Like A Rolling Stone

So social media has been set aflame by the Rolling Stones’ triumphant debut at Glastonbury.
For some it’s a cause of celebration, others a sad indictment of how the ‘British Woodstock’ has become ever more commercialised and the lack of investment in popular music.
How many of today’s, or even yesterday’s, crop of artists will make such an impressive impact in four decades’ time?
Now, I admit I’m a bit of a fuddy-duddy who, with the demise of Top Of The Pops, doesn’t really keep in touch with the modern music scene. Basically, I don’t really ‘dig’ what I hear when I tune into the Top 40 radio show on a Sunday.
There’s no doubting there’s some good music being written and performed, but the fact is that a band of pensioners that is always touring somewhere – so it seems – and coining it in with tickets costing triple figures is headline news.
But then the Stones were headline news in their teens. What is it that sets them apart from other bands? They’re playing the music from their first great years of onslaught on the world’s ears, much of it before I was born. It’s music that endures.
And don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy to see ‘classic bands’ doing the rounds although there is a point where it shouldn’t happen. Had John Lennon lived, I dread to think that we’d have seen a Beatles MTV reunion concert, then world tour, then new albums as the profiteers raced in.
Sometimes the magic is best left alone.
There have been bands come along that I thought would last the course based on their music, rather than the image-conscious karaoke-type bands churned out by the pop moguls.
I liked Franz Ferdinand immensely when they first came out, and thought The Hooziers might just find themselves an Electric Light Orchestra-style niche. Katie Melua offered something nicely different, a hark back to Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt, but what of the other British hopes?
I’ve not really bought into the Adele hype. I’m not doubting her talent and voice, but her intonation makes me cringe.
It might just be me, getting old and hanging onto the great – and not so great – music Britain churned out in the past. It’s possibly interesting that the last few CDs I bought were by Madness, Joan Armatrading, The Selecter and Anthony Phillips, once the founding spirit of Genesis and a fine musician who has never troubled the chart-compilers.
Has karaoke killed the music star? The death of pubs with live entertainment? The Simon Cowell generation? Or the computerisation of music, that has made performances too perfect, with their click tracks and auto tune? Or downloading?
Or is that the real classy musicians are overlooked by a media industry eager for cheap wins? When telly serves up ‘celebrities’ singing karaoke, or no-hopers singing karaoke, and people tune in in their millions?
Is the recession and the price of beer really stopping people going out to enjoy live music, in all its formats, from the 02 stage, to Glasto, to the young originals band at the local pub?
I wonder if there is a band that could rival the Rolling Stones out there today, struggling to get gigs and make that impression that seemed so easy in the 1960s and 1970s, when a glut of great musicians emerged from these shores.
Opportunity knocks? Or opportunities knocked? While bands like the Stones won’t fade away, and The Beatles continue to be top album sellers, what hope do the bands of today and tomorrow really have?

Double Standards – Rock And Roll

IT’S perhaps fitting that my first taste of Gary Glitter cooing about love and all was as a child.
Sunday afternoon, the dinner table cleared and Radio 1 playing from the old wood cabinet gramophone in the ‘front room’ or ‘living room’, as my grandmother was wont to call it.
I Love You, Love, You Love Me True Love, or whatever those lyrics were. I can still remember the scene vividly.
And he was a top performer, a true entertainer who held vast crowds spellbound. He smiled, they smiled and laughed. With the swish of a hand they were silent.
Then news of his predilection for under-age flesh swamped the headlines and he was finished, a vile monster fleeing the UK.
Except there are one or two issues I’m having trouble with. There’s been a stampede of claims post Jimmy Saville – and if everyone knew why did nobody do a damn thing to stop him? – which I’m particularly ill at ease with.
Let me be clear, I think abusers of any inclination should be left to rot, not incurring any expense of the public purse. We now know that Glitter and Saville were the most unpleasant of individuals in how they got their kicks and can add to the list Stuart Hall, the genial It’s A Knockout commentator and a veteran of TV and radio.
But I fail to see how we can judge some other people on today’s rules when incidents happened 40-plus years ago. Times change. What we do and how we are perceived today may well be very different come 2053. We can only live within our world.
Pop and TV stars have always attracted groupies. Still do. Teens, many underage – come on, how can you tell in some cases? – swarmed the TOTP studios. Teens generally lie about their age to buy fags and alcohol. And in other instances. Somehow they’ve all become ‘vulnerable’, a term bandied about freely in the last decade or so.
So what the hell were these ‘vulnerable’ girls (and boys) doing in the company of pop stars and TV hosts? Did their parents know where they were? Where are the lines of responsibility?
I fear that adolescent mistakes and regrets are being transformed into the hard currency of lawyers and trashy media types. It’s a new trend of kiss-and-tell and more money in the bank accounts of law firms.
What worries me is that it might water down the real horror crimes, such as those involving Glitter and Saville.
Lostprophets vocalist Ian Watkins is charged with 23 counts of sexual attacks on children, including the rape of a baby. If it emerges the allegations are true, then it’s a very different picture to the others of celebrities making hay while the sun shines.
Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13 year old cousin when he was only 22. There was a scandal, but he is still honoured as one of the pioneers of popular music as we know it. So too Elvis Presley, who first started courting future wife Priscilla when she was 14. He remains The King in our conscious.
Rolling Stone Bill Wyman was 47 when he first started ‘dating’ Mandy Smith, then 13.
Who legend Pete Townshend was cautioned for accessing child pornography 10 years ago.
The BBC website stated: “Scotland Yard said: “It is not a defence to access these images for research or out of curiosity.”
“Children’s charity NCH said Mr Townshend’s crime was “not a small matter” and should serve as a warning to others.”

And then, dare I mention the Prince of Pop? Wacko Jacko. His records are still selling in their millions, people still adore him, but the facts around his interest in children have never been explained satisfactorily. At least, to my satisfaction.
For me, it’s just a case of double standards – that involve us all. The media frenzy has unleashed post-Saville; all those journalists who missed their sensational, headline-grabbing stories eager to make up for lost time. But we all share the blame. We buy into the myth, the media spin; eager to forgive in some cases, eager to pillory and hate in others.
I’m simply confused.
Either there are hard and fast rules governing child abuse or there aren’t. It’s an area that should be black and white for all concerned, famous or no.

The Biggest Cut Of All – George Osborne (Has anyone seen my ‘n’?)

SO, there you have it. Chancellor George Osborne, who has that awful smug runt-of-the-litter look about him, has a vision of putting Britain’s house in order.
By putting everyone out of a job except him and his cronies in the gravy train of politics.
He is keeping faith with the flawed figures of academics to turn the screws on communities in the name of austerity.
I always believed in investment. In people, in products, in service. But I’m living in the past, as I’m often told. A past where Britain led the world and was great with a capital G.
Yes, there were bad apples claiming benefits and delighting in the fact that only fools and horses worked. But you didn’t have to upset the whole apple cart. Well, if you’re going for one cliché you might as well have your money’s worth!
And boy, is Osborne trying to get his money’s worth. I think he and David Cameron are trying to show that old Maggie was a leftie socialist.
A one per cent cap on public sector pay rises. Okay, but it’s particularly galling coming six months or so after it emerged that MPs felt they needed huge pay rises for their ‘public sector’ work. Osborne’s fellow Tories wanted a huge increase, from £65,000 to £90,000-plus. Let’s hope the one per cent cap is imposed on MP’s salaries. Don’t get me started on their expenses – fiddled or otherwise.
Progression pay rises in the public sector are being scrapped. Good, then useless MPs who become Chancellor won’t get the extra cash? Okay, I know the answer, but if he’s making the rules up as he goes along, why can’t I?
There’s a cap on welfare, in addition to the caps he’s already imposed. Maybe he knows the loss of real jobs for low-paid, part-time work that is a reality in many communities today means the benefit bill will explode. Couple that with fewer income tax pounds coming in and there could be a real problem. Osborne’s solution? Make people poor and penalise them more. It has the beginning of a mantra, doesn’t it?
Councils will get 10 per cent less from the off. Then they’ll be able to raise less because the government has frozen council tax, effectively robbing them of more funds. Frontline services, already stretched to breaking limits from previous plans put in place by the slasher menace that is Osborne, will now fail. Presumably this will give him more ammunition for future cuts?
And £200 million extra for the troubled families initiative? Wow, if that doesn’t admit the problems Osborne and his ilk are causing, I don’t know what would.
Elite sport’s budget will be protected. Fantastic. Great news. Except, with funding cuts to non-elite sport, how will our sporting stars of tomorrow ever make it up the ladder?
The thin blue line has long since been the non-existent blue line, or the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it blue line. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, with crime and fear of crime on the rise, there’s another cut in police budgets. Less than six per cent though. I am so grateful. Osborne makes it sound like he’s doing us all a favour. Thanks, George.
Where’s that miserable smiley that looks like it’s going to turn into a serial killer and eat people’s liver with a nice Chianti?
Cuts, cuts, cuts and cuts. With smiling George insisting it’s the only way.
There’s only thing worse I can think of.
The prospect of fellow Treasury placenta Danny Alexander, with the grin of a retard on demand, telling us about £50 billion worth of investment in infrastructure tomorrow.
I despair.

Educating Rita…And Others, Too

A fortnight ago I was in London listening to the conversation of two girls, in the early 20s, and degree students.
The topic was about an uncle going to Brussels over the smoking ban.
‘What’s Brussels?’
‘Oh, it’s a town in Germany.’
And that was that.
It’s an indication of the education levels of many. As a senior journalist I’ve witnessed graduates coming into the industry with little clues about current affairs, recent history or anything. That’s not a prerequisite in the age when information is only a mouse click away. But an ability to question and think is.
In my last job there were two graduates of the same British university working for me. Hopeless cases. Their response to questions about stories was simply to smile, like rabbits in headlights. Their spelling was awful, their grammar was dreadful and they even made up words.
Dumbing down anyone?
Now, I’ll put my cards on the table. I didn’t go to university. I wasn’t clever enough in those days – nearly 30 years ago. Or rather my mock exam results and O-level results weren’t up to scratch. Only a relatively small percentage of students from the average comprehensive made it to higher education. A few more went into further education, but most found work.
A different Tory government changed the system, set in motion a great big money-making world of further and higher education and cut local education authority budgets. Possibly because jobs were in short supply. Some schools closed, others became over-subscribed. The country’s teachers cried out for a saviour.
We thought it came in the shape of Tony Blair, especially given his ‘education, education, education’ speech.
In truth, the financial squeeze on LEA budgets continued under New Labour. I know. At the time I was an Education Correspondent in the Midlands. Staff – the vital lifeblood of education – were being sacrificed in vain attempts to balance budgets.
Standards were slowly being eroded. Money remained king. LEAs were being forced into ill-thought out private finance initiatives to build a new generation of schools.
One former head of a teaching union told me that children were being taught how to pass exams rather than learning key skills. In Coventry today, a third of GCSE students are failing in English and maths. A sad indictment.
I’m a fan of education, and aspiration. But I’ve long since believed our children were being failed.
I had one teacher who inspired me during my school days. A Mr Buckingham at Coundon Junior School in Coventry transformed my progress in the classroom and set in motion enthusiasm for the printed word that has never dimmed.
I had decent teachers, but none who inspired me like that one man. I had the brains, but not the ability to sit and work at stuff. Until journalism came along and satisfied my interests, problem-solving abilities and desire to learn.
But losing teaching jobs, as happened under the Thatcher, Major and Blair governments, was the wrong answer.
So was making exams easier, with the launch of the GCSE. And the fact that universities are largely given free rein to decide on grades. It is a fact, but few dare spread the word, that universities will exaggerate grades upwards. It’s a survival mechanism since they’ve become big business. Grades mean success, success means more students, more students means more money. Simple economics at work. Not education, but economics.
So when Michael Gove, the unpopular Secretary of State for Education, announced a shake-up in exams, I found myself nodding in appreciation. A first given the record of the ConDem coalition.
Until he said these words to Parliament today: “We need to reform our examination system to restore public confidence.”
So it’s not about education, but restoring public confidence?
I continue to despair.

Head Games – Confessions Of A Confidence Trickster

Confidence Trickster? Me? No, only a con-man in the sense that I’ve tricked many people into believing I was confident. Not so.
I was competent at various activities. But never confident.
I’ve gone through adult life – and childhood for that matter – with little or no self-belief. Take on running a multi-edition daily newspaper in the UK on one of the busiest news days in my career? No problem. I took over The Sentinel’s coverage of the terrorist bombing of July 7, 2005. Didn’t bat an eyelid. Most of my working life has been spent making life easier for others. Doing the hard yards so they didn’t have to.
Yet my personal life has been a different matter. I’m rebuilding. Over the months since September it’s been fitness, tackling excess weight, and learning to run again.
Now, it’s drumming.
People used to be kind about my prowess behind the kit. I’ve played with some bloody good musicians. The advice from friends has been to just get behind the drums again and play. ‘Like riding a bike,’ they assured me.
Except I froze.
Stewart Manley, one of the drumming community’s nice guys, told me only last night that my problems were all in my head. No arguments from me.
Ted Duggan, another of the good guys of our drumming family, spent some time with me today looking to kick-start the rebuilding process. I don’t think he realises how frightened I am of playing.
And here’s the rub. It’s not about playing. It’s about being as good as I can be. It’s one of the worst traits there is. A desire for perfectionism. It’s a flawed policy, a sure set-up for failure. I know that and I’m fighting it. Yet, there’s a marker been put down by my progress on the fitness front. I know I’m never going to play first team anything again. Being the best I can be is the best I’ll ever get now. Just don’t think I’m not going to push myself hard.
Train hard, fight easy. It’s military doctrine and certainly worked for Monty in the western desert. I’ve pushed myself in training runs and it’s paying off in so many ways. And, possibly for the first time in my life, I’ve experienced a real sense of achievement. Normally, I’ve been so close to something that it’s just been ‘a job’, or ‘role’, an ‘act’ that I’ve played rather than enjoyed.
I’m learning a lot about myself. I’m also learning to love myself. (No sniggering in the cheap seats!) And I’m setting myself goals. Starting again from zero in drumming will, I believe, make me a better musician than I ever was.
I was talking to a friend the other day. She told me I was ‘remote’, difficult to assess at times, closed off, distant in how I often came across to ‘new’ people. But she assured me I was friendly, honest, generous to a fault and willing to help people. The gap was a lack of confidence, she suggested.
One aspect of being part of the drumming community has been the support, help and generosity I’ve received from many. Their confidence in me has been bewildering at times. It has helped immensely.
In everything I’ve ever been ‘good’ at, I’ve found it tough. I’ve worked at it, tried hard to master the basics and then moved on from there.
So there I was today with Ted. Another step on the road back to where I want to be. Who I want to be. No tricks. Just hard work. And enjoyment.