Monthly Archives: October 2011

‘The most photographed anonymous man in the world’

I got a really lovely thank you from the #quakebook team, despite only doing something very simple to help with the publication of an interview with Our Man in Abiko in the Embassy of Japan in the UK’s newsletter.  Take a look at the link for some additional information about how it all came together.

Let me also take the opportunity to gently nudge you towards the fact that this gorgeous book is now available in an array of snazzy electronic versions, as well as a pretty delectable bilingual Japanese and English print edition.  That’s right, a real book that you can hold in your hands and turn the pages of, just like in the old days.

And in case it needs saying again, 100% of your money goes to the Japanese Red Cross Society, to be added to that which has already been donated.  With winter drawing in across the north of Japan there is still a real need for assistance in the areas affected by March’s quake and tsunami.  So please, if you haven’t already, grab a copy of #quakebook today.

Arigatou gozaimashita!

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A hanging?

From Mussolini to Hitler to Ceausescu, history is littered with examples to the effect that, if you are a murderous son-of-a-bitch who has rejoiced in the suffering of your own people, chances are a death from old age in an easy chair by the fireside is not on the cards.  Perhaps Colonel Gaddafi wouldn’t have been surprised at his fate, and perhaps we shouldn’t be either – even when pictures of the mangled corpse of a man whose regime we were once happy to do business with turn up on the evening news.

As so trenchantly noted by the Flying Rodent, when we were not protecting Libya ‘to fucking rubble, house-by-house’, we were carrying out an operation that:

may just reek more of a hitjob than a humanitarian enterprise.

The agendas at play have now become more dangerous to civilians than the dictators could have dreamed of being, especially now as they are being taken down one by one.  We are moving into a new reality, where the bounds of what is possible and justifiable in international law get stretched ever thinner in the race for results.  It wasn’t always thus.

Although the suicides of many of the Nazi high command put them out of the reach of justice, the instinct at the end of the Second World War was to follow a kind of due process before sentencing the captured leaders to death.  More recently, Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic were both put on trial, although some of the difficulties in trying the Serbian leader – coupled with the inconclusive end to the trial following his early death from a heart attack – may have convinced the authorities that a swift bullet is the preferred outcome.

Yet however slowly justice moves, I believe there must be an advantage to the victims in such a measured reckoning.  Beyond the soothing vengeance of a quick and ignoble death is the removal of the opportunity for a proper post-mortem for tbe Libyan people.  Perhaps I am being too cynical in wondering if that will cause a few less sleepless nights in London, Paris and Washington this week.  It must also be causing a certain amount of restlessness in Iran and Syria too.

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Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust

Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.

- The Clash

The Clash? Just a band.

- Scroobius Pip

Last week’s announcement of new dates by what is usually described as (take a deep breath) ‘seminalManchesterindiedancecrossoverband’ The Stone Roses caused a predictable backlash in certain quarters.  You can always rely on the Daily Mash to tell it like it is

While I will happily confess to quite liking some of The Roses’ songs, and can even listen to a couple off the almost universally loathed ‘Second Coming’, it is difficult to find much to argue with in this, from the Guardian’s Sam Wolfson:

The Stone Roses… are Primal Scream in need of editing; a band with a couple of nice songs that go on too long. Their real legacy is this huge show on an island that wasn’t an island that everyone who was there says sounded awful. They are a live band most famous for being shit live.

And let’s face it, if you wanted to hear a terrible, off-key rendition of ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ being played over a crappy sound system, you could wander into most karaoke bars at a certain hour of the night.  There seems to be little need to fork out £55 plus booking fee to see the now haggard originals, unless you are incredibly keen to pretend that it is the early nineties again.  Even John Squire, quoted in popbitch, seems unsure:

“I have no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses” – John Squire, 2009

“We’ve rehearsed, we’ve written songs and in some ways it seems like 15 years ago. It’s quite strange” – John Squire, 2011

Perhaps this mythology-building seems particularly hard to countenance for anyone with a passing acquaintance with dance music’s early years, because the way the rock legends were built up into untouchables was something that house – like punk before it – promised was going to be done away with.  The amount of samples and varying influences being thrown in to the mix meant that it was possible to appreciate the past, while never losing the joy of the new.  I believe this blend is at the heart of the love of music, yet if one exists without the other you end up mired in your own glory days or recklessly running from one new trend to another.  Balance is key.

Music moves pretty fast at times, and few other than the professionally fanatical have the chance to keep up.  In the mad scramble, bands and tunes that might have become loved are often lost, so that there is no shame in revisiting past sounds which may have been overlooked.  To avoid doing so could mean missing out on discovering a new favourite, a real tragedy.

But the relentless backwards gaze becomes damaging at the point at which the adulation for the past chokes the airways of the new.  If everyone paying through the nose to watch Mani and co amble through the classics could also be persuaded to chuck in a fiver to watch some unsigned bands, perhaps we wouldn’t be doomed to a chart full of nostalgia-peddlers and end-of-the-pier talent show winners.  Maybe.

It is also hard to get away from a feeling that The Roses had their moment in the sun.  They had all the attention that a band could wish for and – if we are honest – fucked it right up.  Choking under the pressure to perform was largely what they did best (worst?)  Now, older and wiser, they are seeking to seal the legacy and earn one last great payday,  but such an attempt to rewrite their history must be doomed to failure.  At the first sign of arguments or no-shows the music press will be clicking Ctrl+C on the old headlines again.  Perhaps their cause would be better advanced by packing the headlining slots full of up and coming bands who can only dream of such exposure.

But always remember.  The Stone Roses?  Just a band.

Photo borrowed from here, which also contains an article demolishing some of the other nineties indie myths. Worth a read!

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The truth

It is difficult to imagine the emotions that the families of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Disaster must be feeling today, at the news that all government papers – including uncensored cabinet meeting minutes – are to be made available to the independent panel chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool.

The dignity with which the families have fought the official version of events, while coping with the sudden and shocking loss of their relatives, is an inspiration.  It is perhaps testament to their bravery that many of the MPs who spoke in Monday’s debate on the release of the papers were fighting back tears.  Although with emotions running so high, it was also fitting that Labour MP for Walton in Liverpool, Steve Rotherham opened his address by saying:

I have been careful not to base my account of events on emotion. I have ensured that I have clear and referenced evidence to support all my contentions.

He went on to talk about what the release of the papers will mean to those who have been campaigning for justice:

Misdirection, obfuscation and damned lies were all used as smokescreens to deflect attention away from the guilty. Institutional complacency and gross negligence, coupled with an establishment cover-up, have added to the sense that there was an orchestrated campaign to shift blame from those who were really responsible on to the shoulders of Liverpool fans. Many myths have been perpetrated about the events of 15 April 1989.

It is incredible that the families of the 96 have had to wait 22 years for these smokescreens to lift, and with an estimated 300,000 documents to be released there is still a long road to travel, but I hope that with this announcement we move another step closer to finding out the real truth of what happened that day.

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Characterised by repetitive beats

One of the less fun things about clocking up another birthday is the dawning realisation that each visit to a club could be the last.  As people slow down, the sofa or bar becomes more appealing, especially when weighed against the demands of an all-nighter.

Suddenly it is less certain that the weekend will be spent dancing to great music anywhere outside the confines of your own room.  Another downer is the wry observation that, if – like me – your first experience of the nightlife was back in the mid-nineties, you are maybe sharing a dance floor with people who weren’t even born then.  Close behind comes the realisation that dearly loved tunes are approaching their 20-year anniversary.   Sobering isn’t the word.

But before I got this jaded, the first music I lost my heart to in a darkened club was probably drum ‘n’ bass, except that it wasn’t called that yet.  Lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, I headed out each weekend with friends from my town and others we had barely heard of.

Although the jungle raves and clubs we frequented were usually located in unglamorous warehouses a million miles from the nearest tube station, hearing sounds like this made all the adventures in getting there and back worthwhile.  That said, I advise fast-forwarding to 01:34 for the good stuff, as the intro is a little over-epic:

Again luckily, just as me and my clubbing associates were tiring of the grunginess of drum ‘n’ bass, which might have caused a premature end to the fun, along came UK garage with the perfect excuse to get glammed up and give it another go.

The soul and joy of tunes like this made it impossible to think of settling for Saturday nights in front of the TV just yet:

Later, as the age at which mortgages and nappies take many away from the joys of dancing all night approached, I instead got another ‘second’ wind.

Spend any length of time clubbing and you begin to see how the influences refresh themselves.  Those earlier beats meld into something else, sounding at once familiar and brand new.  Journalists like to name genres, crown scene leaders and herald yet another bold dawn for UK dance music, but for the enthusiasts all that matters is that the music delivers.  When it is this good, there is little else to compete:

So instead of going gentle into that good night, I prefer to take my chances.  Planning to get in as much club-time as I can before the knees give out and a glance at my ID from the bouncers declares me too old to enter, rather than the opposite.

That I resolved to do this at about 4.30 am on Saturday in the main room of Womb in Tokyo, whilst listening to this fella spin should not cause you to doubt my commitment:

Here’s to a few more years of journeys home in the dawn with ringing ears.

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‘A journey of decades’ – Matt Ford and Love Mode present The Art Show

One of the hardest things about being so far away is missing out on events like the current exhibition of art work by talented photographer Matt Ford.  So I am indebted to Samantha Elmes, student at Liverpool John Moores University,  for her review of the opening night, even though it leaves me tinged with sadness for not being able to attend in person.  Now read on…

Parr Street, Studio Two turned into an enthralling museum of misfits on October 6th.  Matt Ford’s art work, taking inspiration from love and sensuality, was the making, the background, the focus and the subtlety of the whole evening.  In short, not even the talents of Millie Dollar and her feather boa could detract from it.  Surrounded by a variety of people, the cool, the artistic, the young, the old, the slick and the misplaced, I got the impression that this wasn’t for the exclusive. This was for the multitude.

A particular print, ‘He Loves Me’, held all the sensitivity of the ‘he loves me not’ daisy rhyme it depicts, and yet collided with distinguished adult elements.  ‘Tease’, ‘Voyeur’and ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ were visual excitements with the brashness of sex and everything intertwined.  Every image stood unique and simple, erotic and demanding. It was with an ease that Ford’s imagery set the tone that the event undoubtedly followed.  In one room there was the sensation of hanging with the ‘Mods and the Rockers’ and in the next I expected a ‘groovy baby’ accompanied by velvet flares.

Purposefully or not, it became not just an art show but a journey of decades.  And the funny thing being those pictures never looked out-of-place once.  Even when Millie Dollar and Cocabelle strutted in to the mix it seemed oh so natural that Dollar should whirl around a few tassels and Cocabelle should belt out tunes that had all the attitude of rock and roll with soulful bluesy undertones.  With a slight reminder that we were, in actual fact, in the 21st century, her rendition of Emeli Sandi ‘Heaven’ echoed hauntingly, and even though she was perched on a stool with a broken leg she still managed to move the rest of us.  She followed with her own song ‘Am I Falling?’  If anyone else was unsure, I know I certainly did.  For her bleached bombshell hair do, for Millie Dollar’s seductive stance, for the electric fires, for the bongo drums in the corner, for the red wine and the barman.

When the final act of Millie Dollar arrived there was a collective fall backwards into the era of stockings, garters and red lipstick, of cigar smoke and whiskey, of underground grit pre-existing a sexual revolution.  Although Millie Dollar’s feather boa and enticing emerald-green corset is another expression of art now, it is still a testament to the boundaries pushed and experimentation mirrored within  Ford’s art work.

So when the next Art Show comes around be sure to sneak your name on to the guest list and you’ll understand what I mean when I say, quite simply, that the title of my favourite piece there described the whole evening in two words.

Flat out.  It was completely flat out.

The Art Show continues until 16 October at Studio 2 at Parr Street, if you are lucky enough to be closer to Liverpool than I am, make sure you don’t miss out!

Photographs by Alexandra Christian, used by permission.

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A year in Yoyogi Park

One year ago today I saw Yoyogi Park for the first time.  Here is how it looked this afternoon, as we celebrated this anniversary together:

On that first visit last year, it was a case of instant attraction.  I hadn’t been in Japan for very long and had mostly seen people stressed, running for and sleeping on trains, racing from office to English lessons and arriving back home late in the evening.  This was before a student told me that writers were born for an idle life, but I was already wondering how someone so temperamentally inclined to indolence could fit into such a hectic society.

When I saw the park that Sunday, I knew that although I wasn’t made for early starts, long commutes and overwork, there was still a space for me in Tokyo.  The rest of the week might be a caffeine and nicotine-fuelled head-rush of working through lunch, napping on the train and grabbing dinner at the station, but weekends are firmly for lazing.  Head to Yoyogi, stroll around, breathe deep and act like the working week is something that happens to someone else.  The park makes it possible to believe that it is.  Even when summer glares, it is a haven:

Spring gets a lot of the attention because it is beautiful and short-lived, but the first time I saw Yoyogi Park it was autumn, my favourite season of rich colours and cool evenings.  Spending all-too-brief days off there, hand in gloved hand with a boy I thought I might have been falling for, it turns out it was really the park I loved.  And that has endured, long after the boy left for a place without seasons, it is Yoyogi that I escape to – when I need to think, or not think – where I go to sit beneath trees and read.

Everyone needs that place of escape.  I am lucky to have found mine beneath the clouds, between the pages of a book, encased in headphones.  Even when full of holiday crowds, it belongs to me.  A place and a love worth celebrating.

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Weekend reading

Taking advantage of the extra day off in Japan this week to work on something a little longer, so here are a couple of my short stories from writers’ site ABC Tales, What passes for romance and Let’s Start Again.  I hope you enjoy them.

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‘No pasaran': Cable Street 1936-2011

Anniversaries always offer good opportunities for the reinterpretation of past events according to modern sensibilities.  With each passing year the memories get polished, the myths build and the truth becomes that little less easy to establish.  75 years have gone by since a diverse population of East Enders – among them dockers, Jews, trade unionists and assorted left-wing groups – gathered to stop Sir Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts goose-stepping through the neighbourhood and ended up fighting the police sent in to clear a way for the fascists.

That is more than enough time for the stories of what happened in a now fairly anonymous street in E1 to get lost in a fog.  Enough time for historians to look at the events of 4 October 1936 and question if the Battle even made things worse for the local Jewish population:

Far from signalling the demise of fascism in the East End, or bringing respite to its Jewish victims, Cable Street had quite the opposite effect. Over the following months the British Union of Fascists was able to convert defeat on the day into longer-term success and to justify a further radicalisation of its anti-Jewish campaign.

This is a dangerous argument, if seen through to its logical conclusion, that fascists are best not resisted.  With the world mired in economic crisis and racists targetting areas with concentrated immigrant populations once again, it is tempting to wonder what, if anything, we have learned since the Thirties.  Even this writer has indulged.  And as Spanish anarchist Buenaventura Durruti commented:

No government fights fascism to destroy it. When the bourgeoisie sees that power is slipping out of its hands, it brings up fascism to hold onto their privileges.

The truly fatal myth is the one that tries to encourage us to ignore fascism in the hope it will go away, when even a brief look at history shows this is not an effective strategy.  As this excellent article argues,

it was not “objective conditions” that stopped the police forcing a way for the British Hitlerites into Jewish East London: it was a quarter of a million workers massing on the streets to tell them that they would not pass, and making good the pledge by erecting barricades and fighting the BUF-shepherding police. A year after Cable Street, it was the working class and the socialist movement which again put up barricades in Bermondsey to stop the fascists marching.

Remembering that may be the best way of marking today’s anniversary.

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ten minutes love

Haven’t got the heart for a rant this weekend.  Looking forward to fun times with good people, the sun is shining and – in spite of the usual piss-artists and their attempts to spread misery around – life is good.  So here are a few things I’ve been feeling the love for, watched over by my favourite Tokyo Metro poster of the moment.  The caption reads: ‘Please be careful not to lean against the person sitting next to you should you fall asleep’.  Valuable life advice for us all.

  1. Ben Six on when censorship is a Good Thing
  2. Mark of the Mortal Bath is enjoying his new commute to work
  3. Our Man in Abiko went above and beyond the call of duty in answering my call for help. Great novel-writing assistance is over here.

May you all enjoy the weekend like I’m going to!

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