The Tide Comes In

Wednesday 18th April

How small we are.  Humans.  On this rather beautiful planet we are very very small.  Large enough to make an impact, but not as much as we may think.  Yes, we have built cities and tamed rivers and can fly in the air, but many other species have shaped the planet more than us.  Grass, for one.  Apparently grass has been one of the most successful species ever.  It is practically everywhere, and it slowly turns forest into desert, and has done so in Africa, Australia and Asia.  Insects are probably the most successful species of all, (though there are absolutely millions of different ones).  They have changed the way that plants propagate, and their short life span means they can adapt far quicker to climate changes then lumbering great long-lived beasts like us.  In fact generally it is the larger species which are struggling on our planet, the elephants and the rhinos and giraffes, and many species of whale too are decreasing in numbers.

But it seems that every day the tide comes in, and the tide goes out.  I often watch the sea, when at Walton and am amazed.  Not only at the clockwork mechanism of the moon’s 28 day trajectory, but at the effect it has.  All that water being moved around the planet twice every day. And it has been happening for millions of years and is totally oblivious of whatever species are fighting for dominance on Earth.  It actually gives me some strange comfort.  To realise that whatever the follies of mankind the tide will still be coming in and going out.  And even if we completely pollute and poison the planet and eventually obliterate ourselves, then life will still go on, adapting and changing as it always has done.  The tide comes in and then goes out….

And politically we should not despair.  It was just over a Century ago that the Russian Revolution changed the World.  Nothing stays the same forever.  The tide comes in and the tide goes out.  Things will one day change for the better.

The New Diplomacy

Tuesday 17th April

Diplomacy was always the art of the educated, the polite, the civilised.  Conducted behind closed doors, words whispered into receptive ears, gentle persuasion, a process of listening for the subtleties of language.  This was the reason for Ambassadors, who in this age of instant news and e-mails are becoming almost redundant, except for the sale of Ferrero-Rochers.  Sealed Telegrams would be hurriedly dispatched from Government offices, special trains run to get diplomats to the right place at the right time.

But all of that is changing fast.  We are now in the world of Social Media, of early morning tweets, of 2 a.m. Prime Ministerial Broadcasts, of telephone hotlines, and most importantly – of megaphone diplomacy.  Language, which used to be so important, is now intemperate and inaccurate; any old lie will do if you shout it loud enough.  And the news media collude with it.  Almost every nonsensical tweet of the Donald is pounced on and pronounced upon and replied to – all without a moment’s hesitation.

In fact, thinking at all has gone completely out of the window.  And action, or words rushed out, instant condemnation is obligatory, politicians are door-stepped for opinions before breakfast, and “Breaking News” (which is rarely actually breaking and even rarer actual news) is the order of the day.  And anyone, especially Jeremy, who wants to think things through, to come to a considered view, to try to calmly assess the long-term situation, is ridiculed – often by tweet and megaphone too.

And just like the Grand old Duke of York, we are marched up to the top of the hill in an unprecedented urgency, only to look around in disbelief and wonder, only to gradually drift back down again, slightly bewildered.  But give it a day or two and the megaphones will be blaring again at some new atrocity….

My Record Collection 14

Monday 16th April

B – BabyBird  A supposedly indie band, form the mid-nineties, which was the vehicle for Stephen Jones who released his records under the name Babybird.  He formed a band to tour with.  I have only two of his records Ugly Beautiful 1997.  This has his biggest single on it ‘You’re Gorgeous’ which really brought him to mainstream attention.  I really like the record, it has very controversial words (Jesus is my Girlfriend) and of course ‘You’re Gorgeous’ is really quite explicit.  But the melodies and the sound are great too.  Best songs – the single obviously, and ‘Too Handsome to be Homeless’.  Babybird released quite a lot of records, many of them demos really.  I have only got one other ‘Bugged’, which was the last before they were dropped by their record company  Not bad, but not so good either.  I still look out for Babybird records in second hand shops….you never know.

B – Badly Drawn Boy – I don’t know much about him; just two albums.  The first, his debut, ‘The Hour of the Bewilderbeast’ late nineties – I quite liked this when it first came out; it seemed different and interesting – but he soon seemed to run out of steam or ideas.  I have just re-listened and it seems amateurish and boring.  The film ‘About A Boy’ with Hugh Grant starring and quite faithful to the book by Nick Hornsby had a soundtrack by this artist, but it is as unremarkable as his debut I am afraid.  If I re-watched the film I am sure the soundtrack would pass me by.

B – Joan Baez  Well, what can you say about Joan that hasn’t been said?  I first heard, and heard of her, in the lower sixth form.  Or maybe it was even earlier, as I was a sort of fag to a couple of older boys, running errands for them, and was let into the Sixth form block sometimes. They had a record player and folk music was all the rage.  It was here I first heard Dylan and Buffy and of course Joan.  Her voice is crystal clear and bright as a mountain stream.  I have never been that impressed by her Sixties folk stuff really.  I did buy a fantastic LP in 1973 Where are you now my son? Which was partly recorded in North Vietnam at the height of that war.  It has never been released on CD to my knowledge, but I have it on cassette.  Thank goodness for you-tube, where some of it is available.  Just re-listened, and it is wonderful.  Side two is a sound collage of her visit and a bombing raid in North Vietnam and her reciting a poem and singing….quite wonderful.  Side two is a collection of songs where Joan is moving away from her folk roots and into a more mainstream gentle rock style.  Folk rock had evolved with bands like The Byrds (see B) and Crosby Stills Nash and Young (see C), but maybe it was always there just beneath the surface.

I also have her first two folk albums from the early 60’s.  The voice is beautiful, but most of the songs seem boring now.  They are very traditional folk renditions.  A nice historical memento I suppose.

But Joan’s most famous record is Diamonds and Rust.  She sings songs by Dylan (and even impersonates him a bit) and Jackson brown and John Prine and even one by Stevie Wonder, together with a few of her own compositions.  The title song is about her and Dylan too.  I also have Gulf Winds from the following year. I like this much more actually, each song just rolls along.  She wrote all the songs herself and they seem of a piece; not exactly a concept album, but the songs hang together well.  There is the almost obligatory song to Dylan ‘Oh Brother’ replying to ‘Oh Sister’ on Desire.  Ah well, they went through a lot together.  But it never seemed that final.  In late ’76 Dylan invited her onto his Rolling Thunder tour, which she accepted,

I have a live concert which is quite good too.  Plus she appears on two Dylan Bootlegs; one, a concert in 1964 where she sings a few songs solo, and the Rolling Thunder Bootleg where she duets with her old lover…

B – The Band.  This was the group who famously backed Dylan on his 1966 tour when he did half his show Accoustic, and half Electric, and despite the famous Albert Hall concert I preferred the studio versions of his Bobness.  Anyway, on the back of that, but maybe anyway, they became quite famous in the late Sixties/early Seventies.  I bought their Greatest Hits.  It is okay, and sometimes re-listening I sort of feel I should have bought some of their albums…but there is only so much you can buy…

And sometimes Greatest Hits is enough.  Except, since watching it on telly and then buying the album I do love their farewell concert The Last Waltz – as much for the great guest appearances, as for the band’s contributions.  I don’t listen that often, but it’s okay….far too long a record too, one song from each artist would have been fine.

B – Tony Banks – well, he was the keyboard player in Genesis (see G) but has written a few film soundtracks, and a couple of solo albums   I only have the first – A Curious Feeling, which is great I must admit.  Almost, but not quite, a Genesis record.  As is often the case with first solo albums, all his best songs are on it, many that must have been meant for Genesis albums but with Peter and Mike and Phil in there, to say nothing of Steve Hackett, maybe Tony’s understated brilliance was often overlooked.  Still a very nice album.

Great Expectations

Sunday 15th April

Ah, what a book, what a great story and a great title.  I saw it on telly as a young boy and was fascinated by Miss Havisham, and the house with the rats and spiders webs and her still in her wedding dress.  What an incredible character.  I suppose I identified with little Pip, who had a secret benefactor.  And I always harboured the dream that I would also inherit from a secret relative or whoever.  This was re-enforced by my believing my parents weren’t mine.  I also had a rich Godmother, Mrs. Burns, who I suspected might leave me a fortune.  She didn’t – so it goes.

My Nana had a set of Dickens books kept in the front parlour.  She allowed me to read them.  I read Oliver and David Copperfield and Great Expectations (mainly because they had all been serialised on the telly).  I am now re-reading the whole of Dickens on kindle, and (mostly) enjoying them.  I have just finished Great Expectations, one of his later novels, and it really is wonderful.  He had matured as a writer and the story is really quite subtle, the characters are all multi-faceted; he still sets up impossible co-incidences, but the character of Pip is written really from the viewpoint of the anti-hero – he really is quite unpleasant for much of the book.  The moral being that riches and the desire to become a ‘gentleman’ has corrupted the innocence of the simple poor country boy.

I finished the book a few days ago and I am missing it.  Always a sign of a great book.

War !!!

Thursday 12th April

We are on the brink of War.  When (only 48% remember) of Americans elected Trump we were all worried.  When he started sacking his Cabinet we stupidly laughed at his incompetence.  When he tweets most mornings, it is a source of amusement.  But now it is looking extremely dangerous.  Any country, if attacked will react with whatever it has got in it’s armoury.  Syria, poor be-knighted Syria, is now the chosen arena for a show of force by competing World Powers.  I am no defender of Bashar Assad or his regime, but just like Saddam in neighbouring Iraq he used to run a secular and pretty good Government.  There were good schools, Universities, vibrant cities, electricity and water – and provided you didn’t annoy those in power with demands like Democracy then for most Syrians, life was pretty good.  But just as in Iraq and Yemen and Libya and Egypt things would not be allowed to remain the same.

Whoever is to blame for starting the Civil War (and it looks like America and the Saudis) it has been prolonged way past its sell-by date.  And now it involves the Kurds (fighting as ever for their own homeland), Iran (devout enemies of the Saudis) Russia (not blameless either but supporting Assad), America (who have 2000 “advisors” on the ground, helping {and arming} the rebels) Israel (who see any chance of weakening an enemy as legitimate) The Saudis (of course) and not to forget France and Britain, who helped to bomb “Isis” (and a load of innocent civilians in the process).

And now we have the “Chemical Weapons” saga.  Whether we will ever discover the truth I doubt very much.  But I have to ask Why?  And who stands to gain most from their deployment.  There are surely easier ways to kill people, and Assad has not hesitated in bombing either.  The “rebels”, armed and advised by America are losing – that much is for sure.  What better way to get America to come to their real aid, especially as only a few days ago Trump declared he was pulling his troops out of Syria altogether?  But, it almost doesn’t matter the pretext., this “War” has been planned for a long time….And War must be avoided at all costs.  It is not appeasement, it is simply Common Sense.

And still we hear the cry that Russia must be punished, which only goes to show that you CAN fool most of the people most of the time.

The Kids Are Alright

Tuesday 10th April

A song, not my favourite, by The Who – and from all the way back in the Sixties too.  And Pete Townshend got it right.  The kids are alright.  In fact, they are more than alright, they are brilliant.  Yes, they may have their heads stuck in their phones; they may not be able to do mental arithmetic like us ‘Oldies’ can; they may like music we don’t understand (and didn’t our parents shake their heads in amazement at our music too) – but they are more than alright.

Every day, and without even noticing, we are served quickly and with a smile our morning Latte by kids.  Do you ever stop and wonder what future they will have?  That they are paying hundreds a month for a crappy bedsit, that they may have Uni fees hanging over their heads; that unless their parents are wealthy they will never get on the housing ladder, that the girls will have to wait till their mid-forties before having the wherewithal wo afford children; that they must look around in wonder and disgust at the mess we, the baby-boomers, have made of the Planet.  And yet they still smile as they serve their hundredth coffee in the morning.

I watched, completely by accident, Young Musician Of The Year on BBC4; not my cup of tea musically, but the talent, the dedication, the skill of these kids was a wonder to behold.

And we mustn’t forget that even though we may hand over a broken and fractious planet, that we may have denied them their European future – all of that – it is they who will shape the World, our World for maybe a few years, and our children’s and our grandchildren’s.

So, when the Newspapers scream about kids stabbing each other, about juvenile criminals, about their inability to add up, about how stupid our kids are; just think a bit deeper.  They are wonderful, our kids.  And without them we and the World has no future.  Never forget – the kids are alright.

Happiness Is….

Sunday 8th April

There used to be, maybe in the Eighties, a series of cartoons called ‘Happiness is..’. They appeared on t.shirts and mugs and were popular for a while.  But the wider question is ‘What is Happiness?’ – and why do we place so much importance, not on only on achieving it, but in understanding it.  Though my default mood is probably somewhere in-between; I am often ‘happy’, though this can be confused with ‘Contentment’ and sometimes disguises itself as ‘Conceitedness’.  And I am sometimes unhappy – and this is far easier to recognise, but harder to lose.  Happiness on the other hand is quite often ephemeral; you cannot retain it, it cannot be bottled or easily reproduced.  And it often dissolves at the first attempt to analyse it.  If you think about why you are happy you can quickly destroy the mood; in fact – ignorance of the state of your mind (and the World in general) can certainly contribute to happiness.  Forgetting reasons to be unhappy in fact.  I find that a little alcohol helps, and a good meal, and a few friends around too.  Smiling is contagious, and makes you happy, it is almost impossible not to be happy when everyone around you is smiling and happy too.

But a truism is that you can make some of the people happy all of the time, and you can make all of the people happy some of the time.  But there is no magic formula for happiness.  There used to be a board game ‘The Game Of Life’, where you had to secretly devise a formula for ‘Happiness’ choosing different proportions of Love, Money and Fame and then try to gain these before anyone else achieved their own formula.  I have long given up on Fame, though a certain recognition among friends is a good substitute.  Money is meaningless once a certain level of secure income and comfort are achieved (which in my mind means that those constantly seeking more money are deeply unhappy).  Love?  Well there lies the greatest mystery of all.  Love is the most written and sung about subject of all.  To be loved, to feel loved, to feel love for someone, a lover, a parent, a child, close friends is such an irreplaceable feeling.  The lack of love makes one deeply unhappy, but I am still not sure why ‘happiness’ is only really a momentary thing.  Maybe we are incapable of being really ‘happy’ all the time, maybe we need a dose of ‘unhappiness’ to recognise ‘happiness’ at all.  There are theories that Humankind’s unhappiness has been a huge factor in our development; our desire to stop being unhappy and to achieve ‘happiness’ has been a major reason we have developed our complex Society.  Anyway, as the saying goes – ‘Whatever makes you happy’.  So, complete this sentence please – happiness is….

Image result for happiness is

Yellow Submarine

Saturday 7th April

Continuing my viewing of Beatles Fims, yesterday I watched Yellow Submarine.  The last time I saw this was in 1968 when it first came out.  In a big cinema too.  It was mind-blowing.  I possibly saw it on TV a few years later, but it has now been digitally restored and is better than ever. A strange one, this.  The film was signed off by Brian before he died and given to a team of mostly British Animators under the direction of George Dunning.  Apart from knocking off 4 new songs and a short cameo performance, The Beatles had very little to do with the film.  It was based on their 1966 and 1968 songs – Yellow Submarine, Eleanor Rigby, All You Need is Love, Nowhere Man, Lucy and Sargeant Pepper.  Mind you, the new songs are brilliant too – Only a Northern Song, and Hey Bulldog especially.  The story is nonsense, but it really doesn’t matter.  The Beatles are featured in the film as cartoons of themselves with actors speaking their lines.

The animation is extremely varied, some hand drawn, quite a lot is cut-outs, and moving cameras and bits of processed film, but much is (or was) revolutionary at the time.  Colours changing every frame to create chaos in the brain.  There is a particular bit of Lucy, where a girl and then a couple are dancing and there are scribbles of changing colours on every frame – which somehow reflects the song beautifully.  There is quite a lot of humour in the film too, with jokes and ‘Beatle’ references all over the place.  It is very much a period piece, full of Optimism and the idea that Love and Music will conquer the Blue Meanies.  Sadly, as we know, the Meanies are currently winning…

I absolutely love it, but like Magical mystery Tour, only to be watched every now and then.  Like almost everything the Beatles touched it has turned to gold.  And the best thing of all….this was made without a single bit of CGI, and is all the better for it.  This is, and maybe was, a pinnacle of pre-computer animation.  And the Beatles were right – all you need is love.

Yellow Submarine

The Centre Of Gravity

Friday 6th April

Once upon a time the centre of gravity was Rome, then later it became Britain; I can remember (not that) old Atlases where vast swathes of the world were pink.  For about a Century the centre of gravity has been America.  But now it is shifting East.  And very fast too.  As John Prescott might have said ‘tectonic plates are shifting’.  Everything is moving East, and with the gibbering idiot in the White House, who World Leaders are now learning to deal with, America is not only diminished but increasingly ignorable.  The new powers are all emerging in the East.  China, of course – and with Xi consolidating his power with an almost Stalinist sweep of ‘forever in power’; almost unbelievable annual escalating rises in Wealth, and a what was once hesitant but is now a deliberate stepping onto the World Stage, it is set to overtake the once mighty America as the number one Superpower.  Russia – constantly spurned by the West is looking East too.  Putin is getting mighty chummy with China again.  To say nothing of Turkey – the new power on the block; another dictator, another loss of Democracy, another rising Superpower too.  India has been very quiet; but it too is developing fast and will soon overtake Britain and be just behind Japan and Germany.  Then there are the other sleeping giants – Pakistan and Iran; both with large educated, mostly young populations; both developing Superfast.  Korea (possibly even stronger if they ever unite and Japan are there too.  But we mustn’t forget Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan either, both former Soviet Republics with strong dictators as leaders.  These countries all have largely untapped natural resources, and in this new Millennium they may be far better placed to succeed than the old Nations of the West.  Just a couple of days ago Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to talks; to try to sort out Syria – patently ignoring the US and the EU, whose efforts have simply prolonged the suffering and bombing of innocents.  The mighty Petro-dollar is now threatened as both China and Russia are trading in their own currencies.  And History may see the election of Trump as the major turning point in the transfer of World Power Eastwards.  Trump may trumpet America First, but they have far more to lose in trade wars in the long run.  Time will tell, but nothing is written in stone – both Brexit and Trump may simply be expressions of desperation by two once great Nations as the centre of gravity shifts inexorably East.

My Record Collection 13

Wednesday 4th April

Aztec Camera – Again this may surprise you, who think I only like Sixties music.  This band came along in 1980, along with other bands like Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue – they weren’t New Wave, they weren’t Post-Punk, but they were incredibly talented, had usually one great songwriter and made immaculate records.  The band was really Roddy Frame, a young and talented songwriter, guitarist and singer from Glasgow.  Each Aztec Camera features different band members, as Roddy seems to have outgrown his fellow players quickly.  The last three albums are simply Frame himself with Session players.  But since the mid-nineties he has recorded under his own name, and then only very sporadically.

I suppose I became interested on hearing a couple of singles, specifically ‘Good Morning Britian’ recorded with and sung by Mick Jones from the Clash – although definitely not punky at all.  And then I went and bought the albums…working mostly backwards.

Their debut was High Land, Hard Rain, released in 1983.  Best song is ‘Oblivious’, a poppy classic with great words.  I also like ‘Walk Out To Winter’ and ‘The Bugle Sounds Again’, but quite a few of the songs sound a bit under-produced, just acoustic guitar and voice.  Oh, but what a voice Roddy has.  Full of yearning and sadness, with only a trace of his native Scots accent.  And the songs are quite varied, some poppy, some ballads and a couple of faster numbers.  A nice debut.  The follow-up Knife was a bit flatter, less upbeat, almost dour.  Only really good song was ‘The Birth of the True’.   Three years later and Roddy came back with Love;  And what a comeback.  This is the essential Aztec Camera album.  Every song is just right, from opener ‘Deep and Wide and Tall’ to the haunting closer ‘Killermont Street’.  I simply love this record.  Roddy’s voice is so soulful, almost a match for George Michael, who was of course around at the same time.  He had been quiet for three years, mainly in America, quietly re-assessing how he wanted his music to sound.  And the soul influence is undeniable, but infused with that touch of white rock and roll it is magical.  Best songs – ‘How Men Are’  and ‘Somewhere in my heart’ – but really it is hard to choose.  Actually maybe it is ‘Killermont Street’ that is the best….hard to choose I must admit.  Two years later came Stray, a more up-beat album, more punky almost, more rocking…with songs like ‘The Crying Scene’ and ‘Good Morning Britain’ and ‘Get Outta London’.  But there are some gentler songs in there ‘Over My Head’ and ‘Notting hill blues’ – A very good album again. Dreamland followed in 1993; this was noticeably a quieter album, far less poppy too.  Apart from the wonderful ‘Spanish Horses’ no really outstanding songs.  Having never been on the ‘hit’ album and single treadmill I can only wonder how hard it must be to not only keep on writing and recording, but to come up with original ‘hit’ melodies.  Not that the album isn’t perfectly pleasant – it just feels like a step back, something that Roddy has continued to do more and more often.  You get the idea that he just wants to curl up into a ball and send out the occasional song – and if we like it okay, if not then that is okay too.  Mind you, ‘Spanish Horses’ is an incredible song.  The rest of the record pales into sad Northern rainy skies compared to this wonderful Hispanic ode – “with Gaudi’s shy confusion’.  The last Aztec Camera album came out two years later – Frestonia – and again it is quite good.  Best songs ‘Sun’ and ‘Rainy Season’.  After this Roddy buried Aztec Camera and reverted to his own name. (see F)  I did buy his first solo record – but somehow it left me cold, it lacked the exuberance, the passion, the feeling of most of Aztec Camera.  A very good compilation (if you are interested…) is Deep and Wide and Tall – all the hits and a good selection of other songs.

The Best Of Aztec Camera