nothing to write on your blog today? take the old-school BBC approach…

I’m in the middle of reading David Attenborough’s marvellous autobiography, ‘Life On Air’ – which is one of the most fascinating and illuminating looks at the birth of TV broadcasting in the world – David joined the BBC very early on in the life of TV, and as controller of BBC 2, introduced a whole host of elements to the channel that still define its output today.

Anyway, I’ll write more about the book at another time, but one of the things it reminded me of was that time back in the 70s and 80s when TV channels were honest about having nothing to put on, so instead of showing endless reruns or commissioning shite like Kilroy or Trisha, they just played some music and showed the test card… maybe it’s something we bloggers should adopt when we’ve nothing of interest to say… :o)

Soundtrack – Kristen Korb, ‘Where You’ll Find Me’ (a fantastic CD); Armen Chakmakian, ‘Caravans’ (another album featuring Doug Lunn on bass).

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Jerry Springer – The Opera

No, that’s not just a clever heading, it’s an actual show. For those of you outside the UK, it’s a stage play that’s been on in London’s West End for about two years, getting rave reviews and packed houses. The basic premise is it’s a satire on the Springer Show, that ends up with Jerry getting shot and going to hell.

The BBC filmed it, and showed in on TV on Saturday night, and what’s noteworthy about that is the volume of complaint from Christians, accusing the show (that 99% of them knew nothing about, and were quoting made-up figures for) of blasphemy and obscenity. One of the marvellously outlandish claims was that the show features ‘8000 swear-words’ – yeah, only if you multiply up each time the chorus sings one by the number of people in the chorus (27)… what bollocks.

So, anyway, the program drew the largest number of complaints ever for a BBC show, and not only did it draw complaints but there were demonstrations outside the BBC buildings around the country, with people burning their TV licences, and waving placards.

…and then people wonder why I’m reticent to talk about matters of faith, when I’m likely to be lumped in with people who do things like that.

What a moronic thing to complain about, what a disgusting waste of campaigning time and effort. What a feeble target. What a huge embarrasment to thinking people of faith the world over.

There are so many huge injustices in the world that christians should be complaining about, from unjust wars to unfair trade laws, third world debt to child prostitution, institutional racism in the police force to potentially rigged elections in so-called democratic countries. And these schmoes pick on a TV show. A marginal TV show, on the BBC’s ‘arts’ channel. A show that none of them had seen. A show about which they felt it neccesary to make up stats to back up their claims of it’s shock-value. Good God.

Why on earth can’t these same self-righteous moralising masses get of their lazy arses and complain about shit that really matters? God, I get so angry at stuff like this. I missed the show – why? cos I was volunteering in a homeless shelter. Does that make me Mr Worthy? Not at all, I do one night every other week for three months of the year, while the people who really deserve us to be supporting their protests are out changing people’s lives with little regard for their own safety and comfort.

I’m not suggesting everyone should like Jerry Springer The Opera, I’m not even saying it’s a bad thing to complain about. But at least watch it first!! And calling for the broadcast to be cancelled is madness. What kind of weird country are we living in?

Once again, the outcry against a marginal bit of art has turned it into a huge hit. The viewing figures for JSTO will almost certainly be over double what they would have been. The BBC news have had a field-day reporting on the complaints, flagging up the broadcast every hour or so on their news reports, making a huge deal out of it. The same thing happened with ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’, which wasn’t even looking like getting a full cinema release until some overly zealous complainants got their teeth into a campaign and made it a box office smash.

Maybe I need to release an album with really disgusting titles to all my tunes and get organisations like Christian Voice to do my publicity for me? (for some reason this bunch of particularly zealous muppets ended up getting tonnes of airtime over the campaign… even amongst the people who protested, they were particularly odeous. Poor old God – with friends like these, who needs enemies?)

Please, please, please – channel your campaigning energy and righteous anger into things that are going to change the lives of those who have no power to change things for themselves. Support the Make Povery History Campaign, lobby parliment for trade justice, write to your MP about the rights of asylum seekers and the homeless in your borough, push for better recycling, start a soup run, volunteer with a charity overseas, send money to the relief effort in Asia, scream on the street corners about the tragedy of the Tamil communities that have been cut off from the aid that’s going to Sri Lanka. Anything, anything but whinging about TV shows.

So who’s up for joining my new Messianic Taoist group?

Christmas TV gets it right for once…

Usually, Christmas TV is all about blockbuster films, climactic soap storylines and the Queen’s Speech.

This year, Channel Four presented what is arguably the best ever bit of Christmas Day TV – a documentary entitled Who Wrote The Bible?, presented by Robert Beckford. A fascinating look at the origins of the Bible, it’s writers, the earliest manuscripts, the relationship between written word and oral history and the various agendas at work in what was kept in and what was left out. Fabulous viewing. Robert Beckford is a speaker I’ve heard a few times before at Greenbelt – engaging, interesting and massively well researched.

Well done Channel Four! For a self-confessed BBC fanatic like myself, it was interesting to see them being totally outclassed in the quality programming for christmas day this year.

Oh how times change!

Was flicking through some old photos the other day, and came across this passport photo, which I think dates from ’91… blimey, the years really do just disappear. To think, 13 years ago, I could have been KD Lang on Stars In Your Eyes.

Anyway, I’d better go, I think Timmy Mallet wants his glasses back…!

Soundtrack – The Pixies, ‘Doolittle’; Kris Delmhorst, ‘Songs For A Hurricane’; Talking Heads, ‘Stop Making Sense’; Bill Frisell, ‘The Willies’.

More big changes at the BBC

regular readers of this ‘ere blog will know that I’m a huge fan of the BBC – I think any Brit that has travelled abroad comes to appreciate the unique resource we have in the BBC, and as the media in general seems to get more and more commercialised, the Beeb is a bastion of publicly funded journalistic marvellousness in the middle of it all. Their track record on commissioning great drama and comedy is fantastic, and their kids programs are the best there is.

So I’m always a little uneasy when I hear talk of big changes at the BBC, such as those announced yesterday in a talk by the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson.

Thousands of jobs are to go, and loads of BBC stuff is going to move to Manchester… I’ll watch this one unfold with a cautious eye.

This spawned a discussion on BBC London about whether a licence fee funded BBC was still valid, and true to form, much of the genetic detritus that makes up the listenership to John Gaunt’s show in the morning seemed to think that they got better value and programming with their Satellite and Cable channels. Sometimes I despair for the future of the country. Most of that despair comes from listening to John Gaunt’s show. Maybe he just attracts obnoxious morons?

Anyway, if there are any referenda on the future of the BBC, do us all a favour and vote for it keeping it’s funding base just the way it is, please. The licence fee would be great value if it just covered radio, or just covered the BBC website, let alone the TV as well… Gawd bless the BBC.

Soundtrack – Zakir Hussain, ‘Making Music’; Pierce Pettis, ‘Great Big World’; Gillian Welch, ‘Time (The Revelator)’; Jonatha Brooke, ‘Plumb’; Indigo Girls, ‘4.5 – the best of’.

OK did anyone video it??

Saturday night’s John Peel documentary – I saw the last half an hour, but if anyone video’d it, I’d love to see the rest. I saw it listed in the TV guide and thought ‘oooh, got to see that!’, but was then watching ‘School Of Rock‘ and forgot about the time (that happens when you’re raising your goblet of rock).

So if anyone has it, that’d be great…

Soundtrack – Tom Waits, ‘Real Gone’; Jamie Hartford Band, ‘Stuff That Works’; Jackson Browne, ‘Looking East’.

A wet weekend in Heaven…

So Greenbelt‘s over for another year. Once again ’twas a fantastic festival. Definitely the best fest there is.

I was pretty exhausted when I arrived, having got back from Edinburgh, then gone to Southampton to play at Greyum and Chrissie’s wedding (which was a fantastic day), and had to jump straight into flyering/postering mode as my solo gig was on the Friday night. two minutes before I went on stage, a GB fire officer came in telling me they were about to remove my car with a crane as I was parked in a fire lane. so move car, rush back to do gig. Previous band overrun, quickest changeover possible, and nice big crowd. Lots of friendly faces (and no friendly faeces). About a minute into ‘Grace And Gratitude, I notice that the second Lexicon unit wasn’t working, so I looped the melody so I could get up and fix it (just plug the powerchord back in), but in getting up, I twatted my head off a TV set hanging over the stage, and nearly knocked myself out. doh!

middle of second tune, I realise that my Ebow is still in my jacket pocket, so more looping and shuffling ensues. All good fun. Many of the jokes from the Edinburgh show make their way in a modified form (tourettes removed), all goes very well.

finish at 10, pack up, and start compering in big acoustic venue at 11. First night was Peter Case, followed by Terry Callier followed by Julie Lee. good lord, what a remarkable night’s music. Terry was breathtakingly good. Lovely bloke too. Big success all-round. Compering’s lots of fun, and back stage crew are very friendly and helpful. Get to bed about 3

Saturday am is first rehearsal for Sunday morning service… ends up being about 5 hours of rehearsal on the Saturday… bit much, but sounding good.

Saturday night, The Low Country played on Stage 2 – fantastic gig, one of the best things on this year. More compering, this time Brian Houston, Rosie Thomas and Denison Witmer. Again, all fantastic. Nice to be compering on this stage rather than having to try and sound enthusiastic about generic rock shite on the mainstage played by people who look like potatoes. got to bed about 3.30.

Saturday as a whole though was spoilt by The Small Person having to head home due to the Aged Feline being v. ill. We’d had to take him to the vets after Edinburgh, not well at all, not eating. Turns out he’s got Pancreatitis, and Pneumonia, as complications of his Chronic Renal Failure. None of it is looking good for the little guy.

Sunday mornig was the service – the Greenbelt service is generally fabulous. This year the music was just me, two drummers and 15,000 singers, which was a fun gig to have! Lots of new tunes by Andy Thornton, and some old GB favourites. Fun to be sat next to the Archbishop of Canterbury, playing afro-cuban grooves… sort of fits into that ‘mark thatcher arrested for funding a military coup’ bracket of weird unpredictable scenarios.

The rest of sunday was a bit more relaxed, punctuated by regular calls to the small person to check on The Aged Feline’s condition, which was not good but stable. I was pretty exhausted all day, but didn’t got and see much so was able to relax a bit more before compering that evening. Three more marvellous things – Cathy Burton (great as always), Moya Brennan (interview plus a few songs to backing track – lovely person, fascinating story, hope she comes back with a band soon.) and Martyn Joseph. Brilliant as ever. another late night.

Planned a lie in on Monday, but Deb and Alice were packing up their tent next door at some ungodly hour. Woke up, went for breakfast with my mum (oh yes, hardcore festival going mum have we). saw Rob Jackson at lunch time playing solo – magical stuff, and very funny too. Then did my gig with Calamateur, AKA andrew howie, which went very well. His songs are just marvellous, and the album’s a must.

An afternoon of wandering was followed by another performance cafe gig, this time with Andrew Buckton, who has the ability to make me cry with his songs while I’m playing them – not great when you’re trying to read chord charts. Magical stuff.

From that gig I rushed up to the mainstage to catch as much as possible of Show Of Hands – possibly the greatest live act in Britain. A massive inspiration in terms of their ability to connection with their audience, controlled virtuosity like a couple of internationally renowned concert soloists, and a great sense of humour. I come away from their gigs feeling like a total amateur. I’m pretty good at what I do, but they take the art of performing to a whole new level. I hope I never miss another London gig of theirs…

They were followed by Ron Sexsmith and Jamelia – Ron was fab (I’m a fan anyway) and Jamelia was agood festival ending gig – loads of people digging it, she had a great band with her, top stuff. We closed out the festival in Centaur with a great jazz singer called Polly Gibbons.

As you’ll notice, I didn’t get to a single seminar or worship event over the weekend – more evidence that I’d taken on far too much. next year, I’ll drop one or more of those commitments, or at least refuse to rehearse for the service! :o) But all in all it was a great fest. It’s lovely to be at a festival where I know literally hundreds of people, and have most of my favourite people in the world on one site. Great to catch up with other lovely people who are equally busy and to meet some new lovely people.

The big shadow over the whole weekend though for us was The Aged Feline. He’s coming home from the vets today, and the future looks bleak, and very short. Please keep the little guy in your thoughts and prayers – the last thing we want is for him to be in any pain or discomfort.

soundtrack – Moya Brennan, ‘Two Horizons’; The Low Country, ‘The Dark Road’; The Cure, ‘The Cure’ (thanks Greg!); the two CD compilations I made to play between the acts at Greenbelt…

Back from Edinburgh…

Sorry for not blogging whilst away – I couldn’t remember my login details or the address where I need to go to to log in! doh!

Anyway, I’ve played nine gigs in the last two weeks, and had a whale of a time at the Edinburgh Festival.

But before Edinburgh, I had gigs in Glasgow and Berwick On Tweed. Both gigs were double-headers with Calamateur, aka Andrew Howie. Andrew got stuck in the highlands behind all the landslides on the day of the Glasgow gig, and ended up arriving at the venue half way through my set. The venue was a bar called Brel – a lovely place, with very helpful staff and a great ambience. A great place to play.

Thursday we went into Edinburgh, first to see Andrew’s mate Gareth (as featured in Danny Wallace’s book, Join Me), and then I went into to scope out the lie of the land for the festival. Never having been to the festival before, I had a wander round, and called in at the C Venues press office to find out who all the people were that I’d be talking to on the phone for weeks. Also picked up a few flyers and posters to dish out, but didn’t really get a handle on just how aggressively one has to flyer is Edinburgh is to work…

Friday was the Berwick gig – at The Barrels Ale House, which has changed a lot since I used to go in there when I was still at school and underage. It now has a lovely stage in the corner of the cellar, and loads of fantastic music on there each month. ‘Twas great fun to play a home town gig, and Andrew played another fantastic set – if you get a chance to see Calamateur live, take it, he’s marvellous.

Saturday was back to Edinburgh for a day’s flyering and sticking up posters. Still hadn’t realised at this point, that walking anywhere is a chance to give out flyers, so didn’t do as much promo as I should have. Still, I did get to meet up with Abe Laboriel – I usually meet up with Abe in LA each January during NAMM, so it was lovely to have him over here for a change, and get the chance for a nice long talk. His set, as part of the American Gospel Music fest was amazing – Paul Jackson Jnr on guitar was jaw droppingly good, and Abe was his usual inspirational self. Oh, and on Saturday afternoon, bumped into Dave Hunter, old friend from college that I’ve not seen for years. Very nice surprise.

Sunday, first gig day – more flyering, postering and badgering people to come to the gig. First gig went well, small but enthusiastic crowd, lovely venue. Didn’t set up a mic for chatting, so was probably not particularly audible.

Monday, The Small Person arrives in Edinburgh, but has to head off to meet up with old friends. No worries, I had a radio show to do anyway – had been booked for a couple of months to play on the BBC Radio Scotland ‘Arts Show’. The other guests on the day were Jenny Eclair, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden promoing their show Men In Beige, Terrafolk, and the cast of one of the South African Shows (very good they were too…) Was most amusing to be sat in an artist’s booth at the side of the stage with Jenny, Barry and Ronnie, each with our ‘publicists’. The show went really well, and I arranged to go and see Men In Beige and Jenny’s show The Andy Warhol Syndrome. Monday gig another small crowd, but once again highly appreciative.

Tuesday Met up with Tom StreetTeam and Sarah-Jane for lunch-time curry – much fun it was too. Followed by much flyering. The Small Person proved to be a flyering genius, picking a great spot from which to get to lots of people. Went to see ‘Men In Beige’ which was fantastic – great jokes, marvellous songs, laughed til we cried. Tuesday gig major jump in attendance, and adding a mic to the set up meant the crap I was talking between tunes was much more audible, and the music/talking bollocks split was now about 60/40. It’s amazing what hanging out with funny people does for your ability to think of amusing things to say between tunes.

Wednesday was a very wet day… most days were very wet days, and when it’s pissing down with Rain, flyering becomes very difficult. But hey, there were press people coming in, so hopefully another good turnout…. bit of a drop in numbers, and the stress of trying to flyer people in the rain meant I wasn’t quite as sparky as the night before… still, playing very well by now, so all is good.

By now the days have a distinct pattern to them. Get up, drive from Berwick to Edinburgh, park car miles out of town to avoid insane parking charges, walk into town flyering all the way, head to strategic flyering points – me to The Royal Mile, small person to C main. food, catch a show, back out flyering – me to St George’s West, Small Person back to C Main. Another pretty good attendance, back to being more funny again.

Friday went to see Jenny Eclair’s show, which is fantastic – a one woman show as an ex-reality TV star – made it big on a docu-soap, did lots of ads, magazines, Richard and Judy etc. then fell from grace spectacularly. Fantastic bit of writing, well acted, lots of laughs and a few tears at the more poignant moments. Top stuff. Another good gig – audience figures steadily growing as word gets round.

Saturday last day. Flyering like mad, til we ran out of flyers. Biggest crowd of the week, just wish I had the spare time to extend the run. Proof that what I do works at Edinburgh. Marvellous reaction, loads of CDs sold, met lots of lovely people after the gig, then loaded up the car and back to Berwick. Job’s a good’un.

So all in all a fantastic week. I know so many people whose first Edinburgh Fringe experience was to lose thousands, so to have the chance to play a low risk gig like this was marvellous. And a great chance to get to know how Ediburgh works. I really want to do the whole run next year ( though will have to find someway of getting away in time for Greenbelt!) Augusts will never be the same again!

Now I’m back and sorting out stuff for Greenbelt, and for my gigs in Sept/Oct/Nov. It never stops, thank God.

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 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.

Why Wait?

Standing in line at my local post office this afternoon, I’m confronted by a huge sign saying ‘Why Wait?’ an ad for post office bank personal loans. Now, the loans industry is a particularly odeous one at the best of times, but when post offices – places used a heck of a lot by people collecting their pensions and benefits – try to turn ‘why wait’ into a rhetorical question in relation to borrowing money in order to get a car, a holiday, a new TV or whatever, things seem to have hit a new low.

So anyway, here’s Steve’s reasons to Wait –

#1 – no payments means no stress. If you’re not naking payments on a loan, you’re outgoings are less. Money you’re putting aside for a special thing can easily be diverted should you need it, and whatever the thing is you’re saving for will just have to wait a while, rather than be repossessed.

#2 – you end up paying more, a LOT more – the interest on loans is insane. If you put the money in a savings account, they’ll actually give you money for waiting.

#3 – things you’ve saved up for are more highly valued. OK, so it’s old fashioned, but it’s true. People (ie, me) don’t appreciate the stuff they just get. I’ve had to save up for basses, for amps, for stuff. Other things I’ve bought cos I’ve got the money. almost invariably, the ones I saved for are dearer to me.

#4 – if you’re saving for one thing, you’re less likely to be spending the money elsewhere. It’s amazing how the process of saving up can focus your thinking about money. Do we need to get take-away again, or shall I cook, save a few quid, and put it towards the holiday? That side of it is quite fun. Having to buy take-away because the bailiffs have taken your cooker after you defaulted on a bank loan is less fun.

#5 – debt is the biggest business in the world. Whether it’s third world debt, the national deficit of the US, or personal debt, bankers are making trillions and the rest of us are paying the bills. Opt out.

soundtrack – Seth Lakeman, ‘Kitty Jay’; Fripp/Eno, ‘No PussyFooting’; David Torn, ‘Tripping Over God’; Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times’.

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