Saturday, 20 September 2014

PROJECT FEAR WON. SCOTLAND - A SAD EXAMPLE TO THE WORLD...

So the dust clears. Nothing much has changed except, as everyone should have been able to predict, the "vow" of more powers (an unwritten devo max but so vague that it fooled many when it should have fooled none). Already we are told the Barnett Formula, which does not take into account oil revenues (obviously - because that would mean Westminster having to swallow humble pie), should be cut. The effect this would have on Scotland - the first country to strike oil and become poorer, is unthinkable - especially since those in the remote Highlands and Islands require travel to hospitals and in some cases air supplies of medicine. Then we have Ed Miliband, recognising that Scottish Labour MPs would be castrated of their voices in David Cameron's sly plan for 'English MPs to vote on English matters', opposes the sort of devolution that would achieve this. We all knew this - those of us paying attention anyway.

Last Tuesday I was in Edinburgh and followed Miliband's walk around the St. James Centre. The media wanted to picture the YES camp as comprising thugs and flag-waving loonies. However, devoid of such examples, they simply made up their own story. I tweeted some of the journalists involved in this to try and correct their story (including everyone's favourite partiarchal, 'gay-tolerating' liberal Mehdi Hasan). I was ignored. It doesn't matter that I was there [see picture below] and all that happened is a scrum of media made it very hard for anyone present to move - with one cameraman almost smashing me in the face with his equipment. No, no - the media had an agenda and, as a result, Ed's inability to move among cameras and broadcasters became a story about the Labour leader being threatened by YES voters.

This is the first time I was present at an event reported nationally - and I saw the way the press will distort, and lie, about anything if it gives them the story they want. Shame on Hasan, The New Statesman and others for running with this piece of fiction.




I even recall a woman in a wheelchair being let through by YES supporters whilst the media trampled and shoved in her direction to photograph Miliband. In one newspaper report this was retconned as YES supporters almost knocking over the disabled lady in question - a hideous lie. I was there. I saw the YES camp apologise and try and let her through an enormous and inconsiderate Fleet Street mob. As Ed Miliband took to speaking to one reporter a YES campaigner said "you're lying Ed" (reported as "you're fucking lying" by many in the UK media - another untruth). Ultimately, Ed was lying - but the news reports stated that this heckling was an example of an apparently ugly "end of days" nationalism. The same news stations which, today, have refused to cover the unionist brutality in George Square, Glasgow - and which the BBC reports as being a stand-off between two rival camps. The Torygraph meanwhile is aghast that one of its obnoxious, public school, conservative reporters - the odious, shockingly-haircutted Ben Riley-Smith - was not permitted entrance into Alex Salmond's resignation speech, as if it was his utmost right to be there.

So what went wrong?

In retrospect it was probably a few things. A recent poll indicates that NO won handidly among those over 54. As such, the YES side was onto a losing battle from the start - this was the generation of the Empire, who probably got all teary eyed at the Hong Kong handover of 1997. You cannot change the opinion of those who believe that the UK stands for something greater even when, as of 2014, we are basically a fairly irrelevant little island in the Atlantic.

I also wonder about the currency question. Alex Salmond needed to win over those who were on the upper middle class side of the scale and that is those who have their own house. The threat of finding out that your property might be worth less, should a currency union not happen, is - understandably - a dauntng thing to ponder. The fact that, without a currency union, Scotland may (or may not) have to enter the Eurozone was also, no doubt, a worrying prospect for some. In truth, an oil rich country - and I repeat again that Scotland is the first country to strike oil and become poorer - not being able to balance its own notes is something of a joke. But Alex Salmond only really needed to answer and establish this once - PLAN B: a new Scottish currency, possibly pegged to the dollar (ala Hong Kong).

Still, this was a battle fought on fear.

It was fear of the unknown. Fear that we might have progression but to do so would mean the worry of the worth of your mortgage. Fear that the currency you use would change. Fear of losing a fictional identity - "British" - which 20 years ago meant people in Hong Kong and today still indicates the Isle of Wight, the Channel Islands and sundry other parts of a dead Empire that few voting NO will ever venture towards. That idea of "British" is redundant, despite a NO voter friend of mine indicating it means Bowie, Tom Jones, Billy Connolly and Liam Neeson - people who have as much in common with each other as the residents of Britain's old Cantonese-speaking island had with, say, Mao or Deng Xiaoping.

Still J.K. Rowling can still tell people that NO was the right way ahead - safe in the knowledge that she, like many of these rich celebs, will never struggle to pay rent or never worry about their bank balance. And that is what NO really represented. It represented looking after ourselves and shunning the progressive society, however much of it was pie in the sky, of Alex Salmond's Nordic social democracy.

Well guess what? Now we will never know. Now we can never know. All we can be sure of is future cuts, privatisation, demeaning of the unemployed as 'scroungers'... It is not as if society got better since 1979 is it? When David Cameron made his speech to save the union and drew upon imagery of Churchill, socialised healthcare and Adam Smith why not draw on the past 35 years too? Starving miners being beaten up by well fed policemen shipped up from London. The poll tax riots. The London riots. The Iraq War. Afghanistan. The sinking of the Belgrano. The tories supporting apartheid in South Africa. Arms to Iraq. Arms to Israel. The Phillips Curve. Tuitiion fees.

Make no mistake: nothing will change now. Scotland will undoubtedly continue to be Westminster's guinea pig. Promised powers will be reneged upon. The Barnett Formula will be scrapped. The NHS will be gone soon. Little will remain of our welfare state. Food banks will demand, and need, more contributions. Homelessness will increase. Social housing barely exists now anyway. What? You thought a Westminster government would spring for new tenaments for those with addictions, without employment and without the middle class upbringing you enjoyed?

But nevermind NO voters - you put your faith in Cameron. You put your faith in Westminster. You got to feel "British".

I only wonder what those who felt oh so British, and lived during Thatcherism, might have achieved if they had protested about handing the future of Hong Kong to the Chinese (against their wishes, I may add) back in 1985. I wonder if those Brits might have stopped the vile tory Nationality Act from passing, which (I kid you not), mentioned that those resident in British areas who were non-white did not have right of abode in the UK - a deliberate attempt to screw Hong Kong citizens. Are you still feeling good about yourselves now and that "British" identity? I even wonder how those who feel oh so British react in regards to the current mess over there. Or do we not worry about those former "Brits" because they are not white?

As we can see from the disgusting scenes in George Square that still seems to be the mantra of some.

I hope knowing that, in voting NO, the union-saving lot who took part in this election realise they have created a society that can never - will never - progress past UKIP, poverty, old age pensioners dying of hyporthermia and the rich getting richer. Whatever good reasons they had for that NO - the chance to grasp a new country, that could - if we fought for it - be more democratic, more equal and more embracing to the world and to immigrants, is gone. For good.

And here's the thing: I feel done with it. I wish I could escape. I can't live with people who feel this way about the poor and vulnerable. For those who have already left - I tip my hat. There is no other way forward. There can't be.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

MUSIC NOSTALGIA: THE LIBERTINES, BRITPOP AND MOVING ON...

It might have been a while since I bothered updating my blog but the recent swath of Britpop nostalgia - which has culminated in reformations of bands that I never, ever imagined wanting to hear again (including Menswe@r and Republica), and seems to have swept into even a Libertines gig this summer, has had me mulling over my own take on the whole phenomenon.

You see, Britpop was the first music I ever got into. I didn't know who The Smiths or The Stone Roses were. Sorry. I was too young. But at high school I did learn a little about Suede and, later, Blur and Pulp - and by the time I was at university (my first year spent on a drama course I ultimately disbanded in Cardiff) the whole 'genre' was in full swing. I didn't really know what I liked or disliked yet - my CD collection comprised of some Kinks and T-Rex (ironically) and a few soundtracks - but I ultimately gravitated towards Pulp and Suede. Regardless, some of the stuff I remember being on TV/ radio the most (unless my imagination is playing tricks on me) are the ones that got away - Slight Return by the Bluetones, Stars by Dubstar and Oh Yeah by Ash. Each gives me an unavoidable rush of the past: including my old white radio alarm clock, virginity, VHS tapes and the smell of my student dorm.

I even recall the unsuccessful would-be comeback by Menswe@r getting ridiculous amounts of radio and TV play. That one got stuck in my head as I wandered around my local shopping centre (Glenrothes) - aimlessly - in 1996 hoping that life would take me somewhere more interesting.


Most of the recent articles speak, inevitably, about Blur and Oasis but those lads always appeared to be in a different league from the other bands. At the time, as something of a novice to the charts, they were akin to U2 or another similarly sized stadium act. They were superstars - but both bands sounded so completely dissimilar to one another that I never grabbed the comparison in the first place. Oasis sort of did a 'chug-rock' that was laddish but glaringly anthemic - at least insofar as it allowed closing time at the pub to warrant a singalong of daft, nonsensical lyrics. The saddest thing is that Oasis never had to be like this because their B-sides were frequently excellent: from the Smiths-style balladry of Listen Up to the delicacy of Talk Tonight and The Masterplan and the punk thrash of Headshrinker. Given that, since Be Here Now, it has been more and more accepted (outwith their beer bellied fan base) that Oasis were never much cop anyway - and we were all just a bit too delusional at the time to realise it - those early flipsides indicate a group that might have been better served with less popularity, less NME covers and less drugs. 

Certainly, neither Oasis or Blur appealed to me as much as Pulp or Suede. This is Hardcore, by the former band, is one of the greatest records of all time - although it indicated commercial suicide for Jarvis and company. Meanwhile Suede, who lost a lot of their verve when guitarist Bernard Butler left, hit a peak with 1994's Dog Man Star. Still my favourite LP to date, Dog Man Star remains an amazing, tragically romantic and yet subtly angry, journey across dank and dingy Major-era Britain. So much so that in 2011 I went to London to watch them play both that, and their debut album, in their entirety. It is doubtful that anyone listening to either LP could make a sonic association between Suede and the 'alright guv'nor' cheer of Parklife by Blur or the sunshine and booze singalongs of Dodgy (who were irredeemable). 

Pulp and Suede have lasted as the critic's choice, I suspect, because they worked against the grain and straddled the sort of artistic heights that some passing of years - and the separation of the various different Britpop bands - makes more and more apparent. Sometime in the future, one suspects, Elastica might also be rediscovered by a larger audience. Again, though, their Wire-inspired act sounded as removed from Blur as Oasis did from - say - Menswe@r. If it wasn't apparent at the time, it should really be stressed now: Britpop was nothing more than a label to grab various English (and it was predominantly English) guitar bands together. Some were good, some were great and some were not. And no amount of nostalgia can alter that.



I was in Fife when Britpop began to hit and - as mentioned - I was studying drama in Cardiff when it really took off. The Super Furry Animals even played my local student union at around the time of Something 4 the Weekend. The local night clubs actually didn't play a lot of 'Britpop' music - it was really just on 'indie night' that you would find yourself dancing to Sleeper or Echobelly. History seems to have indicated that everyone was into this stuff but that wasn't entirely true. In 1996 my dorm-mates were just as likely to be into The Smashing Pumpkins or Metallica as they were to have a Louise Wener poster on their wall.

And it wasn't until well after-the-fact that I came across the comparative nihilism of Gene and found them to be one of the best bands of the period. Did they even get much radio play? Not if I remember...

I never thought about patriotism or nationalism or the 'flag' - I was too young to honestly give it a second thought. My mind was fixated on trying not to show my inability to handle large quantities of booze and plucking up the nerve to speak to girls. Given that Britpop was all about this, I think its resonance across all of the British isles - and in some cases abroad, even in America - was down to these themes: crap sex, unrequited love, drinking and, erm, more drinking, outsiderdom, breaking up and general teenage insecurity. Like it or lump it, these are songs of everyone's youth - and it was probably because we were the generation of four consecutive tory governments that Britpop was, generally, full of bleak and beaten lyrics about failure and even impotence.

Even Oasis, despite expressing words of largely nonsensical gibberish, couldn't resist closing their most famous album with a tune of such melancholy that you wonder if even they knew that Blair's Britain wasn't going to be much better ...

You and I, we live and die, the world's still spinning around, we don't know why...

That's deep Noel.

Looking back at Noel Gallagher and his Union Jack guitar - and later the pro-Thatcher soundbites of The Spice Girls - I can feel a shudder of disgust, but Britpop probably succeeded more because if anything united these bands which sounded little alike it was the Morrissey recipe of simply singing songs about yourself and your whereabouts. The biggest success of the movement was probably that those of us who happened to enjoy some of the bands - in my case I liked Sleeper more than Shed Seven and Echobelly more than Powder - cast our net wider. I discovered The Smiths, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, Roxy Music and numerous glam, punk and Madchester groups thanks to that era. In the Britpop years my CD collection multiplied at a crazy rate.


So why this article about Britpop nostalgia?

Well, more because - now living in Edinburgh (and Scotland never had any sort of look-in during that time, unless you count The Supernaturals or the emergence of Belle and Sebastian - who the music press didn't know what to do with) - I don't feel some of these bands ever left me. But, in the same breath, I cannot associate with a popular press that refuses to move forward. As some of my generation has gone on to become journalists there has been a real "I was there" approach to the recent Britpop revival. It happens to all generations: those who first saw The Sex Pistols, The Smiths and so on and so on.

But all Britpop really led to was a fiercely conservative music mentality. Oasis were the big hitters and that is what the record labels wanted more of: radio friendly dirge with a large chorus and lyrics that were neither here nor there. This article celebrates Britpop as being the reason we got The Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, The Kaiser Chiefs and The Stereophonics as if that is actually a good thing.

In reality, and coming full circle, the one band that seemed to capture some of the excitement of the first time we all heard Animal Nitrate or Common People was, to me, The Libertines. I still recall hearing Up the Bracket for the first time and really embracing the vibrancy of it. I was working a nine to five temp. contract at my local civil service at the time, and in a relationship with someone who was a bit of a walking personality clash with me (she loved Coldplay - which should have been my first warning). The White Stripes had been my preferred 'new' band but The Libertines provided - as Britpop had - a different sort of escape: their songs may have been set in London but there was a thread of social division, urban displacement and general resentment in their work that resonated. Even with me in little old Kirkcaldy. It sounded exciting and it should have been - but, as we all know, a largely awful second album, The Babyshambles, The Dirty Pretty Things and Kate Moss put paid to most of that early promise. Indeed, a Libertines reunion also makes me wearisome because it is Pete Doherty's quite vulnerable solo stuff that has really fulfilled that initial explosion of talent.


But make no mistake: The Libertines reformation undoubtedly has something to do with the current nostalgia towards the music of Britain's past. However, having seen the band twice during their heyday, I wouldn't personally go near their Hyde Park concert. I admit there is some contradiction there, being I saw Suede in 2011 (although revisiting my student days of 1996 is infinitely more appealing to me than revisiting 2003) but in the nineties I promised myself I'd never become like the older people I seemed to know or meet (including a couple of punk rockers who acted and dressed as if 1977 never ended).

Additionally, at the time I was getting my foot in the door of freelance film journalism. Mostly it was fantastic - but I did get some kicks in the arse from those who felt I was too young or too naive about their various 'scenes'.

Growing up in a small satellite town I didn't give any of that a second thought: I knew what I liked and what I didn't. I had films and songs that meant something to me but I tried not to hang onto them. To me, grasping onto the past was never something I cared about - I wanted to move forward. I hoped that the many movies and music that hadn't been made yet would provide me with my biggest thrill. I didn't want to think that the best had come and gone. I never understood why anybody did. 

What was there to look forward to if everything great had already been done? If every scene that was important had already concluded? If new friendships didn't replace old ones?

I try and keep that in mind because I sure as hell don't think anybody would want to have somebody in their thirties talking about how music never evolved past Dog Man Star. I definitely don't want to be that person which is why the Britpop nostalgia was a little painful for me and inspired me to write this: it did bring back memories but I also sensed a lot of "oh if only it was still the nineties" nostalgia in the articles.

But is music now really so bad? 

And was it honestly so good back then? 

I would say no. 

Followers on my Twitter will know about my enthusiasm towards the joys of K-pop - a scene which has as much diversity and intrigue (to me) as Britpop did back in the nineties (and Crooked by G-Dragon is, in its own strange way, as skillful at blending furious pub-punk with indie rock - albeit with its own hip hop flavouring - as The Libertines were with Time for Heroes). British indie is still capable of producing bands as loveable as Veronica Falls and the indigenous accents and plink-a-dink-choruses never went away, really. You might have to look a little harder for them but they are still there (and the latter link leads to a Britpop-sounding American band!). And can anyone honestly say they would rather have Cast or Ocean Colour Scene than Bat for Lashes or Goldfrapp?

It might be unfortunate that lack of interest killed some of the better post-Britpop bands (The Long Blondes The Hot Puppies and We Start Fires) but they still exist on youtube - and hopefully one or two of you might have clicked on these links. Meanwhile, that pre-Britpop shoegazing sound of such bands as The Jesus and Mary Chain has provided us with ace Danish group The Raveonettes and New York's The Pains of Being Pure at Heart.


These are bands who will, probably, never fill stadiums like Oasis did but that's what blogs are for, right? I found out about some of my favourite bands, in university, from my flatmates. Now I tend to discover new bands from random youtube videos posted on social media (often with enthusiastic babble like "this is the most amazing song you'll ever hear") or from friends.

In the Britpop days the best of the bands aimed to take on the establishment. Thus, the fact so many of those who grew up listening to them now seem happy to look back on that era as the best it ever got is - in its own way - treacherous to the entire ethos of that 'halcyon' indie era. Staying in the past is, ultimately, only kinda pathetic.

Which is maybe why - in 1996 - that poster of Jarvis Cocker flicking the v's - which hung on many student bedroom walls (including mine) - was more prophetic than we probably comprehended...