September 27th Anti-War Demo

Today I went on another anti-war protest in London. This time, it was also protesting the illegal occupation of Iraq by USK forces. Click here for pics.

Typically, the media coverage was poor to nonexistent. Sky News gave the most time. BBC News at 10 didn’t even mention the demo once. Apparently, tens of thousands of people gathering in London to protest against the government isn’t as important as where Wimbledon FC are based.

But back to those figures. The Met Police started off by saying that around 10,000 people were on the demo. Later they generously revised this up to 20,000. The organisers claim around 100,000. The truth? Well, I’d say at least 70,000 plus. I’m basing this on my experiences of the other demos. Today’s march was definitely bigger than the one in April, I’d say it was around the amount in March. So, as usual, don’t believe the yellow media’s estimates of numbers. When it even bothers to give them, that is.

Have a look at this photo:

I couldn’t get quite high enough but if you look towards the middle left of the pic, you can see where the road is rising and converging – full of masses of people. And, as with previous anti-war marches, this wasn’t a temporary crowd. People were streaming through there at that density for at least an hour. How do I know? Because once we arrived at Trafalgar Square, that’s how long the people were streaming in behind us. In fact, when we left, marchers were still arriving. The only reason the square didn’t overflow is that earlier arrivees started heading for home because, like us, they were knackered.

But enough of facts and figures! What was today really about? Well, I think Stop The War should have called this protest the ‘We Bloody Told You So, Didn’t We?’ march. Okay, a bit big for badges maybe.

Remember Feb 15th? Remember New Labour apparatchiks saying that we, the peaceful demonstrators, would be responsible for the deaths that Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destructions would bring. We were misguided fools appeasing a dangerous dictator, they said. Saddam was a new Hitler, with a stunning buildup of WMDs, all pointed at Britain. 45 minutes…

Now, who was right, eh? USK forces first bombed Iraq flat and then occupied it. Did they find any WMDs? No. Were we right when we marched and sang and drummed and shouted that everything Bush and Blair said was a sham?


History will declare that the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq was the first action in America’s enactment of its Project for a New American Century. Not to depose a dictator, not merely to secure access to oil (although that’s handy) but to sound out a clear message to the world: WE’RE NUMBER ONE! Now the Soviet Bear is slain, nothing stands in the way of the American Empire.

Nothing but millions of ordinary people. Nothing but us.

While I was marching in protest of US occupation, the benevolent liberators of Iraq outdid themselves. They shot and killed five Iraqis, all civilians, all unarmed. Their crime? To be travelling in their own country and of being unfamiliar with US English being barked at them. For that, they were killed.

The US Army did liberate these Iraqis. They liberated them from life.

Calvin Johnson

Calvin Johnson

Calvin rocking! Click da pic for more!

Last night I saw an amazing gig by Calvin Johnson. He played at Bunkers Hill, Notts with support from Herman Dune, The Chemistry Experiment and Dr. Cocacolamcdonalds. Another fine Damn You! night.

When Calvin first started playing, it was through the vocal PA (as you can see in the initial shots). Although the audience closest to him was loving it, there were a lot of people at the back of the gig just gabbing away and paying no attention at all – ignorant bastards.

Then serendipity lent a hand, his mic stands collapsed with a bad case of whimsy and Calvin was PA-less. A lesser performer would have baulked, walked off or thrown a tantrum. I’ve seen some bands start pissing and moaning just cos of a tiny bit of feedback. Calvin? Well, he calmly unplugged the now redundant, buzzing speaker cabs and focussed everything on the audience. It was quite eerie – the squawking chuntering from before just evaporated and the whole room became centred on Calvin. It was very, very quiet. So quiet that I felt a bit embarrassed at the loudness of my shutter action.

Calvin sang and twanged beautifully. What a voice that man’s got. Like a swinging Paul Robeson, singing songs of badness, madness and hard travellin. He’s undoubtedly one of the best musicians I’ve ever seen perform.

Altogether, I had an excellent night. Dr Cocacolamcdonalds debuted a song about Derby “where the streets are paved with dogshit”, The Chemistry Experiment went down very well (I liked the vocodering myself) and Herman Dune also played a great set. I thought all the bands worked well together as an antithesis to the twiddly widdly jazz prog emo excess that seems to infect every gig I go to.

Of course, Calvin’s set was the perfect foil to that dullness. You can’t get more stripped-down than a bloke just stalking the stage and singing/glaring at a roomful of people, without even playing his acoustic guitar for accompaniment. Not hiding behind bombast, volume, distortion or slabs of guitar, just out there, in your face. Marvellous. The punkest gig I’ve seen in fucking years.

Click here for the pics

Panasonic DMR-HS2

This was my birthday present this year and at the moment it’s my top gadget.

It’s basically a combination DVD-R recorder coupled with a hard-disk-based video recorder. The built-in HD is 40 gigabytes, which is enough for 52 hours of video in lowest quality mode. In this mode, the picture is still better than VHS LP mode and it’s what I use for archiving frazzly old VHS. With the highest quality mode, you really can’t see any difference between recorded and live.

Why is it a great gadget? Well, firstly, I can wave goodbye to VHS. No more hunting for a blank tape, no more hunting through an obsolete, serial storage format trying to find a bit of free space. If something comes on telly, just press ‘record’ and you’re taping (ummm… or should that be disking?).

Then there’s the DVD-R recorder. Say you tape a whole load of programmes and halfway through there’s one good one you want to keep. What to do? Simple – just edit out all the shite (via the very intuitive divide or partial erase fucntions) and then dub the prog over to DVD so you’ve got it forever. Or at least until the DVD gets too scratched up.

You’ve got loads of functions for assembling your DVD, including choosing the top menu, playlisting exact bits of footage (without wiping any). So, in a pinch, you could easily use this machine to assemble a film from raw DV footage, so it’s handy it’s got a DV-input on it as well as normal video and S-video inputs. Personally, I’d probably still use iMovie for the extra flexibility but where the Panasonic wins out is in its speed and robustness – I’ve not burnt one DVD-R coaster so far. I wish I could say the same of my PowerMac.

I’ve been going through old VHS tapes, archiving across films that aren’t available on DVD and telly progs that have vanished into the haze of history. So I’ve now got my own Gilbert’s Fridge and Smile DVDs.

A truly, truly great gadget!

Oh, and I nearly forgot – the freakiest feature is chase play. This means you can set something recording, potter off to do something for a bit and then when you come back, start watching the programme from the start at the same time as recording the programme until it finishes When I tried this function out, it was as freaky as when I first used a domestic video recorder. It may seem gimmicky but it’s actually very useful.

Why bother with Pop Idol?

I’m just watching Pop Idol and it’s made me very puzzled…

Firstly, I’m not slagging-off anyone who’s gone for the auditions. Though they may provide easy laughs, they’ve got more courage than 99% of the population. I admire them, even the maddest of the mad.

But what I do find strange is why folks with such determination are applying to Pop Idol in the first place.

If you think you’re a great singer, why queue up for hours for a 30-second audition? If you’re that good, why don’t you form your own label and release your records yourself?

This is one of the central problems with pop music nowadays – there is seen to be a “proper” route to becoming a pop star. And this path is a return to the A&R model that was successful before the 60s influx of singer songwriters: find pliable talent, find the song, assemble the package and then sell. All of this is controlled by the label, artists are merely vessels for the creative ideas of a pop Svengali, a Pete Waterman, Berry Gordy or Don Kirschner.

Now, I’m not knocking that approach. It’s produced some of the finest pop records in history. But it’s only one approach to making pop music. To imply it’s the best way is to ignore the other half of great pop music, often made by freaks and weirdos, singer/songwriters like Buddy Holly, The Beatles or the Beach Boys.

But the other danger of the Pop Idol approach is the homogeneity it both requires and encourages. I haven’t heard one person audition so far who’s sung in their own voice, with their own regional accent. It’s all come out in that hideous fake-American accent, coupled with r’n’b-lite hyper warbling. Nothing is sung simply, everything is over-egged and over-trilled. I’d blame the contestants but in truth they’re just trying to deliver what they think the judges want to hear. They’re following, not leading. Something an artist doesn’t do.

Then there’s the awful spectacle of the people who have great voices but are too fat or too ugly or just too weird looking. So you don’t just have to sound conventional, you have to look conventional too. It’s like the Pop Idol process is whittling away anything different or unique and thus ending up with a performer who can be nothing but a bland, inoffensive amalgam. Hello Will Young, hello Gareth Gates.

But none of the above would matter if people didn’t take it all so seriously. All those kids, waiting around before subjecting themselves to the trauma of being judged by criteria that are, at best, doubtful and at worst just plain dull. I’m now watching young women in tears because they think they’ve blown their one chance.

But why are they crying? Am I insane? Why do people who are obviously creative stake their entire lives on someone else’s opinion? They’ve got enough self-belief to go through a gruelling audition process – doing that is about a hundred times harder than setting up your own label and bunging a record out.

If you’ve got anything, anything at all, all you have to do is persevere. Make music, release it somehow, raise the money for a press person to get it reviewed somewhere somehow. If your work is good, eventually it’ll be recognised. You may have to spend years/decades at this but eventually, it’ll happen.

Don’t put your life on hold, waiting for the perfect opportunity to materialise. It may never happen and then what? All that time you spent grooming yourself, turning yourself into someone you aren’t will have ruined what individual flair you once had.

Meanwhile, you could have been doing the most important thing for any musician: making music. Writing songs, performing, recording, releasing records, being hurt by bad reviews and then picking yourself up and making more music. In other words, you could have been learning the core of your trade instead of spending hours primping and preening.

I think Shakespeare encapsulated all the above perfectly in the speech Polonius gives to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet:

“This above all, to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”