RIP Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese, mainman of Tangerine Dream, died last Tuesday. One of the true greats of the worlds of both electronic music and progressive rock.

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“My Tribe, Right or Wrong” is a really bad cultural anti-pattern.

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Fox News Facts

The radical preacher who controls Birmingham

#FoxNewsFacts was a trending topic on Twitter a few days ago. The hashtag stated that the radical Islamist preacher pictured above controlled Birmingham, there was another dangerous radical cleric called Jaspur Q’rat, and people were being forced to study The Kerrang.

This was British humour’s response to the claim made by a talking head on Fox TV that the city of Birmingham was 100% Muslim, and non-Muslims were forbidden to enter.

I posted a few myself, stating that it was punishable by death to confuse Birmingham with The Black Country, but nobody outside the area knew the boundary, that the soccerball team “Wolves” were made up from werewolves, and that Prince Philip really is an alien lizard. Many of them got retweeted a lot, and a few people claimed the last of those might actually be true.

Liberal England gives some background on the talking head in question.

Steve Emerson, the soi-disant terrorism expert who told Fox News that Birmingham is a “Muslim-only city” where non-Muslims “don’t go”, has apologised for his “terrible error”.

That is to his credit, but Emerson will be a busy man if he is going to apologise for all his terrible errors.

Steve Emerson not an expert on terrorism as such. His mission is not to inform but to spread propaganda. He’s a professional charlatan, a “court prophet”, who has made a successful living telling whatever his sponsors want the gullible to hear.

His “terrible error” was not being wrong about Birmingham, but not stopping to think that such an obvious and easily-disproven lie would escape from the Fox News media bubble. Birmingham should throw his insincere false apology back in his face.

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With the news that Toblerone is to be made in Birmingham at the same factory that makes Creme Eggs, I’m beginning to wonder if this will become the chocolate equivalent of Interbrew’s lager.

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Lonely Robot pre-order

Lonely Robot is the new project from guitarist, vocalist and producer John Mitchell, of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame. It features a rhythm section of Nick Beggs and Craig Blundell, with guest appearances from Steve Hogarth, Nick Kershaw, Heather Findlay, Kim Seviour and Jem Godfrey. It’s released on 23rd February, and Burning Shed are now taking pre-orders.

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So, American right-wingers are robustly defending a group of French Communists, while others who identify as liberals are making excuses for the religious fundamentaists who murdered them? Have I just woken up in Bizarro-World?

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Best Gigs of 2014

Chantel McGregor at the 2014 Cambridge Rock Festival

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn’t get to see Kate Bush’s already legendary shows at Hammersmith in the summer. But I did get to see plenty of other bands, from festivals to free-entry pub gigs, so many in fact that I lost eventually lost count. I do remember nine in thirteen days in December, after which I collapsed in a heap.

These are ten of the best of the year, listed in chronological order save for the gig of the year. Several of them are from festivals, where I’ve highlighted individual sets rather than the festival as a whole.

The Pineapple Thief, HRH Prog, March

The first day of HRH Prog was somewhat patchy, with rather too many rather one-dimensional acts. The Pineapple Thief were the exception, with a magnificently intense set that stood head and shoulders above anyone else on Friday’s bill, including headliners The Flower Kings.

Riverside, O2 Academy, April

Poland’s finest proved they’re every bit as good live as they are on record, the perfect band for anyone still missing Porcupine Tree, but with enough of an identity of their own to sound like any kind of pastiche.

Panic Room, Gloucester Guildhall, April

2014 saw Panic Room back firing on all cylinders again after a somewhat shaky 2013, with the new lineup with then-new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan fully bedded it. They kicked off with an impressive performance at HRH Prog in March, and were on consistently good live form thereafter. It’s hard to single out any one show, but this early one in Gloucester was as good as any.

Magenta, Trinity Live, May

Magenta were only added to the bill of the all-day charity gig very late in the day when Christina’s cancer treatment was progressing well enough to allow her to perform. It’s always remarkable how good Magenta are live considering how infrequently they perform; but this time they completely stole the show. And they deserved it.

Jeff Lorber, Swansea Jazz Festival, June

Most of this years gigs have been prog and metal, so the Swansea Jazz Festival was a change of pace. Among others it featured the veteran trumpeter Dick Pierce, the violin-driven gypsy jazz of Sarah Smith, and the jazz-rock of Protect the Beat. But the highlight of the weekend was Friday night’s set of jazz-fusion from pianist Jeff Lorber. The world of prog contains plenty of virtuoso musicians, but jazz can be on another level.

Mostly Autumn, The Box in Crewe, July

Mostly Autumn have bounced back very strongly after a hit-and-miss 2013, touring to promote the best album they’ve made in years and for the first time playing the new album in full on tour. Despite a fluctuating lineup in the early part of the year due some members’ prior commitments, which saw former flautist Angela Gordon standing in for a couple of gigs, they were back to the sort of live form they displayed in 2011 and 2012. An early highlight was their long-overdue return to Crewe in July.

Mr So and So, Resonance, August

Resonance was a strange festival, with an eclectic mix of bands playing across multiple stages, including a small room tucked away at up at the top of the building. One of the bands in that small room, Mr So and So, were an unexpected highlight, a band who have improved immensely over the past couple of years, with Charlotte Evans coming into her own as a singer.

Chantel McGregor, Cambridge Rock Festival, August

The Cambridge Rock Festival was another highlight of the year, with strong sets from Mostly Autumn, Mr So and So, The Windmill, Cloud Atlas and others. One of the highlights was the guitar-shredding set on Friday from Chantel McGregor, who simply owns the main stage at that festival.

Fish, Reading Sub89, December

Fish had planned to tour the UK in May but was forced to cancel due to Guitarist Robin Boult’s injury. The rescheduled shows in December looked in doubt at one point when the man himself went down with viral laryngitis on the continental leg. But in the end all was fine, and the band were on fire, with a completely new setlist compared to last year, with old favourites like “Big Wedge” and “Incubus” as well as the powerful High Wood suite from his newest album played in full.

It’s hard to narrow things down to just ten, so honourable mentions to Touchstone and IOEarth’s Christmas show in Bilston, The Tangent’s mesmerising performance at Celebr8.3 in Islington, Tarja rocking out the O2 Academy, Steve Rothery at Bush Hall, Opeth’s oldies-heavy set at The Roundhouse, and Alestorm’s booze and piracy in Reading.

It’s even harder to pick the best of the lot, but there can only be one, and this came towards the end of the year.

Marillion, The Forum, December

Even after more than 30 years in the business, Marillion never disappoint live, and their sell-out December Christmas shows were no exception. What was surprising was the number of real oldies they haven’t played for years; “SlĂ inte Mhath”, “Warm Wet Circles/This Time of the Night” and even “Garden Party” from the Fish era, and several song from “Seasons End” including the magnificent title track. It gave the impression of a band comfortable in their own skins and reconciled with their own past in a way they weren’t a few years back.

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Arkham, Change for Innsmouth

Arkham StationThe branch to Innsmouth had closed by the time of the events in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, but the Innsmouth Local still runs on the HO Scale Miskatonic Railroad, set in the 19th Century, with locations inspired by H.P.Lovecraft’s stories set in New England.

The centrepiecepiece is the splendid Victorian Gothic station of Arkham, modelled on the real-live station of Salem, MA (of witch-trial fame). Much like too much of the best Victorian architecture of Britain, it was demolished in the 1950s to make way for a car park.

Hat-tip to Kenneth Hite (who else?) for the link.

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Charlie Hebdo and Victim Blaming

Over the past couple of days there has been an huge outpouring of support for the ten murdered journalists of Charlie Hebdo and the two police officers who died defending then. #JeSuisCharlie and #JeSuisAhmed have both been very popular hashtags on Twitter.

But sadly there has also been some unpleasant mealy-mouthed victim-blaming. Some comes from the usual suspects on the religious right, both reactionary Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants. But there’s also some coming the culture warriors of the left, and this repellent piece by Arthur Chu is one of the worst. If you’ve never heard of him, Arthur Chu is a one-time game show contestant who has more recently become “internet famous” in the back of his public opposition to GamerGate. His line on Charlie Hebdo is “Murder is terrible, but…” using the conjunctive in the same way as the infamous “I’m not racist, but…”. It’s classic victim-blaming in the same way as “She shouldn’t have worn that skirt if she didn’t want to get raped”.

I’m hearing a lot of accusations of racism directed towards Charlie Hebdo from self-appointed experts who are quick to judge but understand little of French culture or French politics. Most of these people are American, and many of those seem ignorant of much beyond the American suburbs. They give the impression they understand French culture about as well as Post-9/11 warbloggers understood Arab culture. The idea that you can’t judge any cartoon without understanding its context seems to escape them.

The BBC obituaries of the twelve who died paints a very different picture, and doesn’t leave you with the impression that the victims were in any way racist or right-wing.

Satire is supposed to mock the powerful, the pompous and the self-important, so we shouldn’t be surprised when social authoritarians of the right ot the left have a problem with it. But if you really think mocking violent extremism is “punching down”, you moral compass urgently needs recalibrating.

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Freedom of Speech

Either you believe in freedom of speech or you don’t.

In recent years too many small-l liberals have been sitting on the fence on this issue. If you believe that there is any “right not be offended” or the principles of “safe spaces” should be applied to the public square rather than to private spaces, you don’t actually believe in freedom of speech. Yesterday’s events have thrown such beliefs into sharp relief. And the bloody murder of cartoonists ought to put an end to the ridiculous weasel-speak idea that it’s not censorship if it’s anyone other than the government doing it.

Freedom of speech means does freedom for speech you or others will find offensive and objectionable. But democracy and freedom depend on the ability to speak truth to power. Allowing bad speech is always going to be lesser evil than censorship which, even in enforced for the noblest of intentions, will inevitably end up serving the interests of the powerful.

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