Sunday, December 19, 2010

Layer 406 . . . Comic Genius, The Two Nicks, Cliff, Bill Bailey, Ross Noble, Bruce, Student Activists, Syndicalists, Anarchists, and Revolting LibDems

Lawks - a whole programme on Cliff Richard on BBC1. Something to avoid, surely?

In fact it was a very well made documentary - well shot, well edited, good interviews, etc. And the man, regardless of what anyone thinks about his music and his Christianity, is interesting. For a start - 70 years old and still sounding young; only more confident, more relaxed, more articulate.

I'd no idea he'd lived in India for so many years before coming to England, and no idea his parents had both been born in India and had lived there for their entire lives before moving to England. None of the family had even visited Britain before moving their home to this country.

He talked about discovering rock n roll, and his love of those first great performers - Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, the Everly Brothers . . .

I hadn't realised he'd left school at 16 and went to work in the same factory as his dad, or that his family were 'dirt poor' and lived in a council house.

You have to admire his continuing joie de vivre, his openness, his quiet sense of humour, his quiet convictions, his obviously spiritually intelligent approach to life. Just don't listen to his saccharine music. He talks far better than he sings.

The best part of the programme was listening to him describe how, when he was quite young, he'd run into his parents' bedroom one day and found his dad 'on all fours - praying'.

No, Cliff. That wasn't praying.



The Springsteen documentary that was shown on TV last week was a superb piece of work. The key idea that came out of it, for me, was that Bruce and the E Street Band really grew up together during the three years they were writing and recording the Darkness on the Edge of Town album. They developed a 'ferocity' in their attitude and their performances, and "took no prisoners". They also developed a vision of NOW - a feeling about how to live life in the present moment, to avoid looking forward too much or backward too much, to enjoy every day to the full, and to be authentically themselves - with no compromises for the sake of becoming more popular or selling more records. Truly a Zen band.


I came across a newly refurbished pub the other day that had pretentions to being a bit of a gastrobar. It had quite a good menu too. However, it listed these items -

Ploughman's with cheese or brie (!!!)
locally sauced fish  (it was on the coast)
baked potato with tuan
garlic bead

Now, call me a pedant but . . .  Is the proprietor someone who
i) can't spell
ii) doesn't check the spelling and grammar of people who are paid to produce the menus
iii) makes mistakes even his friends dare not point out to him
iv) is such a creep that no-one would bother to help him correct his mistakes
v) is all or several of the above


Ross Noble
Ross Noble was on the Merton and Hislop show this week, and managed to be effortlessly the funniest person in a brilliantly talented group of people. Even Merton was giggling at Noble's improvisations. Time to make an effort next year to get out and see at least one of his live shows.
The best of his raps for me was sounding off about politicians appearing on light entertainment programmes such as Strictly Come Prancing. He imagined himself being the MC on the show and leading people like Ann Widdecombe and Vince Cable out of  the studio and into the street, and shoving them into a skip. 

"Politicians - Do your job, or get in a skip!"


More Comic Genius
QI had a stellar group of panellists this week - Bill Bailey, Rob Brydon, Rich Hall and Alan Davies. These are all fantastically able and funny individuals, and must-see performers. National treasures, indeed. (Rich is an honorary Brit.)

The Guardian printed a feature article on Bill Bailey yesterday:

Bill Bailey: 'It's genius, evil genius'

Bill Bailey has been described as the world's seventh greatest comedian. But he's a lot better than that. Who else could make inverse femtobarns (look it up) funny?

Bailey's current show is more overtly political than hitherto.

"I thought supporting Labour and being leftwing is an outlook on life. It's wider than politics. That kind of life was, and is, being eroded. Somehow the Tories have deflected the righteous anger at the bankers who we bailed out. The Tories manage to take that outrage and direct it at benefit claimants. It's genius. Evil genius."

He has been a keen supporter of students protesting against the rise in tuition fees, tweeting his backing to student sit-ins. "It's the spirit of the 60s. Fair play to them. That's the time to do it – when you're a student and filled with unshakeable conviction. I'm desperately envious of that. One of the lines in my show is that I'm envious of certainty."

Susanne Moore certainly nails her colours to her mast.

Anarchy rules! But it's about a lot more than just lobbing things at police

It's more often used now as a jibe against someone who throws something at a protest, but anarchism has a long, complex history, and it's never really gone away

Just for once, I am quite "on trend" with this anarchy lark. Someone called me an anarchist when I stood as an independent candidate in the last general election. As though that is a bad thing. Now it's all the rage.

So these are heady days for those, such as myself, who are attached to the cause. Not, of course, that we will agree on exactly what that cause is. The word anarchist has become lazy shorthand for anyone who wants to bring about disorder and upheaval. But an anarchist is really somebody who advocates the abolition of government and wants a social system based on voluntary co-operation. To be for mutualism or syndicalism these days is to want the moon on a stick. It is to be hopelessly deluded or romantic. Maybe. But that's still better than being Eric Pickles.

I find myself entranced by anarchists again. I don't mean by the idiot thugs. I mean by hearing again lovely utopian fantasies.

Anarchism has a long and proud history, a complex and symbiotic relationship with Marxism, and has been an important international movement. The splits within it and away from traditional and centralising parties of the left have meant it has had very different incarnations in different parts of the world, from Spain to Bangladesh; from Kropotkin to Proudhon, Bakunin to Emma Goldman, from Noam Chomsky to Jello Biafra, anarchism has never gone away.

To have this complex movement – which, at heart, is about total redistribution of power – reduced to little more than a jibe at someone who throws something at a policeman is a travesty. The more political parties merge into one seamless entity, the more we are told that there is no more money, that there is no alternative, the more we need to be reminded that there is. The paradox for anarchist groups is always how to take power without becoming an anti-democratic and hierarchical operation.

This new generation is using the old anarchist methods of direct action, civil disobedience, graffiti and sabotage, but with thrilling expertise and brilliant uses of technology. Still, the anarchist vision of a leaderless society with no bosses, of real as opposed to virtual freedom, runs counter to the sometimes blind allegiance to the Wikicult.

The measured "good sense" of the main parties cannot capture the mood of those weird "anarchists" who flashmob and bizarrely insist that huge businesses should pay their taxes. These cases are so manifestly unjust, yet it is ordinary people, not governments, now piling on pressure. It is direct action that focuses on injustice. Such movements may crash and burn, but don't forget, anarchists have protested globally for a very long time, and have been at the forefront of the green and feminist movements.

Indeed, my favourite placard of the recent "unrest" read "Does my society look big in this?"

A friend sent me this wonderful piece of expert analysis on the Irish political and financial crisis:

An Irishman Abroad


Desert Island Discs

His most famous creations are Wallace and Gromit. The world they inhabit is one of Jacobs cream crackers and tea-strainers - so it's little surprise that in real life too Nick Park's own creature comforts are modest: "The thing is, I have everything I want really. I've got my little house, I've got a campervan, I love the British countryside, I'm not after yachts or things like that."

What a strange guy Nick Park turns out to be. Your heart sinks with his first choice of record - Cockney Rebel.

But then he comes up with Neil Young for his second.

I agree with Nick (!) that Elvis Costello is a poet who writes 'clever words' , but he's NOT a good singer or performer.

And then The Proclaimers. Bloody Hell. Say no more.

John Shuttleworth. Sigh.

Give up at this point.

And then he chooses Bob Dylan! "Another poet - fantastic words . . . "
Not only that, he goes for  "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" from Blonde on Blonde. An incredible track that fills a whole side of vinyl. A very enlightened choice.

And then Van Morrison, from Poetic Champions Compose, "I Forgot That Love Existed". Possibly Van's best-ever album, and best-ever track. Amazing instrumental bits. Great rhythm. Spine-tinglingly good.

Nick chose this one as his favourite.


For the sake of balance, on the subject of burlesque, on which plenty has recently been published, here's an interesting piece from the Guardian:

This jiggle-fest has nothing to do with sex or power

As a former burlesque dancer, a new film about the artform confirms to me how it has now been reduced to glib titillation


Roy Hattersley, as usual, writes good sense on the big issues:

Radical Lib Dems must revolt – or lose everything
I can forgive Nick Clegg, but if none of his MPs rebel against the coalition the party will suffer badly
Nick Clegg's position should be understood and forgiven. He is instinctively a conservative, and he should not be blamed for following his heart and head. It is the so-called progressives who have betrayed what they once insisted were their principles. A half-hearted revolt over student fees is not enough to salvage their reputation. Nor is Simon Hughes's occasional grand-standing about coalition policies that he never actually opposes. No Lib Dem who was offered a place in the government declined to serve. No groups have been formed within the party to oppose the coalition in principle. Danny Alexander is the boy who stands on George Osborne's burning deck and Vince Cable is the self-appointed captain of David Cameron's praetorian guard.

If there is a referendum on AV, I shall vote in favour. But if Lib Dems continue to kiss the lash of Tory domination – salivating with gratitude whenever Cameron throws them a bone – they will alienate so many Labour supporters that the chance of starting the programme of electoral reform will be lost. So will the Lib Dems' hope of playing a significant part in the next general election.

All that then remains will be a choice between the alternative routes to oblivion that Clegg has charted – absorption into the Conservative party or independent annihilation when Labour tells the floating voter, "If you want a Tory government, vote Liberal Democrat". I persist in the belief there are still real radicals in the Lib Dem ranks. And I do not want them to be swept away. I want Labour to work with them and I will argue that the door to co-operation must be kept open for when the time comes to form a new government.

But the Labour party has to be convinced that partnership is the right way forward. The creating of an ecumenical majority depends on the emergence of positive evidence that some Lib Dems also want to create a progressive alliance. For the sake of their own future, the Lib Dems are in desperate need of a serious and sustained revolt.

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