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Posts Tagged ‘Radiohead’

In 2009 I wrote that In Rainbows was the culmination of everything good about Radiohead’s formidable progress over nearly 20 years. I Reckon was right, at the time.

This year’s release of their 9th studio album A Moon Shaped Pool has forced me to reconsider. This is a very, very good Radiohead album, made even better by Jonny Greenwood’s arrangements and the introduction of intimacy. And it’s this honest human emotion that IMHO lifts it above everything else.

Radiohead have made a career from often unsettling music. In 1989 Thom Yorke responded to friends’ criticism that he only wrote miserable songs with a self-consciously titled Happy Song(!). But these songs feel truly from-the-heart, an opening up, brutally honest and raw. There are more mentions of the words love and heart than on their entire back catalogue combined.

 

Burn the witch…

abandon all reason / avoid all eye contact / do not react
shoot the messengers / burn the witch

This is the exception to that rule. From the sudden, strident opening, with strings playing repeated percussive chords con legno (with the wooden back of the bow), through the chilling message so relevant to the Brexit referendum campaign, this had my attention immediately. After the more electronic feel of The King of Limbs, this felt like a powerful statement. Jonny Greenwood’s film scores and orchestral writing were up front and central, and the relentless momentum of the song made me very excited for the album. Oh, and the video…

 

Daydreaming

Around the time of the album release I read that Thom Yorke had split from his life partner of 23 years. This coloured my reading of the whole album, and I Reckon it’s a serious influence on the musical and lyrical content.

Daydreaming is the first song that alludes to the End of Something, a time when something precious has been lost, and the world must move on.

beyond the point of no return… / …it’s too late / the damage is done

 After Burn the Witch it immediately signals a change of tone and mood that flows through and over the rest of the album. Slow descending piano arpeggios are set against a pulsing bass in a 3-against-2 rhythm that seems to cocoon the listener with its almost hypnotic feel. Thom Yorke’s plaintive vocals feel like mourning, while the fabulous video shot by P T Anderson evokes ceaseless searching for something misplaced, but concluding in a wilderness, retreating into foetal hibernation.

Decks Dark seems to use an alien invasion as a proxy for psychological unease.

In your life, there comes a darkness / there’s a spacecraft blocking out the sky / and there’s nowhere to hide…
…it’s the loudest sound you’ve ever heard / in your darkest hour

This feels like the overwhelming threat of depression, the deep guitar and dissonant effects adding to the unease, before it ends in a layer of overlapping sounds and a woeful

          Have you had enough of me?

 

Desert Island Disk seems born of solitude, perhaps not loneliness, but more of acceptance and understanding. It’s lilting and beautiful, but leaves me feeling almost unutterably sad.

The wind rushing round my open heart / an open ravine…
…waking up from shutdown / from 1,000 years of sleep…

Different types of love are possible

 

Ful Stop must be tremendous performed live. A restless, driving track that feels more angry than plaintive.

You really messed up everything
This is a foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your ful stop…

After a building, almost menacing first couple of minutes, the band bursts into life in a way that reminds me of Arpeggi/Weird Fishes from In Rainbows

          All the good times … / take me back again / won’t you take me back again?

 

Glass Eyes

This is as beautiful a piece of music as I’ve heard in years. Limpid, fluid keyboard figures are distorted like reflections in the ripples of a pool, while aching strings underpin a lyric full of anxiety, fear and resignation: perhaps a farewell message, or a call for help?

Hey it’s me / I just got off the train / a frightening place / faces all concrete grey /
and I’m wondering should I turn around / buy another ticket /
panic is coming on strong / so cold from the inside out

And the path trails off and heads down the mountain / through the dry bush / I don’t know where it leads / I don’t really care

I feel this love turned cold

 

 

Identikit is a great Radiohead song that builds layers of different sounds and moods. Almost indecipherable words at the start break into a chilling

Sweet faced ones with nothing left inside that we all can love
When I see you messing me around I don’t want to know

Broken hearts make it rain

The rolling accompaniment soars into broken jangling chords and a choral refrain that is gradually replaced by terrific guitar work that takes over and builds in a rare solo to an almost ecstatic finish.

 

The Numbers starts like a jazz group warming up. Rolling, random piano lines and rustling percussion undercut with birdsong gives way to an insistent, shuffling rhythm and lyrics that depart from the painful intimacy of the previous 4 songs. This feels like a more prophetic take on global ecology and our place in the world. The string arrangements in the second half are astonishingly effective and turn this initially quiet song into something almost epic.

The numbers don’t decide / the system will survive /
the river running dry / the wings of butterflies /
will take back what is ours one day at a time

 

Present Tense is a great track, reminding me of Jigsaw Falling into Place with shuffling rhythms and acoustic guitar figures over layers of vocalising. It’s both a defiant stance against sadness and a recognition of loss. It has a perfect ending.

This dance is like a weapon of self-defence against the present tense…
…As my world comes crashing down I’m dancing, freaking out, deaf dumb and blind…

It’s no one’s business but mine that all this love has been in vain
In you I’m lost

 

Tinker Tailor Soldier Sailor Rich Man Poor Man Beggar Man Thief…

With the longest title of any song I can recall, this is a hark back to Hail to The Thief, with white noise distortions and echoing vocals that grow with dark bass piano figures and sliding strings. On one level it feels more shapeless or experimental than other songs in the album, but then when I listen to it it feels almost perfectly formed.

 

True Love Waits is a song that had its origins 20 years ago as a B-side to an early single. It’s my favourite final song to a Radiohead album (no small achievement). A love song, a lament, the references to children (Yorke and Rachel Owen have two, similar ages to mine) make me shiver. The unresolved end to the song, to the whole album is breathtaking. I’m struck dumb for moments after.

true love waits in haunted attics / and true love lives on lollipops and crisps
just don’t leave, don’t leave

I Reckon this is my favourite album of all time. In the few months since its release I’ve listened to it straight through in one sitting more than 40 times, and I never get bored. I can’t remember a time when one album commanded my attention so completely for so long. It’s unsettling, challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, human, breathtaking, accomplished and (occasionally) uplifting. Uniquely, in my experience of Radiohead over 25 years, it’s moving, touching, intimate.

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The first time I saw Thom Yorke play was in a corridor in a Hall of Residence at Exeter University in 1988. He was strumming a guitar to something like a Beatles song, and other drunken students were singing along. Before last Monday, the last time I saw Radiohead was under a semi-tropical cloudburst in Oxford’s South Park in July 2001. It’s been too long.

I understand why people don’t like Radiohead. Their songs can be non-traditional at best, Thom Yorke’s vocal style isn’t easy on the ear, and their musical experimentation leaves many people cold. Not to mention that they’ve been accused of being the inspiration for bands like Coldplay and Muse, in which case they do have quite a bit to answer for.

I understand why people don’t like Radiohead, but after seeing them in concert last week, I’m more convinced than ever that those people are wrong. This was the most affecting and effective performance I’ve ever seen. Radiohead are like an arthouse film auteur in a morass of lowest-common-denominator blockbusters-by-numbers. Here are a few reasons why I Reckon they’re the best, most adventurous and interesting band around…

Nothing is like the album…

If you turn up to Radiohead and are disappointed by not hearing all your favourites exactly as they sound off the album, maybe you shouldn’t be going to see them in concert. You’re clearly missing the point. Go and see The Rolling Stones instead.

Intimate, shuffling tracks from The King of Limbs (like Bloom & Lotus Flower) become super-charged, blasting soundscapes with driving beats and amazing lighting colour palettes. Feral and Idiotèque always promised to be dynamic live songs, and now they become genuine explosions of energy, complete with strobe lighting in bright green and white, a wall of sound and bass reverb, smashing percussion, and Thom Yorke’s manic stream-of-consciousness vocals and dancing ‘like noone’s watching’. Good Morning Mr Magpie also transforms from a subtle, almost gentle song on TKOL into a furious, breakneck rage, full of clanging guitars, as though they’d switched on their ‘Spinal Tap’ amps and turned everything up to 11.

Alternatively, Like Spinning Plates (almost completely electronic whirring and beeps in the studio) becomes a showcase for Thom’s rolling piano arpeggi with a beautiful hymn-like quality set to warm red-orange lighting. In Give Up The Ghost, he layers up different vocal lines such that he’s singing a four-part chorale with himself. This is one of my highlights of the whole show, wonderfully intimate, simply gorgeous.

Rhythm & Percussion

I’ve always thought Philip Selway was the most under-rated member of Radiohead, especially as traditional drums took a backseat to programmed beats and electronica during Kid A/Amnesiac. His performances on In Rainbows are nothing short of miraculous, and increasingly rhythms are at the heart of everything that Radiohead do well. They now have a ‘permanent’ second drummer onstage, and indeed in some songs four members of the band were beating out repeated, shifting layers of rhythm and syncopation. The overhead video images stayed fixed on twitching drumsticks, focusing our attention on every rim shot, every ripple of the hi-hat cymbals.

Radiohead Live Concert 2012 Tour

“Are you lost yet…?! Good!”

Just over half way through the concert, after a couple of rarer tracks strong on pulsing electronica and hypnotic lighting effects, Thom pauses to ask the audience how they’re keeping up. Apparently Radiohead get criticised for not playing more of their singalong songs more often, which I Reckon is like complaining that JK Rowling should write more of those nice books about wizards. From my vantage point it did feel like many of the people down in the standing section weren’t exactly getting into the music. Were they waiting for Creep or High & Dry?

Radiohead have never made consecutive albums that sound alike (except perhaps Kid A and Amnesiac, compiled out of the same recording sessions). Their tours don’t present their ‘greatest hits’ so much as their current musical world and its interpretation of their entire catalogue.

On Monday night at the O2, the 24 songs were culled from six albums spanning 15 years, plus two tracks not on albums and two new songs. So far, so very much like most other bands’ setlists. But the Big Difference is the choice of songs; nothing from the anthemic, verse-and-chorus The Bends, and only Karma Police representing anything like a ‘normal’ song. Many choices are the more obtuse, awkward, even inaccessible tracks. Both the extraordinarily bass-heavy Myxamotosis and the ambient twinkling and inaudible lyrics of Kid A came in the first five songs.

Bringing the music to life

While the stage set up looks pretty simple, the performance and presentation of these 24 songs is outstanding. A screen wall behind the band rises almost the whole height of the cavernous O2 Arena and create dramatic backdrops. Above these is a row of crystal clear video ‘squares’ that holds images, often cropped, of the band members, or sometimes elaborates on the visual theme for the song.

Radiohead O2 London October 2012

Hanging above the band and in front of the wall are more of these video screens. These move around between songs to form sometimes a low, intimate ceiling, focusing our attention on the band, or at other times a more epic feel, a grander space. The 12 screens offer awkward angles, voyeuristic viewpoints and closeups of Thom’s face, over Jonny Greenwood’s shoulder, fragments of the band and their performance. They are compelling and brilliant.

I am in awe of Mario Rimati for his beautiful set of images from a recent concert in Italy.

Each song has its own very deliberate lighting and colour palette to accompany the new arrangements. The restless, relentless 5/4 pulse of 15 Step starts blue and becomes a shocking pink midway through. After Thom introduces The Daily Mail as a song about “a quality newspaper” the stage is washed in furious red. Climbing up the Walls is perhaps the most disturbing song on OK Computer, and is genuinely menacing onstage as the distorted guitars and wall of sound are complemented by visual distortion in a sickly green, which again seems to explode into bright orange. The patterns during the spectral The Gloaming are spiky and harsh, while Separator and These are my Twisted Words are pulsing, softer patterns in red and turquoise, which constantly swirl and twist, creating almost hallucinatory effects, and probably motion sickness in some people…

Only when Nude opens, around halfway through the concert, do the images become static, giving our eyes some relief. This song (one of my favourites from my favourite album) is amazing, layers of sound building and building, topped by Thom’s astonishing falsetto that breaks through and silences the whole arena…

You’ll go to Hell for what your dirty mind is thinking…
Building to a Climax
The show, full of eclectic song choices and unapologetically avoiding the so-called ‘Hits’ is beautifully plotted. I Reckon any long-term fanboy (or girl) will have loved what it represented; a genuine, open and honest picture of where Radiohead are right now. As the main set finishes in a manic explosion of Feral and Idiotèque, the first encores start with the throbbing, virtually arhythmic piano chords of Pyramid Song, with Jonny Greenwood playing a guitar like a cello. Then there’s a brand new song, Staircase… I’m not sure how many bands choose to play new songs in a concert encore?! This features kinetic bass and percussion, which only serves as a warm-up for the frantic, furious Good Morning Mr Magpie, and a breakneck version of Weird Fishes/Arpeggi, which leads into the wonderful Reckoner, lit with dazzling silvers and golds.
This is dedicated to all of you…
The final few songs completely blow me away: the haunting vocal layers of Give Up The Ghost give way to a truly awesome version of There There, and the evening finishes with Everything in its Right Place. This is the song that opened Kid A, the album that followed the monster OK Computer, and shocked pretty much everyone in its apparent demolition of everything Radiohead had been, with its near-absence of guitars, melodies & choruses. Live, it’s an exercise in distortion and displacement. Thom’s vocals loop and fragment as if the sound system is broken and gradually the band leave the stage until only whirring electronic effects remain. It’s a stunning, complex, perfect finale.

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I’ve recently been working my way through the archives of BBC Radio 4’s seminal Desert Island Discs. When I started listening I was nervous it would involve a lot of well-off people talking about their comfortable lives (kind of like I’m about to). I like to think of myself as a bit of a ‘muso’, so I’m also very cautious about listening to people I might otherwise respect make musical choices of which I disapprove!

Luckily this only happens occasionally. Lawrence Dallaglio was a fabulous England rugby international and is a decent TV pundit now who has a very interesting and moving family history, but when he described how “this one will remind me of my mum Eileen”, my heart sank. But then I’ve listened to Cath Kidston talk with searing honesty about why she hadn’t ever had children, Martin Clunes about his childhood bed-wetting and Danny Baker about surviving cancer. This last week Mark Gatiss spoke beautifully about the loss of both his mother and sister in barely 18 months.

All of this prompted me to consider what I would choose… If I could only listen to 8 discs for the rest of my life, which would I choose? What aspects of my life do I want to remember in my isolated island paradise? After barely a few minutes thinking off the top of my head I had almost 20 titles written down. The idea of never hearing all of these again almost caused me physical pain. Narrowing this down to a favourite 8 seemed nigh-on impossible, like asking me to choose my favourite film.

But I have had a go. 

Within hours of posting this post last week, I was plagued with doubts about my choices. New ideas sprang to mind, and one particular omission kept coming back to me. The truly difficult thing here is what to leave behind, not what to pick. I started thinking about spoken word pieces, like Eddie Izzard’s priceless ‘Death Star Canteen’. But in the end I have chosen to leave out the band who have influenced my music possibly more than anything.

 When I was a child, the music in our house had two distinct flavours. Mum had a ‘pop’ sensibility, especially anything she could sing along to. I remember Ed Stewart and Alan Freeman on Radio 2 playing the hits of the 1960s and 1970s, and have an uncanny ability to remember the lyrics of songs I haven’t heard for decades. Dad has a large classical collection which only rarely got played, but he was also a Queen fan, which meant that I soon became a Queen fan, poring over the gatefold sleeves of A Night at The Opera and A Day at The Races. Queen weren’t like other pop bands. They looked weird, definitely not cool. Their music was weird too, wonderfully played and intensely complicated, layers of arrangements and vocal harmonies. Most of the time they rocked.

Queen were the reason I have liked ELO, heavy and prog-rock in various guises, the dense orchestral textures of symphonies, Muse and Radiohead (among others)… but they have no place on my island, because their influence is clear in many of these other tracks, and because I realised I needed a space for a track specifically dedicated to my two daughters.

1. Elizabeth Mitchell – You are my Sunshine

When Hannah was born, I already knew that I wanted her to enjoy singing, so I sang. Quite a bit. A common favourite was Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely, and she had a cot-mobile that played this version of Brahms’ Lullaby, which was apparently meant to help her fall asleep, but I remember is sitting up with her for what felt like days, listening to this or humming it myself, willing her to succumb…

But we first heard this version of this song on a compilation CD by Putumayo World Music, which introduced us to all sorts of world music folk tunes and arrangements. These have proved wonderful lullabys for our girls, and they especially love this one. Whenever I listen to this one I will hear their voices singing it, and I shall probably be in floods of tears.

 

2. Led Zeppelin – Since I’ve Been Loving You

It was a relatively simple step into my teenage years from Queen to ‘proper’ heavy rock, but it wasn’t until I spent 6 months in the US that I discovered Led Zeppelin. I’ve written before about the majesty and musicianship in this; vocals, guitars, drums. It doesn’t get much better.

 

3. Mahler – Symphony No.2 “Resurrection”

 My main ‘activity’ at university was playing in the orchestra. One day after my 23rd birthday, Wednesday 11th March 1992, was probably my finest hour. We tackled this massive work, I was playing 1st Horn and pretty much nailed it. It’s a genuine test of endurance with enormous climaxes but also sections of limpid beauty (like just after 2’00” here). After 4½ movements and over an hour, the huge choir finally makes its entrance, astonishingly quietly…

…and then the final sections: after so much playing and concentration, these are an ordeal in themselves. But I will never forget that final chord and being overwhelmed by the cheers of our audience.

 

4. Deee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart

There were a huge number of what I think of as dancefloor classics from my time at university, from Primal Scream to The  Happy Mondays to The Stone Roses. Mostly indie / guitar-based rock with extra bite, beats and groove. The wonderful exception to prove this rule for me is this infectious piece of kitsch, over-the-top, uplifting magic. This will never grow old. I would dance to this even if I could barely stand.

 

5. Debussy – Clair de Lune

 Many of these choices are richly layered pieces. I can listen to the Mahler over and over for different parts, but this is a complete contrast. This will remind me of my wife Rachel: I’ve listened to her playing it for 20 years, and I wouldn’t want to stop now. I could lie on the beach, gaze at the moon and listen to this.

 

6. Saint-Saens – Symphony No.3 “Organ”

Another seriously big orchestral work that thrilled me when I was lucky enough to play it with an amateur orchestra from Cheltenham in a seriously large church in Cherbourg. The organ was mighty and we made a pretty fantastic sound. It is most  famous for the final movement and the massive role of the organ, but the beautiful 2nd movement is the heart and soul for me.

 

7. Radiohead – Weird Fishes / Arpeggi

 Radiohead are the antithesis of X-Factor-manufactured-pop bands. They seemingly don’t care whether their music has tunes, verses or choruses. I vaguely knew Thom Yorke in my first year at university, and I have a demo tape of On A Friday from 1989. Just when people started thinking of them as a coruscating guitar band, they went all trippy and electronic. This ethereal track seems perfect for swimming the reefs around my island, although I don’t have any intentions of being ‘picked over by the worms’

 

8. Sinead O’Connor – In This Heart

We had this sung at our wedding – although we did alter some of the words to be less about loss and death! Another piece I could play at nights, when I’m about to sleep, to remind me of Rachel, Hannah and Ella. I’d probably weep buckets listening to many of these, but I suppose that would be a way of remembering how blessed I have been, that I’m alive, and that I still mean something.

As I said, there are many, many tracks that I’ve had to exclude. If Kirsty Young asked me to choose one from these, I’d probably pick the Led Zeppelin. My luxury would probably be a French Horn with a comprehensive collection of music – both solo music and orchestral parts, so I could recreate the symphonies at least in part.

For my book I’m torn between three.

  • A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth). I read this in The Maldives, and as it’s 1400 pages it would offer great value for money
  • Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell). Possibly a bit bleak in its view of humanity, but the brilliant writing, rich texture and structure of six thematically linked novellas would again offer great repeat potential
  • The Road (Cormac McCarthy). The poetic beauty of the prose would give me endless pleasure to read it out loud to whatever animals might be around to listen, despite the terrors of the story. The Father-Son relationship is among the most amazing things in prose.

And so, dear readers, what do you think? What would you take?

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I like to think I have reasonably wide-ranging musical tastes, if not particularly cutting-edge. In fact, I’ve rarely ever been anything close to cool. My first loves were perhaps Queen and ELO in the late 1970s, influenced by my Dad. As a teenager in the 1980s I seemed to like Heavy Rock like Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC as well as things like Pink Floyd, Genesis and Rush. I never much liked The Smiths, and only belatedly discovered The Cure. The nearest I get to cool is that I was in the same Hall of Residence at university as Thom Yorke from Radiohead. And all the time I played French Horn, building my love of classical music from Bach to Mahler, Mozart to Gershwin.

In amongst all this I have barely a passing acquaintance with The Blues (Jimmy Page aside, more of which later). Perhaps more than any other genre, The Blues have an astonishing mythology and heritage, and indeed influence upon much of current popular music. But I was more simply inspired to write this piece today by a letter to The Word Magazine last month from Graham Jones, Proper Music Distribution Ltd. This made me laugh out loud more than once, and IMHO is perhaps the best letter ever… below are transcribed some edited highlights for your amusement.

WRITING AND SINGING THE BLUES – SOME GUIDELINES…

1. Most Blues begin, “Woke up this morning…”

2. “I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin The Blues, unless you stick something nasty in the next line like, “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town.”

3. The Blues is simple. After you get the first line right, you repeat it. Then find something that rhymes – sort of. “I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town. Yes, I got a good woman, with the meanest face in town. Got teeth like Margaret Thatcher, and she weigh 500 pound.”

4. The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch. Ain’t no way out.

6. Teenagers can’t sing The Blues. They ain’t fixin’ to die yet. Adults sing The Blues. In Blues, “adulthood” means being old enough to get the electric chair if you shoot a man in Memphis.

8. A man with male pattern baldness ain’t The Blues. A woman with male pattern baldness is.Breaking your leg ‘cos you were skiing ain’t The Blues. Breaking your leg ‘cos a alligator be chompin’ on it is.

10. Good places for The Blues: the highway, the jailhouse, an empty bed, the bottom of a whisky glass.

11. Bad places for The Blues: Nordstrom’s, gallery openings, Ivy League institutions, golf courses.

13. You have a right to sing The Blues if: (a) you older than dirt, (b) you blind, (c) you shot a man in Memphis, (d) you can’t be satisfied.

14. You don’t have the right to sing The Blues if: (a) you have all your teeth, (b) you were once blind but now can see, (c) the man in Memphis lived, (d) you have a pension fund.

15. Blues is not a matter of colour. It’s a matter of bad luck. Tiger Woods cannot sing The Blues. Sonny Liston could.

19. If death occurs in a cheap motel or a shotgun shack, it’s a Blues death. Stabbed in the back by a jealous lover is another Blues way to die. So is the electric chair, substance abuse and dying lonely on a broke-down cot. You can’t have a Blues death if you die during a tennis match or while getting liposuction.

20. Blues names for women: (a) Sadie, (b) Big Mama, (c) Bessie, (d) Fat River Dumpling.

21. Blues names for men: (a) Joe, (b) Willie, (c) Little Willie, (d) Big Willie.

22. People with names like Michelle, Amber, Debbie and Heather cannot sing The Blues, no matter how many men they shoot in Memphis.

23. I don’t care how tragic your life: if you own even one computer you cannot sing The Blues.

And then I discovered this: Generate your own Blues name… apparently you can call me Divine Marvin Perkins.

Let me leave you with Led Zeppelin. They could apparently Play The Blues, despite being middle-class white boys from England. Perhaps they’re the exception that proves the rule.

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…so Emma Goldman infamously claimed. I say infamously, because Banksy has adopted and adapted the phrase for his own purposes.

Banksy

Just over a year ago, the UK was preparing for potentially the most impactful election in recent history. Alongside the larger Labour & Conservative (Tory) parties. it appeared that the Liberal Democrats were emerging as a genuine 3rd party with enough support to make things interesting. I was pretty hopeful…

The Liberals got 23% of the votes cast, but under the UK system of constituencies and first past the post voting, they only achieved 9% of the seats. This was just enough to force a hung parliament with no overall majority and they forged an unlikely deal with the right-of-centre Tories. I hoped this might lead to a new style of politics, but I was wrong.

Nevertheless, one of the pledges of this unholy union born of political expediency was a referendum on a different voting system for UK elections, and this is actually happening on Thursday 5th May 2011. At the same time, I am getting the chance to vote in our local council elections.

I’ve voted in 6 General Elections in four different constituencies, and only once voted for the winning candidate/party. I’m tired of the lack of meaning in my vote, that it can’t begin to matter. I realise that the AV system actually wouldn’t make much difference in my current constituency, as the Tory party scores perilously close to 50% of votes cast, and would almost certainly win even in the new system. But it would make a difference somewhere, and it might be a start. I’m going to vote YES in the AV referendum on Thursday. But I don’t really expect to win.

If we get the politics we deserve, we must have been pretty bad in recent times. So far I’ve not received a single piece of communications from the YES campaign, despite having registered with the Liberal Democrats, who support the change. I’ve had three mailers from the No2AV campaign, and their arguments can be summed up as

  1. You know that Nick Clegg bloke, that you liked so much a year ago, but turned out to be a double-dealing slime-bag like the rest of them. Well, he likes AV, so it would inevitably lead to more of his broken promises…
  2. Winners don’t win under AV. Like Steve Redgrave or Bobby Moore. AV wouldn’t let them win. EH???
  3. Changing the system will cost money (actually under £4 for every eligible voter, not bad IMHO).
  4. It’s complicated. Because apparently UK voters can’t rank their preferences in order.
  5. Weirdos who vote for fringe parties get to choose who wins.

Is that the quality of debate in this country, over something as trivial as how we elect our representatives?

In terms of my local district council, we have one Tory and two Independent (unaffiliated) councillors. It’s generally a Conservative area. The sum of all the political leafleting I’ve received is as follows:

Conservative: glossy 4-page colour A4 leaflet, filled largely with their declared achievements running the district council, and pledges for the future (increased recycling, freeze local council taxes). A ‘personal’ message from David ‘callmedave’ Cameron.

Liberal Democrats: 4-page black & white A4 newsletter, talking a lot about the Lib Dem Mayor and Town Councillors, as the only viable alternative to the local Tories. Six pledges (recycling service, changes in council priorities) and lots about how Lib Dems are ordinary people who live in and love this area. Nothing about the national party.

Labour: small 2-page flyer that only attacks the Tory Government’s national spending cuts. Not a word about Tetbury, doesn’t even name the candidates. This is a flyer produced nationally for the places they don’t think they can win. Hint: there’s a reason you don’t win here. This leaflet shows you don’t seem to care…

Independents: 4-page black & white A5 leaflet about their length of service for the town, their priorities and principles, and why they remain committed to being independent of the main political parties.

What this makes me feel is that the local councillors care more about actually trying to do a good job for their electorate, whichever party (or not) they’re from. But their national parties are letting them down. It must be hard being a Labour candidate around here, but it’s not made any easier by the paltry support they get. It makes me despair that the turnout for the AV referendum will probably be pretty low, and the No vote will win.

It makes me sad that the local elections get the worst turnouts but generally have the most committed and interested candidates, perhaps because the candidates actually live and work in our communities, and have to pass us in the street, or bump into us in the Butcher’s or the Pub, or at the school gates. Local politicians aren’t at all perfect, but they at least have a connection with the people and places they represent.

I feel no connection at all with the national parties right now.

I will stop
I will stop at nothing
Say the right things
When electioneering
I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet

Riot shields
Voodoo economics
It’s just business
Cattle prods and the IMF
I trust I can rely on your vote

When I go forwards you go backwards and somewhere we will meet

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It’s almost exactly 19 months since I opened this WordPress account and started blogging. Recently I suggested to another blogger that for his 100th post he should list 100 things he had learnt since starting his blog. He gamely accepted the challenge, so some similar list is the least I can do…

So, looking back so far, a ‘York Notes’ version of What I Reckon (May 2009 – December 2010)

  1. Aiming to post 2-3 times a week is a noble aim, but not at 600 words a time.
  2. It’s about people (not data segments or clusters or whatever).
  3. Don’t try and surf if you can’t easily and smoothly stand up from lying prone on solid ground.
  4. Fish are friends, not food.
  5. Sometimes sitting down with an icecream is more fun than flying a kite.
  6. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
  7. The smell of Birds’ Custard makes me think of Sunday lunch when I was a child.
  8. Businesses should stop centralising and get closer to their local communities.
  9. Dr John Mislow was a friend of mine a long time ago. His death at 39 is a tragedy.
  10. Arthur Honnegger’s ‘Pacific 231’ is a brilliant evocation of the power of the steam train.
  11. I really don’t want the BBC to tell me what other people reckon about the news. I want the BBC to tell me the news.
  12. Advertising can sometimes produce very moving, powerful campaigns for good.
  13. There’s skint, and there’s middle class skint. I know which I am, and I am grateful.
  14. The Wire is the best TV series I’ve ever seen, even better than Mad Men.
  15. The menu découvert at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons is expensive, but astonishingly good value.
  16. I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.
  17. Man on Wire is a fantastic biopic, documentary and heist movie all at once.
  18. The Merlin Entertainments London Eye is a stunning way to see London, but it was also a soulless corporate experience for me.
  19. Stuff takes longer when you’re camping, but in a good way.
  20. Marketing is usually the application of common sense.
  21. U2 are a brilliant band, and their live shows are tremendous.
  22. One of the best things about my week is listening to Filmspotting.
  23. Most products can be easily and almost instantly substituted for a functionally identical alternative. The difference is in design, experience and how it makes you feel.
  24. Margaret Thatcher was wrong. There is such a thing as society, and it’s not David Cameron’s ‘Big’ version either.
  25. This American Life, presented by the peerless Ira Glass, is a marvellous radio show.
  26. Queen were a terrific band, and Freddie Mercury the greatest front man of all-time.
  27. The mound above Tarn Hows is a wonderful spot to have lunch, looking across to the Langdale Pikes.
  28. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a masterpiece.
  29. Social Media isn’t complicated. It’s a conversation. Be interesting, and listen to what other people are saying.
  30. Revolutionary Road has much to praise, but ultimately I found it hollow, considerably less than the sum of its parts.
  31. The problem with most brands is that they want to talk about themselves all the time.
  32. Andy Goldsworthy is a tremendous ‘natural artist’.
  33. Sometimes my iPod shuffle command seems to know what it’s doing, and creates playlists of real beauty.
  34. The PCC  seems pretty toothless to me.
  35. Watching a film on a train can be dangerous. It can leave you utterly unprepared for the real world at the end of the journey.
  36. Orange seems to take me for granted. And yet I stay with them. What does that say about #23?
  37. The end of The Graduate is the least triumphant happy ending in cinema.
  38. A Gary Larson cartoon and a Jack Johnson quote have driven more traffic to my blog than any other post…
  39. Real mail is at least as important as email.
  40. I wish I was half as cool as Christopher Walken.
  41. If you want me to care about you’re supposedly trying to sell, at least pretend like you care about me.
  42. There’s something very empty about the same sort of people drinking the same drinks sat at the same tables listening to the same music in ‘chain bars’ all over the country.
  43. Did I mention that The Wire is the best TV ever made? Ever.
  44. The opening paragraph of Jim Crace’s Quarantine is as good as anything I’ve read in years. The rest of the book is pretty darn great too.
  45. Bono learnt a lot of what he knows from Freddie Mercury, except the bit about not taking himself too seriously.
  46. ‘Company Policy’ is usually the death-knell to allowing staff to treat customers decently
  47. Men, as a rule, hate indiscriminate shopping.
  48. Anyone who thinks It’s a Wonderful Life is schmaltzy sentimentality run riot hasn’t been paying attention.
  49. In Rainbows is as close to a perfect album as pretty much anything I’ve heard.
  50. Everyone wants to be where someone loves them best of all…
  51. I got tired of writing about poor customer service, because it doesn’t seem to change anything.
  52. Corporate car adverts need to be less boastful about how good their cars are, and pay attention to #41 above…
  53. Let us all be Dinosaurs and Lovely Other Dinosaurs together. For the sun is warm. And the world is a beautiful place.
  54. The Cluetrain Manifesto is as relevant now as when it was written 11 years ago.
  55. I need to review my old posts more often – several video embeds are now defunct…
  56. PT Anderson is a brilliant director, probably the best around.
  57. I laugh more in an episode of Green Wing than in a whole series of most comedy shows.
  58. John Hillcoat’s adaptation of The Road is a fine film, but not quite a masterpiece.
  59. Keeping a written record of significant experiences is a lovely way to remind myself that my life is pretty darn fine, actually.
  60. Many businesses swing wildly between a plan based on pie-in-the-sky assumptions with no foundation, and analysis-paralysis.
  61. BBC 6Music packs in more variety in a day than most commercial stations do in a month.
  62. I hoped the UK General Election in May 2010 would lead to positive change. I was half-right.
  63. Devon and Cornwall have beaches to rival anywhere in Europe.
  64. Many of my favourite songs are under 3 minutes long; perfectly-formed pieces of beautiful art.
  65. I truly hoped the Conservative / Lib-Dem coalition would be a progressive force for change in UK politics. I was naive.
  66. 2 of my Top 3 films of the last decade are not in English (City of God and The Lives of Others).
  67. Sometimes traffic to my blog comes from the most unlikely sources (Lady Gaga?!).
  68. Cate Blanchett is one of the most interesting actresses working today.
  69. Companies need to care more about their agencies.
  70. Uncovering decades-old diaries can be both uplifting and uncomfortable.
  71. When you are dancing and laughing and finally living, hear my voice in your head and think of me kindly.
  72. Usain Bolt is a greater role-model and champion than any English footballer.
  73. The salaries of the 24 players in England’s dismal World Cup squad would pay for over 3,300 British Soldiers.
  74. Martin Luther King never spoke in terms of SMART objectives.
  75. Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows…
  76. Volunteering for The National Trust enables me to meet great people and do some good. Nice.
  77. (Despite the doping scandals) The Tour de France is a sporting spectacle like nothing else.
  78. There is no political violence, only criminal violence. But this can be state-sanctioned too.
  79. Natwest Bank’s ‘Helpful Banking’ campaign is depressingly cautious and underwhelming.
  80. Gifford’s Circus is brilliant old-school entertainment.
  81. I am incredibly proud of the way my 5-year-old daughter deals with her  nut allergy
  82. Anvil! The story of Anvil is as wonderful a love story as you’ll ever see.
  83. There is nothing worse in life than being blind in Granada…
  84. Roald Dahl is my favourite author for children.
  85. Does our ability to overcome nature make us immune to its danger and challenges?
  86. It’s really important to believe in your own abilities: you can be better than you’re currently allowed to be.
  87. The 24-hour-news cycle means we make mountains out of molehills and forget very quickly.
  88. Easyjet are not as bad as they’re made out to be.
  89. The Bugle is the perfect antidote to the 24-hour-news-cycle
  90. The shared experience of the Twitterati watching Strictly Come Dancing or X-Factor proves that appointment TV viewing is not dead.
  91. The Cove is a brilliant and shocking documentary that does for (part of) the Japanese fishing industry what Jamie Oliver has tried to do for battery chicken farming in the UK
  92. There is such a thing as too much choice.
  93. Long live Jesse Smith’s Butcher in Tetbury and all those like it.
  94. Movember is a terrific charity, and it brought our team at work closer together. The power of the Mo is real…
  95. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen is another near-perfect album.
  96. I grew a moustache and I liked it (for a month anyway)
  97. I’m a French Horn player and proud of it.
  98. I’m also proud of this blog. Thanks for reading.
  99. Struggling now… as it’s nearly Christmas, can I point you in the direction of my recipe for a lovely festive season?
  100. Trying to plan ahead with posts, especially when my blog is reasonably wide-ranging in scope, is important. I get distracted easily and lose focus. Outlining is important, and writer’s block is real.

I hope I can continue to feel proud of this for another 100 posts, and that you can continue to find it interesting. Thanks for reading and supporting my little blog.

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For the last couple of weeks our ‘home’ laptop has been repaired, so instead of my weekly rota of podcasts, I’ve been rediscovering the often unadulterated joy that comes from listening to a complete album. Much as I like the Genius function and compiling my own playlists,  I grew up listening to albums.

A great album is far more than the sum of its individual songs. In many ways it’s like a symphony, with linked thematic material, and often takes you on some kind of journey – emotionally, musically, and sometimes with an actual story or concept. The songs are in a particular order for a reason. Sometimes I think putting albums on ‘shuffle’ or simply selecting one or two tracks is like remarking that ‘I really like that book, especially chapter 12…’. We don’t treat films or books like that, so why albums?

Released 35 years ago, Born to Run is a truly great album; the album that ‘broke’ Bruce Springsteen as a major star. Its 8 songs span just 39’26”, but say more and cover more emotions than many artists’ entire careers. It tells of youthful optimism, frustration, rage, despair and ultimately disappointment. It’s a bitter rite of passage, but the brilliance of its music and power of its lyrics make it utterly compelling from start to finish. I must have listened to it a dozen times in the last week, and it still sends shivers down my spine.

The album starts with a barnstorming track. Thunder Road tells of smalltown frustration, but is filled with optimism. The lyrics are amazingly evocative, from the opening description of Mary dancing across the porch, to the visions of her dreams. It’s clear from the outset, however, that this is no idealised fantasy.

So you’re scared and you’re thinking that maybe we ain’t that young anymore …

You ain’t a beauty but hey you’re alright

Well I’m no hero, that’s understood, All the redemption I can offer girl is beneath this dirty hood…

The journey is begun. And while we’re hopeful that their promises and aspirations are fulfilled, it’s not exactly convincing…

The two sides of the album seem to mirror each other, with the most upbeat and positive Thunder Road and the titular Born to Run as their opening tracks. The middle songs on each side are vivid episodes from life on the streets. But they’re no bundles of joy, filled with references to loneliness, bitterness and uncertainty. The protagonists talk a good game, but their fragility is often painfully obvious. Despite the bravado and determination, these songs tell a story of people trapped within The American Dream, and ultimately crushed by disappointment

You work nine to five and somehow you survive to the night…

The final tracks of the two sides are epic tales of thwarted dreams and disappointment that take up 40% of the album’s running time. Backstreets truly brings home to the listener that thes youthful dreams are truly just dreams. It’s a look back from some sadder, less exciting future, and it’s not a rose-tinted memory.

Blame it on the lies that killed us, blame it on the truth that ran us down,
You can blame it all on me, Terry, it don’t matter to me now.
When the breakdown hit at midnight there was nothing more to say,
But I hated him, and I hated you when you went away…

Laying here in the dark you’re like an angel on my chest
Just another tramp of hearts crying tears of faithlessness.
Remember all the movies, Terry, we’d go see,
Trying to learn to walk like the heroes we thought we had to be.
Well after all this time we find we’re just like all the rest,
Stranded in the park and forced to confess to hiding on the backstreets…

Jungleland finishes the album, and once and for all shatters the dreams, as ‘The Magic Rat and the barefoot girl’ make one last doomed bid for freedom.

In the tunnels uptown, the Rat’s own dream guns him down
As shots echo down them hallways in the night.
Noone watches as the ambulance pulls away…

The ambitions of those trying to escape the town full of losers are dashed. The whole journey from start to finish has been filled with tension. Trapped by their own aspirations, the protagonists of these tremendous songs are constantly struggling to survive, living for small crumbs of comfort racing cars or making deals.

Born to Run is a timeless album that has as much to say about The American Dream today as it did in 1975.


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