Archive for May, 2009

Doon Toon

27 May 2009


OK, schadenfreude is an ugly emotion, but I am a Sunderland supporter and some small pleasure at Newcastle United’s relegation last week is only to be expected. Of the many tributes, I think I liked most this parody (which I’ve slightly rewritten for public exposure) of the great Petula Clark standard:

“When Kevin Keegan flounces out of your ground, you can always go…

Doon Toon,

When Ashley’s debts, and his cronies, abound, you can always go..

Doon Toon,

Just listen to the traffic on the way to Bristol City,

You’ll have to sell old Micky so your squad won’t look so pretty,

Bad times next year, how do you get to Oakwell?

Europe is a memory – but Plymouth’s on the Channel.

Doon Toon.

You will find Fat Freddie’s there to help and understand you

Dennis Wise is up the stairs to scheme and stuff and scam you

Doon Toon, It’s right deserved as well,

Doon Toon Look at how far you’ve fell,

Doon Toon Doncaster’s waiting for you.

If you want more in the same vein Salut! Sunderland points in the right direction.

Update 29 May 09: Perhaps strangely, perhaps not, there are at least four different Newcastle United-relegation related parodies on you tube based on the last-days-of-Hitler film Downfall – with revised subtitles.  The best are here (written by the author of the ‘Downtown’ parody, I’m told; there are clues) and here. There’s probably a whole dissertation waiting to be written on football fans and recursive post-modernism, especially since there’s a version from earlier in the season on Sunderland’s expensively unsuccessful excursions into the January transfer market. and another from elsewhere in the film on the pools panel. Warning: strong language all round!

The picture is from the big soccer blog.


Failing slightly less badly

26 May 2009


After Newcastle’s relegation on Sunday, John Motson trotted out the well-known cliche about what ‘an unforgiving league’ the Premiership is. It’s hard to see how you can reach this conclusion. The bottom five clubs – a quarter of the teams in the league – all failed to manage to average a point a game over the entire season – which let’s face it means that they have played extremely badly since last August. They’ve won between seven and nine games out of a possible 38.

Disclosure, as they say: the five include Sunderland, whom I support, lucky to stay up after some poor results and worse performances.

In fact, having a quick look across Europe’s league tables, using the ‘point a game’ yardstick, this year Spain is the most competitive (‘most unforgiving’) league, with Italy, France, Turkey, and Portugal less forgiving of under-perrforming teams than the English league. Only in the German league could you play worse this year with better outcomes.

On the final day of the English top division, only one of the five, West Brom, who were already relegated, managed not to lose. as most of the games went according to league form. As Harry Pearson put it recently in a piece on Middlesbrough’s impending relegation, re-phrasing Gore Vidal: ‘When it comes to surviving a relegation dogfight it is not enough that we fail – others must fail worse.’

The picture is from the website Who Ate All The Pies?

Brecht, Weill, Hitler, and Bernie Madoff

21 May 2009

I’ve always liked the work of Ute Lemper, the German singer who’s probably best known for her interpretations of Kurt Weill‘s work, although she has performed songs by many others as well, including Nick Cave and Elvis Costello (on her excellent Punishing Kiss record)..

In a recent interview she explained how she first got interested in the Brecht-Weill songbook in the late ’70s as a way of filling the silence of her parent’s generation about the war, and the Holocaust:

“I didn’t sense that anyone felt any grief.” She pauses. “Grief!” she says again, this time with deep emphasis. “Sadness, madness, anger. How could that happen? How could such organised crime have happened, this imperial Caesar who felt he could take over the world, and the crime of the killing of all the Jewish people. I was numbed with pain – I couldn’t breathe for years.” Brecht-Weill filled both the cultural vacuum and the political silence. Politically, Brecht’s poetry supplied the anger and indignation that she craved. She devoured the history of how Weill, as a German Jew, became a target of the Nazis and was forced to leave the country in March 1933. Five years later, his compositions were paraded in the Düsseldorf exhibition of “degenerate music”.

The same silence, it is sometimes said, was also filled by the violence of Baader-Meinhof’s Red Army Fraction. But this isn’t just history. As she points out in the interview the financial crisis has brought Brecht and Weill’s songs right up to date.

The brutal, corrupt world that Brecht and Weill captured in Weimar Germany is alive and well, she insists, and every bit as relevant today as it was then.”Who is Mack the Knife?” she asks with a knowing look. “He’s that man who did it so courageously, so gutsily. The one now sipping champagne in prison. Bernie Madoff.”

Her version of mack the Knife – from you tube, of course – is at the top of this post. (There’s also a more theatrical version in English here – part of the Elizabeth Taylor concert where her singing is followed, a little bizarrely, by a stage appearance by Michael Jackson.)

Standing up for the ‘commonwealth’

17 May 2009

The death of Ernest Millington, who won a historic war-time by-election in 1945 at Chelmsford for the radical Common Wealth party, produced a fine story about his arrival in the House of Commons. Although he’d come from an ordinary – and poor – family, and had been sacked from at least one pre-war job for his left-wing campaigning, he’d risen through the ranks of the RAF, becoming a Wing Commander. There’s a fine anecdote in Ray Roebuck’s obituary which captures Millington’s spirit and the social turbulence of the time:

He first arrived at the Commons with his newly awarded Distinguished Flying Cross ribbon inexpertly self-sewn on to his uniform. A Conservative MP, who was a squadron leader in the RAF police, approached. “You are improperly dressed,” he told Millington. “If you are talking to me as an RAF officer,” Millington replied, “take your hand out of your pocket and address a senior officer as ‘Sir’. If you are addressing me as a fellow MP, mind your own business and bugger off.” He did.

Obituaries such as this pour light on parts of our history which have been obscured. Having re-read some of the 17th century English Revolution history recently, I’m also struck by the link between the wartime Common Wealth party and the use of language about ‘Common Treasury’ and ‘Common Storehouse’ by the 17th century egalitarian ‘Digger’, Gerard Winstanley.

Philip Glass’ ‘Façades’

16 May 2009

I picked up an old compilation of minimalist music to put me in the right frame of mind for a car journey I had to make, reluctantly. One of the tracks on there was Philip Glass’ Façades, almost thirty years old and apparently an out-take from his score for Koyaanisqatsi. I’d forgotten how gorgeous it is, with the sax melody rising over the strings.

Music for ‘the man in the street’

10 May 2009


One of the pleasures of Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise is that he has a good ear for an anecdote – which resonate even when you can barely recall the individuals involved. Take this exchange between the composer Morton Feldman and his teacher, the radical (sometime communist) Stefan Wolpe (pictured above). Ross writes:

Teacher and student would have long arguments about music’s role in society; once, when Wolpe pointed out the window of his Greenwich Village studio and exclaimed that one must write for the man in the street, Fledman looked down and saw, to his ironic delight, Jackson Pollock walking by.

The photo of Wolpe comes via the independent San Francisico public radio station KALW 91.7’s  website (and programme) Music For Other Minds.

A Toon for the times

5 May 2009


It seems that it may be utterly appropriate that Newcastle United’s players have ‘Northern Rock’ [opens in pdf] emblazoned across their chests. According to the sports journalist David Conn, the way the clubs has been run is a mirror for our times:

Newcastle United’s boom had the lot: borrowing, increased ticket prices and mass replica shirt buying which the fans often paid for with credit cards. There was a failure, [Bobby] Robson complained, to invest adequately in long-term infrastructure like the academy and training facilities. Directors’ pay ballooned, with thumping annual bonuses for Freddy Shepherd, who became the chairman, and Sir John’s son, Douglas, who became a tax exile. In his final year, to June 2007, Douglas was paid £448,654 in salary and a £1.2m pay-off for resigning, all via a Newcastle United company registered in Gibraltar.

And apparently Mike Ashley was so keen to buy that he didn’t bother doing a proper due diligence – only to discover almost immediately that there was debt everywhere, as Conn also explains. You couldn’t make it up.

Singing the blues

2 May 2009


I had quite a sheltered musical upbringing and came quite late to the second British blues boom. Somewhere I still have a compilation I bought second-hand at school. on unutterably cool white vinyl, with Hendrix, Cream and The Taste, along with some authentic Chicago bluesmen.

All of this came flooding back as I watched a BBC 4 documentary, ineptly titled “Can Blue Men Sing The Whites?” (no Bonzos in sight) about the two waves of the British blues boom in the 60s, and the strange affair between betwen a generation of young British musicians – desperately looking for something new – and the black American bluesmen maintaining a tradition which was increasingly regarded as old-fashioned in their own country. The great photographer and journalist Val Wilmer deflected the usual question by inverting it: “How exotic did we seem to them?”

If there was a theme it was one of reverberations. There’s a familiar story here of British musicians taking black American music back to white Americans – and them hearing it for the first time.  And a less familiar one, that the British musicians understood that the US civil rights story was inseparable from the music, and I wonder if that cultural story, of that politics embedded in British popular music, might have been one of the reasons why the racial tensions of the late 60s didn’t flare into a repeat of the 50s race riots.

Certainly the musicians seemed to be ahead of the industry. Bill Wyman said that the Rolling Stones were told if they if they released Little Red Rooster as a single “it could ruin you”; it went to number 1 almost immediately.  Keith Richards did admit it had been a risk: “We must have been wearing brass balls that day, when we decided to put that out as a single.”

One of the secrets of Cream’s success (like Pentangle) was that they added jazz rhythm players (Bruce and Baker)  to the line up, The second was that Clapton – at a time when there was some ennui with the blues repertoire – knew about such obscurities (as they were then) as Robert Johnson’s Crossroads and Skip James’ I’m So Glad.

Finally, although I thought I knew this history pretty well, I discovered I’d missed completely the role of the trad jazz bandleader Chris Barber in building awareness of blues and gospel in the UK in the 50s. He put the profits from the jazz band into bringing black performers over to play in Britain. Without him the musical history of the 60s could have been completely different.

The picture is from the Heard Mentality blog.