Category Archives: Blog

Chewing the fat and talking bollocks.

Weathervane: Notes from People Watching

Stood, looking half bewildered to the world surrounding his existence, a Pep Guardiola lookalike. Slightly dishevelled, thinner. His nervous twitch holds a thousand transactions with the bottle. Pep anxiously riffles through the loose change in his palm. People flow past him, and like me, are ignorant of his true story. He looks broken. 

I order tea. It is quickly dispensed into its disposal cardboard cup, the tea bag hoovers on the surface, “Say when”, the guy says as he pours the milk. “When,” I reply. He lifts his head. We capture one another’s eyes for a millisecond, and a distant sigh reverberates in our collective subconscious.

Stepping from the trailer and gripping the paper cup at its brim, I befriend an aluminium framed seat and its identical table where I place my tea and mobile phone.

25-years since I landed in Bristol. This is the place I have frequented, on and off, over those years. A tea/coffee trailer, adjacent to the Watershed, which also serves a delicious banana and chocolate crepe if you find yourself in the vicinity,

As then, and as now, it’s the perfect place to people watch. We mortals tend not to look up anymore, fixated by our devices. Connected to distance and not our immediate surroundings.

Groups of schoolchildren jostle, call each other names beyond my recognition and brag about things schoolchildren brag about. It’s all posturing, but there is the quiet one struggling to fit in and harvest a sense of belonging. An awkward shyness and sense of inadequacies. Seagulls hanker and cry for crumbs, and a wasp threatens occasionally. A guy in a leather motorcycle jacket on the next table sits back and stretches his legs out. Drawing deeply into his lungs, the cigarette smoke.  

A momentary break in the traffic, pedestrian crossing beeps announce a new flow of passer-by. A young lady, early 20s stops abruptly, combes long hair with fingers. Tilts her head slightly to the left, raises her mobile, sucks in her cheeks like a pouting trout and snaps a selfie and walks on. 

The Pep Guardiola lookalike is now loitering close to me, picking up random cigarette butts. A message appears on my iPhone 12, advising me to buy a new iPhone 13.  I sip my tea, gaze up at the Weathervane, and before I notice, the Pep Guardiola lookalike has vanished.

13aX: Unquietly

The second instalment of the 13aX journey on Irregular Patterns. This track is called Unquietly. Loaded with chill out vibes and the continual search for a lost soul.

Open Memory Box

This website is simply quite beautiful in curation and content. The largest homemade collection of 8mm celluloid film captures both a time, but also people loving life from the defunct German Democratic Republic. Click on the anti-archive link and just get lost in individual stories. This is the link to the full website

Irregular Patterns

Ideas that lay dormant evaporate into the ether of well-meaning intentions (what-ifs). The constraints of the pandemic lockdown also freed up time and space to revisit and explore my long list of what-ifs. Hidden amongst them was the concept of Irregular Patterns, albeit the idea did not have that name. That came much later. I’ve been fortunate, very fortunate, to enjoy a life that has allowed me to work in the creative areas I love. Music and live performance.

Having experienced first-hand the struggles many of my musician mates were facing even before the onset of pandemic lockdowns, given the ongoing imbalance in revenue share from streaming. Even the more experienced musicians came with stories of being ripped off by various business interests from shifty managers, record companies and the constant ask to perform for nothing. The foundations to one of our greatest exports to the world, music, are increasingly threadbare, wallowing in exploitation.

A chance discussion with a local musician, Gavin McClafferty, brought the focus, vision and grit needed to move these ideas from concept to delivery. Irregular Patterns was born, not just a record label but a creative hub formed around the artist. In less than one year, we sit on the brink of IP issuing its first release, developing a roster and release schedule for the remainder of the year. The help, input and encouragement, so far, has been humbling, to say the least. Whatever this journey brings, I will be forever grateful.

I’m not going to repeat what you can access and read here. The manifesto for IP is the foundation. Being the change we want to see in the music industry is our essential, faltering first step. The journey has not been easy; in fact, some obstacles have needed to be knocked down. More importantly, it was the leap of faith, risk-taking, and realisation that we are in the happy business after all.

A Perfect Storm

In 2020, I started to write up several essay type blogs on my thoughts on what was happening in North-East politics and in particular the Labour Party.

This in turn was building on a blog I wrote back in 2017 concerning Labour and the North East (here), I got bored, and then Hartlepool came along in 2021. This is the introduction to about 5-6 pieces, depending on editing, which I wrote last year providing a personal assessment as the root cause of Labour’s woes in the North East and what can be done to tackle it.

But before we get started, I’d like to thank Dave Lee, a writer, director, producer, and self-appointed arsehole from Hull (my late Dad’s birth city). While we may disagree on the details, I believe we share the same belief that the interests of working-class people will never be served by the Conservative Party. So thank you, Dave, for the humour, suggestions and candour when starting out on this little project last year.

I was born in Labour’s industrial heartlands, Stockton North, which now neighbours a host of Conservative Party constituencies, Hartlepool, Darlington, Stockon South and Sedgefield. Unthinkable a few years previously. 

As with Hartlepool, Stockton North returned a Labour MP in 2019 mainly due to the pro-Brexit vote split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, which allowed Labour to squeeze through. This luxury, of course, will not be available to the incumbent Alex Cunningham next time round.

Alex and I have a little history. We had both campaigned to be nominated as Labour Party candidate for the Stockton North parliamentary seat. The seat had potentially become available when the mandatory reselection process had been triggered against the sitting MP Frank Cook. We failed, of course, and Frank went on to win another term.

I then fled to pastures new (with much relief to all concerned, including myself). Alex stuck around, and in due course, was crowned Frank’s replacement.

The simple point I’m seeking to make here is that I not only know the North East from my heritage, given I was born there. I was educated there. I was brought up in a council. My first job for 7 years was working in a foundry, where I joined a union and participated in strikes and campaigns for better conditions and pay. I also spent a decade as an elected Labour Party councillor on the local authority.

I’m immensely proud of my North East DNA. Something most people have been abundantly aware of as I’ve moved around the country due to work, Lambeth, Greenwich, Salisbury and of course Bristol.

Up until the pandemic, I’ve also been a frequent visitor to my home town and region. Quietly, as an observer, witnessing the subtly changes, the frustrations and undercurrents eroding political foundations.

To suffer an election as Labour did in 2019 hurts. I recall the same feelings during the 1980s and hoped that I would never endure those emotions again. It was not the loss, this time, but its magnitude and manner.

In February 2020, I started to write a series of essays about my personal opinions on how Labour was managing to get it so wrong in the North East amongst mainly white working-class communities. My thoughts, of course, carry no more weight on this subject than anybody else. I guess my frustration, like others, is that we saw what was coming, but nobody was prepared to listen until it was far too late. So I write these words from the heart and personal experience because hearts need to be won back.

The 2019 election in the North-East was a perfect storm. An inadequate campaign, twiddling core vote, a feeling of being forgotten and taken for granted. The region had been in pain since the industrial collapse of the 1980s. It badly needed something different. Something it could believe in, which touched its nerves, its self-doubt and help rebuild its confidence, identity and restore a sense of pride, of power.

Its political class was more than adequate at reflecting its hurt. Though often impotent at constructing a compelling vision offering the economic and social stability enjoyed by other regions. A clear vision passionately advocated by leaders they could believe in.

The 2019 Conservative Party election campaign was specifically designed to correlate with a broad set of concerns, which had been vibrating away in the North East for some time. These concerns may have been packaged around Brexit and the personality of the Labour leader. However, the dark forces at play were changing the Conservative Party too.

The old elitists in the Conservative Party born from traditional capital, wealth and hereditary power declined. Those with new money with greater adherence to radical libertarian principles were in the ascendency in the Party of Wealth.

The traditional Conservative Party, last led by Theresa May, and its Christian traditional value base has been subjugated. It is now led by a new political class with close ties to American right-wing agitators and institutions.

Johnson is nothing more than a public puppet who initially thought Brexit and exit from the Single Market wrong. Having sold his soul to those who view democracy as a dictatorship of the majority, he is now effectively held hostage. During my near 20 years of working in London local government, including the period Johnson was Mayor. His administrations were viewed with embarrassment, and rumours were frequent of nepotism. However, he does not have a monopoly on this front.

He was good at portraying an interest in people. Often shadowed by a hapless adviser whose sole role seemed to be capturing the endless promises he inadvertently would make. Johnson is not only a serial truth twister. He also has sociopathic tendencies, who enjoys being popular though riddled with self-doubt and confidence when challenged. He gave the impression of being prepared to say absolutely anything to bolster his fragile ego and shore up his endless desire to be liked.

The Jennifer Arcuri incident and the allegations of preferential contracts were no surprise, like the outrageous PPE contracts during the pandemic. As an old colleague who worked in City Hall at the time said to me, “same shit, just a bigger pie.” He is more of a Del Trotter than a cunning mastermind of Black Adder proportion.

A political Del Trotter, wheeler, dealer, laughed at but nonetheless admired by working-class people. The little man struggling against the odds as he dodges a little rule here, giving a cheeky wink there, all rolled up in his bumblingly self-made caricature. It was a caricature able to exploit the fractures in social coalitions increasingly prevalent in North East white working-class communities.

Labour are losing seats in areas where it had once dominated the political landscape. Although recovering in Wales recently, the truth is Labour’s core vote has been in decline throughout its traditional heartlands (Scotland, the North East and the Midlands) for two decades. The dark forces of nationalism, for many years, yes, have been at work. Still, they don’t account for the misfortune the Labour Party is enduring.

During the peak popularity of the Corbyn period (2017), Labour still failed to convince a majority of people to vote the party into power. No amount of belly searching, the suggestion of inner-party sabotage. Having the benefits of being the most extensive political Party in Europe can hide that fact, Labour lost.

They lost against a disastrous Conservative election campaign, appropriately recognised as one of the worst election campaigns in modern history, with a PM losing credibility every single day of the campaign. Still, in 2017, Labour lost in total votes, and the Conservatives still out-performed Labour in many vital constituencies. A large chunk of the 30 seats gained in 2017 was to be lost in 2019.

On the surface, it would also seem the most significant benefit in the collapse of the UKIP vote (down nearly 10.8%) in 2017 was Labour (up 9.5%). The underlining argument being, if Labour had maintained its Brexit policy of respecting the vote to leave the European Union, then it would have fared better in the 2019 election. I’m not convinced.

Between the 2017 and 2019 general elections, Labour had lost almost 10% of its voting base. Looking further back, neither Blair’s (1997) or Corbyn’s (2017) election results have managed to eclipse the level of votes the Labour Party was enjoying 6 decades ago.

The Beast of Bolsover, Denis Skinner, did not lose his seat simply because of Brexit in 2019. His 1997 majority (close to 30,000) had been chipped away bit by bit, and like an eroding coastline, it finally collapsed. Brexit may have been the final straw that pushed matters over the edge.

Bolsover, like Sedgefield, is the very constituency where a set of growing resentments and social changes were taking hold in predominately white working-class communities.

The 2019 Conservative election campaign had no guarantees. It was high risk, although devastatingly designed to breach the mythical red wall. It was a mixture of luck and strategists targeting northern working-class concerns, grievances, albeit with the irony they had been the architects of many of these grievances. More importantly, from the Trump textbook, they began to learn how to exploit these grievances.

It was a campaign confident enough to believe Blyth Valley residents (17,700 Labour majority in 1997) were able to be persuaded to vote Tory for the first time in their lives (712 Tory majority in 2019). However, the Conservatives were safe knowing that Tory marginals would never vote for a Corbyn led Labour Party.

Ultimately, Johnson is an opportunistic shapeshifter. He will be difficult to dislodge in the North. It can be done, but to do so needs an understanding and acceptance of how we got here in the first place. 

Next up, born and breed.

No.5: Bullitt

One of the cool things about being a year older than most of the kids on the street I was brought up in 1968, was the difference between wanting a replica Chitty Chitty Bang Bang or the iconic Mustang drove by Steve McQueen in Bullitt. Both films were released in 1968, I was 8, and very much appreciated that I got both. One for my birthday and one for Christmas, only the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang survives to this day in a well- battered form, but what of that Mustang!

By the 1970s a whole sway of films featured iconic cars. In 1972s blaxploitation film Super Fly we had the Cadillac Eldorado, grotesquely named ‘the pimp machine’. James Bond drove and spun over a river in his AMC Hornet, 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. in 1977 Burt Reynalds had kicked off his Smokey and the Bandit franchise, which often featured the Pontiac Trans Am. But nothing compared to McQueen’s Mustang, not even (sacrilege) James Bonds, Aston Martin DBS. which made an appearance in Sean Connery’s last great Bond film Diamonds are Forever.

McQueen always, to me, cut the cool maverick anti-hero in his Ford Mustang GT Fastback and before videos, DVD’s, satellite and cable this impatient youngster would endure the whole film just to watch the mesmerising car chase through San Francisco.

Plenty of people have lusted over that Highland Green Mustang, which has over-time achieved legendary status. Although it was not until much later that I fully appreciated Lao Schifrin’s original score that tracks the various moods and action of the film to perfection. It took until 2009 for the never-before-released original recording of the score, as heard on the movie, to be made available.

My tribute to McQueen’s Ford Mustang GT Fastback is the Shelby (Cobra) GT-350, built between 1965 and 1970 by the American the high-performance vehicle manufacturer founded by former racing driver Carroll Shelby. The most famed car in American cinema, sold for $3.4 million at auction in Florida during 2020.

 

 

No. 4: Cuts – SOLD

Cuts released their second album Unreal on the Village Green label towards the backend of last year, a progression from the 2018 A Gradual Decline, album.

Unreal brings texted vocals and beats to the mix.  As one observer suggests Cuts are, “The sound of a world collapsing and it is sublime.” I could not put it better myself. The person behind the Cuts project is Anthony Tombling Jr.

Anthony’s work also ventures into the world of the visual arts, film-making and contributing to film soundtracks. Unit 3, where his film output materialises is a treasure trove of creative collaborations with community and campaign groups, as well as the likes of Alan Moore, Michael Sheen, Beak> and Massive Attack. The sublime soundtrack to the film Ex-Machina on Invada Records features Cut’s goose pimple raising Bunsen Burner track. A track that also brought the TV series ‘Person of Interest’ to its finale.

The Dinky model I used in this piece is from around 1951/2 and is not for sale given it already has an owner. The real Trojan vans, by the way, were manufactured in Croydon, London. They used diesel and petrol engines, as well as a revolutionary electric-powered version in 1951 known as the ‘Electrojan’. It may be difficult to comprehend that 70 years ago our grandparents were ahead of their time when it comes to alternatives to fossil fuel but, they did.