Monday, August 16, 2010

Livestock review

Livestock is a fanstastically named back to basics music festival held in a small village in Oxfordshire where farm animals meet musos. I had not sampled the delights of this four year old event before and had sadly missed the first two days, which were held in the nearby Red Lion (This is a small festival). Festival director Malachi, whose family owns the farm including the land on which this almost intimate festival was partly taking place, goes to a lot of trouble to bring in acts from around the world as well as provide slots for friends and acquaintances. The result is a barely known gem. It almost felt Glasto 1972 (tad smaller admittedly) with comments overheard about how it had grown (I would say there were 200 people present on the Sunday afternoon). I don’t think they're in danger of spoiling the vibe just yet.

The Knights of Mentis kicked up a storm, livening up the last afternoon of festival with country and blues-style banjo and guitar picking, accordion and fiddle, and hearty singing that brought plenty of people to their feet. Their version of Bob Dylan’s much ignored Gotta Serve Somebody (from his first Christian album) was a revelation, while I am not sure I will be able to listen to the Led Zep original of Rock n Roll without wondering if the Mentis haven’t nailed it for good. Lenny (see below) was on banjo and mandolin, while earthy singing from the guitarist and one of the other two banjo players kept things lively. Festival main man Malichi was on double bass. Stage left stood Rhys Iffans doing a passible impression of Peter Cook as a folkster; he had some droll repartee to boot.

Bowell & The Movements are either criminally misnamed or singer, and lead writer, Rob Powell, is simply emphasising the creative tension between the intense emotion of some of his songs and the humour that somehow coexists, even sometimes in the same verse. This in essence is what this band does: ramshackle stompers and heart-wrenching ballads. During Rob’s solo set there were moments when his ability to hit the emotional funny bone in his half-innocent plaintive laments for love lost (or not found?) that you thought this guy pisses all over much of the rather precious(mostly Brit) balladeers from this millenium onwards. But then, just when he was in danger of getting mawkish, the daftest rhyming couplet would make you wince with delight. I don’t know the names of the first and last songs of the solo section of the gig as I didn’t manage to get the names down, possibly because I was somewhat overcome. Rob should get some of these (possibly new) solo tracks out there (there are some solo numbers available to hear on My Space). Perhaps a dedicated band website, together with one or two of the band’s stompier numbers is in order. And what about that band? Sterling performances from mandolin player Lenny (aka Midnight) and bassist Patrick Leonard fleshed out the more up-tempo numbers, while a very late stand in on drums (from earlier act, The 309s) helped to keep up the rhythmic pace.

Despite the official drummer dropping out, this, the first live reunion of The Movements for 12 years, was high on emotion, not least for the hard-core Bowellistas in the grass mosh pit, and for many, including those less familiar with the Movements’ work, an absolute delight. This band – and in particular it has to be said – the singer’s solo songs – show a lot of promise and a lot of passion. Of course that does not guarantee any kind of professional future, but people were moved out there and it wasn’t just the Oxfordshire Ales that were responsible.

Labour leadership election: The Bland and the Boring

We hear a lot about how politics these days is all about personality, presidential contests etc etc. So why is it that the Labour leadership contest, crammed full of candidates, literally jostling for position on a tiny podia somewhere near you, is so lacking in personalities? I say this mindful of the partial exception of Dianne Abbott, whose delivery revolves around a self-righteous celebration of her electoral pulling power in Hackney.

So, for the “real” candidates: four men with barely a personality between them: the likely victor David Miliband comes across as a petulant comprehensive head master in a well healed home county. His brother Ed, slightly less petulant, sparring with his slightly older brother for who can best package their answers to encompass the median party demographic without alienating the narrow socio-economic band who will actually determine whether they ever get to be prime minister. Ed Balls, hideous to look at, wide-faced and slippery, the infamous “emissary from Planet Fuck”, as Mandy alleges he was known in the Blair Camp, oh so superficially left-wing in a field of 40-something blokes way to the right of Ted Heath. Oh, and not forgetting Andy. Nice guy, very nice guy (I mean that, I worked on the same floor as him at the palace of Westminster when he and I were mere MPs’ research assistant). But if Milly Sr is a middling school’s middling head teacher, well, Andy is probably the PE teacher. I am sorry, do I appear a snob? I mean I wanted Alan Johnson on the ticket so we could put him up against Lord Snooty. That doesn’t prove I am not a snob, I guess. However, what I really look down on is average-ness dressed up as significance. This is not confined to the Labour Party of course, but at least the Tories produced a guy with plausibility as a PM. Of course when he beat the seemingly more preferable (marketable?) David Davies (how classless a name is that?), many would have doubted he was made of the right stuff. Maybe one of the Millies will grow into the job. But am I betraying my age (I am 46) when I say that as a Labour supporter who remembers (just about) Michael Foot winning the 1980 leadership election (against Healey and Shore), Tony Benn’s challenge for the deputy leadership in 1981 (against eventual winner Healey and John Silkin), the 1983 face-off involving Kinnock, Hattersley, Shore and Heffer), that the calibre of the candidates, their defined and passionate personalities, their intellect, makes the current boyish posturing look like a minor scrap among soiled ex-secretaries of state for who is the most “deserving” of the job. Of course it’s arguable that 1994 wasn’t much of a contest either, with some plausible leaders whose philosophies were in marked contrast to the Blair-Prescott stitch-up declining to stand and Beckett hardly making an impression. However, at least these were personalities and Beckett did at least seem to represent something different to the modernising juggernaut that had been chomping at the bit under John Smith.

In 2010 I am still hearing about the debate the candidates want to have, and nothing about their ideas, policies, least of all philosophy, unless that is you count a “fairness agenda” that everyone from Cameron to Mr Leftie Balls buys into. British social democracy was at one time passionately and intellectually argued for by party leader Hugh Gaitskell and by Tony Crossland (whose cabinet experience was less than his admirer, David M). After New Labour, social democracy has been reduced to ensuring “opportunity for the many” by reforming welfarism and providing tax breaks for the wealthy. I guess therefore that it’s hardly surprising that these limp wrists can’t get off the starting blocks.