Wednesday, 28 February 2018


A version of this rant appeared on the sadly now defunct Profane Beefs website, a short-lived affair dedicated to desecrating the sacred cows of music.

What happens with music is what happens with everything else the poor possess.

Music scenes pretty much always start amongst the poor – a new sound emerging from the forgotten corners of urban life. This sound spreads to local clubs and DJ’s. Soon money gets involved, a buzz is generated around an ever hyper-ready media and then record companies, scared of missing the boat, flood the scene with cash – copycats are suddenly abundant, the scene is diluted, finished.

Same thing happens with where they live.  People will hear that a certain part of town is vibrant and exciting and so the hipsters will move in, wanting part of this scene, driving rents and mortgages up. Soon the local café, the local pub, all those things that created that atmosphere in the first place is choked with moneyed strangers, incapable of seeing that they always kill the things they hoped to keep.

Sanitise what the poor have and sell it to the middle classes.  Football, music, fashion – it’s all just grist to the millenial mill. These parasites have always existed but the internet has made their breeding uncontrollable. You used to have to work hard, shop around, put the hours in looking for that new thing you wanted to hear and make yours. Now a click of a mouse and suddenly everyone knows about the Big Beat revival/that obscure French director/that little old fashioned tea rooms tucked away in a forgotten side street.

The poor love their drink, you killed their pubs. They love their football; you priced them out of the game entirely. Everything that the government does already had a mandate from anyone with a buy-to-let mortgage or a stupid haircut. Their chips, their clothes, and their run down cars – you took them and resold them to the rich as artisan street food, authentic work clobber and vintage runabouts. The working class has been shafted, so what the fuck you looking at.

That band you and your mates used to follow back in the day. The local heroes.  Made one album, split up. Now they’ve had a song used in a Coke advert. Now there’s a reunion tour. Better still, they’re playing your hometown. You have to book a ticket online but you’re stuck in a queue and the next thing you know, the thing’s sold out to a bunch of micro brewers with massive beards who just chanced upon an article on Pitchfork and decided that it sounded fun, ironic even.

Sometimes it feels like you’re being laughed at. Everywhere you go, people are dressed like you used to only somehow now it costs a fortune. The pub you frequented as an underage lager lout has changed its name, got rid of the jukebox and sells sandwiches that cost more than your bus fare to work. The telly’s full of people pretending they speak just like you despite being called Julian or Sebastian.

Your dead end job just about keeps the wolf from the door. All your friends are either in the same boat or have fallen overboard. Your kids share classes with kids with first names that make them sound like they came out of a 1930s pit village. Alfie, Bertie, Sid – all being dropped off by the au pair.

Sometimes you want to run away, run home. But home’s gone. That estate, that run down hellhole of your youth, they did it up nice. Saw that there was a view of the sea and decided that the poor didn’t deserve this. They packed them off to live in a car park near the landfill. They renamed the estate after a local hero who grew up round here and who promptly vanished the first chance he could.

Everything on the telly makes you feel worse about yourself. Shows with people buying second homes when you haven’t yet bought one and having the cheek to be stressed about it.  Public school educated comedians pretending to be just like you and generating canned laughter and a stadium tour just by saying stuff that you would say in an exaggerated version of your own accent.

And that’s the laugh you hear in your head whenever you hear the opening chords of the song Parklife by Blur, that “Oi” and those sitcom music hall fucking key changes.  It’s doubly annoying because the single Girls and Boys had been such a celebration of pop music, dance music, holidays and sex that you thought Blur might actually be on the verge of doing something special, something magical. But they weren’t. They were just doing what all the other middle class bands do, picking your pocket with one hand and buying you a drink with the other.

You play the entire album once. It disgusts you. You take it to a charity shop. You walk home and a pigeon shits on your head.






Wednesday, 24 January 2018


"I think it's over now, I think it's ending."

Mark E Smith, Glasgow, 2017.

Mark E Smith is dead. The Fall is dead.

You cannot separate the two. Like the man himself, it seems a marvel that it lasted as long as it did. Amphetamine and alcohol made Smith wiry and wired, and whilst his body was able to withstand the abuse, his band pummelled the senses with an astonishing catalogue of work that blurred the lines between garage rock, krautrock and bubblegum pop.
There will never be another lyricist like Smith. Despite his continual paranoia about plagiarists and notebooks, Smith’s scattergun approach was inimitable.  Lovecraft, Machen and Wyndham Lewis were heroes mentioned in interviews but there is nothing in literature quite like a great MES lyric. Part social commentary, part science fiction, all delivered in bile-powered stream-of-consciousness salvos.
And the voice. Smith was not a singer. His Salford whine was the band’s greatest weapon, adding an abrasive texture to the group’s formidable musical assault. 
I discovered the Fall for myself on Friday September 15, 1989. I was due to start at university on the Monday and had just finished my final shift at my summer job, packing organic produce for supermarkets. It was a shit job for a shit wage but it paid for my beers and my weekly splurge on records.  There was a second hand record shop on the way to the bus stop and, if I had time, a lucrative 10 minutes could be spent buying the records that cash-strapped students had given up in the term before.
The cassette album of I, Kurious Oranj, stood out on the shelf that day in its orange glow. Like a chemical accident. I had read a considerable amount about the Fall in the music press, had seen endless namechecks and live reviews. I was at the age where I was always looking for the next thing to play to my mates and having had some success amongst my peers with Pixies and Happy Mondays already that summer, maybe The Fall might be the next thing to impress them with.
The song titles offered small clues as to the unique approach of Mark E Smith. “Big New Prinz”, “Guide Me Soft” “CD Win Fall 2088 AD”.  Mangled language, gnarled syntax. I was yet to discover this was a concept album/ballet soundtrack commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution. 
£3 and the tape was mine.  I missed the bus and walked home eight miles in Ceredigion drizzle.
I still remember the excitement of those first 30 seconds or so of the Fall on my Walkman. A series of uncertain handclaps, a man barking “Rocking Records, the guy’s rock records…” and then the greatest rhythm section Manchester ever produced, Hanley and Wolstencroft, kick it in.  I was hooked.
The Fall went on to soundtrack my twenties. Each year a new album usually preceded by a disappointing single, an astonishing Peel session and an NME interview which acted as an alternative State of the Nation address.  This annual ritual was something far more exciting to me than Christmas or my birthday. From hearing the screeching violin introduction to Sing Harpy in my campus pit to the sheer exuberance of Touch Sensitive in my damp bedsit, the 90s were my Peak Enjoyment of Mark E Smith years.
Eventually I begun to explore their labyrinthine back catalogue, a treasure trove of riches. Though punk had given Smith the impetus to do something, it is clear The Fall were never punk in the way the Pistols were. The Fall were indignant, different, diffident and difficult without ever resorting to shock tactics. Repetition was their schtick and somehow they stayed ahead of the pack, not so much pointing the way forward (for who can truly ape genius) as showing their peers just how far ahead they were.
And then there were the live shows. The risk factor of buying a ticket to The Fall. Because, on his day, when MES cantankerousness and contrarianism over spilled into hostility and unpleasantness, the Fall could implode before your very eyes. But it seemed worth it somehow, like walking away from your football team’s latest defeat, knowing you’d be back, a sucker for punishment. At their best (and I’ve seen them hit these heights several times), Mark E Smith was a conduit between the audience’s expectations and the band’s sheer power, a general on the field of battle, barking instructions like a Lancashire James Brown.  I’ve seen friends that were previously resistant to even the idea of The Fall converted at those special performances.
You get older, you settle down. Married, 2 kids. The usual. At first The Fall seemed a relief from all that conformity you’d allowed your life to settle into. And then, as the number of ex Fall members grew in turn with the number of ex record labels The Fall had been signed to, their power began to diminish. Smith seemed no longer capable of greatness. On stage too, resorting to fiddling with band members equipment, spoiling for a fight rather than putting on a show. The sight of a decrepit Smith, King Leer in a wheelchair, was the stuff of tragedy. The records began to suffer as MES, seemingly intent on alienating even the hardcore devotees who now made up 90% of his audience, embarked on a path of almost anti-music. 
And now he’s dead. Sixty. No age at all.  If Bowie was the mainstream rock chameleon, able to change his colours and adapt to an ever changing pop landscape, Smith was a shape-shifter – mythological, restless, sinister – the fiend with a violin, the paranoia man, the casino soul. His waltz now ended, I find myself surprisingly devastated at his final demise.  And then, just as I was with that other thin white duke, I marvel at the fullness of those years spent amongst us and stand amazed at their life’s work.
I doubt Mark’s a new face in hell now, but wherever he is, I'll raise a glass to him tonight. Thanks for all the memories, Mark. Rest in peace.

Friday, 29 December 2017

The Best 50 Beatles Songs Ever

Inspired by recent conversations on Twitter about bands you could build a steady 40 song playlist for, I decided to make a Beatles one. Anyway, I decided to listen to the Beatles and pretty much nothing else for a few hours just to see which ones I would pick.

During that, and doing some research, I found there's an awful lot of Top 50 Beatles songs out there lists. Being the saddo I am, I decided to enter all* these lists into a chart and work out what were the best 50 Beatles songs out there. Dead scientific, this. Anyway, here's the list. Can't believe You Know My Name (Look Up My Number) isn't in there....

I still haven't finished my own 40 song playlist either.

  1. A Day in the Life
  2. Strawberry Fields Forever
  3. Something
  4. Hey Jude
  5. Let It Be
  6. While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  7. In My Life
  8. Norwegian Wood
  9. Eleanor Rigby
  10. Tomorrow Never Knows
  11. Yesterday
  12. I Saw Her Standing There
  13. Ticket to Ride
  14. Here Comes The Sun
  15. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  16. Penny Lane
  17. A Hard Day's Night
  18. Help
  19. Come Together
  20. Paperback Writer
  21. Blackbird
  22. She Loves You
  23. Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  24. All You Need is Love
  25. Cant Buy Me Love
  26. Get Back
  27. All My Loving
  28. You've Got to Hide Your Love Away
  29. Abbey Road Medley
  30. Please Please Me
  31. Revolution
  32. I Am The Walrus
  33. Dear Prudence
  34. For No One
  35. We Can Work It Out
  36. Day Tripper
  37. Nowhere Man
  38. With A Little Help From My Friends
  39. Drive My Car
  40. Across the Universe
  41. Here. There and Everywhere
  42. Rain
  43. And Your Bird Can Sing
  44. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
  45. Helter Skelter
  46. Twist and Shout
  47. She Said, She Said
  48. Taxman
  49. Got to Get You Into My Life
  50. Eight Days A Week

* eight lists. That's enough data, I reckon.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

In Praise of McFadden's Cold War

Picture this. President Reagan sat on Air Force One, reading a book. He appears engrossed. But wait, who’s that lying in a bed behind him? It’s Max Branning from East Enders. Hang on, what’s that book the late President is reading? It’s Pat Butcher’s autobiography.

Welcome to the world of McFadden’s Cold War, the funniest account on Twitter. A bricolage of modern global politics and British television – where Cilla Black is able to sit and have Christmas dinner with Kim Jong-un, where Khruschev and Eisenhower ride the streets of Washington with a young Sam Allardyce and a topless Cliff Richard. Present in most of these images, somewhere, often in a state of disarray is East Enders long suffering alcoholic wannabe gangster Phil Mitchell (as played by Steve McFadden).

McFadden’s Cold War should be Unit 101 in any Postmodernism Studies course.  Disparate images, times and cultural references are thrown together in order to both reflect the fragmented nature of society and the instant accessibility of all knowledge that the internet has afforded 21st century man.

An image of Kim Il Jung and his generals watching a successful missile launch is subverted utterly by the replacement of the on screen warhead with an image of Nick Knowles mouth-turding his way through one of his songs. Reagan’s Cabinet pose for a photo, suddenly with Harold Shipman and distressed murder suspect Christopher Jeffries amongst their number, a juxtaposition jarring enough but given extra power by the realisation that they are posing beneath a large photo of a leering Dean Gaffney. This is Orwell via Wellard.

McFadden’s Cold War plays with ideas of cultureme, chronotopes and the like in a manner of a great sorcerer. In juxtaposing the worlds of pop culture and realpolitik, he anticipated the televisual celebrity cult of President Trump. Fictional drunks become players on the world stage, statesmen are reduced to mere citizens, drinkers at the Queen Vic, readers of TV Times.  It is this pricking of pomposity at all levels that makes the wonderfully anonymous MCW such a wonderful fountain of deep belly laughter.


Tuesday, 28 November 2017


“The world can really kick your ass. I only have a vague recollection of when it wasn’t kicking mine.”

A journey to the North to see old friends. A train I’ve taken many times but not nearly enough of late. My own private demons to contend with.  But these are my best friends and as they’re now old friends in all senses of that phrase, I need to see them as often as I can before it’s too late.
The Monk hasn’t been well. There’s an understatement. The Monk has nearly died and isn't completely out the woods yet. Years of abuse have caught up with him. People will call it self-abuse but it’s a phrase I don’t care for. Slow suicides like his often have their roots in other people. He’s on a long, painful road to recovery but you can hear the demons listening in on every phone call we’ve shared the last few months. Time to see for myself what damage those demons have done.
Feels irresponsible drinking on the train. Disrespectful even. But it’s what I’ve always done on these long journeys and the cold beers bring a glow as familiar as the hills and towns we pass.  
A farcical taxi journey from the station to the House of Monk. He answers the door. I was expecting him to be in a wheelchair but he’s on crutches so at first my spirits are raised.
He lives alone in a ground floor bedsit in a Victorian terrace that lies in a forgotten corner of an industrial town. He cannot venture further than the front door without a vehicle.  In this tiny flat are piled the books, records and DVDs of a man who cannot enjoy much past these things. Art provides the journeys his broken body is now incapable of making.
Our mutual friend Garry joins us and over a few days we talk about the past, the old days, the glory days, the days when the three of us would seemingly find adventure and madness every time we set outside. We never took photos. We have been best friends for nearly 30 years and have never exchanged a birthday card or present. The marking of time, the passing of things is something that we just don’t do. Who wants to think about the end?
We listen to the music we used to love, to the music we used to make.  We talk about everything from Boy George to Anfield, from rugby league to the Rockford Files. In between bouts of silence brought about by the exhausting regime of medicines the Monk needs to take, he is lucid, witty and charismatic as ever. Eventually, worn out by all our natter, we decide to put one of the Monks DVDs on.
Despite the many greater works of art that make up much of the Monks film collection, we settle for an old lowbrow favourite.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, Kingpin is a film about a naïve young man who makes the mistake of trusting an older one against his initial instincts, a mistake that costs him his hand and ends his fledgling career in professional ten pin bowling. Woody Harrelson is Munson, a man whose cruel misfortune has led to his surname becoming synonymous with having the world in the palm of your hand and losing it.  Bill Murray is Ernie McCracken, a professional bowler, all round bad guy and at least partly to blame for Munson's disfigurement.
Seventeen years of hard drinking and poverty pass.  So, when Munson discovers Brother Ishmael (Randy Quaid), a member of the Amish community with a bowling talent kept hidden from his family, he sees a chance to get out of his predicament. There is a bowling tournament in Reno with a prize of a million dollars. Exactly twice the amount needed to save Brother Ishmael’s farm from foreclosure.
You can probably guess the rest. A road trip across America in which a romantic interest, Claudia (Vanessa Angel), comes along for the ride and a showdown at the end with McCracken.

In Brother Ishmael, Munson sees not just a chance to get rich, but a chance to be the man he was expected to be. There is a moving scene in which Munson returns to the small town he left as a young man to seek his fame and fortune, sent on his way by his adoring father. We hear that Munson felt too ashamed to even return for his father’s funeral. Seeing the ghosts of the town he left. Munson realises that though he can’t now redeem himself in his father’s eyes, perhaps he can redeem himself in his own.
Munson sees eventually that he must accept a degree of responsibility for his situation, if not the initial cause of it. From that moment on, though there are several setbacks, redemption seems assured if not in the form we expect.

Despite the jokes about rubber hands, bestiality and alcoholism, this is really a film about broken dreams, second chances, unexpected redemption. Though Bill Murray excels as the wild-haired monster, it’s Harrelson who absolutely makes this film work.  I’ve always found him an underrated actor.  Despite his good looks, something in him seems too nice to land the anti-hero roles that characterised the best work of Paul Newman, yet he could never realistically grab an everyman part like Tom Hanks or a truly bad guy role. Only recently have directors started to realise he can’t play blue-eyed village idiots forever.
There’s many funny and quotable lines in the film but my favourite line is Munson attempting to defend his latest transgression – “The world can really kick your ass. I only have a vague recollection of when it wasn’t kicking mine.”
Something in that line has always seemed very true to me, despite its note of self-pity. The world can kick your ass and it’s been kicking The Monk’s longer than most. I’m not drawing parallels between the Monk and Munson, except in one small way.
The Monk seeks redemption too, another shot at being somebody people can be proud of. If he could only see that those of us who love him are already proud of him, and there are many more of us than he probably thinks, and that it is only himself he needs to forgive, then perhaps victory can yet be his.


Thursday, 24 August 2017

A Letter For Europe

Having tweeted the above this morning, I felt compelled to write said letter.

Dear Europe. 

Sorry about all this. It was a game of chicken with some of our more gullible electorate and we lost and you know how it is with us upper class English types – can’t back down. A wager’s a wager and debts have to be settled. More on that later.

Historically, our island nation has often been on bad terms with you guys.  It was hoped that the lessons of millennia of conflict and distrust might have been learnt but do you know how many people read the Daily Mail? I know, right?

Idiots. That’s the only word for it. Don’t tell anyone I said this but we’ve been made to look like bloody fools. We’ve only ourselves to blame,

Truth be told, most of us really like Europe, or at least most of us who’ve actually ventured anywhere other than those ghastly places on the Costa Del Sol where you can get a proper English breakfast and a pint of Carling for under a fiver. Well, could. I see the pound plummeting faster than Boris Johnson’s chances of leading the country and it’s all I can do not to smile.

Would you take us back? I mean, would you consider it? Obviously, we’d have to meet covertly at first, like secret lovers at some impossibly romantic rendezvous. There I go again, peppering this letter with French words.  I’ll have to stop that. Stick to the mother tongue.

English is a mongrel language and we are a mongrel breed. Where we got the idea that we are some kind of pure, undiluted, special breed of man I’ll never know. Last chap who had that sort of numbskull idea was a failed art student and well, you know the rest.

Farage is a prick, isn’t he? Sorry about him. Typical self-made oaf. Stick a stale ham in a tweed suit and off they go, crashing helicopters and screaming the Germans did it.  Still, you won’t be seeing him again.

Us Brits aren’t supposed to do feelings. Stiff upper lip and all that. It’s rubbish, of course, much like the stuff that Murdoch prints but there you go. We’re sad to be going but we can’t admit it.

Chances are that we’ll be knocking on the door to come back soon. The pound is already stood on the white cliffs of Dover, threatening to jump into La Manche.  Any further decline and we’ll be the new Zimbabwe. How ironic would that be, eh?

Knocking? We’ll be pounding more like. Please save our precious pound, Frau Merkel! Won’t someone think of our poor orphaned pennies, Monsieur Macron? You can’t build an economy on jam. You can try to build one on the missiles that destroy the villages thus causing the waves of refugees we are running away from, sure. But not on jam.  Oh God, we’re going to bring back golliwogs aren’t we. I’m so sorry.

Don’t cry for me Ireland, Sweden. I doubt they will. Nor Belgium, Spain or anyone else. Can’t imagine any foreign backpacker will decide to queue for hours just to visit one of our many thousands of Wetherspoons.

UK. United Kingdom. They don’t even realise the irony of what we’re doing. A (largely) successful political union of previously warring neighbours leaving a bigger version of the same thing. It’ll end in tears. But no apologies.

Please take us back. I’m begging you. I'll pay whatever you ask. We're the Lannisters in this thing, aren't we? And the Lannisters always pay their debts.


The United Kingdom.





Monday, 12 June 2017

The Poor Have Never Had It So Good.

There’s still a significant amount of people in this country who believe that poverty is the result of some personal moral failing.  That, if only these wretches could find the resolve to dig themselves out of their self-created messes, everything would soon work out for them. It should be no surprise to anyone that these opinions are, almost exclusively, the preserve of people who have never experienced a single moment of hardship in their lives.  Such fortune only reinforces their opinion, I work hard, they tell themselves. I work hard, I have money, and therefore hard work equals elimination of poverty.
I’ve got a pretty good idea what poverty feels like. It’s like a sack of coal upon your back that you are never allowed to set down. From the moment you wake to the moment you collapse at the end of the day, it’s slung over your shoulder. Nearly every single decision you make depends upon this weight. Few of these decisions involve anything but difficult choices.  Do I put a fiver on the gas meter before I runs out or do I hope it isn’t too cold this evening and buy something decent for tea? Do I get the bus to work or do I pay my kid’s school dinner money? Do I get that toothache sorted at the dentist or do I get my daughter a birthday present? Every day is like this, every single fucking day. And that doesn’t take into account the continual justification you have to make for each of these decisions, to yourself, to your partner, to the woman on the working tax credits helpline, to the bank, to the bloke at the job centre.
Poverty is grim. It stops you from sleeping, it is the unwanted spice in every thankfully sourced meal you eat when the fiscal stars fail to shine your way. It's the hole in your shirt you hope your friends don't notice, the wet walk home when there's no money for a bus. It's the stolen loaf and the Christmas present you wanted to get for your son but couldn't quite afford. I know all of these things and a hundred more and I've got a fucking job right now.
Not the job I’d like, mind.
More than anything else poverty dampens expectations, smothers hopes and crushes dreams. Statistically speaking, if you’re born poor, you’re more than likely going to die poor. It doesn’t matter what talents you have, you’re not going to make it without a huge amount of good luck.
I was the first person in my family to go to university. Without consciously looking for them, I gravitated instinctively to the only other person there who’d been on free dinners. Maybe we recognised something in each other’s eyes or clothes.  We were both skinny.  Maybe that was it. Our accents were ours, not faked, not exaggerated. We didn’t feel the need to say we were working class. Nobody needed to ask.
Fast forward thirty years and we’re still best mates. Neither of us have made much of our lives. We don’t own our own homes, we cling on to jobs we hate because life has taught us the grass is never greener elsewhere. Speaking not that long ago my mate told me about a conversation he’d had at work with his boss.
“Have you seen I, Daniel Blake?”
“Seen it? I’ve bloody lived it.”
We had a good long laugh at that.
I lost a reasonably well paid job in 2006.  I had only myself to blame, I’d launched into an online tirade against a boss who had pushed my buttons once too often. Thinking I’d find something quickly I hadn’t allowed for the first shoots of an economic recession and soon found myself signing on.
There are few second chances for the poor.
Unlike those with the right connections, we go to prison if we stab people. If we lie on our CV, we lose our jobs. We wouldn’t ever get a third or fourth chance.
Living with these pressures day in day out can be difficult. I find it hard and I work full time. Lord knows what it’s like now to be unemployed. In the last five years I’ve been made homeless twice through no fault of my own. I’ve been referred to foodbanks. I’ve suffered depression and anxiety issues. Just as I cling to my job for dear life, not wishing to rock the boat, so I cling to my council flat for the shelter and security it brings my family. It’s in a post-war council block of the kind built by this country in a kinder incarnation, when governments realised that social housing was a necessity rather than a frivolity. It sits a couple of hundred yards from the highest rated state school in the country. From my kitchen I can see the Bristol Channel and the hills of Somerset. It is a beautiful view and one that sooner or later, my local authority will realise it is also one with a high market value. I try not to think about that, though it keeps me up some nights.
I put things into perspective. My ancestors were miners, labourers and factory workers in the days before health and safety regulations. They fought in wars waged on their betters behalf and died in their beds of diseases we can now cure. I don’t have to walk ten miles to source water to drink and I won’t watch my children die of malnutrition.
It is with these perspectives in mind that I suspect Fraser Nelson says “Things have never been so good for the poor.” And even though that isn’t even remotely true, it will be heralded as the fact that justifies the cuts that are still to come.