Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Together We Stand

To hear Jeremy Corbyn speak about the European Union as a force for social justice yesterday evening was to remind me that, up until now, the debate over the EU referendum has largely been a battle of swinging dicks, trading hypothetical consumer testing points. In a race to appeal to the electorate’s lowest common denominator – what’s in it for me? – it was refreshing to hear a high-profile politician outline what is in it for us.

Corbyn was sharing the stage at St. Mary in the Castle in Hastings with Judy Rogers, a local Labour councillor, and Shakira Martin a vice-president of the National Union of Students. Their compelling stories underlined Corbyn’s point that other voices were not being heard in, what has boiled down to, a playground spat between two Old Etonians.

Rogers outlined the struggle, throughout her career, to achieve pay equality with her male counterparts and Martin, a young black single-parent who was involved in Corbyn’s leadership campaign last year, spoke of the power of education to transform the lives of people in her position.

Taking his cue from these confident women, Jeremy Corbyn outlined a positive view of the EU and defined Britain’s Tory government as the real institution of restrictive self-interest. Rather than focus on business, he proposed a vision for a reformed EU that builds on the great strides in social justice already made in the areas of employment rights, human rights, climate change and air and sea pollution.

It was a message that is not heard often enough in the referendum debate as it fails to permeate a mainstream media obsessed with personalities, conspiracies and splits. Corbyn refuses to play that game and instead invokes the spirit of Robert Tressell by emphasising that we can only move forward if we work together, and that we will only go backwards if we stand in isolation.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

In the Shade of the Wood

Below the crest of Cowbeech Hill, snaking between Stunts Green and Studdens Farm, there is a winding green lane that skirts a dark and shady wood. The wood is private and the single gate that provides a way in clearly states this in blood-red lettering. It is a shame because, peering through the silver birch and ash trees that line the lane last week, I could clearly see that the floor of the wood was still carpeted with an impressive swathe of bluebells.

Britain's woodlands are becoming increasingly closed off to the public. In recent years there has been a boom in dividing up forests and woods into smaller plots for private sale. Masquerading as the redistribution of ownership away from big landowners, most of the companies selling parcels of woodland are, in reality, attempting to maximise profit on large land purchases.

Some private owners do manage their small woodlands for the benefit of others: Powdermill Wood, near Battle, where I buy logs, is run along sustainable lines and is open to all - walkers, kids and dogs. However, others are not so forward-thinking in their management of nature's resources. At Pondtail Wood, north of Brighton, campaigners have been demonstrating against the systematic destruction of ancient woodland. The owners have been felling and burning masses of trees in direct contravention of planning controls in an area which is situated within the South Downs National Park. Their motives can only be guessed at but, despite the intervention of the park authority, the vandalism has continued.

Back in the green lane, spring moves towards summer: the overhanging canopy of trees from the wood grows denser and, on the other side, the fruit farm is in bloom. The land bordering the track might be out of bounds but, whilst there is still access to these ancient byways that have connected villages and farms for thousands of years, I can enjoy a wood-shaded walk in air fresh with the scent of apple blossom, without the need for trespass.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Sound and Vision

When music and film usually come together, the latter is produced first and the soundtrack is created as a response to the visual imagery. In the case of Tindersticks' most recent offering, The Waiting Room, the opposite is the case. Having completed the recording of their eleventh studio album, the band commissioned a range of international directors to make short films, each using one of the album's tracks as inspiration. The result was that some editions of The Waiting Room came with a DVD of their work and the band's current tour, a string of dates around Europe, were billed as cine-concerts. One of those dates was part of the Brighton Festival where, on Sunday night at the Dome, Tindersticks performed the whole of the album against the stunning cinematic backdrop of the films.

Before the night at the movies began, they treated us to a short set of songs from previous albums. Ranging from 1995's She's Gone and Sleepy Song to Medicine from 2012, they demonstrated just how long Tindersticks have been chroniclers of lost and faded love. Stuart Staples' breathy croon is as impressive in a live setting as it is on record and the band, featuring original members Neil Fraser on keyboards and David Boulter on guitar, provided the trademark Tindersticks' sound of delicacy and restraint; it was only on 2008's Boobar Come Back To Me that the musical arrangement allowed for some free rein and the band cut loose.

After a twenty-minute interval, the group returned to the stage to a recording of The Waiting Room's opening track, Follow Me, and an accompanying film of light and shade made by Staples and his artist wife, Suzanne Osborne. The next hour was a dizzying mix of music and images with highlights in Were We Once Lovers? and Pierre Vinour's endless loop of urban traffic, and Gabraz and Sara Nao Tem Noame's film for We Are Dreamers! that juxtaposed a lone shovel-carrying female in a ballet with a giant earth-moving machine that was reminiscent of the famous footage of Tiananmen Square.

However, the evening's most startlingly beautiful pairing of sound and vision was Rosie Pedlow and Joe King's film of almost static Martin Parr-like gaudy coastal amusements with Hey Lucinda, Staples' album duet with, now deceased, Lhasa De Sela. With Staples taking both parts, the nagging refrain "our time is running out" fitted perfectly with the images of faded seaside glamour. With the cinematic experience ended, there was time enough for a trio of songs from the 2012 album, The Sometime Rain, to complete a spectacular evening.