Monday, August 08, 2016

Review: Sand - A Sleeper, Just Awake

A Sleeper, Just Awake
Vineland Music
Released - September 30

I feel both honoured and privileged to be given a preview copy of this new 'solo' album from North Atlantic Oscillation's Sam Healy. I suppose classing his debut eponymous Sand album as the best thing I've heard in the 21st century helps. I'm sure he'll be as pissed as hell at me telling you, he asked me to, you know, skip over it if I didn't like it... Yeah, like that's going to happen ... either way.

How do you follow up an album that I regard as the finest piece of music since 1999? By doing something familiarly different, that's how. But is it as good as 'Sand'? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm on listening #4 and what started as something considerably less welcoming than the debut is suddenly clicking into place. It's funny how music can do that.

On the first listening I got at least six moments where you get that chill running up your spine; the sensation that the lightning has been bottled again - and why not? I think Healy is a genius. It doesn't bother me a jot that I was listening to his contemporaries before his folks even thought of him, because his contemporaries don't have the 21st century to collect together half a century of song writing and condense it into something both completely modern and yet remarkably set in the kind of past you'd imagine in a Sinatra song.

Whereas Sand was a brilliant pop album; ASJA is anything but pop, yet it's splattered all over the record like it doesn't matter how hard he tries, Healy just can't shake a good riff. Plus, in many ways this is even more detracted from North Atlantic Oscillation, yet almost like stuff you'd imagine being done in the studio before Grappling Hooks came out. That's part of his brilliance - you know who he is even if he's wearing disguises.

Is it that awkward second album? It certainly is awkward at times, but not in a bad or negative way.

So, A Sleeper, Just Awake, what's it like?

Shall I get the awkward bit over and done with? I can see the influences and even if Sam disagreed with me, there are elements of Phil Collins (sounding like he really should have done more drugs when he was younger), as well as John Martyn, Steven Wilson and Guy Garvey. You can't help but draw parallels between this and especially the later Talk Talk albums because there's a 'jazz' sound at times - not jazz jazz but arrangement wise; like there was an element of sitting around the studio and seeing where something leads you. Despite what I'm about to say, the spirit of Mark Hollis is writ large here. I can also hear Scott Walker, 1980s electronica, Sam's Irish roots... but most of all I can't help but think of Peter Gabriel and the way Sam's voice contains that velvety smoothness that the likes of Art Garfunkel possessed and the former Genesis front man managed to make jagged and hard while never losing its warmth.

In many ways this album reminds me of Cardiacs. Not in the sound, they are almost diametrically opposite there, but in the simple fact that Healy, like Tim Smith, has more ideas in some songs than bands have in their entire careers. Layers of depth, sweeping crescendos, giant epic sounds mixed with quiet moments of contemplation - this is an album that is up and down - in tempo - like the Assyrian empire. If anything, I'd say Sam has tried just a bit too hard to come up with something different from both the debut album and anything N.A.O do, yet I can't help think that in years to come this might be looked at as something of a masterpiece. It begins with a track that sounds ever-so-slightly out of whack - modern prog as it should be - and ends with a slow exhale rather than a thudding crash. It's impressive. It is a bold statement not bound by convention. It gets better with each listen as more of it is uncovered.

I'm also glad that it's a grower rather than an instantaneous blast, because that proves to me that masses of thought has gone into this. I even spotted the turkeys. At the moment it isn't in the league of the first album (few albums can even lick its boots), but there's absolutely nothing to be bothered about, because it may end up being better.

Stand out tracks by the end of play #4: LBGT, Berceuse, Initial and Coward.

8 out of 10

Thursday, June 30, 2016

And the Beat Goes on...

What a tumultuous two weeks. A crazy crazy 14 days that has changed the face of politics, Europe and English football forever. I woke up last Friday feeling like I was in mourning and that 'what the fuck is going on' feeling has dogged me all week. That feeling turned into simply 'what the fuck?' today.

It's 4.45pm and I'm home. I've been home since about midday because I no longer have a job. Yesterday me and about 40 other people were informed that as of July 8 our employment was ending. The reasons were 'consolidation in light of an uncertain future', 'worries over future funding' and, to paraphrase, the need to ensure established employees get the most job protection. The company were very sorry about it and have guaranteed help and support in attempting to secure new jobs etc. Another 160 people have been put on notice - all of them in the Birmingham area.

So Brexit has a victim and the irony hasn't escaped me. The last 7 weeks have yielded enough money to keep our heads above water for a while longer and the few people who know have all said I'm being remarkably sanguine about it. Well, who the fuck am I going to shout at? And what would be the point? Time to knuckle down and get back in there.

I've discovered a few things about supposed 'old friends' this week as well; none of them particularly nice. If I wasn't trying to be upbeat I'd say we're not all going to hell in a hand basket, we're already there!

Friday, May 13, 2016

Procrastinate Now!


Don't get me wrong; as I wait for the day I start my new job, there are probably many things I could be doing: the vegetable garden has been ignored because of the rather inclement weather recently and when the sun came out it was far too bloody hot to be digging and weed clearing. There are probably many other little things that need doing - Doug proofing the house for when he's going to go into the inevitable separation anxiety - which probably won't be much different from how he is now; mad and destructive. The three girls just avoid him when he decides he's lost his mind and eats bits of the sofa or a dozen duck eggs - shells and all.

I'm in that weird state of limbo - a good kind, despite my protestations - of waiting to start the next stage of my life; it's all in place, we just need a number with a th after it.

As I said in the last blog, the last month hasn't been without it's depressing moments, but as I also said shit fades after a while - apart from white dog shit, which of course we rarely see now, even in places where people forget they have dog shit bags. I've been changing my schedule, so I haven't been completely wanky. My future shift pattern means that much of the dog walking duties will be the wife's responsibility (and that fills me with anxiety because despite being nutless Doug has a recall problem when he's bombing around terrorising slower dogs and you can't really chase after him), so as a result we went back to the old 3.30 walk which has slowly crept a little later and I took them out yesterday at a little before 4pm; it'll eventually be 4.30 when I start work and I'll only be available to walk them in the afternoon one week in four. See? This is how bloody bored I am, I'm managing to talk about the intricacies of dog walk scheduling with a professional aplomb and like it's the most exciting thing you'll read this week...

I could just abandon all hope, give The Imagination Station another read through and then print the bugger off. I'll be able to afford the ink soon, so that's an option. The problem is, unlike other would-be writers I know who are far more disciplined than me, I have the aversion to going back to it (for all the reasons given previously) but probably not because I hate it or think it's rubbish; probably more to do with over-exposure. Maybe if I just accept it's going to have mistakes in it (because of adding over 30,000 largely unedited edited words) I can return to it with a list of things to make it work/better? Who can say?

Another option I have is pretty much what I have been doing; carry on filling my days with nothing. I used to have no problem with being bored. I had this philosophy that take the boredom when it comes because it won't always be there; so I could pretty much do nothing for vast stretches and never feel as though I'd failed to achieve anything. Boredom occasionally allows for your mind to do other things than worse case scenarios, irrational bollocks and ruminating about things that are in the past and no one has any control over. The problem is I have so much of the former going on that trying to think of something else becomes difficult - like now...

My mate Tony said to me last week over a coffee and setting the world to rights, "You don't half know some obscure rubbish; what are you going to do when you start work, you'll have nothing to talk about!" Probably 'social issues' was my reply and we chuckled - that's pretty much what we talk about anyhow. The thing is he could be right. I have spent the last few years filling my day by reading all kinds of shit on line. Having many friends on Facebook who are as politically motivated as I am means that any old click-bait would be clicked. I've read about not just politics, but science, entertainment, I've looked at maps, read up on history and generally probably improved my general knowledge without really being aware - until I sit down with Tony and dazzle him with dull, uninteresting and random facts.

On the rare occasions we'll be able to sit down and chew the fat in the future, I hope to Jebus he has something to mumble about otherwise we'll be like those couples you used to see in local pubs; you know the ones, who sit nursing their pints with their wives with their gin and tonics and don't say a word to each other outside of 'do want another drink'? I mean, they might go home, rip each others' clothes off and have filthy dirty sex all over the rug; but if they do then it would be a transformation worth witnessing because you just know they'll go home and continue not talking to each other and besides, I don't think neither Tony nor I would fancy filthy dirty sex on his rug; the cat would get in the way and I'm sure his wife wouldn't be too keen, especially if we left a mess...

Don't get me wrong, I'm not particularly pleased with procrastinating especially when I've felt motivated to do things, only to discover I had to do something else. I've made arrangements several times in the last few weeks to meet up with an old chum, every time I set a date that's good for him something crops up - the first time is was a bad cold, then something else and most recently a funeral I'd completely forgotten about. I just hope my organisational skills resurface before I start work.

Probably my biggest fear about starting the new job is caffeine withdrawal. It is midday, I have been up since 8.15, I am on my 6th cup of strong coffee; this is below my usual average, I usually drink a cup every half hour in the morning - at least - and can have as many as 12 by the time the sun goes over the yard arm. I average 15 cups a day - that's pretty much two jars a week - it has literally been my only vice since we've had no money, so I expect headaches and fatigue for a while as I wean myself off it to a healthy level.

I'm sure I'm just regurgitating shit I've talked about before, so I'll stop, but not before I give you this...

If you can grow a stupidly Rip Van Winkle beard it doesn't mean you have to become a hipster; you can always have a shave, or a trim, or even a 21st Century George Michael look. Consider it. The same could be said for those pointless whispy moustaches that adolescents and non-hairy people think look cool. You look like you have a decaying caterpillar on your already pursed face - stop it now.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Closing the Book on Depression

A little over twelve months ago, I wrote a blog about depression - it was 'well received' and yet only scratched at the surface and that was down to my belief that some things should remain as personal as possible. I come from a generation that still views depression as a weakness, despite many people having suffered from it, at times. The thing about happiness is it's like recovering from an operation; as time passes you forget just how bad it was.

This goes with my theory that there is no such thing as rock bottom. When you think your life can't get any worse, you are deluding yourself. What actually happens is bottom becomes the new normal, opening up chasms of new depths to plumb.

The irony, for me, is that on April 19, 2015, when I was hitting a new low, I had no idea that the chasms about to open up to my then rock-bottom-self were too horrible to contemplate. If I thought April was a new nadir, then I wasn't expecting May and June. Really, I didn't think things could get so much worse. But they did and some people around me noticed that I was becoming... a worry.

Murray's death seemed to be timed perfectly to temper my heartbreak at a new Tory government; I was too concerned about him than anything else and the GE results just compounded the feeling that life had to get so much worse before I could see a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel. Being offered a job that didn't pan out didn't help and then being given hope from others that also didn't pan out made me think that people will say anything rather than say 'you're not right for this job.'

By September, I was not earning anything. I was not eligible for any benefits, my wife earns just too much money and I began scratching around, calling in debts, selling stuff and walking next door's dog to buy food and this existence lasted for four months until our neighbours' called an end to the dog walking. I could understand their frustrations - what if I got a job and left them in the lurch? I mean, there's only 25 registered dog walkers in Northampton, what were the chances of them getting another one at short notice? However badly my neighbours handled it, I can't blame them, because I bang on a lot about how people really don't care about others when they have no understanding of how bad things can get.

Anyhow, I'm waiting for a start date for my first proper job in three years. I've been paranoid about it, because as I discovered this week, depression isn't just a leaky tap you can switch off and even after a couple of weeks of positivity inside the Hall house, I woke up yesterday morning feeling like everything was about to cave in under me. Nothing has gone badly wrong (the car's brakes are knackered) and when misery has been a constant companion for so long and takes a break, you get lulled into a false sense of security.

I was in a solitary and withdrawn mood the day before yesterday and I avoided people on my dog walk because of that. I needed space and time to dwell and play out bad case scenarios to satisfy the demon that lurks and thrives on negativity. Then I woke up yesterday morning and instead of feeling like the previous day was a blip, I woke up thinking about Murray and how his death has affected us so much worse than previous deaths and how last May was still a yawning black hole of horror. I think Marley knew I was feeling melancholy because she crept next to me and cuddled up on one side, with Doug sprawled, unaware, to my right.

Then one of those Facebook memories came up and I remembered it was the day before we noticed something wrong with Murray. Our last long dog walk before the nightmare descended. That was the day the wife thought he had conjunctivitis but it was actually lymphoma.

I beat myself up about it at least once a week despite the fact that what Murray had was a death sentence however you look at it. He wouldn't have been cured and we would have had an undetermined amount of time to be looking at him, wondering when the nightmare would return. The fact he went quickly is really the best outcome, especially as he wasn't happy, but, you know, we're supermen when it comes to our loved ones and the past is always the worst time to reflect on.

What usually happens when I feel this way is I take a leaf out of the handbook for depression and go for a long walk and as some of you will remember from blogs passim that this usually ends up in one or two of the dogs covered in unsavoury animal poo and me wondering why on earth I thought it was a good idea. Cleaning shit from a dog that isn't its own is a great leveller especially when you feel down.

It hasn't helped that I've been bored. With nothing mapped out, I'd go through my daily ritual of an hour or two on the jobs pages; a bit of blowing things up on a Facebook game, reading the papers and doing housework. Currently I'm confident enough to not look at the jobs pages and with recent footballing events and the government getting up my nose at every move, the desire to look through the papers - real and on-line - hasn't been there for a few days, nor, I expect, will it for a few more. It's been too cold to do anything in the garden and honestly, I'm terrified of putting my back out or buggering up one of my shoulders before I start this job. I feel as if I should buy a containment suit for between now and my start date so I can't catch a cold or any germs. Oh, and then I ricked my neck...

A year ago I ended the blog by talking about my book project. It's crazy to think that it still hasn't been seen by anyone apart from me and that instead of 40,000 words it's now 77,000 and I haven't touched it since February because it is 'finished' to the point where I need feedback. That was a big positive in a year of negatives and yet it's been dormant, much like much of my life has felt since 2011.

So... This is all very down and dirty. The problem is I can see the light at the end of the tunnel and I'm excited about it, so there's this fear that something will extinguish it. There is no such thing as an irrational thought when you suffer from depression and I wonder whether depression is a tangible cause of disaster. I mean, could your mental state of expecting the worst lead you to scenarios where the worst can happen? Maybe even subconsciously influencing it? I'm sure someone could tell me, I'm just not sure I want to know.

Yet, the future is brighter. It is, even in my down state of mind I can see that. New job. Easing of money worries. Purchase of much needed things. Holidays. The resurrection of pipe dreams and the thing I think is more important than anything - regaining self-esteem, because it doesn't matter how much someone tells you that you're not worthless, at the time you know you are and, ironically, you know how to flush it out of your system.

If I've learnt one thing in the last year it's that I did, do and have a place in the world. I have made a difference and I have said things that people identify with or have helped or made them understand.

Sometimes the person you see isn't the person inside.

I might feel as though ... well, people who have been where I have been will know all too well how I feel and that's really all that matters. Today, the demon is feeling admonished and is withdrawing; I can feel it because it doesn't like the fact that I can see the future again or that I can see how I can make it better. My mood has changed due to these 700 words, proving that sometimes catharsis through writing is worth a hundred psychiatrists. Everything is fucking horrible, but I've been playing that record for too long and I know it off by heart. It's time for a new beat.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Feel of Contractual Obligations

I'm quite pleased that I appear to be making it to my 54th birthday. There have been moments in the last couple of years where I did wonder...

Apparently I'm healthier at this moment in time than I have been for a number of years (and as usual there will be a caveat at the end just to put that statement into perspective) and am no longer considered as a 'severe' chronic COPD sufferer; I'm just a bog standard 'moderate' which comes with the added bonus of being able to be able to avoid ticking the 'do you consider yourself disabled' box on job applications. I'm not likely to live long enough to ever get it down to 'low' but I can be satisfied with the fact that despite having suffered from the 'spring flu virus' recently and carrying a cough that a smoker would be worried about, my regime of doing lots of walking, limiting my bodily abuse to a minimum and remaining a vegetarian will, I hope, get me to my 70th birthday and the chance of becoming a heroin addict with Roger...

Oh and the caveat is shoulder related. It appears that now my left shoulder has been 'fixed' my right shoulder wants what it's missed out on. The upshot is - summat's not right and I don't think it's been right for a long old while, just never as bad as the other shoulder. I'm staving off the doctor but having been here twice before and knowing my body, I think it's inevitable.

Being healthier doesn't mean I can go prancing around like a ballerina or even (stroke survivor) Monty Don. Getting the garden, slowly, prepared for summer has been fun from a cardiovascular POV, but leaves me feeling like I need new hips and something to do with monkey glands the following morning. I see an old boy called John about once a week when I'm walking the dogs. He's 85, has a completely fucked back, but goes out in all weathers to take his dog for a walk. I'll never see 85 so seeing John reminds me of what I'll be missing...

I just sat here staring at the screen in horror. If there's one thing I've discovered since acquiring Doug is that you should never say or think anything out loud or it will go the exact opposite of what you presume; so don't be too surprised if I drop dead in the next 8 days or both my arms will fall off or my lungs will pack up and John will disintegrate before my eyes in a gust of strong wind.

I have since January 2015 applied for 442 jobs and later this week I have interview #13. You realise that I get an interview approx every 37 job applications, so I suppose I should apply for more...

Doing this blog had lost its priorities slightly. I've been engrossed in football and politics, as well as scrambling around calling in debts and borrowing money to be able to eat. I have got my book to the stage where I'm petrified of letting anyone read it. I literally cannot pluck up the guts to print a copy out (not just because it'll use up all my ink) and I keep making notes about tweaking bits and I have to STOP. I have to say, 'if something's wrong, let someone else find it'. I have to accept it might be a piece of shit. But it feels a little like asking that girl (or boy) you fancied when you were 14 out; you just know it'll go badly. If it's shit, then so be it.

To complicate matter, I've been working on another idea and it appears to be developing a little like the last one, with characters and scenarios before I get a clear idea of what the story is. I also have the added hurdle of wanting to create an entirely fictional government department and, oddly enough, despite my writing always veering off towards SF, horror, and strange fantasy, I like to keep the reality grounded. The last completed novel I wrote before this one was 15 years ago, possibly longer, and I avoided having the police in it, despite it being about a serial killer. The reason was simple - unable to complete my research.

Several years before this I had come up with, what I still believe, was a unique twist on a popular genre, the problem was the two medical professionals I knew steadfastly refused to entertain my imagination. Neither would answer my questions, because my questions were fantasy and what I was asking them wouldn't happen in real life. Neither were prepared to allow their own imaginations to be twisted outside of their comfort zones. So when I wrote about a sleazy serial killer and none of the police officers I knew would discuss police procedure, or even what would happen in the event of a serial killer coming to town. Amusingly, several years later, another copper I know said most normal policemen couldn't answer my questions and those that could, couldn't because that kind of police procedure was classified and not for wannabe writers.

The new thing is just a new twist on an old reworking of another old idea, which proves you should never throw any ideas away. What I like about this new thing is I can, theoretically incorporate three other ideas with another which wraps them up neatly. Writing the words might not always be easy, but slotting together varying ideas tends to be.


I'm more than aware that whenever I talk about TV in a blog it is as appealing as listening to my somewhat bizarre music links on Facebook. I might not be as eclectic with telly, but I still don't (and will never) fit into stereotypical TV watching.

With so many channels to choose from now and so many potentially great shows being spread across the cathode tube firmament almost everyone could have a new favourite series with a large percentage of their friends being unaware of its existence.

As everyone waits for the return of Game of Thrones, the other blockbuster US series The Walking Dead ended its sixth season on a cliffhanger that has caused some controversy between fans of the TV show and the comic book series.
    Possible SPOILER WARNING ALERT (although I've not read the comics after #80)

Fans of the comic have been spoiling the start of season 7 before it's even been made, by telling people who dies at the end of the finale and if the TV series sticks with the comic, as it does at times, then one of the longest running in-jokes in the show will come to an end. The character who is 'supposed' to die has built a reputation for escaping the most ludicrous walker situations ever devised, so it would be ironic if he died at the hands of a new character, designed to be the latest 'devil' to infiltrate his way into the lives of our disparate group of (increasingly feral) survivors.
The thing about TWD is simple; like Game of Thrones it uses the source material as a guide; following parts perfectly while adding and subtracting to it for the benefits of a TV audience. I wouldn't be surprised if the 'dead' character isn't the target of Negan's baseball bat, just to throw people off the trail. There was a character called Dale in early series; he played some key roles in the comic, yet died long before any of that could be be fulfilled in the TV show. Other characters filled the Dale slot in the subsequent seasons, so I think we're in for a direction-changing bit of artistic license.
I will say that after a blistering first 8 episodes, TWD seemed to lose itself in the second half of the season as it built up for the arrival of Negan and feedback I've had from many friends who read the comic is that given Negan is a major character for over a third of the actual 150 issue run of the comic, we can expect the next two seasons to follow the path of the comic and having a vague knowledge of the story (from the issues I haven't read, but know what happens), I can't help thinking that TWD might have seen its best days.

I have been banging on about the brilliance of Shameless US for the last six years. A wonderful adaptation of Paul Abbot's Manchester-based series of the same name. William H. Macy as Frank Gallagher is undoubtedly one of the most repugnant and repulsive characters ever created for TV and compared to David Threlfall's original, there simply is no comparison. US Frank does make UK Frank seem like a cartoon character. The sixth series, possibly the slowest paced season so far, ended on one of those all-too-familiar Gallagher tragedies, with the usual amount of redemption given to cast members who didn't have it so good in the past. I expect season 7 will be the last; Emmy Rossum is a big star now; Macy is always in demand and several of the lesser cast members have bright futures. Even if this series wasn't as jaw-dropping as it has been in the past, it is still pretty much the best thing on TV.

I want to talk about the devil. Devils have been very prominent in my viewing habits for the last couple of months. Daredevil returned in a quite stunning, but ultimately empty, second series. I struggle with Charlie Cox as the man without fear, but I can also see it works very well and the interaction between him, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page is one of the reasons why the chemistry of the series works even if it falls short at times in the story telling. The biggest criticism of this second series was it felt like a preamble; like more of an introduction for the new-look Punisher and Elektra, who will undoubtedly be getting their own Netflix series before too long. What Daredevil has done is introduce that comicsy feel to TV, using the 13-part series like a major story arc in a comic - that means limited resolution and lots of groundwork for what is to come. I really enjoy the series and I think it's the best Marvel adaptation doing the rounds; yet there's something missing from it.

Speaking of devils, but this time the real ones. Damien is a direct sequel to the first two Omen films (they've thankfully and wisely ignored the third film). It looks good and it started slowly, but with an air of menace about it. But after five episodes, you can't help wondering where it's going. Damien is accepting who is is but it doesn't sit well with him and I can't help feeling this may end up being a series about moralising and redemption, because it doesn't appear to have a lot of ambition and the pace has been so slow and lacking in genuine horror that you have to wonder about its longevity. Plus, Rottweillers aren't really all that menacing any more. In fact once you know a few you realise that casting them as the devil's dog is a little like casting Pee Wee Herman as Satan.

However, while Damien struggles with bland mediocrity, Lucifer dazzles in an arena that deserves far more. On the surface Lucifer is complete crap. Honestly it's a crazy-stupid concept, based very loosely, it appears, on the DC comic of the same name, but it is unlikely (not impossible) it will follow the comic book. Lucifer Morningstar has given up his throne in hell and runs a night club in LA called Lux. He becomes involved with a police detective (also a former child and teen star) and begins to help her solve crimes. It has the most pathetic and easily solved crimes in a TV series since those formulaic crime series of the 1970s. Take Tom Ellis (Lucifer) out of the equation and you have a TV series that would have been cancelled after 30 minutes; however put Miranda's old love interest into the mix and you have something quite extraordinary.

Lucifer is a far better rendition of the devil than I have seen for a long time. It's almost like he's just been put into the middle of this crap crime procedural and told to do what he likes as long as he stays within the plot and the decency code. The thing that makes the series so watchable is Ellis; every second he is on screen he dominates it. He is big, bold, brassy and bolshy, he is evil personified, except... he's not and in many ways it is his angel counterpart - played by DB Woodside of Buffy fame - who comes across as devious and subversive. I can imagine that's where the controversy about this series really bites. In the comic, Lucifer fought a power mad god with his zealots and that's what I hope will be the eventual direction taken in this series. Lucifer is, or was, an angel but he's also a realist and both of these traits come to the surface a lot. Given the world as it is, he'd make a far better God.

I really want this series to develop; the problem is its on ABC and they're not renowned for pushing the envelope on network TV. It really should be a series that was done by a cable network - not so it has more tits and violence, because it might have explored ideas the network will shy away from. Lucifer looks like a cheap Rockford Files, while Damien looks slick and HBO-like. One is must watch TV, the other is likely to get dropped.


Hasn't the weather been generally meh?

I heard it the other day. The dreaded 'We deserve a good summer' line wheeled out by someone while out dog walking. Fortunately it wasn't said to me or I might have overreacted a touch. I know it's just things people say, but...

Anyhow; the other reason I've really neglected this specific blog is I haven't really had much to talk about and I'm sure the day-to-day struggles of someone whose self-esteem wanders around gutters looking for things to crawl under isn't exactly riveting or up to my usual witty and erudite self. Also it has to do with the overwhelming realisation of the insignificance of existence, but I really can't be arsed to get into that.

I could catalogue the immense toil Doug the Destroyer has placed on our lives, but equally I could just show you cute pictures of him and you'll realise how difficult it is to stay angry with him for long, even if he has inadvertently destroyed something of sentimental importance. He has been good for de-cluttering, but mixed with a lottery style 'you never know what's going next'. It keeps us on our toes. He has been keeping us sane and less miserable - so in many ways he's money well spent.

And before I go for who knows how long this time, I'd just like to publicly state that Jones, R'n'B and Tony have been 24 carat all-stars for the last few months, with a few others really being super cool people - either paying off long standing monies or just helping out with pep talks, good advice and support. I feel humbled and eternally grateful. Karma's wheel will find you all and reward you.

Don't hate people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

In or Out - How to Fall Off a Fence.

For the first time in my 'political life' I have arrived in the 'undecided' camp. As very much a left wing citizen, who believes in fairness, peace and equality, I've never really been an undecided person (with one exception when I was gripped by Nick Clegg fever in 2010 and didn't vote Labour for the first time ever) and I usually know both sides of an argument which makes my choice easier.

The question of remaining in the European Union (EU) is the most important question facing the electorate until 2020 and it will have far-reaching consequences, if polls are to be believed (which we know isn't always the case).

Depending on where you look, it appears that as many as 65% of the English want out of Europe. Less than 30% in Scotland and NI and in something that I find amusing (in a horrid kind of way), no one seems bothered what the Welsh think. This might look extremely contrasting but England has the biggest population and is likely to absorb 'No' voters from other parts of the current 'Kingdom'. It would appear that we're on course to Brexit with as high as 60% of the people who can be arsed to vote choosing what some would regard as a backward step.

As little as two years ago I was espousing remaining in Europe and taking an even stronger role, but as the General Election loomed I started to see more and more people wanting to leave Europe for purely racist or xenophobic reasons and yet again I was appalled at the BBC and other media outlets for failing to 'put right' misnomers spouted by ignorant idiots, because if you're going to give a twat the right to voice his ignorance, you should give a knowledgeable person the same platform, at the same time, with the same editorial support - unless, of course, it is in the interests of the people who run the media to actually come out of the EU?

I ventured into the 'undecided' camp when we started to see how similar to fascism the richer countries of Europe could sink in their intent to humiliate and bankrupt Greece, which probably should never been accepted into the EU in the first place, or at least until it's unbelievably corrupt rich were re-educated. But the EU wanted to be an economic powerhouse to rival China and the USA and to do that it needed to be big, broader and even more diverse. None of Europe's advocates ever bothered to think that inviting Greece to the party was a little like selecting the top 7 footballing nations to play in a 'Super World Cup' and inviting Bhutan or Comoros to make up the numbers. In reality, countries like Portugal and Ireland probably should have been scrutinised considerably more before they were welcomed and these two economic 'power houses' make Greece seem like a small tin-pot African republic that bases it's entire economy on sunshine and guns.

It should never have happened, but how can you have a fair and competitive Europe if you don't allow the mother of democracy in (unless you just want to humiliate the mother of democracy to ram home the point that democracy is actually just a concept the people believe is happening). So, after the Greek Crisis, I sided with the Out camp; I didn't want to support something that was encouraging a European country to have to survive like a very poor 3rd world country. There was nothing said about improving economic conditions, the EU just wanted money and didn't care what the human cost was.

However, in the last six months I've softened my position again and have flopped back into the undecided camp. The reasons for this are the reasons why I have been Pro-European for most of my life; the ultimate cost to this country should we pull out. Even people like David Davis, Nigel Farage and Kate Hoey admit there are some things we, as a country, might struggle to adapt to or, far more realistically, struggle to pay for.

Take for instance the amount of subsidies the UK gets from the EU on farming. People can bleat until they're blue in the face about the amount of money we have to give the EU as our contribution (or membership fee), but you never ever hear those same people complaining about the UK getting as much as 15% of that amount back in farming subsidies alone. One of the simplest reasons for milk being so cheap in supermarkets is because if dairy farmers didn't get huge amounts of cash from the EU, many would go out of business, few would be able to make any profit at all, and it would allow what has happened in the USA, which is small and independent is phased out and corporations take over the entire running of an industry, which leads to drops in standards, animal cruelty and the same kind of scares we had in the 1990s with salmonella and CJD.

If supermarkets have to pay more for their milk they won't absorb the costs, they'll put the price up and blame the farmers - a lot like what the Tories do when they have to do something people don't like; they blame someone else and are believed. Your milk will just be one of the things that will swell your weekly shopping bill.

But, if our trade is restricted, it might mean the UK has to do something that will be good for the long term health of the planet - the UK will again have to depend on seasonal produce more. It might mean more shops sells odd shaped fruits or potatoes that aren't uniform. It might see the rebirth of more historical varieties, but, of course, unless the supermarkets are prepared to pay farmers more, because they won't get subsidies and the government simply won't be able to or will be unwilling to plough money into farming to support it, then food production will be the sole area of conglomerates and you'll still get uniform vegetables but you will pay 30% more for them.

To think that pulling out of Europe won't have a detrimental effect on the economy is ignorance and short-sightedness. The Norwegian equivalent to our foreign secretary commented in various newspapers last year that Norway still pays Europe as much money as it would have done, but get seriously less competitive deals.

Our Western press is doing a great job to demonise Russia, for all manner of transgressions, but how many of you are aware that this all started because of some chicanery by the EU? We don't hear so much about the Ukraine now because Syria is the important news leader (for a variety of reasons all centring around fear and loathing), but the majority of all this conflict began when the EU backed an overthrow. The Ukraine is and has been a very divided country since before the USSR. It has a very pro-Europe west and a very pro-Russia/Asian east. Western Ukrainians make jokes about Eastern Ukrainians the same way the British made Irish jokes in the 60s and 70s. While the East hold the west in utter contempt because they have most of the wealth and have cast off their socialist heritage. This was a country massively divided long before the EU decided to help a pro-Europe opposition leader overthrow the alleged 'puppet' of the Kremlin. This, oddly enough, is common knowledge, but our media has just decided to overlook it.

Now Russia pays through the nose for what it needs that hasn't been sanctioned; as a result if any EU transgressors want gas then they have to also pay through the nose and it's always the consumer who pays, whether the reasons behind it are right or wrong. The reason I use Russia as a good example of you not knowing what is really happening is because the media has made it quite clear who is the enemy and we're buying into it. They, the media, also seem to be content with allowing ignorant idiots set the agenda when it comes to decisions about our future.

There is this belief that the UK is running out of land; people seriously believe that if we get many more migrants here we'll be full. Show these people the actual evidence that we only actually cover about 3% of the UK with houses and they won't believe you (or worse accuse you of being a leftie); show them evidence in figures everyone from the BBC to the Daily Telegraph and, guess what, they don't believe it. They don't believe it because it doesn't sit with their own misconceptions. Tell someone from Northampton that there are only x number of Polish migrants in this country and they'll call you a liar (or left wing), but Northamptonians have a skewed vision of the Polish because we have more than most places - because we have history with Poland that stretches back before WW2 (but let's ignore the multicultural nature of Northampton because it doesn't agree with our personal xenophobia).

Yet earlier today I saw someone accuse anyone who is unemployed of being feckless and living off the state; I couldn't comment on his ignorance but if I could I would have said that I am unemployed, not claiming any kind of benefits because I'm not entitled to any and I apply for 10 jobs a week; I suppose in some peoples' eyes I'm not doing enough and they can decide on my fecklessness based on a single statement; the same way someone from Wellingborough can say with extreme authority that the country is almost full and it all has to stop. I lived in Wellingborough for years; it's one of the greenest small towns in the country, surrounded by miles and miles of lovely countryside. The last I looked it was not crawling alive with feckless foreigners coming over here to access our incredibly easy (read: difficult) to claim from benefits systems, oh and shag our women while simultaneously converting them to Islam and forcing them to eat Hallal meat.

Honestly, we have an increasingly large population of complete and utter racist fuckwits.

I've banged on before about how much more groceries will cost if we come out of Europe; this will be a reality very quickly after a Brexit vote; it will happen within a month and people will be taken aback by it. It will almost feel like a form of revenge for those who want to stay in and as I said a while back somewhere else 'I told you so' will become the political hashtag of the second half of this year. Fuel (maybe not petrol) will go up because we won't get the trade subsidies we usually get and, actually, let's stop right there... I've mentioned subsidies a lot and we really need to look at the realities of subsidies especially when you have a neo-liberal Conservative party in power...

The most notable thing about this government has been the cuts. There might have been some achievements worth noting, but most people are going to remember the way we've seen everything get stripped back to the bone; wages reduced in real terms and fears conveniently placed to make us realise that we have to continue with austerity. This Tory government doesn't subsidise things; they stop cuts when there's too much public backlash, but they don't subsidise - it's what their ideology is; let the private sector fill that void, somehow. The private sector isn't a charity; it doesn't do things altruistically, it does things for a profit, even if that profit is minimal. Without subsidies an enormous amount of small businesses, cottage industries and farms based around the agricultural heritage of this country will disappear.

You know the trickle down effect that this Tory regime bangs on about, well the Trickle Up effect has been considerably more apparent when you see how many businesses have suffered or disappeared because of punitive measures to other areas of employment. This isn't my opinion; it's a fact that our right wing media just happen to ignore.

The lack or constant dwindling effect on peoples' disposable incomes has meant less people go for a meal, go to the pub, use theme parks, do things that require them to spend a lot of frivolous money; as a result pubs and restaurants go out of business, through no real fault of their own, and even major entertainment suppliers show a trending drop in profits, which, of course, leads to corners being cut because the profits have to go to the shareholders and their bank balances are far more important than the health and safety of their consumers. Is it not that obvious?

Legally, pulling out of Europe could leave us open to changes that the EU would have blocked that could see your civil liberties changed or your freedom of speech stopped. The Tories are making it illegal for councils to boycott goods or services from countries people believe are not ethical or run oppressive regimes, which other than being a blatant erosion of our human rights is an indicator of what TTIP will be like and we'll get TTIP whether we're in Europe or not, but through it in Europe there'll be some come back towards TTIP's authoritarian measures.

You don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to see that for the first time ever the multi-national corporations have made a statement that suggests they are above the laws of whatever lands they work in. Hippies have been saying for years that the world's richest companies are really the people who run/rule the world and now we're seeing companies like Google and Apple flaunt rules and then laugh in the face of confrontation, because they know any move to stop them is going to lose; they hold the world by the short and curlies now and that might not change in our lifetimes.

The Brexit campaigners have essentially one argument; forget the jingoism and blatant xenophobia, the Brexit camp are saying everything will be fine via re-negotiation. They believe that once we're out of the club, we'll be in a position of strength to renegotiate everything we felt was stymied by the EU and its slightly less neo-liberal agenda. Where do we negotiate all these things? Who pays for it? As I said about the Norwegian politician - Norway spends as much time and money as a non-voting member than anyone else, but when a major decision is made that could affect them, they have no say in it - at all. Changes to the way Europe does business happens and Norway has to acquiesce - it doesn't have a choice. This will be the UK.

Imagine us not wanting to get involved in a war? I know, highly unlikely, but bear with me. We pull out of Europe and Cameron decides that we're going to spend the money on air-strikes in Syria we will instead bolster the country's coffers now that we no longer get subsidies from the EU (highly unlikely again, but if not this something similar). We don't have the clout we used to have, despite believing we do.

What if Russia and its allies decide that what Europe is doing is counter-productive to its own agenda and eventually there is the signs that the crisis in Syria is finally going to spill into Europe and Russia: where do we stand? We'll be part of Europe then, won't we? It won't matter that as a result of leaving the EU makes things politically difficult for the Tories in power (and don't think that won't happen; if they can butt-fuck the Greeks, imagine what they'll do to a former member that shoves two fingers up at them?). Do not be so conceited as to believe Europeans hold us in the same regard they might have done in 1919. We've made ourselves unpopular and how often do unpopular people get their own way in a democracy?

Obviously our press will always spin it positively and pulling out of Europe would surely make UKIP obsolete (except it won't because no one will want Farage and he'll invent something new to keep them going). We can close our borders (except we can't, because the government make money out of immigrants - have you never considered that despite saying he'll stop the flow of migrants, they've actually increased since Cameron said that?). We can become an isolationist nation (except we won't because we need the rest of the world to survive and to launder their money, plus we enjoy having wars with and against them). We will lose our influence (Can you say with any authority whether we have any at the moment?).

There will be some nations that will hold us in even more contempt than they already do and I'd bet that international relations on a basic level will deteriorate as more and more Brits (English) are happy to wear their racism on their sleeves and perpetuate myths based on lies and fear. If that happens, how long before 2nd generation Eastern Europeans are targeted and then 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Asians? Don't call me alarmist when a Presidential candidate reckons they shouldn't allow ANY Muslims into their country until they know what the hell is going on. If it was satire people would say it's lost touch with reality.

Pulling out of the EU would also allow governments to change employment law, not be held accountable for reneging on deals that previous administrations authorised (not that that has stopped any of them recently) and put even more power in the hands of the employers and the richest people in the country; so you can see why the establishment and half the Tory party are keen for us to get out as quick as possible - they make lots of money at the moment and will make even more when any form of regulation is discarded. You are making Britain's top 1% even richer and all because you're a xenophobe with no desire to understand ANY facts.

So, I started this by being on the fence. Everything above isn't just based on what I believe or my experience. I have researched as much as I could on most of the points - the pros and the cons - and the conclusion I draw is this:

Brexit: it would benefit about 10% of the population, possibly have a positive effect on the next 20%, but most people will see a dramatic increase in inflation. This will be offset by rises in interest rates and more money being directed through property, but the only people who will see that will be the rich. You, me and the bloke down the road will eventually be scratching our heads as we look at the price of some things and realise that what we've gained we lost big time elsewhere. Leaving this club will really show us how much we depended on it and the lower down the class ladder you regard yourself the more likely you are to vote to come out and the more likely an exit will effect you the most detrimentally.

Stay in: I'm still a little undecided, but in a different way. Part of me would relish us exiting Europe so I could join the 'I told you so' group in a year or so; but unlike the Scottish independence issue - which would rear its head if we did vote out - if we come out of Europe, we won't be (invited) welcomed back when a UK Euro-friendly government is elected. The chances are a UK exit could act as a catalyst for the entire concept of a United Kingdom to fall apart and also precipitate a new Europe that would rise from the ashes, one that serves the rich more and allows each countries' specific prejudices to be appeased.

Remaining in allows us to keep the benefits while trying to change certain things that we, as pompous pride inflated buffoons, think we should have. If we had a negotiator rather than an arse talking to Donald Tusk and his gang we might get somewhere.

There is a fact here that you need to, at the very least, try and get across to idiots and ignoramuses - while migration isn't really that high here (which they won't believe); economic migrants want to come here because George Osborne is telling the world what a great success story UK PLC is; when we (those who care) all know that ½% of growth hardly makes us a Tiger Nation. He's been harping on about how great we are and therefore people want some of that.

The fact a lot of our economy is based on borrowed money, (lack of) service industries, zero hour contracts and the destruction of the public sector, means that even if the public believe George, they also don't believe him because the streets are no happier and there's even more Polish voices in said street. And before you start saying that is wrong; look at the USA - the land of opportunity, built on migrants going there to make it. We had that rammed down our throats for over a hundred years, to the point where we've grown so tired of the concept we've forgotten it when we see (our own) migrants (let's not even get into the refugee situation) wanting to come over here to make a better life.

A lot of Brits simply can't fathom the idea that we've been a multicultural country for a very long time and by their very nature multicultural societies will breed a lot of racists, because someone will think, because of their skin colour or how they worship that they are immediately better than someone from another country. The press do a good job of stirring up tensions and I fail to see what they ultimately believe will come out of it; they want to make money, but surely allowing the tide of general opinion to slip towards brown shirts and authoritarianism is self-defeating; they can't make money if the plebs have none to spend.

Something might change my mind; but I think I'm definitely back in the Stay camp. You'd seriously have to be a really selfish and potentially despicable person to support the Out campaign once you've weighed up the pros and cons - and don't take my word for it; do the research yourself, because if we do come out and everything turns to shit, you won't be able to change your mind; you'll be stuck with it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Music is Music is Music

I like being contrary; that's no exaggeration, but sometimes I'll admit to making a twonk of myself and today I did just that. I saw a comment on social media from my mate Roger and misinterpreted it completely. It was to do with the widening gulf between our music tastes, which are usually good natured, but my comments seemed to do nothing but be inflammatory and then I realised why, I thought Roger was humouring someone who thought a particular album was possibly the best of the year so far and knowing the album I wasn't as impressed and then the penny dropped and I realised that Roger had written the review and I then tried to justify my not-being-terribly-impressed and realised that I was entering that controversial arena called 'personal taste' and decided to withdraw with as much dignity as I could.

However (and don't worry Roger), something came out of the discussion that made me think. The album in question was the latest offering by 'experimental rock co-operative' Ulver and I described it as 'post rock' and Roger didn't agree. Then someone else, much later, when the discussion had cooled asked a really interesting question - what exactly is post rock? Which was the perfect accompaniment to the question asked by Roger (indirectly and much earlier) of what is 'prog' and is 'prog' anything to do with 'progressive rock music' which was the label bands like Yes, ELP, Genesis and even Pink Floyd were labelled with in the 1970s.

If you were inclined you can go to the progressive rock website and be confounded by the quite unbelievable variants of prog music now. I could quite easily list them all here but it wouldn't really achieve anything but might make some of you glaze over and fall to sleep. The remarkable amount of prog sub-directories has an almost infinite number of bands, artists and former bands and artists who qualify for the 'prog' label by virtue of being labelled one of the labels. Post rock gets lumped in here as well despite the earliest origins of it being anything but prog, but when you realise how anal prog fans can be you'll understand a reluctance to concede that anything that doesn't conform to 'normal' music must be prog.

Are you confused? I think that's part of the idea.

I actually think there are categories of prog that aren't prog and categories of music that are more prog-like or have more in common with prog than pop, rock or soul and I think that might be part of the problem. In the 21st century, a time when the album is not as important as the song and downloads and streaming makes anything accessible and artists incorporate elements of their parents' and grandparents' music into their own, to try and put things under an umbrella almost becomes nonsensical.

I mean what is post rock? It had a definitive meaning in the 1990s when it was different, but by the 2010s it incorporates everything from the avant garde to experimental to ambient to drone; it can have metal elements, trip hop and soul; it's like a catch-all category for people who don't want to be labelled prog.

For me the definition of 'prog' is the definition of 'progressive music' and that doesn't mean something has to be in 9/8 time or have different parts or be considered outside of the mainstream, because we've had all kinds of freeform jazz that makes even the weirdest prog sound good and I'm sure there's someone out there who will argue that prog couldn't exist without jazz and I wouldn't argue with them.

Traditional prog has always felt like a fusion of folk, rock, orchestral, poetry and theatre; a kind of 20th century minstrel show that could be prosaic and typically British or contemporary and typically British; it had a hey-day that was preceded by its origins and like all kinds of music it has its copiers, imitators and homage and over the years many of these have either developed their own styles or have disappeared. Some have embraced the ethos of progressive music but are not necessarily prog.

The title of this blog comes from a Primal Scream song on Screamadelica - Come Together - which, I believe was a very progressive record; not in the conventional way, but was different even for the loved up days of the early 90s music scene. It goes hand in hand with a very famous prog song - I Know What I Like and that is what music should be in the 21st century. To label any music that is 'modern' is in many ways disrespectful to its history.

I back this up with a little anecdote of sorts. I recently asked arguably my current favourite musician what he was listening to at the moment. There was a slightly selfish reason for it because I wanted some inspiration; something new to find or listen to because I've allowed my music listening habits to stagnate. I was quite surprised by the 20 examples he gave me and as many as half of them I had either not heard of or couldn't understand why he liked them. Duh... stupid thought, but we all have them. I listen to this particular person's solo album and, for me, it is the best thing I have heard in at least 17 years; but I have only managed to persuade one of my friends to 'get into it' or anything else by him and his band. It makes no sense to me; but neither does the fact people by the millions buy RnB and rap music and think Kanye West is some genius - but even if it isn't a fact it's a proven brand/artist/seller. I'm old; it's like punk was to my grandparents.

I think one of the most progressive 'bands' out there is Swansea's Hybrid, who started as DJs, remixers and symphonic electronic 'dance' music; but from the first album they displayed a kind of energy and rock sensibility that made them totally different from the others and they ventured into prog territory and it was completely overlooked. They are a true fusion band now and the elements they use should make them feature of the progressive rock website.

North Atlantic Oscillation do feature and yet for all of their prog influences, I can also see the Beach Boys, Sugar, Scott Walker and drum and bass and as we all know the Beach Boys are one of the most famous prog bands of all time...

Ulver are fashioned as experimental, but listen to their back catalogue and you'll find they're probably doing what they want to do, which in many ways makes them a bit like the Flaming Lips, even if they sound different and are categorised in completely different genres. Ulver have gone through so many phases they rival David Bowie for creativity and diversity. To call them post rock is only accurate in that Genesis were only really a prog band between 1970 and 1978 and were considerably more successful as purveyors of crass MOR shite.

Talk Talk, who I will argue till the cows come home, were the one of the first true 'post rock' bands because what they ended up doing was anything but rock or pop, but was more like jazz than prog but was played on rock instruments. Equally, I believe This Mortal Coil were doing their own version of post rock with Filigree & Shadow and even before that many of the 'post-punk' bands were delving into areas that would be capitalised by shoegaze and space-rock-indie bands (such as Verve in the early 1990s).

I've even argued that British pop band Tears For Fears bordered on both prog and psychedelia at times, while others argue that the Beatles might have been the proto-prog band, especially the way they arranged a lot of their later stuff.

The problem with prog is there's a snobbery that really doesn't belong; prog should mean progressive and not rehashing the old or in many ways trying to reinvent it, which is worse. Prog devotees should accept the 21st century as a time when we know that music is music is music. It's time to get rid of labels and just appreciate what you know you like.