Monday, October 22, 2012

Layer 548 . . . The Streets of London

The streets of London were busy on Saturday. Situation normal? Walking through the almost car-free, semi-pedestrianised streets of Soho and Covent Garden there were crowds of people of every age and ethnicity; hundreds of people - shopping, socialising, enjoying themselves. Prosperous-looking people, many of them laden with shopping bags - the majority of those bags bearing the names of up-market brands; none of them filled with ordinary groceries - none of your cheapo plastic bags from Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys or Lidl; or Primark, or Poundstretcher.

Recession? Falling incomes? Unemployment? Poverty? Not here, it seems. Maybe a metropolis is always different from its hinterlands. Over in Mayfair there were Bentleys and large black Mercedes on every street; huge Rolls Royces oozed silently like giant black slugs around their spiritual home - the streets between Berkeley Square, Grosvenor Square and Park Lane. It has to be said that nobody in Mayfair looked as though they'd been hit by austerity, or looked like they were 'in it' with the rest of us.

Meanwhile, that very afternoon, 100,000 people, many of whom had travelled to London from far away cities and towns, had marched in a huge demonstration against the government's failed austerity policies - setting off from the Victoria Embankment and wending their way via Westminster, Parliament, Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall and Piccadilly to Hyde Park for a mass rally. This was an event organised by British Trade Unions, and the rally was addressed by many of their union leaders, and Ed Miliband.

100,000 may sound like a lot of people - but how come there weren't 1 million or more? Just how much social solidarity is there in this country? How many people, or how few people, are prepared to stand up and say, "We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it any more!"



Incidentally - memo to Unison. Which complete prick within your organisation thought it was a good idea to buy shedloads of nasty plastic vuvuzelas and distribute them to the marchers? The cacophony made by these things was unbearable, and utterly alienating. A stupid, brain-damaging awful sound that stopped people talking, chanting and singing. A cretinous thing to do when half the point of a march is to hear human voices, to meet and talk with other people, and to raise consciousness - not dull it and blast it with ridiculous noise. All credit to Unison for getting thousands of its members out on the demonstration - but enough of the appalling racket already!

Contrast that with the brilliant sounds in other sections of the demo - brass bands, drummers, even bagpipes. Yes - even bagpipes sound better than bloody vuvuzelas.


Will any of this make any difference anyway? Probably not, but it's worth making an effort to do SOMETHING.


Was Brother Ed's speech any good? Not really, but at least he turned up and showed some solidarity and support. Which is a lot more than can be said for many of his so-called comrades.



All photos (c) Oxzen Images

Monday, October 1, 2012

Layer 547 . . . It was 50 years ago today - Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play . . .

Not quite true, of course. It was 50 years ago this week that the Beatles released their first single - Love Me Do. On October 5th 1962, to be precise.

It was 50 years ago this week the Beatles taught the world to play, in all senses of the word.

The Beatles were four strong characters who had worked and played hard for several years in dark, smoke-filled clubs in Liverpool and Hamburg, learning how to perform in a variety of styles for a variety of audiences, their music based mainly on the genres they loved best - rock and roll, and rhythm and blues.

They learned how to harmonise, how to improvise, and how to compose. None of them were musically trained, none of them could read music, but all of them were musically gifted. Yes - even Ringo, who was a very fine backbeat drummer. They were free spirits with an obvious love for the music they wanted to play - that of Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, etc.

They startled and delighted a world that had come to believe 'rock and roll' was a mere mid-50s flash in the pan which had been co-opted and sanitised by the likes of Tin Pan Alley, Billy Fury and Cliff Richard. From Little Richard to Cliff Richard was a descent into musical hell, and the Beatles were a true phoenix, a harbinger of a new world of musical energy whose various forms would evolve and mutate throughout the rest of that decade, and beyond.

The Beatles didn't so much ignore the music establishment of that time as take the piss out of it. They were irreverent, witty, sardonic and anarchic. They did their own thing, and what they did was amazing. Love Me Do begins with a blast of bluesy harmonica that was impossible to ignore - even when heard through the tinny speaker of a transistor radio. This was . . . different! This was the clarion call of a new Pied Piper - clear, inspirational and compelling. We heard it and we followed. We had no idea where it was heading but we knew we wanted to go there. Anywhere at all was better than Cliff Street and Billy Fury Boulevard.

In the fullness of time, of course, it led to the assassination of John Lennon and the mediocrity of a post-Beatles McCartney, but back then it was an era of pure gladness to be alive, and a era of real excitement, as with each passing week new talents emerged. The rock and roll virus hadn't, after all, been eradicated. It had incubated in guitar shops and teenage bedrooms where pimply adolescents had spent hours hardening their finger tips, memorising three-chord progressions and learning how to play.

Soon after the Beatles there came bluesier, grittier bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals - their names reflecting more down to earth instincts than the Beatles, whose name was a weak pun and whose songs frequently spoke of 'love' or of wanting to hold someone's hand. The Stones' first album kicked off with Route 66, telling the world to get out on the road and 'get your kicks'. The second track was Willie Dixon's 'I Just Want To Make Love To You', and you can't express yourself much more clearly than that. Eric Burden, meanwhile, told us of the perils of spending our lives in sin and misery if we visited the House of the Rising Sun. ["The whisky-soaked menace of his voice sounded at times like Old Nick incarnate." - Martin C Strong]

It occurs to me now that my very first week as a teenager was the week the Beatles' released Love Me Do and the Fab Four showed the world where music, and the counterculture, was heading. A strange coincidence, and a very great blessing.

See also:
October 1962: the month that modern culture was born
This week sees the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first single. But as Love Me Do hit Britain's record shops, a series of issues – from the cold war to civil rights and sexual liberation – also started to shape a tumultuous decade and banish the austere mood of the 1950s
by Robert McCrum
Looking back, 1962 now seems to be the fascinating antechamber to the great party that was the 60s. But it's also a time capsule. Here are issues – civil rights nuclear disarmament, radical feminism, the dystopian imagination, secularisation – with which we are still grappling. But then the world was young – Lennon was about to turn 22, McCartney was just 20 – and Love Me Do, three words, two basic chords and a pocket harmonica, could change the hearts and minds of a generation.
See also:


Meanwhile, back here in the 21st Century, what do we have? Oxzen readers may recall some less than flattering comments posted on this blog recently about a band called Muse, who played at the Olympics closing ceremony. In fact some maniac decided that one of Muse's tracks, Survival, should become the 'official song' of the Olympic Games. Alexis Petridis had this to say about it, and them, in the Guardian recently:
"Comparisons are regularly made between their oeuvre and that of Queen, Rush and Radiohead . . . But none of them really capture the sheer level of trenchant preposterousness at which Muse operate. The most apposite comparison might be to say Muse have actually achieved what the Darkness set out to do: conquer the world with music that's clearly meant to be funny, but isn't supposed to be a joke.
You can see why the organisers thought Muse would be the right band to provide the official song of London 2012, but Survival didn't work – partly because it seems to have no tune whatsoever, but mostly because it didn't fit the event. The Olympics turned out to be as much about tiny human stories . . . as epic spectacle. With their choirs, string-laden intro, hysterical vocals and lyrics you might characterise as a bit Ayn Randy – "I chose to survive whatever it takes … vengeance is mine … Fight! Win!" – Muse got the scale but missed the humanity. Six albums in, this is a recurring problem: amusing and enjoyable as the aural histrionics are, you do start to wonder what, if anything, they're trying to express, or if it's just bombast for bombast's sake."

Apparently the Fox News pundit Glen Beck is a long-standing fan of Muse, despite their labelling him previously as "a crazy rightwinger". This probably tells us as much about the nonsense lyrics and nasty music of Muse as it does about the sanity of Glen Beck.

Dorian Lynskey interviewed Muse for yesterday's Observer:
Muse have sold more than 15m albums. Like Depeche Mode in the 1980s, they are taken more seriously outside their homeland, in countries where people are less likely to arch an eyebrow at songs with rococo arrangements and titles such as Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 (Cross-Pollination).
[Also taken more seriously in countries where people are less likely to speak or understand English, obviously.]
Because Muse's success rests on tours and albums rather than hits and headlines, they are not quite household names, so some viewers were doubtless puzzled during the Olympics closing ceremony by the trio's performance of Survival, a berserk, operatic anthem that seemed more appropriate to a supervillain than an athlete: "I won't forgive/ The vengeance is mine/ And I won't give in/ Because I choose to thrive." Bellamy admits that the song was already written when the organisers approached him. "It was definitely a bit more demented than I think they realised," he says with pleasure.
Muse were taken aback when The Resistance was embraced by swivel-eyed Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck ("the lyrics are just dead-on [about] what's coming our way") and the single Uprising began soundtracking YouTube clips produced by the kind of people who believe climate change is a socialist conspiracy and Obama is an Indonesian Muslim. 
Bellamy, a gifted musician but naturally shy, only reluctantly became singer and chief songwriter because "nobody wanted to join our band". They played gigs for five years before releasing Showbiz and even then Bellamy struggled as frontman. "It wasn't as fun as I thought it would be," he says. "The songs were a bit moody. When you're having to play them every night it can be a bit draining."

Here's a band that couldn't get a singer or a songwriter to join them, so they had to make do with a guy who clearly has no talent for either singing or songwriting. Quite incredible.

Muse played on the BBC's "Later" last week, and were awful. They were also featured on Mark Lawson's "Front Row" on Radio 4, and spoke complete nonsense with the creepy Lawson, who clearly has no musical  taste himself.

So here we are in England, in the 21st Century, where nice middle class youngsters learn to play musical instruments and often have the connections to get fat recording contracts, no matter how talentless and vacuous they might be. Such people are now the ones making megabucks out of showbiz - in part thanks to the likes of clueless Olympics organisers and to lunatics like Glen Beck who think bands like Muse and Coldplay are worth listening to.

What a bloody world. Things can't go on like this. Can they?