Shamina Begum

There has been a lot of controversy over this young woman, or rather the fact that having left (with much publicity) to join ISIS in Syria four years ago, she now wishes to return to Britain.  It is almost impossible to truly discern her motives when at 15 she left school and family to join, and presumably fight for, the Islamic Caliphate, which at that time occupied a large swathe of territory in both Syria and Iraq.  She now says she was indoctrinated at the time – but does that make her any the less responsible?  Does her age, just 15, make any difference?  The law says that a 15 year old girl is too young to consent to have sex, but in the commission of many crimes the age appears to be much lower.  In any case what specific crime was she supposedly guilty of?  Can we be sure that she actually partook of any acts of violence?  Is being a sympathiser in itself a crime?  Too many questions and almost an answerable problem.

Add to all of this the barely disguised fact that ISIS was encouraged and probably funded by the CIA and the Saudis in order to help overthrow an elected leader of a foreign country and we are in very murky waters indeed.  Also, and maybe central to the whole argument is the fact that Begum is a Muslim.  There has been a war of words, fuelling a hatred of Muslims, waged by at least three of our ‘popular’ newspapers – and a tacit acceptance by television news to concur in this or at least to accept it.

And now the Home Secretary has declared that she is to be stripped of her British Citizenship and that she should apply to Bangladesh where her mother was born.

What do I think?  Actually, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case,  she is far better off not returning to Britain.  There is already a campaign of hatred against her and it would be highly unlikely that her identity could be kept secret.  She is safer away from the UK, even in Syria itself maybe.  I do find it strange though the way the press seems to hone in on a case like this when there are far more serious problems with our society than a rather naïve girl making a tragic mistake at a young age.  Such is the nature of Britain today, and Brexit has only added to the problem.  I can still recall the man from Staffordshire who came into our Café a week after Brexit and declared that he had voted Leave to get rid of the “Fooking Muslims”.

But just for one moment Imagine the scenario, if a young British Jewish girl had left to join the Israeli army and had ended up shooting innocent civilians at the Gaza border, and then thought better of it and decided to return to England.  I wonder if she would be greeted by the same hostility, or would those objecting to her be declared as anti-Semites.  Strange world isn’t it?

My Record Collection 63

Julie Covington – A strange one this; a reluctant pop-star.    Julie was and still is a brilliant actress; I first saw her in a Caryl Churchill play at The Royal Court before she was famous.  She had recorded a couple of albums but she was an interpreter of songs not a songwriter.  Then Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice chose her to sing Evita (see E).  This was not only an inspired choice, as she was brilliant – but a very clever marketing ploy.  Evita at that point was a musical that had never been performed; they recorded it however and the album was a huge hit, in large part due to Julie’s beautiful singing.  You see, she was first and foremost an actress and acted the part of Evita in her singing, ranging from ecstasy to sadness in the same song.  The single ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ went to number 1 and Julie was a star, if a reluctant one.  Then she was in Rock Follies (see R) on ITV, a brilliant drama with songs about a struggling girl group.  I bought her biggest Selling album Julie Covington, which was okay but not fantastic, even if it did have another hit single; Alic Cooper’s song ‘Only Women Bleed’, which was controversial at the time – and maybe still is.  Julie returned soon after this to full-time acting.

Cowboy Junkies

This is a Canadian outfit compromised of 2 brothers and a sister and an old school friend.  They play very soft but alternative country music; Margot Timmins singing in a soft, almost not-there voice.  And every song sounds more or less the same, same tempo, same instruments, same voice – the melody almost not there sometimes too.  But it is sort of hypnotic and a bit soporific at the same time; perfect background music.  I have 2 albums – The Caution Horses (1990) which is very gentle and almost forgettable, it is finished before you realise.  And Open (2001) which is a bit more varied with more electric guitar and different tempos.  Quite pleasant but not really my kind of thing.  Also, the songs don’t seem to really resonate with me, the words float away before hitting my brain.  So, I won’t be buying any more of their albums I think.  Still

Kevin Coyne – a really strange one this; Kevin, and in particular this record were flavour of the month for a while back in  1973.  His album Marjory Razorblade was one of the early Virgin Record releases – and I bought it.  Kevin was a real hippy, a revolutionary character who wrote and painted and made records.  He couldn’t really sing; his voice was harsh and abrasive and a forerunner of some of punk; his songs were obscure and featured a lot about mental illness.  But somehow, for a while he was almost famous, at least in the music press.  I only have the one record, which is just as well.  It is a curio and I bought it again recently on CD as a record of my esoteric and varied musical education.  Interesting to re-listen after quite a few years – took me right back to 1973, one of the very best years for music.  He continued recording for many years and died in 2004.

Julie Covington …Plus

My Record Collection 62

Elvis Costello – I had seen him on Top of the Pops, a geeky spindly post punk singer.  The song was (The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes -and it was a breath of fresh air after the excesses of punk.  Then after Alison left me in Crete she also left behind a cassette of his first album My Aim Is True.  For many reasons (least of which that it was good) I played the tape to bits and eventually bought the album.  It was released in 1977 but I caught up with a few years later.  What a debut, exceedingly confident and well-written songs, produced by Nick Lowe on the cheap, but it has stood the test of time.  Best songs the single and the follow-up ‘Watching The Detectives’ (she’s filing her nails while they’re dragging the lake) and of course the classic ‘Alison (My Aim Is True)’.  I had most of his early records on cassette having sold the original records and am slowly rebuying him on CD; but he has been incredibly productive with over 30 studio albums already and still going strong.  I recently bought a 5 album box-set of mid-eighties records.   First up is Blood and Chocolate (1986).  Not my very favourite of his, a bit too much of a rough mix, the vocals seem blurred and a bit too screamy – but still, some good songs. ‘I Want You’ – a desperate love song, ‘Blue Chair’ and ‘Battered Old Bird’ are pretty good too.  Maybe I just like the quieter Elvis than the shouting one.   His next year’s effort Spike was really excellent – this was for a few weeks my favourite album.  A real mixture of styles and even an instrumental. Songs about innocent men hung, hatred of Thatcher, two songs co-written with McCartney, and a couple of love songs for good measure.  Something about the record just pulls you along from song to song.  Favourites are ‘Deep Dark Truthful Mirror’ ‘God’s Comic’ and ‘Baby Plays Around’ – but really hard to choose from so many great songs.  1991’s Mighty Like A Rose was a bit of a mixed bag, some good songs and some which sounded a bit desperate – I suppose all Artists must reach a point 15 years into their career when they wonder if they are still relevant?  Still a handful of good songs – ‘All grown Up’ and ‘Harper’s Bazaar’ and ‘So Like Candy’ (another co-write with McCartney).  But altogether a bit of a disappointment I felt.

1994’s Brutal Youth is another record that failed to really excite me….at the time.  But now on hearing it again, it is quite good – though like most of his albums patchy; too many desperate shouting songs – as if by raising his voice he gets the emotion over better, when his quieter sung stuff has all the emotion you could want.  Anyway, best songs ‘You tripped at every step’ and ‘Rocking horse Road’.

Better was 95’s Kojak Variety, a covers album of mostly obscure and early blues songs with a couple of better known songs included – Dylan’s ‘I Threw it All Away’ and the Kinks ‘Days’.  Although most of the songs were new to me they sound pretty good sung by Costello – and on first listening they might have been his own compositions.  An interesting record but not one of his very best.  I basically stopped buying him around this time, just picking up the occasional charity shop offering.   One of these was All This Wasted Beauty – and it is really pretty good.  A bit slower mostly and better for it, it somehow seems a tad ridiculous when older singers try to belt it out like they were still teenagers.  Doing a bit of research I find that these songs had all been written with other Artists in mind; he did offer them and a few were recorded.  Best songs; the title track and ‘Other End Of The Telescope’, and ‘Poor Fractured Atlas’.  Obviously Costello was writing far more material than he could record as many of his records have been later re-released with extra songs.  Another charity shop buy was The Delivery Man (2002).   This is a more American sounding album, amplified by duets with Alison Krauss and Emmylou Harris.  Still a couple of out and out rockers but not a bad record all told – best songs; ‘There’s a Story in Your Voice’. ‘Nothing Clings Like Ivy’ and ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ – which surprise surprise are all sad slow songs. Last but not least is a compilation of early hits called Girls Girls Girls; excellent and a joy to listen to.    And it makes me realise that maybe this is all I need, all the other albums are okay but sometimes The Greatest Hits is all you need. Not that that has ever slowed me down…

Image result for images of elvis costello

The Sun Is Always Shining

We are in the middle of winter, a pretty grey and wet one too.  In fact, January, here in France was unremitting rain almost every day.  Then we had a couple of sunny days and it lifted everyone’s spirits; ”It might be cold – but at least the sun is shining.” was on everyone’s lips.  But, of course, the sun is always shining.  Somewhere on earth the sun is beating down merrily, warming people and making them feel happy.  And in fact, of course, the sun is always shining but sometimes we cannot see it for the clouds.   You only have to go up in an aeroplane to observe this.

And that is so true of life.  There are times when everything seems to be going wrong, problems piling up – we’ve all been there.  But actually, we are incredibly fortunate – the sun has been shining on us for all our lives.  Very few of us have witnessed wars; even my parents were children during the War and can barely remember it.  We have lived through one of the longest periods without major conflicts in recorded history.  I know – there still constant wars in Africa and the Middle East – but these don’t involve us personally.  There is no conscription, so we are unlikely to ever have to fight a war, especially as any future major conflict may well be fought by drones and computers (little comfort as we will all probably be annihilated, but hey).  For most of us too we have access to still (despite the cuts) a pretty good health service; we are living longer and mostly in good shape too.  Hunger for most is also a thing of the past too, at least here in the West.

Best of all, most working people have had unimaginable increases in our standard of living; our Great Grandparents would simply have never imagined our lives today.

And yet, we hardly appreciate it at all.  We take for granted free education, old age pensions, the NHS, decent wages, good housing, television, computers and all the rest.  And yes, at times much of this appears to be under threat.  Life can still appear somewhat of a lottery.  Bad things still do happen.  But behind it all the Sun is still shining even if we sometimes cannot see it for the clouds…