Thursday, 31 May 2012


For those who were listening to the more experimental end of the British post-punk in the early-1980s, the name of 23 Skidoo looms large. Their debut album, Seven Songs, was recently reissued and is 'more essential than ever', according to Ian Harrison in Mojo.

The drummer in Skidoo was Fritz Catlin, and his most recent project is the very excellent Skintologists and I like them very much. Think: 1970s dub, funk, jazz, Can, that sort of thing.

Here's a preview of their album Dubble Trubble, and here's a track from that album:

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The best of British?

I have no faith in the United Kingdom winning the Eurovision Song Contest this evening, but at least it's an excuse to remind myself of my favourite photo of Engelbert Humperdinck, wearing a suit of two halves:

The photo is by Harry Goodwin and comes from the book My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock, published by the V&A.

Friday, 18 May 2012

A hundred days later...

Today is the hundredth day since I started to write my book on the 1990s, the sequel to Crisis? What Crisis? and Rejoice! Rejoice!. And it currently stands at just over 105,000 words, which means that I'm five days ahead of schedule, since I aim to average a thousand words a day.

And that's good news, because back on day 25, I was four days behind schedule, with a daily average of just 852 words.

I'm not entirely sure it's healthy that I should know such things. But I keep an Excel spreadsheet, into which I enter the wordcount every day, and which then calculates daily and weekly averages. A touch Aspergian perhaps, but it does entertain me when I get to the end of a long night's writing, so I shall continue.

Obviously I don't want to spoil the ending for any potential readers, but I have to say that John Major's grip on power is looking very insecure at the moment.

Monday, 14 May 2012

As a matter of fact, he's back

I've written about Gary Glitter on this blog before. He was a terrific rock and roll star, responsible for some of the best singles of the 1970s. Not solely responsible, of course, since he had the brilliance of producer Mike Leander and the fine support of the Glitter Band to assist him. But it was his concept and we shouldn't lose sight of just how good he was.

It's difficult, though, because there's effectively been a ban on his music for years now, ever since the jail sentence for possessing paedophile pornography.

So, all credit to the BBC for finally lifting the corner of that ban with its broadcast of a 1977 edition of Top of the Pops. Not the most obvious place to start with Gary's work, but I always rated that single, It Takes All Night Long - one of his sleazier recordings from one of the early comebacks:

There's been a lot of criticism, of course, but for once the BBC have got it right on this issue: 'It would be inappropriate for the BBC to rewrite history, so the programme was shown in its entirety.' Quite right, too. That should have been the position for the last decade and more.

The best comment I ever read on the subject came from Craig Brown in the Daily Telegraph back in November 2005:

'Around the time that Gary Glitter was riding so high, Bernard Levin was busy writing articles in The Times about Wagner. As far as I can remember, he would argue that it was perfectly possible and legitimate to deplore the thoughts and actions of the artist while continuing to rejoice in his art. The same must surely be true of the equally rumbustious sounds of Gary Glitter.'

Friday, 11 May 2012

Yesterday's Papers: Gay marriages and the Daily Telegraph

The Queen's Speech this week omitted any mention of the proposed Bill to legalise gay marriages, presumably as a sop to those on the Tory right who regarded David Cameron's enthusiasm for the subject as 'the last straw'.

That quote comes from a piece by Fraser Nelson in the Daily Telegraph. Here's more from the same source:

'There was something wonderfully British about the passage of the Civil Partnership Act, which was approved one rainy Tuesday evening to no fanfare at all ... [A]lmost nobody cared. Civil partnerships were seen, quite rightly, as ironing out a legal crinkle: it seemed common sense to grant gay couples the same rights over issues such as inheritance and hospital visiting rights.'

Is there a slight rewriting of history going on? These are some headlines from stories published in the Daily Telegraph back when the Civil Partnership Bill was first proposed by the Labour government of Tony Blair:

'Williams denounces gay marriages' (27 May 2003)
'Legal rights for homosexuals denounced - by gays' (30 June 2003)
'Taxpayers face £240 million-a-year bill for gay contract' (1 July 2003)
'Gay unions denounced as charter for tax dodgers' (1 July 2003)
'Outrage greets National Trust's plan for homosexual "weddings"' (28 December 2003)

Not quite true, then, that 'almost nobody cared'. The Telegraph clearly did, and spent some time agonising in its leader columns on what the correct Tory attitude should be. This was an early sortie:

'Homosexuals clearly have some special grievances - over hospital-visiting rights and funeral arrangements, for example. But there are other ways of righting these wrongs, one by one, than by inventing a form of quasi-marriage ceremony that would be open to widespread abuse. The problem of inheritance rights, for instance, might be solved at a stroke by abolishing inheritance tax altogether.' (1 July 2003)

But then the Conservative Party, under the leadership of Michael Howard, decided that there would be a free vote on the issue, a major shift in its position, and the Telegraph followed suit:

'Allowing gay people to affirm their relationship within a civil contract does not undermine the institution of marriage. It might even reinforce it. We will all benefit from greater recognition of stable relationships, of whatever kind.' (25 November 2003)

So all's well that ended well. But it wasn't quite as smooth a passage as Fraser Nelson implies.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Quote for the Week 16

'It is true that pornography does exist online, but your children will not be subjected to pornographic images every time they connect to the Internet. They would have to actively seek out sites where it can be found.'
- Sunday Times, 7 January 1996

Saturday, 5 May 2012

So, farewell then, Lord Redken

In my memory of the great political war of the first half of the 1980s, the big figures in the Labour Party seem impressively diverse in character and background, if not in gender: Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Eric Heffer, Neil Kinnock, Peter Shore, Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, Len Murray, Denis Healey, Gerald Kaufman, Roy Hattersley, Moss Evans - to name just a dozen at random.

And then there was Ken Livingstone, the man who had a more enduring impact than any of them.

Often accused of being a relentless self-publicist, he used the media attention he generated in the GLC days to espouse what was sometimes dismissively known as identity politics. And, despite all the vitriol and venom directed at him, he changed Britain to an extent achieved by very few politicians.

This would be a different country had he not existed. For those who remember the days of the 'loony left' stories, there's something rather ironic in the sight of the Conservative Party advocating gay marriages. As there was about Carol Thatcher losing a BBC gig for using the word 'golliwog'.

In my book on the 1980s, Rejoice! Rejoice!, I cited Livingstone alongside Margaret Thatcher as the political victors of the decade. I still think that's about right: Thatcher won the economic battles, Livingstone won the social struggles.

I voted for Ken as my constituency MP when he was first elected to Parliament in 1987, and I voted for him when he stood as an Independent candidate in the first mayoralty election in 2000. I even voted for him again when he then rejoined the Labour Party.

And now he has announced that he won't contest any more elections, having been defeated by Boris Johnson in the London mayoral election.

I regret that he stood at all this time; it just didn't feel right or dignified. But I regret even more that there was no one else in whose favour he could stand down, and that there still isn't. He was the last leader of the left.

And he's also the last of that great cast from the early 1980s to leave the political stage. It feels like the ending of a personal, as well as a political, era.

Here Comes the Mayor

So there we are then. The race to become London mayor was closer than some predicted, and longer than anyone wanted. But before anyone takes too much encouragement from their results, it's worth bearing in mind just how low the turnout is.

These are the first preference votes recorded by the candidates of the three main parties in the four mayoral elections, expressed as percentages of the registered electorate:

(Incidentally, I do know that Ken Livingstone was an independent in 2000, but let's be kind and look over the sad case of Frank Dobson.)

None of it is much of a ringing endorsement. It's also worth bearing in mind that there are a huge number of people living in London who aren't registered to vote in the first place.

Perhaps it's not too surprising that - with the exception of Bristol - all the other cities who were asked yesterday whether they too wanted a mayor decided that, no, on balance, they'd rather not bother.