Thursday, December 22, 2016

Such a Little Time - Remembering Ulster's James Young

Our Jimmy, James Young, Ulster Troubles, Northern Ireland

The Ulster comic actor and theatrical solo performer James Young has been referenced many times on this blog in the past - this will be the third and final main post about him. He remains such an interesting character in Irish social history, gay culture and in the day-to-day back story of an Ulster at war in the Sixties and Seventies.

Young is remembered in the main for his connection with the Group Theatre in Belfast's Bedford Street, his bestselling vinyl records that were produced by the Emerald label and for the BBC Northern Ireland Saturday Night television shows in 1973 and 1974. On both record and stage he combined fast witted urban humour - particularly hysterical in the rambling main show introductions - with reflective monologues on life, hardship and death in working class communities.

The two most famous - and indeed saddest - of his monologues in the latter context are arguably I Loved a Papist and Slum Clearance. The first centers around a fateful love affair set fast against the tide of history as lived and the second about how eviction from a condemned house appeared to the elderly resident concerned as threatening to terminate a spiritual connectivity to his own family past.

Young's catalogue of work is so rich and varied in content. There is The Feud - arguably his finest dramatic performance - about how a sectarian grudge between two tough Belfast youths ended in both tragedy and revelation many miles away from Ireland's bitter shores. We Emigrated is another wonderful piece which recalls the experience of emigrants from Ulster in North America. It is somewhat hammy in delivery but at the same time terribly moving when he notes how within transplanted communities in the New World the Catholic-Protestant Christian divide stood as naught and how only distance can sometimes make one retrospectively embrace the positivities of Irish life - the rain, bigotry and everything. Indeed The Feud also references the garnering awareness of a Belfast father of his son's loneliness in New York  - more and more he talked of Ireland and the people that he knew, the letters sounded lonely  - which Young delivers to perfection.

The four monologues I have always found particularly interesting with Young are those that closed the live shows - they can be found on the Ulster Group Theatre performances captured on the albums Young  at Heart, Young and Foolish, James Young's 4th and The Young Ulsterman. To put these into context - the first political murders of the Troubles took place in 1966, civil disorder escalated from late 1968 through into 1969, full scale terrorist activity coalesced from late 1970 onwards and mid-1971 saw Northern Ireland teeter on the brink of civil war. The Young albums referenced were released in 1966, 1967, 1969 and 1973.

Why I Am Here from Young at Heart has the actor answering a question from a pedestrian on a Belfast street as to why he had not attempted to broaden his artistic horizons upon the London or New York stage. Young talks about the physical beauty of the countryside, the community and warmth of the Belfast people underneath the perennial political passions and the homesickness that so many emigrants have felt over the years. The piece ends with Young's wish to end his days in Belfast and his faith in how his talent can perhaps help Northern Ireland people weigh up the questionable rationale underpinning their religious animosities.

Salute to Belfast from Young and Foolish returns to this call of home when Young overhears a passenger on an airbus smugly allude to how easy Belfast is to get away from. In his reply he talks about the meetings he has had over the years with exiles from Belfast resident abroad, the memories they shared with him of places and characters from the past and how the light seemed to fade from their eyes when the conversation drew to a close.

This is Us from James Young's 4th discusses the onset of civil disorder and how the British media selectively ignored the everyday warmth and common sense of the Ulster people and their industrial achievements in their blanket focus on extremism, violence and the foregone collapse of what they presented as a grotesquely constructed and politically fallible Northern state.

We're Here For Such a Little Time from The Young Ulsterman has been discussed in an earlier post with Young juxtaposing the physical beauty of Ulster with the civic destruction and communal loathing now engrained in society to such a degree that it has turned his earlier faith in a core community base of shared labour experience and folk memory into a literal sick joke.

Young's work is well worth tracking down to this day. In the midst of terrible butchery - that is now being conveniently qualified as an essentially just war for civil rights by the credit-free mainstream media and pliant on-message academics - Young shone a light onto the existent bonds in Ulster society and the bridges that were yet to be burnt. He provided an extraordinary narrative of a society enduring years of directionlessness, confusion, brutality, disorder and rank strangeness and helps us to recall the people of those times - that communal backbone, capacity for endurance and an emotional energy that will never be seen again on these islands.

Also - for all the smug arrogance of the British elites in living memory - the Ulster Troubles actually do as an historical fact throw up endless examples of political intelligence that are going to be needed sorely over the course of the next calendar year. This to both resolve governmental and party political  mistakes of biblical consequence and to heal societal breaches that now appear beyond the influence of man or God alike.

Happy Christmas to all the regular readers of Saturday Buddha.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Saturday Buddha at Christmas - A Different Kind of Christmas

T Rex, Marc Bolan, Christmas

Several weeks ago came confirmation that the past decade has seen both a decline in national  living standards and a stagnation of social mobility in Britain not experienced since the 1820s. Analysis within this blog over the years of course has clearly pointed to these horrifying financial pressures on middle income Britain that have turned life into a daily struggle for millions of hard workers with neither fairness nor respite and indeed little prior warning of the scale of this grotesque fall.

The interpolation of this domestic misery within globalist economic logic and human demographic shifts clearly underpinned the summer vote on Brexit - even to the mindset of a newborn lamb. With that populist wave now being copperfastened by the American Presidential result we find ourselves in an extraordinarily strange political atmosphere off the back of blanket mainstream media silence regarding the true catalysts involved and the reality checks now due upon various demented political agendas. Other important player-actors and troupes within this great drama are likewise saying naught and looking innocently skyward.

The alternative Irish commentator and broadcaster Thomas Sheridan recently discussed Brexit and the Trump victory and presented them as a deliverance from hell itself  - albeit into a form of purgatory as a clearly open-ended period of achingly slow yet common sense-driven political transition/salvation. I myself also see the political status quo at the turn of this year in similar purgatorial ways - albeit gauged on how the aforesaid civic silence regarding the true factors which drove this year to its historic end has now stonewalled all rational public debate outside adolescent social media hysteria.

We are living through days of morbidity, stasis and confusion because the biggest political questions affecting a raft of British generations lies buried behind a mound of media obfuscation that has even trumped the dark psychological masterclass of the Ulster peace process or the selective dumbness over the deconstruction of London as a capital city.

And meanwhile one terrestrial television station's weekday evening newcasts continues to scream forth hysterical cultural marxist diatribes at every juncture when clearly the British public in the main would clearly rather hear about lost cats in Devon being reunited with their elderly owners. The same channel broadcasting crass retrospectives of Seventies' television viewing to accompanying asexual nerdish comedians' faux distain of the racist, sexist and utterly vile Britons of the period. People like my grandparents who lived through the Blitz, two world wars, two civil wars and exploitative low-wages in the mills and factories of West Belfast.

Some days ago in turn I listened to a news and current affairs programme on another British broadcaster's Northern Irish radio output. They got into the festive spirit with their own version of Kids Say The Funniest Things by asking infants what they thought various diminutive names for local political parties meant. This included one party symbiotically connected to an Irish guerilla organisation responsible for the deaths of over 1500 people. I am wont to reflect upon the words from the Book of Revelation here - And in their mouth was found no guile for they are without fault before the throne of God. I am also wont to think of a young handicapped neighbour of my grandparents who was murdered 40 years ago this month by the same brave men - many of whose veterans are due to enjoy their turkey sandwiches in a few hours time. Such are the depths of pure degradation this country has sunk to.

A year of populist revolt thus terminates in an atmosphere of seething contempt for professional party politics - this alongside a quizzical communal confusion as to how this must now play out without any new and legitimate political grouping to mentor and guide the most explosive lightning bolt in post-war European history druid-like towards a positive earthly location.

As the celebration of Christ's birth and the winter solstice approaches the tide of history enters a brief, bewildered and idiot abeyance with 2017 promising a sobering and deeply serious denouement of all the above.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Day of the Tartan - A New Ulster History

Ulster Tartan Gangs, Northern Ireland, Ulster Troubles, Gareth Mulvenna

Just a brief year-end flag-up to one of the most interesting books I have read on Irish history for quite some time that was published earlier in 2016.

Gareth Mulvenna's work on the loyalist Tartan gangs of the early Seventies is a genuinely revelatory study of both the development of the Northern Ireland conflict and the significant role that working class loyalist youth played in Belfast's urban disorder in the very early days. The book clearly emplaces the Tartan phenomena against wider British teenage culture of the period  -  by way of glam rock, Richard Allen's scary Skinhead pulp novels and football hooliganism etc - and the road to subsequent paramilitary involvement.

Since the qualified peace in Ulster took hold in the Nineties there has been nowhere near enough left-field material of this quality coming on board. This aside from research firewalled behind expensive academic press prints that by all rights and all commerical logic should be widely accessible. I am thinking of the extraordinary Black Magic and Bogeymen: Fear, Rumour and Popular Belief in Northern Ireland 1972-1974 by Richard Jenkins to that end in particular.  I read this slack-jawed at the British Library in acknowledgement of the fact that this fantastic book was going to have to be a very expensive Christmas present to myself.

One other recent study of paramilitary loyalism in this context is retailing for a mere 82 pounds sterling on every digital bookselling outlet. Even though Mulvenna's work references a full-scale firefight in my own granny's street in North Belfast in 1971 I would not have paid that much money to read about it.

Tartan Gangs and Paramilitaries is complemented by Geoffrey Beattie's autobiographical We Are The People and Protestant Boy memoirs about my own childhood locale (1992 and 2004) and the fascinating posts on the Belfast Stories blog - both offer highly recommended insights into barely contained Irish civil war, class fractures in Protestant Ulster, the long violent outplay of the British in Ireland and now decimated Northern British industrial communities.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Brexit Britain - A New Day Yesterday

Brexit, 36th Ulster Division, Battle of the Somme

And so last week a four-decade-long political and socio-economic timebomb - merrily helped along past critical mass instability by years of deregulated financial devilment and venal personal greed by large segments of the British population - erupted off the back of two detonators provided by European Union membership. Britain will never be the same again in terms of the balance of our political classes - the European Project in turn lies in total disarray due to grotesque mismanagement and sneering arrogance.

This blog, as a small and very humble contribution to British and Irish social history,  has of course touched base often with much of the toxic contents of the aforesaid device and as brought to you by our nation's unique class divisions - the Ponzi property scam, banking criminality, the cultural denigration of the Old Labour working class communities, population transfers with concomitant senses of rank entitlement in tow, imbecilic celebrity worship, stagnant private sector wages, selective historical amnesia buried within the Northern Ireland peace process, the deconstruction of London as a national capital city, cultural marxist overload in advertising and the mainstream media, asset stripping, hard working professionals lodged in squalid rental accomodation for a king's ransom, lack of career opportunities and pathways for social progression, permanent austerity and the North-South divide. We lived in a very happy contented land last Wednesday.

Back in the mid-Seventies off the back of the Ulster Workers Council strike - another political earthquake which followed upon a democratic political mandate remember  - the Marxist writer Tom Nairn's The Break Up of Britain had of course touched base with national political fractures as galvinised by an Ulster at war and the question of devolution for the Celtic peripheral of the UK in Scotland and Wales. The political shock of last week underscoring how the endgame all along - for those with insight to see the lie of the political land in the past 20 years - was going to be focused on the English core of our nation.

Surely any society living through this strained degree of disconnectivity with the past - from consideration of my own great-grandfather's experiences on the Somme front with the Royal Irish Rifles exactly 100 years ago this morning through to the memories of a Seventies childhood of community, warmth, home, decency, place and belonging - is not fit for purpose. No amount of social media screeching, awkward friendship fallouts or generational fractures can take away from this. If anything it merely underscores the hopelessness of ever scientifically fusing north, south, east and west when nobody cares to know where the centre is situated or the mechanics of what makes it mechanically and emotionally tick.

From what I can garner from the order of battle my great-grandfather was in the second wave of soldiers attacking the Schwaben Redoubt on 1st July 1916 - he must have seen sights of hell's own creation that morning in Flanders as the Ulstermen progressed further than any other body of infantry on the Allied front and paid the price of 5,500 casualties including 2,000 dead. The two pictures accompanying this blogpost are of northern Irish soldiers from the Royal Irish Rifles and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. So remember the Protestant and Catholic fallen of a then British Ireland today as well as the brave men who returned to a deeply unsympathetic future on these islands - never forget the sacrifices of the 36th Ulster Division and the 16th Irish Division.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Messrs Hancock and Rimmer

Tony Hancock, The Rebel, Peter Cook, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

Revisited two truly great British movies over the recent Bank Holiday that in different ways reflect very stark modern-day realities in the United Kingdom - Tony Hancock's 1961 The Rebel and Peter Cook's 1970 The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer. Hancock's movie was the sixth most successful British film of that year at the box office while Cook's political satire was a commercial and critical failure - having had its release held back so as to not coincide with the General Election of that year when Labour's Harold Wilson lost to Edward Heath's Conservative and Unionist Party.

Whereas the latter half of The Rebel tends to fundamentally stall in the main - and I personally have never seen the appeal of Hancock's second and final film The Punch and Judy Man of the following year - the earlier segments of the movie remain utterly joyous. Hancock portrays a thoroughly disgruntled and soul-destroyed banking clerk who dreams of the bohemian life and one day leaves surburban London commuter hell and goes for it in cool France. The scene where he is down to his last sous in a Boho Parisian cafe and becomes so inspired to be even within hearing distance of impassioned artistic debate all around him is priceless. The hook of the movie being that his utterly crap, infantile and shitty art suddenly becomes seen as valid cutting edge product off the back of his own hamstrung idiotic misinterpretations for the awestruck Beatnik cognoscenti.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer sunk Peter Cook's career in one fell swoop as a solo headline performer though alike Cook and Dudley Moore's 1967 Bedazzled time has been very kind to this work. The movie is essentially the story of a marketing and PR genius' rise to prominence within political Conservatism - without ever breaking sweat or questioning the moral codes of society in truly psychopathic fashion.

The cast of both films are interesting in turn - The Rebel has John Le Mesurier as Hancock's dreary City boss and one of the angry artistes in the cafe in the beginning is a young Oliver Reed. The Cook movie has a great peformance from Le Mesurier's Dad's Army superior Arthur Lowe as an advertising manager whose cushy life is about to be obliterated by the amoral Rimmer down to the point of having to sell his own furniture and car under his wife's nose in the wake of his slick rival's career light flight. Other well known cast members include Graham Chapman, Ronnie Corbett, Diana Coupland, Michael Bates, Ronald Fraser and Denholm Elliott - all of whom are now deceased.

In reality Tony Hancock and Peter Cook were complex personalities on so many fronts and lived fundamentally foreshortened lives - Hancock committed suicide in Sydney in 1968 at the age of only 44 while Cook died of alcohol-related liver damage in 1995 when 57 years of age. Both The Rebel and The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer do seem so clearly relevant to irreversible societal changes of the modern day and especially with regard to modern London - vile greed, grotesque media spin, avarice that has altered the national DNA forever, the distancing of the general public from the political classes, staggering social immobility and the retardation of creative endeavour among them.

Indeed recently while on a walk through the bland remnants of Soho to see the new blue plaque to Mary Millington in Great Windmill Street I noticed a chain of art shops in the West End whose frontage was emblazoned with the legend TURN LONDON INTO A CITY OF ARTISTS. The irony being almost overwhelming in a city whose experience of one of the biggest population transfers in global history in the past decade now overlaps with what would certainly appear to be an imminent
collapse in property values off the back of grim Ponzi mischief that will end in very big and very bitter tears. In turn having a creative talent today that is even the equivalent of being in Birkenhead in 1959 with a flashy Rickenbaker and a good voice may alas count for sweet fuck all in the scale of things.

Check out both of these films at some point with regard to a devastated London, a lost England and a mangled British value system.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Belfast Burning - The Luftwaffe Blitz of April and May 1941

Belfast Blitz, 1941, The Blitz, Luftwaffe

I watched this city burning with a bitter scarlet flame
                     And I heard the banshee sirens when those big black bombers came
        But we kept the sea lanes open under Churchill's mighty plan
                     Till the victory day when you danced away round the Ould Black Man

The Ould Black Man was a monologue performed by the Ulster comic actor James Young at the Group Theatre in Belfast's Bedford Street in the late Sixties - it can be heard on his third album It's Great To Be Young which was released in 1968. The eponymous subject is the statue of the 19th Century Presbyterian leader Henry Cooke on Great Victoria Street and his musings on the city's changing social complexion  - from the heavily populated and industrialised early part of the 20th century through to the swinging youth culture of the time.

The lines quoted above refer to the four Luftwaffe attacks on Belfast in April and May 1941- the second of the raids on Easter Tuesday caused the single highest death toll for any aerial bombardment during the Blitz on Britain outside of London. 900 men, women and children were murdered in one of the least protected cities in the United Kingdom. This particular raid also left 1,500 people injured and 50,000 homes destroyed - fatalities were also caused in Derry City, Bangor and Newtownards on that 15th of April 1941 night.

An ecumenical service of commemoration was held last month in Belfast on the 75th anniversary for the dead of the Belfast Blitz - alongside the unveiling of  plaques at the Falls Road Public Swimming Baths and the central St George's Market which would both be used as temporary morgues. Other plaques have been erected near the scenes of significant death tolls around the city such as Percy Street on the Shankill Road where thirty died when a landmine struck an air raid shelter. Percy Street lay on the Protestant-Catholic interface in West Belfast and that night many Shankill Protestants sheltered in the Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road.

A BBC microsite on the Belfast Blitz includes four incredibly well made five minute-animations which reference many of the events now enshrined in the folk memory of the city. These include the possibility that Luftwaffe bombing patterns were focused on residential areas because of the misidentification of the Belfast waterworks as the docks, the destruction of many potentially dangerous animals at Belfast zoo (although a baby elephant was secretly looked after each night in one female keeper's own home), the aid given by the east coast fire services of Eire to their fellow Irishmen and the independent Unionist MP Tommy Henderson's assurance to the Stormont establishment that the sectarian mixing going on in the Ulster countryside between the working classes who had fled the city had clearly lead to a firm conclusion by all that "the government is no good."

Both my parents were in Belfast on the night of the Easter Tuesday raid as children and both of my grandparents' homes suffered serious structural damage in the north and west of the city, My father recalls being brought to the basement of his local primary school in the Oldpark district from where he could see the local church burning and that the end terrace house on his street was completely destroyed with the death of an entire family group.  The four raids destroyed eleven churches, two hospitals and two schools across the city in general as well as severe damage to industrial infrastructure.

The story of the Belfast blitz is covered in great detail in a definitive study by Brian Barton from 1989. It was was also discussed in a full chapter - Many Fires Were Started - of Robert Fisk's 1985 classic history of the respective neutral and belligerent statuses of a politically divided Ireland In Time Of War. The Blitz also provided the background for the author Brian Moore's superb novel The Emperor of Ice Cream in 1965 - Moore having served in the air raid warden services in North Belfast at the time and with the book juxtaposing Irish Republican glee at Britain's geopolitical mistfortunes with the mass murder that ensued in 1941 on the streets of proletarian Belfast. The late Moore is little discussed now though I remember well listening to an interesting lecture he gave in the early Nineties at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts on his Troubles thriller Lies of Silence.

Philip Orr's moving history of the 36th Ulster Division - The Road to the Somme - references a Shankill Road family who refused to leave the area after 1916 off the back of two family members who were reported "missing, believed killed" in Picardy and their wish to remain in the house in hope of their physical return. On the anniversary of the first day of the battle on 1st July the family always flew the Union Flag from their house in memory of the fallen - as indeed did my own great-grandfather for that one day alone in respect of his comrades from the 15th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. Orr references how their house was destroyed during the 1941 blitz but on the first day of July a neighbour organised some local teenagers to emplace the flag on top of the rubble in order to maintain the continuity of the tradition.

As the BBC animations show, one of the main aerial routes the German planes took on their way to attack the great port city of Belfast was northbound along the coast of the beautiful Ards Peninsula by Strangford Lough - one of the most idyllic parts of the British Isles to this day. Architectural destruction of central Belfast over the course of the attacks was extremely severe on the third of the major raids in particular - the "Fire Raid" on the night of the 3rd of May.

Less than thirty years later an unprecedented sectarian conflict was to continue the destruction of the city centre and bring it to the point of social extinction and societal obliteration. A conflict whose outplay is today epitomised by the common sense, warmth and humanity of the working people who healed the breach and moved on as opposed to a Troubles legacy now apparently owned by dry academic and sociological verbiage that denies human agency or the misreading of history at all costs.

Much is yet to be gleaned in future from the course and consequences of the Spring 1941 German air raids on Belfast as to how a life or death struggle engendered class solidarity across Belfast's religious divide and one unforgettable gesture towards national reconciliation - this as sadly opposed to how the fossilisation of cultural identity in Ireland by the Forties would irrevocably steer society into sterile social relations and bloody conflict alike.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Ricky Warwick - Tank McCullough Saturdays

Northern Ireland musician Ricky Warwick is due to shortly release two solo albums - one acoustic, one electric and seven years after 2009's Belfast Confetti. Just heard this incredible song from the forthcoming Hearts On Trees release about a long disappeared industrial Belfast and the old Saturday heroes. A truly amazing piece of work.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Elvis Costello's Golden Records

Elvis Costello, The Attractions, Punk Rock

The previous blogpost considered how both Sgt Ernie Bilko and Sgt Elvis Presley - as reflections of a decade that is so beyond reach and memory now - still effortlessly display creative dynamics of an ilk that puts the modern day to mortifying shame. I first heard Elvis' proto-punk A Big Hunk O' Love racket on the album whose sleeve featured the famous image of the singer in his gold lame suit - Elvis' Golden Records Volume 2 which is more commonly known by its 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong subtitle. Elvis appearing so handsome on the cover he barely looked human.

There were four albums originally released in this compilation series - in 1958, 1959, 1963 and then in 1968. The Golden Records collections contain some interesting material that have remained well under the radar across the years for the more general listener - Lieber and Stoller's classic Don't, the fantastically catchy Witchcraft, Pomus and Shuman's A Mess of Blues and the She's Not You lounge
classic b-side Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello.

The year that the fourth volume was released Elvis would enter the now long-defunct American Sound Studios at 827 Thomas Street Memphis to record some of the greatest popular music ever in Suspicious Minds, The Grass Won't Pay No Mind, Kentucky Rain,  Power Of My Love, In The Ghetto and much much more. Oddly enough RCA never released another volume in the series in his lifetime - Volume 5 arrived only in 1984 and included his greatest Seventies song of all in Burning Love.

The other Elvis who could clearly fill eight to ten sides of Golden Records released his autobiography Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink in late 2015 and it has proved to be a fascinating insight into both his own life history and that of his parents and grandparents. It is a very funny self-deprecating read and often incredibly moving in turn.

Declan Patrick McManus was born in 1954 in Paddington in West London and moved to Birkenhead on Merseyside in his late teens. His paternal and maternal family roots of course lie on the island of Ireland - home to some of the most unique and original folk wit on earth. This to be considered in tandem to the uniquely jet black humour located within the maritime and industrial triangle of Belfast, Liverpool and Glasgow.

That especial kind of wry Irish humour and lateral thought often travelled easily across the Irish Sea in popular culture and despite the political conflicts of the 20th century. This underscoring the pointless social fractures and animosities between the working people of the two islands - divisions that rampant historical revisionism is doing nothing to heal within Northern Ireland itself today. This in large part thanks to the selective blindness of the flaccid, unrespected and finished British mainstream media.

Growing up in Belfast in the late Seventies I remember buying both Elvis Costello and the Attraction's Chelsea and Pump It Up vinyl singles on the Radar label. This would have been 1978. After that he released Radio Radio and then a song directly inspired by witnessing the sheer youth of British squaddies on duty in downtown Belfast when playing a concert there. It was named after the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Wales between 1653 and 1658 -  Oliver's Army.

My knowledge of his material essentially ends with 1994's Brutal Youth album but regarding that - and the thirteen albums that proceeded it - the quality of his output is utterly extraordinary in scope, deep intelligence and eclectisim. The 1978 debut single Less Than Zero about the British Union of Fascists leader and former MP for Harrow Oswald Mosley, Pump It Up's b-side Big Tears,  the theme from the Channel 4 series Scully in Turning The Town Red, Girls Talk which would be covered by Dave Edmunds and Rockpile and Goon Squad about the heavy price to be paid for anybody not playing the straight game in life. There is Night Rally, Green Shirt, White Knuckles, Clubland, Man Out of Time, You Little Fool, Shipbuilding, Brilliant Mistake, I Want You, London's Brilliant Parade, My Science Fiction Twin or just the sheer overwhelmingly high quality of songs on 1980's  Get Happy alone - The Imposter, Possession, King Horse, Man Called Uncle and New Amsterdam. Tieing in with an earlier blogpost - and on the 1989 album Spike - Costello's Any King's Shilling analyses the quandries of national identity and military service within British Ireland in a period of revolutionary upheaval.

I saw Elvis Costello and Attractions keyboardist Steve Nieve perform in the mid-Nineties at the Royal Festival Hall in a very very different manifestation of London. In fact since my last reference to the changing landscapes of the capital it would appear that the Soho mainstay Stockpot is now gone on Old Compton Street and Kettners restaurant on nearby Romily Street is following suit. Even Hampstead Heath these days resembles Flanders Fields in terms of the scale of physically and spiritually overwhelming reconstruction work afoot.

Costello left Britain in the early Eighties and still lives in the USA today - after his 2005 peformance at the Glastonbury Festival he claimed that he had no desire to play in the country again: I don't get along with it. We lost touch. I don't dig it. They don't dig me. Have a listen to Costello tonight if you are thinking of leaving the confines of Austerity Britain yourself in the near future - remember what a creative hotbed London and these islands used to be and why you would never have once even considered the notion.

As an afterthought to all the above, in a two-part BBC documentary filmed some years back the late Terry Wogan travelled across Ireland both north and south. The final scenes were filmed outside the residence of the President of Ireland at Phoenix Park Dublin. During the period when the Presidency was held by Mary Robinson - who had resigned from the Irish Labour Party in 1985 in protest at the strategic implementation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement as affecting the rights and dignity of the Unionists in Ulster - a light was permanently kept lit in an upper storey window for all the people of Ireland who left voluntarily or had been pressured into emigration, That light underscoring that it would always and forever remain home for the departed and their bloodline. This indeed was the subject matter of a very moving monologue Salute to Belfast performed by the comic actor James Young at the Ulster Group Theatre in the city and released on the album Young and Foolish in 1967 some years before widespread civil disorder and urban terrorism erupted.

I wonder how many people in Britain tonight can relate to Elvis Costello's sense of cultural disconnectivity? Furthermore, how many lights are ever likely to shine at dead of night in memory of living, leaving, passing and human worth in a land of such greed and avarice as this now is?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Say Anything You Want - Sgt Bilko and Fort Baxter Memories

Sgt Bilko, Phil Silvers, Phil Silvers Show

Let's go campers. It's 10am. Time to start the day.

And so a brief diversion from the torrid affairs of our island home to another place and time entirely. One of the fondest of television viewing memories for many British people over the age of forty lies with a late Fifties American comedy which ran for four lengthy seasons on CBS Television and won seven Primetime Emmy Awards. The show ended while still highly successful -  in terms of popularity and viewing figures alike - and never actually made it through to the Sixties in this specific format.

The Phil Silvers Show - originally titled You'll Never Get Rich - and commonly known as Bilko or Sgt Bilko was shown over 143 episodes between September of 1955 and September of 1959 and revolved around the money-making scams and general mischief making of the Mess Sergeant and his platoon of eejits at military bases in Roseville Kansas and then in California.

It was transmitted in Britain from April 1957 onwards on BBC Television through to the show's cancellation - it would then be repeated on both national channels during the Sixties. During the following two decades however Bilko became a mainstay of late night programming on the BBC though I recall it being shown on the weekday early evening slots on BBC2 which often used to show familiar Laurel and Hardy three-reelers of the ilk of Below Zero, Brats, Any Old Port and Beau Hunks. Around the mid-Seventies in turn I clearly recall Bilko being lodged in the middle of summertime schoolkids' programming in amongst the likes of The Banana Splits, Camp Runamuck, Zorro and Why Don't You.

The profile of the programme has risen of late with the long overdue 2015 release of all four seasons on DVD and the ongoing work of the British Phil Silvers Appreciation Society.  Personally, I hold Bilko in the same regard as I do Elvis Presley's final recordings prior to his own army service in West Germany  - the tracks  A Fool Such as I, I Need Your Love Tonight, Ain't That Loving You Baby, A Big Hunk Of Love and I Got Stung which he cut on June 10th-11th 1958 in RCA Studios Nashville. Utterly timeless, driven, passionate and perfectly crafted echoes from a decade which feels like several lifetimes away today in terms of female style and the buzz of big city life alone. Interestingly one episode of the comedy saw the arrival of the rocker Elvin Pelvin on the base to Bilko's undisguised delight.

Bilko fits into classic comedy archetypes of a frustrated man out of time - Basil Fawlty the misanthrope being lodged in a daily interface with the phlistine public in Fawlty Towers, Sales Rep Tim Canterbury's purgatorial weeks on a Slough trading estate in The Office or Father Ted Crilly's substitution of what should have been a long and happy family life for that of the Catholic church in Father Ted. Bilko basically should have been in political charge of the whole of the USA instead of organising poker games in what is by far the greatest situation comedy in television history.

The popularity of the programme inspired a run of DC comics,  advertising for Camel cigarettes and later the cartoon Top Cat.  Silvers himself would star in the fourteenth Carry On film Follow That Camel in 1967. This Sahara-set movie was filmed at Camber Sands in Kent - which Squeeze sang of on the wonderful Pulling Mussels From A Shell. Silvers' relationship with co-star Kenneth Williams was apparently chilly at first alike the snow that fell on the beach and held up filming. The movie also starred the legendary Charles Hawtrey - referenced by John Lennon in Twickenham Studio dialogue preceding the last great Beatles song Two of Us on the Let It Be album - and the beautiful Anita Harris whose 1965 Bacharach and David London Life single captured the world's greatest city before its long irreversible decline into spiritual comatosity.

When George Best died in 2005 the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson acclaimed the  Belfast star for the million memories he had left behind - all of which were good. Bilko was and IS   that good today - reflective too of times when Britain sailed so close culturally to America in comparison to any European pull and when the affection was often thoroughly mutual.

So as January 2016 limps to closure in Britain take some time out from permanent austerity and cultural marxism to check out daily life at Fort Baxter and Camp Fremont if you haven't already. You will not be disappointed. It is heartwarming to think that in some parallel universe Bilko and his motor pool buddies are still creating havoc, fleecing the naive and chasing women - either way, with the exception of Terry Carter who played Private Sugie Sugarman, literally every person you will see on that black and white screen today  is sadly now dead.

Permission to speak freely Sarge.
Permission? What, are we in Russia? Say anything you want.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

BCR - The Bay City Rollers and Saturday Night

Bay City Rollers

We are now living our lives through interminable weeks of existential dread, constant angst and the clinical obliteration of vintage pathways to social mobility. This exemplified in modern London with the grim pension timebomb awaiting millions of hard working - and often well paid - private sector workers trapped in the unregulated rental sector which devours so much dead money and which by right should be directed towards savings or even patronising the last surviving local butchers on the High Street at the weekend for retro-liver or cool fusion-sausages.

David Bowie's death has clearly emplaced a significant shadow across the beginning of another dreary and literally pointless groundhog year to come. Yet forging beyond Bowie's magnificent artistic output of the early Seventies - from Starman to TVC15 - for myself personally it is another song from that period that often penetrates the lunatic cultural marxist fog of mainstream media and the awkward mists of modern social observance to celebrate a lost Britain and a clearly soon-to-be forgotten people.

The antithesis of Bowie's mystic ramblings - across Crowley, the Kabbalah and Nietzsche - this particularly joyous combination of terrace chanting, glam stomping and Fifties romantic fluff would directly inspire what is arguably the greatest song in the history of punk rock. Yet ironically, alike the New Year's Eve European television comedy staple Dinner For One - a 1962 German recording of a Twenties British stage sketch which is virtually unheard of in this country  - the song is to this day largely unknown in Britain despite the band having ten Top Ten hits in the United Kingdom between 1971 and 1975.

Bay City Rollers' Saturday Night harks back to a period of British social history when the country was immersed in American culture from Starsky and Hutch to Hollywood action movies and from Marvel comic books to bubblegum rock. The cultural connectivity the average Briton would have felt for mainland Europe at this point would have been severely circumscribed so soon after the Second World War and with most male children of the period being raised on stories of Allied military glory in Victor, Valiant, Battle and Commando magazines before the sobering late-teenage rites of passage transition onto Sven Hassel Nazi pulp. Only ABBA's Agnetha Faltskog alone would eventually bridge this socio-political chasm in saint-like fashion.

A recent documentary about the Edinburgh group -  Rollermania - featured footage of the band performing the track on American television. The song had been a flop in Britain in 1973 but got to Number 1 on the Billboard chart two years later at the first attempt the group made to crack the US market. There are two wonderful clips on youtube of Saturday Night - on Midnight Speical (introduced as The Pride of the Tartan - the Bay City Rollers!) and another with an appropriately-clad Ann Margret in front of an audience of enthusiastic British OAPs which is absolutely joyous to behold.

It cuts to the quick of male teenage DNA of that time - a life guaged towards laughter, girls, physical attraction, friendship, washing your hair and making a bloody effort, young adulthood away from creepy and often violent teachers, dances, finding a life partner, smoking and drinking, working class communities and hope for tomorrow:

Gonna keep on dancin' to the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin' to the rhythmn in our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night
I, I, I, I, I just can't wait - I, I, I, I got a date

At the good ole rock n' roll roadshow, I gotta go, 
Saturday night, Saturday night
Gonna rock it up, roll it up, do it all, have a ball
Saturday night, Saturday night

One must surely assume today - in a period when most children and adults under the age of 30 are catatonically connected to hand-held devices and idiot social media - that "a good ole rock n' roll roadshow" holds little attraction for many to getting off their arses, getting out the door into fresh air and trying to work on their personalities by getting their leg over.

Interestingly a BBC Northern Ireland programme in 2015 commemorating the 40th anniversary of the murders of three members of the Miami Showband in County Down between Banbridge and Newry - The Day The Music Died - incorporated a catchy track the band had recorded called Rock n' Roll Roadshow. Saturday Night in turn was co-written by Phil Coulter who would later write what is considered the definitive anthem of loss as surrounding the Ulster Troubles - The Town I Loved So Well.

Saturday Night's introduction of course directly inspired The Ramone's Blitzkreig Bop - Dee Dee Ramone having magnificently claimed that the group were as influenced by the Rollers, The Wombles and Shaun Cassidy as much as Iggy Pop, The New York Dolls and Alice Cooper. It garners so many memories for me of a period when British social culture - when guaged specifically to a youth demographic - was so encompassing in scope and attuned to market variables affecting pop, television, books, radio, comics, advertisements, toys and even food on such a highly creative and truly fun-packed level. However it also engages with that familiar melancholy that I often pick up upon when listening to British New Wave acts like Elvis Costello, XTC or Joe Jackson in particular nowadays when thinking of the current mauled and obliterated face of a finished London.

At my primary school in North Belfast The Bay City Rollers were without doubt the most beloved of all acts then marketed towards younger female audiences - beyond The Rubettes, David Essex and even The Osmonds. Understandably the rest of their material has little appeal to me beyond this one song though it is important to underscore that in that terribly difficult period of Irish history these five young Celts at least embedded a populist three-letter acronym into society that had nothing to do with murdering, maiming and generally hating the working classes of the other religion. I believe they played at the ABC Cinema in the city centre around 1975 for their legions of adoring fans - also the Tonic Cinema in Bangor.

The Seventies are often portrayed as the grimmest of times in popular television social histories that in turn present modern Britain as a country now luxuriating in broad affluence, sterling opportunity and exciting social fusion by comparison. The blatant fudging and misreading of British history in these smug, sickeningly bourgeois, sneering and politically skewed productions is too nauseating to dwell upon.

For indeed it was fundamentally a decade when only the working people of a then still-industrialised Britain kept the country alive in spirit and soul  - just as they had physically secured our cultural existence thirty years previously in time of war from the Arctic convoys to the Normandy beaches...that generation in the Ann Margret audience to be specific. Conversely those who have clearly destroyed our life security today have no doubt never met a working person in their lives and even if they had listened to the popular music in those days long ago - from BCR to Bowie and T Rex - they would never have really heard it.

They do not know us and they certainly will not miss us - Remember Saturday Night.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Men Shall Not Wholly Die - Messines Ridge 1917

Battle of Messines, Battle of the Somme, Great War, World War One

Last week I read an interesting opinion piece in a Belfast newspaper that reflected upon one of the most sensitive and indeed politically inopportune of subjects in modern Irish history - the clear reticence of the Northern Protestant to morally equate the Irish Republican dynamics of the modern conflict since 1969 with historic fissures of yore between Unionism and Nationalism on the island.

This issue of course lies at the heart of political stasis in a Northern Ireland at peace yet is barely discussed in mainstream media alike two of the other unmentionables in the afterglow of war - the ongoing and indeed healthy existence of paramafia in Ireland and the clear historical revisionism being practiced by one particular political party with nauseating connivance of the British state broadcaster.

The latter came to a ludicrous and indeed quite appropriately post-modern head last week with one very popular BBC Radio Ulster programme garnering feedback on the creative legacy of David Bowie from a local politician whose party originated in a body who blew up my local Esso garage, Spar supermarket and newsagents in North Belfast the early Seventies. This at a point when Bowie was probably wearing a dress in Beckenham Kent, painting his fingernails and thinking about cool stuff like Kafka, girls and peace.

A timely airing indeed of an immovable historical quandry as the recent spate of Irish political anniversaries now reaches its apogee with the forthcoming 100th year anniversaries of both the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme - the foundation stones and indeed foundation myths of both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland states.

Back on the 50th anniversary in 1966 - a year which commenced when I was not even one-month old - the tensions engendered in Northern Ireland by Unionist political mischief-making about potential Republican offensives lead to three Loyalist paramilitary assassinations of innocent Protestant and Catholic civilians and the path was thus paved to a quarter-century long conflict three years later.

This year is full of desperately sobering memories for the people of Ireland in regard to the political battles undertaken and the physical sacrifices made in 1916 by Ulster Unionists, Irish Nationalists and Irish Republicans at home and abroad. Yet beyond this milestone - and individual reflection upon both the horror, waste and destruction of the subsequent Black and Tan War, the Irish Civil War and the two civil wars in the North of Ireland - lies another sobering anniversary which conversely embodies so much human potential for a genuine shared future.

Much has been written in recent years about the military heritage of the Southern Irish army regiments of a then British Ireland - Neil Richardson and Kevin Myers' studies are both extraordinary overviews of this hidden history and are highly recommended. The volunteers of nationalist Ireland who served in the British Army may have been transfigured into dupes or traitors by the dictates of a certain foregone or random pathway of history but they were clearly as proudly nationalist as Carson's volunteer army were King's Men and they loved their country as much as any Irish Republican.

As discussed in other posts it was at the Battle of Messines in June 1917 - the military engagement preceding the Third Battle of Ypres (or Passchendaele) which in turn followed upon stalemate at the Somme - that soldiers of both the 16th Irish Division and the 36th Ulster Division fought side by side. Irish Nationalists and Ulster Unionists bound together within the genocide of the European working man. The initial bombardment of German lines and the detonation of mine-laid explosives created the loudest man-made noise in history at that point  - it felt like an earthquake in London and was even registered in Dublin. The battle itself to seize Messines Ridge was bloodthirsty on both sides - British military objectives were however secured.

The Irish Nationalist leader John Redmond's brother Willie was Westminster MP for Wexford and joined the Royal Irish Regiment which recruited in Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Kilkenny.  Redmond had been withdrawn from combat duties on promotion to the rank of Major but actively requested permission to engage in the frontline. The night before this battle - in which he would be fatally wounded - he spoke to every man in the 6th Regiment. The following day he was recovered from the battlefield by Ulster stretcher-bearers from the 36th of whom at least one was a member of the Orange Order. Richardson's history also notes that the Ulster soldiers contributed 100 pounds to Redmond's memorial fund and formed a guard of honour at his funeral. Both Irish Divisions also fought alongside each other later in the year at the Battle of Langemarck.

The 25-year long civil war in Northern Ireland brought nothing to that country beyond shame, hatred, psychotic violence, fear, infusions of bad blood and the destruction of one of Europe's great port cities. Beyond George Best, Van Morrison, Mary Peters, Alex Higgins and James Young few lights shone in the darkness of those wasted years in one of the most physically beautiful parts of the world.

Sadly one hundred years of Irish history in general since Flanders Fields and Sackville Street can be read in a not dissimilarly deflated, sterile and retrograde fashion. Yet for all the struggles and strains of modern day Ireland - from permanent austerity to high levels of immigration - Messines yet stands for something unique and clearly untested. There are of course a myriad of qualifications surrounding the subject but a core dynamic remains of released scope for both a new transcript of history and a literal transfiguration of Irish identity - that unless one wants to forge back to ancient considerations of a Pictish footprint on the Gaelic Irish soil to square an historical circle.

The Island of Ireland Peace Park stands today at the site of the Messines Ridge battlefield near Ypres in the West Flanders province of Belgium. Six hundred miles to the west - where the mighty Atlantic first engages rock and shore - may yet lie a font of decency, warmth and forgiveness in this economically broken and politically lost continent.

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie - Sunshine On The Wasteland

David Bowie, David Bowie Death, Drive-in Saturday

She's uncertain if she likes him ... 
but she knows she really loves him...
it's a crash course for the ravers ...
it's a Drive-In Saturday

Over the years I have always wavered in my memory between what was actually the first seven-inch vinyl single I actually bought back in the Seventies. I know I definitely purchased it at Smyth's Records on Royal Avenue in Belfast and it was either Golden Years/Can You Hear Me by David Bowie or A Glass of Champagne/Panama by Sailor - the latter some extremely catchy faux-Roxy for the schoolkids.

Today on Bowie's passing I have made an effort to finally confirm the release dates - Tony went to fight in Belfast on the track Star from Ziggy Stardust in 1972 and I picked up the two singles in that security fence-enclosed city centre three years later in 1975 with British soldiers on the street outside the record shop. Golden Years was released in November and apparently the Sailor track was as well. Hence my understandable confusion over the past four decades.

I followed David Bowie's career with interest up to the mid-Eighties and the Never Let Me Down album - probably no other major musical artist with the exception of Neil Young and Van Morrison ever produced such high quality output over such an extended period from a late Sixties starting point.

Bowie's musical legacy is truly breathtaking in scope, merit and eclecticism - from Letter to Hermione to Running Gun Blues to the Hunky Dory outtake Bombers to Moonage Daydream to  Panic in Detroit . Then in turn from The Who cover Anyway, Anywhere, Anyhow to Big Brother to Win to Station to Station to Be My Wife. 

David Bowie also resurrected the career of what would become one of the greatest of all British Seventies rock groups and indeed was an enthusiastic sponsor of another fantastic American band who should have become globally successful - Mott the Hoople and Carmen respectively.

I also saw him in concert in 1987 at Slane Castle in the Irish Republic when Humble Pie's Peter Frampton was his guitarist on the Glass Spider tour. Support that day was the late Stuart Adamson and the magnificent Big Country - very nice to see another memorial blog reference this. The weather was not kind for such an historic occasion and remained generally overcast. At one point however some weak milky sun broke faintly through the clouds over County Meath and the Boyne Valley. Bowie immediately moved to the right hand side of the stage and mimed for it to come out fully. It actually did. The gig ended with a performance of the cabaret Time from Aladdin Sane and two Eighties pop hits - Bowie got into his spaceship and I got the coach back north to a then-bitter oul Belfast City.

As for Bowie's affect upon the sexual politics of the time, my very old friend from London - who now works on the other side of the world - underscored to me today in a mail how the singer's embrace of Mick Ronson on the Starman performance on Top of the Pops seems innocuous enough now but of course at the time it came across to Middle England as the queerest and most outrageous thing imaginable. A literal sci-fi broadcast from a parallel Universe of the Damned:

I always loved Bowie's flirtation with gender definition and androgyny. A direct challenge to prevailing learnt attitudes in post-war, repressed Britain and beyond. Men were often men, but not all of them wanted to be the stereotype, nor indeed could live up to it. The day we get to a universal acceptance of freedom of gender expression it will largely have been Bowie to thank for leading the way: many boorish lads in their teens went around 'hating queers' but still buying Bowie, Bolan and Queen records. How's that for confusion?

So today the residual spirit of old London dissipates a significant degree further while - as upon George Best's death a decade ago - another chapter of British folk history comes to closure. Both of these men guaranteeing that next weekend would be very different than the one before.

Unique once-in-a-lifetime antidotes to the kind of straight life which is now being thrown up as the only low-risk pathway to the grave - lives without spark, wit, intelligence, erudition, individuality, suss, good humour, cool, originality or even sexual energy.

Good night David Robert Jones of Brixton SW9 - The Only Survivor of the National People's Gang.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

This Bloke Came Up To Me - The Gravesides of Derek and Clive

Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Derek and Clive

Some weeks ago I briefly caught a few minutes of a television programme where cocky, smug and privileged presenters and junior comedians - the latter a clear oxymoron in a country now devoid of any laughter - commented on shocking examples of bad taste from British television in the Seventies. Needless to say it consisted of very predictable po-faced and culturally Marxist faux-horror from a bunch of Oul Jinnys - to use vintage Belfast working class parlance from the same fraught era. None of these people of course would ever have heard of this vernacular, this city or this social demographic.

The real thing of course with regard to truly outre material - beyond Spike Milligan's late 1969 Curry and Chips on London Weekend Television or even the filthy ska nursery rhymes of Snodland's Judge Dread - are Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's Derek and Clive characters.

Been recently reading William Cook's wonderful One Leg Too Few history of the comic duo - Derek and Clive's third and final album being the last professional work the pair ever completed and before their career trajectories radically diverged on either side of the Atlantic.

Derek and Clive were toilet cleaners and are a nightmarish, unspeakably foul-mouthed, pornographic and utterly obscene extension of their classic Pete and Dud characters. A stream of consciousness comedy bordering quite literally on utter insanity it is as deathly dark as any humour to ever be forged in industrial Belfast, Glasgow or Liverpool. This as contextualised by the leakage of vitriol between the two performers and Cook's alcoholism.

1976's Derek and Clive (Live) on Island Records includes material recorded at a concert given in New York's Bottom Line club. Originally circulated in bootleg format it would be followed the next year by Come Again and then Ad Nauseum in 1978 as formal recorded albums distributed by Virgin. The making of the latter is also captured in the movie Derek and Clive Get The Horn. I cannot make a call in general as to how Cook and Moore's final material is seen to have dated or not - in comparison to how their 1967 movie Bedazzled is now quite rightly held in extremely high cult regard - but the public commentary to be read on youtube uploads of various tracks alone seem highly engaged and enthusiastic to this day.

The content of the three albums do however seem to fit perfectly with the changes in musical culture abroad at the time - interestingly Cook himself played a sleazy ballroom manager on the eight-episode ATV late night music programme Revolver in 1978 which included performances from such punk and New Wave artists as The Jam, XTC, Elvis Costello, The Buzzcocks, Siouxsie and the Banshees and X-Ray Spex. In particular check out the extraordinary performances of Curfew by The Stranglers and Ghosts of Princes in Towers by Rich Kids.

Although both Cook and Moore's solo film careers came to radical closure in the early-Seventies and mid-Eighties respectively - and their deaths were extremely premature in 1995 and 2002 at the ages of 57 and 66 - the comedy material they produced for stage and television itself was actually of such high quality that it is often as funny to even read on paper today as to watch it performed. Alas the BBC wiped much of their three classic Not Only But Also series which ran between 1964 and 1970 with as much foresight and acumen as Manchester United displayed in the early Seventies with regard to managing Georgie Best Superstar. Interestingly one speaker at this weekend's memorial service in Los Angeles to Motorhead's Lemmy noted how much he loved listening to them.

As for Derek and Clive - Winky Wanky Woo from the first album, Alfie Noakes from the follow-up and Sex Manual from Ad Nauseum provide a good introduction to much much worse depths of perverted, twisted and scatalogical depravity to be found over those six sides of black vinyl.

Check them out this January as you abide by government advice on alcohol moderation, keep their words to mind as you sincerely framework your yearly career objectives with your line manager and then ask yourself what Derek and Clive would have thought of the modern constructs of both London and Britain. The answer will be obvious...very fucking obvious.