Tuesday, July 28, 2009

veneration and defecation

Jim Bliss recently marvelled at what we can learn about a culture from its choice of statues. London, he notes, has a great diversity of figures,

But mostly it’s soldiers. Lots and lots of soldiers. Men who excelled at killing people from beyond the city walls, or who were cruelly killed by people from beyond the city walls. And we invite them back to stand silently among us. One of them stands atop a pedestal so high, you can’t really see him clearly.

He explains that Dublin, by contrast, has revolutionaries and perhaps the zenith of modern statue making, Phil Lynott.

But there is a backhandedness in statues that, whilst not making me enjoy being surrounded by giant models of killers, does give a bit of subversive balancing.

George Melly was once asked where he'd like a statue of him to be erected and he said he hoped there wouldn't be one. As those who do get them are inevitably and unendingly shat on in effigy by pigeons, a visitor from another planet might think they were the ancestors we most revile.

As Malcolm Reynolds said

It's my estimation that every man who ever got a statue made of him was one kind of sonofabitch or another.

But there's a hierarchy element too. George Orwell declared

What I like best is the careful grading by which the honours are always dished out in direct proportion to the amount of mischief done – baronies for Big Business, baronetcies for fashionable surgeons, knighthoods for tame professors.

By the same token, it's not only Reynolds' point that the bigger a fucker someone was the more likely they are to have a statue of them, but also that we'll make the statues on a greater scale and in greater quantity.

The plethora of grand guano targets of Queen Victoria and the Duke of Wellington mean they're probably the most shat on people in British history.

There was a great hoo-hah about disrespect when a Mayday demo gave the Churchill statue a grass mohican. Yet this sort of thing is standard treatment for statues. Again, that martian might think that all statues were a form of bonfire Guy, seeing the founder of the NHS Aneurin Bevan with a traffic cone on his head. Or the one in Leeds where, in addition to his perenially repainted boots, the puffed up pomposity of the Duke of Wellington has just been augmented with a Homer Simpson mask.

Wellington statue with Homer Simpson mask

It's as if Two Minutes Hate would be too genuinely angry, these figures are more dismissed than that, they get a Few Seconds Arsing About.

Wellington's statue is one of four on Woodhouse Moor, and collectively they spell out another form of disrespect. Wellington, Victoria and Robert Peel originally stood in Victoria Square outside the town hall, but were moved in 1937 to make way for a car park.

The fourth is Victorian industrialist and mayor of Leeds Henry Marsden whose statue gives the name to the area called Monument Moor. It was called Swing Moor prior to Marsden's arrival in 1952, when he was moved there from a city centre road junction where he was a hindrance to the increasing amount of motor traffic.

As I recently said about these statues on my Hyde Park History blog,

we used to venerate these folks in the city centre, but we've sidelined them to a peripheral park in order to make way for increased traffic. Collectively, then, they stand as a monument to the motor car.

Their moving is not a sign that we've stopped venerating things, just a physical acknowledgement of the change in what we worship.

Friday, July 24, 2009

fuck you liberal democrats

Having recently set out what I think poetry shouldn't do, here's an instance of what it can be well used for.

Poetry should come from the heart and speak the truth. Or, as a real poet said,

Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.
- Leonard Cohen

The Speaker's Forum is a phenomenally interesting space at Glastonbury Festival. You get a broad range of political and countercultural figures there, not just declaiming to the adoring masses but having involved Q&A sessions. You can find someone good and get them to expand on an idea that a mass-media interview would never allow, or you can cross-examine on an issue that they're dubious on. This year saw Ben Goldacre, Tony Benn and Glasto godfather Michael Eavis.

I was in a team who did performance poetry there, and we were interestingly scheduled. On the Saturday we were before Mark Thomas, which was cool, and appropriate in a flattering way. But on the Sunday we were on between Daily Mail astrologer Jonathan Cainer and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

It was obvious that Clegg would be doing a touchy-feely greenwash performance, and so I hastily composed a poem to do at the end of our set to undermine his bullshit.

There's already been a back-and-forth in the comments of an earlier post about the confrontational attitude of the poem. It comes across as angry, and that's for a very simple reason. I am angry. The LibDems are neo-colonialists who masquerade as responsible green sustainability folk.

Wakey wakey time. Rampant freemarket capitalism is not neatly compatible with tackling social injustice and the environmental crises caused by overconsumption. It creates and exacerbates them.

Those, like the LibDems, who pretend we can have perpetual economic growth whilst dealing with those fundamental problems are - in the phrase used in the performance's preamble - the agents and engines of destruction.

And whilst the poem is certainly angry and aggressive, it's not puerile. I think I did quite well in avoiding rhyming Liberal Democrats with twats.

There were a couple of people filming it (both of whom had batteries fail) but the various clips have been spliced together to get a complete version.

For completeness' (and googlability's) sake, here's the text of it too. Performance poetry rarely reads well on the page, the rhymes aren't at regular intervals nor does it stick to a single meter de-de de-de de-dumming along.

The wording's been tweaked a little (the original was done written in hurry with all the distraction and brain-inhibiting factors associated with proper festival enjoyment).


Everything in this is absolutely true.

I learned about environmental action fast
I was given a masterclass
Up the trees that were in the path
Of the infamous Newbury bypass
It was an issue so clear-cut
A plan that was so far gone
That before it was built the Tories who ordered it
Admitted that they were wrong.
But there were two voices in favour then
Unrepentant to this day, in fact;
Newbury's council and MP David Rendel
Both of them: Liberal Democrats.

LibDem councils were at it again in Kingston on Thames
Taking on tree protesters there to defend
Mature poplar trees the LibDems said that
Spoiled the view for new luxury flats.
No prizes for guessing who won, protesters or interests vested.
The copse was cut down, the monies moved in and the protesters all got arrested.

When it came to GM then the LibDems
Volunteered themselves as biotech's friend.
The people wanted modified crops
To be banned, and the trials to stop.
In Westminster, where they had no power
The LibDems said we should go no further
But at the the same time in Scotland, in government,
They voted unanimously in favour.

With Manchester airport's second runway
In Stockport, where they held no sway,
The LibDems said such a monstrous plan should be fought
But in Manchester council, who own the airport,
The LibDems gave it wholehearted support.

I'm from central Leeds and the other year
The LibDem council of our city
Came up with a plan to spend 170 grand
To make my local park look pretty;
Turn it into car parking spaces.
Well, you should've seen our faces.
Not even their rigged 'consultation'
Was enough to allay our consternation.
The LibDems bullshat and backpedalled
And tried to win a spin gold medal
Saying it could have shrubs and nice coloured tarmac
But that risible attempt to fudge it
Isn't the punchline - no, that's the fact that
The 170K was the 'Parks Renaissance' budget.

The Green Party quit the city government
Not for the park but an environmental crime even greater
The LibDems plan to choke their voters
With a PFI waste incinerator.

They say now they were always against the war
But those who remember 2003 know the score
They were proudly "not the all-out anti-war party" then
They just wanted approval for war from the UN.
Not against the war, just after one more vote,
And the reasons for the war?
Well they said - and I quote -
It was "ridiculous" to say it was all about oil
No, Saddam's a bad man with WMDs on his soil.

When the troops went in the LibDems said
We shouldn't object to this war crime's colossal violence
Their leader said, I quote again,
"Now is the time for silence".
Well if you feel shamed and stained
By the threat of mass murder in your name
You've got to shout louder when troops go over the border
So fuck you, Liberal Democrats, and your collaborators gagging order.

They're the same when it comes to climate change
Whatever they try to spin
I though Chris Huhne was just a buffoon
Their environmental spokesman
But then I saw him dodge and weave and lie
And I knew he was really a man on a mission
To hand governance to corporations
Like every other mainstream politician.

He said he's against carbon rationing
Cos it'd take too long to implement
As if it's quicker to wait for elections
That'll bring us LibDem government.

The LibDems, Huhne said, won't stop airport expansion
No matter what devastation it may bring
"There's a contradiction in you wanting to relocalise life
Yet have a central ban on things".
So you see, it's not stupidity
But something much more sinister
"I don't want to see things run from some
office in Whitehall," says the man who wants to be a Minister.

The LibDems policy paper called "Setting Business Free"
Says they "start with a bias in favour of market solutions". Why's that? Me,
I start with a bias for effective solutions
And ones that are sustainable and fair,
And if the markets have taught us anything
It's that we won't find those values there.

If there's ever any conflict
Between anything and profit
Then the holy market doctrine doth decree
Profit wins every time
And the losers are
Social justice and sustainability.
When they say they want to "cut red tape" they mean the regulation
That stands between corporations and employee exploitation,
The accountability of directors, and environmental devastation.

So if profit isn't primary to you join me
In saying this one thing, that's
'Shove your "Manifesto For Business" up your arse,
Liberal Democrats'.

Opposition politicians
Always promise everything to everyone
We saw it from Labour before 97
Now we see it from Cameron.
Being in opposition most places most times
Makes it easy for LibDems to claim compassionate intent
But look at where they've been in power
And you'll see that they're no different.

So you freemarket fucks, you'll be judged
Not by your spin but by your acts,
We know who you are, we've seen what you do,
And we know that yellow isn't green, it's blue
Fuck you from here to Timbuktu,
Liberal Democrats.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

save vestas

The government proudly announces its low-carbon roadmap and talks of a Green New Deal. Yet it's happy to bail out high-carbon dinosaur companies like Land Rover whilst standing by as the UK's only wind turbine factory goes bust.

Production at the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight is due to stop on 31st July. But active resistance has been growing, and now workers have occupied the factory.

Only last week they said they would create 400,000 green jobs. How can the process start with 600 of us losing our jobs?

Now I’m not sure about you but we think it’s about time that if the government can spend billions bailing out the banks – and even nationalise them – then surely they can do the same at Vestas.

The people of Vestas matter, and the people of the island matter, but equally importantly the people of this planet matter. We will not be brushed under the carpet by a government which is claiming to help us.

We have occupied our factory and call on the government to step in and nationalise it. We and many others believe it is essential that we continue to keep our factory open for our families and livelihoods, but also for the future of the planet.

If you can get to the Isle of Wight

They'll be happy to see you at the gates, and there are also several demonstrations planned on the island. The factory is off Dondor Lane, Monks Brook Newport, Isle Of Wight, PO30 5WZ (Google map)

Meeting: Wednesday 22nd July, 6.30-8.30pm at the Methodist Church Hall, Quay Street, Newport. Setting up a campaign for Vestas workers’ families and Isle of Wight residents to show their support for keeping jobs at Vestas. The families and communities campaign will be very important in keeping spirits up through this stressful time. For more details call 07775 763750.

Demonstration: St Thomas Square in Newport at 5:30pm on Friday 24th July

If you can get to London

There is a demonstration planned for tomorrow, Wednesday 22nd, called by Campaign Against Climate Change.

Wednesday 22nd July, 6.00 pm
Outside the Department of Energy and Climate Change, No 3 Whitehall Place, London
(off Whitehall, Charing Cross tube)

It's possible that more will follow next week (keep up to date on the Save Vestas site).

If you can't physically be at either place

You can still help pile on the pressure and save the factory. The Vestas workers call on us to

Bombard the energy minister Ed Miliband with phone calls and emails. Tell the government that this closure cannot go ahead!

Ed Miliband’s e-address is ps.ed.miliband@decc.gsi.gov.uk
His phone number in his Doncaster constituency is 01302 875 462
and at Westminster, 020 7219 4778.

Flood him with calls for the Government to take over the Vestas factory and keep it producing, under new management.

Friends of the Earth have an easy auto-email thingy to petition Lord Mandelson

Messages of support can be sent to the workers at savevestas@gmail.com

There have been so many chances for action against the causes of climate change, here's a chance to fight for a solution.

There are only days to go, and we can still win if we act fast. Do it right now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

what would sid say?

Was anyone as goosed as me by the incongruity seeing Boris Johnson, mayor of London, cuddling Barbara Windsor?

Not just for their disturbing physical similarity but politically?

It's a real Mandela and the Spice Girls moment ('Having spent several decades imprisoned as a reviled revolutionary, I really really really wanna zig-a-zig-ah').

Ken, if you want the job back try canoodling with Sam Fox.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Well it's been something of a lefty papers week for me.

The Independent gave a glancing mention of my performance of Fuck You Liberal Democrats at Glastonbury. They got it wrong, I didn't call the LibDems 'fucking shit', nor even as they actually spelled it '****ing s***'. (Can we really not say the words in full? Even though Google says there are 3,110 instances of 'fucking' and 6,580 instances of 'shit' on the Independent's website?). Don't believe what you read in the press, then.

I did call them 'freemarket whores' and direct two fuck yous at them, mind.

But anyway, the other mainstream lefty press thing. I got a whole post on the Guardian's environment blog.

They've just had a weekend of 'hearings' from 20 people with ideas for climate solutions. A panel then chose their ten favourites, and there's a big chunk on the Guardian's site, including a little article and short video presentation on each idea.

Some of them are technological and plausible, such as concentrated solar power (this week saw a big jump forward for that).

There is also Professor Stephen Salter's outrageously dangerous and wacky idea of squirting seawater into the air to create clouds and thereby reflect more sunlight. I've written about that before. Even the Guardian gets defensive mentioning it.

anyone tempted to dismiss his plan as the product of a crank who has spent too much time in the shed would do well to note that Salter was the man behind the Edinburgh Duck, a pioneering 1970s design for harnessing wave energy.

Which is akin to saying that because Isaac Newton's work on physics still towers over the field today, we should also give credence to his extensive writings on demonology. Or that, given the revolutionary impact of the Sinclair ZX81, the C5 is a riproarer. You can't make chicken soup out of chicken shit.

One of the other ideas on the Guardian site is 'carbon conversations', essentially just talking to people one on one and getting round the psychological barriers that prevent people from changing their lifestyles. The pilot schemes have been very effective, making people halve their emissions.

When we talk of jobs in the New Green Deal we tend to think of strapping folks erecting offshore wind turbines, but it could be something as simple and cheap as an army of carbon conversation counsellors, halving personal emissions in a very short space of time for minimal outlay.

Anyway, I wrote a follow-on piece. I'd love to have ripped into Salter's ideas, but there was a butcherly word limit. It's about how technofixation cannot solve the crisis and the underlying cause of climate change, economic growth, is the real issue.

It's on the Guardian's environment blog under the snappy title Swapping Technologies Fails to Address the Root Causes of Climate Change

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

iceland's hydrogen bus stop

Last year I wrote a piece called Hydrogen: Not The Vehicle Fuel of The Future.

Amongst the things I mentioned was the way that Shell had touted its hydrogen powered buses in Iceland as some sort of pilot scheme for the rest of the world. I gave reasons why Shell were - undoubtedly knowingly - wrong.

Iceland is not only peculiar because it is sat on more renewable energy than it can use (a few huge hydroelectric plants and a hell of a lot of geothermal energy); it is also little more than a city state. It has a population the size of Bradford and two-thirds of them live in one city. So all you need is three or four filling stations and you’re covered. That simply cannot be scaled up to the UK, or anywhere else. The rest of us need a different solution.

There's a punchline to it. According to a recent New Scientist article

A trial of three hydrogen-powered buses ended in 2007, when two were scrapped and the third was consigned to a transport museum.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

glastonbury 2009

Sorry it's a bit late. It's turned into that summer hecticness of trying to have a normal amount of life crammed into the time between going to festivals and gatherings, and keeping up with the allotment.

But yes, Glastonbury. It kicked major ass. As always. If you don't have a good time at Glastonbury then it's your own fault and I've no sympathy with you.

The thing people ask when you get back, and indeed the stuff you usually offer in your account to others, is about what bands you saw. At Glastonbury, the bands are great and all but they're not the point.


One of the highlights was getting caught in the rain and ducking into a clothes stall. Looking out, one of the stalls opposite had Sweet Child of Mine come on to its impressively loud system. Three blokes in straw hats and ponchos stopped and rocked - air guitar, devil horns, the works - as raindrops the size of tennis balls pounded them.

Behind them, the stall holders were also belting it out and grooving. This is the sort of weather that people complain about and rush in from, but not here. People didn't give a fuck and revelled in their unfuckgivenness.

Then it struck me that the guys didn't know they had this line of stallholder backing singer/dancers, and indeed the backers couldn't see the other stalls and had no idea that they were part of a chorus line. Basically, this was a random, spontaneous, joyous, hilarious show that my crew were loving but the performers didn't even realise they were putting on.

Then it struck me further that there was no way I could describe this to people unfamiliar with festival magic without it sounding fucking awful.

'You watched muddy munters air guitar to dinosaur metal? Yeah, wish I'd spent 175 quid on that'.


Then one night in the small hours we ended up in one of the tents in the Green Fields and some band were on that I can barely remember. About five of them, a bit folky, female singer. I think. Certainly, it was sit down music.

But then this guy gets up on the dance floor and starts galloping round it, flailing and running and twirling and stooping, like the way a five year old responds to music at a wedding. I literally laughed until my ribs hurt. It concluded with a pile-on of him and his mates.

He goes to sit down but a chorus of us onlookers cheered him until, bemused but unbowed, he got back up and carried on.

White jumper guy was one of the most brilliant performers I saw and, again, it was spontaneous, silly, but with this underlying bursting joy of life element that made it really captivating.


The cops were running their usual protection racket. 'Nice festival you've got here. Seems peaceful now but, well, it'd be a shame if someone told the licensing authorities it wasn't. Of course, for a consideration, we could make sure that doesn't happen'.

Then, having secured their money, they have to show they're spending it. Cops on horses cost a lot more than those on foot, even though they're completely unwieldy where I saw them in the crowded central area between the Pyramid and Acoustic stages.

Then you can do some random searches for drugs. Last year two people were busted selling magic mushrooms in the stone circle field. As with the M5 arrestees, they got what seem to me to be unusually heavy sentences. Mushroom stash holder (twelve wraps on him) got nine months, and his mushroom tout partner got six months, even after explaining that by the time it came to sentencing she was pregnant and would have to give birth in a young offenders institution.

This year they excelled themselves by arresting someone in the stone circle field for public nudity. As the Glastonbury daily paper said, it's rather like arresting someone for urinating in a public toilet.

Aren't you glad you live in a country so free of domestic violence, tax evasion and racially motivated attacks that the police have nothing to do so they squander their resources on beating up peaceful protesters and busting people having a good time who do no harm to anyone?

I'm reminded of that thing the Levellers said in the 90s, that Glastonbury is more of a benefit for Avon and Somerset Constabulary than it is for Greenpeace.


The news of Michael Jackson's death filtered through. At first we thought it was a rumour. At the Earth First! Summer Gathering - especially in the years before people all had mobiles - there'd be an annual rumour of a celebrity death. Several times it was the Queen Mother, and there was to a be a national day of mourning on Monday so we can all stay a day longer.

When my brother texted me unbidden about Jackson I confirmed it to my compadres, but they didn't believe me. I should've taken bets. My tent was next to a path and all night there were people walking past discussing it. There was a levity to their conversations that really dislocated me.

The next day more than one friend made reference to child abuse, and one of them insisted that Jackson had been convicted. As opposed to having a prosecution say he'd touched up Macaulay Culkin without asking Culkin. Who then turned up for the defence and said nothing like that had ever happened, but as two people who'd had their development arrested at an early age by massive stardom, there was a bond they shared that was difficult for outsiders to understand.

It was quite some time before I spoke to anyone who felt as I did. I'm not grieving in any way, but where was everyone else's respect for the talent and work of the man? Everybody loves - like really loves - some Jackson songs.

I've always adored the Jackson 5 stuff - DJing I Want You Back guarantees a cheer from the floor at the first slammed note - and the disco stuff was just magnificent, but it took me a long time to get my head round Thriller. I was basically wanting it to have the sort of deep groove of Don't Stop Till You Get Enough or Can You Feel It.

The breakthrough was realising that Jackson was becoming more and more alienated and on Thriller the music, the lyrics, the whole vibe has this uneasy, awkward darkness set amidst a contrasting polished soul sheen. Look at it with the eyes that see the great alienation in Bowie's early work and it makes sense.

Anyway, where were we?


Many years ago they opened the Pyramid Stage on Friday morning with Bjorn Again, and it was great that they repeated the masterstroke this year. Genius scheduling.

Normally the Pyramid starts with someone not many people are really into. Anyone really popular would have better billing. But open with Bjorn Again and you get everyone rocketed up, massive crowd, hands in the air belting out every song, defiant in the rain, determined to have a big daft time.

Although I do have to say that they're starting to look a bit haggard as they're older than Abba ever were. In fact, they've been going for longer than Abba too. Time for a Bjorn Again tribute band. Rebjorn Again?


One weirder than Bjorn Again (up to 11?). Spinal Tap have been going longer since the movie than they supposedly had been in the movie. And the new album has songs on it they've just finished that appeared in the movie as snippets. So we were treated to the full Gimme Some Money and (not on the album but available as a free download) Saucy Jack, as peculiar and wrong and hilarious as the idea suggests, with some killer unexpected comedy rhymes that would shame Danny Chivers.

Sadly there was no Listen To The Flower People but we did get Stonehenge, complete with dwarves dancing around a small triathlon, this time an inflatable (a nod to Jagger's infamous inflatable phallus?). They finished with a mighty Big Bottom, with Jarvis Cocker on second bass getting the theatrical spanking from Derek Smalls.

And - perhaps weirdest thing of all - in some strange smothered but discernible way, at times they did genuinely rock.


I saw the Specials twice on the recent reunion tour. Blisteringly energetic, focussed, with a body of songs that still prickle and bite and are more relevant now than any time since they were written, they were not only on fire but really necessary. Stupendous.


I knew this would be my one chance to ever see this angry guitar buzzard, so I had to take it. Right down the front from before the Specials, up close enough to see everything properly. The first hour was varied, swinging wildly from his abrasive grungescapes to the elegant organic acoustic pastoralism.

But the second hour sagged a bit. I realise this is probably more me than him. Festival memories have a much greater subjectivity level than normal life. I remember seeing Spiritualized at Glastonbury in 93 and thinking it was like one long gorgeous unfolding drone chord that enveloped us for an hour. I heard a recording of that gig and the dynamics are phenomenally varied, nothing like what we experienced out in the spliffing fields.

Having been stood up for over four hours, an hour of that involving a lot of volcanic skanking to the Specials, I was aching and had a bladder like the Millennium Dome. I was seriously thinking of getting bunked over the front barrier, but with a performer as bloody-minded and unpredictable as Neil Young, I had tremendous FOMS so I stayed. Good call. The last fifteen minutes are as good as anything I've ever seen.

He closed the set with an utterly scorching Rockin In the Free World, a song I've not heard for years and every bit as barbed and driven as I remember but with that extra grind of his current sound, and a squillion false endings that made it push harder each time.

Then the encore. The simple chords and rhythm so out of context that you don't quite believe you're hearing it. A Day In The Life, coming from a deep black cloud of guitars.

And it's a song from 1967, when Neil Young was first making records. It captures all that idealism of the hippie generation he was spearheading, with the mean souring of heavy rock that followed and somehow has all the rock n roll since affirmed in it, a sort of sacramental distillation of the last 40 years of guitar rock, in a song that wasn't even originally rock n roll.

It dissolved into a glorious cacophony with Young wrenching the strings from his guitar, leaving minds blown.

Incidentally, the next day in London Young had McCartney come out and do the song with him. While that makes for a really special occasion - and McCartney's 2004 Glastonbury set is one of the best gigs I've ever seen - it dimmed something that Young's Glastonbury performance shone with. McCartney's cheery mugging for the audience and stage-mateyness with Young detracts from that snarly electric fire that is the core of Neil Young's energy, that serrated grit that makes his work cut straight through from his heart to yours.


This is probably my biggest subjectivity spinout. I'm pretty sure it was one of the great Glastonbury gigs, and if I'd had the energy and been really there it would surely have blown my head off. As it was, I was really tired and watching it sat on bins halfway up the hill.

Even from there, the energy was contagious and absorbing. He is, as the bard Danny Chivers said, one of those artists you feel you totally see through their work.

The honesty, the integrity, the faith, the optimism and the melancholy, they all combine in a coating of muscular rock. Beyond his relentlessness there was something captivating, that sense that he is unable to waste a second on stage, that total world classness that, when you see it live, makes you realise why people like him, Bowie and Prince are given that level of acclaim.


The JazzWorld stage is on a massive field. I have never seen that field full before this year. I could barely get on it and, not long after I tried, they stopped people coming in because it was so full. For Rolf Harris. Teedle-eedle-eedle-um.


Sunday afternoon, everyone's a bit musiced out, it's always a good time for something warm and bright. Van Morrison's pulled that off more than once.

Wherever you go, whoever you meet, everyone loves Bob Marley. Not just likes, tolerates, but really loves his stuff. It's the most universal music yet conceived. In Britain, Madness have something of a similar position.

They come from 2 Tone ska, the first multicultural music invented on these shores, but they have that music hall element that makes people loved here too. Even something like Sergeant Peppers, bold and experimental as it was, is chock full of music hall sensibility. The Kinks. Lily Allen. Blur. We love it.

They delivered as dependably as ever, but picking a set with a lot of those second division songs - The Sun and The Rain, Shut Up, Wings of A Dove - that, when you do dig them out, add depth and texture to them and musically stand alongside the belters.

Normally with an old band there's no way the new stuff can match up, you haven't carried it in your heart most of your life, and often it's a bit lacklustre and half-arsed. But the new ones they played really bounced, clever, lyrically strong and fresh. I've never got on with Madness albums after the first one, the singles stood out and the rest felt a bit fillery, but the new one will definitely be getting eartime from me soonly.


Oh man he rocked. I was expecting his presence, but somehow thought it'd be more stately. Instead it was hard, distorted, potent snarly fucking rock. Staggeringly good, all the more so viewed through the zing of MDMA and port. Beyond anything even still-relevant old guys like Young do, Nick Cave keeps pushing forward, never reaching the bottom of the well.

In the week when I saw Cave, and footage of The Church doing new songs on their current American tour 30 years on (oh my fuck please let them come to Europe next), it shows that some artists really can just keep evolving without compromising their vision, their integrity or their high standard of work. Suck on that, Spandau fucking Ballet.


The Nick Clegg. Leader of the Liberal Democrats, speaking in the Green Fields. It was a fair bet that he'd be telling everyone how lovely and green his party is and other complete fucking lies.

I knew that there wouldn't be time in his Q&A to list the vast catalogue of anti-environmental, pro-war, pro-freemarket capitalism things the LibDems have done. However, if I made it rhyme and did it in the poetry slot just before he came on, well....

I thought I'd reflect my level of ambiguity and allusion in the title of the piece. So it's called Fuck You Liberal Democrats and I got to do it with Clegg stood behind me. Got cheered and booed in equal measure, which seems fair enough. I'll type it up and post it here soon.


The successor to Lost Vagueness is far greater. The weirdness, the baffling twisted eye and brain candy is inspired, warped, brilliant.

My favourite part was the alleyway of shops, a covered Blade Runneresque market, corners all over so you're utterly disorientated and feel that it goes on forever, grimy, bare piping all around, then inexplicable stalls. A room of blue lights and mirrors with a mermaid - a live one - grooving in the corner.

A shop with babies in jars behind the counter that straps you into a dentists chair, puts an outsize helmet on your head full of speakers that block your vision while playing distressing sounds - animals, alarms, children screaming - as people flick, tweak, nudge, dry hump and prod you. And rifle your pockets for your phone and ring your mates in an east European accent to tell them they're operating on you.

Like Guns n Roses Guys, it's another one I knew describing it would divide people into those that get festivals and those who don't.

And the weather? Didn't matter.

Friday, July 10, 2009

green britain day

Advert for Green Britain Day

Today is Green Britain Day, sponsored by power company EDF.

Under the government's Renewables Obligation, electricity suppliers must source a minimum amount of their power from renewable sources. This year, that's 9.1%.

EDF get only 6% of theirs from renewables, and must therefore pay a fine or buy credit from other people's certificates of renewable generation. They get 49% of their electricity - above the UK average - from coal, the most carbon intensive form of generating power yet devised.

Corporate Social Responsibility will continue to be little more than PR for as long as it is easier and cheaper to spin than to change.

- Corporate Watch, 'What's Wrong With Corporate Social Responsibility' report.
(PDF here, buy hard copy here)

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

political policing

A senior police officer investigating Ian Tomlinson's death suggested that - even though the officer in question has come forward - the person who attacked Tomlinson might not have been a police officer at all, it could have been a member of the public who nicked police uniform and riot gear.

That would be the officer who Channel 4 News pieced together on duty for ten minutes before he struck Ian Tomlinson

And - oh surprise - now we're being told the officer who assaulted Ian Tomlinson had a history of misbehaviour and shouldn't have been in the police. One bad apple.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee say the problem was caused by untrained officers going off at the deep end. Once again, watch the attack on the Climate Camp. Is this officers losing their cool individually? Or the ordered methodical use of violence against unarmed peaceful people?

I said at the time

Look at the video of Ian Tomlinson. Look at the casualness of the officer who attacks him. Look how the colleagues are completely unsurprised...

This was not an officer losing his head in the fury of a riot. It’s calm, slow and premeditated.

This was not one bad officer taking the law into his own hands. This sort of assault was endemic that day. I saw it hundreds of times with my own eyes, and I was at the more peaceful climate camp protest, and left before it got kettled then attacked with dogs and batons in the evening.

This sort of assault is what the police do when they’re deployed on this provocative political mission. The difference here is that it was caught on camera and the victim died.

Or, as Alice more concisely put it, 'Ian Tomlinson - it happens all the time'.

There is, however, one other major difference apart from the fatality, and it's not in the events of the day but in what's happened since. The media and public have realised that this is how police operate.

This week's Panorama was an excellent report covering the key aspects of modern political policing; the intimidation, the randomised violence, the collusion with private companies, the FIT teams.

One minor criticism would be the way it got the senior officer to say he 'didn't know' what happens to information gathered and got a force to say it was kept for seven years, yet didn't go into the police database of protesters.

Furthermore, there was something else a bit between the lines. As FITWatch said

there was a whiff of good protester/bad protester from the beginning. Although not overtly stated, the implication was that it was alright to use these tactics against the real “extremists”.

This not only didn’t cover the rather obvious question of what defines domestic extremism and whether this is an acceptable definition – NETCU themselves agree there is no legal definition and basically infer it to mean anyone who engages in direct action – but whether this treatment of protesters is right regardless of their beliefs.

But these are very minor quibbles over an excellent illuminating and refreshingly honest programme. It's a rare thing indeed to see a piece of TV about protest that is recognisable and authentic. This week's Panorama is one such thing, and I strongly recommend watching it. It's viewable online for a year.


Monday, July 06, 2009

drax guilty : what's next

The Drax defendants were found guilty. They will be sentenced in September, but the judge has said they will not face imprisonment.

Courts, like the police, are an executive arm of the powers being opposed, so of course we didn't get justice from them. Certainly we get the occasional happy anomaly, and that's almost always when the decision comes from a jury, ie people who are not part of the legal system.

Like politicians, the legal system has to nod towards fairness but we all know where the power lies. If you think your word means as much to a politician as that of a FTSE100 director you're deluded.

By the same token, a court is inevitably going to be heavily biased toward the state of which it is a part. People on trial for attacking that state, or the preferences of those who run it, are not going to get a fair hearing.

About ten years ago there was a short wave of 'accountable actions' in the peace and anti-GM movements. People felt as if ensuring they were caught and then presenting a bold and just defence of their actions to a court was worthwhile.

The flaw was in presuming that the world is listening to what gets said in courts, or that courts are in some way fair arbiters.

It led to a lot of needless convictions. Thank fuck for the anti-GM people who ensured they didn't get collared and went out night after night trashing the crops.

None of this is in any way a criticism of the Drax defendants, for whom I have nothing but praise. They did not do the action to prove anything to a court, they did it as genuine direct action, to stop something that needed stopping. And they did it knowing they would pull a spotlight on to Drax, coal and climate change.

It inevitably led to a court case, but in being unafraid of the state's response they were acting with bravery. That in itself was a statement on the seriousness of the issue, and an inspiring stance to others.

They fought their case as best they could, put effort into a defence they should've (and reasonably expected they would have) been allowed to run.

We should be dismayed by the verdict, but not surprised. It's what we should expect from courts. Yes, we should minimise their impact on us, and present the best defence we can to that end. But the focus should be - as it surely was with the Drax protesters - to save the bulk of our energy on action and our arguments for those who give a shit.

There's the Climate Camp in London from 27 August-2 September, and a global day of climate action on 24 October. Make it count.

Friday, July 03, 2009

the drax 29 await their verdict

As I reported at the time, in June last year 29 people boarded a coal train heading to Drax power station and started shovelling coal on to the tracks. Their case finally came to court this week.

Even though people who shut down Kingsnorth power station were acquitted when they said they did it to stop the damage caused by carbon emissions, the judge in the Drax case ruled that he would not allow a defence of necessity.

Legal precedent is only set when a judgement is made and then upheld on appeal. No surprise that the state didn't appeal the Kingsnorth acquittal. The Drax case is the next big test of the legality of stopping carbon emissions, and so you have to wonder whether there aren't instructions behind the scenes to encourage a guilty verdict.

Despite the necessity defence being disallowed and so the defendants not being able to call the impressive array of climate experts they'd lined up, they still got their perspective across to the jury.

More, in their closing statement they made it plain that the judge has no right to instruct a guilty verdict, that a jury is free to give whatever verdict their conscience dictates, and reiterated their motivation.

I want you to think back to that situation of there being a person on the tracks ahead of that train going on its way to Drax. Members of the Jury, it may sound like a strange thing to say but in truth there is a person on the branch line to Drax.

The prosecution have not challenged the facts we presented to you on oath about the consequences of burning coal at Drax. 180 human lives lost every year, species lost forever. There is a direct, unequivocal, proven link between the emissions of carbon dioxide at this power station and the appalling consequences of climate change.

That many of those consequences impact on the poor of other nations or people in Hull we don't know and should not in any way negate the reality of this suffering. We got on that train to stop those emissions, because all other methods in our democracy were failing.

Just because we don't know the name of the person on the tracks or where they live or the exact time and day of their dying, does not in our view mean they are less worthy of protection.

The jury is considering its verdict, and is expected to give it later today.