment – Click here for their upcoming dates – don’t miss them out tour if they come near you.

Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation…

a new series of Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation started last night on Radio 4. Jeremy has for quite a few years been quietly carving a space for himself as on of Britian’s most insightful political comedians. Not as abrasive as Mark Thomas or as as prone to over simplistic arguments as Michael Moore, his observations on British life are both absurd and challenging, revealing and intelligent. Yet another comedy masterwork from Radio 4 – check out some of the other shows in the ‘listen again’ archive while you’re there – Just A Minute, the 99p Challenge, Boothby Graffoe and Ross Nobel Goes Global are just a few of the marvellous shows on offer. All well worth half an hour of anyone’s time.

Talking of Ross Noble, we’re off to see his standup show tonight. V. much looking forward to that.

soundtrack – Franck Vigroux, ‘Looking For Lilas’; Drum Inc (a danish drummer’s fascinating solo album – good stuff), and all the stuff on AudioScrobbler…

ooh, aren't we the indie-friendly corporate rock star!

So Korn decided to do a video about how screwed up the record industry is, about how usurous record deals are, the evils of the FCC etc. etc.

Korn? er, yes – signed to Epic (a Sony subsidiary), spending record company money like they’re going for a world record. STILL signed to a major label

this article at RollingStone.com contains the line “For a platinum band that allegedly spent $4 million on its 2002 album Untouchables, fighting its label and MTV may seem hypocritical.” – MAY seem hypocritical??????? Dude, if they had an ounce of integrity they’d jack it in, go indie, release their own records, deal with the fallout of dropping out of the label and use it as a chance to highlight the evilles of the industry.

But no, they just do the faux-rebellious thing, and the tragedy is that in the US it’ll be lapped up. Lots of losers will be outraged (ex-ref everything from Britney and Maddy kissing, to Janet Jackson’s boob-thang, to Prince writing SLAVE on his face…) – the industry thrives on this kind of crass controversy. The only way to fight it is opt out. You try and fight it from within, you just make more money for The Man. If you bail out, they lose. Prince did the right thing – cut loose, made records for himself, but recently blew it by signing to Sony!! – the purple one is clearly more of a maroon these days…

Where were ‘the rebels’ when Pearl Jam attempted to subvert TicketMaster’s hold on the live scene? Where are the rebels boycotting Clear-Channel events? Nowhere – they just make crass protest vids, that make them and their record companies even more money.

Bollocks to Korn. I wouldn’t buy their records anyway, but if I was going to, I’d have boycotted them.

(thanks to The Captain for the link)

Soundtrack – nothing right now, but I’m about to put on the Jughead album – Greg and Matt Bisonette with Ty Tabor – amazing Foo Fighters/Lit/Rembrants-esque stuff. Marvellous.

Photography is the new Rock 'n' Roll

Well, not really, but we did go to two stunning photography exhibitions today.

We’d only planned to go to one, as a birthday treat for the small person, but when we got to the Natural History Museum, there was a second free exhibition displayed outside.

The free exhibition was ‘earth from the air‘ – an exhibition of aerial photography by Yann Arthus Bertrand. His work focuses on the twin poles of the majesty of the natural world and the influence of mankind upon it. Lots of pictures of bizarre natural phenomena and of man’s impact on everything. Seeing it on Good Friday, it acted as a kind of devotional tool – amazing to see the wonder of creation, and the fallen-ness of the human race in its abject inability to fulfil the mandate to protect the planet.

For there we moved onto the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year exhibition – clearly these people get to glimpse through God’s letter-box, and then come back and show us their holiday snaps. Some of the most startling images I’ve ever seen, beautiful, moving, illuminating, awe-inspiring. It’s only on for another week, so if you can get to it, do. After that, it’s on tour, so check it out!

London’s museums are one of the things that give me hope for the city. Some things about living here are so f***ed up, it’s frightening. Other times, there are glimpses of magic. The museums are some of those magical places – free to get in, brimming with information and inspiration about the world. They went through a few years of charging to get in, but fortunately went back to being free. When I was a lil’ kid and we had no money, the museums was one of our favourite days out – Sundays were really really cheap on the underground, and the museums were free to get in. I was captivated by the blue whale in the Natural History Museum, and developed a fascination with whales and dolphins as a result. The British Museum is another fave london haunt.

So the funding for them now comes from the shops, restaurants and from donations, so I always make a point of buying food and books when there – today we had lunch there, and bought the catalogues to both the exhibitions. If you go, and can afford it, do support the museums – helps to keep it free for the people who can’t afford it.

SoundtrackRebecca Holweg, ‘June Babies’ – went to see Rebbeca play yesterday in the foyer at the Royal Festival Hall – her hubby is bassist Andy Hamill, whose solo CD is fanastic too. Rebecca’s gig was great, as is the CD. Highly recommended jazzy singer/songwriter.

Musical Friends…

…are keeping me happy…

so sang Bruce Cockburn in 1970, and indeed it’s true in my life too.

The latest installment in musical friendship began on Friday when I went to see Lifehouse play at Shepherd’s Bush Empire. What a fantastic band!! I’ve got both their albums, but the live experience is even better, and the new guitarist is amazing. I met Sergio, Rick and Jason a couple of years ago in LA, and have seen Sergio a few times since (he came to one of my gigs in LA), so had to go see them play when they were here. Great to hear them, great to get to hang out here in London rather than in LA this time!

part 2 of musical friends was Julian’s wedding on Saturday – Julian’s a former student of mine from Drumtech, who’s now doing big business on the session scene, and deservedly so, he’s a truly brilliant drummer (he was when I was teaching him too, so I’m not taking any of the credit for that!) – anyway, his wedding was naturally full of musos, lots of whom I hadn’t seen for ages, so it was great not only to see my friend get married, but to catch up with so many old aquaintances. Add to that the full on gospel choir hymns/worship section of the service, and some fantastic food at the reception, and you’ve got a magical day.

part 3 – meeting up for a beer on Sunday afternoon with Steve McEwan and Nick Paton. I’d not met Nick before, but he was in Friends First’ – one of the bands I’ve listened to most in my whole life (their album ‘We See A New Africa’ soundtracked about three years of my life in my mid teens). It was great to meet him, and be able to give some advice on indie promotion to someone whose music has meant so much in my life.

part 4 – Denison Witmer is a singer/songwriter from Philly who played at Greenbelt this year, and was fantastic. We chatted a bit at the festival and swapped CDs, and he was playing in Brixton on Sunday night, so The Cheat and I went down to hear another stunning gig from the man. Also gave me a chance to buy his other CDs, and go for a curry with Denison and The Cheat.

Then today, met one of my occasional students, Nick, for a coffee, and had a marvellous afternoon chatting about life, music, politics and everything in between.

So, music friends have indeed been making me happy, which got me thinking, and I came up with the notion of the Pillow Mountain Records extended family – a list of artists who are good friends, and whose music I endorse wholeheartedly, and will encourage as many people as possible to check out. So anyway, so you don’t have to go rummaging through the PMR site for the list, here are the links for you to peruse. All these peoples are amazing artists, and lovely people worthy of your patronage.

www.altruistmusic.com – Andre LaFosse
(turntablist guitar)
www.petermurray.ca – Peter Murray
(singer/songwriter)
www.denisonwitmer.com – Denison Witmer
(singer/songwriter)
www.kerry-getz.com – Kerry Getz
(singer/songwriter)
www.manthing.com – Michael Manring
(solo bassist)
www.johnlestermusic.com – John Lester
(solo bass singer/songwriter!)
www.nedevett.com – Ned Evett
(fretless guitarist)
www.tripwamsley.com – Trip Wamsley
(solo bassist)
www.unguitar.com – Luca Formentini
(unguitarist)
www.calamateur.co.uk – Calamateur aka Andrew Howie
(singer/songwriter/foundsoundist)
www.julielee.org – Julie Lee
(singer/songwriter)

there you go – check ’em out!

soundtrack – right now, Julie Lee (see above), ‘Made From Scratch’; before that, Denison Witmer (ditto), ‘Safe Away’ & ‘Philadelphia Songs’; The Choir, ‘Wide Eyed Wonder’; Bruce Cockburn, ‘World Of Wonders’; Nik Kershaw, ’15 Minutes’; John Lester, ‘Big Dreams And The Bottom Line’; Joni Mitchell, ‘Travelogue’.