Eclectic Blue

That Friday Music Shuffle (15/9)

0 Comments 15 September 2017

You know what comes next…

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.

I’m back in the Man Cave, heavy speakers pumping out the volume, the iPod belting out the tunes in random order. And here goes:

1. Caribou by the Pixies. From the Pixies 1987 (really?) debut album Carry On Pilgrim, what a cracking start.

2. Surf Wax America by Weezer. From their eponymous 1994 long player, this is an absolute belter.

3. Different by Pendulum. Excellent electric rock from Aussie’s finest, culled from the blinding In Silico album.

4. Video Killed the Radio Star by Buggles. A pop great.

5. Almost Saturday Night by the Georgia Satellites. Not a patch on John Fogerty’s original version and not even close to Dave Edmunds’ excellent cover. And it turns somewhat pointlessly into another Fogerty classic Rockin’ All Over The World at the end. Why?

6. Aurora by Michael Oldfield. Not heard this one for yonks. An orchestral piece from his Music from the Spheres.

7. Goodnight, Hollywood Blvd by Ryan Adams. Ryan’s 2001 album Gold scraped to number 20 in the album chart. That’s a travesty because it’s simply magnificent. As of course is this.

8. Reggatta de Blanc by the Police. Even though there is no such word as Reggatta, the translation of it is, or would be, “white reggae”. This isn’t reggae by any stretch but it’s still great.

9. Sloop John B by the Beach Boys. Quite magnificent version of an old folk song. From Pet Sounds, obviously.

10. Scraped by Guns N’ Roses. And finally, a track from their 2008 long player Chinese Democracy and featuring…ahem…my old friend Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal.

Eclectic Blue

Never forget

0 Comments 15 September 2017

When Chris Evans announced on his Radio Two breakfast show that his first guest was Take That’s Gary Barlow, I was quite pleased. I have not forgiven Barlow for dodging taxes or supporting the Tories in the 2010 general election, particularly given what happened when, assisted by the useful idiots of the Liberal Democrats, David Cameron formed one of the most unpleasant governments of my lifetime. I’m not directly blaming Take That for the years of austerity that followed, or the attacks on the disabled, or the cuts in NHS funding and police numbers, but that is what you are more likely to get under a Tory government. However, he seems a likeable bloke whose heart, if not his head, is usually in the right place. Nonetheless, I felt compelled to switch off for another reason: Children in Need.

I have had a good whinge about Chris Evans and his association with Children in Need before. I know that through his good work in the Car Fests and through his radio show, shed loads of money have been raised for children who need help. The British people have decided collectively that they would rather the suffering of children be alleviated through charity instead of collectively through our taxes, so I suppose every penny raised matters. And today I was reminded that some people’s money appears to be more important than that of others.

Last year’s fundraising efforts included an auction where the highest bidder would have Take That play a gig in their front room. The highest bid was £1 million and this week Take That are flying to Jersey to fulfil the promise. There is, of course, no suggestion that the winner is in any way involved with tax avoidance of any kind. People choose to live in Jersey and base their businesses there for entirely innocent reasons and I was born yesterday. I am sure that she is your everyday honest citizen who can afford to part with a million quid to have a pop group play in their living room. I mean, we can all afford to do that, can’t we? Except that we can’t.

Cards on the table, I like Evans. I think he is the best radio presenter of his generation and deserves every penny of his remuneration package. His involvement with and commitment to Children in Need cannot be questioned. However, I do think he loses touch with reality when conducting such auctions.

I doubt that many people could afford £1000 to bid to have Take That in their living room, never mind £1 million. The auction automatically excludes 99.99% of listeners from the process of giving. It is the American model where the filthy rich feel better about themselves by parting with what for them are trifling sums for entertaining themselves and, at the same time, benefiting a good cause. Inadvertently, the woman in Jersey’s money is regarded as better and more important than that of everyone else. The whole point, surely, of Children in Need is that we all do out bit, we give what we can and our money is valued equally. And most people, especially those with below average earnings, do not expect anything in return.

It is probably me, but I found the whole idea of Barlow and his pals jetting off to Jersey to play for a bunch of millionaires sick making. Barlow, apparently sincerely, had just been praising his loyal fans and how they had stuck with the band for so many years. Barlow once wrote a song that included the lyrics “Never forget where you’ve come here from” and now it seems that he has forgotten where he came from, something that often happens with working class people when they enjoy a little success.

Yes, I’m a broken record, this is a re-hash of a previous blog and I am not sorry about that. If Children in Need is to become a plaything for the rich and famous and that their money is better than mine, then just let them get on with it. If Evans and the BBC wants “ordinary working people” (copyright T May) to be part of it then stop these auctions.

Eclectic Blue

Giving it all away

0 Comments 14 September 2017

One thing about the music industry at the moment is that everyone seems to be out there touring. Bands and artists you never thought would be on the road are gigging all over the world. The reason is, of course, is that they have to because that is the only way they can make any money.

Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about the great Michael McDonald who has just released his first album of new music in nearly two decades. From what I have seen and heard on You Tube, McDonald has returned to top form and I’ll be there to buy it when it appears in the record shops. I will be one of the few.

“Now you make an album almost to give it away”, says McDonald in an interview with Billboard magazine”, “and hopefully grab the public’s attention to come see you live.” He explains that for most artists, touring is hardly that lucrative either. He continues: “I’m picking a random number, but you’re lucky if you gross $1 million on a tour, if you make $33,000 in your pocket after commissions, salaries, plane fares, gear, trucks, busses, daily salaries, all these things that come into play. It makes it a very cost-intensive endeavour.”

David Crosby said recently that there is no money in actually making albums and Donald Fagen, the surviving member of Steely Dan, said he had to tour to make a living because even his stellar back catalogue made almost no money these days.

This is because so many people either prefer to stream music, which means artists receive an absolute pittance, or they steal it, the equivalent of walking into a record store, picking up an album and walking out without paying for it. It’s theft, pure and simple. Imagine if you work for an employer and people steal your goods without paying for them, or you work for yourself and someone walks into your shop and nicks stuff off your shelves? I suppose it’s just me. I don’t like stealing anything. If I can afford to buy music, I buy it. If I can’t, I don’t buy it and I don’t steal it.

Steely Dan, or what’s left of it, are playing one British date this year which is at the O2 in London. I decided long ago I wouldn’t be going because I have no interest in a live musical jukebox, even if it is a band playing some of the best music that’s ever been made. This is Donald Fagen’s job and I respect him for that. I just don’t make a habit of going to gigs when there is no new music to be heard.

At least you know now that the new album by your favourite artist is largely a labour of love, something they did as part of their musical hobby. It certainly wasn’t made just for the money.

Live music is very much alive and kicking, but I do wonder if rock and roll is beginning to die if nobody wants to pay for it.

Eclectic Blue

You’ve never had it so good

0 Comments 14 September 2017

From the BBC website newspaper review:

“There are jobs galore,” declares The Sun. The paper takes one look at “the best unemployment figures in 42 years” and suggests that we should all be celebrating, even if too many of those jobs are still low paid.

I made a point of looking inside the Sun this morning, obviously when no one else was looking (I would rather be caught out reading a copy of Penthouse, to be honest) and sure enough, Rupert Murdoch’s ugly organ is indeed celebrating. And it really does acknowledge that many of these jobs are still on poverty pay.

I am no economist – and that is a gross understatement of my abilities in that department – and I certainly have no explanation as to what is going on in our economy. Given the destruction of our manufacturing base in the Thatcher era, my guess is that many of these jobs are in the services industry, flogging coffee at the increasing number of Costas (I believe there is now one of every street) or flogging cheap imported crap at Sports Direct. I wonder how many of these jobs are good, well paid, job. Not many, it seems, if Britain’s most disgusting apology for a newspaper admits as much.

The Sun does not go onto explain how a surfeit of low paid jobs will help people make their way through life. Low wages are not likely to ever become high wages in many jobs. If you work for the minimum wage, as do so many people in supermarkets and small food and drink outfits, this will still be minimum wage work in 20/30 years time. Some of the new jobs are zero hour contracts too and where is the evidence they will become permanent? Minimum wage zero hour contracts. What a success story.

How on earth will people now earning the lowest legally allowed wages ever buy their own homes? There are people who live near me who don’t just have one of these “jobs galore”, they have two. In fact, I know one man who has three jobs on or around the minimum wage, not one of which can offer him a full time job. He says this is far from unusual. Worse still, he thinks he is only marginally better off working than he was on the dole. But the reason he works is because he hated being on the dole.

Almost all the jobs the Sun crows about are unskilled and many are fixed term or temporary. It is a mixed and complex story. It is also wholly illusory to suggest that somehow our economy is booming because so many people are doing horrible jobs for peanuts. Someone is doing all right but not many of the workers.

Eclectic Blue

Slippin’ and slidin’

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My loyal reader, if s/he is still alive, will know by now that I am interested in politics. For someone like me, who sees the world in black and white, politics is ideal. One of my favourite times of the week is prime minister’s questions (PMQs) and wherever I am I always try to watch or listen to it. Or rather I did. At the moment, it’s all pretty grim.

I loved watching Labour’s John Smith, the best PM we never had, jousting with John Major. Tony Blair versus William Hague was superb fun and even Cameron against Miliband was often a good craic. It became a lot less fun when Cameron was up against the woeful Corbyn, even though Cameron was often top draw. Now we have reached the pits: May v Corbyn.

Theresa May’s disastrous general election performance exposed her many weaknesses. It is plain she is highly uncomfortable in the limelight, can’t think on her feet and is hopelessly robotic. In PMQs she is even worse. Almost every week, Corbyn reads out a question – more about him in a moment – and she reads out the answer she was going to say whatever the question was. Last week, Corbyn asked a question about Sports Direct and May replied talking about Trident. I suspect this is not a tactic: it is the only way she can get through PMQs without self-destructing. Why would anyone who is such a bad speaker and clearly wishes she could be anywhere else want to carry on?

But Jeremy Corbyn? Where do I begin? The old boy has been speaking in public for the best part of fifty years but he doesn’t get any better at it. He has no charisma and he doesn’t project himself to any effect. In the Commons, he is even worse. Today, for example, not only did he rigidly read out his questions, he kept changing the subject. Even someone as useless as May can waffle her way out of that one. The best opposition leaders go on one subject and stick with it. It is very hard for a poor leader like May to try to avoid answering what is effectively the same question six times. But, as we say, neither the PM of the leader of the opposition can think on their feet. The Maybot versus the Corbot. It doesn’t sound appealing and it isn’t.

May’s evasion is gobsmackingly blatant. Why cannot parliament hand Mr Speaker the power to demand the PM actually answers the question and shuts her/him up when they start getting slippery?

PMQs is awful. I wonder who is going to succeed May and, hopefully, Corbyn? Someone who can answer and ask a question would be nice for starters.

Eclectic Blue

I Fought the law but…

Comments Off on I Fought the law but… 12 September 2017

No one who is observing the direction of the Labour Party (with horror, in my case) will be in the least bit surprised that its main power broker, UNITE general secretary Len McCluskey, has spoken of the likelihood of there being co-ordinated strikes in the public sector to protest against the government’s 1% pay cap. Also, you know it’s a very bad idea when PCS supremo Mark Serwotka piles in to say the same thing. But when McCluskey, and later Labour shadow cabinet member Richard Burgon, either call for, or refuse to rule out support for, illegal strikes you begin to fear the worst.

There is no doubt that Britain’s strike laws are among the most oppressive in mainstream Europe, if not the world. Unions need a 50% turn out just to make strike action legitimate and then only by obtaining the support for action of 40% of those eligible to vote. Aside from unions like the train drivers, these are figures that are all but impossible to reach. Serwotka’s own union, PCS, is perhaps a poor example given how weak it is, but many of its ballots rarely achieve a turn out of as much as 10%. Regularly, it is much lower than that. As most unions will get nowhere near the 50% threshold, the calls for action are unlikely to deliver strikes and that’s where support for illegal action is suggested by the likes of McCluskey. Let us be clear about the possible consequences of workers taking illegal strike action. They may lose their jobs.

Take strike action in defiance of the law leaves workers more than vulnerable. They will immediately lose legal protections. If their employer fires them, that will be that. There will be no mechanisms for appeal. Job done, job gone.

Of course, Serwotka is not totally stupid. He is, at least initially, calling for a consultative ballot to gauge the support of civil servants, with a question that will be similar to “Do you think you earn rubbish money and want some more?” It will certainly not be “Do you fancy going on indefinite unpaid all-out strike action – oh, and you might get the sack because it’s an illegal strike?” This is not a sensible way forward for working people. Ask one question and pretend you have the answer to another. Classic Serwotka.

The first thing the unions and Labour should be doing is seeking to change the law. These changes were brought in with the minimum of fuss, not least from union members who long ago realised that strike action usually doesn’t work. I was a union member for over 40 years, first in CPSA and later in the basket case that was PCS, led by Serwotka, and in all that time I struggle to recall a single major national dispute where the union won. Members lost lots of money over the years but they won few, if any, victories. This is not going to change now.

The vast majority of people are not in unions and that’s a fact. Unions are still well organised in the public sector and what remains of our manufacturing industry, but hardly anywhere else. A government, even one as weak as this one, would easily see off the worst the unions can throw at them. If the strike is against the law, do the comrades seriously believe there will be public sympathy? Any union member who took illegal action, in the full knowledge they would get the sack if they took, and then got sacked would not attract sympathy either.

With the comrades now in charge of the machine, Labour dashes further and further to the hard left extremes. Some of us have all but given up on Labour now and politically motivated illegal strikes are several steps too far for me.

Eclectic Blue

Modern problems

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We are very lucky in Britain. We have a National Health Service (NHS) free at the point of delivery, paid for collectively by society. At least for now. I have had a glimpse of what life would be like without it. And I have a warning for you. If you are going to suffer from mental health problems, make sure you have plenty of money.

I try to deal with one GP at a time at our local health centre (we used to have doctors’ surgeries in the old days) because of the complexity of my illness and because it is incredibly depressing and stressful having to explain over and over why I am at the surgery and what’s wrong. I have no complaints about my GP and it was easy enough to speak with her yesterday. That was the good news. Having had a meltdown earlier this year and several depressive incidents, there is only one place to go: the GP. But when you get there, the problems don’t end.

I know I need therapy because the other form of treatment, drugs, doesn’t do enough. And because I am not just starting out with mental health issues and I am not bad enough to be sectioned, there is quite literally nothing out there bar counselling for which there is an enormous waiting list. I have signed up for workshops too because I will try anything if it might make things better. The waiting list at the moment is so long that I do not expect to get anything until well into 2018.

So much, then, for Theresa May’s worthless promises that mental health would be regarded as equal to physical health. As it’s a silent life destroyer, politicians decide to do nothing because they can get away with it. May is but another empty vessel who says one thing for effect and then does nothing.

Severe clinical depression: think about that for a moment. This is not being fed up or sad. It’s a severe illness that wrecks lives. It hasn’t quite wrecked mine but it has occasionally been a close thing. And there is literally nothing I can do unless I pay for it.

If health care is not being privatised, then what has happened here, then? If you want, need, treatment you will have to pay for it and trust me it is not just a few quid here and there. The kind of therapy I need, which is not available on the NHS, would drain me of all my earnings from my part time job which has had a considerable role in making it work.

Don’t get me wrong. I am glad to still be here at all, I am pleased I have not lost my mind, I am lucky with so many aspects of my life. Yet many people are being let down by the underfunded NHS where, despite all the promises, mental health is a near irrelevance, almost a nuisance.

Attitudes have changed in some areas, but government choices haven’t. And I find the whole thing literally depressing.

Eclectic Blue

Blue Eyes

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The first time I saw Michael McDonald perform was in 1974 when he was a backing singer and musician with Steely Dan. I had never heard of him but I loved his voice, especially when he sang lead on Showbiz Kids. It gave the tune an entirely different bluesy slant. Like all five members of the Dan, as well as the three backing musicians, who also included a very youthful Jeff Porcaro on drums, he signed my programme which I still have to this day.

The next time I saw McDonald was quite unexpectedly in Montreal the year after. We were there on holiday, my friend Nick and I, and we found that the Doobie Brothers were playing the Forum. To my chagrin and disappointment, McDonald had replaced Tom Johnston as the band’s lead singer. They sounded very different. Back then, I didn’t like them. Now, I have grown to enjoy the Doobie tunes on which he played and sang. Who could not love “What a Fool Believes?”

McDonald never really went away, making numerous albums of his own, as well as appearing on those of others. Now, he is back, looking dramatically lighter, remarkably youthful for a 65 year old and best of all singing like he did way back when. And he remains, to my ears, the best blue eye of them all.

A blue eye is a white person singing R&B and soul music. Although I am comfortable with the term because I do not see any offence attached to the term, it could be because I am not black. Indeed, Daryl Hall, another blue eye, regards the term as “racist”. But it is meant to be a compliment. I have no issue with the Music of Black Origin (MOBO) awards, regardless of who wins them, black or white. And Michael McDonald has the most soulful of voices. I hope I am not offending anyone.

He has a new album which is begin released on Friday 15 September. It is his first album of original material since his album Blue Obsession some 17 years ago (which was wonderful). Snippets are available on You Tube and I have to say the songs are strong.

I am just glad he is still around. He’s one of the good guys in the rock business and he is still at the top of his game, still making new music. And new music is the key to it. McDonald has a back catalogue to die for and he could easily embrace the touring jukebox show, but he doesn’t. We still want to hear the oldies because that’s how we got to love him and we want to hear the new songs, too.

“New music, new life”, says David Crosby. He’s right and I can’t wait for Friday.

Eclectic Blue

Irma

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The Daily Mail gets to the heart of the story straight away. Their banner headline today is “Torment of the hurricane Brits”. The online edition hones in on an even bigger story as “British billionaire Richard Branson has revealed the extent of devastation to his Necker Island home in the wake of Hurricane Irma”. My heart bleeds.

As usual, I’m afraid, the BBC seems more obsessed with British tourists than it is with those who have either lost their homes or worse still their lives. BBC Radio Five’s bulletin this morning concentrated on a British tourist who was whinging from the luxury of his hotel room on one of the islands because he wasn’t getting enough help from Thomas Cook. Now I can only imagine the stresses he and his family were feeling but there are a few things to remember here. His life was not under threat, he had not been rendered homeless and the only reason he could not be flown home was because the airport was closed to all aircraft. I’d regard this story as a considerable inconvenience but hardly a matter of life and death.

And Richard Branson: where do I begin? When the storm struck, old Beardie hid in his cellar of vintage wines. As an aside, I wonder how many of the wines were purchased with money that might otherwise have gone to HMRC in the UK? It must be awful for Branson to call his insurance company to restore his luxury home and all the hassle that goes with it. I have a suggestion for him and the numerous other filthy rich businessmen and women who take their wealth abroad: if you are not going to pay your fair share in this country, why not spend it where you live instead?

I have never been to the Caribbean, which is the home to many people who do not enjoy the privileges of Branson. They will be mainly ordinary folk, working all the hours they can just to maintain a modest standard of living. Putting back together their homes and indeed their lives may well be beyond many people who live adjacent to Necker Island.

I watched the devastating storms courtesy of CNN’s extraordinary coverage last night. It was worse than any other storm I had ever seen. My heart sank, not for tourists and billionaires but the poor people who were losing everything before our very eyes.

You’d expect the Daily Mail and its readers to not give a toss about those people in the Caribbean who have suffered so much – they are foreigners after all, so they probably deserve it – yet you might expect public service broadcasters to focus on the main story and not people who have had their holidays interrupted. They can probably afford to go again next year. The victims may still be waiting this time next year to have somewhere to live. Branson might somehow manage without help from anyone else.

Eclectic Blue

12th Man

Comments Off on 12th Man 10 September 2017

Despite my greatly diminished love and passion for my club Bristol Rovers, yesterday was a good day. Not a great footballing spectacle – this is League One, after all – but there was so much more to it than the act of kicking a ball around.

Walsall were game and enthusiastic visitors, led by their diminutive but brilliant playmaker Erhun Oztumer, and theycaused plenty of problems for the home team and could, maybe should, have won once Rovers’ keeper Slocombe was sent off with the score at 1-1. And then something odd happened. The home crowd seemed to remember their purpose in life, strained their vocal chords to the limit and almost visibly lifted the team, turning around a spell of opposition attack and home defence. Still, the most unlikely scenario was that Rovers would win whereupon they promptly scored what turned out to be the winning goal.

Contrast this effort from the majority of supporters to the actions of a minority who decided that the best way to get behind the team was to announce loudly that they hated Bristol City “and the IRA”. I can just imagine the effect that would have had on our players. After all, many of those making the noise were probably not even around in 1997 when the Good Friday peace declaration was signed. This is possibly a poor reflection of parenting and school standards. But let’s concentrate on the good.

Rovers supporters have undoubtedly bought into the Al Qadi evolution and I hear a lot from people that “we have our club back”. Whilst in terms of fan ownership and boardroom influence this is patently not the case, in other ways it is. Certainly, the old spirit seems to have returned as witnessed by yesterday’s impressive backing from the 12th man (and woman). In fact, I have rarely known a time at the Rovers when I could honestly call it our club, whether that was during the ghastly Bradshaw/Flook era at Eastville, the Dunford era at the Mem (but not Twerton Park) and latterly Nick Higgs dismal autocratic shambles which steered the club to non league football. But at different points, particularly the sojourn at Bath, the club was definitely “ours”. No one else wanted it.

Now it’s “our” club again, albeit owned by a Jordanian company based in the tax friendly island of Jersey. I realised far too late that Gasheads, like most supporters, do not give a toss who owns them, as long as they can have their weekly fix of football. Even when things go horribly wrong, something and someone will turn up. We, they say, are just interested in the football. I still believe that football fans should have a degree of ownership and influence at their clubs, but that argument was lost ages ago. Those who hoped for the best and left it to someone else to fret were right. The recent concerns that things might not be hunky dory at the top of the club are interesting to hear about but I can’t say I am losing sleep.

I cannot prove that Gasheads were instrumental in securing yesterday’s win but it sure felt that way. A few morons were thrown out for abuse, including racial abuse, which has become a real worry for the club in recent weeks. The idiots are in a tiny minority and, yes, it’s best to dwell on the positives. Yesterday’s levels of support appeared to have a better effect than shouting abuse at them. We should try it more often.

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