Wednesday, April 24, 2013

True Colours

It being the run-up to the county council elections, there has been a smattering of leaflets coming through my door from political parties. Mostly they are the usual tired platitudes that local politicians think the electorate want to hear. The UKIP address, however, stood out for being at best misleading, at worst disingenuous as it implied that 40% of new housing in Sussex would be occupied by "immigrants". I sent a couple of emails to Wealden UKIP complaining that they were guilty of irresponsible scaremongering on the already contentious issue of rural housing development.

I had no replies to my emails but eventually received a hand-delivered letter from the candidate himself. It is quite staggering in its revelation of the party's true colours. I include it here in full, exactly as it was written:
“Dear Mr Watson,

Sorry for any confusion regarding immigration, with the numbers already here and them that may arrive one has to consider the growing population, especially when they seem to be breeding more than the natives, you are right in saying development is a contagious local issue, and we should be building for the local need, the water, the sewage and infrastructure are not up to coping with all they market houses they want to build, there are people moving out of London to get away from the immigrants in their area, so we don’t get those from Eastern Europe moving to East Sussex, but it is, but not always, the over spill coming here. Please fine enclosed a manifesto you may fine of interest.

Yours sincerely…”

If he was only guilty of comma splicing, malapropisms, appalling grammar and thinking the word “find” is pronounced and spelt “fine”, I would write him off as a harmless buffoon. But the ease and openness with which poisonous racism is used – and the misplaced confidence that it would be reciprocated by an elector - is astounding. I am sure we have known all along that UKIP is a lounge bar BNP – just look at their leader - but posing these days as a serious political party, I would be amazed if they expect their candidates to spout this sort of bile on their behalf; or am I being na├»ve? I have copied the letter to UKIP's central office, so I’ll find out…

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Six of the Worst

The charge sheet against Thatcher is endless but here are the worst of her crimes.

Right To Buy – the current government is desperate to reduce the huge cost of housing benefit. They seek to blame this on workshy layabouts dozing in bed and expecting the state to pay their rent. The truth is that it is so high because the working poor cannot afford private sector rents; and they are renting in the private sector because the social housing stock can only support the most vulnerable; and the social housing stock is so low because it was sold off under Thatcher’s Right to Buy. Just like the staff at the Ritz who found her body, we are all mopping up after Thatcher.

Privatisation – the fact that your water and electricity is supplied to you by some dodgy French company is down to Thatcher flogging off the utilities companies. And every year when your electricity goes up disproportionately and you get a hosepipe ban, it’s because the shareholders are lining their pockets with the profits instead of investing in the infrastructure.

Falklands war – Thatcher was hugely unpopular in 1982 and would have certainly lost the next election. The Argentine invasion of the Falklands provided a great opportunity for her to position herself as a popular vote-winning Boudicca figure. All she had to do was send the boys down to the south Atlantic to duff up an inferior opponent. It all went to plan until HMS Sheffield got hit by an exocet missile. 255 British soldiers died in the conflict and 300 (and rising) veterans subsequently committed suicide (yes, that’s true). Blood on her hands – still.

Miners' strike – Thatcher turned one group of public sector workers (the police) against another group of public sector workers (the miners). She mobilised the police as her own political militia to break a strike, destroy communities and divide a nation. She started today’s demonisation of the public sector by calling the miners “the enemy within”.

Greed - Some people of my acquaintance are mourning Thatcher. They bought their council house at a huge discount, and flogged it for a massive profit as soon as they could; they bought shares in every utility flotation so they could make a quick profit; they kept a small amount of money in every building society so they would qualify for the 200 quid bung when it floated to become a bank. They were not alone; these were the sort of people Thatcher appealed to - selfish and without morality.

Finally - Euripides said, “judge a man by the company he keeps”. Thatcher called Nelson Mandela a terrorist but regularly took tea with Chilean fascist dictator, General Pinochet.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Won't Look Back

Subway Sect were there at the beginning. They played the Punk Rock festival (which tradition demands I should have prefaced with the word “legendary”) at London’s 100 Club in August 1976 alongside the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned and the fledgling Siouxsie and the Banshees. Those bands all went on to burn brightly and, in the case of some, relatively briefly. Subway Sect released two singles in 1978: Nobody’s Scared, with its thunderous drumming, choppy guitars and accusatory lyrics - “No-one knows what they want/No-one even cares” - and Ambition, a Farfisa-tinged slice of infectious punk with the nihilistic, stylised warble of lead singer Vic Godard (“Nothing ever seems to happen to me”) on top. On the cover, there was a black and white shot of Godard, suitcase in hand at a grim London railway terminus, dressed as always in open-necked shirt, loose tie and suit jacket in various shades of grey. Subway Sect were always like that: dark, stark clothing and the haircuts of 1950’s angry young men. Then there was Godard: only two Ds in honour of Jean-Luc and he looked like the author photograph on the back of a French existentialist novel. These boys seemed to be a different kettle of fish.

1979 passed and nothing. The album the band recorded never saw the light of day and they split up. And then in 1980, What’s the Matter, Boy? was released, an album under the name Vic Godard & Subway Sect. Some of the songs were the band’s but with radically different arrangements and the album showed the influence of northern soul, 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and even earlier easy listening. I loved it: if Subway Sect were apart from the herd, this set Vic even further apart. Produced by Clash manager Bernie Rhodes it was probably intended to make Vic a star but it largely baffled critics and post-punkers alike. So Vic went back to being a postman in south London, something he would do intermittently over the next thirty years. In between, there would be albums and gigs; sometimes with the Subway Sect suffix, sometimes just in his name; sometimes with a lounge-jazz sound, sometimes with coruscating guitars. He has always worked with great people: Edwyn Collins and jazz musician Simon Booth from Working Week have produced albums; ATV’s Mark Perry, Polecat and Morrrisey collaborator Boz Boorer and Sex Pistol Paul Cook, have all featured.

On Friday night at the Green Door Store, an intimate underneath-the-arches venue, Cook was again on drums for the annual Brighton appearance by Vic Godard and Subway Sect, alongside original Sect bassist Paul Myers and more recent collaborators Mark Braby and Kevin Younger. Before they came on, we caught the tail end of the set by support band Asbo Derek (shamefully, it took me three days to get the joke in their name) and their perfect capturing of that spikey 1977 Television Personalities sound. And with equally humorous lyrics, they aimed their vitriolic barbs at targets such as Tory twit Eric Pickles, animal-loving but diversity-hating Brigitte Bardot and the Royal family. There was a fantastic moment during the song Backstairs Billy, an attack on the Queen Mother’s poor treatment of a legendarily promiscuous homosexual retainer (they can say that, they’re gay), when there was a collective gasp from the audience as they realised what lead singer, Jem Price, was going to rhyme the word “bedsitter” with but couldn’t quite believe it. Asbo Derek were a lot of fun and I wish I’d seen their whole set.

Older now but as dapper as ever, Vic takes the stage in grey Oxford bags, white open-necked shirt, cardigan and specs; only his nasal south London accent, when he speaks to the audience, gives away the fact that he is not a visiting professor. It is a tremendous set, spanning his entire oeuvre from rumbustious versions of those two early singles – Vic blasting out the harmonica on Ambition - to songs from his most recent album. The tapes of the original Subway Sect LP having been lost, in 2007 Vic recorded those songs as an album - 1978 Now – with the original Sect sound. Some of them – Out of Touch, Chain Smoking – featured on later albums with mellower arrangements but it is the spikier versions we get here.

Despite some repartee (I hate the word “banter”) between Vic and Paul Myers concerning the break-up of the original band (“You sacked me”; “No I didn’t”), they are enjoying themselves on the tiny stage. Seeing Paul Cook up close you realise what a great drummer he is. With a minimal kit, he is the mainstay of the northern soul rhythm that so many of the songs depend upon. There is plenty of nostalgia on offer: a poignant Empty Shell from the first LP, the rumba of Stop That Girl from 1986’s T.R.O.U.B.L.E album, and The Water Was Bad and Won’t Turn Back from 1993’s The End of the Surrey People. But it’s not all turning back; some of the best songs are the most recent: defiant opener Best Album (“we are not gonna leave until we’re done”), Back in the Community, a hymn to the vagaries of the prosaic working world, complete with On The Buses references to clipboard-toting Blakeys and oppressed Butlers, and the rollicking Rhododendron Town are all from the last album, 2010’s We Come As Aliens.

There is a great atmosphere as the set comes to a close but the late club night that is to follow dictates that there is only one encore. Then there is just time for a quick word and a handshake with the man before we head home. A new album is in production but, with only half the tracks complete, there is probably no danger of Vic increasing his average output of an album every five years.

Picture by Dave Stubbings

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Downland: part six

Irene Loftus could afford neither stone nor stained glass window to memorialise her son. That he had died at such a young age, thirteen years before, as the war was playing out its final stages and when Germany’s surrender was only two weeks away, seemed a cruelty beyond understanding. Rangoon. Irene was sure it had to be liberated, that it was an important part of ending everything, but it seemed so far away, so loosely connected to the war as she understood it. The Japanese she would never forgive, but God she could forgive; she had never lost her faith. Joseph Loftus had no known grave but Irene knew his name was on the Rangoon Memorial in Taukkyan War Cemetery, 6,000 miles away; and she knew his name was on the Firle war memorial she passed as she walked up to St. Peters church to light a candle for Joseph as she always did on his birthday.

Deep in reverie, reliving those years of change, Ridler had no time to move – to either hat or hiding place - when he heard the latch of the oak door lift and snap. As Irene turned to replace the latch she stared straight at Ridler; his straked skin, the broad dark stripes and serifs half in shadow. She had no understanding of what she was seeing; only that it was a giant, it moved, had a mouth, made sounds, reached out a similarly tainted hand towards her. The whites of the eyes, set in deep, intense contrast to the surrounding ebony stripes, disturbed her most. A baffled, breathless gulp of a scream disturbed the tranquillity. Ridler implored, but she was gone. He heard her quick feet scudding on the gravel as he too left the church; and as the gate onto the village cracked behind her, Ridler straddled the wall at the back of the churchyard and dropped into the estate grounds. He admonished himself as he walked quickly across the open parkland: how foolish to have put himself in that position again, so exposed to ignorance and misunderstanding. He could encounter hostility at the most unexpected of moments without putting himself at the very heart of narrow thinking. At least the woman had been brief and unsophisticated. A year ago, the Writer’s reaction had been the contrary: he had not run from Ridler and his utterances had been anything but brief. That had been his most alarming encounter and he still did not understand it, nor its aftermath.