Author Archives: Tim Hall

In an Instant – Where the Demons and the Devil Speak

A single from a young band from Northern Ireland.

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This World is Totally Fuguzi

When I checked in to a hotel in Worcester for a gig on Friday night I told the Polish receptionist it was the middle date of a three-day trip and I’d spent the previous night in Bristol.

“I hope you voted”, she replied.

There was a subdued mood at the gig; what happened affected band and audience. There were doubts at the back of the mind over how well this little grassroots scene would survive the coming storm. There were conversations about future gigs and festivals that ended with “Assuming of course it still takes place”.

Almost everyone I know has been completely devastated by the referendum result. Many are in fear of their livelihood, some are in fear of their personal safety and even their lives. Not only is the entire economy heading down the toilet, but the result has emboldened the very worst people in the country; especially the stupid, violent racists who now believe that 52% agree with them and think they have a licence to hurl crude abuse at anyone who looks foreign. If you voted Leave, you have helped enable these knuckle-draggers regardless of your reasons for voting that way.

But I can’t bring myself to hate everyone who voted Leave. Yes, some of those who voted Leave were unpleasant small-town xenophobes. Yes, others were the worst kinds of sociopathic libertarians. And many more were ignorant fools who were too willing to believe obvious lies. But there must have been many more who voted in protest against a political establishment that had ignored or taken them for granted for decades.

This doesn’t mean we should not be angry at those who should have known better, and there are many of them.

But I am far angrier at out political elites for getting us in this mess. David Cameron, whose catastrophic political misjudgement is the direct cause. And George Osborne whose ideologically-driven austerity program has screwed-over the poorest communities.

Then there’s the entire Leave Campaign, every single one of them lying two-faced pieces of shit. Boris Johnson is revealed as an utterly cynical charlatan. Farage has revealed his true nature as an out-and-out racist. UKIP are the natural successors of the BNP; the decline of that openly racist party not so much a rejection of their values as UKIP hoovering up their base. And don’t even get me started on the Daily Mail and the Daily Express for printing out-and-out race hate on their front pages.

And last, but not least, Jeremy Corbyn. There is increasing evidence that Corbyn, or at least his inner circle, actively sabotaged Labour’s contribution towards the Remain campaign. In a way that duplicity is even worse than Boris’ lying. It may be that Corbyn himself is innocent and the blame lies with people surrounding him such as the odious Seamas Milne, but the truth is the leadership did not support the party on the ground. That is why the party is now in meltdown.

We are now two nations who inhabit different cultural universes, and we must ask ourselves how the hell we got here. What happened to the confident outward-looking Britain of the 2012 Olympics? What made 52% of the voters believe the only way their voices would matter was to utterly screw over the other 48% in revenge?

It may well be that in the end we won’t actually leave the EU after all. The referendum was technically advisory and not legally binding, a deliberate loophole that neither campaign wanted to draw attention to. David Cameron did not send notification under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Friday, and that may prove to be very significant. For all the talk of respecting the will of the people, a democracy is not the same as tyranny of the majority, and democratic systems have checks and balances for a reason. The majority was less that 4% and both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. The only thing stopping Parliament from overruling the referendum is how they’re going to sell it to the voters at the next election. But anything could happen and a lot could change in the next couple of months.

Healing the deep divisions in England and in Wales is going to take a lot longer.

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Rainbow – Genting Arena

The announcement that Ritchie Blackmore was to perform a handful of shows with a new incarnation of Rainbow came as a complete surprise. With the exception of power-metal stalwart Jens Johansson on keys, the band was made up of relative unknowns, including Ronnie Romero on vocals. In recent year Blackmore has devoted his creative energies to the medieval folk-pop of Blackmore’s Night, and it’s been many, many years since he last played a hard rock gig on a major stage. So there was much anticipation and speculation as to what to expect. Would the shows be a triumph, or turn out to be a complete car crash? Enough people were willing to take a risk that the sixteen-thousand capacity Genting Arena in Birmingham sold out within 24 hours of going on general sale.

Opening the show, for one of the biggest gigs of their career, was Mostly Autumn. To be strictly accurate is was four-sevenths of Mostly Autumn; the restricted space available on the stage meant there was only room for a cut-down foursome comprising Bryan Josh, Olivia Sparnenn, Alex Cromarty and Iain Jennings, covering the bass on keys. Bryan told us how he’s been a fan of Blackmore since he was 10, and never expected to be the opening act for Rainbow in an arena.

A fusillade of drums and Bryan’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In for the bite” opened their six-song set, which included the standards “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die”, more recent hard rockers “Drops of the Sun” and “Deep in Borrowdale”, and a spine-tingling “Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts”. Even though the arrangements lost the layers of the full band, the songs chosen still worked remarkably well in cut-down format, and there was plenty of Bryan Josh’s soaring lead guitar. Aside from an unfortunate pause when a string came loose mid-song, it came over well and the band deserve to have won over new fans with that one.

Rainbow began with that familiar opening from the classic 1977 live album; the intro tape of Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz and Blackmore playing the main theme from “Over the Rainbow”. Then he launched into the intro of “Highway Star” with Ronnie Romero repeating the opening line over the intro before Blackmore hit the opening riff and launched into the song proper.

Over the next two hours it was greatest hits from across the Rainbow and Deep Purple songbook. “Spotlight Kid” and “Mistreated” early in the set didn’t quite catch fire, but from then on things got steadily better as the show went on and Blackmore loosened up. At 71 years of age he doesn’t have the speed of decades past, for example “Catch the Rainbow” had a slower more melodic solo rather than the blur of notes of his 1970s performances. But that distinctive classical phrasing is still there.

Ronnie Romero proved to have a fine voice, and came over best on Ronnie Dio and David Coverdale songs, though his dark take of “Perfect Strangers” impressed a lot, and he succeeded in projecting himself to the crowd as a frontman. Two backing singers including Blackmore’s other half Candace Night filled out the sound.

Once or twice things faltered; in particular the somewhat butchered version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” didn’t quite come off. In contrast, the acoustic version of “Soldier of Fortune” was a delight. The rocked-out version of Beethoven’s ninth, “Difficult to Cure” became a vehicle for solos, first a drum solo that was short enough not to outstay its welcome, then, horror of horrors, a bass solo, and finally an interminable keyboard solo. It actually started out well with jazz flavoured Hammond, but lost its way with an overlong classical style piano section and blasts of every differed keyboard effect from 70s parps to pipe organ. It’s Blackmore the audience paid to see, and this sort of thing should have been left in the 70s where it belonged.

The best came towards the end. After an impressive “Child in Time” with the two backing singers adding another dimension came a truly monstrous take on what has to be the definitive Rainbow song, “Stargazer”. Romero nailed the vocal and Blackmore himself was on fire for the solo. They finished the main set with the early Purple hit “Black Night” tailing off with the audience singing the riff over and over as the band left the stage.

Any worries that Blackmore would throw one his legendary strops and refuse to do an encore proved groundless; they were back with a rendition of “Burn” as monstrous as Stargazer before it. But still they weren’t quite done. Romero led the audience through an a capella first verse of “Smoke on the Water” before Blackmore came in for That Riff after the first chorus.

Despite a slightly shaky start this ended as a triumphal gig; the power and intensity of the last few songs in particular sent the audience away feeling they’d had their money’s worth. Here were songs few thought they’d ever hear played live by anything other than tribute bands a year ago, and for some, Stargazer alone was worth the price of the ticket. These shows were initially going to be one-offs, but Blackmore has since hinted that they may be further shows next year.

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Political Grief Policing

Ian Dunt says that Brexiters must stop trying to police the reaction to Jo Cox’s death.

For the Remain camp the death forced a pause in campaigning just when they needed to get their message out. But for Brexiters it was far worse. In a contest which is fundamentally about risk and the public appetite for a jump into the unknown, the news of a mother being killed in the street seemed to affirm a sense of chaos and impending darkness. It provided an emotional backdrop which gravitated towards concerns about stability and security.

But that’s only half of it. Brexiters aren’t just scared the death will have an impact on the referendum. They’re scared it will force a change in how we talk about immigration. An expectation might develop that the debate be discussed moderately, with as little emotion as possible, and on the basis of facts.

That would be a disaster for the anti-immigration lobby, which is very good at telling stories designed to trigger an emotional response, particularly in those who are struggling to get by. ‘This family of seven just arrived in Britain and now they’re in the council home you didn’t get’ – that type of thing. Sometimes the stories are true. Mostly they are false. But they are all based on highly emotive and divisive attempts to turn the public mood. They reached a pinnacle – for now, if we’re lucky – in the Nigel Farage ‘Breaking Point’ poster.

For those two reasons – Brexit and the continuation of an aggressive anti-immigration debate – Jo Cox’s death needed to be stripped of its political context. It could not be treated as a political killing of a political person, with political causes and political repercussions. It had to be turned into a simple story of personal tragedy. Nothing more

What he says. Jo Cox was a politician who was murdered by someone who was opposed to everything she stood for politically. I’ve had to mute Leave suporters on social media who engaged in precisely the sort of policing Ian Dunt is calling out here. But there was never a peep from the same people over the Leave campaigns gross and inflammatory racism.

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Nigel Gresley’s Birthday

To celebrate the 147th birthday of Sir Nigel Gresley, here’s Big Big Train performing the song East Coast Racer.

When asked where they stand on the great Gresley Duck argument, they responded that they’d made a careful assessment of the situation, then wrote a song about a pigeon.

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Where do we go from here?

Jo Cox (Wikipedia)There were some rational arguments in favour of Leave, but their appeal has always been based more on emotion than on reason. Which was why Remain found it so hard to counter Vote Leave’s lies with cold, hard facts. Vote Leave has tapped into a rich seam of pent-up resentment from people mainstream politics had been ignoring for decades.

But everything has changed in the past 48 hours. After the terrible murder of Jo Cox technical arguments about economics or democracy or sovereignty just don’t matter any more. It’s become a question of what sort of country we want to be, and a vote for Leave represents an endorsement of the blatant and ugly racism of Leave’s loudest and nastiest supporters.

And that is something which simply cannot be allowed to happen.

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What is an Automated Derailment?

Paddington Station is in chaos because of a derailed train. An empty three-car DMU has ended up with all three coaches on the ballast, and managed to hit a catenery gantry. Photos that appeared online make it look as though Thomas the Thames Turbo didn’t want to carry the commuters home and decided to sit and sulk instead.

Network Rail have described it as the train going through a red signal and causing an “Automated Derailment”, which to the uninitated does sound like an odd turn of phrase.

It actually derailed on a trap point, which is designed to protect the exit from a siding when the main line isn’t clear for a train to leave the siding. A low speed derailment such as happened outside Paddington would be far less dangerous than a collision with another train.

The above film is from The Great Central Railway back in 2013, and shows a trap point doing what it’s supposed to so. It’s on a heritage railway using traditional mechanical signalling, but the principle is just the same.

Notice that the signal is at danger, and stays at danger. According to the comments the derailment you see happen was the result of a signaller error; the signaller gave the driver an instruction to proceed past the signal even though it was at danger, but hadn’t set the points correctly.

Red faces all around. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and the damage was repairable.

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But he does good work!

The story of Jacob Applebaum resignation from TOR following multiple accusations of sexual assault is a disturbing one. It’s an all-too-familiar story; his behaviour appears to have been common knowledge for years, but he was powerful enough that nobody was willing to call him out publicly. Then once a critical mass of victims were willing to share their stories, it opened the floodgates. How he was able to get away with so much for so long is one of those questions it’s hard not to ask.

There are important differences, but there are also strong parallels with Requires Hate in the SFF community. Both are examples of manipulative sociopaths surrounded by sycophants, and both are examples of the values of a non-mainstream subculture serving to enable an abuser.

Violet Blue pulls no punches, blaming a hero-worshipping culture for enabling abuse, and is prepared to name and shame some of the people who continued to write fawning media pieces even as his character and behaviour was becoming widely known.

Maybe they knew, or maybe they didn’t care enough to vet him, but CCC and Assange and Snowden gave him power and that needs to be part of this conversation, because we need look no further for proof that hero worship and the cult of belief is pure poison. He convinced people to trust him with secrets, like docs, and threatened the unthinkable if cornered. Jake also benefited greatly — and I can’t stress this enough — from journalists who did not check their facts, reporters who bought into his bullshit persecuted-hacker narrative, and blogs like Boing Boing who breathlessly starfucked his appropriated hacks and docs and reprehensible behavior into credibility.

This didn’t happen because we’re broken as a hacker culture, or because we’re hackers and thus too undeveloped to comprehend empathy. People like Jake can be found in other places; priests and churches, Hollywood, the porn industry, and more. Wherever power imbalances, hero worship, and secret-keepers intersect. People like Jake are found in hacker culture, too, and it’s past time for hacker culture to deal with it.

And, of course, the music industry is hardly immune. Violet’s line about the effect of seeing people praise the work of a known abuser has on their victims cuts rather close to home. Do we single out the likes of Gary Glitter and Rolf Harris and ignore or play down the behaviour of others purely because the latter’s music is considered more worthy?

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What happens when you don’t pay your writers?

Flume SkinEither I’m an old man yelling at clouds, and this is a “Kids get off my lawn” moment, or The Independent’s review of Flume’s ‘Skin’ is deep in Poe’s Law land

Let’s first talk about what kind of music this is. If you don’t like electronic beats and you’re coming into this with a closed mind, leave now, take your fake Fender clutching-ass back to the campfire so you can sing Jack Johnson and Dave Matthews to your beloved. Now let’s get into this review.

It goes on like that, at great, great length.

Twitter seems divided over this review is actually for real, or it’s a very clever parody of a certain immature and narcissistic style of music writing many of us both recognise and loathe. If it’s a troll, are the Independent trolling their readership, or is the writer trolling whatever passes for a music editor at the site?

One or two Guardian critics I won’t name have suggested this sort of thing is what happens when you don’t pay your writers.

Now, Flume’s Skin might be a great record, even if it’s not quite as good as Panic Room’s album of the same name. But it’s almost impossible to tell from that review.

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British Politics Decends Into The Darkness

I am finding it very difficult to find the right words to express my shock, horror and anger at today’s events.

Yesterday the referendum campaign descended into farce with a mock sea-battle on the Thames. Today began with Nigel Farage using imagery lifted straight from 1930s Nazi propaganda, and ended with the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. While there appear to be conflicting eye-witness reports, much of what we’ve heard suggests the killer was a supporter of the far-right.

David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a spectacular political miscalculation in the first place. It has unleashed dark forces into British politics which will prove very difficult to banish. The Leave Campaign and their supporters in the press, especially The Daily Mail, have been steadily ratcheting up the racist rhetoric in the past weeks; they’re not even bothering with the dog whistle any more. It’s hardly surprising they have the far-right marching under their banner.

In this increasingly ugly atmosphere, it was only a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.

I knew very little about Jo Cox, but the tributes I’ve seen flowing paint a picture of a woman dedicated to making the world a better place. She was a reminder that the majority of MPs across all parties are essentially good people; that the sociopaths, demagogues, charlatans and cynical careerists that exist in all parties too are a minority.

When something like this happens, it’s easy to give in to hate. To rage against the people whose rhetoric empowered the ugliness that took an innocent life. They need to be called to account, yes. But more hate won’t break the cycle.

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