Home? What?

Home - what the fuck?

I’m currently watching a prog on BBC2 called ‘Home.’ And I believe I’m watching the finest comedy on British television.

There’s now a plummy voiced interior designer looking at bits of furniture that cost half what my house did. They’ve just had a “rebel” furniture designer on who’s cutting-edge and very daring, apparently. He’s made a chair out of rubber bands. This act of Narodnik sedition will surely have his name at the top of MI5’s list. Oh, how the ruling class must shiver and shake as they hand over £50,000 for one fucking chair.

This series is a classic. They’ve just added a foot to a room by putting blinds up instead of curtains! The designer has obviously solved the intricacies of the Eintstein-Rosen bridge and can now bend spacetime to her will. Hold on, no – she’s just bunged up a mirror to make the room look bigger.

There was a wonderful series in the ’80s/’90s called ‘Signs Of The Times.’ That series simply filmed people talking about their houses and decoration choices. It’s some of the most unintentionally funny TV ever made. Well, I say unintentionally but I’m sure the director knew what was going on.

I suspect the same to be true of ‘Home.’ The interviews have the interviewee talking direct to camera and the last shot is often a prolonged still of the person grimacing uncomfortably. It’s like the end of Police Squad, but with more cushions and dados.

Really, if you’re a fan TV comedy, watch or tape this series. It’s funnier than Boosh and Big Train stitched together.

I’m off now to pay attention to Phillip Starck talking absolute fucking bollocks about a shelf.

Nationalise Everything

Gothenburg - 1
C’mon, singalong! “Now at the Central Station, no time for being patient…”

Y’know, it’s hard to experience even one day without having a lorryload of free-market propaganda being shoved down your throat.

It was bad enough in the ’80s when it was only Tories promoting this fantasy, now even Labour spouts the capitalist rhetoric. New Labour has firmly embraced the capitalist lies of efficiency and superiority. All the modern Labour party offers is being better managers of capitalism than the Tories. Real socialism has been pruned from the constitution and the manifestos.

After a while, even an embittered ex-Trot like me can get brainwashed by this farrago of falsehoods, the great lies of capitalism. Maybe the “free market” is the best economic system, the most elegant way of balancing supply and demand? I started to very, very slightly believe the hype.

And then I went to Scandinavia.

I experienced a level of public transport that doesn’t exist in Britain any more. Do you remember when we had a train service that made sense? When the tracks and the trains were under one set of managers rather than spread between two (and more) bickering private enterprises? Do you remember when you could catch a train and it would be safe? What about Paddington, Potters Bar and Hatfield? Follow any of those links and you’ll find the same story: private enterprise putting profits ahead of our safety. They murder us and then get off with a slapped wrist or, occasionally, a big fat golden handshake. Trebles all round for the mis-managers of our glorious privatised transport system.

In Finland and Sweden, they have civilised, modern, spacious, efficient and cheap rail transport. Why? Because the main providers, SJ and VR, are both state-owned companies. That’s right, like good old, much-maligned British Rail used to be. I say much-maligned because Brits have always moaned about the trains. But when we used to moan, it was about horrible sandwiches or tardiness. We actually arrived at our destinations alive, something that apparently isn’t a priority for private enterprise.

Have a look at this train:

Helsinki + Train Journey - 9

Nice, innit? I caught that train from Turku to Helsinki and then back again. It had huge, roomy seats, it was spotlessly clean and punctual. The Finns expect their trains to be punctual even if there’s three feet of snow. When I tried to explain how ours are cancelled because of the “wrong kind of leaves on the line” or excessive rain, my Finnish friend thought I was joking. It was only when he saw my pained expression that he realised I wasn’t. He pointed out that Britain is famous for its changeable, often bad weather so why wouldn’t our train system be prepared for this? Quite.

Now have a look at this baby:

X2000

That’s a Swedish X2000 train. It’s the more expensive train Gary and I caught between Gothenburg and Stockholm. Again, the seats were roomy, it was impeccably clean and everything was on time and functional. I’m sure the Swedes on the train wondered why two Brits were looking around in amazement at what is, for them, a normal standard of public transport. We were like paupers in a palace. Swedish and Finnish normal class train travel is better than our first class.

And in Gothenburg? Well, there you have the tram system which, again, pisses on anything we’ve got here. Publically owned, of course. Sweden also has a huge welfare state, the kind New Labour and the Tories are trying to dismantle here. Because of this public spending on public good, Sweden ranks highly or highest in many world stats. It’s certainly far above rapacious free-marketeers like the USA or, now, the UK.

It was on the train back to Gothenburg that I had the revelation: Scandinavia is a parallel reality. Scandinavia is what Britain would have been like today if Thatcher had never happened. If her poisonous selfishness hadn’t become the dominating force in British politics and culture.

Speaking of which, halfway through our trip, I asked Gary what we hadn’t seen. He was puzzled. And then I said, “Beggars.” I asked a couple of Swedes and they said, yeah, of course there are beggars and homeless people. But all I can say is that you don’t see them commonly as you would walking round Derby. I guess the Swedish and Finnish welfare states catch the people that our decimated, ravaged system fails. Before Thatcher, in the ’70s, there were hardly any beggars or homeless on the streets of Britain. After her… well, you know what it’s like if you live here. Every kid sitting at the side of a road in a sleeping bag really is one of Thatcher’s Children. They’re paying the price for one lunatic’s economic wank fantasy.

The sad coda to all this is that Sweden has just elected a right-wing government:

Mr Reinfeldt [leader of the major right-wing party] has pledged to sell state shareholdings in listed companies, and deregulate other areas of the economy in which the state has a large influence. This could clear the way for cross-border mergers or acquisitions of listed companies.

The result means Sweden is set for an historic change of direction as it moves away from being a welfare state towards encouraging more market-based activity.
(Source: FT.com)

More market-based activity, eh? Well, get ready for the train crashes, thieving water companies and all the other chaos of the wonderful free-market system.

Maybe the next time I visit Sweden, it’ll be more like Britain?

Time To Go, Blair!

Manchester Stop The War Demo

Thousands of anti-war protesters have gathered in Manchester for what organisers said was “one of the biggest mobilisations outside London”.

The theme was “Time To Go” – a call to get troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Police estimated 20,000 people took part. Stop The War Coalition had said it expected about 100,000.

One of the organisers, Yasmin Ataullah of the British Muslim Initiative, told the BBC they put the figures of demonstrators at 40,000 or higher.

“This is one of the biggest mobilisations outside London and I think there are tens of thousands here – 40 or 50,000 at least,” she said.
(Source: BBC News)

Sadly, I couldn’t make this demo as I’m still a bit peaky after coming back from gigging. It’s a bugger because I would have loved to have taken part today, highlighting the real Blair legacy and taking attention away from the New Labour circus rolling into Manchester.

As usual, I think it’s pretty safe to double or even triple the figures given by the police. And I saw helicopter footage of Manchester on the telly, it looked amazing. The streets were rammed with people demanding an end to our illegal occupation of Iraq and the resignation of Butcher Blair. Funnily enough, this demand was the one that was soft-pedalled in all the major news coverage. It seems like the mass media don’t want to report the depth of loathing the anti-war movement in Britain has for Tony Blair. Curious.

Blair, when will you GO?

White Town Live Vid

Yep, yep! Thanks to the “miracle of the cyberwent” (TM), even if you weren’t at the gig I did last Friday in Gothenburg, you can now hear my rather tremulous rendition of the first White Town song. Which was… White Town. (You can download the original 7″ version for free from here.)

Note my two lovely assistants, Ville from Cats on Fire and Stefan from Agent Simple. They both played much better than I did, the swine.

Thanks to the Cosy Den posse for posting up the vid on You Tube! Check out their other vids, there’s some real gems on there.

New 7″ Vinyl!

A New Surprise

Another thing I brought back from Sweden, nestled next to a deep sense of well-being, was a little box containing 7″ singles. Yep, you heard right, shiny, shiny vinyl records. I can’t remember the last time I released a vinyl record, I suspect it was around ’93 or ’94. A bloody long time ago, anyway.

When I got home yesterday, I plopped the record on my deck, turned up the amp and listened, amazed, as sound poured out of the teeny grooves. And it sounded good. I’m not going all Neil Young on you but this is a lovely-sounding record. Whoever cut it did a grand job.

Now, I can hear you asking, “Where, oh where can we buy this slice of lovely?”

Well, popkids, if you live in Derby, amble along to Reveal Records and buy one from there as I dropped in a few this morning.

If you aren’t from Derby, I think you should head to the Heavenly Pop Hits website and bug them for a copy as they released it. They’re lovely people, very clean and I’m sure they’ll be able to help you out. Do send them actual money though, don’t just email them begging for free stuff.

The EP is four tracks:

A1 A New Surprise
A2 Melissa Joan Hart

B1 Make A Right At Jordfallsmotet (cover version of the classic Agent Simple song)
B2 Theme For A Post-Watershed Cop Show Set In Wellingborough

I’m very proud of it as I think it’s a great little EP. Of course, I would say that, wouldn’t I? But I genuinely think it’s poppy and punchy and if you make a tiny bit of room in your heart, it might crawl in there and curl up for a kip.

Lovely gigs! Shiny records! God, I love being a musician! 😀

Where I’ve Been

Gothenburg - 47

No, I’ve not been slacking – I’ve been away for the last fortnight playing some gigs in Scandinavia, more specifically in Finland and Sweden. Note that I say “playing some gigs” rather than “touring” as that implies rock’n’roll excess. I only played four gigs which is much too leisurely to be rock. Still did a hell of a lot of travelling, though.

Back In Turku - 1

I only managed to do the shows because Gaz travelled with me as roadie, guitar tech and soundman. He basically did everything strenuous while I swanned around, fainting at the very mention of heavy lifting. Amazingly, even in a whole fortnight we didn’t have a proper argument, although things got slightly heated when I tried to sell him the Carter Leslie Doomsday Argument.

Helsinki + Train Journey - 11

The gigs were all lovely, in different ways and we met some of the most charming people. I know musicians always say that but it’s true. If you’re in a band and you want attentive, caring audiences, go and play in Sweden and Finland.

I played with Goodnight Monsters at Dynamo in Turku, Erik Hallden in Stockholm and Cats On Fire + Agent Simple in Gothenburg. All the bands I played with do pop music so it was a dream set of gigs. No dull experimentalism, no “challenging” chin-rubbing excesses, real songs about real life. Such a breath of fresh air after the moribund British music scene.

Stefan from Agent Simple played on a couple of my songs at the Gothenburg Cosy Den gig and Ville from Cats on Fire was also kind enough to help me out at that gig and the two in Finland. They were worried about learning my songs but when I pointed out they were mostly two / three-chord wonders, they relaxed a lot. 🙂

Kvibergs Tramstop - 1

The sheer beauty of the countries was, at times, overpowering. And a little intimidating because, let’s face it, the average Scandinavian is far more gorgeous than the average Brit. That’s no myth. Sadly, I was a bit rubbish at taking pictures as I was concentrating on not putting my back out like I did last year. But if you click some of the pics above, you’ll end up at galleries of the few pics I did capture.

Playing those four gigs was very special for me. If you came to any of them, thank you for being such a good listener and making me a very happy performer! 🙂

Another Year, Another X Factor

X Factor
The new circus.

And, yes, I’m watching it. It’s car-crash TV: you feel wrong for watching but it’s hard to drag your eyes away from the carnage.

Almost exactly three years ago, I said this about TV “talent” search shows. I won’t repeat the meat of that rant but I will repeat this one snippet:

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 the one thing I end up screaming at the telly when X Factor is on. It’s full of people who start crying and wailing when they don’t get through, claiming that music is their lifeline, their only reason for existing.

If that’s true, then why the hell are they auditioning at X Factor in the first place?

Music is the most open and the least hierarchical of contemporary art forms. If you want to be a painter or a other fine artist, you don’t get anywhere unless you suck-off the mavens of the art world. You don’t even exist artistically unless someone shows your work somewhere.

If you want to be a musician, all you have to do is be a musician. Nobody owns music, nobody can say what is good or bad, worthy or unworthy of attention.

Look at me: I’m a good keyboardist, average singer and poor guitarist. And yet, music is my job. Do you think anyone who looks like I do would ever have got through the X Factor or Pop Idol filters? If I’d relied on shows like this to launch my musical career, I’d still be waiting round, trying to perfect the crappy fake American accent and r’n’b warbling that seem to be the prerequisites of success on these shows.

Where is the fire? Where is the passion to be a musician? Why the hell are all these people queuing up so passively, like so many bleating, snivelling sheep?

It’s easy. If you want to be a musician, book a gig. Or make a record. Or stick up an mp3 for download.

That’s all you have to do. Make some music.

Now, if you want to be a millionaire, doing the above might not achieve that. But here’s the crux of the matter: do you want to be a musician or do you want to be rich and famous and music is merely a vehicle for that lust?

Anyone can be a musician. But not everyone can make a living at it. If you want to be a musician to make money, I suggest you try re-training as a plumber instead since they’re richer than the average musician.

That’s how I’ll be watching X Factor from now on. Every time I see a new person auditioning, I’m going to ask myself, “Why are they doing this? Plumber or musician?”

I think I’ll be shouting “PLUMBER!” a lot…

US To Spend $20m On Iraq PR

Abu Ghraib
Spin this, you cunts.

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide “public relations products” that would improve coverage of the military command’s performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal.
(Source: Washington Post via BoingBoing)

The US government doesn’t like the news from Iraq.

So they’re going to spend twenty million dollars on spinning it to their favour.

What a fantastic use of American tax dollars. There you go, the poor of America! You may not have decent healthcare or an education system fit for the richest country in the world but at least your government is getting its propaganda across.

Twenty million dollars. Just think of how that money could improve lives across the US. But no, there’s never money for public spending but there’s always money for war.