So, you want your country back?

To everyone who whined about wanting their country back:

The country you’ve already got is being wonderfully represented by the fabulous young people of the current generation, in Rio De Janeiro, in case you hadn’t noticed.

They don’t all come from privileged backgrounds; all strata of society are represented. Many – probably most – are achieving outstanding feats of athleticism due to their own hard work, dedication, talent and commitment. They are surrounded by teams of dedicated families and trainers, who work solidly towards their dream, and many are achieving their goals, despite being faced with opponents from all over the world, of the highest quality.

They are representing our country – yours and mine – with dignity, enthusiasm and pride, just like they did in 2012, and have done for longer than anyone can remember, whether it’s on the field of sport or any other arena.

So, anyone who whinges about their country not being good enough should just take a leaf out of their book. They are truly inspirational. ‪#‎teamgb‬ ‪#‎rio2016‬ ‪#‎olympics‬

What next for Labour?

Today, the High Court endorsed the decision of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee to allow Jeremy Corbyn’s name to be on the forthcoming leadership ballot paper, without having the backing of 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).

It was taken to the High Court because Michael Foster, a wealthy Labour Party contributor, had considered it undemocratic. His understanding of democracy is, however, rather at odds with mine.

Firstly, the Labour Party isn’t JUST the PLP. The huge upsurge in membership after the 2015 General Election was largely due to Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy as a genuinely socialist representative, something the Labour Party has been in short supply of since, well, decades. It now has over 300,000 members, more than all of the other political parties combined. Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader specifically because of them. To exclude him from the ballot at the behest of the PLP (who, remember, are supposed to represent their constituents and the wishes of the wider rank and file membership, not just themselves) would be a smack in the face to those members. The only reason that the PLP would want this is because they are not confident of their candidate(s) beating Jeremy Corbyn. Best to exclude his supporters altogether, then.

Secondly, to exclude Jeremy Corbyn from the ballot would have resulted in what amounts to a coup by the PLP, NOT a leadership contest. There is no democracy in that.

To force a leadership contest on the basis of a vote of no confidence is, I guess, fair enough, but to then try to rig the outcome of the contest by excluding the incumbent leader is not worthy of the Labour Party. The whole basis of the contest makes no sense, at least not now. It was trumped up by Angela Eagle on the basis of allegations of Jeremy Corbyn not showing sufficient commitment and leadership in the EU referendum Remain campaign. This was, of course, extremely debatable and simply an excuse. Anything would have done.

The timing was crass. At a point when all the other parties were in disarray following the unexpected Leave victory, this was the perfect opportunity for Labour to show real unity, and be a credible opposition to the fractured Tories, but they blew it. Instead, they descended into Machiavellian backstabbing, lies and squabbling. Their credibility took a further blow when, after opening nominations for the ballot, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith decided that only one name should go forward. Well, duh. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that having two names to vote for would split the votes against Corbyn, and further increase the likelihood of him winning. Embarrassing.

(These people are hopeful of becoming Prime Minister one day, don’t forget… Doesn’t fill you with confidence about their acumen, does it?)

Then we got accusations of intimidation and bullying by Corbyn’s supporters, and that he wasn’t doing enough to stop it. There may be some truth in that, but I don’t recall Jeremy uttering a bad word against any of his opponents, although it would be very understandable, given the way they’ve disrespected him. He has distanced himself from it and appealed for his supporters to act with dignity and respect, but ultimately, he isn’t responsible for the actions of an unruly few.

It’s unfortunate that the leadership contest won’t be resolved until 22 September 2016. That’s too long for the party to lose its focus on actually opposing the Tories, at a time when an effective opposition is desperately needed.

What will happen after the leadership issue is resolved? In the unlikely event that everyone will accept the result, whatever it is, and commit to settling their differences, uniting the party behind the new leader and getting on with the real job of opposing the Tories, there are two possible outcomes, in my opinion, both of which involve the party splitting.

Option 1: Jeremy Corbyn wins and is confirmed as the leader of the Labour Party. The largely Blairite right-wing of the party are unable to reconcile the party being returned to its roots as a truly socialist party once more and form a breakaway party. The cleansed party continues to grow its popular support and membership, as it offers the only real socialist alternative to the old way of doing politics in the UK, which people are sick to the back teeth of. The only way the rebels can survive is by forming alliances with other parties, but the Green Party, UKIP and the SNP aren’t interested. The LibDems may be tempted to try another go at something like the SDP, as in 1981, but it’s not a good idea. Angela Eagle’s political career is over.

Option 2: Owen Smith wins and retains the support of the bulk of the PLP. However, huge numbers of grass-roots Labour Party members, supporters and voters see it as the final nail in the coffin of socialism in the UK, and withdraw their membership, support and votes in disgust. Without the support of its voter base, the Labour Party confirms its position as the party of opposition for the rest of eternity, and eventually disappears altogether into obscurity. The left of the party breaks away and stays true to their principles, but it lacks the gravitas of the Labour Party’s heritage, and also withers on the vine.  Angela Eagle’s political career is over.

Before 23 June, little of what has actually happened would have been believable. But, here we are, not quite five weeks later, with a new, unelected, Prime Minister, the main players in the Leave campaigns having deserted in ignominy when it was discovered that, not only had they lied, but they had neither a Brexit plan, or the brains / guts to make one, and Boris Johnson already embarrassing the UK in his role of Foreign Secretary.

If ever we needed a united, socialist Labour Party, it was now. And they’ve blown it. Thanks, Angela.

Horizons broadened

A couple of accidental discoveries that have broadened my horizons a little over the last few days…

Accidental Discovery #1: In the absence of anything else to do on a dreary Sunday afternoon, Sarah and I dropped in to Oriel Ynys Mon in Llangefni, intending to view the exhibition of previously unseen Charles Tunnicliffe’s portraits (he being famous for his wildlife art…). Just before we arrived, the Association of Anglesey Arts Clubs’ exhibition had also opened, so we wandered in, without expectation. We were pleasantly surprised at the excellent standard of work on display, particularly with the work of Jenny Armour; so much so, that we bought 3 of her 4 works in the exhibition. Check her Facebook page out; I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as we were.

Accidental Discovery #2: I look for any photography books coming into Bangor’s Oxfam branch while I’m there doing my volunteering. One that caught my eye last week was “Letting Go Of The Camera (Essays On Photography & The Creative Life)”, by Brooks Jensen. I was intrigued, and having bought it, I’m finding it very entertaining. It’s essentially a series of anecdotes and musings on trying to make a living from photography as an artistic pursuit. I followed up on Brooks Jensen, and his web site contains many freely-downloadable photo-essays and books in PDF format. His work is excellent, and very well worth looking at, covering many different types of photography.

On old cover art

Classic country music cover art

Classic country music cover art

I do a stint of volunteering in a local charity shop, and my (enviable) role is to filter all the music and video donations. When we get vinyl donated, it’s usually in the hundreds, as people ditch their entire collections. And so it was today. As I waded through the Geoff Love & His Orchestra and Max Bygraves, I came across this stunner of a cover. I have to say that I don’t believe I’ve EVER come across an album cover with a photo of an old redneck playing pocket billiards before.

They just don’t make them like this any more, do they?

Two exhibitions – Julia Margaret Cameron v. Richard Learoyd

Whenever I visit London, I try to visit as many photography exhibitions as I can squeeze in and this time has been no exception.

Yesterday, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, to see an extensive exhibition celebrating 150 years since the revered 19th century portrait photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron, began her work. Cameron was associated with the South Kensington Gallery for many years, and exhibited her work there contemporaneously.

Her portraits were almost without exception very carefully staged, often to represent biblical or other classical scenes. She quickly gained expertise with, by today’s standards, very cumbersome equipment and painstaking processes, and developed a style that ran contrary to most of her peers. She often deliberately used soft focus, or even out of focus in her photographs. She would also present pictures with visible flaws – blots, scratches or dust on the prints, but make them a virtue, when the rest of the photographic community was striving for perfection.

However, ground-breaking though her approach was and iconic as her portraits unarguably are in the context of portrait photography, her style hasn’t worn well, for me. The poses look a little too staged, and the themes are beyond corny. All of the subjects, without exception, look miserable; of the dozens of portraits in the exhibition, not one betrayed even the beginnings of an enigmatic Mon Lisa-like smile. This may have been partly due to the long exposure times need to make some of the images, but joie de vivre seemed to be sadly lacking. The upshot of this is that the subjects end up looking desolate and almost hopeless.

Almost by accident, I ended up getting a second dose of JMC’s work when I visited the Science Museum, just across the road from the V & A. Another 94 equally desolate and depressing images were arranged for my perusal  and they only served to underline the impression I got yesterday.

But also by accident, as I was heading to the JMC exhibition in the V & A, I noticed another gallery with a smaller exhibition by Richard Learoyd, a contemporary photographer who produces large-scale images in a camera obscura. In some respects, they sit in the same sort of territory as JMC’s, but with significant differences that lift them into a more human context.

Most of these images (but not all) are portraits, many of the subjects with similarly unsmiling expressions. Learoyd eschews conventional modern techniques and equipment, and uses very narrow depth of field in most of the images, which focuses the viewer’s attention on a relatively narrow plane in the picture. Some of the compositions break rules such as the rule of thirds; for example, in one pair of pictures of a female subject, her face is placed dead-centre in the frame, with a lot of white space above and around her. But it works.

Despite these similarities to JMC, though, Learoyd’s picture have so much more warmth. Perhaps the brighter lit, unfussy settings help lift the mood, or perhaps it’s the use of colour. Maybe it’s that the subjects are contemporary figures, dressed in modern clothing (where they are dressed at all…), rather than staring blankly out across 150 years.

Whatever it is, the subjects don’t look restricted or stifled. They seem to be expressing their own personalities through the photographer, rather than one that the photographer has imposed upon them. Despite the fact that a couple of the images are distinctly uncomfortable – one featuring a dead hare, the other a profile of a horse’s severed head – I felt much more able to connect with Learoyd’s photographs. JMC’s place in photographic history is assured, and it may be influencing the work of contemporary photographers such as Learoyd, but from that perspective, it’s work is done. I won’t be in a rush to see more of her work in the near future.

The point of no return?

The Ultimate Matt Monro CD

The Ultimate Matt Monro CD

I have just ordered a Matt Monro compilation CD. Now, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. This may mean any one (or more) of several possibilities:

a) I’ve finally grown up and acknowledged that good music may actually exist within the realm of what I previously considered schmaltz (me being dead hip and all).

b) I have finally given up and acknowledged that I am getting old (I’m 62 you know!).

c) I’ve secretly thought, for many years, that Matt Monro was a damned fine singer, and that I’m just coming out of the closet, so to speak. (I actually prefer Matt’s voice to the vastly over-rated Frank Sinatra’s.)

d) I’ve finally lost the plot altogether, and when this CD hits the player for the first time, I’ll never be able to listen to my previous material in the same way, ever again.

I think that a) and c) are closest to what I’d like to think, but b) and d) can’t be dismissed completely. I’ve been hearing lots of that kind of material recently and finding much to like about it. “When I Fall In Love” by Nat King Cole, for example, is a wonderful song. “Moon River”, likewise.

Has anyone else here got similar guilty secrets?

Gig review – The Waterboys, Venue Cymru, Sunday 29/11/15

The Waterboys logoHaving seen The Waterboys several times in the last three or four years, I had a reasonable idea of what to expect. What I expected was a rousing performance, with passion and virtuosity wrapped around leader Mike Scott’s strong songs. They are one of those bands that, for me anyway, are always best appreciated in performance, rather than on the stereo in the living room. And in all of these respects, it was the case last night.

Scott’s current band has a very strong line-up – Zach Ernst on lead guitar, Muscle Shoals sessions bass player David Hood, “Brother” Paul Brown on keyboards, with stalwarts Ralph Salmins on drums and Steve Wickham on fiddle. They all gelled extremely well, and it was obvious that they were massively enjoying playing together.

The set lasted about an hour and 45 minutes, and consisted of a fairly even mixture of old and new material, with number of songs from their new album, “Modern Blues”. with “Rosalind (You Married The Wrong Guy)” being particularly memorable. But it’s unfair to single one song out of such a strong set. The only oddity was a cover, played straight, of Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” – good enough, but a little out of keeping with the rest of the songs.

The only disappointment was that the support act, Jarrod Dickenson, pulled out of the gig due to illness – hopefully not serious. Having to wait around for the hour between the start of the support slot and the scheduled time for The Waterboys could have been more productively spent, but it passed eventually, and the gig ended up being well worth the wait.

There are still several dates left on the current UK leg of The Waterboys tour, so if you get a chance to go, I recommend it – you won’t be disappointed.

Set list:

Destinies Entwined
Still a Freak
A Girl Called Johnny
We Will Not Be Lovers
Nearest Thing to Hip
Rosalind (You Married the Wrong Guy)
Medicine Bow
Glastonbury Song
Roll Over Beethoven
Song of Wandering Aengus
Wonders of Lewis
The Return of Jimi Hendrix
Don’t Bang the Drum (Mike Scott & Steve Wickham duo)
The Whole of the Moon
Long Strange Golden Road

Encores:

How Long Will I Love You?
Fisherman’s Blues

Keep an eye out for these “free” CDs, music fans

Tubular Bells - Tubular Bells - free CD from The Daily Mail

Free Tubular Bells CD from The Daily Mail

They don’t seem to be so common now, but just a few years ago, newspapers were falling over themselves to give away free CDs. Most of them were compilations, built around either decades or genres, or sometimes both – “Soul Hits of the 60s”, that kind of thing. The duplication of the mostly cheesy songs between these CDs was huge, and as there were literally hundreds of the blessed things, you could end up with the same tracks many times over, destined never to be listened to.

Occasionally, though, they’d give away proper albums or EPs by single artists or bands. And not just dreck, either – some of them were absolute classics. Some of the ones that I know of are listed below, but if you didn’t know about them, and they’d somehow managed to pass you by unnoticed, all is not lost. They often turn up in charity shops – I volunteer in one, and my role is to sort out the donations of music and video. (I know – dirty work, but someone has to do it…)

I have about forty of them and they form a significant part of my music collection. Some of the best of the ones that I have come across include:

  • “Tubular Bells” – Mike Oldfield
  • “Strange Days” – The Doors
  • “Oxygene” – Jean-Michel Jarre
  • “iSelect” – David Bowie
  • A Roxy Music Greatest Hits collection
  • Peter Gabriel – this one is particularly wonderful
  • Crosby, Stills and Nash
  • Carly Simon
  • Art Garfunkel – at least two different ones
  • “Live in Los Angeles” and “Memory Almost Full” – Paul McCartney
  • Elton John – a double CD set of Elton John’s legendary covers from early in his career
  • The Everly Brothers – a double CD set of their hits
  • John Lennon
  • plus many, many more by artists such as Pet Shop Boys, Ray Davies, Madness, Simple Minds, Paul Weller, Dusty Springfield, Simply Red, Badly Drawn Boy, David Gray, Tina Turner, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye – the list goes on and on. But this far from an exhaustive list.

Just pop into the charity shops in your area and have a look. You may just be in luck! Most charity shops charge a pittance for these CDs; as they were give-aways to start with, many charity shops don’t “charge” for them, but ask for a donation instead.

The nice thing about buying them this way is that, as most of them were given away by some of the crappier newspapers, you don’t have to actually buy the papers that gave them away. It is slightly disappointing that it was the rags that tended to issue them.

You can find fairly exhaustive lists of these CDs at http://www.discogs.com/ – just search for the name of the newspaper, and the list of releases will be shown under a “pseudo-label”. Here, for example, is the Daily Mail’s list of releases at discogs.com.

There were many, if not more, full-movie DVDs given away. I’ll post about this sometime soon.

 

Resuming in 3, 2, 1…

I’d not posted for a while, not least because the blog went toes-up after updating WordPress to 4.2.2 – one of the plug-ins was incompatible and brought the whole house of cards down. Having been a bit busy with other stuff, my attention was diverted somewhat, and it took a while to get around to sorting it out.

Nonetheless, here it is, back in all its tawdry glory.

On attending a protest demonstration

I was privileged to attend my first protest demonstration for many years in Llangefni on the Isle of Anglesey last Saturday, 21 November 2015. The event, entitled A Day To Celebrate Diversity, was a rally intended to counter a rally by a neo-Nazi group calling themselves The North Wales Infidels.

It was a cold day, with a little bit of sleety rain, but not too inclement. I had no idea how many people might turn up, only having heard of the event myself the day before, via Facebook. However, in light of recent events, not just in Paris, but wherever in the world they take place, I considered it a kind of duty to get out and show my opposition to the sort of hate-rhetoric that fascists like to spout in response.

As it turned out, the event was very well-attended, at least on our side. On the fascists side, not so much. There were only about 40 of them, and we outnumbered them, even by conservative estimates, by about ten to one. I think they were even outnumbered by the uniformed police that were on duty.

They conformed to their stereotypical image perfectly, right down to the significant number of overweight, shaven-headed, scarf-masked, knuckle-dragging specimens, radiating malhomie. One or two obliged with Nazi salutes, and even one swastika tattoo on the back of a thick neck. Lovely.

But in the interview that one gave to ITV News, he was careful to point out that he wasn’t racist. No, of course you aren’t.

By contrast, the counter-protesters were an amiable, well-behaved and diverse bunch, representing all ages groups and social backgrounds. There were lots of speeches by politicians, organisers and even a secular speech by a church leader. Tea and coffee were drunk, and cake eaten (kindly provided, free of charge by a local catering van operator), drums were banged (loudly) and love and tolerance was espoused by all. No hint of hatred or trouble.

This was all fine and good, and when the crowd dispersed, everyone went away with, no doubt, a rosy glow of having done something worthwhile. And so we had. But I don’t doubt for one minute that we made not the slightest dent on the tiny minds of those that we were protesting against.

I wonder what sort of society the fascists want to see. Judging by the symbols that they adopt, the language they use, and the politics that they promote, I guess it’s a return to something like the Germany of the 1930s, where minorities and specific groups of people are scapegoated for the perceived ills of the wider society, and are openly persecuted for it. They, of course, would be its stormtroopers.

Perish the thought.