Back to the Future: where 1 in 4 makes a majority.

13 May

Governing for the one percent

Governing for the one percent

I haven’t blogged for ages: the 2015 General Election campaign was always going to provoke thought and action and I wanted to make sure I did stuff- deliver leaflets, canvassing etc – rather than write about what everyone else should be doing. So I did. Stuff. And it didn’t work.

Not only do we not have a Labour-led government, we have a Conservative Party which can govern alone and unhindered. The public lied to the pollsters, they bought into a dirty but ultimately effective campaign of smears and propaganda and thanks to 24% of the electorate – more on this later – we have a Tory government elected for the first time since early 1992.

And it hasn’t taken long for the mask to be removed, has it? David Cameron stood in Downing Street on 8 May and said ‘I want my party….and government to reclaim a mantle that we should never have lost – the mantle of One Nation, one United Kingdom.’

Yet in the five days since he said those words, the smart-suited swivel-eyed ideologues have been let off the leash. Cameron looks and talks like a moderate, but he is as far to the right as any other Thatcherite.

You might have thought that with Scotland voting wholesale for nationalism and five million people voting green or UKIP that our Prime Minister would set out some ideas for bringing the nation together. Not a bit of it.
These, in chronological order, are the half-dozen policy ideals set out by the Conservative Party in six days.

1. Cutting the Access To Work scheme. This is the vehicle for assisting some disabled workers to stay in employment. It provides matched funding (half government/half employer) for things like transport, BSL interpreters, technological aids and other practical, useful ways of keeping disabled people in the workforce. Cutting this is an extraordinary act of cruelty and petty indifference.

2. Bringing back hanging. OK, this is only the slightly-deranged musings of Priti Patel, now a junior DWP Minister, but it does show an interesting sense of 21st century values…..

3. Abolishing the Human Rights Act. Yes, you did read that correctly. The Act is the means by which the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into UK law. You know, luxuries like the right to life, right to an education, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of association….. Apparently a priority of ‘the nation’ is to trash all this dangerous nonsense and replace it with something put together by people who can be trusted to look after our interests – viz Michael Gove, Teresa May, Eric Pickles and Iain Duncan-Smith.

4. Making industrial action illegal. Having spent a century opposing every right gained by people who work, the 21st century Tory party wants to roll us back to the 17th. Rather than ensure conflict doesn’t arise, the Tories just set the voting barrier so high that lawful industrial action becomes virtually impossible. And make it harder to vote, too. A 50% threshold, and then at least 80% of those voting ‘yes’ is also required, in order for a strike, an overtime ban or a work to contract to be legal. If I tell you more than half the Cabinet, including Business Minister Sajid Javed, didn’t achieve the 40% ‘yes’ in order to be elected as an MP, you get some idea of the hypocrisy and ideological malice involved.

5. Threatening the BBC with cuts to the licence fee. Not content with having the BBC cowering in the corner, afraid of its own shadow, the Tories want to keep it even more in line by appointing a BBC-hater, John Whittingdale, as Culture Minister. Those of us who watch BBC employed Tories like Nick Robinson, Andrew Neill, Chris Patten, John Pienaar, John Humphreys and Cameron’s school chum James Landale parade across our screens nightly will see some genuine gallows humour in the Tory mantra that the Beeb is some sort of Marxist hotbed. If only….

6. Changing the UK’s electoral boundaries. After what is widely seen as the most unrepresentative election in a generation, the Conservative Party answer is: ‘Let’s keep the system and make it even more unfair.’ Eh?

Any way you cut it, first-past-the-post is a farce. The Conservative Party has a absolute majority in Parliament with only 24% of the electorate voting for them. Yes, less than one in every four adults of voting age.

Even if you just count those who turned out to vote, two out of every three voters backed someone else. The SNP has almost all of the seats in Scotland with only half of the vote. Yet the DUP got 8 MPs with 160,000 votes, and UKIP got one MP with 4 million votes and the Green party got one MP with more than a million votes. It is now the case that our democracy isn’t democratic.

The Tories might think a wee bit of tinkering with constituency sizes is OK – perhaps no-one will notice that it coincidentally gives them 24 more seats next time? – but our society and the engagement of our citizens will be undermined by this inexcusable corruption. As I said, these parasites have less than 25% of the population behind them.

So, all in all, it is as bleak and brutal as we expected.

We have a government most of us don’t want in absolute power and showing no signs of doing anything other than act in their own class interest.

We can expect soft-peddling on tax dodgers, more cuts to disability benefits and more privatisation of our public services. Fewer rights at work, greater inequality, more cuts, more debt, a house price bubble (and crash), more zero hours contracts…… and a bloody financial and political mess as we do the hokey-cokey with Europe.

What is to be done?

I’ll cover that next time but right now, I just want to go lie down in a dark room.

Rival Sons, The Roundhouse, London 1 April 2105

07 Apr

It’s only 5 months since I saw the Sons play in Kentish Town but even in that short time they’ve upped their game.

From the thunderous chords of ‘Electric Man’, drawn out by Scottie Holliday in a teasing opening, it is clear Rival Sons are thrilled to be at The Roundhouse. And why not?

It’s an iconic venue where The Who, The Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors and many other luminaries have gone before and singer Jay Buchanan tips his cap accordingly.

Said venue is full and enthused and the band responds with a strong set drawn largely from 4th (and most recent) release, ‘Great Western Valkyrie’

This band are going places for a number of reasons: their song writing is consistently improving; and in Jay Buchanan and Scott Holliday, they have an exceptional front pairing.

Buchanan is an enigmatic singer with clarity and charisma but it is the gunslinger guitarist who makes the Rival Sons sound resonate with colour and depth. It’s rare for a guitarist to provide structure and detail, but Holliday pulls it off seemingly effortlessly, his twirling moustache, Ray Bans and sharp suits helping construct a cool and assured stage presence around which Buchanan’s ethereal blues vocal stylings have room to breathe.

The Sons ripped through the opening 4 songs back-to-back, all up-speed numbers from Valkyrie, with the sound superb and well-balanced and the light show making the most of the smoke and mist in the venue.

Manifest Destiny is an epic tale of how the West was won/lost, and it segues into Torture. Previously, I’ve seen Buchanan try to shush the crowd as they sing the closing refrain, but this time the band goes quiet and the house lights put on so the Roundhouse crowd can give it full throat.

We then had a departure from the script as a five song semi-acoustic part appeared, including a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Long As I Can See The Light’, a sublime, fragile Nava and a great version of Burn Down Los Angeles which eschewed the thumping chorus and breakneck speed.

Belle Starr makes a rare but very welcome appearance and Where I’ve Been tugs at the emotions before the show closes with a fire-breathing sequence of Tell Me Something, Open My Eyes and Pressure & Time, ended by the anthemic Keep On Swinging.

A quickfire half-assed review of this gig I saw made me think twice about it, but gut instinct is reliable for a reason: Rival Sons are excellent. a band and a live act well worth checking out for anyone interested in heavy rock with a psychedelic blues twist. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but believe me, it does.

Queen with Adam Lambert, O2 London, 18 January 2015

19 Jan
Half of Queen & Adam Lambert

Half of Queen & Adam Lambert

So I get a message saying a friend of a friend has (free) box tickets to see Queen with someone called Adam Lambert at the O2 on Sunday…and off I go.

I was a big Queen fan in the early days – Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, Night at the Opera, Day at the Races – but they’re not on my musical radar these days and I therefore have no clue who Adam Lambert is. I do know bassist John Deacon doesn’t play any more but seeing Brian May and Roger Taylor play ought to be worth the trip…..

Turns out that the show is part rock gig part tribute show and judging by a sold out arena and the crowd reaction, it worked. Having attended at less than a day’s notice and not bought the ticket I watch proceedings with an objective eye and the sound and visual effects are impressive, as is May’s guitar which carries the band along effortlessly.

With most public attention coming to Queen after their epic 1984 Live Aid performance, it is often forgotten that they were a top line rock band at their creative zenith from 1973 to 1977. Not so easily forgotten this evening.

Stone Cold Crazy appears early in the set and to be honest i was blown away with how good it sounded. Ditto Seven Seas of Rye, the first Queen song I ever remember hearing.

By then I’d adapted to not hearing Freddie Mercury singing, as Lambert strutted and preened in cartoon style, in a Rob Halford leather jacket and shades.


Tie Your Mother Down…

He’s a talented singer, certainly, and it was an odd fit seeing him alongside Doctors May and Taylor, but the hit songs kept coming and it was rarely dull. Save Me was outstanding, as was Lap of the Gods and I Want To Break Free, a much looser vocalist fully in his element by then. Taylor’s son Rufus joined his Dad on drums, keyboard player Spike was stage right and the sound was beefy and sharp.

Easy to forget Mercury died almost 25 years ago, and his appearance on screen and in voice weaved into the sound was emotional stuff. No more so than on the last verse of Love of My Life and when on-screen Freddie and Adam Lambert sang alternative lines at the end of Bohemian Rhapsody to bring the show to a close.

If you want to check out the 70’s rock band Queen, buy Sheer Heart Attack or listen to March of the Black Queen, Liar, Ogre Battle, White Man or Prophet’s Song.

If you don’t, you’ll probably find it hard to avoid mainstream Queen songs on radio or TV.

Either way, this concert hung together in what I can only describe as an oddly pleasing way.

Set List

One Vision

Fat Bottomed Girls

Stone Cold Crazy

Another One Bites The Dust

In The Lap of the Gods/Seven Seas of Rye

Killer Queen

I Want to Break Free

Somebody to Love


Love of My Life

Those Were The Days of Our Lives

Under Pressure

Save Me

Who Wants To Live Forever?

Tie Yor Mother Down

 I Want It All

Radio Ga Ga

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Bohemian Rhapsody


We Will Rock You

We Are The Champions

Rival Sons @ Forum, Kentish Town, 10 December 2014

13 Dec
Rival Sons: not your typical rock band

Rival Sons: not your typical rock band

All killer and (almost) no filler.
Rival Sons shook the shabby art-deco surroundings of the Forum on Wednesday night with their heady artisan mixture of hard rock, soul and blues. The Doors and Led Zeppelin are evident influences but the appeal of Rival Sons to me is that they plough a unique furrow and don’t appear to break sweat doing it….
‘Great Western Valkyrie’ is their armour-plated fourth album and features heavily in the twenty song set, but early cuts are enthusiastically received when a belligerent ‘You Want To’ and the sleazy All Over The Road’ open proceedings. ‘Pressure & Time’ is an early set highlight, with singer Jay Buchanan howling frustration with working life and the audience bellowing along. The sound makes my rib cage vibrate and there don’t appear to be very many people not paying attention.
Rival Sons are guitarist Scott Holiday, Mike Miley on drums and Phillip Seymour Hoffman lookalike Dave Beste on bass, with Jay Buchanan on vocals. (Augmented by a mystery keyboard player who looks like a hipster rabbi).
Buchanan and Holliday front the band on stage angnd Holliday drives the band alo, but the singer is the walking definition of enigmatic and on occasion is channeling the spirit of Jim Morrison. Not that the Lizard King’s powwrful baritone is copied or aped: Jay Buchanan’s vocals are simultaneously robust and ethereal, soulful and sharp.
Buchanan also has little time for audience interplay and stage chat, focused on his performance and displaying his vocal talent. The voice is velvet, powerful, the delivery full of subtlety and depth. Although the songs and the band’s playing are consistently excellent, it is Buchanan’s astonishing singing which lifts Rival Sons to a very high melodic plain.
Jay Buchanan. Vocalist extraordinaire
‘Electric Man’ is heart-stopping rock at it’s best but it is songs like ‘Good Things’ and ‘Rich and the Poor’ which defy conventional description. At times they sound like The Animals, James Brown, Van Halen, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys, Deep Purple and Sam Cooke put their heads together. Very hard to describe but very easy to enjoy.
Penultimate somg of the night, ‘Jordan’ is pure gospel soul, no melodrama but a song which could be done acapella in the Royal Albert Hall or played at a wake. You can’t imagine another heavy rock band pulling that off, but Rival Sons do it effortlessly.
Mid-set, Buchanan gave a brief flash of raw emotion telling the crowd that ‘this (London) is where the shit (music) began!’ and most of a very happy crowd sang along all evening for almost 2 hours, enjoying Rival Sons playing in a relatively intimate venue. I don’t think they’ll be playing those for much longer. Keep on Swinging….

Review: Augustines at The Roundhouse, Camden, 8 December 2014

09 Dec
Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson

Billy McCarthy and Eric Sanderson

Augustines have come a long way since I saw them in the Hare and Hounds pub in King’s Heath, Birmingham two years ago – yet even then, front man Billy McCarthy shone brightly as he enthused about playing the city which spawned Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, UB40 and Duran Duran. Tonight he, Eric Sanderson and local drummer Rob Allen are playing one of London’s iconic venues and clearly loving every minute of what they do.
It’s hard to be detached or cynical watching an up and coming rock band throwing everything they have into a performance and the sell-out Roundhouse crowd are quick to respond and involve themselves in the raucous sing-alongs instigated by McCarthy’s fist punching salutes.
A brave start to the gig see Augustines open with two slices of their premium material, ‘Headlong Into The Abyss’, the seminal ‘Chapel Song’, then ‘Book of James’ from their debut cut. Part of the joy of this band is McCarthy’s voice, at times high and pure alternating with fragile and insistent. It takes Billy five songs before he chats to the audience and we are clearly watching a work in progress as the band segues from playing 150 capacity music pubs to the bigger venues their music so obviously merits.
The addition of a trumpet player from New York ‘the sleek Greek’ expands and enhances the Augustines sound and it is still amusing to watch the guitar roadie pick up a bass for half a dozen numbers in between trying (and failing) to ensure McCarthy and Sanderson don’t wreck their own equipment.
The initial two thirds of the set is almost entirely songs from ‘Arise Ye Sunken Ships’, a surprise given the strength and difference of the recent ‘Augustines’ follow-up, but a one hour set ends up with a 50 minutes ‘encore’ including ‘Cruel City’, ‘Nothing To Lose But Your Head’ and the sublime ‘Kid You’re On Your Own’ showcasing McCarthy’s wonderful fragile vocal.
This was the biggest gig the band have ever played: ‘I’ve been waiting all my fucking life for this night’ says Billy to apprecaitive cheering and they are clearly destined for greater things. The encore kicked off by a surprise foray into the far balcony to deliver an acapella song before returning to the stage, although obviously contrived it sums up the engagement and enthusiasm which this band brings to the party. Very, very good – and more to come…

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts

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