Monday, 29 August 2011

@ the floggers

"A leather lash with steel tips as used on juveniles, c.1870"."

England is being dragged through the gutter by these vermin. Call in the Army and deport them all".
"Id deport them to Serbia or Bosnia where they would fit in with the other thugs and punishers".
"Watch the footage,there are whites,blacks Asians all at it. Flog them all".
"Yes flog them all. They are disgusting. For those who feel sorry for them,why dont you charter a plane so they can follow Englands games abroad".
"The comfortable middle class socialists won't open their eyes they don't want real socialism they just want to talk about it".
"These pussies wouldnt dare venture outside,let alone riot if they were facing US Officers.fLOG THEM AND HUMILIATE THEM. They are bottom feeders and scum".
"sanctimonious old out of touch extream lelf wing socialists in there cosy little worlds always the first to voice there well troden ideologies whilst on a path to nowhere, they blame the police for everything and retire to smugnessville to sing there poignant little songs grow up and look at real life".

Above are some of the most ignorant and loathsome comments made in response to any piece I have written on here. For all I know they could have come from the English Defense League, or some other draconian tribe or ..... one person. If the latter then this is for YOU. Isn't the cry “ fLOG THEM AND HUMILIATE THEM” the snarl of just a different kind of hooligan from a different kind of mob?
We heard politicians pandering to the mob mentality and near vigilantism that stunk out this nation for quite some time. The surprise for me is that some of the "flog 'em" commentators might be EBB fans. Is it possible that they were and still are EBB fans but, are not mine? I hope so. I hope that none of the “flog ‘em" brigade, come to my gigs or buy my records. I definitely don't want to be associated with them nor do I want their patronage.

Is it true then that Kamp Kapo’s are always among us and would be the torturers if outraged enough or ordered to it by men in white coats? Who among the “floggers” could administer their own warped version of justice? Could it be that this hunger for the proverbial pound of flesh is born of the frustration of usually reasonable and decent people who are seeking retribution for the damage done to them? 

This country recently came next to last in a UNICEF survey around the quality of life for children and young adults. The USA was last. The Scandinavian countries were top and Holland followed close behind them. This survey did not focus on the poor especially nor on any ethnic grouping and says a lot about the values of my generation as parents and citizens. It also says a lot about successive governments and their lack of foresight.

I have worked with young people for many years, here in South London, and have seen how some of them can become gradually disconnected from the rest of us. Some of you may feel they have squandered their opportunities and simply chosen criminality over belonging to this wonderful society we have created for them. I would suggest the issues are more complex and require deeper consideration by any one able to think outside the box. Why are these people so out of step with the rest of us? Is it simply a deviant choice and entirely down to them? I think not. Are they people who have rejected all of the good opportunities in their lives? I think not.

Some time ago I worked on a radio project with young people on licence from prison. They had to comply with very strict but reasoned rules to stay out of prison. Any infringement of the rules meant they could be returned to a cell immediately. Their task was that they had to make radio programmes for young people around crimes they had carried out. They had to interview the people they had robbed and convey the hurt and trouble they had caused by their own actions. I could write reams about that work but on one occasion some of us workers were trying to establish where we were at with these young people and how to proceed in the early stages. We were asking a young male what he liked. His response was “ Hurting people”. It was shocking and disgusting and began to evoke some of the emotions that have probably lead some of “the floggers” to where they are today. It was his way of challenging us and though I didn't know or understand what had lead him to where he was on that day, we still had a job to do. We took on the challenge but it wasn't easy.

Weeks later the same young man was a model participant on the radio station. His programme was one of the best broadcasts that year and I know why. To some extent he was re-connected to us. He had some ownership and purpose and he had talent. He had a stake in what happened to him and to others. He wasn’t so bad after all but, he was chronically deprived, starved of meaningful input, being appreciated and had been clearly neglected in all the areas that help to make us whole. I hope he is doing well now. Unfortunately this work has had it’s budget cut as has most similar work in my borough and this is a borough with resources.

A young boy helps a young student from the floor. The student is bleeding but the boy steals his things from the students bag in spite of the student’s situation. Why? The young boy inhabits a world where his life has lead him to not care at all. If you beat him he will kill you. If you kill him then his street family will try to kill you. If he offends his “brothers” they will hurt him badly and if he dies they won’t care. It is shocking but I believe the solution is about reconstruction and re-connection so that at least these damaged individual’s children might be saved from such a sad and empty life. When most of us say “ F+++ it, I don’t care any more”, we rarely mean it. It is an expression of extreme frustration and anger but some of the young people rioting and not so young rioters have come to that terrifying place where, when they say they don’t care, it is real. They have no empathy. This lack of empathy is the worst possible outcome where there is no fear or respect and no reason to change and see any outsiders point of view. How did they get like this and what is the way forward?

At least the voices of reason are coming through now, even in the media and elsewhere. Most decent and intelligent people do not want to bring back the birch. They realise the issues are complex, that we need to explore the underlying causes behind the ailing state of this nation. I neither condone the violence and vandalism of the recent riots nor support any of the rioters actions. We have a justice system to deal with criminality but simply filling our jails with our young people until they burst will not solve this problem nor heal our communities. We already have more young people in prison than any other european country. Where did WE go wrong?


Wednesday, 24 August 2011

the great northern adventure

photo by ian aitchison

Castaway was always going to be a small challenge for me even though most of the material I chose for the programme was well rehearsed and played in at FDPFAFDW gigs. It was the first and only gig I can remember where the programme was set and could not be changed. I often switch songs around during the show and did so frequently with the EBB. Every one at The Duchess in York was given a copy of the programme so I had to keep to it. I had also chosen to include three pieces that were quite a departure from my usual repertoire so there was enough to keep me on my toes before I began.
When I arrived at the Duchess Callum the sound engineer was already running some sounds and the acting manager brought me a proper northern cup of tea within minutes of my arrival. The club is really very nice. It is clean and very well equipped and the dressing room is a model for all dressing rooms. UK clubs take note. So, a great start to the evening then. My sound check was leisurely but thorough and I was totally satisfied with every thing by the time the doors opened and the night began.
Most of you will have seen the programme on here or on my web site. I ad-libbed a monologue about waiting, in the night, for a female to return home. The clock ticks and the time goes by. I included strategies told to me by women friends to keep them safe at night as well as dos and don’ts for men. Never walk behind a female in the dark. Cross to the other side of the road etc, etc.
Next I sang a small lament or psalm to a drone on my phone. The phone produced the only technical glitches of the evening but none were too distracting. The other piece was a short reading called The God Light Pop. It seems some folk struggled with this but most people were on the trip with me. I could feel it. It is a piece of prose from the perspective of both myself, and people I have known and worked with who have extra needs. The language is gleaned from them. It is set against a back drop of war and destruction but I believe it also speaks of an indomitable optimism that I often find when ever I am in the company of people with learning difficulties and or physical disability. We have much to learn from their truth.
Unusually, I took a fifteen-minute break in the middle of the show. I believe the whole performance lasted two hours and it whizzed by. In the second half I performed some thing I called We Chant.

we chant - video by shirlok - copyright one songs 2011

What a lovely audience! I really enjoyed myself.It was great to see some old friends again and to hook up with some of my Scottish and Welsh comrades. Thank you to all who came for making it special for me.

The following day was a day off which was spent in Barrow in Furness on the peninsular that extends into the Irish Sea. In the evening I had supper with Alexandra and Nigel my hosts for the following days FDPFAFDW gig in their garden on the outskirts of Ulverston.
alexandra and nigel

A couple of gazebos were erected and we surveyed the scene and decided on the best place for the PA to be installed and where the audience would be if it rained. The sky was leaden and we all hoped for a break in the cloud and a fine day for the show.
This is an excellent area for sea fishing but the tides were against us and even if the tides had been suitable the weather was not. I was glad that we had ruled out any fishing at early stage. After some excellent barbecue we chatted for a while and then it was back to the hotel to rest up. I spent most of the early part of the following day in bed catching up on the news and answering emails so by the time I had to set off for the show I was well rested and raring to go. I don’t remember a series of shows where I was as relaxed and confident about pretty well every thing. There is always a little nervousness as the “onstage time” draws near but with out that I believe the show suffers and doesn’t have any edge to it.
By the time I reached the garden venue the rain was falling and apart from a very short, occasional let up it increased steadily as time passed. Nigel and Alex had put a lot of time and effort into this event, as do all the FDPFAFDW hosts and I think as every one began to arrive the main concern was that Alex and Nigel should have a good night no matter what the weather chucked at us. That is what happened.
john bailey

After some delicious and warming curry John Bailey, who supplied the PA system, kicked off the evening with a lovely set of acoustic songs. The rain came down but we were not going to be swayed from our determination to enjoy and his set was very well received.
There was a little break and the rain fell in sheets but I tuned up,stood under the little gazebo and let it flow. In the growing darkness and soaking rain we joined and I managed to get through all of my songs except one. I owe you one A and N.

local people

I got lost in the songs at times, which is always a good thing. It allows me to experiment slightly, improvise and play with new things. At the moment my favourite toy is my voice. The new Tanglewood guitar is playing in nicely but the voice is giving me the buzz. I can do things vocally today that I could never do in the past and I don’t know why. Some one suggested that the EBB used to drown me out quite often. It is difficult to be subtle at times with a roar such as the one the EBB produced but hey! Swings and roundabouts, I loved that too. There is another difference too. After an EBB gig it was mostly the guys who gathered post gig to chat. Not so nowadays the mix is healthier I think. It seems my new songs appeal to women and they have lots to say about them. I’ll drink a little cognac to that and toast them all.
by the estuary before the deluge - photo by shirlok

My audience would not be beaten and together we stood and I sang while the rain tattooed on canvas above me. Eventually health and safety became a small issue. We powered down as droplets of water ran under the gazebo roof and down onto my guitar and myself. Washed out? Not in the least. Job done and we all retired to dry areas to chat and share stories. Seventy people braved the elements to make it a very special and memorable night.
The invited audience was typical of these shows. They were diverse, interesting and interested. I could have stayed for hours chatting but for the necessary long journey south next day. We said our farewells and I departed into a rain soaked night and back to the Travel Lodge in Barrow. I shall remember this gig for the weather and the lovely people, the great conversation, John Bailey playing the spoons and the superb hospitality of my hosts Alex and Nigel. I loved it all.


Sunday, 14 August 2011

the god light pop

The God light pops and some do feel so much better. It is like a
sound called Good God Mother Father that wraps you in love light
and soothes your worries clean away. The enveloping goodness
do make you slowly well again. It's not just light. They tell that the
light do enhance the sound and the sound do enhance life.
Dee says that every thing began with sound and every thing is made of
sound. Something about we all vibrate
together and it's called OM. There's a man called OM in the palette
station. He does great foot massage. He says the God light
pop can re arrange your vibrations and make you feel really fit.
Hardly a mark on you. A few childhood scars, the rings on the tree
and a skin thickened by experience. Lived a blessed life with out
great tragedy.

You’ve had more than your share of good things with little or nothing to complain about. Then BANG! a pain that truly threatens.
Less afraid of dying than the possibility of exquisite and
permanent pain. Not afraid to die, not afraid to live. How ever, it is
worse to fail to live than to be afraid of dying. It's getting hard to
breathe the air.
Sitting , standing, leaning forward ....hands against a wall. Trying
to find the angle that will ease the clawing ache. Not possible.
going through all the positions for the second time. Lying on the
floor. Rolling shoulder blades across the floor. Open them. Close
them all to no avail. We always want just a little more time as
though nothing is ever finished. Call 999.

They stick that spike in the arm so that you will know some
thing is being done. You - trying to keep the engine running. Filling
up with wonderfully clean and legal drugs. I appreciate the purity.
slow me down and keep it all running a little longer.

That was a close encounter of the kind that changes
things significantly for always. Could have been catastrophe and
yet it feel so safe here Connected to the monitors by a loom of
wires and wearing an oxygen mask. An evenly modulated voice
speaks of myocardial infarction – heart attack. You know this but still, the confirmation is shocking. The doctor looks about fourteen years old. Later in the hospital bed I meet my new neighbours.
One is from the Lebanon.
M and T looking at the screens. I watch too and listen.
Bugger! waz a kid like that un …only six or seven on er bloody
own?…..wheres a momma ?…Too fckn late now…
wha’s at boom ?
Girl is gonteven…boom boom gen only’s in a south a
Lebanon. Is a dog shit country with gret Syria un Tyre on a one
side am da Isralites on da utta. Used to be far away now it aint.
Anywaze these nice mans on runaway 6 is kind to me un me
mates …loik mee morun most and they do mek sense to me
more…..Its new. Feel loik ‘stand n know..learn ngrow , loik bestest
feel get some where und ave porpoise…I know ow money beans
mek 5.

Did I tell ee bout meemam..shegorraboyledbeef med n then med
WelchMarvin on toast …singing ( s'orrible )…forgot shemed
boyledbeef a carrotts..I loiks sweed wi it.
Buggeragen ! Wyz a man cry loik that fuh? Wyzee showt abowta
Allah ? Cuz for loves why he cry …loik me fuh moyn uns und fuh
yose. Loss every bod. All on a floor bloods evwhere un died uns
..lickel or biggun gone in a flyin basads cross hair sight or summat.
Family seeking, house rockin missile.

Phew! Was just gonna say nice mans let me mek lickle word
stuffs in samples und megagigas with microphone und specker on
runaway 6…Meeez ( one more e ) I thunk…jussa gonna say I
LOVE OO! in deepling sayings und flower stuff und tries to woo oo
proper..Lets me talk on the new lines and speak down new wires
ta every lovely bod.
Blood 'ell! Whysa girl tied ta lectrics. This no no wanna
watch .. please don't ...please won’t somebod wipe her runny nose
..fuh dignity und av PITY? Owdya torcha somebody? Look at it
…don't look at it.. oooh! Good godmotherfather. We az a choice.
We knows summat or don’t knows. We cares or don’t cares. We
thinks we can be doing summat aboot it or don’t thinks it. But we
az choice – don’t be thinkin ’aint your business – people get hurt if
you do.

R says might be your doors kicked down in the middle of
the night and you and yours disappeared if we aint vigilant.
Any way M was sayin is always summat on TV mek mee scared.
Mee scared a rockets blowd fckn ‘ouse up but I juss cant think
straight fuh war on screens.
Listened to lovely story on a wav fone. Old man finds lost love. He
never forgot her nor her him. Lass wa juss fifteen , aaaaaah!
Thru a speak down a wire, in a new way, they is met agen. Nice
ennit? Speak wire say - I wanna run away with ee und goo as far
as we can song R med....God light pop. Neely blot out by
war thunda.

I scared agen. So is Jen. Cuggle us up so weebee safe. Us feel a
big bang then. See it on screen 6 behind nava teks transmission.
No poor bods gonna win this juss kill n die kill n die kill n die …

Buggeragen ! So many intrupshuns!
Ruwanda boy is felled upina sky wiv a big xsploze on him. Is loik a
Sticky fire. The tame fire of the Movro. They call it Stickyfire,
Torture toffee, Bowwowburn und Nu-palm. Loik aving burning
honey on a kinda lead. Loik a viciousdogcreacha. Bloody shit!
Bloody shit! Bloody shit, it az a master wot can call it . Mek it jump
on a bod, any bod. Oh good godfathermother is scarey. See a
whole fambly etupinit cos they never told on freedoms chillun
group whats hide in a hills outside Tanium ring. Raus demonen
raus or summat. Enwaze we all shouted it out loud for fear of doing
nothing. Raus demonen raus.

Seems loik all is terrible in ‘ere, on the screens. If you never
knowed no better youd think was juss pain und suffer but no it ent.
Mee see a bravery evwhere. Mee see flowers growing among the
weeds of war. See weekuns rise up gainst stronguns who own all
a pharmasoots un splozeivs, oil, food und weapons…Yet see
powerful men threated by a few stand up fuh ya rights und if you
thinks poztiv oo knows what might be bestest… Diggers und
Activines und Revos should be live glad. Should be glad to tek a
breff. Glad to feel a chess move in a oot und air goo in und heart
beat. Lovey heart beat, thumping like a goodgodfathermother
stong und regla. Goo oot und breff da sea breeze or in desert
storm tucked up in a love tent sahara style with the one who
means the most to ee or with a beloved in a BnB. Be here und now
beloveds. Be alive und conshus und alla good stuffs cumin thru.
Love your life so hard no one can tek it.
Here it comes again – THE GOD LIGHT POP


Wednesday, 10 August 2011

far from the madding crowd

The last station at the end of the District line on the London Tube is Upminster in Essex. Unlike some other end of line destinations on the edges of London, Upminster feels like the beginning of somewhere else to go. The character of the area is mixed and quite different from other areas around London. I think Essex is under rated as a county. There are some marvellous secluded spots a long the coast and even in the summer you can be alone on some beaches and in other areas near the coast.

I had just sat down on the train feeling quite pleased with my self as I was a bit earlier than planned which is always a good thing. Out of the corner of my eye I saw some one hand me a piece of paper and a voice said some thing along the lines of “ Excuse me. Does this mean any thing to you. I assumed some one was about to ask me for directions but it was a set list of my songs. I had just met one of the guests on his way to Robert and Nikki’s party. We chatted for the rest of the journey until we arrived and were met by Robert who I had not met before. It’s always different to play for folk who know me but I don’t know them and there is always lots to talk about. By the time we arrived at Robert’s House we had covered a fair bit of ground and I had an idea of where I was.
Nikki and Rachel

Nikki had prepared a lavish buffet and I was torn between nicking a cocktail sausage or two and tuning up like a good pro. The latter won. For those interested I plugged a microphone and my guitar into a lovely little Line 6 amplifier which served well as both vocal PA and guitar amplifier. I even had the benefit of a tiny amount of reverb from the Line 6. Sound check was over in about ten minutes and I began to relax and chat with the assembling guests. As usual the people arriving were an interesting and diverse group and easy to be with.
I was quite surprised when at around 5.30 Robert suggested it might be time for some music. I was a bit taken aback because I am used to playing between 8pm / 9pm. People were still arriving and I confess I span things out a little but was mindful to keep an eye out until it seemed every one had arrived. I was just about to suggest I started the show as Robert beat me to it. Excellent! Great minds etc. I retired for what I call my dressing room moment in an upstairs bedroom where I re-tuned my guitar, had a swift cognac and carried out a couple of other secret rituals that precede these gigs.
Minutes later I was sitting in the lounge singing and playing. I played a similar set to the one played at Tony and Monika’s gig in Lincolnshire. It works. My audience were very attentive until the third song when a group of ladies got up to leave. I think they had to get the tea on or they decided to get out while the going was good. Any way off they toddled and I carried on. Young people were well represented in my audience and there were times when I projected my energies almost entirely towards them. I do like them. I like their energy and earnest enthusiasm for life. I like their good manners and most of all I like listening to what they have to say. Also I have to admit I need some of them to like what the old guy is doing.

During the show I found that my fingers didn’t seem quite so flexible as they usually are. I struggled a bit with some parts and I don’t know why. In a band it is possible to hide a little bit during a performance while the other guys are knocking out the decibels. It’s even possible to wander off in one’s head during a gig for a while but when I am alone there is no where to hide. I like it but there are days when it’s a little more like hard work. Even though I am not quite as tied to a fixed arrangement and order in which I have to play particular parts of a song, I have to concentrate to remember any thing at all for split seconds.

Any way it all went well. I hope the recording is ok and the microphones were not too breeze blown. I haven’t had time to check it yet but I trust all will be well. I am very pleased with the high quality recordings from some of these shows.

People are very kind and told me how they had enjoyed it all and it was time for some sustenance and another cognac or two. As always the discussions that follow the show are fascinating for me. A woman expressed some surprise that instead of talking drugs and rock n roll there we all were putting the world to rights. People’s stories and potted descriptions of their history and roots all helped to make for a great evening. Once again I felt I was with good people in a good place.

The time flew by and soon it was time for me to leave to get back on the train into London. It all seemed to fly by but I find it amazing how quickly it is possible to get a good idea of who and where people are and what they believe in. Good people and it was a good night out in Essex.

Thanks folks. I loved it.

I’m off to the Beeb to do a radio interview for BBC York on Friday which will be aired mid morning on Saturday 13th. Then a few days off and rehearsals then I'm off to York for my show CASTAWAY at THE DUCHESS on Thursday 18th next week. On Saturday I'm off to the Lake District where I will be playing a FDPFAFDW gig for Alexandra and Nigel. I am looking forward to it all.

Monday, 8 August 2011

the reckoning

london burning

So it has begun. The actions of the few just described by Teresa May as “ Sheer criminality”. These are the kids who don’t count. These are often the children of parents who don’t count, who never did and have no expectation that there needs will ever be addressed. Years ago I spoke about an underclass that would one day bite back. The song Night Hogs, on the EBB album Super Chip, refers to an underclass outside the norms of a civil society and from a future that has arrived. Where do they come from?
They come from deprivation and they are disenfranchised and disenchanted. They are the kids who cannot read or write well nor negotiate in their own language. They failed at school because the system failed them although they were required to attend by law. They live in the streets and they are regularly abused by clumsy application of the Police stop and search process that demeans and alienates young people, especially if they are black. This summer the effect of government cuts on the provision of services for young people has had a disastrous effect.
These are kids who live in a society that is often deeply divided with regard to its opinion of the legitimacy of government policy. If they look to those who lead what do they find? They find hypocrisy at the highest level and corruption in abundance.
NATO trashes a village in the desert, by accident but they argue that collateral damage and friendly fire will always be an inevitable product of war. Government licences dodgy arms deals to dodgy regimes and are party to the torture of innocent people, detained as suspected terrorists. Government closes youth services and services to the poorest and most vulnerable of us all and those responsible are not accountable to any one yet, but they will be. While most people will condemn the actions of the few in London and else where we will look back at these events as the beginning of the back lash that will defeat this government and it's devisive aims. The term " not fit for purpose " was never more applicable than it is to the ConDem coven.

Don’t misunderstand me I cannot justify or approve of this destruction nor the violence but I understand it and the well spring from where it flows. I have worked with some of these young people and I know that their actions today are the inevitable response to years of feeling unequal and hopeless. It is not enough for politicians and others to simply condemn the rioters. It is essential that we all recognise that the government dismantling of the structures that cement a society together and policies that alienate a generation must be reversed.
While playing at a FDPFAFDW on Saturday evening I sang Red Star which is a song about the Brixton Riots. I said, as I have done recently when announcing the song, that I thought we might be close to a similar outpouring of frustration and resentment that lead to the riots in Brixton. By the time I got back to London later that evening, parts of Tottenham were burning.

It is frightening to see how inept the Metropolitan Police are and in the final analysis they must be reformed still further and better trained. Government plans to get rid of more than 1,900 police in London alone. Saving money? I doubt it and I will be amazed if this and other government cuts don’t lead to huge enforced expenditure to address the issues caused by the current cuts. This government is making the poorest pay the most. How can this be fair or strategically viable?

We will hear the condemnation of the rioters every where in the media and every other sound bite will tell us that the there is nothing wrong with peaceful protest and that this is the democratic way. Where did this ever get any one in recent times? Only recently the ConDems were working on a law change to further limit the power of democratic Trade Union action. I was at the Student Fees protest demo in Westminster. Nothing changed. A million people marched against the worst excesses of the cuts. Nothing has changed but Teresa May is on the telly again. She is telling us that every thing will be done to bring the rioters to justice. I don’t think the rioters care any more. That is why they are here right now. A quarter of a mile from here at Clapham Junction the rioting has just begun.
It is so sad to see my adopted city in flames. It signals that the time to identify and address the real underlying causes is now.