Friday, August 25, 2023

Fun at the Fringe


The Edinburgh festival was everything I expected and more.

I went with a bunch of mates with the core aim of having a laugh.

I guess if you go to a comedy festival for three days you should expect to.

I also came away with the shock revelation that local Tameside MP Angela Rayner likes music, dancing, vaping and having a drink on holiday with her mates.

I was literally there in the room when she said this to one of my favourite comedians, Matt Forde, in a live recording of his Political Party podcast. 

“You've got to go with the music, the vibes. You've got to be in the moment and it takes you.” 

Naturally, the Daily Mail presented this as a gotcha. 

While the Conservative supporting paper was willing to accept the explanation that Boris Johnson was ‘ambushed by a cake’ and hard working Downing Street staff only partied during the long dark days of lockdown because of the pressure of running the country, the coverage of Angela’s holiday story was dripping with judgement and finger wagging. 

It also triggered all the worst people on social media.  

You want your politicians to be serious and capable and willing to address the challenges of passing laws to make our lives better. She did all of that, but unsurprisingly it didn’t make the cut of the article in the Mail. 

It did trigger over 4000 people to add comments. Some of them saying ‘good for her’ but most just joining the pile on.

But I think for the most part it made her come across as human, as she always does. I’ve known her for over 8 years when she was a trade union rep in Stockport and I have seen her grow in confidence and stature.

But she’s also the same Ange in many ways. Good for her.

We didn’t go to the festival to be outraged by this, and we weren’t, but to be entertained.

The highlight for me was seeing Failsworth born comic Josh Jones, the brother of one of my best mates Sam and the butt of much of his material.

As well as loads of hilariously filthy revelations that I couldn’t possibly share in a family newspaper, Josh also ripped through stories of growing up in Manchester as Sam’s younger brother.

His whole act is a celebration of being gay and Mancunian and it was a riot. More of this please, I can thoroughly recommend seeing him when he next goes on tour.

The best thing about the Edinburgh Fringe Festival though is the moments of chance.

We played a game called “Fringe Chicken” where you randomly pick something high risk and just go with the flow, possibly the next flyer you get handed. 

The joke amongst our group was that last year they’d been to see North Korean wrestling, and it was as weird as you’d expect. Some of them hated it. Some just embraced the oddity.

This year we saw The Dark Room, a bizarre one-man show with John Robertson and the world's only live-action, text-based adventure game. I know, sounds insane, but it worked. 

We also ran into so-called comedian Stewart Lee, who I had seen in Buxton last year. I am terrible at making conversation with celebrities and mumbled something about looking forward to seeing him in Buxton again next year. 

He said it wouldn’t be for a couple of years as he was there in March. 

I had to correct him and tell him his own schedule and that he’s starring there on Friday the 24th of February 2024. A bit cringe, but we’ll be there.

Friday, August 11, 2023

Picking a side in the culture war

The culture wars are playing out everywhere this summer, including on our chilled out radio show. 

I hinted at this last week when the horrible right wing press cried crocodile tears over the death of Sinead O’Connor. The same lizards that will have mocked her mental illness, decried her efforts to expose injustice and sneered at her appearance.

I want the world to be nicer. I want people to be kind.

I would much rather we didn’t boil the planet and left somewhere habitable for our kids and grandkids.

I think my politics are pretty middle of the road, and all of the things I marched against in the 1980s when I was called a loony lefty, are pretty much accepted societal norms now. 

You know, not being a nazi, a racist, or being horrible to someone because of who they love.

Or arresting Irish people and throwing them in jail for crimes they haven’t done.

For me, music represents an opportunity to promote harmony, as well as occasionally being a voice for the voiceless. 

But the people who are fighting the culture war now are the perpetually angry, the frightened and confused who ended up winning a referendum in 2016 and don’t know what to do with the Brexit they won.

Stripped of one enemy without - those dratted eurocrats and bureaucrats - they are now constantly on the hunt for enemies within. Refugees, trans people, protestors, students, Mick Lynch.

The Daily Mail even publishes a Woke List. 

None of whom have been responsible for putting our energy bills up, or pumping sewage into our rivers, lakes and seas, or bringing the NHS to its knees and swollen the waiting lists to 7 million people.

None of them have pushed kids into food poverty, a mental health crisis and prevented our housing stock increasing to meet demand.

In the 80s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister I had plenty of friends who were Tories because their parents had bought their council house, their Dad had started his own business and they thought they might make a few quid off British Telecom shares. 

She had a dream, however flawed and selfish, of people owning their own house or business.

Harry Enfield had a character, Loadsamoney, he symbolised the spirit.

Even bands and fanzines could claim an enterprise allowance to claw out of unemployment by another route. 

But what have we got now? 

A few years ago, the former local DJ and Peak District sauce seller Elliot Eastwick created a comedy character called Ged, as in ‘Get it Done’ (say it quickly). 

He wore a flat cap, drove a wagon and supported Brexit.

He thought Boris was great, because he would ‘get it done’. 

Whatever ‘it’ was.

But Ged was no more ridiculous than Lee Anderson, the Tory party deputy chairman. Railing at the “woke brigade”. 

Same with GB News, Nigel Farage, and that bloke from Stalybridge who writes long letters to this newspaper. 

As a conservative, what does Lee Anderson want to conserve?

What do they think is good about the country?  What does the party they support feel proud of after running the country for 13 years? 

But it’s worse than that, because the parody has become the reality. Spewing hate, like sewage into the sea, is all they’ve got.

I’m not laughing anymore. The culture war is real. And this radio show has picked a side.

And we’re going to win, do you know why? Because despite everything we’ve got the best artistic parodies, like Cold War Steve (pictured), the best comedy, which I’ll be enjoying in Edinburgh next week, and the best music. 

And what have you ever produced? Jim Davidson.

Thursday, August 03, 2023

No, not Sinead


No, not Sinead, we both said. Of all the deaths that Music Therapy has lamented, then the tragic, awful, desperate sad loss of Sinead O’Connor has hit us the hardest.

We slipped a couple of songs that featured her on last week’s show.

But she’s been a constant since we started the show. Not only the greatest ever cover version, the transformation of a beautiful buried ballad in the archive of His Purple Highness (Prince) but Sinead truly did such an amazing, heart-rending job of making Nothing Compares 2 U her absolute own, that most tributes absolutely led on it last week.

Whenever I put together a playlist for our show, and add it to Spotify, and the anoraks amongst you are very welcome to take a look, then the next song the Spotify Artificial Intelligence powered robots suggest is Jah Wobble’s Invaders of the Heart, featuring Sinead O’Connor, singing ‘Visions of You’. 

Stockport-based Jah Wobble, or Jon Wardle to his family, described her input into the project as “a huge act of generosity”. 

In one of the many, many tributes to her he added: “Typical of her. Refused to take a penny for the session. That track had a massive positive influence on my life. From writing the track with her voice in mind, through to recording it was transcendental.”

Her own songs were incredible too, I Am Stretched on Your Grave and Thank You For Hearing Me, and not just her covers. Though as well as NC2U, her rendition of John Grant's Queen of Denmark is off the scale.

I saw her perform just once, in 2011 at the Manchester International Festival.  

She performed a mix of old songs and new and, yes she did do THAT Prince cover. 

I remember saying at the time that her voice was truly incredible, of that there is no doubt. 

Some of her lyrics are breathtakingly poignant and reflect her complex and confused life - abusive mother, sexual orientation issues, bipolar, relationships, her vacillating faith. 

She carried with her such brutal honesty - such baggage - which clearly brought many hazards. 

As she told her own stories between the songs she never tried to hide anything. It was all laid bare. 

She was really good and I came away slightly comforted that she seemed to have found a kind of peace, and had begun to appreciate the talent she possesses and the respect she still has.

To remind myself of the date I found a review from the Daily Mail. Sure enough they were brutally rude about her and horrible, frankly. Spare me your false tears.

On the evidence of the concert I thought she was on the brink of a bit of a comeback. Her band was very tight and her reggae influences show a varied musical style that nicely complemented her own powerful vocal strength.

Last year, however, she lost her youngest son Jake to suicide. I honestly can’t comprehend how any parent recovers from such a trauma.

But she was recording new material. It is heart breaking that it has taken her death for so may to express the admiration and love they had for her, and the understanding and solidarity with her struggles, be they against the deeply conservative and repressive forces of Ireland’s Catholic church, the patriarchy, the media and the music business.

There have also been re-publications of some of her most memorable open letters. One to Miley Cyrus was priceless and direct.  

I don’t even know if it’s real or fake, but her response to Piers Morgan to a request to come on his show was hilarious. I can't repeat it in a family newspaper, but look it up.

RIP Sinead O’Connor.