Monday 24 December 2012

All the musicians who passed on to the great concert in the sky in 2012

It's a scary list. Whitney Houston, Dave Brubeck, Davy Jones, Andy Williams, Etta James, Dory Previn, Donna Summer, Robin Gibb, Bert Weedon, and even the man who made the Marshall amp, to name but a few. Suddenly an entire generation of our greatest musical artists starts slipping away.

As a childhood fan of Hollywood movies and an avid admirer of their screen gods and goddesses, I remember how bereft it left me to see stars of the calibre of Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles, Greta Garbo, Mae West and Cary Grant pass away. Marilyn Monroe's death still reverberates today. These people embodied US-centric Western popular culture for generations and have rarely (if ever) been equalled.

Running in tandem and blossoming later in the 1950s and 60s — both artistically and commercially — an era of musicians created the soundtrack to our lives. We're now at the point where these post-war artists are tipping over the death ledge in serious numbers.

The authors of the peak of western culture are disappearing and, with very few exceptions of whom hardly any reach the mainstream, are not being replaced by fresh generations of writers and performers capable of exploring our inner world, or examining where we are — politically and emotionally — in the cosmos. The soundtrack to our civilisation's demise is the scream of time being killed and the ker-ching of tills.

The Guardian's list of musicians who died in 2012.

Charles Shaar Murray's The Guitar Geek Dossier available on Amazon as an eBook for less than the price of a pint.

Saturday 22 December 2012

2B Or Not 2B, that is the pencil: poem but not Shakespeare

Here's a short poem I wrote.

2B Or Not 2B

2B or not 2B
That is the pencil
Whether it is
Nobblier in the line to
Scuff the springs and marrows
Of outmoded pictorial representation,
Or to take snaps upon the digital?
To sketch up the dawn of a rosy hue
Or to take lines of sea and rubble
And by Photoshopping them, amend them?
To scumble the surface no more
But open a window on the world.
Depths and planes,
Impasto and light.
What The Fuck!

(written May 2009)

Friday 21 December 2012

DREAM SELLER: I'm in this scary short film made in St Ives

I'm in this mesmerising and disturbing short film made in St Ives by my friend Paul Healy. Receiving Paul's cheery little movie, Dream Seller, on the day the Mayans said the world would end, is most appropriate as it speaks of the End of Things.

Paul has captured a powerful atmosphere and imbued it with tons of meaning. It's staring the Grim Reaper in the face for our generation, as well as anticipating the decline and death of our version of civilisation now that capitalist production is moving out of Europe and into Asia and Africa, and capitalism is mutating into a form that doesn't need us (as I've been banging on about for some time).

Dream Seller was shot in one of St Ives's few remaining fish-net cellars ("seller" — geddit?), now earmarked for development, with various poets and artists who are to be found in this artists' colony. So as well as being a fascinating exploration of our fears in the face of The End, it's also a groovy holiday movie of my mates.

It was a pretty scary place. I did remark to Paul as he led me down into the dank and gloom, alone and defenceless (him, that is, not me, heh!), that it had the feel of somewhere where a sex-crime had been carried out.

The worst thing that happened, though, was that I left my make-up bag down there and had to send the boys round to get it back.

A sweet memento of my time in St Ives.

Tuesday 18 December 2012


Aaargh! Press, a new Brit alternative small press, is celebrating its birth with a party in London next month to mark the publication of its first titles, Reaching for my Gnu by Anna Chen (Kindle eBook and paperback) and The Guitar Geek Dossier by Charles Shaar Murray (Kindle eBook only for now).

Reaching for my Gnu, a collection of poems by British-Chinese poet and performer Anna Chen is available as a paperback for £9.99 and as a Kindle e-book for £1.99.

'Brilliant and dangerous ... one wild-ride roller-coaster that soars to altitudes of unfettered wit and then plunges with a startling and implacably knowing anger' MICK FARREN


'Charming, witty and sophisticated' SUNDAY TIMES

The Guitar Geek Dossier, an author's-choice collection of columns from Guitarist by legendary music journalist Charles Shaar Murray is available as a Kindle eBook for £1.99.

'The Johnny Cash of rock journalism' PHIL CAMPBELL, MOTORHEAD

'The rock critic’s rock critic' Q MAGAZINE

'Front-line cultural warrior' INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY

Charles is author of Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix And Post-war Pop and Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the American Twentieth Century (both Canongate). His first novel, The Hellhound Sample, was published by Headpress in 2011.

The details of the launch party, which will be something to remember, will be posted here and on the official Aaaaargh! Press website very soon.

MY ASIAN PLANET calls Anna Chen "a bit of a Chinese firecracker" and says of the book, "It's saucy, devilish and delightful!"

Saturday 15 December 2012

Occupied Friern Barnet Library cabaret: Save the library in court on Monday

Had a lovely time tonight at the Occupied Friern Barnet Library. Thanks to Phoenix, Barbara Gordon, Poppy, Angel MC, all the acts and everyone who packed out the place, proving how wonderful a community hub can be.

I hadn't realised that the library is the last public space in Friern Barnet, so the philistine decision to sell it off to Capita is entirely political and nothing to do with the needs of the human beings who live there. All the books were donated by the public because the council had emptied the shelves and dumped the books lord knows where.

The campaigners are being dragged into court by Barnet Council, who want to evict them, on Monday morning at Barnet County Court, St Marys Court, Regent's Park Rd, London, Greater London N3 1BQ. So I hope there will be a crowd of supporters letting the authorities know how badly needed the library is.

Indymedia report here

Poetry at Save Friern Barnet Library cabaret tonight

I'm delighted to be performing poetry for a great cause tonight: the Save Friern Barnet Library cabaret. Charles Shaar Murray is accompanying me on guitar, and there's a long line-up of talent from 7.30pm.

Since the Tory coalition government (which few voted for) grabbed power with the help of their Lib Dem human shields, the social carnage in the UK has been devastating.

In the area of our national culture alone, the arts have been dropped from the proposed EBacc(teria) exam created by Michael Gove in order to completely turn education into a sausage machine for the surviving capitalists.

Arts funding has been slashed, and in some cases destroyed. Curiously, Maria Miller, the minister for Culture, Media, Sport and Women, threatened the Telegraph newspaper with Leveson press laws when they dared investigate her claim for £90,000 from the public purse for a house occupied by her parents.

And libraries, those great Victorian philanthropic centres of study, educating and enlightening the masses, are being closed down against the wishes of the communities they serve.

The scapegoating is pitiful and transparent. No immigrant ever took an axe to our way of life the way the Tories have with the connivance of the Lib Dems and the timidity of the Labour Party. No "benefit cheat" ever did the damage the bankers and tax avoiders have wrought over the years.

All along the Tories have droned the same mantra: that we have to clear the deficit. And yet the profits from the top 1,000 richest is enough to clear it. I blogged this in 2010:

A report in the Independent shows that the richest 1,000 people in the UK could pay off the whole of the £159 billion public deficit tomorrow, just from the profits they have made last year out of the economic crisis.
The collective wealth of the country's 1,000 richest people rose 30% last year in the wake of the economic crisis.
Their combined wealth rose by more than £77bn to £333.5bn, the biggest annual increase in the 22-year history of the Sunday Times rich list.
The occupation of Friern Barnet Library by local volunteers has become, in the words of the Greens, "a symbol of resistance". That is why it is so important that we all get behind the wheel on this one and ensure the Friern Barnet Library campaing wins because this fight is for all of us.

Please come to the gig tonight and support these brilliant people. And see some great entertainment.

7.30-10pm tonight
Friern Barnet Library,
Friern Barnet Road, N11 3DS

Twitter: Occupied Library; Save Friern Barnet Library

Indymedia report here

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Stephanie Dogfoot Chan wins the Farrago UK Slam Poetry Championships 2012

The UK Slam Championships last night was one of the best Farrago Poetry events I've been to. It was an honour and a pleasure to have been asked to judge, along with Charles Shaar Murray, by Farrago founder John Paul O'Neill.

The Slam contest is interspersed with guest feature poets. I read from Reaching for my Gnu, clutching my actual analogue paperback collection of poetry for the first time. Also performing were Cherry Smyth, Vrouwkje Tuinman, Keith Jarrett and Deanna Rodger (who prompted one of the funniest love-poems ever from the Wizzard of Skill).

The first round was so difficult. We had to select from an initial 16 poets who had three minutes each to impress us with their content and recital skills. Seven of these plus three who'd already won their local heats went into the next round where five judges had to use score cards Olympic stylee to whittle it down to five. Then the final round — and that was hot.

It was a bloody marvellous win for Stephanie Dogfoot who is consistently brilliant — she won the Farrago History Slam at my Steampunk Opium Wars event at the National Maritime Museum in February this year.

Stephanie gets to represent the UK in the European Championships in Antwerp on Saturday, and then in Paris. Her mischievous intelligence, wit and elegant delivery gets me every time and she is a well-deserved winner.

A big shout out to Anthony Fairweather, Mike Galsworthy, Lucy Gelman, Lori Zakariyya King and others who were fabulous as usual but didn't get through by a whisker as the overall standard was so high and choosing the qualifiers was HARD.

Anna Khan's drag glamazons were the image of the night, Errol McGlashlan was so funny and smart, Wizzard of Skill was the best I've ever seen him, and Jason Pilley was frikkin' awesome.

Thank you John Paul for being our lovely MC. Terrific show, everyone.

Tuesday 11 December 2012

HSBC's record drugs money laundering fine: from Opium Wars to Mexican drug lords

Ain't life funny?

The HSBC started off in the 19th century opium wars, servicing the British narcocapitalists, and here they are still at it, laundering drugs money for Mexican drugs lords.

You'd think, given the severity of US drugs laws and how they slap every spliffer and cannabis-dealing youth into jail — especially if they're black — that proportionately, the suits behind the mega-bucks Class A drug loot would find themselves dropping their soap in the showers along with the rest of the small-time felons.

However, you'd be wrong. For some strange unfathomable reason, the drug-profiting HSBC has been let off with a £1.2 billion fine to "settle allegations" in the US that they laundered money. Oh, and then there're the global terrorist funds they put through the wash as well, but no-one's been locked up.

So do remember that if ever you're caught with a wrap of coke or a joint.

Sunday 9 December 2012

Anna does poetry at Farrago on Tuesday

I'm a guest poet at the UK Poetry Slam on Tuesday where I'll be reading from Reaching for my Gnu now available as a paperback on Amazon. Charles Shaar Murray and I are also judging.

* * * * *

The UK SLAM! Championships are on TUESDAY 11th December @ RADA Foyer Bar, starting off with an open to ANY poet qualifying round at 7pm. As well as three rounds of top SLAM! poetry there’s an awesome feature line up including Anna Chen, Vrouwkje Tuinman, Keith Jarrett & Deanna Rodger!

The winner goes on to represent the UK in the annual World Cup of Slam in Paris & European Slam Championships. Past winners read like a Who’s Who of British performance poetry and include Elvis McGonagal, Dizreali, Kat Francois, Zena Edwards, Nii Parkes, Niall Spooner-Harvey, Deanna Rodger, Hollie McNish, Keith Jarrett & Harry Baker.

If you can make it into London on the night please come down and please spread the word!

John Paul

Farrago Poetry presents: The UK SLAM! Championships 2012
The 19th Annual National Poetry Slam.
Tuesday, 11th December, Qualifying round sign up from 6:45pm. Show: 7pm.

A night featuring poets from all over the UK battling it out for the title of The UK SLAM! Champion 2012/13. Qualifying round at 7pm open to ANY poet living, working or studying in the UK fulltime. Contact Farrago Poetry for full information and rules.

+ A brilliant feature line up including Anna Chen, reading from her first collection, Keith Jarrett, former London & UK SLAM! Champion, Vrouwkje Tuinman, award winning Dutch poet & Deanna Rodger, another former UK SLAM! Champion + others tbc!

Emcee: John Paul O’Neill. Tickets: £6/£5.

Information: 07905078376. & Farrago has a facebook page & group. Twitter & Youtube channels.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Keeping fit makes you ill: on crutches, hands, knees and bumpsadaisy

A little update: in my perennial battle against the flab, I have taken to running very fast on the spot — a bit like the red queen with similar health results — mostly in the kitchen while the kettle boils.

Warm-ups have been cursory; a bit of toe-touching, the odd yoga stretch. So I was more shocked than surprised when making a cuppa on Wednesday, I sprung into action like a mountain goat only to fell something go "pop" in my left leg. Something snapped in my calf muscle halfway up and down I went.

First thing I did was to feel for a knot of muscle as I'd imagined the tendon to have broken from the bone and the muscle coiled back on itself like over-extended elastic suddenly released. How the frick, I wondered, was that going to be repaired? An operation? The inevitable bout of MRSA to follow?

Luckily, a quick feel confirmed both legs were symmetrical.

No pain except when I stood and then ... OW, OW, OW, OW, OW!!! Like a bullet, sudden and sharp agony.

Acting on the doc's instructions, I went to the minor injuries clinic in A&E. The wheelchair was most enjoyable — part palanquin and part pram, I quite enjoyed being wheeled around. When I come to power ...

I am now on crutches. But able to move on hands and knees like something out of 50 Shades of Grey. Or a single segment of Human Centipede.

I had to crawl to the loo in the middle of the night because of my torn muscle. Crawling back in the dark, I realised I looked like Sadako in Ringu (or like my Grudge video above) and terrified myself to the point where I cried. A bit. Not too much, coz I'm tough. Even if I scare myself. Grrrr!

With any luck, the six week estimated healing time may not be needed, as long as I stick to the RICE regimen: rest, ice,compression and exercise plus painkillers four times daily. Today I could put weight on it — just about. It's really only the point while walking where I shift from heel to ball of the foot where it's agonising.

So Tuesday's Farrago Poetry Slam UK Championship will see me onstage and reading from my poetry collection, Reaching for my Gnu, whether on crutches, or hands and knees. I'm there.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Press baron monopoly and supine police the problem, not the law: Leveson report wrong

If you could go back in time and nobble the architects of some of the greatest disasters in history, would you do it?

Luckily we don't have to time-travel to ensure press control does not pass into the hands of the government, ending our tradition of a free press — we're already here and staring at the far bank of the Rubicon. Leveson's recommendation for press regulations to be backed by statute — with harsh penalties for guilty parties — is no answer to the appalling corruption of sections of our Fourth Estate.

Lord Leveson's exoneration of both the police, who failed to enforce existing laws, and former Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt, who made all the noises that he was hell-bent on pushing through Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of BSkyB, giving him an even bigger unaccountable monopoly of our media, does not fill me with confidence.

It's impossible to look at the Hacked Off platform of press victims without feeling heartfelt sympathy: the traumatised McCann's traduced as child killers while searching for their abducted daughter; Chris Jeffries picked on because he reads books and looks like a "weirdo" (read: intellectual); and of course the Dowlers whose murdered daughter's mobile phone was hacked by the News of the World, kicking off the scandal that led to the Leveson Inquiry.

However, their treatment could have been dealt with by the police and the courts. Phone hacking is illegal. Young women like Sienna Miller and Charlotte Church should not be hounded by baying packs of aggressive men just because they're famous. Why did the police protect their masters — their paymasters in some cases? How can Leveson seriously say that the police have no case to answer?

How did we get to the point where one powerful man's companies could do such damage to British society? Why has Leveson recommended laws controlling the press, when this looks like bolting the stable door after the nag has run, and not given the same emphasis to the dangerous monopoly of our democracy's media by a handful of ruthless press barons?

A brief history

The government has controlled the press before, granting licenses to those unlikely to alter the status quo. After licensing collapsed in the late 17th century, there was a mini-golden age that produced writers of the calibre of Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, and the Spectator's Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, who sought, "to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality ... to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses".

Twenty years later, the imposition of a stamp duty tax hampered widespread readership by the masses until 1850s. The radical press had to operate without state legitimacy and remained vulnerable to harrassment.

The first of the big press barons, 1st Viscount Lord Northcliffe, Alfred Harmsworth, set up the Daily Mail in 1896 (before his ennoblement and two years after buying the Evening News), which became the first mass-selling daily paper. Prime Minister Lord Salisbury described it as, "written by office boys for office boys". Alfred wrote the editorials as a hands-on proprietor.

Along with his brother, Harold Harmsworth, Lord Rothermere, Northcliffe became richer that Croesus and would have told a nation what to think if it hadn't been for the existence of the quality Daily News (founder: one Charles Dickens) and the Daily Chronicle, both popular liberal papers. The Northcliffe/Rothermere empire bought up the ailing Observer (1905) and Times (1908), among others, and launched the Daily Mirror (1903).

Alfred Harmsworth launched the Daily Mirror as a paper by women for women (hence the name!) but, when it didn't work, the lady journos were sacked. The new editor, Hamilton Fyfe, said it was "like drowning kittens". He turned it into the first picture tabloid and it became a runaway success.

Such influence in the press by one man and his brother was unprecedented. Then along came Beaverbrook.

Already owning the London Evening Standard, Anglo-Canadian tycoon Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, acquired the Daily Express in 1916. He was said to have operated a blacklist of famous people who had offended him including Sir Thomas Beecham, Paul Robeson, Haile Selassie, and Noël Coward. He was awful but at least he didn't support Hitler like the Daily Mail proprietor, Rothermere. Rather, Beaverbrook's papers were an important arm of Britain's war machine, shaping and disseminating government propaganda during World War II.

The big three press barons of the first half of the 20th century, Northcliffe, Rothermere and Beaverbrook, were all very right-wing, though otherwise very different. Northcliffe was originally a Liberal Unionist, fanatically jingoistic and pro-Empire. Unlike his brother Rothermere, a fascistic bean-counter who supported Hitler, Northcliffe hired a range of talented writers from Rudyard Kipling to inter-war pacifist Norman Angell.

But power will always out. Flexing their political muscle, Beaverbrook founded the Empire Free Trade Crusade in 1929 and in 1930 briefy joined Rothermere in his United Empire Party (a bit like UKIP) to campaign for free trade against the protectionist Tories. It was a union which Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin condemned as "Power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages".

They benefited from the tabloid style of journalism (only the Mirror was actually tabloid in size). Attracting advertising, they were able to subsidise sale price, and increase cheap mass-circulation in an upward spiral — more ads made for cheaper papers but depended on a move downmarket. The Daily Chronicle and Daily News followed this model with some success by World War I, and merged as the Liberal News Chronicle in 1920s, later sold to the Daily Mail in the 1960s.

The most notorious episode was probably Rothermere's Daily Mail backing Hitler and the Black Shirts until Moseley's boot-boys beat up the audience at a rally in London's Olympia.

The Times were a changing. Northcliffe died in 1922 and most of his empire went to his brother, Rothermere (who had already taken over the Daily Mirror and various other papers). In the 1930s, the Labour Daily Herald hit 2 million circulation, outstripping the Daily Mail. Rothermere lost interest in the Daily Mirror and sold his shares; the paper came under the control of his nephew Cecil King,  acquired cartoons and moved leftwards to become an increasingly pro-Labour working-class paper and the biggest seller from the late 1940s to the 1970s.

King did not share his moneyspinner's politics, but it was a cash-cow.

The Daily Herald — co-owned by the Trade Union Congress and Odhams Press — took the reverse route and eventually became ... the soaraway Sun. How'd that happen?

In 1960, the Mirror Group bought up Odhams, including the Daily Herald and created the International Publishing Corporation (IPC). It now owned the two competing bestselling Labour-supporting dailies.

In 1964 Mirror management relaunched the Daily Herald as new mid-market white-collar paper, and renamed it the Sun for the new non-right wing middle-class. It didn't work. The new paper was too similar to the old one, and its target readership was already gravitating towards the Guardian. (Watch the beleaguered Guardian make a similar error with its new young digital target market.) It lost money so the Mirror sold it in 1969 — the choices were Robert Maxwell or Rupert Murdoch. In their wisdom, the Mirror Group unions thought they'd get a better deal from Murdoch and thus gave him his second base after his purchase of News of the World. Maxwell eventually bought and ransacked the Mirror and the rest is history.

It dived downmarket and by the 1970s the Sun was outselling the Daily Mirror. Murdoch backed the little known milk-snatcher in the 1979 general election. This paid off handsomely when he used his huge profits to buy the troubled Times and Sunday Times. His ownership of two major newpapers should have precluded him from the purchase but Thatcher's government failed to call in the monopolies and mergers commission over his growing domination. It can be argued that there was an absence of alternative buyers, although editor Harold Evans was attempting to find backers for his own buyout. Murdoch's Sunday Times eventually lost Harold Evans and, later, the investigative Insight team. Murdoch bust the unions through changing technology, destroying lives, but also revitalised the newspaper industry.

From the late eighties to 2008, the newspaper industry thrived, but Murdoch's influence via the Sun, the News of the World and much of the rest of News Corp has been deeply corrosive: Hillsborough, hacking, creepy sexualisation of human beings for commercial gain, police curruption, politicians' terror, trade union bashing and, across the Atlantic, Fox News. His pay-TV channels in the UK now dominate sports coverage and broadcasting of films and top American series.

We look at Fox News and give a collective shudder. Jeremy Hunt nearly pushed through Murdoch's bid to take 100 per cent ownership of BSkyB, giving one man and his family even more of a monopoly over our culture. Without the depraved actions of Murdoch's own news hounds hacking into Milly Dowler's mobile phone, it could all be so different. And that's only one of many reasons to remember the tragic young woman who's death kicked this all off.

ADDENDUM Sunday 2nd December 2012

A journalist compadre — Kate Belgrave — reminds me that grassroots journalists like her are thwarted in their bid to hold the powerful to account at every turn. How much more difficult will her job be with a new law, the first on statute since 1695?

Kate writes:
As someone who does the grassroots end of reporting, if you like, I'm very aware of the enormous restrictions that the state (or state in the form of local government) already places on reporting. Plenty of us have been told to stop recording or filming council meetings. We've had our phones, computers and cameras confiscated by security companies which haven't been through the proper security checks (Metpro, Barnet). Massive private sector contracts are decided in secret, or with paperwork being available only in the non-public sections of public meetings, etc. Staff who dare to whistleblow are harassed and hounded - for example, a group of women who supposedly talked to me for a Guardian story I did on a council supported living hostel closure were dragged through the disciplinary process at their council.

I've had letters from council lawyers for publishing links to documents on major privatisation deals. If Cameron's so hot on a free press, he might like to throw some of government's relationships with the private sector into the open. Let's see all the paperwork and every email sent to and from government and G4s. If journalists and media moguls are found to have broken the law, then they must be pursued by the law, as Anna rightly says. I have no time for illegality, or the abuse inflicted on innocent citizens by phone hackers posing as journalists. Just don't imagine for a moment that the press - or, at least, journalists who wish to report, rather than sensationalise - is already free.

The Barnet mass-outsourcing scandal and contracting shambles like Metpro certainly wouldn't have seen the light of day without the five Barnet bloggers there - they're among the best local journalists around. The Atos and ESA scandals were put on the map by bloggers - those bloggers managed, ultimately, to bring the mainstream along with them, but even now, those subjects aren't covered in anything like the detail they should be by the mainstream. People like Johnny Void and Joe Halewood are covering the looming Universal Credit and housing benefit disasters better than anybody. Their range is outstanding. They need more freedom, not less.

PLUS read:
Kenan Malik on Levenson