Friday, 8 July 2011


i am here at the station in kings heath
thursday night is 'simply overmiked' night
my first serious stab at live solo performance
i order a pint of grapefruity moondance ale
and grab a table by the bar
about twenty or so people are scattered
around the back room of the pub
under a big blackboard
a large table of punters chats gregariously
opened birthday cards littering the tables
i've rehearsed four songs before heading out
'mymomatosis' and 'fourth of july'
off the all seeing i
(t-shirt proudly sported)
and two brand new tracks
'god's country' and 'an innocent abroad'
the latter polished off a few days ago
as the words and music flooded out
ben our host for the evening
places a sign-up sheet on the bar
i secure second billing after a threesome called kings of spain
ben kicks off proceedings
he has a decent voice
combined with the kind of technical ability on the acoustic guitar
that i can only envy
an easy way of picking bluesy chords
which like those shimmying football maestros
i could never dream of emulating
ben has some clever machine that slowly builds up a sequence
strummed and thumped guitar,
finger clicks and strange gurgles
over which he improvises a solo
(a kind of digital one-man-band)
it's good but all cover versions of other people's songs
as far as i can fathom
would i rather be a clumsy lennonian/kilbeyesque guitarist
who writes his own material
or a blues picker who never came up with a song in his life?
i know which one i'd choose!
after ben the kings of spain do their thang
a strongly rhythmic combo
complete with mariachi style trumpet player
i tough act to follow
before i know it
my name is being announced
i plug in
test the mike
and launch into 'myxomatosis' with as much gusto as i can summon
i am greeted with general indifference
the groups of friends go on talking
strangely i'm not bothered
i'm up there performing
their loss
happily the song is almost note-perfect
with just a couple of stumbles
at the end
i suddenly find myself departing from the script
jumping up and down
as i manically strum out the closing bars
faster and faster
until i go out in a blaze of glory
this seems to get a reaction
...and a round of applause
the other three songs pass relatively uneventfully
as i come off stage to polite applause
ben the host casually sidles over
'that myxomatosis was crazy, man' he says
i have made an impact...

Wednesday, 6 July 2011


the script is all pervasive
the scipt is sometimes codified but mostly unwritten
the script may start out as an external dialogue
but becomes an internal conversation
i shall or i shall not
this is how i must act in this situation
the script tends to reject the here and now - the impulsive
the script discliplines the mind
to the familiar and well-travelled
to the tried and tested
to the safe and sanctioned
to the ritual
but what if the script became a vehicle of improvisation
a loose framework to inspire creativity
a freeform jazz piece in the key of c sharp
i recognise that i am myself a slave to the script
as we all are
i hone my lesson plans like sharpening a billhook
i compose, refine and arrange my pop symphonies to god
multi-tracking the instruments and parts
like a latterday brian wilson or fifth beatle
(look what happened to brian!
never mind departing from the script
how about completely losing the plot?)
things have improved
i recall how i used to rehearse dialogues with friends as a teenager
terrified of what would happen if i had no script
to prompt my shy conversation
now it's "i must tell so-and-so about such-and-such"
which i usually forget to do
in many ways growing up should be about tearing up the script
the script that parents and teachers and friends
and the mass media have written
and rewriting it as one's own
i guess that's what being radical is all about
spotting a dodgy script
and making major revisions
until one is satisfied with the redrafted version
how far can i take this analogy?
i don't know
but i'll be interested to find out...

Monday, 4 July 2011


this would be hilarious if it weren't so sad
the official opposition to the condems?
this flaccid functionary
with all the personality of a turnip?
give me a break!
"hey everybody
at a time when negotiations are wrong
and strikes are still going on
let's put aside the negotiating table
get around the rhetoric
and sort this thing out..."
well put eddie
well put
one for the labour movement
wet fish of the world unite!


Yes - the woodle is definitely a cottontail bunny!


we replay the tape from two years ago
a camping trip to mark my birthday
to the delightful onny valley in shropshire
we pitch tent at wentnor
on the island where the stream curves around
woodle splashes happily about in the water
dipping her net for fish
wagtails and dippers alight on stepping stones
we watch the sheep being sheared
respect to the shearers!
we play football and croquet
i strum my guitar and write little bits of songs
in the kit bag i find the tie-on tent label from 2009:
arrival date july 4
departure date july 5
oh that was a difficult time!
full of woes and dark thoughts about the echocentre
as evening falls
we drive out in the direction of the stiperstones
the lonely ridge of spectacular quartzite tors
in such stark contrast to the rolling moorland of the long mynd
we take the steep narrow road in second gear
meandering up to the carpark below cranberry rock
it is at this point that we depart from the script
the oil light flashes and beeps
in sympathy with the ever-present 'check brakepads' warning
uh-oh...this doesn't look good
the prospect of being stranded
in the lonely wilds of shropshire
a few miles from the welsh border
is not a good one
still there is the script to follow
we park up
and climb the hill to the ridge
corndon hill looms black marking the border with wales
we traverse the ridge as far as the devil's chair
h scrambles to the top of the tor
and demands a photo opportunity
the sun sets on cader idris and the mountains of north wales
sunbeams break through the cumulonimbus
it is an awe-inspiring scene
the enormity of the natural landscape
defiant pyramids of volcanic rock
standing resilient and unchanged
for perhaps millions of years
it puts us tiny humans in our place
even as we watch the hot-air balloons
floating bravely across the horizon...
back to the script again
downwards we stride past grazing cattle
in a last-ditch attempt
to make it to the 16th-century crown inn at wentnor
this time in an oil-challenged jalopy
we make it with five minutes to spare before the kitchen closes
exactly as we did two years ago
but are welcomed in by the friendly barstaff
i recognise the landlord's muscular forearms
as he pulls frothy pints of six bells and three tuns
my vegetable curry is a big improvement on last time though
(they must have changed the recipe and/or the cook!)
while i'm waiting for the meal to arrive
i browse the bookshelves
and stumble upon 'heart of england hill walks'
authored by a certain john nuisance
yes - he of echocentre consulting fame
that wasn't in the script!
we make it back to the campsite in one piece
without the engine exploding
but then i notice something else
the lock on the boot has broken again
what next?
this wasn't in the script either
but it certainly makes for a more entertaining story!

Saturday, 2 July 2011


'Goodbye Ruby Tuesday
Who's gonna hang a name on you?'
There doesn't have to be a script
But we all learn that there is one
It's writ large on our daily routines
Our attitudes and our behaviours
It follows our every move
It brings order and routine to our lives
It provides a framework
It informs what is possible
And what is not possible
But it is deeply constraining
"You must take the stage now
You must act like this
You must speak to him
You mustn't speak to her
You must say this
You mustn't say that
You must talk like this
You must leave the stage now
You must reappear later"
These are the commands of the script
The script cannot be denied
The script delineates the limits of prescribed actions
Now the world would certainly be a messy place without a script
But maybe once in a while
It's good to take it out, dust it off and reread it
Maybe the old script is out of date
Maybe it's time to revise it
Maybe it's time to tear it up completely and start again
Perhaps hunched over a typewriter at a desk
Scrunching the imperfect drafts into a ball
And throwing them into the waste paper basket in the corner
Another question worth asking might be:
Who wrote the script?
Someone I love or respect?
Or someone who doesn't have my best interests at heart?
Maybe it's time I wrote my own script
And got my agent to hawk it around the publishers
Or maybe I should just self-publish it on this here blog!

[Thanks to JH]

Friday, 1 July 2011


As to what attracts young people to violent extremism, consider this:
What makes a million young Americans
willing to travel to places like Afghanistan and Iraq
to risk their life and limbs
to kill other young people
who have never done them any harm
and to commit unspeakable atrocities and tortures?


Frances Fitzgerald observes
in her study of American history textbooks:
"According to these books,
the United States had been
a kind of Salvation Army
to the rest of the world:
throughout history
it had done little but dispense benefits
to poor, ignorant, and diseased countries
the United States always acted in a disinterested fashion
always from the highest of motives
it gave
it never took"


To an innocent abroad
I feel ashamed
As the bombs rain on your head
To an innocent abroad
I feel your pain
As the funerals bury your dead

To an innocent abroad
I’m powerless
To stop the violence & destruction
To an innocent abroad
I must confess
I not sure how to best take action

I wrote a letter to my government
I received a swift reply
A cordial missive straight from Number 10
The PM seeks a peaceful resolution

To an innocent abroad
You’re not alone
I have written to the papers
Please take courage
Please don’t give up hope
I said their coverage was a disgrace

My ‘Stop the War’ poster was defaced
A stone thrown through my window
My neighbours aren’t aware of what’s taken place
And our leaders don’t want them to know

To an innocent abroad
Do not despair
For good will triumph in the end
So let me sign off now
‘Yours faithfully’
From a distant unknown friend