The Story Of Capitalism

Wednesday 23rd May

People used to make things.  Mostly it was growing food to eat, but a few specialised in preparing skins or carpentry or building churches and houses.  Some set up shops to pursue their trade.  Nobody got very rich, but people survived.  Of course there was a feudal system where most people worked for the Lord of the Manor, who although rich also had responsibilities to the poor and sick, and was also Judge and Jury for any offences.

Then came the start of Capitalism, where people could buy (and sell) shares in ventures.  This boomed in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries with the discovery of new lands.  Slaves were transported from Africa to the Americas.  Ships would return filled with raw materials and rum and leave with finished goods.  Then came Empire and India and the machine was truly whirring.  More and more fortunes were made, all built on Greed.  But you see along with riches came poverty.  Agriculture was being mechanised at the same time and thousands thrown off the land flocked to the cities and the mills.

Capitalism makes money by employing people to work for far less than the selling price of the products they are making.  Simple.

But now Capitalism is vast and multinational corporations stride the globe, looking for new markets and even cheaper labour to make the stuff.  Literally everything is traded, even the future.  And we are now seeing the rise of the machines.  Computers and the internet can do the jobs of thousands; some are predicting that almost half the jobs currently being done will be replaced by robots in the future.  And robots don’t ask for pay rises, or tea breaks; they work 24 hours a day….but….they don’t buy the products.  So Capitalism may be facing a crunch; employ fewer people so reducing your costs, but who then will be the consumers of the future.

I believe that a new economic model will emerge, or more likely be forced upon us.  But don’t expect it any time soon; Capitalism still has a while to go…

My Record Collection 21

Tuesday 22nd May

Barenaked Ladies – just one album Stunt.  This was a Canadian band from the Nineties.  I don’t know that much more about them really.  They are certainly quirky, and not only the name; the songs are quite different, often short and very poppy, complex and quickly sung words.  The lead singer has a very nice voice though.  But for reasons too difficult to understand one record was enough.  Maybe they simply didn’t have enough ‘bottom;, enough serious musicality.  But as ever, listening again, they aren’t at all bad.

The Beach Boys -were a part of the soundtrack of my growing up, my early teen years – the most important of times.  They hailed from California, and though that was just a name on the huge land mass of America, I heard them.  They started out as a surf group, a sub-genre of early Sixties rock and roll, singing happy songs about surfing.  I really had no idea what surfing was, we had tired out laying on thin plywood sheets in the bitterly cold North Sea.  But when we got television we saw these incredible surfers riding momentous waves.  I have never learnt to surf – another wasted career.  But their music hooked me from the start.  Poppy and happy, it was a counterpoint to Beat music, coming from sunshine, where the Mersey sound came from the rainy North.  First up is one of the many Greatest hits, 20 Golden Greats – all the big hits are here from little Deuce Coupe to Heroes and Villains.  This brigs back so many memories of warm carefree summers and the ever evolving, ever improving music of the Sixties.  And the Sixties were the time of our lives, and the time of the Wilson brothers, Carl, Brian and Dennis, cousin mike Love and friend Al Jardine.  Great tunes, mostly written by musical genius Brian, and beautiful harmonies.  And the hits kept on coming…Fun Fun Fun, I Get Around, Help Me Rhonda, California Girls, Barbara Ann, Sloop John B, God Only Knows and my favourite Good Vibrations, which seemed almost single-handedly to herald the coming of the Summer of Love.  What none of us knew at the time was the mental struggle Brian was suffering.  The constant demand for hits, the touring, the pressure.  And he cracked.  But not before their first masterpiece…Pet Sounds.. Well, that was what everyone said; it is even reported that Paul McCartney, on hearing Pet Sounds, determined to make an even better album – Sgt. Pepper.  I have listened and listened, and I am afraid, I don’t get it.  The album is okay, quite good even – but a masterpiece?  Anyway I always considered The Beach Boys were a singles band; with singles they hardly ever put a foot wrong…but albums, not really their scene.  Best songs are the singles ‘Sloop John B’ and ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’, a couple of other songs are good too.  So, I rarely bought their albums.

Until Surf’s Up, which I had on Vinyl but struggled to later find on CD; it only seemed available teamed up with Sunflower, released a year earlier.  So, Sunflower, again a pleasant enough record but nothing leaps out and says this is a great record.  Surf’s Up on the other hand is a real gem.  Brian by now was barely functioning at all, and songwriting fell to other members of the band. They had a new record company and a new manager, Jack Reiley, who had heard a bootleg of the title track, which Brian had refused to release (from the famed Smile album which was also shelved).  Anyway with Reiiey’s influence they embarked on Surf’s Up (1971).  And it just makes you wake up and realise what a great band they could have been.  The sound is totally different, the voices seem much higher up in the mix, gone are the gentle harmonies, here are strong voices and great melodies.  I simply love the record; ‘Long Promised Road’, the gentle ‘Disney Girls’, the (ripped off) protest song ‘Student Demonstration Time’, ‘Feel Flows’ with it’s beautiful melody and harmonies, and the majestic title song as a closer.  What a record, what a revelation, what a pity they barely ever repeated the triumph.  Next up was Carl and the Passion, So Tough. Again, I only got this album as it was paired with another favourite I once had on vinyl, Holland.  The record is okay, but not outstanding  – they seem to have fallen between two stools, neither their old poppy sound or their newer more progressive music they made on Surf’s Up.

So Holland; the boys decamped for a few months to Holland; they recruited two new members Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin, they rehearsed and wrote new songs.  And they created another masterpiece.  The record is simply brilliant, I never tire of it.  From opener Sail On Sailor to closer Funky Pretty the album is a revelation.  The best bit is the California trilogy, one of the songs written by Brian, who by now was definitely not in the band anymore. After this, for whatever perverse reason the Beach Boys reverted to theur old sound and simply became yet another Beach Boy tribute band (maybe the best there was).

Oh well.

Holland

The Day After The Day Before

Sunday 20th May

Success – I managed to avoid the Royal Wedding all day; not a glimpse of the build-up, the ceremony itself, or the aftermath.  I might tune in for the divorce….hahaha.  I barely watched the football (F.A. Cup) either, as it was between two teams I don’t really like, and two managers I think are quite conceited.  Anyway, Chelsea won by a single penalty, so I didn’t miss much. No, I was busy all day.  The café in the morning was briskly busy; despite the sunny weather I did six English breakfasts.  Then I had the task of moving two wardrobes; we are having new built-in ones, and the ones we were using we inherited with the house two and a half years ago now.  A tough job, dismantling and moving, but with a little help it got done.  Then finishing off painting a smallish section of railings on the balcony; tedious and slow-going.

Finished just in time for the evening’s entertainment; the Barker Boys at Chez K.  Now, usually Geoff (with or without his son) is a regular at the Gambetta.  Chez K opened a year ago and has gone from strength to strength.  It was a great night under the arches drinking wine and eating barbequed sausage.  Good company too…but after almost a whole bottle of Rose it was gone ten and time to go home…but not quite to bed, the small task of cooking sausages and bacon for today.  Very tired and to bed.

 

As the Beatles sang…”Woke Up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head”….slight hangover.  Oh well, I am recovering with coffee and croissants and ready for another day.  And you think your life is busy?

 

My Record Collection 20

Wednesday 16th May

Barclay James Harvest (continued)Ring of Changes was better, better songs but still that harsh synthetic production.  John Lees at least came up with a couple of better songs ‘Fifties Child’ and ‘Teenage Heart’ – but no classic songs this time out.  Of course it is easy for us armchair critics – we aren’t on the treadmill of constantly creating new material – but still.  Victims of Circumstance, which had a brilliant Japanese style sleeve, was a slight let down.  Nothing wrong with the songs really – they just failed to excite me.  They don’t even sound like the band I used to know.  Face to Face was the next record, a very modern cover – but what would they sound like this far down the line. Much the same I am afraid.  And I ask myself, why I have kept faith in this band?  Yes, on almost every album there are a couple of semi-decent songs, but they are a very dull shadow of their early days.  Ever since Woolly left they have seemed poorer and poorer.  I just keep hoping….

And sometimes that hope is rewarded. 1990 saw the release of Welcome to the Show, an uninspiring title.  \But redeemed by the brilliant John Lees composition ‘John Lennon’s Guitar’, a poignant song about their early recording days.  The rest of the record is okay too, no other classic songs but quite enjoyable.  They were definitely slowing down now, albums coming out only every two or three years.  Caught in the Light (1993) which is quite good really, not terribly exciting, but very pleasant.  Their last album together was River of Dreams.  Falling sales, especially in the UK meant their record company weren’t interested, This album was only released officially in Germany.  Which is a shame as actually it is again quite good.  Not among their very best, but quite respectable.  John Lees, especially seemed to be writing good songs again.  In truth the band had begun to fall apart, creatively at least when Woolly left them.  He somehow grounded them.  He also added that touch of classicism, the orchestral arrangements, the grand swooping sound they had.  John and Les were for years going their separate ways; playing on each other’s songs but not really connecting or collaborating.  Still, as groups go, to have lasted for thirty years was some achievement.  The Beatles lasted little more than a decade together, and many others had so many personnel changes that they ended up unrecognisable.

So, after this quite accomplished album, they split.  They each made a record on their own and toured for a couple of years.  John called his band Barclay James Harvest through the eyes of John Lees.  Nexus, was John’s first (well not quite, see L) solo effort.  Not bad but it seems more like a set of demos than a real album.  A few new songs which aren’t that bad, but re-recordings of old BJH songs add little, in fact I prefer the originals.  But to be honest, almost any new BJH material is mopped up by this particular sponge-like author.

A live album soon followed, as John toured with his new band, which actually included Woolly.  Now that Les and John had parted he returned to singing and playing with John.  In fact, he began to write again and was soon releasing records under the name Maestoso (see M).   A couple of live albums have drifted out over the years.

And then in 2013….a new album by John Lees BJH.  North was a lovely surprise, and actually refreshingly unlike any BJH records before.  The voice and guitar remain, but somehow the sound is more acoustic, no synthesisers at all, and a quite competent set of songs.  Nothing really to compare with earlier glories, but that wasn’t really the point.  The point was to say “we are still here” – at least two of them – John and Woolly.  Sadly the original BJH drummer Mel Pritchard died a decade earlier.  And saddest of all, Woolly, who had released a clutch of new records in this century (see M), took his own life shortly after the album was completed.  No-one but his immediate family and friends probably know just why he did this, but he had a history of depression.  Anyway, nothing else since from John, though he is touring again, so you never know.

Les Holroyd has been quite too.  An initial album Revolution Days came out in 2002.  It was okay, I suppose.  Very similar to his old late BJH songs with a couple of re-recorded classics.  Better was his double album Classic Meets Rock, a live concert with the Prague Philarmonic; different arrangements but quite enjoyable…And that is it so far from a once great band.

 

Sycophancy – Sick-O-Fancy

Friday 18th May

Trying to escape the Royal Wedding, but the news channels are reporting barely anything else.  Talk about sycophancy, it is as if the whole world has gone Harry and Meghan mad.  Hey guys – this is the Twenty-First Century; and Harry is only 5th in line to the throne; it will be a miracle (and a personal tragedy) if he ever becomes King.  And….he isn’t even Charles’ kid – allegedly.

What a farce !!!  And yet another nonsense to distract us from Brexit, or the mess we are in over it.  By the way there was a really interesting Parliamentary discussion last night on the Customs Union (unreported, of course).  First we had the Salisbury poisoning, (of which, since then nothing….no suspect, no pictures of the Skripals…I wonder why…hahaha)  then the Syria nerve agent nonsense (again a news blackout, even though the inspectors have found no evidence at all, it was a good excuse for a nice bombing). And now we have the wedding.  Over to you Katya at Windsor, where it is all happening….or actually where nothing at all is happening.  A lonely reporter facing the camera and trying desperately to dredge up some unthusiasm. And if you are having a street party here is the weather forecast.  No, I am not having a street party; I might have a bonfire if we got rid of the whole crowd. And even here in France, there is fascination from the French, who, we must not forget beheaded their King.  Well, we did too; even if this is quietly forgotten amid the frenzy of celebration.  Oh well, I will just have to remember NOT to switch on the TV on Saturday until 5 in the evening where two rich football clubs will play a game for another bit of silver…

 

The Railways – into the Buffers Again

Thursday 17th May

Well, we had the spectacle yesterday of Chris Grayling, a particularly obsequious Tory Minister for Transport coming to the House of Commons to announce that the North-East Rail line was once more being taken back into (a sort of) public ownership.  It was John Major who came up with the particularly convoluted privatisation of our Railways.  The infrastructure; the rails, the stations and the scheduling of trains was to be a public company Network Rail.   The trains and the collection of fares was to be franchised out to different consortia (all owned by the same shareholders).  The franchisees would pay the Government an agreed annual amount, but the Government would in effect pay for the infrastructure.  Fares would be allowed to rise by 3% above inflation.  Confused ? – You should be.

In essence the belief was that Private Companies, in order to maximise their profits, would run the Railways better than a publicly owned one.  This was Political Dogma; the idea that Private is always better than Public; even taking into account the profit factor.

Well, it hasn’t actually turned out that well.  Frachisee after franchisee has failed and handed back their franchises to the Government.  But here is the funny bit.   Rather than these Consortiums being in any way punished for failure, or even having to pay the remaining fees (which they promised at the time of bidding) to the Government, they are rewarded.  The Government simply says “We are sorry that you could not fulfil the contract you signed so recently with us.  Let us relieve you of the burden.  No, don’t worry – the tax-payer will pick up the tab.  We understand completely that you cannot possibly carry on if you are not making a PROFIT.”

So, if they make a profit they win.  If they fail they win, because the taxpayer picks up the tab.

AND…..these same failed companies are not only allowed but actually invited to bid for even more contracts in the future.  Reward for Failure.  And Grayling had the gall to stand up and say how wonderful the Railways were being run under Privatisation…

My Record Collection 19

Wednesday 16th May

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – 1978 saw the release of their twelth album (including live releases) XII.  Another very good album (they hardly ever made a poor one).  Les Holroyd turned in the beautiful Berlin, one of his finest compositions.  John decided to prefix all his songs with the descriptors Fact, Fantasy, Fiction etc:   The songs as usual, pretty good; one ‘political’ song ‘The Closed Shop’ a science fiction classic ‘Nova Lepidoptera’ and my favourite, which I don’t think they ever sung live ‘Streets of San Francisco’.  Woolly had two songs ‘In Search of England’ and ‘Harbour’, both are lovely.  But tensions within the band were surfacing.  This time, Woolly became dissatisfied with, as he saw it, the direction the band was going in.  He didn’t like the more commercial ‘poppy’ sounds, he thought they were moving away from the original concept of Barclay James Harvest – as marrying Classical and Rock music.  Also, he had collected more and more unreleased songs and decided to leave the band after recording XII. A sad loss, but Woolly was always a bit of a misfit, although I always enjoyed his songs, more classical and quieter than the others.  Well, he did almost pursue a solo career (see M) and later when John and Les dissolved the band he re-joined (sporadically) John Lees as he continued under the name BJH thru the eyes of John Lees.  So, maybe his difference had more to do with the personality of Les Holroyd than the actual music.  We will never know.

As the band re-convened to record a new album, which would be their thirteenth Woolly announced he was leaving.  The remaining three decided to carry on, at least for the new album Eyes of the Universe, recruiting two players they knew to fill in the sound left by Woolly.  But in many ways the band would never be the same again.  Moving into the Eighties synthesisers and digital production took over.  A harder sound ensued.  I still bought their records, but at the time none of us really realised now had happened.  The Seventies had ended; that wonderful decade of carrying on from the inventive Sixties, had spawned so many great musicians and bands.  Now the business really was a business; no more would record companies take a punt on new groups just starting out – it was all about sales, and sales in those days were huge.  BJH were still selling quite well in England but even better in Germany and Europe.  But record companies were looking for the new sound of the Eighties.  BJH without Woolly and his warm keyboards and Mellotron looked to synthesisers.  The new album had some good songs but the most distinctive thing was the harsh brittle sound.  This is one of my lesser loved BJH records.  No classic songs at all; it almost seemed like they were just going through the motions. Eight songs which add nothing to the bands collection.  Oh well.

The next year’s effort Turn of the Tide was slightly better; especially the few songs by Les, who I had always considered the less able songwriter.  Again, too many synths and samey songs but Echoes and Shadows is quite good and ‘Life is for Living’ was another classic from Holroyd.  John Lees might as well have not been there, his songs are flat and unremarkable – even the closer ‘In Memory of the Martyrs’ is overlong and overblown.  Without Woolly he seems to have been at best a passenger in the band. Another live album followed Berlin.  This was famous for taking place on the steps of the Reichstag in the (then still) divided city.  One irony was that as Sales and enthusiasm for the band waned in Britain, where people would audibly groan at the mention of their name, in Europe, especially Germany, France and Switzerland, they were massive and regularly sold in the hundred thousands.  The album is okay, but how many live albums do you need; in my case of course – all of them…hahaha

Turn Of The Tide

 

But Some News Is Even Worse

Tuesday 15th May

Yesterday I lamented the lack of any “real” news.  I commented that there may be trouble caused by the opening of America’s new embassy in Jerusalem.   It used to be in Tel Aviv, the capital of Israel.   And boy, was there trouble.  At the last count (but this may be superceded by now) 52 people were killed by bullets fired by Israeli soldiers near the border with Gaza.  Gaza is basically an occupied strip of land where 2 million Palestinians live.  They are ‘peacefully’ protesting their right (denied of course by Israel) to return to the land they were kicked off 70 years ago at the creation of the state of Israel.  Of course there are two sides to every story and the Palestinians (and the Arabs in general) have behaved atrociously to Israel in the past; Hamas refuses to recognise Israel and is de facto at war with it.  Some of the protesters were reportedly throwing firebombs and stones at the border guards.

But none of this warrants the disproportionate use of bloody and fatal force by Israel.  It seems that the current leadership of Israel simply wants to provoke and kill as many Palestinians as possible.  There have been strong condemnations from the British and the French and many other nations and the UN itself, which declared that treating Jerusalem as the de facto capital of Israel (as Donald Trump has now acknowledged) is illegal.  But condemnations will not work.  America will always defend Israel, however wrong their actions may be seen by the rest of the world.  The only weapon is to shame Israel, to make ordinary Israelis ashamed of the actions of their own Government.   I do understand how many Israelis feel, that the world doesn’t understand them, that their Peace is being constantly threatened.  But the only solution to this fear and misunderstanding, and the only long-term solution is for meaningful peace talks to begin and for the Palestinians to be given their own state.  This will never be easy, but with good will it is achievable.  But before that happens the killing must stop; the disproportionate use of bloody force must stop.

I know that by even talking about this means I will be branded an anti-semite, but just read the words I have used, the fact that I also blame the actions of many on the Arab side.  This is the twenty-first Century, surely we must be capable of moving on and stop hurling abuse and stones and bullets at each other.  Many in Israel are also appalled at this use of force and are speaking out as well.  Good on them.  I wonder if they are being accused of anti-semitism too?

No News Is Bad News

Monday 14th May

There appears to be a dearth of news.  Of course there is always news – they have to fill the schedules up with something.  But there seems no news of any real consequence.  It is as if the powers that be have whispered….”Hush, speak no more, let the children slumber, do not disturb them.”  So, we have to make do with reports of a volcano slowly bubbling away in Hawaii, and attacks on churches in Indonesia, a Malaysian election, and a strange creature washed up on a Philippino shore (which turned out to be a decomposed whale).  Where is Brexit?  Has the Donald gone into hiding?  Oh, there was a slight flurry on Andrew Marr yesterday about Brexit, with both Labour and Michael Gove looking as washed out and washed up as the decomposing whale; their policies designed neither to offend nor please anyone while the ship of state drifts onto the rocks.  There could be more violence in the Middle East as Ivanka (daughter and advisor {hahaha} to the Trumpster) opens the ‘new’ US embassy in Jerusalem.  A move destined to delight the Israelis and infuriate the Arabs – so much for diplomacy).

So, what am I looking for?  Anything.  Anything really that excites me.  And all we have is the impending Royal Wedding…..so I switch off.  No News Is Bad News Indeed.

 

My Record Collection 18

Saturday 12th May

Barclay James Harvest (continued) – The following year (1975) saw the release of Time Honoured Ghosts, with the most lovely cover, very arable.  Another classic album really; the band were really on a roll, and had settled down to a more settled but still recognisable sound.  Woolly still had a couple of songs, still with an orchestral feel, while John and Les were writing more conventional soft rock songs.  My favourite songs are ‘Jonathon’ and ‘Titles’, which was a tribute to The Beatles, using several of their melodies, with slight twists and Beatles song titles as the lyrics.  Very clever, and a mild hit when it was released as a single. I was seeing the band every few months during the mid-seventies, though they ended up touring far more in France, Germany and Switzerland, where they were evn more popular than in the UK.  They still had a loyal fanbase, but they were largely ignored by the music press, who were becoming enthralled by the new sound – Punk.  BJH were soon considered a dinosaur band and even ridiculed by the likes of NME and Melody Maker.  Such is fashion.  And as we know fashions change.  Whereas most of the punk bands were one hit wonders or faded pretty fast, BJH and many progressive bands flourished.  1975 was the year too of Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark side of the Moon’.  And Genesis were making great records too.  Luckily bands like BJH had no choice but to soldier on and keep making the music they and their fans loved.

Then came Octoberon, technically their eight release, and maybe their best so far.  Quite a radical album in many ways.  Woolly had the song Ra, which was an orchestral magnificence harking back to their early days.  Les wrote among others ‘’Rock and Roll Star’ which became a live favourite.  But John Lees was writing wonderful songs now.  He went ‘political’ again with ‘Mayday’ – sort of updated 1984 along with a coda of a choir singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.  He also wrote a song about a porn star ‘Polk Street Rag’  – and another masterpiece with ‘Suicide?’, which even had sound effects of a man wlaking to the edge of a tall building and jumping, or being pushed off (and hitting the groundtoo).  But despite the subject matter it is still a beautiful song.  The album is simply brilliant; it sold quite well too, despite coming out at the height of punk.  The band sounded imperious by now, their live shows were getting bigger too.  They seemed to have found their style and their distinctive sound was instantly recognisable.

Gone to Earth came next, shorter songs generally and their best seller.  Woolly gave us Spirit on the Water, and Les had a few decent songs, but again John Lees was brilliant.  The opener ‘Hymn’ -, another anthemic melody, even if the lyrics are too religious for my liking.  He also gave us ‘Poor Man’s Moody Blues’, which was how BJH were described by an NME journalist.  This song gave the lie to that.  This is another level than the Moodys’ who I also liked.  Like ‘Titles’, it plays with both the melody and the words of Nights in White Satin, but improves on them immeasurably.  This soon became a staple of their live show.  But apparently the constant annual round of tour and new album was wearing the band down.  John and les were barely talking, just meeting for live shows or recording, where each would bring in almost complete demo’s for the others to learn an play on.  Amazingly, this was exactly what happened a decade earlier to their heroes The Beatles, even to George (Woolly) being relegated to one or maybe two songs per album. Another double live album followed Live Tapes, which while excellent seems to really add very little to their collection.  Slightly longer versions but no new songs at all

Octoberon (Deluxe, Remastered & Excpanded Edition)