Sunday, June 14, 2009

Layer 170 Will Scott, Jan Bell, Fred McDowell, the Joy of Live Music, and the Horror of Mandy, the Dark Lord.

It's after midnight and there's a group of baseball caps and some girls in high heels on the pavement under the big willow tree next to the pond. They're not bothering anybody, and the green canopy shelters them from the light summer rain. The 'village' store is still busy: plenty of people with the midnight munchies and a need for alcohol.

The street seems even busier than it was in the humid heat of the afternoon: streams of cars in both directions; girls on bikes going who knows where; paramedics in screeching mini-ambulances; night buses roaring and rumbling to distant termini.

The Turkish supermarkets and kebab shops never close: 24 hour living somehow just happened along this strip. Since the local night club/murder club closed a couple of years ago – licence revoked – the street has been reclaimed by the local people. I stroll home after an evening of fine music at Biddle Bros.

“This song's about feeling guilty, and contrition . . . ” You feel right away that Will Scott is not a run-of-the-mill performer. Catch him performing Stain Lifter at . He tells me this is his first time out of North America. He's performed in Mexico and Canada, as well as his native USA, but has never been to Europe. Tonight's his very first gig this side of the pond.

Will's a really nice guy, and a very good blues singer - “ a voice as thick as blood”. Excellent guitar player too – he even plays bottleneck really well.

I tell him I think his website is very good, and ask him when he first got into the blues. “It just happened.” He's from a musical family – people who didn't do anything real well, except play music. Who was his biggest musical influence? Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House, Junior Kimbrough.

Fred plays bottleneck at :

Spotify have a load of stuff by Fred McD.

Will's girlfriend, Jan Bell, who's originally from Barnsley, tells me she left this country in disgust after the defeat of the miners in the '80's, and settled in Brooklyn. Quite right too. She says New York's OK, though far too expensive for most people to move there these days. Jan's organised this tour for Will. She also does booking in the States, and has used her contacts to set up dates in some pretty funky places over here – The 12 Bar in Denmark Street (tonight), Broadstairs, Saffron Walden, Cambridge, Gillingham, Brixton, Hastings, Glastonbury, etc. Jan's also a singer: performing at Glasto this year as well as touring with Will.

Will performs with a very good drummer, who lives just round the corner from Biddle Bros, whom he met for the first time yesterday, to do a 3-hour rehearsal. Drummer says he was pretty nervous about performing, and made some mistakes. I tell him to take it easy – 95% good is OK. Really. We all need to keep that in our heads.


I'm so damned happy about finding a neighbourhood bar where you can go to listen to live music, especially blues, most nights of the week, that stays open till midnight (last orders – nudge nudge, wink wink), and where there's no entry charge so you can just drop in and drop out if you don't appreciate the performers - words can't describe my joy.


Piers Morgan, on Desert Island Discs last week, chose "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life". I think I'd have to take that as well. Cheers, Piers.


Andrew Rawnsley had this piece in today's Observer.

The triumph and tragedy of the Overlord of New Labour.
Peter Mandelson has finally satisfied his ambition to be the undisputed, indispensable right-hand man to the prime minister.

Oxzen posted this comment:

@ fastrob
Thanks for your subtle satire in 'praise' of Mandy and his ilk. Very funny indeed. "A national treasure and a political and historical giant." Fabulous.

As for "Peter Mandelson . . . is the father of New Labour and masterminded the transformation of an utterly failed political party into an unbeatable election winning machine" - New Labour didn't win a thing, only cashed in on a landslide of votes from people who were desperate to get rid of the Tories, and to keep them out of power for as long as possible. Of course we've now reached a point where even the dopiest of voters recognise there's hardly a jot of difference between New Labour and the New Tories, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if Cameron, if he gets a majority, were to invite Mandy into his cabinet. Neither would it shock us if Mandy accepted the invitation.

As for Mr Rawnsley's statement that "the more remote Labour's chances of winning the next election, the greater the internal pressure to lurch leftwards" - like most commentators he still doesn't get it. This is no longer a matter of left and right in politics. It's now clear that many Tories - dare I say progressive Conservatives - have also woken up to the fact that there needs to be proper regulation of the City, proper reform of the Lords, proper reform of our voting system, an end to the culture of target setting in the public services, an end to privatisations, an end to PFIs, and plenty of other policies that, prior to the financial and political meltdown we're still experiencing, were regarded as the province of the Left. Does anyone doubt that Brown/Mandleson will continue to resist radical reform of our broken politics?


STOP PRESS - Education

On the midday news there's just been an announcement by Michael Gove that the Tories will scrap KS2 Sats and encourage Primary schools to offer Year 6 pupils the same broad, balanced and stimulating curriculum they should be getting throughout the rest of their time at school. They will bring in tests at the start of Year 7 to give a summative assessment of what children can do independently, and of what they know. Those tests will be marked internally. So far so good.

The idiot then goes on to say these new tests will enable "us" to work out "which Primary schools are doing brilliantly and which are doing less well." Doh! As if! How will those results say anything about how well the primary schools are working at Foundation Stage and KS1? How will they even say anything about KS2, when cohorts of children are so different from year to year, and teacher turnover means schools can change from year to year?

We all know the difference it can make to a school to lose or to gain a brilliant experienced Year 6 teacher, or to gain any good teacher for that matter. Sorry Mr Gove. Must do better. Needs to try harder and research more thoroughly. Needs to stop jumping to unjustified and superficial conclusions. 5/10.

It's going to be very interesting now to see whether Gove and his chums support the NAHT/NUT boycott of KS2 Sats next year.

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