They Might Be Giants: SWX Bristol

23.09.18: There have been many attempts over the years to categorise They Might Be Giants, a task akin to balancing on a set of shakey decorating ladders while attempting to nail jelly to a ceiling, so I’m not going to even attempt it here. All I can say is that if you take St. Peppers era Beatles, a bit of Beach Boys, some Liza Minnelli, Deep Purple riffs, Motown backbeats and the brass section from Earth Wind and Fire, place them in a tumble drier several times over a bright summers weekend. You might (just might) be lucky enough on one occasion to get the ingredients right and that is without the arduous challenge of blending in some of the wittiest lyrics being set to music today. Getting this right, of course, is a challenge for the musician. One slip, either way, can project the material into a smug self-righteous mess.

TMBG have found an odd relationship with my music collection. I adore their 1990 album Flood with its quirky set of songs, including the perfect pop tune Birdhouse in your Soul, sitting along the track Your Racist Friend, which coming from an American band seems quite an aptly timed anthem for their 45th President. Their music has popped up on TV shows like Malcolm In the Middle. They’ve written music for the Spongebob Square Pants, as well as winning two Grammy Award and nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score.

With 4 million records sales to their name, I’ve dipped into their catalogue along the way and I now find myself at the SWX venue Bristol to finally see Brooklyn’s very own and self-titled ambassadors of love perform live for the first time. TMBG are providing two sets tonight covering material from their back catalogue and forthcoming album. The evening is a storming success, full of humour, amazing musicians who are simply on top of their game and at ease with one another. The dubbing of Aerosmith/Run DMC’s video to Walk This Way is a particular fun treat! Check out dates for their remaining tour dates here as well as accessing band information, free downloads, etc. I heartly recommend you go see them live. If you don’t come out with a rye smile on your face and a spring in your step the next morning then you are in need of professional help.

 

Gina Miller: Bristol Festival Ideas

Gina Miller @ The Bristol Festival of Ideas

04.10.18: Tuesday night and off to an evening with Gina Miller, who is known mainly for legally challenging the UK Government’s right to invoke Article 50 (Brexit) without reference to Parliament. In the absence of political moderation, for many, Miller has willingly, or unwillingly become the figurehead for those desperately seeking somebody to rally around. As a consequence, Miller has faced an appalling barrage of abuse, including threats of gang rape, beheading, racial harassment, murder and, acid attacks. Her personal office has received packages containing dangerous substances. Her legal team has been subjected to protests outside their offices, and at least eight people have been served with cease and desist notice by the police. In a self-declared act of ‘satire.’  Rhodri Colwyn Philipps, 4th Viscount St Davids, a British peer, described Miller as a “boat jumper” and added: “If this is what we should expect from immigrants, send them back to their stinking jungles.” The 4th Viscount St Davids also offered “£5,000 for the first person to ‘accidentally’ run over this bloody troublesome first generation immigrant.” 

How have we got here? A question I often find myself asking, whatever our views on the challenges we face in our communities. What has stirred up so much animosity, hostility and, hatred? It is a darkness that strikes at the heart. A hatred I have known to have existed in the few but not the many. The grumpy uncle, or neighbour who lazily points the finger at everybody else for their troubles while fearfully avoiding the hallway mirror. Last Sunday evening I spent over 2 hours in a public meeting trying to discuss the merits and genuine concerns of a proposed winter shelter for the homeless in my neighbourhood. These issues are always sensitive, often the catalyst for bringing the worst out of people with locals exasperated by the weak administration of the consultation process managed by the City Council. Yet, none of this provided any justification for the uncontrolled rage, and venom aimed at those most vulnerable in our community who face the threat of freezing to death over the winter periods.

The demands for the council to compensate people for a perceived loss of house value, if the project were to be granted, is one thing and a concern for personal safety is another, these are entirely natural concerns. The council must calmly explain how it will help mitigate these factors, justified or not.  How these adult discussions are able to take place in an environment of open hostility, lack of humanity and outright appalling behaviour is frankly beyond me. At one point I turned to witnesses a group of people poised continuously to interrupt when breath was taken by anybody else contributing to the meeting, tightly clenched hands, a reddening and angry facial expression, like volcanos awaiting explosion. This is not a legitimate expression of concern, but an embolden confident disregard for anybody else. In part a small reflection of where we are as a people at the moment, polarised and unable to reach out, share and lacking any empathy. A smaller reflection of what Gina Miller is relaying tonight.

There is much, which I agree with Gina Miller, Brexit, the general state of politics in the UK, government abuse of power, erosion of accountability and a need to find new ways of opening up dialogue across our fractured political divide. There are also issues where her analysis, on the surface seems naive with the reiteration of the muddle that a ‘kinder, more socially aware capitalism’ will help solve the deep-rooted economic injustice between North and South and in the micro-economies of the UK regions. Not everybody who works in the world of capital finance has, and will never have the values of Gina Miller, and waiting for this type of transformation to take place is a wait too long. Especially for those who have had to live with the consequences of failed 3rd-way market-based (kinder capitalism) solutions since the 1980s. A decade, which brought the promise of an end to ‘boom and bust’ economics by its advocates who often now like to start their narrative from the financial crash of 2007, and the onset of austerity.

Tonight and I can genuinely sense a feeling of the utmost loss, grieving, ongoing bewilderment amongst the audience. It is a feeling captured towards the end of the evening during the Q&A session when Miller to her credit talked about the need to reach out to those who voted for Brexit. The voice is one of that is reminiscent of many who cannot comprehend a loss of power, an elderly man who asks “how do we get into their heads to help change their minds.” A question I am quite sure sounds much more sinister than what the questioner meant but nevertheless gets to the core of the problem. As a proud North East migrant, who voted for remain, but wanted reform. It’s not a case about getting into people heads, but listening, demonstrating empathy and a willingness to support the implementation of policies that will address economic injustice.

Gina Miller is a remarkable woman, and I can list a lot of platitudes. I utterly reject and condemn the vile misogynistic and racists abuse she faces and will no doubt continue to suffer. She is an inspiration to anybody who values common decency, and more people like her are required in public life. Her decision to transfer political allegiances away from the Labour Party to the Liberal Democrats is regrettable but understandable as the Lib Dems seem to offer a better home for her ‘kinder capitalism’ ethos. It is a move that also contains an element of irony given some academics had drawn the conclusion that the seed of Brexit was sown when the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition Government embarked on their policy of austerity. I can only reflect that our appreciation of Miller’s work will be valued more in the post-Brexit landscape, after the storm, than it is today.

I finish writing this blog entry, I open my web browsers and read the headlines. The Institute for Public Policy Research have published a new report (link here) calling for “A radical overhaul of Britain’s economy as far-reaching as Labour’s post-war reforms and the Thatcherite revolution in the 1980s is needed to address the UK’s chronic failure to raise the standard of living of millions of workers since the 2008 financial crash.” As well-meaning and insightful this report maybe I am left thinking, while Rome burns.

The Downs

3rd year in with the Downs Festival and the second year I’ve been invited to help organise a panel discussion with my co-conspirator Anthony Tombling Jnr on the subject of homelessness and rough sleeping in Bristol. This year’s panel brought together an array of people working to tackle the housing crisis in Bristol. Jasper Thompson who is the founder of Help Bristol’s Homeless, Naseem and Shada Nasrullah from Feed the Homeless, Alex Wallace from Caring in Bristol, Frankie Stone from The Big Issue (Bristol) and Councillor Paul Smith who is the Cabinet Member for Housing at Bristol City Council. Avoiding the obligatory statical numbers game that generally kicks off these types of discussion. We started with a list of names randomly selected from an article by Micheal Yong, which appeared in the Bristol Live/Bristol Post, These are the 50 homeless people who died in Bristol you should have known about.

A sobering start to a day of music, festivities, play, fun, and enjoyment, but its one of the reasons I have come to enjoy this one-day festival in our city. As well as homelessness there were panel discussions on Gender Equality in Music Festivals, which may draw scorn from the self-badged anti PC lobby, but screw them given this is too much of an important issue to be left to the reactionary fodder. Equally exciting subjects during the day, included the aptly entitled Brexit 2019, What the Fuck is Going On? Community Rebirth, Social Networks, Technology and Mental Health. It’s a brave decision to integrate this approach into the heart of the event, and the organisers should rightly be given credit for it because it locks the event into the social fabric of the city, which other events often avoid, wilfully.

A review of the overall event, which featured the likes of Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, Orbital and Nadine Shah can be found on the B24/7 website.

In a city where some people are obsessively fixated in a debate about the location of a proposed large-scale Arena development, the holding of this event poses some critical questions for me. Firstly, the location of this festival is on public open space that is not serviced brilliantly by public transport infrastructure, but it seems to have managed adequately given the circumstances. Second, and more profound for me…..now stay with me here…

Having worked for Bristol City Council some 15 years ago, moving away and then returning to the city over 2 years ago, I know from first hand this project has rumbled on and is systematic of how large capital projects enter a type of twilight light zone because of political instability. If we are to progress with the concept, then £millions more will properly need to be spent in the future, including technical assessments, the often hidden cost of council officers and the underpinning of any capital borrowing with revenue funds, if the City Council is to provide any officer time and public funding.

Revenue is what funds our public services in the city. In short our taxes, (a council by law cannot finance public services through its capital funds). It’s Revenue that pays the salaries of our council officers and funds the contracts for not-for-profit groups to do the jobs we often do not want to do ourselves, i.e., looking after our homeless and rough sleepers, elderly and vulnerable children. Now I can hear the shout back that one should never confuse big capital projects with more profound social needs within a major city like Bristol. I understand that, and in normal times I would tend to agree, but these are not normal times. These are times of financial austerity on public services. A financial policy that has been absolutely brutal towards those most vulnerable in our city and beyond, but one that ultimately leads to tough choices having to be made about what are our priorities.

Maybe we already have the infrastructure for Arena type performances, and we just might need to work with what we have more creatively? Maybe our music and arts priorities should be about safeguarding our existing network of venues and smaller spaces that support and underpin homegrown talent like the Save the Exchange Community Share Offer (more info here).

But maybe, just maybe, in those public meetings where the heated debates on the future of Bristol Arena will be held, a little sobering humility can be injected at the start of the proceedings by randomly reading out at least 5 names from the list of 50 Bristol citizens who have died in our city. They have died because of a killer we all know, and often seem to conveniently ignore. It is called homelessness and the money spent already on the arena project would have gone a long way to the arrest of this serial killer. For the record these are the five names we shared:

Nathan Arnold

Anne Fitzpatrick

Lee Willingham

Deborah Morris

Wayne Perry

You can read more about them and some more Bristol citizens who have followed their fate here.

%d bloggers like this: