Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hooks and Harmonies

Most great bands’ creativity depends on either one or two people: there are those that are beholden to a single song-writing visionary, such as The Jam’s Paul Weller, and there are those that are fortunate enough to have a writing partnership. These are either genuinely collaborative, such as Strummer and Jones, or a convenient handle for separate writers such as Lennon and McCartney. What is unusual is to have three equally strong but distinct songsmiths; when it comes to Teenage Fanclub this is precisely the case.

The Bellshill band’s albums have always seen the writing duties shared amongst their trio of guitarist/vocalists Norman Blake, Gerry Love and Raymond McGinley and this year’s superb album, Here, is no exception with a very exact and democratic four tracks apiece. Despite this demarcation of composition, Teenage Fanclub have always achieved a unity of sound and this was ably demonstrated at Concorde 2 in Brighton on Thursday night with crowd-pleasing numbers such as Verisimilitude, Ain’t That Enough and Sparky’s Dream from their mid-nineties salad days.

The gig was not an exercise in nostalgia, however, as half of the songs from Here featured in the set and showed that the Fannies’ fabulous grasp of melodies, hooks and harmonies is as strong as ever. There was the shimmering pop of Love’s Thin Air and the well-crafted sentimentality of Blake’s I’m In Love, which featured some gorgeously effortless lead guitar playing from McGinley. And, although I overheard one punter afterwards describe the new material as “more morose”, I think “mature” was the word he was grasping for. On McGinley’s Hold On, it is experience and reflection that shines through: “think of the ones you love and what they want and what they need...hold on to you life, to your dreams.” If this is the voice of middle-age talking, then Teenage Fanclub are talking to me.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


A November Saturday morning, soon after sunrise: the ground underfoot still in shade, the first heavy frost of the season means that, as I walk through the long grass at the far end of the fruit farm, each of my footsteps emits a satisfying crunch. Higher up, the golden rays have turned the remaining leaves on the pear trees a burnished amber, and the alder windbreaks in the distance a deep vivid orange. More importantly, the early beams provide insulation against the morning chill; but at this time of year, the sun will not get much higher in the sky than this.

Heading south to the coast in the late morning, the sun's low dazzle reflected on the wet road ahead means that we are driving blindly along a snaking river of silver flanked by a riot of deciduous colour. Here, the usual yellows and oranges of early autumn are complemented by the rarer saffrons and maroons of the onset of winter. The saturated colours mean that everything is Ektachrome: all is viewed through the prism of fading memories, of the world viewed through childhood eyes.

At the beach, despite some nimbostratus rain clouds lurking threateningly in the distance and a persistent south-westerly blowing in from the sea, the sun is still strong and I can feel its radiance on my face. This apricity - the warmth of the sun in winter - is a welcome fillip. My new favourite word, the noun 'apricity' was first recorded by lexicographer Henry Cockeram in his English Language Dictionary of 1623 but has been rarely used since. From the Latin apricus - warmed by the sun - it also has a verb form, apricate, that means to bask in the sun. I only heard of the word recently as the title of Canterbury band Syd Arthur's latest album. Just as with most useful things I have learned about in life - books, films, politics - the language to describe the warmth of the winter sun came to me from pop music.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Bridging the Gap

Founded by the Duke of Richmond, whose Goodwood House home is in West Sussex, the Sussex Community Foundation has been active for ten years, raising charitable funds and distributing them throughout the county. It has made grant awards totaling over £8 million to more than 1,500 community groups and is currently administering a fund of a further £11 million.

Today, three years after its inaugural report into deprivation, the foundation has published Sussex Uncovered 2: Bridging the Gap and it notes that there is “huge disparity between different parts of Sussex.” Drawn from the Government’s own 2015 Indices of Multiple Deprivation, the report reveals that, despite its perceived wealth, Sussex has 26 wards in the top 20% most deprived in England, and Hastings is the 20th most deprived district out of 326 in the country. In terms of health deprivation, the data reveals that in some urban areas there is a nine-year difference in adult male life expectancy between the most and least deprived wards.

However, despite some large population concentrations in coastal towns, deprivation in Sussex is not confined to those urban areas. 25% of people in Sussex live in rural areas, higher than the English average of 17.6%, and for people there the most significant indicator of the economic downturn and subsequent government policy is that the average wage in Sussex is the lowest in the south east and below the average for England. This means that people living on low incomes in countryside areas face disadvantage in terms of transport and affordable housing and, although the level of homelessness has reduced in some urban areas such as Brighton and Hove, there has been an increase in rural areas such as Wealden.

Sussex has an unusually high elderly population, which accounts for some of the disparities in health and income deprivation; but it is the levels of child poverty that are the starkest indicators of a county of extremes. In some parts of Mid Sussex, less than 1% of children are growing up in poverty, a figure way below the 22% average for England. This is contrasted with many areas of East Sussex which are way above average: in parts of Eastbourne, 39% of children are in poor households; in Sidley, 47% live in poverty; and in one area of Hastings the level of child poverty is an astonishing 75%.

When the Sussex Community Foundation was set up, its founder called the levels of deprivation in Sussex “a scandal”. Ten years on, that a wealthy county in the south east of England can allow this situation to exist is just as scandalous. As the report notes, “the Government’s austerity policies have started to have a real impact on the lives of people in our communities and on the charities and community groups that support them.” Despite doing important work, organisations such as the Sussex Community Foundation cannot hope to stem the tide of deprivation and, unless cuts to mainstream services are reversed soon, the situation will not improve.

'Sussex Uncovered 2: Bridging the Gap' can be read here.