Category Archives: Music

Band Aid 30 lyrics as ‘patronising and fatalistic as they are bizarre and untrue’

Madagascar missing from Band Aid 30 logo

Madagascar missing from Band Aid 30 logo

There is nothing, literally nothing, in the whole world, that I dislike more than sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – nothing!

It is out of this bugbear that [at least part of] my dislike for Band Aid/Band Aid 30 comes from.

I plan to take off from where the ever-awesome Bim Adewunmi left off when she wrote in the Guardian about how the lyrics of the original Band Aid still haunt her. Under the headline ‘Band Aid 30: clumsy, patronising and wrong in so many ways’ Adewunmi writes:

“…there were a few parts of the song that always stuck in my craw. For example, the lyric that begins: “And there won’t be snow in Africa …” It does snow in Africa! I say under my breath every December when shopping malls roll the track out.”

Well indeed – just as I can assure you there is snow in Africa so I can also assure that the original Band Aid song is filled with idiotic sweeping generalisations and crass oversimplifications – you know….the sort that niggle at me until I am forced to write an irate blog post.

Adewunmi finishes her article by offering what I feel to be premature credit though saying:

“To his credit…[Geldof] has said some of the lyrics will be tweaked slightly for this new version. Gone are the references to Africa’s “burning sun” as well as the assertion that it is a place where “no rain nor rivers flow”. 

Well yes, this may be true but believe me, it does not seem that he has learnt any lessons about crass generalizations. While reference to famine and starvation have been removed (acknowledging that those “inappropriate” lyrics did not reflect that swathes of Africa that are “booming”) he has instead replaced them with these pearls of linguistic idiocy:

“At Christmas time, it’s hard but while you’re having fun

There’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear

Where a kiss of love can kill you, and there’s death in every tear”

Firstly, let’s clarify something Bob – we (the generalised European/American masses) are not all having fun at Christmas. We are sleeping rough, dying of cancer, being beaten and raped by our partners, choking on pieces of lego and/or drinking ourselves into oblivion. I have no doubt that many people enjoy Christmas day greatly but this hits at the heart of the problem Bob, not everyone does.

Just as not all Europeans enjoy Christmas, so (it should be axiomatic but evidently it isn’t) not all ‘West Africans’ live in a ‘world of dread and fear’ because there’s death in every tear’.

Ebola has killed around 5,000 people at the time of writing and has impacted on many more. It is a crisis that is as terrifying for those as involved as it is potentially life-threatening. According the MSF latest update:

  • Guinea has 1,760 confirmed cases and seen 1054 deaths,
  • Liberia (Cases 6,619. Deaths 2,766),
  • Nigeria (Cases 20. Deaths 8),
  • Sierra Leone (Cases 4,862. Deaths 1,130),
  • Senegal (Cases 1. Deaths 0) 
  • and recently Mali (Cases 1. Deaths 1). (all WHO figures)

Now in West Africa alone this leaves (off the top of my head), The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea – Bissau, Mali, Niger, Togo, Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso etc etc who have nothing more than a vague geographic connection to the Ebola crisis.

But hey – why let the reality of millions of people get in the way of a good song?

The lyrics of Band Aid 30 continues:

No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa

The only hope they’ll have is being alive

Where to comfort is to fear

Where to touch is to be scared

How can they know it’s Christmas time at all”

These lyrics are as fatalistic as they are simply not true, as patronising as they are utterly bizarre.

Did no one think to point out to Geldof that when you get some very well paid Europeans to sing that there is “No peace and joy this Christmas in West Africa” that you are rather undermining the millions of West Africans who will be living in peace in West Africa this Christmas – including I might add the courageous, well organised, and utterly wonderful Nigerian health workers who contained and then removed Ebola from their country?

And then the back to that line again, How can they know it’s Christmas time at all” – well here is a suggestion…. Either through the wide-spread access to the internet or perhaps because a few of the approximate 400 million Christians in Africa know when one of the own most important celebrations of the year takes place.

This song, in both its literal lyrics through to its conceptual approach is depressingly archaic. What is more depressing though is that so few of the mistakes from the cringe worthy original Band Aid seemed to have been rectified. As much as I have focused here on the simplistic idiocy of the lyrics there are also a plethora of other questions that need answering such as why Band Aid still has such little input – both musically and logistically – from people from the countries that the song aims to be helping?

Still, to every cloud there is a silver lining. At least they don’t still have have Bono singing that line which is maybe the most insidious in pop history:

Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you
Donate to the MSF response to the Ebola crisis here.

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[Jim Lockey and the] Solemn Sun: New name, new sound, new video

The band formerly known as Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun are back with a new name, new sound and brand new video.

Re-launching as ‘Solemn Sun‘ the Cheltenham based band have released a new video with a whole new sound to their last albums ‘Atlases‘ and ‘Death‘.


My advice, for what it’s worth, is make sure you check them out live. They have two dates announced:

AUGUST
06 – BRISTOL Exchange
07 – LONDON Old Blue Last

 

 

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Watch: MEPs perform rap battle

A few weeks ago I reported on a story that was circulating about a planned rap battle in the European Parliament in an effort to win over ‘youth votes’.

It seemed too good to be true, but no…here it is.

I…am…lost…for…words!

Hat tip to Brussels based journo Andy Carling for tweeting this!

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New Jim Lockey And The Solemn Sun video: Wilderness of a Wild Youth

Like?

Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun are also just embarking on a UK tour.

Check out the full dates here.

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Stroud Fringe Festival – Full line up and ‘bands to watch’

I was delighted today to read that Stroud Fringe Festival made the late but cracking addition in their line up of Birmingham based folk band, Boat to Row. Anyone who has seen them will know what I am talking about. They play folk with favourable comparisons to previous touring partner Johnny Flynn but with a soulful softer sound all of their own.

They are playing at 3:30pm Saturday 31st August  in Bank Gardens, Stroud. Make sure you are there!

One has to at this point take your metaphorical hat off to Stroud Fringe Festival. A few years back it was…well…a bit of laughing stock if we are being honest. This year though, it looks like they have built on the last few years success and put together a pretty good line up.

So without any further delay, here are a few more recommendations:

Gaz Brookfield

A Bristol based singer song writer with a certain knack in the way he tells stories.

Gaz is playing at 8pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud.

Chloe Foy

A wonderful singer song writer with all the charm and ease of Lucy Rose, but more depth and interest.

Chloe is playing at 5pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud.

George Montague

Something a bit different but a very worthy headliner, George performs (and that’s the optimum word) Jazz in the loosest possible sense of the word. He also plays the ukulele which makes him cool in itself…doesn’t it?

George is headlining at 9pm on Friday 30th August in Bank Gardens, Stroud (straight after Gaz Brookfield).

Go and check out these an other bands at a great local festival. You won’t regret it!

The full line-up can be seen here.

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Hip Hop star Mos Def force fed under Guantanamo Bay conditions

Hip Hop legend Mos Def has  been force fed under the ‘standard Guantánamo Bay procedure’. The following video was put together with human rights organisation, Reprieve.

WARNING: This video might cause offence – but hopefully not as much offence as the Obama administration doing the exact same thing on non-consenting detainees at Guantanamo Bay.


Disturbing,  isn’t it?

I struggled to watch it all, the inhumanity of it got to me.

The only difference with the 40 inmates currently being force fed is that we aren’t watching. There is no accountability for how they are being treated. There is no one to call cut and bring it all to an end.

The US administration has said that it does not use torture in Guantanamo Bay but does use ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ such as ‘waterboarding’. Amnesty International this time illustrates what this means:


These techniques, the bastard child of Bush’s war on terror are still used under Obama’s rule.

Never before has the phrase, ‘the land of the free’ left such a bitter taste in the mouth.

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Politics, passion and underground protest music

Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music…whether it’s metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values”John Harris

Harris expresses a sentiment many of us feel – in our hearts of hearts, we know that there is something missing in modern music – a politics, a passion, a sense of protest.

The music mainstream is characterised by ‘soulless music, artless lyrics, goalless movements and heartless gimmicks’ and yet under our feet a revolution brews from the stages of music venues across the country.

This revolution has no base other than music’s third world, the underground.

I refer to the underground, as the ‘third world’ to reflect the Peruvian American rap artist Immortal Technique’s observations…that the underground has all the natural resources, the talent, the man power and the passion, but has none of the access to the music markets that remain so manipulated and dominated by the powerful few.

Just like the third world though, the underground also spawns creativity, protest and resistance.

While the mainstream stays eerily quiet, the pulse of popular resistance beats on. Musicians are coming together to articulate what many of us feel but are unable to express. These musicians are uncaring of the marketability of their work.

They offer the discerning listener a raw, passionate and articulate response to the injustices we see and feel.

While traditional structures teach us that the love between two men is immoral the music of the underground gives us the poetry to resist this prejudice.

From The King’s Will’s ‘Love Against Homophobia’:

To some people 
My love is somewhat alien;
When he comes up, they start subject-changing, and
In some states he’s seen as some contagion -
In those zones, he stays subterranean;
Some love my love; they run parades for him:
Liberal citizens lead the way for him:
Same time as some countries embracing him,
Whole faiths and nations seem ashamed of him:
They’ve tried banning him,
God-damning him,
Toe-tagging him,
Prayed that he stayed in the cabinet,
But my love kicked in the panelling, ran for it -
He’s my love! Can’t be trapping him in labyrinths! -
Maverick, my love is; he thwarts challenges;
The cleverest geneticists can’t fathom him,
Priests can’t defeat him with venomous rhetoric;
They’d better quit; my love’s too competitive:
He’s still here, despite the Taliban, the Vatican,
And rap, ragga in their anger and arrogance,
Who call on my love with lit matches and paraffin -
Despite the fistfights and midnight batterings -
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,
My love’s still here and fiercely battling,

In this underground world, lyrics carry the sentiment of a generation growing up surrounded by violence and prejudice that we are unable to articulate a response to.

The underground does not demand protest but offers a fertile space for resistance to grow.

The underground crosses causes, continents and musical genres. Just as under the streets of Harlem you will find the dirty beats of subversive hip-hop, so under the soil of Middle-England you find the subversive chords of new-folk…and no, I’m talking about Mudford and fucking Sons.

Chris T-T for example expresses the concerns of the rural working classes as he takes on The Countryside Alliances’ (we’ll call them ‘the cunts’ for short) hypocrisy when he sings:

You loved the fucking poll tax, you propped up Margaret Thatcher
And you didn’t give a fuck about Tony Blair
‘Til he threw your hobby back at ya

Of course, a world-wide underground does not escape attention. Immortal Technique comments on this in his track ‘Open your eyes’ when he says, “When they [The  Record Companies] need new assets, new artists to prostitute…, when they needed new concepts… they came to the underground”

Often music that pushes moral, social and musical boundaries becomes the pre-fix to new trends – new marketable trends. Subversive characters are marketable – think of John Lydon and his butter adverts.

So how should we, as consumers, respond to artists who rise up from the streets and onto the record company’s balance sheets?

Should we walk away from the likes of Frank Turner who sing of liberty and freedom whilst playing at the G4S/ATOS sponsored Olympics? No, of course not.

There is nothing inherent about protest being distinct from populism, and certainly nothing inherent about poverty and protest. Billy Bragg stands as a testimony as someone who has ridden a wave of popularity and prosperity and remained, relatively speaking, true to his values.

When Turner is quoted in The Guardian saying that “Rock n Roll will save us all” and that “anyone can take the stage” – The Guardian ‘raises an eyebrow’. For the rest of us it offers a signpost to resistance that surfaces in the mainstream.

When protest music such as Bragg, Turner or even Dylan rise up on to the airwaves and newspaper sheets of the masses, we should be pleased but we should never lose sight of where it came from.

The Underground.

Only in here will you find the raw passion, politics and protest that we are missing in most of our modern music.

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WATCH: Thrill Collins on tour – “It is not a holiday”

Thrill Collins… what can I say?

They are all round nice guys. They bring endless joy into people’s lives through the medium of skiffle covers of 80’s and 90’s pop. They are arguably the biggest news story to come out of the West Country since this. I reviewed the first night of their summer 2012 European tour – which you can read here. They have also released a full length documentary of their summer 2012 European Tour AND…

You can watch it…right now, right here:

I take no legal responsibility if you are blown away by this video.

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Thrill Collins – European Tour Review

I met up with Cheltenham based skiffle pop trio ‘Thrill Collins‘ in the Brixton Windmill on the first night of their European Tour. They assured me, repeatedly, that they were not on holiday and they were working really hard.

Between songs, Peter the cajun drum box player smirked, “We’re serious musicians you know”. Robbie the lead singer glances over and visually stops himself from laughing before breaking out into a cover of Spice Girl’s ‘Say you’ll be there’. The crowd lets out a small cheer in recognition of a part of their childhood they thought they had forgotten.

In collective horror it dawns on everyone in the crowd that they know the words to not only ‘Say you’ll be there’ but also the host of other 80s and 90s pop classics that sit on Thrill Collins’ playlist.

I am stood in Brixton Windmill, one of London’s worst kept secrets. An underground music venue which has been described by the Independent as one of the ‘top ten music venues’ in the UK. It has posters both old and new plastered over the walls advertising bands who at some point will grace their stage. It’s the sort of place with band’s stickers plastered over the toilets – you know the sort of place.

The chances are there are not many in Brixton that would have previously heard of the Cheltenham based trio – Thrill Collins. The band has developed a small cult following but this is disproportionately formed of people with thick west country accents and an unhealthy relationship to cloudy cider. Not those who frequent underground music venues in Brixton.

For the Windmill though this is no problem. They sums up their musical ethos by saying, “most important of all is the quality of music – it’s no good telling us that you’ll ran the place with your mates; if your music sucks we aren’t interested”.

On this evening there is no more than 20 people watching but significantly everyone is smiling.

In fact it is hard not to have a good time when you watch Thrill Collins. The band’s enthusiasm, excitement and exuberance on stage spills over into the audience, whatever its size. With wit and ease the front man Robbie Pert leads the audience through their set. Not only is he genuinely entertaining he is also exceptionally funny.

There is no doubt that Thrill Collins do what they do very well – they entertain. Perhaps most importantly though, they do not take themselves too seriously – they are called “Thrill Collins” for fuck sake!

For the length of the set it allows the crowd to let their metaphorical hair down and to stop taking themselves too seriously. Can you really be worrying about that report that’s due at work as you are singing along to a skiffle band playing a cover of the Back Street Boys ‘Everybody‘?

A personal highlight for me was their ten minuet long “History of gangster rap” which had a strong Will Smith emphasis. It was a clever combination of incongruous songs blurred together in a skiffle melody. The continuous referencing of Will Smith suggests that it was just a little tongue in cheek.

The Windmill marked the first night of their European tour which will see them grace Chamonix, Barcelona and Malaga among others. After their set I asked the band if there was one message they wanted to give about their up-coming tour what it would be. Their response was telling. Almost in unison they responded, “This is not a holiday” (their emphasis) before once again bursting out laughing.

Whether you want to or not you leave a Thrill Collins gig feeling good. Their intoxicating blend of 80s and 90s pop brings out that deep rooted human instinct, the instinct to shout along to pop songs.

You can see all of Thrill Collins upcoming tour dates here.

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2000 Trees 2012 – bringing you the best new and underground music, despite the weather

‘Happy Campers’ – Photo by James Popel

Stood with my hood up, rocking the full waterproof image and ankle deep in mud I met Claire, a happy camper at Gloucestershire’s 2000 Trees festival. From under her waterproof cape she wipes off the water running down her face and comments, “to the untrained eye, this mud might look as bad as Glastonbury in 2007, but it really isn’t you know. You can glide through this mud without worrying about losing your wellies”.  Looking around, it was clear that the mud and rain wasn’t dampening spirits. I asked Claire if she was having a good time and she responds with a wink and a smile, “the best”.

I spent the last weekend at Upcote Farm, the home of 2000 Trees, trying to pin down exactly what makes this festival not just good, but bloody epic – despite the weather.

2000 Trees has become an integral part of the alternative festival scene and has consistently attracted me back. Founded in 2007 and selling just over 1,000 tickets it has grown in the last six years to four stages and attracting just under 5,000 festival goers.

At the heart of the festival is an ethos to do it differently, to not succumb to the same old festival formula. In their own words, “as cheesy as it may sound 2000trees genuinely started with six mates sat around a campfire complaining about the state of UK Festivals…and their ever spiralling ticket prices, poor facilities and pursuit of profit at all costs”.

This ethos of ‘doing it differently’ transcends the baseless words of small festival rhetoric into an exciting reality that can be seen penetrating every corner of the festival.

The food is varied but it is nearly all local, sustainably sourced or organic. This commitment to great local food and drink permeates right through to the bars who stock Cotswold Lager. Their policies on using bio-fuels and their great recycling record have meant that they have won “A Greener Festival” award for their on-going commitment to environmental sustainability. Last but certainly not least is their commitment to booking the best new and underground music Britain has to offer.

2012 alone boasted a diverse line up varying from Lucy Rose to Pulled Apart by Horses. In addition, there was a continued emphasis placed on the local music scene in and around Gloucestershire. Local independent labels such as ‘I Started The Fire Records’ were strongly represented throughout the weekend and enjoy a close working relationship with festival.

These artists join the likes of Frank Turner, Bombay Bicycle Club, King Blues and many more that have graced the small stages in the festival’s short six year history.  Personally however the highlight of the whole weekend came in the form of a band that was completely new to me, the Bristol based trio ‘The Cadbury Sisters’. The three sisters blend a three part harmony with ease to create a melancholic but beautiful mix of contemporary folk.

The festival’s commitment to bringing the best of new and underground British music, all of which has been personally scouted by the event organisers, has resulted in the festival becoming a firm favourite with the artists as well as the punters.

As Chris T-T (Xtra Mile) commented to me, “The best bit was the family feeling that Xtra Mile artists had through the weekend; especially with Lockey and Marwood playing almost every year, Trees feels like the label’s home festival”.

Pushed for a ‘worst part of 2000 Trees’ Chris T-T commented, “The worst bit was the plastic hexagons they laid down to help people get across the site; they had tiny holes in, so as you squelched on them jets of mud spunked up through the holes, right up your legs”.

I think most festival organisers would take that if that was the worst criticism thrown at them.

Late on Saturday night, by chance, I bumped into Claire as we were both walking down the hill back to the main arena and we talked some more about the festival and what we thought made a good festival epic. It was one of those pleasant festival conversations you have with complete strangers. As I walked away I wished her a good weekend.  As an afterthought she shouted after me and said, “Isn’t everyone having fun though”. I responded honestly, “yeah, they are”. She then did my job for me summarising perhaps all that you need to know about 2000 Trees and said, “perhaps that’s what makes 2000 Trees epic?”.

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2000 Trees 2011 – literally awsome

2000trees is without a shadow of doubt my favourite music festival. 2011 was no exception. It was a small, friendly festival that booked some of the best British music out there. Previous years they have hit dizzying heights of success with bands /artists such Imperial Leisure, Frank Turner and Johnny Flynn all gracing their main stage. This year was no exception. On their website they state, “we are obsessed with the breathtaking world that is the British music scene, and our aim is to provide you with the opportunity to discover your new favourite band. Bands that you’ll be telling your mates about for months and years to come”. Well they succeeded. Here are just a few of the bands/artists I saw (both familiar faces and new ones). Generally the music was of an incredible quality, although I do have a few gripes (mentioning no names…Los Campesinos).

Crazy Arm (acoustic) 5/5

Everyone has their own way of describing Crazy Arm, they don’t fit comfortably into any one genre. For me, I think of them as operatic punk (bare with me). Their album, ‘Born to Ruin’ opener ‘Asphalt’ sets the scene. It opens with a heavy base that’s broken by sharp guitar melodies before being built on with overlapping vocals. The song is cleverly drawn out to just over 5 minutes and instantly makes you realise that this band is not just another run of the mill punk band. You feel as though there is real sense of performance within the depths of their music.

With this in mind, you will understand why when looking at the line up for 2000trees I was very excited to see an acoustic set slotted in mid-afternoon for Crazy Arm. Take my earlier definition of ‘operatic punk’ and add ‘acoustic’ onto it and you have the basis for a very interesting performance. They didn’t disappoint. A real highlight of the festival for me, they balanced their usual intensity with a genuinely personal performance. The folk roots of this particular punk band shone through with incredible quality.

Ben Marwood 2/5 (but don’t be put off)

I think Ben Marwood is great – his lyrics (on which his music rests) are funny, political and unique. He engages the crowd in a way few other singer songwriters can and I would recommend anyone to go and see him. I recently caught him in Bath supporting the mighty Frank Turner and he was epic.

So why 2/5? Firstly, he was let down by the poor sound on the Greenhouse stage. You struggled to make out his lyrics let alone appreciate the depth, humour and quality of them. I am still glad I watched Ben, but felt bad for all those who were seeing him for the first time. It remains a mystery to me why he was on the small Greenhouse Stage and not the Leaf lounge.

The King Blues 4/5 (if you are a teenage girl)

I loved it, but I feel embarrassed to admit I loved it. King Blues released and incredible album ‘Under the Frog’ back in 2006 which genuinely excited me. It felt raw, it felt personal and it felt political. In 2008 they followed this up with ‘Save the World, get the girl’ which lead many people to accuse them of going pop. It was this transformation that left one of my friends (naming no names but he has dreadlocks and strong opinions about punk) to comment, “fucking hate King Blues”). He is not alone either. I though, still keep them as a guilty pleasure. Bouncing along in possibly the most accessible mosh pit in the world while shouting along to annoyingly self righteous lyrics is a lot of fun. Still though, is punk meant to be fun?

Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip 4/5

It wouldn’t be fair to suggest I have a perfect memory of this, but from what I do remember it was awesome. Scroobius Pip led the crowd through his lyrics with masterful skill. He had the charisma to keep the crowd bouncing throughout, completely engaged. You lost some the subtleties of his lyrics but this is inevitable when stood next to a massive speaker after a few pints of the cider. For pure enjoyment levels he gets full marks. At the time you could have been forgiven for thinking everyone had bought their ticket just for him, it felt like everyone knew the words to every song. This is a real credit to a man who is not a ‘natural’ festival headliner.

Chewing on Tin Foil 4/5

This was the first time I had seen Chewing on Tin Foil despite a lot of my friends chatting excitedly about them. They reminded me (and I mean this in a completely positive sense) of the 1990’s. They were fun to watch. They reminded of the days when I used to listen to Symposium. They had a real charm about them. Their music was simple but accessible. Perhaps most importantly they looked like they were having real fun. As they put it, “We’re five guys from Dublin that have a really nice time playing punk rock music together. We mostly play to ourselves at band practise but occasionally we play to an audience at gigs. We’re trying to get as much stuff done as we possibly can until one of us has a kid or dies or whatever”. Ace to see live, and surprisingly good on the 7” split I purchased.

Boat to Row 4/5 (I know there is a lot of 4/5 going on but stick with me I am about to get harsh)

I only caught the last few songs of this band and I hadn’t seen them before but my initial reaction was of some young very talented musicians playing some interesting folk. It was soft and I could imagine my girlfriend loving it. Well actually she did love it and then complained that we had just sat through Chewing on Tin foil instead of watching the whole set. One of the problems of 2000 trees, awesome bands overlap. I bought their vinyl and was really impressed.

Joe Summers 5/5

If you don’t know what to buy for mother’s day – buy Joe. I can guarantee your mother will love him. I mean, they will quite like his floating poetic lyrics. They will enjoy the way it reminds them of 60’s protest singers. But most of all, they will just love him.

If, like me, you have yet to give birth then have a listen as well. With notes of Springsteen and Dylan going on in his very naturally relaxed style you will be doing well not to be won over. Combine this with a sunny hillside in the Cotswolds and a pint of cider and you’ve got yourself a top quality gig.

Los Campesinos 1/5

If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is a live performer who looks like he/she doesn’t want to be there. This was average music played with no energy, commitment or enthusiasm. Probably the low point of the whole festival for me. I had fun in the crowd but you could sense a feeling of disappointment.

Frightened Rabbit 2/5

Same as above with a little more energy and a little more enthusiasm. Maybe the music just wasn’t my cup of tea (the rest of crowd seemed like they were having a great time). Had a good time in the crowd but I suspect that was more to do with my friends and the crowd than what was on stage.

Jim Lockey and the Solemn Sun 5/5

OK – I admit that I didn’t actually see them this year. Sorry Jim. But I have seen them more times than probably any other band still out there and cannot recommend them enough. They play soulful punk folk with an edge of angst that keeps you gripped. Their music has a really impressive depth and the lyrics are wonderfully poetic. They are a band that is in it for all the right reasons. If you haven’t already watch these guys – they are truly awesome.

2000Trees this year was epic. The headliners on Friday blew me away and the quality and variety of the other bands was truly impressive. A lot of the bands rely on you going out to buy records and see them at venues. I really hope you do. I love the music scene you find in towns up and down this country but it needs people like you to go out and make this happen.

A big thanks to the crew at 2000 trees who makes it happen. I know I speak for many when I say it has a special place in my heart.

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I am off to drink cider and roll around in some mud for a while – can that be political?

We are not just having a dig at Bono - shame!

That’s right ladies and gents – I am off to deepest darkest Glastonbury to drink cider and roll around in mud for a few days. Glastonbury is without doubt one of the best music festivals in the world (putting aside my gripes about this year’s “headliners”).

Yet, there is no real rest for this particular political blogger. Glastonbury is also unique for the amount of awareness raising it does for a number of causes that are close to my heart including, Oxfam, Wateraid and Greenpeace.

This year however, the festival is going one better. There is a grass roots movement happening organised by Art Uncut which aims to highlight the tax dodging of Bono and U2 (who are headlining the festival…As I said, no comment on the choice of headliners). Art uncut explains Bono’s situation as follows:

Before 2006 U2 Ltd, which deals with U2’s royalties payments, was registered in Ireland, the band’s native country, for tax purposes. At the time, Ireland had an astonishing policy of allowing artists to pay zero tax on royalties. In 2006, quite sensibly one might think, the Irish government decided to cap the income which can be subject to this exemption at 250,000 Euros per annum. Following this change in the law, U2 Ltd decided to move their tax affairs to Holland in order to pay less tax.

As such, they are dedicating a whole weekend of protesting to this situation including a high-profile protest at the gig itself. I look forward to seeing what will unfold. They insist that this is not just “having a dig” at Bono (which is a shame because I think that’s a pretty good reason in itself) but to raise awareness of the ethics of taxation. Christian Aid estimates that poor countries receive $160 billion less because of tax dodging. The Art Uncut movement make a full explanation of the problem here.

Glastonbury will defiantly provide incredible entertainment, from the mighty Gas Light Anthem, to the beautiful Laura Marling to the not so beautiful (but still lovely) Mark Thomas. It will also however, put ideas and causes to the forefront of people’s minds.

Whether or not people remember them after a few glasses of West Country cider though remains to be seen.

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Extreme homophobia in modern reggae music

This article was published in Out Bristol issue 13

Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Buju Banton, Capleton, Sizzla, TOK, Elephant Man and Vybz Kartel are all examples of modern reggae artists who have over stepped the mark.  They are overtly homophobic.  They have the right to speak out against “homosexuals”, however unpalatable that it.  They do not however, have the right to incite violence.  There music does exactly that!

Some try and defend lyrics such as  “you know we need no promo to rub out dem homo” from Bounty Killer (aka Rodney Pryce), and “I’m a dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays” by the charming Beenie Man.  I say that these lyrics are indefensible.

It is important to point out that there is little “Jamaican” or “African” about homophobia.  There is plenty of evidence to suggest homophobia was forced onto Jamaican culture by Christian fundamentalist in the 19th century.  Indeed, the opposite can be argued to be true, that “African culture” which so many of these homophobes purport to be representing , actually saw homosexuality as quite a normal act and indeed, at times common place (This is especially true of West Africa where the majority of men were taken from in the slave trade).  These practices maintained a high level of prominence within “slave communities” in Jamaica. See Suzzane LaFont’s paper “Very Straight Sex: The development of sexual mores in Jamaica“.

Essentially, we shouldn’t tolerate this sort of hate filled music. We should certainly not listen to music that incites violence and murder against someone because of their sexuality. And finally, we shouldn’t accept their defence that it is somehow OK because of their “Jamaican” cultural heritage!

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RIP Captain Beefheart

Captain Beefheart

Normally, I do not write obituaries or even acknowledge those who have passed away, but for this man I will make an exception – Captain Beefheart.

Captain Beefheart (or Donald Glen Vlietif if you like) was (is) a musical legend who produced album after album of the most extraordinary music.  His music pushed me in my teenage years to appreciate music for more than its immediate raw impact.  For it was through Beefheart’s music that I learnt you had to spend time to appreciate true musical genius.  He did not lend himself to one hit wonders.  He did not lend himself to the radio, the TV or the press in general. Instead he forced you to sit and contemplate what on earth he had just done.  He created his own style (a bizarre merge of blues and jazz with other “sounds”).

He hit a line in music that is finely trod between genius and insanity, and even to this day I cannot tell you which way he finally fell.  All I can really tell you is that he increased my musical “intelligence” – the desire to search for something deeper in music.

Without Beefheart, I am convinced we would not have had Watt, Talking Heads or Radiohead as we know them.  Beefheart set a boundary (and then regularly broke it) about what was, and wasn’t acceptable in terms of song structure, merging of genre’s or even the use of vocals.  I am saddened by his death, but I also remain confused and intrigued by his music.  I still don’t get, I don’t always like it, but I feel inexplicably indebted to him.

For a real write up of a great man’s life see the Guardian article here

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Cheryl Cole is worried that American’s won’t take to her!

Are you, like me, tired of the endless drone of re-hashed half-baked “stories” concerning manufactured singers and musicians? The Sun considered it a “top story” that Cheryl Cole was worried that the US wouldn’t take to her when she goes over to do the US X-factor.  This is not a news story, in fact, its barely worth mentioning.  It is so insignificant in the grand scheme of things that I wonder why people would consider wasting their time and energy to contemplate such a thing!

Regardless, this celebrity culture is lapped up by millions (or potentially billions) of morons around the world.  Why? Is it because they care, is it because they are big fans of Cheryl? I doubt it. I suggest, it is because it is all they know.  They have been spoon fed for the last decade a mainstream culture that fits around consumerism and celebrities.  People are not there to bring about social change but merely to consume (yes that’s right…even when you buy the Rage single at Christmas).  The only anecdote to this, are performers who are there for a reason!

We can see examples in history where music has been used for the positive.  The Clash breaking down racism by playing reggae, Tracy Chapman highlighting the plight of domestic violence or the Brit pop era pushing a generation into wearing questionable anoraks.  What have WE had though? In the US, there has been a growth in politically aware hip-hop to highlight the on-going class and racial divisions! We have not had this (a quick challenge…name a famous UK hip-hop artist other than Roots?).  It would appear, we are essentially culture-less; there is no music that defines my generation!  Or is there?

I think not, I just think its a minorities game, but one that has the potential to take off like wild fire! The localization agenda!. There is a growing movement within the Greens that is working towards a localized agenda (do everything at the most local level possible).  This way, you can build community and public trust whilst enjoying the benefits of a thriving local economy.  This can protect you economically when Icelandic banks melt down, it can increase a sense of community, and it can reduce the intensity in which activities are currently undertaken, thus reducing their environmental impact.

I am going to make a bold leap here.  I suggest that the same can be said for music.

In my local music scene there is a handful of really strong performers who play relentlessly to average to small crowds.  Thier music is about local life, issues that affect you and me. When a local artist recently sang about the misery of the cheese rolling being canceled, I felt it! Why should I sit in my car, travel for an hour to Bristol to watch a band that charges 30 quid to get in, when I can see quality entertainment from people who want to be on stage at their local venue (any one who still thinks going to watch Morrisey is a good idea needs their heads checking).

In Cheltenham, we have the perfect example of a localized music scene, mutually supportive to create a sense of security and warmth.  The istartedthefire label has created a “family” of artists who regularly play together at music venues around the county optimise this.  They represent a phenomena which I can only see growing.  They sing about stuff they care about; love, politics, life and their own lives.  This is something that is lost in the wider music scene. People like it so much more, if your singing and you know what for!

Last Sunday I went to an all dayer in the Frog n Fiddle in Cheltenham that highlighted local talents such as Ben Marwood, Joe summers, Ruth Bewsey, The Midnight Mile and Jim Lockey and the Solemn sun.  These guys are all either part of the Istartedthefire family or are close friends.  As a result it created an atmosphere unparalleled to any gig I have been to in recent months.  The evening cumulated in Jim Lockey singing unplugged with the audience circled around him.  Not only, did this work but it engaged the audience.  The whole crowd felt part of the scene. This was local people taking control of their own entertainment, thus protecting themselves from the corporate driven bullshit that we get fed in our lives!

People worry that when they go to see local music the quality might not be as good as that of national bands.  To that I would say listen to Cheryl Cole and then check out some of the Myspace sites of the guys above.  Hopefully you get my drift!

If you want to protect yourself economically, socially and emotionally, get involved in your local music scene!

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Raging at moral hypocrisy

This morning on BBC Radio Five Live the American band, “Rage Against the Machine” landed the BBC in trouble by repeating four times “Fuck you , I won’t do what you tell me” in their rendition of their song “killing in the name of”.  There are a number of issues which make this event note worthy.  In no particular order:

  • Rage Against the Machine is widely tipped to become Christmas number one this year after a grass roots campaign to keep X-Factor off the top spot.
  • Nicky Campbell was conducting the interview (which added to serious comedy value)
  • The production team had asked the band not to swear, were surprised when they did and then deemed it so problematic that they did swear that they decided to cut them off before the end of the song

I will briefly take up this last point. 

Firstly, did they seriously expect a band (even if you knew nothing about the bands history could you not guess from the name) to not go against the orders and swear on live radio? Anyone (even Nicky) must have seen that one coming.  Apparently not, check out the surprise and panic in the reaction (http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/dec/17/rage-agains-machine-singer-swears). 

Secondly, why are we so upset to hear swear words on radio? All you have to do is jump into a London cab or watch some football on the stands to hear some good old fashioned swearing! In fact, you have to do well to avoid swearing these days.  Fuck it…I would go as far as to say it’s almost impossible to go a day in an urban environment without hearing some “offensive” language.  Why do we insist on representing an alternative reality in our media and suppressing the charms of everyday life?

Let’s clarify something, I believe strongly in mediating what slips onto our TV’s and radio’s.  There is some stuff out there which is plain nasty.  What I am suggesting however, is that we have got our morals confused with tradition.  Why do we allow so much grotesque violence (for no reason other than historically violence was considered ok) and yet blackout swearing and sex? We can see this moral puzzle played out in film ratings.  Hotel Rwanda for example, follows the story of the Rwandan Genocide (in some harrowing detail) and is considered OK for a 12 year old to watch (in the UK).  If you added in some boobs and casual bit of swearing this would suddenly become unacceptable for a 12/13/14 year old to watch.  Have you ever questioned why an erect penis is an absolute taboo in film, but there seems to be no limit to the levels of violence that can be portrayed in films? Now question which one is most “normal”? If I had a choice I would let my kids see and hear swearing and sex way before the levels of violence that are normalised in our society.  I suggest the only difference is which morals have been historically acceptable?

The only shame about this whole story is that Rage and the advertising chiefs up at Sony BMG (who own epic records) know that swearing on radio will be a media money spinner!

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