Thursday, 30 April 2015

Weaponised Songs - 16 songs about weapons

Even Wham had a song called "Young Guns" although that was used of people rather than weapons of death. from shotgun weddings to protest songs at war and nuclear arms, music has been full of references to weapons. Here's a sprinkling for your listening pleasure.

1) "Mack The Knife" - Lotte Lenya & Louis Armstrong
Brecht, Weill, Lenya & Armstrong, does it get any better than this? You really can see that Weill was influenced by Armstrong in this.

2) "Poison Arrow" - ABC
Don't think ABC have ever turned up in any chart of mine. The 1980s really was the death of music. While you lot were liberally applying blusher and hairspray, a few of us were turning our battered eardrums to New York City and the grimy industrial brutalism of bands like Swans and Sonic Youth. Time has not mellowed me as to which was the more worthwhile... Everything about this song grates me, the 'Eastenders' drum sound, the cheesey organ sound, the feeble slap bass...

3) "Burning Spear" - Sonic Youth
See a man playing his guitar with drumsticks, now that's what I'm talking about! Currently I'm trying to decide whether to buy Sonic Youth bassist Kim Gordon's biography "Girl In The Band" or not. She was a tad more than just the guitarist's girlfriend, she was his wife! But they recently got divorced and I think the book's going to be pretty ugly on that score...

4) "Swords Of A Thousand Men" - Tenpole Tudor
I never quite got Eddie Tenpole's schtick. I think I'm right in saying he was in the sex Pistol's movie "The Great Rock And Roll Swindle" and then seems to have had a chip on his shoulder that he never made it to the big time. Except for a brief stint with this knockabout campery.

5) "Eton Rifles" - The Jam
The Jam were really quite subversive. They had so many Top ten chart singles, including this, appeared on mainstream pop shows constantly and all the while not pulling any political punches in many of those chart hits.

6) "Bazooka Joe" - Big Black
So there were these three bands who resolutely refused to have a drummer, but worked with a drum machine and all the performers were out at the front of the stage. One was Carter The Unstoppable sex Machine with their cheeky South London puns. The next was Three Johns with their Yorkshire political fist pumping. And then there was Steve Albini's Big Black who just out-powered them and went for the noise and the dark side of US life. I liked all three in point of fact, but now in my dotage Big Black have way outlasted the other two in my affections, even though they were the only one of the three I never saw live.

7) "Armalite Rifle" - Gang of Four
A throw-away B-Side really, but there's something about its stripped down almost football chant simplicity that sets off the significance of what they're singing about.

8) "6" Gold Blade" - Birthday Party
Well Nick Cave is forever singing about knives and killing isn't he? Always seems to be women on the receiving end of his knives as well...

9) "Love Missile X-111" - Sigue Sigue Sputnik
The debut single of the first manufactured rock band and they disappeared as quickly as they arrived. Named after a real US military weapon, I however am grateful since I initially used it for a title of a stage play of mine. When I rewrote it as a novel I changed the title for another song, Cindy Lauper's "Time After Time". See, I have mellowed... But not in my opinion of this song which is cack.

10) "Careful With That Axe Eugene" - Pink Floyd
It's not like Roger Waters hadn't served you all good notice with this long before "The "Wall" and "Dark Side Of The Moon'. Madness is an ever-present theme in his work. Is that mad grin just a by-=product of his vocal or is it for real? You decide.

10) "Mi Uzi Weighs A Ton" - Public Enemy
Wait, we've got to number ten before mentioning a Rap band with their loves for all things semi-automatic and drive-bys and tings? This was the song that really introduced UK audiences to PE I think. Even though they quickly moved away from this kind of gangster posturing and left that to the West Coast rappers like Ice-T. the beat on this really does seem to weigh a ton.

11) "Tommy gun" - The Clash
We say that about Rap, but every other song by the Clash seemed to contain a weapon or two; "Guns Of Brixton", "Washington Bullets", "Drug Stabbing Time", "sten Guns In Knightsbride". But then they were fighting the revolution I suppose...

12) "Yankee Bayonet" - The Decembrists
The Decembrists have pretty much passed me by. Sound like second rate REM to my ears

13) "Ten percent Pistol" - Black keys
Earnest musos or smash up your guitars as you cavort around the stage lost in the trance of your own thrash trance. Know which I'd rather have...

For which I give you -

14) "Little Man With A Gun In his Hand" - Minutemen
If you think these guys were just a thrash punk band making a noise as in this terrible recording ion a boat, then check out the acoustic version's musical complexity in the video after

15) "My 9mm Goes Bang" - Boogie Down Productions
And we're back with rap's fetishisation of the gun

16) "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" - Breeders
And bringing some calm to proceedings, we all prefer this to the Beatles original right? What do you mean no!!!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Occupational Hazard - Flash Fiction

Christian Surname called out to Glover up on the roof of the house as to whether he’d seen 
Trollop anywhere. Glover shook his head as he forcefully yanked out a wad of thatch and opened up his fist so that the straw tumbled down towards the ground as a bouquet over Surname.

Surname inquired the same of Joiner as he was mounting a newly made saddle upon a horse. Joiner cupped the pommel with one hand and inclined his head to inhale the leather seat with a resonant sniff which Surname took for his answer whatever it may have meant.

Surname spotted Fletcher with a cart on its side and queried if he had any idea of her whereabouts. Fletcher gave a hard pull on the nearest wheel and set it spinning round in continuous motion by way of his response.

Surname spotted that the door of the blacksmiths was open and entered his forge. He interrogated Cooper there as to Trollop’s perambulations, but the smith removed a glowing iron bar from the forge, held it horizontally up to his eyes pointing at Surname as the metal glowed and faded with the heat pulsing through it.

As the smith’s neighbour, Mason was fletching arrows in his yard, so Surname cheerily sought  some illumination from him. Mason delicately stroked the feathers of the quill before blowing and ruffling them.

Surname scurried on into the bakery. Skinner there was dusting flour off with a percussive clap of his hands so that he initially missed Surname’s request. When he repeated it, Skinner threw his dough against the table sending up a cloud of more flour, before he started kneading and pummelling it as his disclosure. 

Surname shook his head before proceeding apace to the workshop of Thatcher. Entreating him as to whether he’d espied Trollop, the joiner picked up a tenon and repeatedly slotted it and out of the mortise, while studying it with so rapt an attention, his tongue was poking out of the corner of his mouth.

Surname had been beginning to feel somewhat perturbed at the sullen silence of his fellow villagers, when he adjudged that they were just all so occupied with their craft to be bothered with his trifling quest. Also that they were so involved in their tasks that they were unlikely to have noticed her in passing anyway. Nevertheless, there was Baker sat on a chair outside his establishment, his hands buttressing the back of his head in relaxation, so he ventured to pick his brains. The glover immediately removed his hands which were bedecked in silk and studiously raised each finger of the fabric away from the flesh inside, before deliberately peeling the entire glove from each hand. 

Carter answered him with what seemed a lascivious smile as he honed his chisel on the whetstone, before scraping it with an agonised squeal against the stone. 

Smith’s rejoinder was a percussive slap of the hide hung out on his line with his tanning paddle. 

Sadler’s comment took the form of tamping down the lid of a barrel with his hammer. 

Surname had reached the end of the village marked by the Church. He pushed the heavy door open and came upon Sexton who advised him that Priestly was in all likelihood in the vestry. “Forgive me for asking Fath-“ His voice died on his lips as he saw Priestly with his raiment down around his ankles as he was administering to one of his flock. Surname skirted round the walls of the room to confirm his worst fear. That parishioner receiving the host was indeed Trollop. Living up to her name even as Priestly was not. But then neither were any of the other villagers pursuing trades not of their fathers, although unbeknownst to him, they actually were; of their birth fathers. 

Taken from the flash fiction collection "Extra-Curricular"
available from Amazon, Createspace & I-Tunes in print & e-book

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Road Songs

I don't drive. But where would modern music be without bands taking to the road in their early careers to play gigs, before they can swap the cramped sweaty confines of a van for a jet or a mammoth tour-bus? Here's 10 songs honouring the humble asphalt.

1) Nat King Cole - "Route 66"
The quintessential 'road' song, probably also one of the most covered tracks in music history. But do you know who originally penned it? I didn't, had to look it up - Bobby Troup. No, me neither...

2) Bob Dylan - "Highway 61 Revisited"
Dylan being Dylan right?

3) Tom Robinson Band - "2,4,6,8 Motorway"
From the band who sang of feminism and gay rights came this great road anthem. And we don't really have a trucking culture in the UK!

4) Kraftwerk - "Autobahn"
Perfectly captures the featureless, concrete tedium of motorway driving. Always one step ahead were Kraftwerk.

5) Eddy Grant - "Electric Avenue"
A street in brixton South London. it was the first street mraket to be lit by electricity. And that's about all I can say about it, other than I seem to remember this song was a massive hit.

6) Laurie Anderson - "New Jersey Turnpike"
Many people would struggle to name another Laurie Anderson song other than "Oh Superman". To judge by the views on YouTube, this gives further evidence to that. See if you can tip it over tyhe 100 views!

7) Cat Stevens - "Portobello Road"
Yeah, it ain't like that now, even though the market is still there... I worked there for 15 years or so. A very um lively part of London.

8) Gun Club - "Ghost on The Highway"
Roads through swamplands, yep the sound of Gun Club. With a driving rhythm too.

9) Meat Puppets - "Lost on the Freeway"
A thrash punk band that turned into a folksy band conjuring up the rhythms and landscapes of the US South-West, of deserts and pueblos. Luscious stuff.

10) Sonic Youth - "Expressway To yr Skull"
Not strictly about a real road, or maybe it is? the road of the mind... ooooh, spooky

Bonus Track:
Billy Bragg - "A13"
The British retort to "Route 66". Most unglamorous! Funnily enough, a lot of swing seats in the upcoming general election are name checked here.

Friday, 24 April 2015

What Election Campaigns Fail To Communicate

A Party Manifesto is a curious beast. It offers policies on almost every issue that effects a nation, or if not policies, a stated ideal. But no Party ever wins an election and then delivers every item. Also do supporters agree with every single policy outlined in a manifesto, especially given how broad a spectrum of political values and views the major parties represent within their membership.

This election more than others I can recall, has also seen that rather than the detail of a manifesto, the thrust of the campaigning is to associate your party with just one or two key values, or to associate the other lot with one or two key values; 'Tax and Spend' the Tories accuse Labour of. 'The Nasty Party of welfare cuts' Labour try and dub the Tories. It was curious how we had a phoney war beginning of the campaign, when we were drip-fed one policy a day by each party, because the manifestos weren't out. We had a 7-leader televised debate again before any had launched their manifestos. Manifestos seem to have become less and less significant. I wonder what the percentage of the voting population is that have read at least one manifesto? Tiny I would imagine.

In the past I have spoiled my ballot paper by writing 'None Of The Above' on my ballot paper. Mainly because there was no protest party I could vote for, since only the three main parties stood in my constituency and I simply couldn't support any of them with my vote. However recently other parties have started standing here (representing how these parties are standing right across the country). I voted Green in the last couple of ballots. I was intending to do so again this time round, when I noticed a twitter debate about one of their policies. They were proposing to limit artists' copyright to just 14 years after publication/performance. That is after just 14 years, the author ceases to own and control their work, but is free to view/perform for anybody. Currently copyright only ceases 70 years after the death of the artist. As a writer theoretically I'm affected by this. But since I only earn pin money from my work, losing control over my back catalogue wouldn't really affect me financially. But for artists whose income rests on their creations it would seriously affect their livelihoods. Plus copyright for 70 years after death allows the provision of a financial legacy as well as the artistic one for a couple of generations.

However, this policy as outlined here is completely ripped from its context. Whether you agree with them or not, the Greens are offering a genuinely radical vision of society. Labour may mouth platitudes about equality, but the Greens lay out a theory of change to enshrine this. They seek to remunerate all citizens equally, (a citizen salary if you will), which means getting away from the aspirational culture of job status, materialism, consumerism, all underpinned with conserving the rapidly depleting resources of the planet. If this has echoes of Communism to your ears, you're not far wrong; one of the things that ultimately brought down Soviet Russia was absenteeism and poor productivity in the workplace, because the workers were completely unmotivated. If a Doctor has to train for seven years to qualify, what is his incentive if he earns little more than a waiter?

The policy limiting copyright falls under this template for society. Private ownership is not community minded. Art should be accessible and available to all, for the enrichment of society as a whole. And this to my mind embodies the whole problem of the Green manifesto. They have to get across the whole vision and the rationale for it, so that releasing sound bite policies such as copyright just makes no sense. And it is so radical a vision, it is a huge undertaking to convey it to the populace at large. I have seen no evidence of this being undertaken. Possibly this is because the main conduits of press and media are not giving them much exposure as a minority party. But the message isn't getting out there, so they come across as looking like killjoys armed with a quiverful of policies attacking random social groups.

I mentioned that to some their vision for society may smack of Communism, but it also shares certain ideas from Anarchist theory. In my youth I read a lot of Anarchist texts and developed my own ideal for society. And in many ways it shared much of the Green vision, only I imagined it could only operate in a society in which work was minimised through automation, so that we dwelled in a leisure economy; free to spend our time socialising, making art, playing sport or just thinking and enacting ideas. In such a model, private production and ownership of art would make less sense if we were all at it. Therefore copyright might have had no real place. But the Green model still quite rightly assumes a working life for citizens (technology seems to have created longer working hours for us all through the drive of the market and fear of losing our jobs, rather than shorter ones), therefore the context for art does not change significantly from what it is now in a free market economy. The Greens pledge in the manifesto to invest heavily in the Arts, perhaps as a fillip to us artists cheesed off by losing ownership of our work in under a decade and a half. Therefore in a way they are not pursuing all that radical a version since they are still operating a capitalist system, just one with many limits and constraints.

So the bald statement of a limit on copyright turned off those in the artistic community who thought of voting Green this time round. The counter to that of it being a piece in a large jigsaw to radically transform society completely got lost because that larger vision has not been rolled out to the population in any significant way. But even when one takes the time to consider the whole picture proposed by the greens, I'm afraid they fall short and the copyright issue perfectly illustrates as to why. To my mind, their whole approach smacks of the influence of the Occupy movement. It's all very well holding discussion groups under canvas and batting around ideas, but unless on leaving those encampments you go and spread the word, they will not magically percolate into the mainstream. There is an exclusion and elitism about such an approach, that somehow if you don't join you don't get access to the key ideas to the magic kingdom. And while the Greens have knitted together many ideas into a coherent (if challengable) theory, not many of these ideas are actually new. that's what Occupy failed to see, as they imagined they were the first people to have such ideas and to be working on them in a uniquely creative way. I did my own work on this in my teens, since these ideas have been around for many decades. And still few in that camp have gone out to spread the word and preach the vision.

Sorry Greens, you've lost my vote even though temperamentally your vision is closest to my own. It took a bit of reading around the policy on copyright for me to reach this conclusion, rather than the threat to copyright itself. I've seen it argued that parties with no chance of getting into government don't really need a manifesto representing a raft of ideas they won't ever be called on to enact into law. This is debatable as through the exigencies of coalition government that we are likely to be faced with, smaller parties will actually have a shot at forming a government. But one thing is for sure, the Greens so want to transform society, the odd policy from their manifesto adopted here and there is not really what they are about. They of all parties DID need to produce a manifesto to lay out their wholesale vision. And it is the complete manifesto that ultimately sinks them in a way it doesn't for other parties who will blithely ignore or rescind great tranches of what they promise in their pages.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Some Thoughts on the UK Election Campaign

Everybody accepts this election is unlikely to deliver an outright winner. That warring parties will have to somehow unite to form a government. So with an emphasis on the need to find what can be joined together, it's highly depressing and yet predictable that it seems to be going the other way; a drive to divide, isolate and scapegoat.

We all knew UKIP would target immigrants and blame them for all our economic woes, but that's extended into a call to refuse access to treatment to those from abroad with HIV.

The SNP are being simultaneously wooed and castigated, with the line skirting quite close to racism in that the Scots are not to be trusted with the fate of the English. We may not like it, but our democracy has thrown up this situation where the SNP are likely to be the power brokers, so to castigate them anti-democratic because they find themselves in this position even though they would rather be independent from Westminster is churlish. They have grown exponentially in the last few years because the Westminster government of whatever stripe has failed to represent their views and requirements.

And all this has further dragged us into disrepute in the week where the tragedies of migration from Africa and the loss of life in the Mediterranean has been front and central in the news, so that the politicians are forced to take time out from their carefully choreographed schedule to address the issue.

For me it highlights the two streams of political thinking, neither which addresses the other in the same terms. On the one hand you can have the kind of country you would envision, one that cares for those less well off, with provision of free health care, a welfare system that allows a dignified quality of life, a country that looks abroad to help and save lives and is welcoming to those who wish to join it by settling within its borders. Against this is ranged the simple counter, that the UK cannot afford to provide this level of rights and benefits. Everything is costed and commodified, not least human life.

Yet despite the cleft between the two, all sides pay lip service to both. Hence we have microscopic focus on each other's budgetary figures and we have accusations of selling the country short on its fundamental values. UKIP make it very clear what sort of values they aspire for the country, a very narrow and exclusive one. The Greens make it clear the values of a society they envision, but for many it is a leap too far and they are attacked for the economics of it all. Labour, Tory and Lib-Dem do have differing policies from each other, but they are all couched in exactly the same narrow terms of the debate.

Like I say, depressing and predictable. And we ain't seen nothing yet, for when the results come in and it's a stalemate, then the really vicious horse trading will start. My prediction? we'll need a second election within a year.