Vaporous Light

New from Vaporous Light, via Akoustik Anarkhy, “The eyes of a fool​/​Isn’t it a thrill”.

Released on 12 September, this double release is a double exposure on the stillness of contemporary acoustic music. The “skipping, surging” first track “The Eyes of a Fool” has a travellers tale character (and for that matter, Deserter’s Songs). It’s short – under 3 minutes short – resembling an introduction showing its ankle through the stage curtains. The mystery is beguiling – is that a ghostly vocal at its fading conclusion, is it forming words?

“Isn’t it a Thrill” (without a question mark, note the intent, it worked for The Strokes), is described by remixer Raymond Ray as “a lost gem from the Gibb brothers albeit in a distinctly lower register.” There’s certainly a 60s vibe here, somewhere underneath one of those new fangled motorway things given the omnipresent drone in the background. With lost spirit vocals, fading out into the gloom, you could be forgiven for thinking the collective 5 minutes is spent in the absence of light rather than any of the Vaporous variety. The lasting impression, as is so often the case with Akoustik, is one of great promise.

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Morality manifesto

British elections – indeed, most elections in western democracies – are won and lost on economic matters. Who can make money go further, fund public services better, guarantee jobs and investment, ensure taxes are fair, and so on. “It’s the economy, stupid” rings through history and permeates our futures.

Morality and moral choices tend not to envelop British elections particularly prominently. During the general election of 18 months ago, the repeated memes were almost entirely financial or fiscal; tax, funding for public services, cost of education. The tone of the election was markedly similar to those in previous years – tax bombshells, tax u-turns, only our party can be trusted on this, on that, on the other.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, tone during election periods has little resemblance to their British forefathers (and for the basis of most American elections across all layers of representation, ‘period’ means ‘all year round’). The rise of the Tea Party Movement and its infiltration into the Republican Party has changed irrevocably the manner in which USA elections are conducted. The rise of the morality brigade, avowedly Christian, right-wing, suspicious of the State, wary of welfare; there are very few British equivalents: imagine the very worst of UKIP and Tories combined with a script written by a greatest hits of Thought for the Day contributors.

Two people who represent the Tea Party ideals on English soil characterise two very different poles of their respective parties; Nadine Dorries (Conservative, Mid Befordshire) and Frank Field (Labour, Birkenhead). They could not be further apart in their political histories or heritages, and yet together they are spearheading repeated attempts to alter British law on abortion with language and attitudes not experienced in this country for generations. They represent the increasingly palpable sense of religious attitudes fighting back after years of secularisation within politics and political debate.

They represent the Tea Party in spirit.

We all know that the word “rape” has been adopted to mean a brutal result in sports (“They were absolutely raped out there”), and almost parallel to that, “abortion” has been similarly re-defined (“That bloke is an absolute abortion”). It is not with this redefining that I consider how Dorries is associated with the word “abortion” is much the same way as water is defined with the word “wet”. Her career as an MP has become inextricably linked to the issue and the wider discussion on sexual morality. You may recall her proposed Act of Parliament, which would force schools into teaching abstinence in sexual education classes, though only to girls.

Dorries (“At the next election, the Coalition will ensure the Liberal Democrats are wiped out, which is a good thing”) is passionate about driving abortion reform through the Health and Social Care Bill, and connected morality purposes fuel her campaigning spirit. Crucially, such issues require care and attention to debate them soundly. Dorries does not provide much chance of a reasonable debate; she has ridiculed the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists committee (“There is a specific committee which develops the guidelines for the care of women seeking terminations. They’re all abortionists. They earn their living from abortions.” (Source – the very good, albeit spiky, recent interview from The Guardian : http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/aug/06/nadine-dorries-abortion-sex-education)

She protests too much – she is a religious extremist whose additions to this very tricky subject do far more damage than good.

Together with Field, the amendment aims to make what appears to be a modest alteration to current law. Their claim is that Marie Stopes or BPAS, who offer counselling to women who are pregnant and considering options available to them, pressurise the women into choosing the option of abortion for reasons of profit or financial gain. BPAS is a not-for-profit organisation, and its role as an advisor to women has been largely considered independent and fair-handed.

What Dorries is attempting to do is colour the debate with the red mist of her own permanently irate attitude. She is not as pro-choice as she likes to make out, pouring emotive descriptions of her time as a nurse into her anecdotes and examples, associating all experiences with the trauma of long distance memories. Her claims are so much rhetoric – when she claims “Women are given no advice, they are just spoken to and channelled straight into an abortion clinic where they have their abortion in a factory-like manner, then ejected into the street..”, she has not then continued to explain how moving from one state of affairs to another would resolve her view in one move. It’s all “from the very worst I can paint to the very best I can imagine”.

This issue is very complex and emotive, by its very nature. It is unsettling to see the debate bubble and stir in the way it is – not a reasonable exchange, but prejudice, insults, on both extremes of the political divide. It is the American accent sewn into the British debate which unsettles me more. I do not have a problem with people of faith throwing into any debate their opinions, views or suggestions; the issue gets harder to accept when those people desire to dilute facts with moral teachings. “This is my view based on what I have been taught by my religious teacher” is not comparable with “These are my opinions taken from a religious text I hold to be absolutely true”.

I have always held the opinion that women deserve to have the final say on their bodies, their babies, their lives. There is a line in the process from “before sexual intercourse has occured” to “making the decision on whether an abortion should be performed” at which politicians must stand the heck down. Our elected officials push so much judgement on those babies which are born – to single mothers, who are judged; to immigrants, who are judged; to a father who is over 60, who tends to be judged very differently…..What we really need is an isolation tank, a forcefield, behind which is the collated directions from Government, and in front of which is the mother who must be allowed to make up her own mind. Dorries would like to smash the forcefield into tiny pieces, and I cannot accept her notion that it is better for everyone if she succeeds.

And just when we probably need it least, another question of morality and freedom of thought is threatening to run parallel with abortion in the lead-up to the 2015 general election. Martin Green, a government advisor to the Department of Health, has suggested the right to die be a subject to parliamentary debate or even referendum.

I am in favour of decriminalising the right to die. The debate must be held, much as a rational debate on abortion must also be allowed to be aired.

My unease through all of this is drawn from the background noise, the quietened corner of Britain now returning, voice slightly altered but attitude totally reborn. We see through many prisms the natural disquiet over Islamist extremists – whose warped, inaccurate version of the Islamic faith has lead to such tragedies and deaths. News media rush to hear the latest garbled morality fetishism from self-appointed Muslim ‘faith leaders’, no more representative of mainstream Islam than David Icke or my kettle. We are a small island whose political debate has lost its Christian accent; I fear for what other consequences could follow if the Dorries experience means the voice which roars back is not so much Priests as Palin.

We would be better not having the Tea Party dump its wares in our waters.

Britain First, elections second

Some months ago, Richard Desmond’s Daily Star splashed across its pages the super-soaraway exclusive that the tracksuited clowns of the English Defence League would be announcing their launch as a political party.

If you follow your far-right fringe parties, you’ll know that the English Defence League (EDL) are a touring party of hooligans and anti-everythings, who don’t care about issues so much as -isms, and mostly negative, prejudiced -isms at that. Every one of the provincial town marches descends into violence and arrests, including the chant of “You’re Not English Anymore” at anybody who dares question their shallow logic. Here in Preston, which hosted the assembled masses of EDL members in early summer, fireworks were thrown through the windows of takeaways.

The political party which the EDL is most closely associated with is not Nick Griffin’s British National Party (BNP), a group they regard as being traitors and state plans, but rather the less well known Britain First Party (BFP). This microsect has obscure beginnings – if you search the Register of Political Parties for all entities including the word “First”, you won’t find them. There’s “BPP – Putting Britons First”, and “British Jobs First”, and even “England First Party”. You’ll even find that the BNP have registered “Because We Care” as an official ballot paper alternative to having “BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY” next to a candidate’s name, though maybe that’s by the by.

Links between BFP and EDL are not easy to find. Links exist, though, and are hinted at across every line of a three-page email sent to supporters – and, as it happens, the email proves very useful for fans of the development of the anti-everything nutjob brigades in what is surely the “post Griffin age”.

The email ends with requests for money and funding; it begins with denouncing electoral politics with all the fervour of a libertarian on heat. “Virtually the only difference between a campaigning organisation and a formal political party,” it says, “is that the latter places all emphasis on fighting media-rigged ‘elections’ (most of which end in embarrassing failure), whilst our movement will focus on campaigning in all its forms to highlight the many injustices suffered by our people.”

It could not be clearer what jibes are being thrust here. Griffin’s BNP has been an electoral flan-in-a-cupboard for years, collapsing in former heartland areas such as Barking & Dagenham, and failing to make a breakthrough in any recent general election. At local level elections, the BNP barely register at all, hurtling into obscurity. No candidate for the BNP, not least Griffin himself, made any serious dent in the electoral chances of the far-right at the 2010 election.

The next paragraph sticks the boot into Griffin once more – “…[N]ationalists need to move away from pretending we are going to romp home to power in this country, and that our leaders will soon be in Downing Street”.

They go on to say “This failed approach channels our energy, willpower and determination into an ineffectual ‘dead end’ that usually ends in failure and disappointment…”

In a surge of hyperbole, it continues, “If you want to get native cultural parades reinstated, if you want to hold corrupt politicians to account, if you want to campaign against the encroachment of Islam into your neighbourhood, if you want to form community groups and take charge in your patch, and if you want to be part of a professional baggage-free organisation that will grow to great size and depth {sic}, then Britain First is for you.”

Putting to one side the definition of “native cultural parades” – morris dancing? flogging suspected witches? – this paragraph should ensure any links between them and the EDL are formally agreed as clearly existing. This “non manifesto manifesto” approach typifies the new approach by the far-right; they are politics for those sick of politicians. They will approach anyone who has shown, or has the propensity to show, exhaustion with the establishment model. Students? London rioters? Long-term unemployed? The vulnerable who believe that non-politician politicians offer the only true chance for change?

Despite what we, on the left and centre-left of politics hope and believe, the far-right remain a real, true, and stubborn force. The EDL marches are well attended, though just as high numbers oppose and often in-fighting does most of the good work for us. Their threat remains very high – we cannot dismiss their marches as mere side-show comedy acts. Where there is a threat, there must be a counterstrike.

Though the BNP are collapsing into themselves, what comes from them must be kept under scrutiny too – what is Andrew Brons BNP doing with the newly registered Freedom Democrats? How strong is the English Democrats Party, and what links do they have with the BNP? How serious an electoral threat is the far-right, and is there a strong enough opposition from within the mainstream parties and the traditionally election averse harder Left?

Nationalism across Britain has always suffered from its own malaise – its message confused, its audience violent and often criminal, its policies bizarre, self-defeating, ridiculous. It is to Britain’s credit that no national parliament has elected a member of the far-right, and that opinion polls consistently wallop their grouplets with derisory totals of support.

That does not mean we should remain complacent. The BFP email is confident, assured, and professional. It is also laced with danger. No ballot box for us, no establishment games, only direct action and street-by-street reconnections. It’s the recipe for success which mainstream parties count as their strongest asset. If the BFP are serious – they aim to stand candidates in Westminster by-elections to take advantage of the free Royal Mail mailshot available to all candidates – there is a period which opens today, right now, during which they could be persuading the disenfranchised or apathetic that only BFP candidates can offer an alternative to the same-old politicians.

The BNP is fading. Let us try and extinguish the next flickering lights of fascism. On the streets, at the ballot box, and in the here-and-now forever.

Threedom

One of the greatest crime dramas you’ve never watched has returned to the iPlayer, capitalising on the soon to be launched second series. Amongst other programmes in the schedule around it are travelogues from Orkney, dead-pan comedy Nurse Jackie, the Proms, and an edition of Top of the Pops from 1976, featuring Thin Lizzy. Earlier this year, the channel dedicated almost an entire month to broadcasting subtitled comedy-drama from Iceland. Tomorrow, the story of Italian-language crime fiction and on Wednesday a look at submarines in cinema history. The crime drama, incidentally, is Denmark’s The Killing, famous for the chunky-knit Faroese jumpers worn by lead star Sarah Lund.

All this, and as they say, so much more, is found on the BBC digital channel, BBC Four. Paid for through the licence fee, it’s remit is as much souped-up BBC Two as it is SKY Arts, the Sunday Times, and BBC Radio 4’s Loose Ends. If you’re worried that watching a decent enough documentary on BBC Two could put you within channel-hopping distance of Jeremy Clarkson, then this is the network for you.

Or at least it might be the channel for you, for now. With the safeguarded 6Music clusterfruitcake still leaving a bitter taste in their collective mouths, the suits at Auntie Beeb are diving back onto the buffet trolly. Facts are facts, after all, and the fact is the BBC needs to find cost cuttings. And find them fast – the licence fee is guaranteed for six years, though frozen, and that all adds up to a reduction in real terms. Easy targets could cause the usual suspects to start biting, hard, and not just particularly sharp of tooth around the whole argument of the Corporation’s funding. Big ticket sporting events, bigger ticket celebrity pay packets and phenomenally successful though populist prime-time entertainment shows are all easy targets for the BBC’s enemies – if the network is to compete in multi-channel Britain without an ever increasing revenue stream, those enemies require rapid and effective placating.

Over on BBC Four, the cuts are already showing. Original dramas will be shrunk in number, and mostly shoved across to BBC Two. Non-English imports will struggle to survive at all. Bought-in documentaries will doubtlessly increase. Live music reduced to “Radio 3 with pictures”, twice the work for presenters, less outlay for producers.

The argument from within the Corporation itself is tricky to reconcile with the long held assumption that Auntie doesn’t do ratings wars. “It’s your BBC!”, Terry Wogan would recall in a mocking voice, turning the once often heard slogan into a punchline, often when another multi-million pound splurge is outed by the newspapers. This year, the BBC announced that their youth-orientated channel BBC Three would be given greater broadcasting hours, and the money to go with it, for the temporary transformation into BBC Olympics. Further, the channel would continue to enjoy greater amount of investment for new talent – so whilst “The Thick of It” and “Getting On” did very well for Four, it will be more “Two Pints of Lager” and “The King is Dead” for your licence fee pounds from next year.

Selling the BBC Three “youth” angle is easy for the buzz word compendiums which walk around Television Centre these days. Defending “60 Second News”, the producers underline the traditional journalistic approach to slashing the events of the day into haiku. The great quote – for all the wrong reasons – is “so much TV news assumes knowledge on the viewer’s part”, but that is not how BBC Three works.”

In the light of the riots in London and elsewhere, such forthcoming arguments as “Three verses Four” becomes somewhat harder to balance. In short, the BBC does a great service in providing Three, recognising that BBC One will always be more stable, family orientated, more mainstream. BBC Three has helped young writers and actors, given coverage to womens football and wheelchair ballrooom dancing (no, really) and ensures that fans of “Family Guy” and “American Dad” don’t have to sit through “Newsnight” for one episode each, every week, in the graveyard slots on BBC Two.

It’s the channel which people love to hate, usually for reasons of thinly veiled condescension. How unfortunate that well meaning critics could be hitting the network at the wrong time. “Down with what the youth want!” cry the establishment, newspaper columnists, the middle-class Twitter hive mind. “It’s all just too vulgar”

Looked at from afar, it does appear the BBC Three formula of “shock, awe, and celebrity” sets itself apart from its broadsheet near-neighbour and all of the other BBC output. It’s not too much to say “It’s not exactly SKY One, is it?”. On Monday, BBC Three gave you the option to watch a ‘make under’ programme with a Lady Gaga lookalike, followed by reruns of “Eastenders” and “Little Britain”. On Wednesday there was a ‘secret wedding’ reality show and the film “Sliding Doors”. Tomorrow, an episode of “Total Wipeout” and a rerun of “EastEnders”.

But, wait. Go back a few days to “Young, Dumb, and Living Off Mum”, in which spoiled teenagers are filmed cleaning youth hostels for minimum wage, as part of a “life lesson reality show”. Tomorrow, Cherry Healey (no, me neither, the name sounds like a brand of ice cream), investigates body-image issues amongst young women. On the 24th, there’s “Good Will Hunting”. Not exactly “The Hangover II”.

Despite its brash logo and ‘street’ outer-skin, the depth of BBC Three saves itself the bother of arguing back against the broad-brush side swipes. Yes, it is very different from other BBC output, and of course BBC Four is far closer to the Reithian manifesto. If there was only one to save, I’d choose Four, and not just because of the occasional chance to revisit “Wallander”. I am older than the BBC Three target audience, but can still see that many of its exploitation programming is not exactly doing the Beeb much of a favour. Could you see why there’s not a 24-hour “T4 Channel”? It just wouldn’t stretch that far.

BBC Four causes Auntie a headache because of its cost and audience viewing figures. Generally, stripped of the Proms and “The Killing”, Four costs more money to run, and attracts far fewer regular, loyal viewers. BBC Three is cheap, popular, and serves a part of the population well who have spent months slogan shouting (and rock throwing, shop looting) against the various establishment icons. The potential for BBC Four is huge – though what the BBC could do with Three at a time when the Government aren’t exactly striking a confident pose in front of youth unrest is the opportunity to educate, entertain, and inform, Generation Internet.

Standing up for the very best of the BBC is easy. I’m a supporter of the licence fee, I watch far more BBC Four than any other channel, and I do struggle to justify the output of Three if pressed to look at its entire schedule over any given month. However, from a neutral point of view, it seems obvious why the cost-cutting is looking at taking money away from Four; the danger of perception has always shaken the suits at Television Centre. “Beeb Throws Your Licence Fee Into Subtitled Nonsense!” at a time when your teenage target audience feel alienated and ignored? If the BBC can balance the books, and in conjunction with all their executives, take an average viewer to and from BBC Four in small doses, then the possibilities could all turn out okay. It cannot be easy – the Beeb may save Four and face accusations of snobbery and detachment, or save Three and be slammed for dumbing down. The struggle at the heart is snobbery – is it somehow prejudiced against the core audience of Three to suggest they need more history, drama, and subtitled films?

In November 2009, the danger at the time was from a Conservative Party hinting that the licence fee could be “top sliced”. Back then, my suggestion was to go for BBC Three for the obvious cost-saving options. Context is all – to choose one over the other will damage the Beeb and alienate millions of viewers. I would prefer the investment needed for BBC Olympic be transferred into more Sarah Lund and 70s prog rock….but perhaps that point of view is precisely the problem.

all change, please

Many moons ago, my blog about the railways drew very strident conclusions from broad-brush assumptions. Hey, it’s a blog, and that’s not exactly uncommon.

My default position has always been largely in favour of competition and private investment in the railway industry – since John Major’s government pushed through the Railways Act, there has been a notable and undeniable increase in investment for rolling stock, track repairs and new stations. Commuters on the rat-race to their office-spaces may still be cramped in their carriages, but it’s against the backdrop of record customer numbers overall, healthy profits for all those from management level up, and occasional splurges in engineering work and stock renewals across the country. British Rail was not utterly useless; neither did it cost the taxpayer so much money as the fragmented privatised industry we endure today.

This is not a complete U-turn. Maybe a slight reverse; the fabric on which the initial privatisation model was sewn clearly put the long-term health of profits over the long-term needs of passengers. Today, the TOCs which do least are rewarded most: highest fares, highest subsidies, lowest customer satisfaction. And yes, “customer”, having long since stopped being “passengers”.

I’m a lifelong fan of the railways – young frequent user for wanderings and now older commute to work type. Those weekends I choose for groundhopping and the like rely on trains taking the strain (or in the case of the away trip to Howden, trains and buses and Metros, though that relaly is another story). Consequentially, bemused doesn’t cover my reaction to news that fares will increase again for most passengers, especially the increasingly rare ‘walk-on’ customer. Neither Labour government, nor Coalition today, dare tackle the £4billion cost of keeping the railways running. Phillip Hammond, current Transport minister, struggles to maintain any kind of credibility with his “investing in the future” drivel; when Northern Rail’s faithful are forced onto 1984 spine-shakers for the want of any kind of investment in the future, every additional four-quid on fares a week is keenly felt. Labour are going on record with their “too far, too fast” cuts agenda rubbish. I’m taking no lessons in pious hand-wringing from the Party which pretended to put aside £500 million for station improvements which didn’t exist.

Little wonder the age of the “walk-on” passenger is all but gone. Like the airways before them, TOCs now see no profit (and therefore, no point) in attracting people who can’t afford to book tickets in advance. Romantic ideas of a modern railway fit for all, affordable to many, seem depressingly delayed. Presumed, cancelled. Wrong kind of governance.

Whilst train companies enjoy bumper profits, massive salaries, and huge packets of money from the taxpayer, the other big ticket item in the news rolls silently off the running sheet and down the agenda. England’s riots will cost a mere £100m to repair. The quantifiable cost of the troubles is one serious hit – the cost to peoples lives is anyone’s guess.

This makes the effect on peoples attitudes all the more important to gauge. So why are politicians goading judges into showboat sentencing? Is it important for the United Kingdom to have prisoners whose crimes would barely trouble Iran’s religious elite? Using the Serious Crime Act to throw in gaol the organiser of a water-fight? Or the Facebook users whose arranged gathering may not have existed? For four years?

If Theresa May – whose stock is now falling rapidly – has any kind of legitimacy, she would tip-toe back into the Home Office for some serious one-woman-against-one-keyboard interaction time. Area-wide curfew? Increased powers of arrest? Of detention? I thought all this had been done away with, after the great LibDem successes against IT cards and the DNA database.

What the apolitical riots represented was the desire to break away from relentless police-state mentality – Labour’s stock in trade. More CCTV! More PSCOs! No hanging around in groups of 3 in the light of the chippy window, SCARPER! To increase and tighten police presence in assumed known trouble spots will only make those sick of society even less willing to co-operate. May has made the same mistake every authoritarian predecessor would receive the warmest applause. She is failing to remember the difficulties inside the most tricky department. Fighting disenfranchised youths with thousands more police officers hanging around makes me – us all – feel far less comfortable, far less safe.

Both the ‘talking points’ down the Crickerer’s Arms – the railways and police reform – centre eventually to the persons view on their own Englishness. As a rule, we don’t complain. Unless, of course, our tolerance and patience were to suddenly snap over the injustices on both sides of these commonly discussed controversies. Let us not be priced out of our own public transport (would that it were, etc.). Let us not exchange the British way of consensus policing for the unjust politicised State Uniformed Brigades of our closest European neighbours. “The French take their police’s behaviour and attitude as a given,” said one man on the radio over the weekend. “Britain has always enjoyed a public face to their coppers.”

Indeed so – but let us not forget the issues with cost, with caution, with due process. The railways cannot justify big-ticker, Beeching-creep, small lines closed when the profits don’t add. Let’s not allow May to introduce the kind of civil liberty hate so enjoyed by the increasingly right-wing Blairite sect

Tomorrow, I will walk to work, the full 6 miles, as I have been doing knowing that my monthly wage is taxed out of all reason every day, and that it’s still possible for our politicians to see just the wooded area of ‘headline justice”. Oh for a platform alteration there…

Flying the flag

His infamous video now part of the Interwebz fabric, David Starkey’s “whites have become black” Newsnight melt-down (during which he sounded like a mad advert for OMO) garnered enough hubris and comment to fill Broadcasting House with carpets of Daily Mail and Telegraphs. At the core of his concerns, amongst rather extreme and obvious prejudice, was a subject more commonly expressed amongst the wider population than the commentariat realise; don’t just think the weather and house prices keep the English chatting all day long. If there’s one thing we like talking about, it’s how we talk.

Why does the English language produce such extreme reactions, instantly flinging up the shields and swords as quickly as tabloid newspaper journalists scarper towards a fishmonger with Lb. Oz signs on his stall?

In very broad-brush terms, the English language retains its strength and influence by virtue of its powerful ability to soak-up influences and alter its appearance. Very few major languages can change and alter so quickly – or to such divisive reaction amongst its native speakers. The rapid rise of communication models exacerbates the pace of change; mostly for good, keeping English as the language of sport and music, politics and business. Moreover, the language of culture, and as such the living record of how communities, their people, and ultimately their country, is developing.

That the language amongst young people in London is changing should be only a shock to journalists needing to extend columns by 200-words or more before the next print run. As traditional Cockney has moved across and out of the capital, so new ways to talk have moved in. “Hinglish”, “Jafaican”, “Caribbenglish”. Broad, solt-ov-di-urth East End accents now exist laced either with the coarse consequences of age, women and song, or the semi-conscious adoption of immigrant slang. And lo, it has been thus for generations.

We think nothing of “klutz” or “Kitsch” being naturalised English words, so why the immediate post-riot condemnation of ostensibly Black British slang, by Starkey and others? Is one assimilation less difficult to criticise than the other?

Analysing the use of certain phrases from black culture – from “safe” and “blud” to “break it down” – brings to mind one of my long standing points of reference in matters political or socio-linguistic. “Context is all”. The showing off amongst friends by younger people borrowing street slang is no more concerning than the 13 year old me flicking to page 53 of the English-French Dictionary in Mrs Cunliffe’s classes for a quick glance at the swears. As British immigrants grew older, made their homes and families here, it makes just as much sense for their language and dialects to be adopted as it would any outsider in a new town. Ever spotted accents altering your own speech in a new town? Or your almost unconscious adoption of new words or phrases after speaking to a mutual friend?

Starkey tapped into a much repeated concern amongst traditional, older generation Englishmen; that somehow, all of a sudden, what was ”our England” exists only in dreams and flashbacks as a consequence of allowing the language to adopt the traits of those who chose to learn it, share it, make it comfortable on the tongues and in their hearts. Somehow, England the place, the myth, the language, must retain its isolated state off the coast of civilisation until the right kind of revolution improves the lot of us all. It’s a stance I have never understood, and can never accept. There is a massive difference between accepting the new forms of modern English as the result of our nation’s strengths and attitudes on the one hand, and criticise the inappropriate use of the language in a disrespective manner on the other. I would rather moan at the teenage “like, you know, whatever” speech influenced by Paris Hilton, far more dangerous an influence than third-generation British Asians swapping three languages or more in beat poetry or rap.

As with any bloke getting into older years, some language use amongst people these days passes me by completely. I’m utterly lost at the speed with which the language of my teenage years has been lost to the archives, if they have indeed been recorded at all. Each generation will advance further away from the language of their parents, and their grandparents before them; there is no “English” to be protected, only the tangible exchange of sounds and words between the ages. The 2011 English riots have their causes and consequences in politics, poverty, aspiration and adversity; from which music and speech will flourish and through which the language of these islands will strengthen and grow.

Yes, the looters and murderers and thugs are prize-draw idiots who deserve criticism for their actions. Don’t try to connect too many dots – this was largely apolitical reactions to political malaise. The language of the youths who perpetrated the most violent, destructive crimes is not important. What they have to say is the manner to judge them. In trying to make politics out of patois, Starkey has shown he really is living in the past.

Groundhop at Squire’s Gate









To the first game of the season, the North West Counties league and a coastal train to the environs of Blackpool. Game One – Squire’s Gate vs Congleton Town.

Beforehand, I had been given the impression that it would be the visitors taking the game to the Fylde, which turned out not to be the case. It was the home team, resplendent in two-tone shirts, who made the early chances count, turning in a very comfortable 4-0 lead by half-time.

It was grassroots stuff, top to bottom, from the tumbledown ground to the confusion caused by referee whistles coming from an adjacent game. The ground had some nice touches – a social club style bar with a TARDIS-effect gents, wooden gantry stands with room for flasks of tea, and the “St Annes Fish Restaurant Stand” with club initials freshly daubed in blue emulsion.

Best goal of the game was a simple freekick turned into an up-and-under which neither wall nor keeper had much chance in stopping. Squire’s Gate had the better pace and space awareness – at times, the only thing Congleton had was a couple of forwards who had very little strength.

Although Congleton did wake up (“They drew the second half, FACT” noted my fellow ‘hopper), it was far too little, far too late. It did shake Squire’s a bit – notably their keeper turned into a right old flapper.

North West Counties has plenty of decent sides who always make for entertaining matches, which this turned into even with the massive deficit. Enjoyable and within walking distance of a fair decent pub. Nowt wrong with that.

Joy of Mansun’s "Six"

1997 and 1998 – two interesting years musically, within a particularly packed era. The release of Radiohead’s “OK Computer” was a landmark in modern British rock history, not so much reinvention for Thom Yorke’s band so much as revolution. Over 12 months later, doubtlessly influenced by this marker flag, came “Six”, the Mansum album lauded and left alone in fairly equal measure. Just how – or perhaps, pertinently, why – did the former take so much praise and limelight?

Measuring both “OK Computer” and “Six” invariably brings out the A-Level “compare and contrast” side of most contemporary critics. Any similarities are half-chance and coincidence – the jaw dropping expanse of them both, tinged with vague narratives and arcs, the songs chosen for singles (and charting ones at that), none of which would touch the single charts today. Both include an interlude of some form – touch-and-speak lifecoaching from Radiohead, melodramatic opera from Mansun.

Was the media attitude to blame? “Cool” Radiohead, air-quotes included, against the deliberately obtuse Mansun (as perceived, perhaps, more accident than design?). Was it sheer pot luck – was throwing thousands of fivers over a railway concourse not edgy?

It’s not as though Mansun were unique in being strung up by “famous radio friendly early single syndrome” (the catchy label music journos use along side “every third single has to be a ballad because Brett Anderson said so once”.) If “Creep” did for Radiohead what “Wide Open Space” ultimately did for Mansun, were would either band now be? Oh for the right to use timey-wimey wibbly-wobbly means to find a 21st Century where it is the latter, not the former, who remain constantly producing and releasing music. Maybe, just maybe, we’re better off not knowing…

I fell in love with “Six” on its release, far later than I did for its late-90s counterpart, for my affair with Radiohead had to wait for some years after. With the reputation of Mansun being as it was – “I bet their greatest hits will be their first album with 10 remixes of ‘Wide Open Space'” – it wasn’t too dissimilar to being a fan of Björk – yes, yes, “It’s Oh So Quiet”, but, trust me, please, come on, there’s more to….Oh….You’ve gone….

If you have not yet had the pleasure, “Six” is the album you didn’t realise you were missing out on. It could, would, should, be inside the highest places in every glossy magazine’s retrospectives. The breadth is staggering – the title track alone whisks along with pop-punk beats, psychedelia, vocal trickery and the rarest kind of lyrical pick-n-mix, in which every flavour is combined for successful results. By rights, “shiver(ing) to conformity” and “I’m conditioned to accept it all” would struggle to leave an emo chorus unharmed (erm, if you will).

“Being a Girl” (the “Paranoid Android” nobody knows about) contains a 2-minute sardonic pop classic, within a full seven-minutes of prog majesty. It’s the most bold ambition, as pretentious as progressive, tip-toe across the stones of time-signatures in the style of a bored teenager channel-hopping. There’s a great chorus, oh now it’s name-checking Marx, aaaand now there’s trippy guitars over scattering drums. Exhausting, this brilliance.

“Six”, largely forgotten, deserves its resurgence. Yes, it’s a concept album gone feral, its narrative structure making it necessary for most listens to be carried out in full, in order, which is a demand even Radiohead have yet to make. The mood may have all the introspection of Morrissey in a Hall of Mirrors, but given its chance, there’s little doubt just how important “Six” has become in the great retrospective take on the hazy, heady 90s period. When memories become more selective in their old age, “Six” will stand out more prominently than currently, and that’s quite how it should be.