Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two socialisms, two capitalisms

There are two kinds of socialism on the market (if one ignores the madness of millennium revolutionaries). One is the kind being touted by Jeremy Corbyn - raising workers' pay and public expenditure, without a clear idea of how to achieve it. I shall come to the second in a moment.

Opposed to it, we are told, is free-market capitalism. A good example of the propaganda for this is ex-banker James Bartholomew's "letter" article in The Spectator this week. Here young James (he is not near sixty yet) talks condescendingly to his nephew, contrasting what he saw of the rapidly advancing prosperity of Hong Kong in the 1980s with the condition of the communist countries he subsequently visited.

Of course Hong Kong prospered! It was the time when China, encouraged by a USA bent on driving a wedge between the Middle Kingdom and Russia, was given the chance to build a massive industrial economy on the basis of increasingly debt-fuelled Western consumer demand. Hong Kong was to be its showcase and middleman. This suited the Western entrepreneurs who surfed the flood through the all-open canal locks as capital flowed East, much of it sticking to their fingers in Western tax havens and much of the rest recycled first into US Treasury bonds and then into purchases of land and businesses in America and elsewhere. 

The result? The American rich became super-duper-rich and the American economy was hollowed out to the point where voting for Donald Trump seemed to the middle class a last desperate chance to stop the rot. Now the panhandlers by the roadside are not winos but people who can't make ends meet even when both partners are working.

Still, well done, the Chinese! No-one can blame them for using the opportunities they were given, especially since it wasn't they who made the most out of the arrangement - James Kynge estimated that Chinese businesses kept perhaps 15 cents of each dollar of export.

And China was learning capitalism of the original kind, the kind that made Britain rich in the Industrial Revolution: investing in factories, labour skills, infrastructure. The capitalism that made Josiah Wedgwood's fortune as a potter, that encouraged the Duke of Bridgewater to use his own money to cut a canal for transporting finished goods. Capitalism that made good profits and wages from making good products.

But there is another, more modern type of capitalism - the type that did so well out of the Chinese economic miracle for the Westerners who made deals with them. This one is like Blu-Tack: a big ball of money that is rubbed onto smaller bits, not to stick up the poster but simply to make the ball bigger and then to put it away in a drawer. The poster can flop to the ground after that; who cares?

As an example of this latter kind of predation, look at the case of Southern Cross Healthcare and NHP.  These companies - one a chain of care homes and the other a landlord - were acquired by an American private equity group that then put Southern Cross on a lease agreement requiring 2.5% annual rent increases for 35 years, floated the company so as to extract a billion in capital, and abandoned Southern Cross to its inevitable collapse and the misery of the vulnerable humanity for which it had to provide.

This kind of debt-bloat ram-raid capitalism continues and will continue, until suddenly it can't. We saw that in 2008, but the dreadful reckoning was, and is being staved off with public money, and nobody seems to know how to stop the process.

"Labour and the Tories are like a pair of corpses, stiff with rigor mortis, propping each other up," said Peter Hitchens, back in 2005. "They no longer represent the true divisions in British society, which is why Labour can win only 22% of the popular vote, and the Tories a mere 20%." His wish was for both to collapse.

Despite their vote share rising to 40-plus per cent, for various reasons, they have collapsed. They haven't quite stopped twitching, is all. 

At the moment - pace the screams from Socialist Worker and Day Of Rage types - we have Giveaway Tory versus Giveaway Labour. Neither has the answer. Staring us in the face is the destruction of the Welfare State.

Instead of these gruesome bookends we need a reformed pair of parties. Both Right and Left should aim for a productively employed workforce, that can pay enough taxes to make the books balance. 

Before Wilson's turn on a sixpence in 1975, he and his British Labour Party were against membership of the EEC. At the Oxford Union, Peter Shore explained how the country was losing billions annually as a result, already; behind him the sulky face of the - I think it's not too much too say - treacherous "Conservative" Ted Heath deepened its scowl. 

I suspect that there were those on the Right who hoped that Europe would "sort out" the unions, blinding themselves to the harm done to our competitiveness by a business class that had failed to reinvest for decades, so that many soldiers returning from the Second World War doffed their uniforms to handle tools and machines dating to before the First World War; and goodbye, the British motorcycle industry as the Japanese listened to Dr Deming and went for quality and continuous improvement. 

In any case, the Americans wanted to tell Europe what to do with one phone call, not a couple of dozen. But that was no reason for us to join the new bloc.

Yes, new bookends, please: patriotic Conservatives with an economic and investment plan for the country that will improve the lot of all the people, and Labourites who, while rightly defending the pay and conditions of the working class (including, one would hope, the self-employed), support prosperity through work rather than envious dispossession. 

SUNDAY JAZZ: The Final Gig, by Wiggia

I wanted to finish this series with a favourites page. That is never as easy as it sounds as when you have written or composed a list you immediately realise that x is not on it and the list like Pinocchio’s nose just keeps growing.

What is interesting when reminiscing through the collection is how often you go back to certain albums and how others considered at one time bankers for that top ten are no longer flavour of the month. That I think is down to changing taste, a different slant on certain types of music, and/or a realisation that something heard when still a teenager was not really that good, or the opposite in that you never gave it a chance all those years ago.

There is also the fact that some artists who you always liked never made more than very good albums and some who have had little exposure have made that one superb rendering which stands the test of time.

Two or three choices have already had an airing in previous articles, including Coltrane's “Giant Steps” and Brubeck's Oberlin album among them; what I shall put up here are artists that have not made the other articles or may just have got a mention but have left stunning music in their own right. There is no particular order to worthiness or otherwise, it is not really possible.

My first is Arthur Blythe known as “Black Arthur”, an alto player whose ‘78 album Lennox Avenue Breakdown has become a classic. A bandleader and composer who straddled avant garde and traditional modern jazz, he died in March this year at the age of 77.

Here is the title track, and yes that is a tuba there:

Joe Lovano is a Sicilian American multi instrumentalist including drums, but it is his tenor sax work that people admire. Influenced by Coltrane Gillespie and Sonny Stitt, he also worked in the big bands of Herman and Mel Lewis after studying at University. Since then his own quartets and quintets are where he is the now established star in his own name. Not everything he does moves me and several albums fall into that category, but this album is one of my favourites From the Soul, and this number is as good as any on there: “Central Park West”.

Playing alto and soprano saxes and clarinet, Gary Bartz is another who when you look up his details thinking he is in his forties you discover he is a contemporary; frightening isn’t it? He has stretched into funk, soul, African music as well as avant garde and bop jazz. He has played on 240 albums, forty of which were his own and played with Davis, Mingus, Roach, McCoy Tyner and Jackie McLean, and started out as did so many with Art Blakey.

The number I selected is not with his own group but that of McCoy Tyner, one of my greatest pianists who he played with and won awards for McCoy's “Illuminations” album. This is live from a German festival recording in ‘07 Ballad for Aisha from the album Blues on the Corner. Beautiful musicianship from all here:

Also from that age group, and the same remarks apply as he is 81 now, is Odean Pope, another tenor saxophonist who started playing in Philadelphia’s Uptown Theatre behind James Brown, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. He has subsequently recorded extensively with Max Roach as well as in his own name.

The album I return to is Locked and Loaded from 2006; he is still recording. Not easy to find anything from the original album with Odean playing but he is also an arranger with his saxophone choir, up to nine different saxophones and this number is representative of the sort of thing he produces.

Here another arrangement of Central Park West live from the famous Blue Note jazz club in NY in 2004. Lovely sound:

There is not a lot from the Sonny Criss catalogue around. An alto player who was a contemporary of Parker and drifted around several groups, he really blossomed later in his career and his output increased during this period but sadly after this number was recorded he developed stomach cancer and after returning to LA he committed suicide in ‘77 at the age of fifty.

Because of the years that have passed since his death there is a fair bit on Youtube to listen to, including my favourite album of his, Sonny’s Dream, with the Sonny Criss Orchestra (Birth of the New Cool) - worth looking up. This is Angel Eyes from the album Saturday Morning, recorded in ‘75:

Johnny Griffin made a memorable album with Thelonious Monk at the Five Spot. He recorded with Monk several times and was with Art Blakey before that. He was endowed with an amazing technique that allowed him to play unbelievably fast runs. He never varied from his be bop heritage and was not at all pleased with so-called “free” jazz. Short of stature, he was a fashion-conscious man and spent most of his last two decades in France and the Netherlands.

From that famed album with Monk “In Walked Bud”:

I go back to Bill Evans more than any other pianist; that doesn’t make him greater or more popular than those other giants of the keyboard, but he did play a style of piano that engulfed you, the sort of thing you put on after a bad day and forget everything, I am playing him a lot at the moment for obvious reasons ! I have all his early albums and most of the later, nearly all get played which is why he gets in here, though he has already featured earlier.

“My Foolish Heart”:

I will finish on a “populist” note. Basie was always my favourite band; Ellington was far more adventurous and almost certainly made the better jazz albums but that Basie sound was always so comforting. Yes, he did produce huge numbers of mainly forgettable albums in his prime, but that does not detract from his best work which was superb. The same can be said for Frank Sinatra, who sang with all the big bands of note yet probably his best albums of that type were with Basie. I have all three and they get played. This Basie/ Sinatra number makes it all look so easy: the diction, the timing, just the right amount of backing from Basie - no unnecessary intrusions, just superb music that we will not see or hear again. Two governors of their craft showing how it should be done.

Nice !

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Car manufacturers force everyone to switch to electric vehicles after June

I have had notification that my cheap and reasonably reliable old petrol-engined car - and all of yours - will no longer be supported by manufacturers, garages and filling stations and we must get an electric engine within a week. We have no choice in the matter.

Here is an extract from the manufacturer's support page:

Do I need to get an electric engine to stay mobile?

Yes, the best way to stay mobile is to get an electric engine.

You have two ways to get an electric engine:

Upgrade your current car

You can purchase a complete new electric engine and transmission, but you should first make sure that your car is built to take it. Very few older cars can accommodate such a refit. We recommend that you check out the electric engine specifications page to find out if your car meets the system requirements for electric motors. For more detailed information, read the FAQ.

Get a new car

If your current car can't carry an electric engine, it might be time to consider shopping for a new one. Be sure to explore our great selection of new cars. They're more powerful, lightweight, and stylish than ever before—and with an average price that's considerably less expensive than the average car was 10 years ago.


Very sorry, totally misread my email link, turns out it's Microsoft's Windows Vista that has to be scrapped by everyone. So that's all right, then.

Friday, June 23, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Summer Rags, by JD

Summer has finally arrived which means it is time for a musical fiesta!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Wine, the Making Of, by Wiggia

My Wine Change and Fashion piece was actually read by someone outside our small (hopefully widening) circle, in fairness only because I told him about it, but he did read it and we had a discussion that involved a lot of the current trends and the manufacturing of wine by the big players, e.g. Gallo.

With a bit of research many findings simply underscored that we already knew but went a lot further: it is quite remarkable how the food industry has taken wine in a relatively few years from being a pig in a poke to a beverage that can be relied on to assuage people's perceptions of what wine should be and sell it as you would a packet of crisps; that is nowhere as far-fetched as it sounds, in fact not at all.

All the big wineries use outside testing tasting companies to put together the tastes that people want. It is exactly the same as biscuits or ready made meals: your chicken Kiev may have come from Asda or Waitrose and may taste slightly different, but the only real difference as they are all produced by Allied Foods or similar; it is the seasoning or sauce variation that has been tweaked to give an impression it is a better product and can command a premium when purchased from an upmarket retailer.

With wine at the moment it is not quite that approach as the big wineries do their own market research, through these companies and some in house to tweak and alter their own wines to best suit the target punters.

Before anyone goes all au naturel over this, the Romans were doctoring wine by using lead (really!) as a sweetener, marble dust, animal blood and seawater, all part of the enhancing and prolonging of the life of wine, and even before the industrialisation of wine  and today the use of sulphur, copper nitrates, the use of egg yolks in the fining of wine, removing particles, the addition of sugar in bad years and bad wines to bring the alcohol level up, chaptalisation is the posh word used for that, were and are all normal and legal additions to wine-making.

Today those bad wine days are over. The technical side has created an industry within an industry that with powders and potions, all of which are legal, they can cleanse, enhance, change and improve, dilute as necessary, raise and lower alcohol levels, add colouring for that rich red or change to a lighter colour for that fresh look, all without breaking any laws.

This is a typical wine lab:

Even the expensive oak barrel taste can be replicated by wood shavings, wood dust, staves of wood and chips with added flavours; all achieve the same end to the nth degree as the expensive wood barrels. All this after extensive research and blind testing and tasting with random groups who will give their opinions on favourite tastes and smells, it is pure market research. 

What is often forgotten is the target market, that £5-6 bracket that is where the bulk of all wine sales are, and it does not take a lot more tweaking to produce a premium product that commands a higher price. A good example of that is the Ravenswood Zinfandel, winner of a gold medal, and gives the impression of being made by a small winery; far from it - it comes from a very large industrial winery. The use of labels depicting some idyll small winery is a normal marketing trick, again no different from Tesco's use of farm logos on veg that has never seen this country's soil.

As an example of the scale of production with the big brands. Yellowtail from South Australia produces 12 million cases annually. 96% is exported and most goes to the States of all places, where the demand increases, it is their biggest imported wine.

What does all this mean? Jancis Robinson, one of the few wine writers I have respect for, has summed it up rather well: she wrote, “It is one of the ironies of the wine market today that just as the price differential between cheapest and most expensive bottles is greater than ever before, the difference in quality between these two extremes is probably narrower than it has ever been.” She also reiterates what I said in the earlier piece about how little bad wine exists now, so much so we have largely forgotten how bad it was. There is no doubt that industrialisation has made it possible to elevate good wine to a level near very near to established top end products.

Of course expectations still play a big part in enjoying wine and buying it. If someone spends £50+ on a bottle of wine his brain is already telling him that the wine will be good even if it isn’t. The same applies to the wine you had on holiday: it is always better than the same bottle you purchased at home. Why? Because you were on holiday enjoying yourself in hopefully wonderful surroundings, your brain is not going to let an average bottle of wine spoil that. That of course is a generalisation, but it has been proven to be fact, in the same way blind tasting even among wine critics can produce different scores for the same wine when drunk on different days and in different surroundings.

So can you trust wine scores? To a degree; the mean average of scores can be a fair result of different palettes, but again you have to remember they are tasting as at the annual primeur tastings in Bordeaux at the Chateau; if you are going to Lafitte for a tasting you are already expecting great things, I would love to see the same tasters' results if all was done blind !

Wine competitions are something I have voiced an opinion on before. These are blind tastings but even blind tastings can produce a different set of results on another day with the same tasters. Another factor is that the wine competitions deal mainly with lower price wines, many of which fall into the industrial category; with the uplift in quality in that section, it appears few go home without an award and now they extend the awards to another higher level - all too much, I feel.

Price and quality do go hand in hand, again it is all arguable: there is no doubt that up to fifty pounds a bottle  the quality climbs with the price; after that, name, reputation and availability push up the price, not always with any justification as to what is in the bottle. Once a wine reaches £100 and up it sadly these days becomes a collector's item or investment. My tasting at the higher end is naturally limited but even I have had some terrible disappointments along with amazing surprises. Burgundy when in the days I could afford the odd “good” bottle was my graveyard: some of the producers who knew and know because of their limited output they could sell anything should have been put to the sword, yet the best red wine I ever drank came from that region.

With wine it is the unknown that keeps me interested, the forever new countries coming onstream with good wines and different grape varietals. It is all good news and keeps the price down. For those who reach for Yellowtail whenever they visit the supermarket shelves one thing is sure: it is a lot, lot better than the equivalent of twenty years back, costs less in real terms and is very unlikely to disappoint or be faulty. Yellowtail became successful by removing the things in wine that new customers do not like, acidity and tannins; this could change as people decide to move on from this orchestrated fruit juice, but for now…….. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

SUNDAY MUSIC: Drummer's Holiday, by Wiggia

Buddy Rich
The title was the name of an album by Louie Bellson, a drummer and bandleader. A drummer as part of the rhythm section is not normally associated with band or group leading, yet a few had very successful careers doing just that.

Chick Webb was as near the first of the drumming bandleaders of the Swing era. Born in 1905 with tuberculosis of the spine he grew up with a spinal deformation that gave him the appearance of a hunchback; the same disease finally killed him after a major operation at the age of 34. He had taken up drumming as a form of therapy.

He was known as the King of Swing having won a “battle of the big bands” contest with the likes of of Goodman and Basie as contestants. His style influenced Buddy Rich and others. He would make a wonderful counterpoint to all those youngsters today who want free stuff: he purchased his first set of drums from money earned doing a paper round - that itself with his condition must have been difficult, to say the least - and played professionally at 11. Ella Fitzgerald sang as a young woman with the band from ‘35 and after Chick's death she lead the band for some time before going solo.

Stompin’ at the Savoy (1934):

As so many from that period, Gene Krupa was more than an influential drummer: he was a composer actor band leader and, like Buddy Rich, a showman, something that was a must in the days of the Swing era when those big bands were the huge attraction for the general public.

Anyone who has a biopic made about him, as he did. has reached a level beyond just being a drummer. I can remember seeing "The Gene Krupa Story" as a teenager.

He is cited as a big influence in drummers becoming more than just apart of the rhythm section, being one of the first to use drum solos in his work. He was also instrumental in the development of drums and cymbals, as this piece from Wiki explains:

"In the 1930s, Krupa became the first endorser of Slingerland drums. At Krupa's urging, Slingerland developed tom-toms with tuneable top and bottom heads, which immediately became important elements of virtually every drummer's setup. Krupa developed and popularized many of the cymbal techniques that became standards. His collaboration with Armand Zildjian of the Avedis Zildjian Company developed the modern hi-hat cymbals and standardized the names and uses of the ride cymbal, crash cymbal, splash cymbal, pang cymbal, and swish cymbal. He is also credited with helping to formulate the modern drum set, being one of the first jazz drummers (for that recording studio) to use a bass drum, in a recording session in December 1927.[12] One of his bass drums, a Slingerland 14 X 26, inscribed with Benny Goodman's and Krupa's initials, is preserved at the Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C."

This is with Benny Goodman's orchestra before he set up his own big band but contains in this hit from ‘37 an illustration of his drumming style and a featured Harry James on trumpet.

Sing Sing Sing:

Buddy Rich was very much a contemporary of Krupa. The ultimate showman, he was as much wanted in later life as a TV personality as he was a bandleader drummer. He always had an opinion on everything and was not one to sidestep being controversial. He was also a very hard taskmaster, demanding and getting the best from his musicians.

This TV interview from ‘71 will not please someone I know ! but is hilarious in his put-down of country music - he genuinely hated it:

And he maintained his opinion to the day he died….

During the medical therapy prior to his death, a nurse asked him whether he was allergic to anything, to which Rich replied "Yes, country and western music".

His Wiki page is a good read:

There are numerous Youtube videos of Rich giving amazing drum solos, dancing, singing, showing off etc. Many regard him as the greatest drummer of all. He certainly gave value for money, but here with a drum solo he leads his band in ‘65 with "Cherokee":

One thing can be said with absolute certainty, Rich was never boring.

Another who started young was Louie Bellson. He was playing drums at three and went on to win a national Gene Krupa drum contest against 40,000 contestants. He also was bandleader, composer and later a jazz teacher, and was married to the singer and actress Pearl Bailey. He is also credited with the pioneering use of two bass drums. Although not known for primarily leading his own big band, he did work during the forties with Tommy Dorsey , Goodman, Harry James and Ellington. His writing and composition work was prolific and spanned all genres of music: he appeared on 200 albums and wrote 1000 pieces. His big band work was mainly on records or when touring in Europe and elsewhere.

As I have said before, most drum solos have me reaching for the off switch but these people are different, they are the masters of their craft. There are many examples of stupendous solos from many of these top guys with Rich having more than his share, rightly, but this is a short controlled piece of work from Bellson.

Skin Deep (1957):

Mel Lewis started in the big time by joining Kenton in ‘54. 1966 and a move to NY saw him team up with Thad Jones for the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra although it was not any more than informal get-together for many years until regular slots became available in ‘76. It became the Mel Lewis Orchestra when Thad Jones left for Denmark that year. Drummers are like goalkeepers, they are separate in many ways from the rest of the outfit, have a lot of quirks with their kit set up etc and Lewis was no exception with a very personal cymbal setup and later drums with differing drum skin covers from normal; all this, of course, to get the sound he wanted.

Here he is in ‘87 looking like a bank manager with the Mel Lewis Orchestra in Holland, playing Groove Merchant:

Of course those mainstays of be bop Roach and Blakey fronted groups of varying sizes as drummers. Both have had exposure on my earlier pieces so there is no need to do any biographies on them, just straight to the music.

This is Max Roach with his then wife Abbey Lincoln - I need no prompting to put up anything she did - with Driva Man from ‘64 and Roach’s album Freedom Suite:

Plus a classic Art Blakey driving number: A Night in Tunisia from his "Messengers of ‘58" with Lee Morgan trumpet, Benny Golson sax and Bobby Timmons piano:

Frequently overlooked as a “serious” jazz drummer, Shelly Manne most certainly was serious, but his debunking to the West Coast and being part of that cool jazz movement, and his albums (very successful) based on My Fair Lady and his association with Andre Previn made him in some eyes a lightweight. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was also at the forefront of music for the film industry and not only did he provide the music for "The Man With The Golden Arm", starring Frank Sinatra, but he was also an advisor in the film and afterwards was in much demand for percussive effects in films; and he also worked a lot with Henry Mancini.

After a career that started with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, he virtually retired when jazz became less popular in the sixties-seventies. He owned a club in LA where he kept the jazz flag flying, it was inevitably called Shelly’s Manne Hole, and ran for years with many stars joining his club band. Whilst always returning to straight jazz he ventured into and experimented with ragtime, orchestral work and other areas of music. A drummer though he had to be as his father and uncles were all drummers; he was still experimenting and playing and recording right up to his last days.

Just Squeeze Me is from the fourth album of five that came from a very successful stint at the Blackhawk; always a tasteful, not forcing, drummer.

There have been other drummers who have been group leaders but not over time as these above. Great drummers though they are, the likes of Jo Jones, Roy Haynes etc were in the main always sidemen, even if very starred sidemen.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Protest - or revolution?

I'm not politically tribal, and I am disturbed by the suddenness and intensity of the "protests" that have sprung up in the wake of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower.

For sure, there are questions to be asked. For example, I'm amazed that Grenfell residents were advised in a 2014 newsletter that "(unless there is a fire in your flat or in the hallway outside your flat) you should stay inside your flat." I've never seen that on a fire safety notice in any hotel room.

But protests are not spontaneous. They have to be organised. And in the picture above, culled from today's Daily Mail, the protest at St Clements' Church yesterday looks very organised.

By whom? Who are the placard-holders here, and why is the fellow at mid-right, front, wearing a copy of Socialist Worker like a tabard? Someone on the left has already got a printed T-shirt. That was fast.

We are in a very volatile period, and modern communications offer the chance to whip up trouble double-quick. When people protested and rioted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they did not have the right to vote. But now they do - and a third of them don't bother.

I'm suspicious of direct democracy. We need a representative democracy, but one that does listen and does try to act in the best interests of the country. Perhaps these dangerous signs are a measure of the failure of the current, gamed systems in our councils, regulatory organisations and the Palace of Westminster.

Friday, June 16, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: The original blues, by JD

This time an eclectic selection of the Blues from folk/blues where it all sprang from through to the modern era.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Why I voted Labour

Please don't splutter until you've heard me out.

In the first place, my vote had no chance of making any difference between 1984, when I came here, and 2010. Local demographics made this a rock-solid safe seat for Labour.

My first MP here was Roy Hattersley, and because it was safe, he made no local effort that I noticed. The only time I even heard his voice was in 1997 when he got his peerage and cruised the neighbourhood in a Tannoy car saying, in effect, "So long, and thanks for all the fish". Doubtless he did good work for his Party, possibly for the country, but I couldn't say he "represented" me.

He was succeeded by Labour's Roger Godsiff, who moved over when the then-safe Small Heath constituency was abolished. Again, he could count on most people's vote here, if not mine. So he stood and won in 1997, 2001 and 2005. In the latter year, he got a scare when George Galloway's Respect Party ran a fairly close second, and moved over to neighbouring Hall Green for GE 2010 when the boundaries were again redrawn. The Respect candidate pursued him but failed by a wider margin than before, and he's been comfortably returned a couple of times since.

Had I voted for Labour, I'd have got Labour; had I voted against Labour, I'd have got Labour.

What I actually did, in '97 and '05, was vote UKIP. For me it's always been about sovereignty, but of course if you are on Facebook you'll know that Ukippers are... [fill in long list of slurs]. Social media make me doubt the wisdom of a democratic system, to the extent that we have one [as Winston Churchill said, "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."]

2001 was different: by then I was convinced that Tony Blair was dangerously mad, so I voted Conservative for the first time in my life - merely to send the tiniest squeak of a message, and I'm sure it went entirely unnoticed.

The reorganisation of constituencies for GE 2010 set the cat among the pigeons. For the first time ever, I had candidates doorstepping me. Only two - Labour and Liberal Democrat, but that's two more than in the previous 26 years. The Labour fellow was clearly not the sharpest knife in the box and when he asked me about key issues and I said Europe, he tried to tell me that we had voted to join the EU in 1975. When I corrected him (we had voted to remain in the EEC) his female minder smirked at her pet's ignorance.

The LibDem asked the same question, got the same answer and his expression changed - oh dear, I was one of those. [Later, when he was my MP, he replied to one of my emails to assert that Parliament was indeed sovereign. I still don't know whether he actually believed that.] In any case, UKIP got my worthless vote yet again.

During this fellow's tenure, I spent some 18 months trying to get him to ask a question at Prime Minister's Question Time. Now like Dicken's Mrs Jellyby,  he was full of enthusiasm for all sorts of worthy liberal causes, but a one-minute question? No. Perhaps it was the fact that I wanted to ask when the Government was going to make inflation-proofed savings certificates available again, having withdrawn them as almost the first act of the Conservative-LibDem Coalition; the question would have been a potentially embarrassing litmus test of the Government's attitude to small savers and its commitment to contain inflation. So instead I got two Treasury Minister letters, both of them full of irrelevant waffle.

So much for representing me.

2015: UKIP for me again, but Labour regained the seat, probably as the electorate turned away from the LibDems in disgust at their complicity in the Conservatives' locally unpopular policies.

But what I got this time was a feisty local lass who actually polled her constituents before this year's GE to get their views on Brexit and the Single Market (actually four markets, all more or less damaging to our interests, but that's another story) - and reported back.

Imagine: an MP who makes an effort! [And one who told Diane Abbott to eff off, and when asked what the latter's response had been, said... she'd effed off.]

So I voted for her, this time.

Now she's also not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn (see last link), though even Peter Hitchens can understand why people might have turned to JC despite the increasingly hysterical Press campaign against him:

"It struck me as I watched him that he was far more dangerous than the Tories thought he was. His absolute courtesy and refusal to make personal attacks appealed to many in my generation who remember a different and in some ways better Britain.

"His realisation that George Osborne’s supposed economic miracle was a sham, and that many have lost hope of getting steady, well-paid jobs or secure homes, appealed to the young. He may not have any actual answers to these questions, but he at least knew they were being asked. His absolute opposition to the repeated stupid wars of recent years also has a wide appeal, in many cases to conservative-minded people and Service families sick of the waste of good lives."

Too right, especially on the last. [And as for the terrorists' friend stuff - who brokered the Good Friday Agreement? Not Jezza.] If this has buried New Labour, well and good. Blair and his Goebbels (1) threw away a golden, once in a generation opportunity to reshape our economy in 1997, preferring instead to start fighting the next election the day after the last one. All hail bankers, Russian mobsters and White Van Man. And personally, they did so well for themselves out of doing good for others, did they not?

I've decided that flawed as democracy may be - and more than it need be, seeing the 2011 collusion between the two major parties to prevent electoral reform - we ought to make the most of it. First, by asserting our sovereignty in the face of the empire-building Eurocracy; and then, by choosing politicians who take an interest in their own constituents.

When you vote in a General Election...

- you don't decide the Party leader - we saw that most recently with Gordon Brown and Theresa May
- you don't decide on a legally binding manifesto - Mrs May is even now gutting hers in the light of the election results
- you're merely one of some 70,000 registered voters in any case (2)
- and thanks to the rejection of any form of proportionate or transferable vote, you can't even express a partial approval of a second choice from the list

Perhaps Britain's problems are now insoluble by anyone, but for now, I shall reward with my wretched little votette the candidate who tries hardest to listen.

To quote the great man again: 'Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.'

(1) Truly a nasty character:

"Alastair Campbell, himself a former journalist for the Daily Mirror and Today, earned a reputation as a fearsome handler of the Press when he became Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman. As a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, he knows the tricks of the journalists' trade, but his communication sources also yield him plenty of ammunition to keep the scribblers' heads down when he wants to; and the threat to Marr, via Campbell's blog, came swiftly:

""It was sad to see Marr, perhaps with an eye to a few Monday morning cuttings, feel that he had to raise blogosphere rumours about Gordon going blind, or being on heavy medication of some sort. I know it will give him the passing satisfaction of pats on the back from journos … But it was low stuff. I'm sure Andrew would agree that everyone has certain areas of their life that they'd prefer not to be asked about live on TV."

"That's how it works, and that's why people in Mr Marr's position need to tell the truth and shame the devil, for otherwise the devil will know how to build on the weakness."

(2) Though I note with unholy joy the upset in Kensington as a quango queen with a misplaced sense of entitlement lost her seat by 200 votes. "The only mention of Lady Borwick that crept into my Facebook feed during the weeks before the vote related to her campaigns in defence of the antique trade," says Josie Cox in today's The Independent.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

SUNDAY MUSIC: The Jazz Singer Part 2, by Wiggia

As I said in Part One, the likes of Sinatra will not have a place here, not because they shouldn’t be but simply because they require a piece on their own and they have been covered in depth for what seems like forever. I could add little to the many excellent biographies on the likes of Sinatra, Bennett and Nat King Cole, or little to their music, which is available in bucket loads everywhere, rightly so.

What I wanted to do was in this second part was to showcase some less well-known artists and some from the current era. The last is difficult as jazz singing for males (as opposed to females) is almost a lost art. Why I know not, other than alternative forms probably pay a lot more.

We start with one or two not-so-new artists.

The late Jimmy Scott (1925 – 2014) is unusual for one special reason: “His unusual singing voice was due to Kallmann syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that limited his height to 4 feet 11 inches (150 cm) until the age of 37, when he grew by 8 inches (20 cm). The syndrome prevented him from reaching puberty and left him with a high voice.“

Scott became prominent as the lead singer with Lionel Hampton and had a top R&B hit with Hampton in 1950 with Everybody's Somebody's Fool - for which he received no credit ! His career faded in the late sixties and he returned to more mundane work for quite a long period.

His career was kickstarted in ‘91 after singing at a funeral. In ‘92 his album All the Way was put forward for a Grammy award and several successful albums followed, some crossing into more popular areas. In his 65 year career he performed with many of the greats of the period: Parker, Marsalis, Sarah Vaughan, Mingus, Hampton, Bud Powell, Quincy Jones and more.

This is the best version available of his own composition “Holding Back the Years” (the live versions do not have the sound quality):

Andy Bey was allegedly Coltrane's favorite singer. Born in ‘39 he started out as a singer pianist and appeared on Connie Francis' television show Startime. At seventeen he started his own trio with his two sisters called, inevitably, Andy and the Bey Sisters, who toured Europe as a group  for 16 months. Later he did some good work with Horace Silver and Garry Bartz and Dee Dee Bridgewater, and won the best jazz vocalist for 2003, and his album American Song was forwarded for a Grammy in 2005.

A wide ranging baritone voice is put to good use here with Never Let Me Go from the American Song album. He always reminds me of being a male Sarah Vaughan or Abbey Lincoln, which can’t be bad:

Difficult to believe that Mark Murphy who died in ‘15 was 83; like so many, he seemed to us as we get older to be a contemporary - worrying !

Another from a musical family, he learned the piano at seven and joined his brother's jazz dance group as the singer. He majored at uni in music and drama and performed on campus. After moving to NY in ‘54 he did work where he could find it as an actor and singer. His debut album for Decca, Meet Mark Murphy, sold well and he then moved to LA recording for Capitol before returning to NY and Riverside Records. His best jazz albums, Rah! (1961) and his favourite album That's How I love the Blues (1963), were for that label.

Between ‘63 and ‘72 he lived in England, working mainly as an actor, though still singing in clubs and on radio. He returned to the States where he recorded an album a year for fourteen years. In the mid-eighties there was a change in direction as he started to record Brazilian-based music. He continued to work into his eighties.

Stolen Moments:

Of all the more contemporary singers Kurt Elling stands out as the one who has in a word cracked it. He started in a family with church music and learned to play several instruments, he sang in his college choir and toured with them and became interested in jazz after hearing Brubeck, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock and Ella Fitzgerald.

At the start in Chicago he had to work part time as a barman and other jobs to pay the bills. In ‘95 he put together a tape of nine songs that he sent to Blue Note records where his debut album Close Your Eyes was nominated for a Grammy. He did a total of six albums for Blue Note then signed for Concord in 2006 where he remains today.

Elling has been the jazz singer in modern times. His poll-winning and awards are up there with the best. His delivery, smooth sound and timing are unquestionably spot on, but for me there has always been something missing. Is it the fact almost every number he sings sounds the same: the same tempo, the same delivery? This number is his most acclaimed and here he sings with the Sydney Orchestra. It makes no difference that he is not with a small jazz group as it sounds the same, very accomplished, but judge for yourselves:

A couple of lesser-knowns to finish. Well known in jazz circles but in the wide world outside not so much, Kevin Mahogany: his Wiki entry is quite short so a link is better than retyping parts on here:

A big man with a voice near to Joe Williams' (an insider's favourite), here he is live in ‘91 singing My Foolish Heart/Green Dolphin Street with the Ray Brown Trio:

Sachal Vasandani is not a well-known name over here. Born in Chicago in ‘78 he studied at the University of Michigan where he studied jazz and classical music. Originally he sang with Wynton Marsalis. His first album Eyes Wide Open was a success and his second in ‘09 We Move received critical acclaim; he also composes.

No More Tears:

What strikes me from the last three, and it is a purely personal view, is that there is little excitement. It is all very polished, crafted and delivered in a fault free style; there is none of the range put out by the likes of Torme or Sinatra and others. It is almost monotone, and maybe that is why the male jazz singer at this moment in time is in hibernation. We await someone who will get the old mojo going; at the moment, that is not likely.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Yet again, a victory for the wacko voting system

Labour got 262 seats out of the 650 in Parliament, on the basis of 40% of votes cast nationally. 40% of 650 seats is 260, so the actual result is a fair approximation, this time.

But although the Conservatives polled 42.4%, which proportionally should have given them 276 seats, actually they got 318 = 42 bonus Members of Parliament! 

So now they're getting back into bed with Ulster Protestants to make a workable coalition. What effect that will have in Northern Irish politics, who knows.

The system doesn't even work within individual constituencies, as I discussed six years ago*. In the 2005 General Election, only 220 MPs out of 650 obtained a majority of votes cast by their constituents; in 2010, only 217.

I expect it will turn out to be a similar picture when the results of this fiasco become available.

No wonder the inhabitants of The Bubble hate plebiscites like the EU Referendum; they're so used to gaming the usual rotten setup.

Friday, June 09, 2017

FRIDAY MUSIC: Billy Cowie, by JD

Some years ago I bought a CD called "La Chanson Bien Douce" which featured the poetry of Paul Verlaine set to music by Billy Cowie and sung by Cathryn and Lucie Robson. It is a beautiful and haunting record but I know very little about the artists involved. I have found this web site for Billy Cowie- and not much else.

But I have also found a wonderful and quirky selection of his music and dance choreography, including two songs from the aforementioned CD.

"Be not afeard: the isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again."

William Shakespeare - The Tempest

Sunday, June 04, 2017

SUNDAY MUSIC: The Jazz Singer

Al Jolson gives the title to this piece. Jolson and his climb from a child circus entertainer to the world's most popular entertainer is a story told on film and looked back upon in distaste today for performing in “blackface”, for those who believe he was in some way disrespectful of black people by some form of cultural appropriation; a label the progressives would love to and have hung on his memory, but they should read his life story here to see how ridiculous their claims are.

Jolson was not a jazz singer in modern terms, yet was the man who recognised the format of singing what came into your head as opposed to that written down as "jazz", a new word in those early days: the development of the blues into other forms of music.

This the most famous of his performances is now remembered for all the wrong reasons but in it - and this was 1927 - you can hear the elements of early jazz singing:

Virtually all the early jazz singers came from a blues background or interpreted blues in their repertoire. Louis Armstrong is often quoted as a jazz singer, and he was, but much of his singing was a leftover from the Jolson days in many respects. As an addition to his trumpet, part of the “entertainment” and in many ways more gratuitous in performing as a very obvious black man to white audiences, it didn’t harm his career but in retrospect it can be a bit cringeworthy to watch the act.

Joe Williams is always associated with the Basie band and quite rightly so as it was a match made in heaven. He sang with other big bands before Basie. Born in the deep South, he was taken to Chicago at an early age and sang in a gospel group in churches before singing with his first bands including Lionel Hampton without great success personally.

In 1950 he was singing in a club when Basie heard him. Their association lasted from ‘54 through to ‘61 and this was the period when “Number One Son” as Basie called him sprang to national prominence. After Basie, with whom he remained good friends, he toured,  performed and recorded as a solo artist and with various musicians and bands. He also had a regular television appearances and was in two films with Basie, plus the Crosby Show and Sesame Street. He worked on a regular basis until his death in Las Vegas in 1999 at the age of 80.

Here, inevitably with Basie, he sings his most influential song, one that saw him inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in’92 as having significant influence in jazz: Everyday I have the Blues, at a Basie reunion in ‘81 at Carnegie Hall:

Before Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing sang with Basie for thirteen years from ‘35 - ‘48 and was considered by many to be the best of all blues singers. Another from a musical family, he was unusual in that he attended college where he studied musical theory and then went to university.

Here is "Mister Five by Five", with the Benny Goodman Orchestra in 1958:

John Coltrane wanted to make this album, no hard be bop here, and choose Johnny Hartman to sing on this album John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. It was the only vocal album Coltrane ever did, recorded as it would be at the time at the Rudi Van Gelder studio in 1963 it became an instant success and a jazz classic. Why Hartman never had a higher profile in music is a mystery; a voice like syrup, wonderful tone and diction, yet apart from this never really appreciated outside those who know better. A superb artist, Hartman till this time did not consider himself to be a jazz singer !

Clint Eastwood gave a more than nodding nudge to Hartman's quality when in ‘95 he included four tracks from Hartman's out of print album Once in Every Life in his film Bridges of Madison County.

This version of My One and Only Love is considered to be the definitive one:

Frank Sinatra is capable of filling several of these pieces with his own work and life. His qualities don’t need repeating, they were there for everyone to see for decades, so I am not including him here. He deserves a lot more space than a single number - and what number, era, backing band would you choose? - but one singer, a contemporary of Sinatra’s who although well known was never quite considered to be in that top drawer by the public, was Mel Torme, the “Velvet Fog”. Torme was a child prodigy performing for money at the age of four (!), was a drummer in his elementary school band and in the same period acted in three separate radio programs. At sixteen his first song that he wrote and was published, “Lament to Love”, was a hit for Harry James; at eighteen he made his film début in Frank Sinatra's first film and his second film at twenty-two, “Good News”, made him a teen idol. In ‘44 he formed the Mel - Tones, the first jazz-influenced singing group.

After the war he started a solo singing career around 1947, became involved in cool jazz and started recording jazz albums in earnest. He never really stopped either, singing, acting, arranging and writing books, one of which contained these words about Patti Andrews of Andrews Sisters fame:

"They had more hit records to their credit than you could count, and one of the main reasons for their popularity was Patty Andrews. She stood in the middle of her sisters, planted her feet apart, and belted out solos as well as singing the lead parts with zest and confidence. The kind of singing she did cannot be taught, it can't be studied in books, it can't be written down. Long experience as a singer and wide-open ears were her only teachers, and she learned her lessons well."

Another book was the biography of Buddy Rich, a friend after they met when Rich was in the Marines in ‘44. In total he wrote 250 songs. How he found time to do all this and then tour the world averaging 200 appearances a year is mind-blowing, but he did. A stroke halted his work in ‘96 and another killed him in ‘99 at the age of 73. I am biased, always have been, but he like Sinatra with his perfect diction has always been my favourite jazz singer.

Here he is with his old mate Buddy Rich performing Love for Sale. It includes two items I normally abhor: drum solos and scat singing; for these two real musical giants, I make an exception.

- and this lovely version of Stardust:

This I include for one obvious reason: not only to show the entertainer and virtuoso that Torme was but also to see another much better side of Dusty Springfield:

Lastly, with George Shearing at Newport in ‘89: “It Was Just One of Those Things”...

I have indulged myself with Torme just a bit but he should have a lot more. He belonged to that group of people who grew up having to learn all the aspects of show business as well as their music. All were great entertainers who seemingly could turn their hand to whatever was required. It was a golden age and as with so much, not likely to return.

Part 2 of The Jazz Singer will follow.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Friday Night Is Music Night: 50 Years Of Sergeant Pepper, by JD

50 years ago! It really doesn't seem like it but it is indeed 50 years since the release of "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." The BBC are celebrating the occasion with a series of programmes on TV and radio.

The composer Howard Goodall will be presenting a documentary on the musical significance of this particular record. Writing in the Radio Times he explains why the Beatles' music is so innovative and, more importantly, why it is so good. But it’s these five tracks, he says, that raised the bar the highest:

Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite
She's Leaving Home
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Within You Without You
A Day In The Life

But this album didn't just come out of nowhere. They had been exploring new ideas and new sounds for a few years prior to 1967 and the evidence can be heard on some of their singles, notably Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane and in their two previous albums, Rubber Soul and Revolver.

For this selection I have taken three of Goodall's choices and added some others from those two earlier albums.

To fully understand the music and the culture of the sixties this book is essential; Revolution In The Head by Ian MacDonald -

It is a popular misconception that the Beatles were somehow the 'leaders' of the societal upheaval and the revolutionary protests of the sixties but that is just not true.

They were not revolutionary, they were radical which is a different thing entirely. The purpose of a Revolution, any revolution, is to overthrow the existing social and political order and replace it with a new order, to start again from scratch and usually based on some ideal to create some sort of utopia. A radical, on the other hand, will wish to effect change within an existing system because that system is perceived to have become sclerotic in its functioning or the people have become indolent. A radical idea will breathe new life into an existing tradition and tradition is no more than accumulated wisdom.

the English Radical Tradition -

The four Beatles were traditionalists, they were conservative with a small 'c' as can be seen in the first video above where they bow to their audience at the end of the song.

And they were small 'c' conservative in their attitude to the idea of rewards for endeavour (the labourer is worthy of his hire ) which is why Harrison wrote the song Taxman to reflect the 95% that was taken from their earnings by the Government. It wasn't just the sharks of the music industry trying to fleece them, they realised that the Government, then as now, is the biggest shark.

Seeing the 'revolutionary' fervour and the desire of these 'revolutionaries' to 'smash the system' and the obvious anarchic mayhem that would result from such thinking, the Beatles' thoughts were crystallised back to their traditional and conservative roots. They recorded three versions of the song Revolution but the single released in 1968 (as a double A side with Hey Jude) was unequivocal in its condemnation of such upheaval with lyrics including:

"But when you talk about destruction
Don't you know that you can count me out"
"But if you want money for people with minds that hate
All I can tell you is brother you have to wait"
"But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain't going to make it with anyone anyhow"

That couldn't be clearer and the record produced a furious reaction from the intelligentsia of the counter-culture. They accused the Beatles of betrayal! Of what, precisely? MacDonald in his book writes that the 'revolutionaries' all ended up with secure, well-paid jobs in advertising. It would be more accurate to say that the student protestors and the 'peace and love' hippies of the sixties grew up to become the 'greed is good' yuppies of the eighties. As Robert Anton Wilson wryly observed, "It only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea."

But the music endures. As I noted in a previous post (on art), in 100 years from now all the 'fussing and fighting' will be forgotten and the focus will be on the music because it is not politics which wins hearts and minds, it is art.

Vita brevis, ars longa.