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Whispering Grass

If Wednesday is hump day, then Monday 17th February has been that midpoint when discussions and concepts start to turn into deliverables. The critical shift from having to plan something to now making it happen. A brief conversation with the team and its full-throttle.  Now onto the build schedule.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Leveson Inquiry

Love Triangle: Leveson Inquiry*

Our addiction to celebrity extinguishes another star, and the well-oiled cogs of fabricated grief immediately started to turn. Sympathies have been expressed. Role model status bestowed, conspiracies now conspire, and countless posting of soft-filter photographs on social media accounts have been shared. The newspaper trolls who hounded and vilified while in life are now immersed in their obnoxious expressions in death.  It’s the remorse we cannot manipulate. Its to be discovered in that briefest of moments when we find ourselves at our most vulnerable. The fleeting second we all have between consciousness and sleep. Where genuine self-reflection happens as we lay naked with only our thoughts to determine if we are to enjoy a peaceful night or insomnia.

A place where over-edited selfies have no value, and we cannot hide behind the virtual wall cocooning our fear of reality.  A reality, to be drip-fed on short term/zero-hour contracts in a get rich quick or die trying competition. A world where the excesses and those who harbour greed float to the surface and pollute all empathy. Where a docile mass are steered away from questioning power and seeking accountability over those who hold it. 

To become a consumer with default choices, low expectations and subserviently programmed to the whims of the market. A market where anger is depleted, isolated and suppressed through a matrix of automated complaints systems. Where any notion of rebellion is distilled, branded, repackaged and monetised.

Haplessly we proceed to consume the chase of celebrity. We enjoy the hunt and even after the kill we dig over the carcass seeking every morsel, every detail, that will offer an explanation. After all, they “had it all” the lifestyle, the beautify and no less the fame. Its everything we clamour for from behind our mobile phones and all along, we could hear those muffled screams. Still, we decided to ignore the cry of, “I’m a celebrity get me out of here.”

(*Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the British press was cancelled by the Conservative Government.)

Big Wheels Keep On Turning: Part 1

Big wheels keep on turning. There is no bigger truth. Those feeling depressed and dispirited by the current state of politics in the U.K. should remember what goes around, ultimately comes around. Many look back with rose filtered glasses to the Conservative-Thatcher decade of the 80s. The decade when the barking dog of unfettered greed was unleashed. Forty years on are there parallels between now and then? Then I was a young man growing up in the North East of England. The heartland of Labour’s so-called red wall, which lazy political commentators get so excited about from their studios in London or garbling hyper-nonsense from the steps of Downing Street.

Right-wing, working-class patriotism has always been a reality behind the ‘red wall’ as it no doubt exists behind the ‘blue-wall’ of Christchurch.

Now and then the Tories manage to select a leader from their most elite ranks, who by birthright attain the Tory crown and their spin doctors, advisors and supporters then mould a persona and finance their chosen one’s adventures behind the red wall.

Back in the 80s, it was Thatcher, and now it’s good old Jolly Johnson who enjoys nothing more than driving dumpster trucks, sharing a jar with his flat-capped buddies down the local and sticking it up those pesky foreigners across the channel.

The late 1970s/1980s in the U.K. were much more than punk, disco, padded shoulders, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, Filofaxes, house brick mobile phones and the birth of “loads of money.” For many, it was often a fucking bleak and violent place to exist.

Poverty rates rocketed as the gap between rich and poor escalated beyond anything previously experienced in our modern history.  The Brixton Uprising, followed by civil unrest in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham.

Blair Peach who campaigned against the rise of fascism was killed by a member of the infamous Special Petrol Group (SPG) within the Met. Police, who were less trusted than a South American paramilitary hit squad. The SPG seemed to operate with impunity under cover of the stop and search law, which permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.

Clause 28: Played on the ignorance, prejudice and fear often felt towards the gay community. As the world mobilised against the apartheid regime of South Africa, Thatcher welcomed its leaders to this country, as friends. Extremist’s in the Conservative Party, including Thatcher’s husband Denis, who happened to have business interests in the racist state, openly applauded denunciations of the ANC as a terrorist organisation at the Conservative Party Conference. Other delegates called for the hanging of the ANC leader Nelson Mandela.  March 1990 and again, towns and cities were subjected to violent riots. This time against the poll tax, introduced by the Conservative government of the day. Then in 2011, under the watch of the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron rioting broke out in London, Birmingham and other cities in the U.K.

The script may change, it may be tailored, dressed up, spun and efficiently targeted through Fakebook ads, but be in no doubt whatsoever the book remains the same.

The Johnson administration is now feeling its way, pushing against barriers it may feel are sensitive, to test the waters and judge the strength of push back they receive. The deportations of Jamaicans by the Johnson administration is straight from the Trump textbook, which is to agitate discontent between communities. Stirring up the pot to see what happens, forming the narrative, and drip-feeding messages to a targeted audience.

Johnson is merely a complicit puppet in the reactionary and populist politics, funded by billionaires and oligarchs whose only interest is to destabilise any sense of oversight or accountability by any government i.e. their war on the EU. Unfettered greed will ultimately consume itself, but in the meantime, a lot of poison is going to be injected into our social fabric, which will take time to rinse out.

When I look back at the 80s, put them into context today, and reflect on what I believe is coming over the next five years. The depth of the damage, in my opinion, will be determined by the level of resistance our young people give to it. Until then, Johnson will continue to push.

My hope is that it does not result in violence, as it did in the 80s, 90s, and 2011, but given the track record of the Conservatives I don’t think they care that much, to be honest. To them, it will only be collateral damage.

Dirt Road

Taste a little Sweetwater

Sweetwater, one of those bands from the 1960s who through a set of circumstances beyond their control never seemed to receive the credit or recognition they so much deserve. Initially conceived as a regular house band playing the coffee shops in and around their native California the band quickly became the regular support for The Doors and The Animals in the late 60s. They charted in the US with a cover of Motherless Child a song most associated with Paul Robeson. Their 1968 first and self-titled album in my humble opinion is a little gem of the original psychedelic era that is often overlooked.

Many a pop quiz pundit will know that Sweetwater were booked to open the original Woodstock in 1969 but due to the numbers attending and the related traffic jams, they were unable to get to the stage on time. Then later that year lead singer Nansi Nevins was badly injured in a car accident, which hindered the progression of the band.

My favourite track from their self titled album is My Crystal Spider while the lyrics to What’s Wrong, (video below), seems more pertinent today than back in 1969.  If you’ve not heard the album and you are partial to a little 60s psychedelia then welcome aboard and take a trip.

1998: Hey Joe

There are crew members at the West Holts Stage who have crew t-shirts going back much further, but this is the earliest one I have in my collection. It’s from 1998, a bit special simply because it was the first time I had a full role at the stage. What is surprising is the lack of information about 1998 (even the official website) on the web. While having very little memory of this year myself I’ve gone through the programmes and below are the top 3 headliners for The Jazz Stage (now The West Holts Stage) over the festival. A little bit special by any measure.

Friday Evening

Portishead

Cornershop (if memory serves me right they also headlined the Other Stage on Saturday night too).

Faithless

Saturday Evening

Roni Size and Reprazent 

The Roots

Amanpondo feat. Juno Reactor

Sunday Evening

D-Influence

Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters

Dr John

Over the weekend Tortoise and Terry Callier also featured on the Jazz Stage line up. My two abiding memories of that year were not actually Jazz Stage related, but watching Sonic Youth rip it up on Pyramid after the Tony Bennett legend’s slot. And watching Joe Strummer perform for the last time. In fact, that is me (right) with an old friend with the Mescaleros feat. Joe Strummer in the background. 

 

Roots Manuva: Jazz Stage 2009

This time of the year I finally get round to cleaning up hard drives and files in preparation for the forthcoming festival. in doing so, I’ve come across a stash of old photographs. This photograph of Roots Manuva goes back 11 years. At the time, we were still in our Jazz Stage incarnation. As well as Roots that year we also had Q-Tip, Playing for Change, Lamb, The Streets, The Black Eyed Peas, Baaba Maal, Lamb, Steel Pulse, amongst others performing.

Michael Jackson passed away during the festival prompting all manner of hastily arranged set changes to allow a tribute cover, while Rolf Harris made his final appearance around Saturday lunchtime on the Jazz Stage before his infamous fall from grace.

Sun…sun…here it comes

Often in terrestrial rain, the site crew in 2019 built the stage. This was the very moment when the weather started to turn. Standing in the field, me and the site manager (Martin) were taking 5 minutes over a brew to discuss progress and looking like Vietcong extras in a Rambo film.

What I recall at that moment was the instant cheer echoing across the whole site as if the sun king had returned from a long lost vacation. The rest, as they say, is history. Within a matter of hours, the forecast had changed from Thunderstorms to full-blown heat and sun. Great news for everybody, but for the team a whole new set of challenges. They so often go unmentioned, but the site crew are the unsung heroes of the festival.

Day After The Night Before

The remains of the party poppers are to be swept away, unfinished drinks to be cleared up, and the nostalgic memories of the night before have already started to fade as a cocktail of hangover remedies are downed. A collective sigh from the madness of the past 4 years is in the vague hope a sense of normality can be restored, but this morning feels the same as the day before. A realisation that the same chasm, which existed before, exists today, and we continue to dance around the fire that has consumed us.

We are in mourning, confused, seeking to re-establish a sense of something that we cannot speak of because they have tethered our vocabulary, our right to free speech and expression.

They’ of course have a multitude of manifestations depending upon our personal circumstances and not worthy of repeating here, but they have turned us into self-imposed victims. It’s always somebody else’s fault and somebody else is to blame. As we now stand alone, accountability now firmly sits with us. That pothole in the road, the waiting list to see a doctor, the zero hour contract, the shape of bananas.

This morning we stand to puff our chest out against the wind, alone, but in reality, the past 4 years have been a symptom, not the cause and the celebrations last night are not the cure.

Working for Nothing

If you love music & respect those, who make it. You need to keep an eye on what the UK government is doing, or more precisely not doing to implement EU copyright law. Copyright is the legal right that allows an artist to protect how their original work is used. Article 13, (now 17) of the EU Copyright Directive requires online platforms to stop copyrighted material getting onto their platforms.

Most agree the Directive is far from perfect, but it starts to push in the right direction by realising artists need protection in the digital world of user-generated content. Surely, it’s in the consumer’s interest we ensure artists, including musicians, filmmakers and illustrators receive fair remuneration for the work they produce, and we go on to enjoy regardless the platform we receive their creative endeavours be it digital, radio, cinema, TV or gallery?

There is a BBC link here, which provides useful background information, but for now, this is my take on the situation after reading several items across a number of news outlets, including the Musician Union.

Smoke and Mirrors

During 2019 The UK Government was one of the key supporters of the Directive, which was not surprising given the importance of the ‘cultural industries’ to our domestic economy. But In January 2020 the UK Government announced it will not be implementing the Directive. In the duplicitous world of politics, it’s not difficult to discover the short gap between what governments say and what they actually do. Still, even Flipper the Dolphin would be impressed by Boris Johnson’s flip-flop.

What had changed in such a short period of time? The only significant event to have taken in this period is, of course, the general election in the UK that Johnson’s Conservative’s won. It is easy to come to the conclusion that Johnson was saying one thing to one audience before the election with a plan to deliver after the election.

Most if not all the big on-line platforms who are reliant on user-generated content are very much against the copyright law not only because it places a greater onus on them to police their own platforms, but they are unlikely to be keen on the prospect of diverting revenue away from themselves towards deserving artists who make the content that drives people to use their platform.

The tech companies are nothing more than 21st-century monopolies interested in maintaining their market share and profits. The two largest streaming services have over 75 million tracks on their platforms giving them a disproportionate hold on the market. Think of tech companies as empty supermarkets and the artist is the producer, delivery driver and shelf-stacker who is then paid on a sales only basis.

The core business model for these tech companies is to reduce their costs, maximise their revenues and push risk and cost on to the producer of content they need (ie the artist). The tech companies want to spoon-feed you a diatribe of commercials and they certainly do want an informed customer base. This explains why the tech companies have fuelled campaigns against the proposed Directive by dumbing down the debate around the narrative “the meme ban” it is not.

Little Man Lost

The power social media and hosting platforms hold over politicians is the same the print barons had. Johnson will do as he is told be in no doubt.

Johnson now claims that it was “a classic EU law to help the rich and powerful” and “a good example of how we can take back control”. This is just claptrap and what is simply happening here is Johnson is supporting the interest of big business over those of individual artists working, against the odds, to create content we want to enjoy.

Johnson, like Trump, has used these tech companies and their platforms to great effect and it’s not in either parties interest to threaten their self-interests. The power, which the social media and hosting platforms hold over politicians is similar to the power the print barons held over politicians in recent history. Be in no doubt, at the end of the day Johnson will do as he is told.

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