Friday, February 19, 2016

Love Life

Early in their set at Bexhill's De La Warr Pavilion last night, Savages' lead singer Jehnny Beth emphatically proclaims, with all the force and passion of her vocal delivery, that "love is the answer". A line from the opening song of new album, Adore Life, it is a sentiment that is quickly compromised as the evening progresses. On Sad Person, Beth observes that "Love is a disease/The strongest addiction I know." And it is this contradiction that is at the heart of Adore Life. If the first half of the album's title is in Beth's native French, then this collection of songs would seem to be about the joy, pain and intensity that necessarily accompany a love life.

If only love was as black and white as Savages' image: the monochrome album artwork and the chiaroscuro setting of their live shows creates an aura of studied cool; but this is belied by Jehnny Beth. Cajoling the audience into participation, laughing at a false start and even a spot of crowd surfing ("I can't believe you dropped me!"), there was no distance, only enjoyment in an energetic performance. Perhaps buoyed by the brio of support act Bo Ningen and their Japanese acid noise, the audience respond in kind.

It is over two years since I last saw Savages live and, that night in Brighton, they were full of the post-punk vigour of their debut album, Silence Yourself. Few of those songs featured last night, although the frantic Patti Smith vitality of Husbands is greeted rapturously by the crowd; but the new material shows a band developing. T.I.W.Y.G. sounds as incredible live as it does on record and, on Adore, they demonstrate a sound maturing to include flourishes of light and shade. Gemma Thompson still paints a remarkable sonic landscape with her guitar and Ayse Hassan's rumbling, sternum-shaking bass is much more to the fore. Underpinned by now-seated drummer Fay Milton's rapid-fire staccato drumming, Savages are a tight unit and, after perennial favourite Fuckers, they unite in a sisterly bow to take the audience's acclaim.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On the Wagon

We are currently in the period of Lent, the six weeks or so that fall between Ash Wednesday and Easter in the Christian calendar. As a reminder of the forty days and nights that Jesus spent resisting temptation in the wilderness, Christians observe episodes of prayer and fasting during Lent. More popularly, it is about ‘giving something up' and, these days, that is more likely to be chocolate, swearing or social media. Lent is also intended to prepare believers for Easter and the solemn marking of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and all that.

There is no biblical precedent for Lent: like most events in the Christian calendar it is an appropriation of a Pagan festival. The Anglo-Saxon word 'lenctene' referred to the time of year when the days started to lengthen and, after a winter confinement of feasting and wassailing, a period of moderation was required if the land was to be prepared for sowing in the spring. The day before Ash Wednesday is variously called Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras; which one depends on where you are in the world but, whichever it is, it is a carnival day that is the last hurrah before a lengthy period of hard work and abstinence.

With the advent of sponsored 'dryathlons', there is currently something of a trend for this period of temperance to be earlier in the new year; but this is too soon to be on the wagon: January, when the light is thin and the days still short, is precisely the time when we should be holed up at home drinking our way through the most dismal of months. But as the first signs of spring appeared this week, it was a reminder that Lent is a call to lay down the bottle, take up the hoe and get back to the land. So, in the spirit of Paganism, I've given up the booze and started preparing the soil on the allotment. It's tough, but at least the digging is bearable.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

New Dawn Fades

It seemed like a chink of light: last month, the Conservative leader of East Sussex County Council, supported by the leaders of all of the other political groups on the council, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister decrying the fact that cuts to services being handed down by central government would begin to hurt swathes of ordinary people. Councillor Keith Glazier outlined to David Cameron that there were no choices left to make: important frontline services were being cut.

The authority has already made cuts of more than £78 million since 2010 but must now make a further £90 million of cuts by April 2019, including £40 million from its adult social care budget. The Council has now raised its council tax by 4%, including a 2% levy to be spent on adult social care services, and has withdrawn funding from sheltered housing projects, adoption and fostering services, and voluntary groups providing support to the vulnerable. In an area with an ageing population these cuts would, in Councillor Glazier’s words, “significantly reduce the quality of life for many people in East Sussex”.

It was perhaps David Cameron who started this quiet Tory rebellion himself. In November of last year, he hilariously wrote to the leader of his own local Conservative county council complaining about cuts to day centres, libraries and museums in Oxfordshire. The Prime Minister urged the council to make back-office savings, instead; there are none left to make, came back the reply. Then Cameron’s aunt and mother weighed in to the debate, the former calling cuts to children’s services in the area “a great error” and the latter signing a protest petition. And rumblings of discontent were heard in other Tory shires as austerity suddenly looked like something that does not just happen to other people.

If we thought this heralded a new dawn of protest amongst Conservatives, it quickly faded. With a Commons vote on the local government finance settlement imminent, a £300m relief fund was announced last week to buy off a number of Tory MPs gearing up to vote against the government. In a blatant act of nepotism, this extra money will mostly be going to Tory-run counties in the south of England: analysis shows that 83% of the two-year fund will benefit Tory areas. Whilst the most deprived councils in the country – all Labour run – will receive nothing, Cameron’s Oxfordshire will receive £9m and East Sussex £5.44 million. This may have headed off disquiet for now – the amounts of relief are small compared to the scale of cuts to be delivered – but local Tories will need to develop stronger spines if they are to stand up for ordinary people.