Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Love Songs

Those that know me as a writer say I don't write many stories about love. I'd disagree with this and indeed in my latest collection there are a couple of heart-rendering love stories, but yeah it's true, they don 't end well. Actually, there's a third story "Eyes In The Back of His Hands" that's an intense portrayal of love with a blind lover. You can read it here.

So I thought my next music themed chart should be love related. But I'm not really one for the classic pap love song, sorry I meant pop love song. But here's ten of my favourite love tinged songs.

Ramones - "Baby I Love You"
Two-minute thrash rockers go all slow strings and syrupy on this track and I Loooove it!

Keith Rowe - "Groovy Situation"
When Keith belts out "This is how I feel" towards the end, it sends shivers down my spine. He means it he really, really means it. He's in love, with all of his soul. Mesmerising despite a reasonably unpromising beginning to the song.

Undertones - "You Got My Number (Why Don’t You Use It?)"
Hey I never said the love had to be requited in these songs did I? Love this song as I did of so many of the Undertones' output. Perfectly crafted 3 minute pop-punk, cheeky and belligerent at the same time, with catchy choruses, which when push comes to shove, no one really gets hurt in the end.

CSS - "Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death from Above"
Probably wins the award for best titled live song. Don't know if anyone else feels this, but it has the feel of a post-coital song to me, lying back on the bed, smoking a cigarette and letting your thoughts float free. Oh just me then...

Infadels - "Love Like Semtex"
The only song of theirs I really liked. It's not particularly coherent lyrics wise, but it manages to convince through the beat and the delivery.

New Order - "Love Vigilantes"
Joy Division wrote the searing "Love Will Tea Us Apart" with it's mea culpa and realistic sensibilities about the flaws and failings  within a relationship. New Order pen this potty ditty about a soldier returning home from war to his wife who believes him dead. It lacks any gravitas or even much in the way of credibility, but it's bouncy and hummable and I like it in spite of myself.

The Rezillos - "I love My Baby Cos She Does Could Sculptures"
What better reason could there be? Never overlook the significant part Art Colleges played in the rise of UK punk in the middle of the 1970s. Perhaps that's why Paul Weller penned such an acerbic song called "Art School" to distance people from the notion that The Jam were associated with punk. Anyway, hilarious intro to this song about how the band hated each other.

The Pogues - "Kitty"
Shane Macgowan was a master of writing aching love songs full of loss and regret, often tied up to exile and leaving your country behind. Of course everyone knows "Fairytale Of New York", but for sheer weary emotion I don't think you can top this.

Boss Hog - "I Dig You"
Husband and wife team Jon Spencer and Cristina Martinez pen a daft song pledging their troth towards one another. But I loved this band with their blend of swamp dirt blues and Spencer's later incarnation Jon Spencer's Blues Explosion that deconstructs and reconstructs the Blues with a particular 21st Century spin.

Gun Club - "Fire Of Love"
The primal sound of love, lust, concupiscence the whole shooting match. The fire of love, does exactly what it says on the tin.

Gang Of Four - "Love Like Anthrax"
Okay, so I just couldn't help myself and reverted to type. A song that deconstructs the notion of love as mythologised in 3 minute pop songs. Apart from what's going on musically, this is really interesting in the way the two vocal narratives cut across one another with no concern as to which one the listener gloms on to. A bit like a married couple having an argument, which kind of summed up the relationship of guitarist Andy Gill & lead singer Jon King who periodically broke up and came back together/. I think right now King has left the band again.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

(Don't) Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before - The atrocities in Paris

It saddens me that that in the light of events in Paris I find myself having to post yet another blog post like this (Charlie Hebdo, ISIS, Lee Rigby murder). Social media is in meltdown with two types of reaction. Either that of political opportunism, (Bomb Syria, bam migrants etc), or that of sheer incomprehension and vapid pronouncements of solidarity.

1) These events are not beyond incomprehension
2) These events are not beyond words
3) These events, monstrous as they are, cannot be labelled and thereby dismissed as 'evil'; they are utterly ascribable to the hand of man.

If you want to show solidarity, inform yourself of the ideas and motivations that lead to events like this. Do not wring your hands uselessly and then throw those hands up in the air asking 'how'. Put in some work and you'll have a pretty good picture of how and why. Then and only then might both citizens and their politicians have a better idea for how to cope and deal with this threat.

I have never worked in for the armed forces or the intelligence services. I am not an academic. I am not a politician or civil servant. I am just a citizen. For the 30+ years of my adult life, I have looked around me, observed my world and pursued my own study of the state of affairs in certain key areas. After 9/11, the Madrid train bombings and the suicide bombs on the London Underground, the area of Radical Islam terrorism became one of those key areas for me. I read books (not newspapers). I educated myself. I tried to establish what the different voices and perspectives were saying whether I agreed with them or not. One of the problems with the response of social media is that no one is actually listening to anyone else, rather talking over each other. It absolutely behoves us to try and penetrate all the logics and rationales being advanced by everyone involved in these events. Because until you do, you will never understand what you are confronting.

I wrote a book in 2010 (published in 2011) about these issues. I traced some of the logic behind non-Islamic terrorism of the 60s and 70s, because that logic remains largely the same. I explored at length the depth of emotion behind suicide (domestic as well as ideological) because the theme of death and its ready acceptance is a key factor at work here. I traced the possible journey to radicalisation of your own citizens. And while I didn't predicate ISIS and the establishment of the Islamic State, I did probe the notion of a Caliphate as an aspiration within some strands of radical Islam. Again, let me stress, I am not involved in any of the professions who might be involved in analysing such factors. But I did my reading. The book represents many different voices, but not as a mere cacophony, but with each strand untangled.

Read my book or don't read it (I'm not even putting a link to it here, that's not what this piece is about). Read non-fiction treatments as I did in order to end up being able to write a book on the subject. But please
no longer throw your arms up in uncomprehending despair. Arm yourself with knowledge, open up your ears to what the issues are here. Our nations can pull together and show solidarity by putting in the necessary work to inform itself and to help reach informed decisions. Incomprehension is no longer a defence, either in argument or in actuality to meet an armed threat.

Beheadings, suicide bombings, murdering civilians are not evil acts. Because to dismiss something as evil externalises it, makes it appear to originate from some unknowable, irresistible force, when it utterly and inescapably emanates from within men. This was a highly calculated act by its perpetrators. Terror acts are finely calibrated, for inducing fear in civilian populations to both get them to apply pressure to their politicians and to change their way of life; for the PR value in playing to the terrorists' own communities, fostering further recruitment; strategically to extend the war from far away in the Middle East to the cities of Europe, 'so they know what it feels like, so they live in the same state of anxiety'; ergo for revenge as well; to suggest the cause of the terrorists is very much alive and kicking and cannot be defeated... All this is not to say that there were also some impulses as well as ideas and objectives. The guys who shoot people in a concert hall enjoyed it. Guys who use rape as a weapon of war (against the Yazidis for example) enjoy it. Suicide bombers accept death. These are the impulses of serial killers and mass murderers. But unlike serial killers, even those who have some warped logic tying together their actions in their own minds as 'logical', these killers share and are united by their rationales. It is a collective mindset, unlike that of individual psychopaths. So although murderous & violating impulses are at play, they are dwarfed by their ideological motivations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Live reading - Scriggler 5

This is the footage of one and a half of my stories which i read at Scriggler Live 5.

The first story "Echoes" starts halfway through - you can read the whole story here. The second story "Wings" is in its entirety.

Both stories are from my latest collection of flash fiction "Extra-Curricular" available from Amazon, I-Tunes and Createspace.

And yes, that IS a Taylor Swift ringtone going off towards the end of "Echoes". Here's my piece on how I battled her on stage

Many thanks to Dimitry Selemir of Scriggler for the video footage.

Friday, 30 October 2015

How I Battled Taylor Swift (And Won?)

I believe there are two types of fiction. That which provides the reader with an escape from their daily world. And that which seeks to actively engage with the world in order to try and probe and maybe provisionally provide some answers about it. Now hold that thought…

Last night I had the privilege of reading at Scriggler Live. I had two stories and as is habitual, i rehearse them hard in the run-up to the gig and that includes hand gestures as I try and enact them to some extent. Unlike a slam poet I don’t have the words committed to memory, but I am very familiar with them and know the precise timing of a gesture or when to look at the audience and the like. 

During the first of my two stories, there was some sort of minor commotion behind me on stage though there was nobody there. I carried on delivering my piece, but my brain was simultaneously working away furiously trying to figure out what was going on. Gradually I realised it was a ringtone. I later found out it was a Taylor Swift song. I wouldn’t recognise a Taylor swift ditty if my favourite football team ran out on to the pitch to its accompaniment. 

Now we’ve all seen footage of actors  on stage stopping the play to berate some hapless soul in the audience who forgot to turn off their phone and it goes off in the middle of their soliloquy. But I’m not really bothered by such things when I’m reading. Many venues are in the basements of drinking establishments, so you get used to background din. Had I have known it was a pop diva warbling away behind me, I might have objected to that, but there again me trying to battle against a rousing Public Enemy rap or some industrial art noise might have posed more of an issue (you’ll note the band logo of industrial noise band Einsturzende Neubauten on my chosen hoody for the performance).

It was only after the show that I started reflecting on how my brain had performed. For I still carried on my performance (whether it had been affected in any way you’d have to ask the audience). Yet it was also processing the unexpected sensory input of noise and trying to compute its exact nature. It passed through initial confusion into full processing mode until it solved the conundrum. The brain does not settle for working in a linear fashion. It can hold several different thoughts and emotions at the same time, let alone do various tasks and functions simultaneously.

So how does that relate to my opening statements? The fiction that proclaims to try and interrogate our world is largely hidebound. It employs language, linear  subject noun followed by verb followed by object… And stories, even ones that employ flashbacks and memories, are also in the main linear. Characters follow a developmental arc, that is they start at point A and by the story’s end reach point Z which may be redemptive or at least they have gained insight. But life itself is not linear and the human brain is certainly not linear. So how can fiction that largely follows linear structures and certainly employs linear language, hope to approximate the complexities of our contemporary world? So bizarrely, the Taylor Swift incident only served to reaffirm my faith in non-linear forms of fiction writing. Taylor I salute you, though is till won’t be listening to any of your music any time soon.


 Einsturzende Neubauten                                                 Taylor Swift

45 Flash fiction tales, many non-linear, available in print and ebook from Amazon & I-Tunes

(as is Taylor Swift & Einsutrzende Neubauten)

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Sometimes It Just Has To Be Spelled Out - Friday Flash

Mike she said
Do you know about Quebecois women?
We are not like your buttoned up Yankee girls
Or your Indian women high up there on the Sierras
Bravo ma cherie
For I am an Alpha male, just feel my deltoids
Alpha? Deltoids? Delta and Delta more like
Is there an Echo in here?
Bravo mon cheri, you deserve an Oscar
For you merely have the body of someone who plays a lot of Golf
Rather than a Romeo in the bed
I like you Juliet, same as I like my Whiskey, straight-up, bit of sour
Really? I like my men in Uniforms usually
Hey it takes two to Tango. Where’s your costume then?
If you had X-Ray vision you’d see what I was wearing under my coat
Anyway, I’m more of a Foxtrot girl than a Tango woman really
But I’ve booked the Hotel room
And I’ve also got a half a Kilo of Charlie
Half a key? That wouldn’t get us to November
Besides, I’m more about liver, Lima beans and a nice chianti
Ha Zulus!
Cos I think you’ll find it was fava beans, so to the Victor the spoils!
Now come to Papa!
Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo off!

for when there can be no reason for miscommunication... 


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Cobra Res

I have a story in the new Cobra Res book out 29/10/15.

Cobra Res is an exciting and diverse project linked around the UK government's Cobra committee convened in times of crisis or danger. For this call the theme was the Cobra meeting convened about migration from North Africa and Syria and was for flash fiction (in the past it's been photos or artworks or poems).

I'm delighted that I've a story included in this collection.

The launch is pretty neat too. A walking "migration and politics" tour around East London with a guide talking about the history of the area re migration and the politics ensuing.

If you fancy that, places are limited but here's the link to book a spot on the tour

All proceeds from the book go to CalAid

Monday, 12 October 2015

My Top 15 Reggae Chart

In my teens I listened to a lot of music genres (though the word hadn't been coined then, even though music audiences were quite tribal). And one that was very influential was reggae. I'm not sure how I came by it, although I lived in London where it was very prevalent, also I was into punk and New Wave which were both acknowledging their affinity for reggae. John Peel almost certainly had something to do with my love for it, as he promoted reggae artists on his show along with all the other music he introduced the likes of me to.

But as I grew older, reggae fell away from my music loves and was replaced by US rap and hip-hop. However now in my early 50s I find that I am returning to reggae with a renewed enthusiasm to expand my old musical favourites in the genre and explore further. I still love rap and hip-hop, but I am delighted that I've rehabilitated myself to embrace reggae as well. There is plenty of crossover between reggae and rap or reggae and dubstep, while industrial funk 80s band 23 Skidoo even did a straightish reggae song in amongst all their musical experimentation.

Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my fifteen favourite reggae songs. Normally when I do one of my music charts I'm a bit snarky about the bands or the video. but in this case it is straight up veneration.

1) Ras Michael And The Sons Of Negus - "None Ah Jah Jah's Children No Cry"
First and foremost reggae is a spiritual music. And in Ras Michael's words and phrasing you really get a sense of that as he sings of a world to come free of pain and misery. The drum beat also has direct links back to a style of traditional African drumming though this style of reggae made it its own.

2) Misty In Roots - "How Long Jah?"
A British Roots Reggae band from West London who were very active in the Rock Against Racism movement playing gigs on the same stage as The Clash, Specials and The Ruts. Roots Reggae connects the spiritual messages of Rastafari directly with the lives of its followers usually in city ghettos, linking the two within the lyrics.

3) Scotty - "Clean Race"
This song is more demonstrative of the playful side of reggae as deejay Scotty morphs in and out of singing and 'toasting'. Many early reggae singles had an instrumental version of the song serve for the B-Side and certain artists 'borrowed' these tracks and did their own vocals over them. Toasting is improvising or chatting over the beat as Scotty does to wonderful effect here asserting his prominence in the hierarchy over both record producer and the public who buy his music. And yet the song is utterly catchy. In reggae, deejays are not those who produce the beat and spin the records as in hip-hop, they are called 'Selectors' in reggae. A deejay in reggae is the singer over the beat.

4) Dillinger - "Cocaine"
Reggae became big in the UK and other European countries because of the emigrant Caribbean populations living here. But on the back of Bob Marley it made some inroads into the US and here Dillinger wonderfully observes US culture through the eye of a near neighbour. Many reggae artists took their names from US gangsters (Dillinger, Capone) or cowboys (Clint Eastwood & General Saint).

5) Wailing Souls - "Kingdom Rise, Kingdom Fall"
A band with more line up and band name changes than most who have been around since the 1960s, again here the vocals remind the listener of the devotional spiritual nature of the music.

6) Barrington Levy - "Murderer"
One of the most prolific reggae recording artists, he started singing at age 14. He has also crossed over working with artists such as Snoop Dogg. The 7" single has always been important in reggae, at times more important than albums, but Levy has always committed to albums as much as singles.

7) Soul Vendors - "Swing Easy"
Trojan, Studio One & Coxsone records were perhaps the most significant record label in the 1960s and early 70s, releasing 7" single gem after gem by a multitude of artists. This was one of them by a group I can tell you nothing about. But the song itself sounds so mournful and plaintive, despite it's upbeat title. A song packed with emotion despite its lack of lyrics.

8) Althea & Donna ' "Uptown Top Ranking"
This was a hit when I was growing up and I hated it because I hated pop music (still do). But when I rediscovered it a few years ago, I fell in love with it because it is both poppy and yet completely from outside the pop realm with its uncompromising patois delivery. Teenagers when they recorded this, sadly one of them died very young from cancer.

9) John Holt - "Police And Helicopter"
A singer associated with a sweet voice and songs of love often backed with strings, here issues a defiant and wrathful political song to his government.

10 Steel Pulse - "Handsworth Revolution"
Another British band who were brilliant on stage, this 1978 song forecast the riots of the 1980s, particularly the one in their home borough of Handsworth in Birmingham. Even though it is somewhat of a call to arms, it still drips with a sense of spirituality, hinting at a different kind of calling.

11) Burning Spear - "Marcus Garvey"
Oh what a voice!

12) Sylford Walker - "Chant Down Babylon"
A song I only recently discovered once I had come back to reggae, through the happenstance that it was on the same YouTube page when I was searching for Scotty. Again I know nothing of him. But put it this way, it's the first song on my reggae playlist.

13) The Congos - "Fishermen"
One of the qualities of reggae (and particularly of dub) is a certain liquid or watery sound as befits a music made mainly within a group of islands. Ostensibly this song appears to be about the noble profession of fishing, but actually it's a paean to ensuring the smugglers successfully bring in the collieweed, or marijuana.

14) Keith Rowe - "Groovy Situation"
Reggae also has a fine line in romance and songs to lovers. Gregory Isaacs, Denis Brown and John Holt to name but three. A genre called Lovers' Rock encapsulated this although it largely grew out of London initially rather than Jamaica. This Keith Rowe song predates Lovers' Rock but to me is the finest example of a reggae love song. It starts playful and giggly before his voice goes stratospheric as he proclaims his deep love. Wonderful stuff.

15) Augustus Pablo - "King Tubby Meets Rocker Uptown"
Perhaps the most significant legacy of reggae, one which has spread into many other sorts of music, is dub. Dub uses electronic effects to make the music more spacey with echo and reverb and focuses more centrally on the rhythms of the drum and the bass. More often that not it removes the vocals so that they are instrumentals. Augustus Pablo is one of the finest exponents of dub, but what makes his sound unique is the use of a melodica. Sublime stuff, you can just switch the lights off and bask in his albums for an evening in perfect bliss.