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Monday, May 29, 2023

Post-Apocalyptic art rock in Bulverhythe

The Post-Apocalyptic Romance’ could be a slightly wordy name for a knowing rock band back in the day. It is in fact the name of Daniel Hartlaub’s art n’ music show held at Electro Studios Project SpaceOver the weekend Daniel, originally from Frankfurt, showcased his drawn digital art at this happening art space in the hipper end of St Leonards. 

On Saturday night a selection of Hastings and St Leonards’ finest musical minds and players came together to both celebrate Daniel’s exhibition and to interact with it. Hartlaub had drawn an incredible series of images reflecting both the inner and outer recesses of his mind. Their exterioreality, I had assumed, largely came from the specifics of the artist’s lived experience in Germany. In fact his work takes you on an alterior journey that summons up several European capitals from a different, colder, wartime where power politics and different lived realities intersected. 

Daniel’s work took on a faster and more immediate meaning on Saturday night when it was projected on to two industrial-looking rusty metal doors in the main Electro Studios’ exhibition/workspace. International musician and avant composer Anthony Moore fed improvised treatments into his synth and then modulated the results, Keith Rodway’s electric bass tones punctuated proceedings, and Amanda Thompson’s keyboards and an electric violinist added further range to the ethereal sound n’ vision show. We were being driven at a furious pace through urban brutalism and romantic paranoia while Daniel’s signature image - a glass-eyed Kafkaesque figure - periodically emerged from the shadows. A swastika fleetingly appeared. Other arresting images arrived, and then departed just as quickly. 

This was a wonderful ending to an evening show that had actually begun with dance-meisters Simon and The Pope. I must confess that a different cultural event had prevented me from seeing this poptastic duo, and in fact most of Necessary Animals’ set. I can vouch for their shared entertainment value though from having attended some of their previous gigs. Necessary Animals feature yer man Keith, and art pop heavyweight Amanda Thompson from The Big Believe. I’m told that the Necessaries kicked off with the single they recently recorded for Hartlaub’s film of his graphic novel. I arrived to hear a slice of what i think was a track from their third ‘official’ album of original material, ‘Animalia’. This record is a regular feature in my MP3 headspace. It’s one that successfully utilises N. Animals’ celebrated art schtick while Amanda’s song sensibility prevents too much avant excess. I’d missed spoken poet Lucy Brennan Shiel guesting with her take on WB Yeats’ biggest hit. I did though catch another cut from the ‘Animalia’, the hit single ‘Driving Out of Town’ on which Amanda’s vocal craft and the band’s edgy urgency unite in a potent statement of post-Covid alienation and the spirit of what Tom Rush powerfully celebrates as “the urge for going.”

Two Necessaries

Daniel projects himself

Sonic violin

There then followed ‘17:17’, when for that time period Anthony Moore and an electric violinist held the audience in rapt attention for a transcendent, largely improvisational, drone-like trip in which Daniel’s hung images and the semi-darkness of the studio space combined to enhance sounds reminiscent of Bowie and Eno’s Neukolln’, Vangellis, and, in my warped mind, the violin solo from the Moore-produced album ‘Angel Station’, in a slow-burn wig-out. What is that cool electric fiddle player’s name? I definitely want to book him for the memoir readings I’m now planning to do at The Electro.

Hats off, and there were a lot of them on the men on the night, to Daniel Hartlaub and his musical collaborators. Let’s hope that The Electro puts on a lot more of these mixed media shows in Bulverhythe bohemia.

A phenomenal Daniel Hartlaub image dubbed 'post-apocalyptic safe room' by my oldest friend

Monday, December 19, 2022

Snakes on the Stage - Rockin The Social

Snakes, Snakeoil Rattlers, and a folky Scouse sentimentalist shared the bill at What’s Cookin' on Saturday night. It was an even wackier night than usual at Stephen Ferguson’s roots music showcase. Obviously things festive were bound to feature, and in any case a bevvied up audience’s ability to sort the pearls from the swine is always limited. That said there were real turkeys and some total barnstorming brilliance at the ex-Ex-Servicemen’s Club in Leytonstone, East London. Now fashioning itself as ‘The Social’, this century old treasure is an excellent venue for things musical and things affordable in the booze department. In fact ‘The Social’ is a welcome relief from the veritable orgy of bourgeois bacchanalian bullshit on offer at surrounding denizens of winter wankerdom.

Things kicked off at 730pm on the dot when Stephen threw the first of several celebrations of 1977-79 on to his turntable and no less a punk than Joe Walsh reminded us that ‘Life’s Been Good’ so far. Well maybe it hasn’t been for that many of the audience, but who cared. We haven’t had that spirit here since, well, 1978, and it sounded fuggin A. I have to say though, Stephen, that keeping it so cranked up before the bands had hit the stage and when older folks were just trying to chat whilst supping their beers was a challenge for those less hearing-enhanced than younger punters (if there were any).

This was a mere detail though cos by 8pm Danny Jones was on. Bald, and bearing a loud shirt and an acoustic guitar, the man started well, performing the, admittedly tad maudlin, ‘Maggie Mae’ (not that one). A great Liverpudlian folk tune for sure and he does this stuff well. Danny then did a decent, emotionally engaged cover of Paul Simon’s ‘Slip Sliding Away’. Perhaps uncomfortable with the intimacy, he suddenly donned his Everton FC Santa hat (blue, natch) and proceeded to play a couple of Christmas-themed ditties that sounded like utter stuff and nonsense to me. Having plumbed those undesirable depths, Danny then proceeded, admittedly half-embarrassedly, to inform us that he was about to bless us with a Chris De Burgh song. It's not ‘The Lady in Red’, he said. ‘Shame,’ said my friend, audibly. After all, if things were going to be bad then we might as well embrace the full horror, horns and all. It was though that other gooey song by the diminutive songster; the one that conjures up preferably forgotten Christmasses of childhood yore when you carried a candle to bed, but not for midnight self-pleasuring.

Danny Jones at What's Cookin', Leytonstone

Danny finished up his set with a very different number that was self-penned and heartfelt. Sadly though, I’d already switched off after an excess of the ‘La lah la, lah-la lah-dee-dah’ singalong-a- chorus on the De Burgh number, and didn’t fully appreciate that Danny had performed by far his best number of the night.

Before long the first of two Snake-orientated dirty southern rock swaggerers were on the boards. The Snakeoil Rattlers, like the headlining Snakes, make a good fist of their imagined American musical heritage. In fact I reckon the lead singer of the Rattlers, he replete with Lemmy-style black cowboy hat but with tinsel, is an Aussie. Either way he certainly had the grizzled ol’ southern greebo rock schtick thing going on. Not nature’s best voice, but it kind of worked for most of the material. The, by definition, seated steel guitarist took a more measured hand in occasional lead vocal duties, which broadened the band's musical reach. On bass was, well, possibly a graduate of the Sid Vicious school of rhythm discipline, only with a lot less power. Next to him was John O'Sullivan, the link man of the night’s Snakery, a bassist/rhythm guitarist whose whole look (long-haired and balding) and musical demeanour spelt fun; and he definitely was having it. In fact at times it seemed like The Snakeoil Rattlers were just having their own thing going on on the stage almost regardless of the audience.

The Snakeoil Rattlers @WhatsCookin, Leytonstone

The Rattlers feat. steel guitar

Of the numbers whose titles I could almost make out there was (possibly) ‘Johnny Got Shot by a UFO’ (if that isn’t a song title of their’s, it should be). There was an out there rock n' roll/country thing happening with these guys - to the extent that on one number they sounded like The New York Dolls do Country. Things though took an unwelcome turn when Eddy and the Hot Rods’ ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ was pretty much slaughtered. Not that the audience seemed bothered; a fair few had the signature hand-claps of this (non) punk classic off to a ‘T’. The lead singer managed, as my friend put it, to sing every note flat. Still, undimmed, and with the audience’s ongoing blessing, the boys then dusted off that annually overcooked if not seriously burnt festive offering, Slade’s ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’; O'Sullivan replete with proffered Noddy-style hat (not that one, unfortunately). I’ve always hated Slade and if I never hear their Christmas song again it’ll be once too often.

At last The Snakes themselves were on stage. When I say ‘stage’ I mean that in the wonderfully egalitarian nature of the ex-ex-servicemen’s club, one end of the top floor room is where the musicians do their thing, surrounded, as you can see, by owls and colourful adornments that are pretty much the venue’s routine display all year round.

The Snakes gettin it on @What'sCookin'

The Snakes were exuding something dirty rock n roll before they’d played a note. I’d spotted the cape-wearing lead guitarist earlier – think an effete Dylan circa The Rolling Thunder Review show. The front man (and guitarist) was more yer archetypal Americana dude; big and grizzly and sporting a cap, lumberjack shirt and denim jacket. His vocals were definitely more present than those of his predecessor. The drummer played his heart (and arms) out. I was hearing southern rock thru the prism of the Stones’ ‘Exile’ period, though the Snakes’ promo material also mentions that Mink Deville is in the mix.

Snake pit boogie

There was one sublime wigged-out moment when the minimalist rock instrumentation just wouldn’t relent and I just didn’t want it to. Kinda like a Byrds’ space rock jam but grittier and without the space. In the bogs I distinctly heard one of the band announce that ‘If you’ve got any heroin, now’s the time to take it.’ Droll and kinda appropriate. There was then a number whose title sounded like ‘Turn Back the Clock’, which is pretty much what these boys do, as reflected in an apparent band signature tune: ‘The Last Days of Rock n’ Roll’. I was pleased that this wasn’t the finale because this isn't how rock n' roll’s last days should be spent at all. It sounded to me like a discarded number from the Ziggy Stardust era, which I guess could be taken as a massive compliment. It’s not meant to be. 

John O'Sullivan kept us entertained with his between numbers banter. He noted at one point that The Snakes had done three albums… in 50 years... and that the upcoming song was ‘from the middle one.’ It's 'a blues’ John said; a style, he gnomically observed, that's hard to play. Another notable song introduction was 'If The Snakes had had a hit' – and he noted that they haven’t – ‘then this would not be it.’ The Snakes were then off but were back on again in a flash. An encore was never in doubt and they served up a couple more good dirty rockin’ dishes to send the rightly satisfied punters home. It had been a great, if occasionally patchy, night.

What’s Cookin' is almost a musical institution, and Mr Ferguson and all of the musicians that play under his umbrella – in Leytonstone and other proximate venues – need to be lauded and supported. Check him and them out.


Thursday, December 8, 2022

Midnight Canonball's debut pyrotechnics

Midnight Canonball’s debut gig was explosive. ‘The New Inn’ in Hadlow Down (East Sussex, England) had opened up a former hotel function room from the pub's glory days. From this freezing cold space Midnight Canonball were launched. By the end of the night it seemed like half the village had turned up. Hadlow Down is ordinarily a sedate place that only comes alive for an annual spot of steam engine fetishism.

Midnight Canonball are a self-styled blues and rock n’ roll trio, comprising band leader Neil Grove on guitar, Greg on double-bass, and Jez on drums. In the spirit of rock n' roll, Neil’s new recruits apparently don’t have surnames. The unusual spelling of ‘canonball’ in the band's name is presumably a nod to the musical didacticism that has been Neil's mission ever since his boyhood debut. This young blues guitar-slinging virtuoso carefully explains the musical heritage of each obviously revered number that he then proceeds to unleash on an audience. I totally get this and have been annoyed by incorrect musical references made at some other gigs I've attended. However I suspect the audience at The New Inn didn't care much who wrote or first performed Midnight Canonball’s numerous blues and rock n' roll covers, let alone who might have originally been on bass. As a song that I presume won’t be covered by Midnight Canonball almost has it, ‘When the working day is done they just wanna have fun.’ And fun this audience certainly did have. By the second half of the gig the audience had grown so big that there was barely any room for the those dancing upfront to strut their thang, let alone for a punter to pick their way to the adjacent serving hatch for more pints of heavy.

What about the actual performances though ? This new band’s Facebook page references their breadth of blues covers, and a predisposition for fast rock n’ roll and a touch of rockabilly. That pretty much sums up what Midnight Canonball are about. That, and the ‘choppy rhythmic styles’ that Neil is fond of mining. This was very much emphasised by their take on ‘Goin’ Back Home’, a Dr Feelgood song incorporating, Neil explained, a guitar part originating with Mick Green (of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) that was sourced by the late, and very great, original Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. (For my review of a recent Dr Feelgood gig, see below).

There is no doubt that the 21-year-old Neil Grove is an exciting and highly skilled interpreter of vintage electric blues, the rawer side of its ‘baby’, rock n’ roll, and a skilled country blues picker too. He, the deft double-bassist Greg, and solid drummer Jez are very much guns for hire. I’m told a wedding gig will soon be in the offing. Neil, Greg and Jez could in the longer term play some bigger stages than those available in white marquee tents. Perhaps converting the obvious talent of Neil, and maybe that of his sidekicks, into fame and glory requires two steps: writing more of their own material; and Neil sharing some vocal duties, at least when it comes to the band's current repertoire.

I only detected one number on the night that he or the band had written (although I wasn’t there right up until the landlord turned the lights up). The self-penned number was largely a coruscatingly loud and dynamic burst of frenetic guitar soloing by Neil. It was undoubtedly highly exciting but was less a song than a platform for guitar pyrotechnics. 

When he sang Blind Willy McTell's (among other claimants) ‘St James Infirmary’, Neil’s vocal style definitely worked on what in fact is a subtler song with lyrics refreshingly free of the macho male bombast and sexual bravado usually beloved of Blues legends. In fact Neil and the whole band’s performance of this sublime number was masterful. No doubt any song Neil would choose by his vocal inspiration, Howlin’ Wolf, would though suit his fairly gruff singing style. I was less convinced by his vocal style though when it came to some of the other songs that the band performed on the night, for example those associated with Muddy Waters and Bill Haley and the Comets. By contrast the finger-picking country blues instrumental (‘Guitar Rag’ by Sylvester Weaver) that Neil played in the first set was for me the highlight of the gig.

Song-writing of the narrative kind requires hard work and inspiration in equal measure. It’s what in the 1960s transformed much of popular music from crooners and family entertainers, to the bands that made up the amorphous beast that we still call ‘rock’. To teach yourself guitar to Neil's high-end level AND to be told to think, together with your band mates, of generating a lot more original material is a major, major ask. It may simply be a matter of time. The sharing of vocal duties with another singer might round out the band's sound in the shorter term. After all, there are many fine examples in rock history of band leaders and lead guitarists not being the band’s main singer: Pete Townshend for one comes to mind. Not a bad pedigree perhaps. Townshend, as could Grove, sung when the song was right for his style and range. Maybe stepping forward requires stepping back a little.

None of this though takes away from what was a great night and a great band debut led by a great guitarist. The second favourite moment for me came toward the end of the second set when Neil’s mum, and veteran musician, Vanessa Grove joined him for an instrumental duo; she on spoons. I saw quite a few open-jawed looks of wonder among younger punters. Yes, music really can be this good.






Saturday, November 26, 2022

Forty years on: Dr Feelgood live, one week before Wilko’s death

Dr Feelgood are probably the world’s greatest tribute band. Consisting of three members from a 1980s incarnation of the legendary 1970s band, today’s Feelgoods connect to when the band could only half fill an Eastbourne seaside theatre. In November they did manage to entirely fill the Hailsham Pavilion, although this venue is intimate. Intimate is good. These 'boys’ can 'do it right' in such spaces. Not exactly the kind of sweaty ale house that Lee Brilleaux and Co. favoured back in the day, but it worked. Back then these doyens of Britain’s retrospectively lauded Pub Rock circuit unleashed their brand of white boy speed freak RnB on the punk and new wave scene. The rest were history.

Intimate space for the Feelgoods

I felt that same history as I admired the style of newbie lead singer, Robert Kane (front-man since 1999). Decked out in crushed velvet jacket and drainpipes - ‘he looks like you,' my partner said, observing proceedings without her glasses and from the back of the hall. Good strong Geordie voice. 'Away the lads'. Newcastle is one of the UK’s white blues meccas after all. No Brilleaux, obviously, but he wasn't trying to be and had presence and more than enough rock 'n roll attitude. Bizarrely, mid-song, the sound engineer climbed on to the tiny stage, nearly knocking Kane over, in order to tell a roadie to turn down the lead guitarist. When they'd finished the song Kane addressed the engineer directly, noting that in over 200 years combined gigging experience he, guitarist Russell, bassist Mitchell and drummer Morris, had never had that happen, and all to turn down a guitarist. "Next time you pull a stunt like that you’ll be leaving the gig without your head on your shoulders," Kane said to the sound man safely positioned behind his console.  

Russell, drummer Morris, and Kane get it on

I never saw the Feelgoods' original guitarist Wilko Johnson in his heyday. After the great man's sad demise this week, an old friend reminded me that he’d seen him and his Solid Senders in 1986 playing live in our Polytechnic student bar. Sadly I got to City Poly a year too late (having also left three years earlier). Missing my timing again with my usual flair. When I saw Dr Feelgood the first time – Eastbourne 1984 – Brilleaux, Russell, Mitchell and Morris walked on after Sinatra’s 'New York New York' was played at a deafening volume. Lee was appropriately decked out in a white tux, and could still strut his stuff without too much of a belly. Ten years later he was dead. 

Russell, Kane and bassist Phil Mitchell

On the phenomenal Dr Feelgood & Canvey Island homage, ‘Oil City Confidential’, Lee’s Mum talks movingly of her son... in the past tense. A sad world but one made better when even today’s Feelgoods can bring the visceral excitement of when British blues was as much about white punk attitude and amphetamines as it was about honouring old school players from across the pond. Lead guitarist Gordon Russell summoned up the adrenaline-driven excitement of teenage Bluesbreaker Clapton and more than a hint of the celebrated choppy rhythmic style of Wilko himself. Roxette, Milk and Alcohol, She Does it Right, On The Jetty, Down at the Doctors and the other hits were inevitable highlights, but the new stuff sounded pretty good too. Good on you boys. Sadly, but maybe appropriately, this was the last live music event that Hailsham Pavilion will be putting on. They went out loud and proud.

Doin' it Right


Dr Feelgood (sign) at the Six Bells, Chiddingly; another sacred music venue 

I have to say a word or two about the Dr Feelgood support act, ‘Spyboy’. The boy in question was a loud shirt wearing, pot-bellied, Billy Bragg minus any of the occasional artistry of the Basildon man. Bragg was so politically tribal it hurt but he also wrote the peerless New England. Spyboy trotted out one cloying leftist cliché after another. That said, ‘Minimum Wages’ worked because despite the obvious political messaging, it rang true: His dying mother’s dependence on vastly underpaid carers. Stick to that kind of thing Spyboy and leave the leaden agitprop to Labour’s nostalgia buffs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Time to talk about the British republic

In a post-Brexit time of national uncertainty and economic struggle, it’s perhaps logical that the death of the grandmother of the nation should be the cause of mass sorrow. That said, a long weekend just spent in London made me aware of the sharp contrast between the tourists and devotees in the centre and the workaday folks going about their business in the periphery. That Queen Elizabeth II worked hard in her role as head of state is not for me in doubt. That over 70 years were spent in this inherited position is a cause for personal admiration and respect. However it should also be a reason to step back from the emotional fray and ask why? That the appointed ‘national’ broadcast media are going into expected overdrive to mobilise mass mourning is not surprising. However that shouldn’t prevent the more reflective among us from doing what the prime ministers of Jamaica and Antigua & Barbuda have just announced they will be doing, and having a national debate about whether their countries will become republics or not. Perhaps it’s indecent to suggest such a debate in Britain at a time when our former head of state hasn’t even been interred in the national imagining let alone Charles III formally crowned. But surely it’s precisely at this time that we should stop and wonder what maintaining the monarchy, or at least maintaining it as is, is good for? 

The much vaunted 'neutrality' and claimed ‘non-political’ nature of Windsor family rule will not only be tested by our new King’s attachment to a range of deeply political causes and opinions, but politics very much goes with the Windsor turf, as it were. You can’t be head of the Commonwealth and be sworn to uphold the Protestant faith and not be political. To think otherwise is to dwell in a soft, pink, cotton notion of the world forged in story books and childhood delusion. The king, like the late Queen, is a deeply political figure, as any head of state would be. 

The question is whether we’re happy to maintain a political system, and yes, ‘regime’, that having a monarch whose government uses royal (prerogative) powers, ensures? For those quirky enough to have watched the more than hour long ceremony on Saturday morning live from the Privy Council, an appreciation of all that is undemocratic, indeed archaic, about our political system was in full, open and transparent view. It was as if Penny Mordaunt had won the premiership and Liz Truss had been kicked straight upstairs before even passing Go as PM. 

As Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt led the business of the great political and clerical good who constitute this former Executive body. However her announcement of the Privy Council’s decisions underpinning the uncontested ‘election’ of Charles as king was straight from Medieval Britain. The Union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland was a constant reference point as was much Monty Pythonesque referencing of the Great Seal and of interim Seals of some kind. The newly minted monarch himself grew visibly more irritated by the arcane absurdity of all that he had to voice ‘Agreed’ to. However for him, his Consort, and his Heir, I suspect this was all so much tiresome theatre, as no doubt it would seem to any still watching members of the public. 

However the substance of what was on display was an assertion of power by unaccountable decree from a body, the Privy Council, whose official purpose is to “counsel” the monarch but is in practise more about the underpinning of the royal prerogative powers that all governments exercise by reference to the crown and not to the sovereignty of the people. Charles’ stated affirmation of his office, that he is the sovereign, made clear where powers still lies in Britain. It may be his 'constitutional' understanding that God and the elected government, in that order, should guide him in the performance of his ‘duties’, but our unwritten constitution gives “his” government a welter of unaccountable royal powers to exercise on his behalf. 

Should we care? Well, declaring war, signing international treaties of any kind, issuing executive decisions such as orders in council without proper parliamentary scrutiny, are all the exercise of royal prerogative powers. They quite literally have nothing to do with claimed electoral mandates turned into parliamentary legislation. A country that has supposedly ’taken back control’ doesn’t seem to care that as an electorate they have little control and that their sovereignty is only partly honoured in name and largely ignored in practise. 

The great symbol of British parliamentary democracy is not the office of prime minister but the speaker of the House of Commons, the person who, ceremonially speaking at the ‘State Opening of Parliament’, bars the monarch’s entry to the legislative chamber via Black Rod. Speaker Hoyle though was a mere attendee at the Privy Council on Saturday, lending his democratic imprimatur to the thoroughly undemocratic proceedings.

Perhaps this is all liberal elitist claptrap, point scoring by a member of the over-educated classes when ordinary folk just want a decent day’s pay for a decent day’s work, and affordable, heatable, housing to live in. But if the masses aren’t actually determining who governs them and how, and if their elected representatives don’t hold sovereignty on their behalf, then what hope is there that popular needs and desires can be met? 

Arguably the last time a collective programme of mass need was addressed by an elected UK government was in the latter 1940s when the second war in two and a bit decades had brought an establishment and party political consensus that things could never be the same again. Democracy’s role was merely to choose those in the red corner as the ones who should try to administer it. No Labour government has in practise done anything to challenge the monarchical constitutional settlement other than to partially limit the power and membership of that residue of royal favour, the unelected House of Lords. The maintenance of the monarchy shouldn’t however be a matter of left V right. It should be a matter of democracy V unaccountable power. If Scotland goes independent then it’s likely to replicate Windsor’s prerogative powers over an elected Holyrood.

We are told that the late Queen was so shielded from the mucky and constitutionally inappropriate business of politics that in 1975 her Governor General in Australia turfed out an elected Australian Labour prime minister in cahoots with the then Prince of Wales and the Queen’s private secretary. These were royal powers used secretly to get through a political impasse that should have been Australia’s political business, but was actually the business of the UK monarch’s own Governor General. The British Labour Government of the day was seemingly equally constitutionally “shielded” from what the British royal house was up to. 

Britain plainly needs a head of state to at least arbitrate when there’s such a political impasse at home. It was feared that the Queen couldn’t be shielded from doing that if there had been no prospect of a UK parliamentary majority ‘to get Brexit done’. The prospect, pre-PM Johnson, beckoned of the Queen having to appoint a national (coalition) government to get through the political morass. Some would argue that it’s surely better that such a political arbiter be the head of the house of Windsor than perhaps an archly party political figure appointed as a figurehead president. (Few serious republicans in Britain want a US-style presidential political system.).

This is not just a matter of what kind of head of state do we want when the parliamentary arithmetic is bothersome. It’s very much more than that. It’s about who do we think should rule us, whether as head of state or in terms of the laws, orders and executive decrees that are currently issued on the basis of monarchical power? Should these be our laws, argued over by our representatives, or the prerogative of a royal house that, as witnessed on Saturday, elects itself?

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

An affront to parliamentary democracy that produces Truss as PM and Corbyn as Labour leader

Both main UK political parties have for more than a decade betrayed parliamentary democracy in favour of a US primary-type method for electing a party leader. On Monday we witnessed some of the awful consequences of that in the live televised head to head Truss-Sunak ‘debate’. The style, and no doubt agreed structure, of the prime time BBC1 broadcast was a grotesque dumbed down pandering to broadcast media conceptions of what the public will stomach. Given that it was the Parliamentary Conservative Party that reduced the candidates to two, and that 160,000 party members who, for the cheap price of an annual membership fee, will determine who the PM is, then any preconceived notion of what the British public wants is irrelevant. Another consequence of this Tory leadership election method, just as is normal now during a General Election of course, is the rival camps’ petty abuse on social media. I note that the media broadcast the five candidates’ debate before it shifted to a two horse race among Tory party members. However the choice of whether to broadcast these debates was that of the Tory party. They could have kept the election of their parliamentary leader where it properly belongs: in Parliament.

This Tory members’ party leadership election is worse than a US-style party primary because this is the third election in a row among Conservative Party members that has selected the PM by selecting their party leader. I accept that we live in a parliamentary democracy and that therefore the choice of PM is not the people’s direct choice. And I accept that the resultant new PM is not obligated to call an instant general election because, yes, their, authority comes from that elected Parliament. It is precisely my belief in parliamentary democracy, despite residual royal authority exercised by an executive only partly checked by an elected parliament, that means that I think that a parliamentary party should determine who its leader is, not that party’s membership. The fact that the media has influence on any such membership election of any major political party is largely the fault of the two parties for agreeing this method of choosing the leader. And for agreeing to televise the debates. 

Surely an election method that brought us Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition and which runs the serious risk of imposing Liz Truss on us as PM, is very flawed indeed. I stand by bad electoral outcomes if that is either the popular will or the will of popularly elected MPs. I wholly object to bad, or any, outcome decided by a narrow band of Tory or Labour Party members, especially when this narrow band in either party can get to determine, directly, who the Prime Minister of the UK is. 

I would like to think that the two main UK party leaderships could agree together to go back to the future and resume parliamentary democracy when it comes to choosing their party leader. However this would be akin to reinventing Labour’s civil war of the 1980s, and for the Tories it would upset a membership base that seems to like the power to ensure that ‘chief betrayer’ Sunak can be prevented from entering No10 in favour of someone whose economic grasp revolves around printing money and whose regional knowledge when visiting an enemy capital suggested she wasn’t fit to teach GCSE Geography let alone lead the primary European military power.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Running for (creative) therapy

I am once again putting rubber to the tarmac and running the Hastings Half-Marathon on March 20th. I am doing it for two reasons: exercise obsession and to raise money for an important new therapy project being set up by two friends of mine. 

I have vowed to hang up my running shoes after I complete this event. In fact I am giving up my neuro-sports obsessionalism in general. However, before I go cold turkey on this particular (non) coping mechanism, I will seek to go out with a modest bang.

My fastest half-marathon was fractionally over 1 hour and 35 minutes, a performance conducted six years ago at the 2016 Hastings Half. I got to within 32 seconds of that in 2019. I'm now approaching 58, but have stated that I want, this year, to run the Hastings Half-Marathon in under 1:30. That said, if I can at least improve on my PB, however modestly, I'll be totally delighted.

The last Hastings Half, back in 2019; author far left

More importantly, but relevantly, I am raising money for GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES. This charity is about to launch from the Langney (East Sussex) home of Amy Syrad-Hardy and Adam Llewellyn-Smith, and will offer creative therapy for adults, and a recreational space solely for men. I can personally vouch for how effective Amy Syrad-Hardy's creative therapy classes are. 

If you would like to sponsor my run, I will transfer all monies raised directly to GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES. (Please message me accordingly and I will send you my bank details).

GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES will be a totally inclusive charity offering safe spaces for conversation and creativity. Based in Pevensey, East Sussex, it combines two elements: creative therapy for adults, and a recreational space solely for men. ‘Your Creative Self’, run by Amy Syrad-Hardy (38), will provide both group and 1:1 therapy for anyone who needs it, whether they realise it or not. Amy is experienced and trained in providing creative therapies focused on the whole self: mind and body. She is also a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA). Consequently, she is both professionally and  intuitively aware of how trauma affects people. Her creative therapy is focused on adults who may be struggling with the manifestations of trauma, whether due to CSA or to more recent domestic sexual or physical violence. Amy encourages people to use paint, paper, words, or just about anything, to express how they feel and to connect with the whole self.  

‘You do not have to think of yourself as ‘artistic’,’ she stresses. ‘It’s all about using different methods to tap into repressed emotion: anger, fear, shame, whatever it is that you might be feeling,’ says Amy. ‘Or if it feels like you’re not feeling anything at all.’  This Amy will do in a group setting, or via 1:1 therapy for those with specific trauma-related symptoms such as an eating disorder, suicidal ideation, addiction, chronic illness etc. 

Amy’s husband Adam Llewellyn-Smith (38) has lived experience of trauma and is bi-polar. He has actively supported Amy in her fight for justice against a former abuser. Adam is a videographer, photographer, producer and editor. From personal experience he understands how much men who’ve survived trauma need to communicate, whether with themselves or with others. Adam is setting up ‘MENT’ (Mental Health Emotions Narrative & Times) so that men can have a dedicated space where they can allow themselves to talk, or to explore. Exploration could be creative, with paint or words or by simply sharing an enjoyment of music. Or it could literally be exploring by walking or exercising, or it might be engaging in sports. MENT will provide men who perhaps aren’t used to expressing themselves, in any form, with an opportunity to gather and to just see where the conversation, or the activity, takes them.

GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES will be based out of Amy and Adam’s home studio space (‘ALS Studios’). They have also booked three other facilities in the Pevensey and Westham area, including Montague Farm in Hankham. Over the next couple of months they will host exhibitions of creative work by trauma survivors at these locations; one such 'pop-up' event in being lined up for the end of March. 

Adam and Amy’s charitable project aims to support anyone who’s feeling isolated, anyone who’s struggling with depression, anyone who’s had trauma. Whatever your story, it’s likely that you will find someone, or something, that you can connect with via GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES. As the work of the charity grows, it will draw on a network of trauma therapists and counsellors. Fees for  counselling and other forms of support will be set low to help ensure maximum inclusiveness.

If you want to find out more about GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES, contact Amy and Adam via email on or via their individual Facebook pages:  Amy and Adam.

Self-portrait (by me)

Postscript: I am very pleased to say that I raised £770 for GROWING CREATIVE COMMUNITIES and am very appreciative to all those who donated money and/or expressed their support. I sadly didn't make it home in less than my PB, but my finish time of just under 1:39 wasn't bad. The key thing is the taking part and the cause, and the cause is a very good one for sure. A launch photography exhibition has already been held by Adam in a Pevensey pub, and he has three more planned in the Pevensey and Westham area over the Spring and Summer of 2022. Amy will be hosting an exhibition of her art and of those who've benefitted from her creative therapy (including me) during the same period.