Saturday, 25 June 2016


Babylon is burning, baby, can't cha see? Babylon is burning with anxiety.

(Image copyright: Chris Wormell)

All this punk nostalgia is a double edged thing.

On Thursday night I went to see the 1970s band the Rick Kids play the O2 in Islington. In 2016, they look like a glam punk super group: Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) on bass and vocals, Rusty Egan (The Skids, Visage) on drums, Midge Ure (Ultravox and, um, Slick) on rhythm guitar and vocals, supplemented by none other than Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp (below, right) on lead guitar and vox in place of Steve New. The very tall Spand was endearingly humble, gushing that the Rich Kids were ‘The best group I’ve ever seen and I never thought I’d be standing on stage with them.’

At least three of the 2016 Kids must be millionaires, so to see them together performing the one album they made Ghosts of Princes in Towers, when they clearly don’t need the money, was quite touching. Proudly showing off his Mod roots, Matlock and the band also ripped through a great version of the Small Faces’ ‘Here Comes the Nice’.

Outside, the atmosphere was very 1970s too. London was humid and there was a very edgy atmosphere on EU Referendum day. At Angel Underground station it was packed because the trains were all screwed up because of rain and flooding. A white sports top wearing, young guy couldn’t get on a train and punched the doors in frustration. When they opened again because there were so many people jammed in the carriages, another guy, dressed all in black with tattoos, leaned out and yelled ‘I’ll break your f***in’ arms, you f***in’ c***!’ It didn’t kick off, but it was close. Outside the Tube station, IN campaigners were urging everyone to vote in a referendum that would decide whether we remained part of Europe or not – very 1975.

On Friday morning, I admit things hadn’t gone the way I wanted. As a nation, by democratic mandate, we’ve turned our back on Europe and, by implication, made all the immigrants working and living here feel unwelcome. Things weren’t too bad on Welling High Street that morning. The amusingly named Giggling Sausage, the cafĂ© run by a Turkish family, was full; in Cruisin’ Records, the amiable Barbadian man who’s often in there and has lived in London for years joked ‘I’d better pack my bags, then.’ We laughed and the bloke behind the counter sardonically commented, ‘It’s not the end of the world – yet.’

Much as there were (maybe) legitimate and reasonable arguments for leaving, the whole referendum debate was hijacked by the kind of gutter politics I thought we’d seen the last of with the National Front. A courageous MP was murdered and right wing idiots insulted both the charity set up in her honour and her Trafalgar Square memorial service. This is the sort of 1970s nostalgia I can do without. The Ruts’ ‘Babylon’s Burning’ was written nearly forty years ago, but today the lyrics have never felt more uncomfortably relevant:

You’ll burn as you work
You’ll burn as you play
Positively smouldering
With ignorance and hate

Regular readers will remember that last year I reviewed the Doctor Who story ‘The Zygon Invasion’. At the time, I felt it was a rather hysterical allegory about immigration, extremism and racial integration. Today, I can see that my favourite TV show was once again ahead of the game: things are so serious that this isn’t the time for subtlety. For those people who haven’t seen it, I direct your attention to the Doctor’s moving speech at the end of part two, ‘The Zygon Inversion’.

As a family, this morning we talked about the idea of leaving England for sunnier climes; it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility. The kids were all in favour, particularly if it means 24/7, all year sunshine. I can’t help thinking that the same idea will occur to all people of a liberal outlook like myself – depart for countries with a sympathetic attitude and cleaner air. Part of me thinks it would serve the OUT lobby right if, in a delicious irony, all the people who make British culture such a rewarding, cosmopolitan and respectful place emigrated.

But is that cowardice, just because we don’t need this fascist groove thang? Looking at Facebook today, I know all my friends to a man and woman are concerned about the future of dear old Blighty. I know what the Doctor would do: he’d stay and make the UK a better place. In fact, he’s already started – Peter Capaldi and John Hurt have proudly revealed their political colours this year with their support for the junior doctors.

 Whatever happens, Britain is a different place now.

Friday, 17 June 2016


Despite recent events, a better world is possible. 

This has to stop. Now.

It’s 2016. With digital communication, we now have access to more information about different cultures and religions than we’ve ever had before. We have gay marriage, female church ministers and respect for multiple faiths is taught in most British schools.

That’s why the killings in Orlando and the murder of MP and human rights campaigner Jo Cox, dreadful events in themselves, are so appalling.

Really, there should be no excuse today for the ignorance and hatred that led to these tragedies. The potential for informed education, whether through a structured system or on a personal level, is almost limitless. The problems start when unhappy people look for places online to have their prejudices reinforced, and unfortunately there are far too many websites and forums where that’s the case – join the ignorant herd and bleat the same sorry tune.

I live in South London and, as much as there are many decent people here that I have the pleasure of knowing, there’s also an ugly right wing element. There’s a pub at the bottom of the hill where no black faces are welcome. Yesterday, the clientele’s day was made when England beat Wales in Euro 2016, meaning that it was apparently OK to behave drunkenly on the street outside and shout offensive remarks at passers-by. My dream is to sit down with just one of these guys – they’re all men – and through reasoned and intelligent debate, convince them that they could live in a better world. That won’t happen, because a) I know it would become a pointless shouting match and b) they’re perversely proud of being ignorant.

A few years ago I’d arranged to meet a friend for a drink in central London on Saturday. Then the 7/11 bomb attacks happened. We spoke on the phone and wondered about calling it off, but I believed – and still do – that being intimidated into fear is what terrorists and extremists want. So we met up as planned. We were the only people in the pub apart from the barman, which is perhaps why we had such a great time.

I look at the innocence, optimism and multi culturalism in my youngest step-daughter and I know that a better world is possible. Idiots like Nick Griffin are already footnotes in history and Nigel Farage won’t be far behind. I firmly believe that that better world starts at home: grow up in an atmosphere of ignorance and there’s a strong chance that one day you’ll be passing on the same bigoted infection to your own children. It’s not always the case, but I’ve seen it happen too many times on my own doorstep.

Education is the way ahead. Arm yourselves.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

THE STONE ROSES, Etihad Stadium, Manchester 15 June 2016

My first outdoor gig of the summer is a triumph. 

Mani: "Anyone got any requests?"

Steve said, “I’ve got two tickets for The Stone Roses in Manchester because I can’t go. Do you want them?”

Why not? I have wealth now and am properly self-employed again.

The last time I was in Manchester was in 1996 to see Oasis play the football stadium at Maine Road. (I stayed overnight then – this time, I’m training it back in the small hours). On that occasion, after the gig, the ex-wife, friends and I ventured out to sample the Mancunian nightlife. People really did wear t-shirts with a packet of fags stuffed up one sleeve.

In ‘96, the biggest ever bomb attack by the IRA on British soil took place in Manchester and it’s twenty years to the day as I step off the train at Piccadilly. Two hundred people were injured in the blast but, astonishingly and miraculously, no one was killed. In the years after the explosion, the city centre has been completely rebuilt. The steel, glass and concrete tentacles of redevelopment snake out from the railway station through dilapidated Victorian streets, and the city as a whole reminds me of New York, as it seems to be built on a uniform grid system. The moment you leave the station there are helpful signposts at almost every road junction (not like London, then).

Typically for a British summer’s day, there’s rain, although the weather brightens up considerably by the evening. On these drizzly grey streets, it’s easy to believe a double decker bus nearly crashed into Steven Morrissey and Ian Curtis was abandoned too soon. The fabled, dour Northern sense of humour is in evidence in a homeless camp opposite the station with a sign that reads, ‘If the tent’s a-rockin’, don’t come knockin’’.

Here It Comes

After a chat with the politest ticket tout I’ve ever met (who’s sorry, but he can’t do anything with just one ticket, but have a good night), I install myself in my vertigo-threatening seat (left), directly opposite the main stage.

First up on an eclectic supporting bill are nearby Stockport’s Blossoms. With long shaggy hair and a drummer in a tight black t-shirt designed to show off his biceps, they look like they should be bashing out REO Speedwagon anthems. They kind of are, with the addition of Stranglers-style keyboard swirls. Blossoms are efficiently tuneful – and it all makes sense on the tough psychedelic rock of their closing number – but I’ll say this: Mumford and Sons have a lot to answer for.

Chronixx bring reggae from Jamaica. There’s no doubting their commitment to the ways of Rastafari, but me their performance sounds like a private jam session rather than a festival set. Their finest moment is a cover of Bob Marley’s ‘Everything's Gonna Be Alright’, inspiring the first crowd singalong of the day just as the sun begins to shine.

Bloody hell, that was high.
Public Enemy really kick things up a gear with their political rap, storming through ‘Fight the Power’ and ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, together with the delightful surprise of a DJ scratch version of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. At the end of their set, Chuck D exhorts everyone to shout ‘F*** racism, f*** separatism’ and make the Black Power hand salute. It’s easy to see why the Manic Street Preachers admire Public Enemy and got them to produce a remix of ‘Repeat’.

What The World Is Waiting For

Before The Stone Roses come on, the PA plays the Sex Pistols, Led Zeppelin and Isaac Hayes’ ‘Theme from Shaft’. This is appropriate, because sonically the band exist somewhere between all three; tonight, more than ever, guitarist John Squire is channelling the spirit of Jimmy Page.

Live, the real star of The Stone Roses is drummer Reni. His drumming is effortlessly inventive and expressive, and I’d say the like hasn’t been since Keith Moon shrugged off this mortal coil. He’s complimented perfectly by bassist Mani, dressed from head to foot in white denim (top), which makes him the coolest man on the stage, if not the coolest man in Manchester. Frontman Ian Brown was never the strongest singer in the world, but in the context of the rambling drum patterns, dark funk of the bass and soaring guitar lines, his stoner vocals make sense. His lyrics about chemically enhanced romantic unions and surges of messianic self-belief are as life affirming as they ever were.

It’s obvious how this quartet inspired Oasis, but, for all their magnificence, they were really only the Gallagher brothers plus a gang of sidemen. The Stone Roses are the real deal, a four-piece unit in the classic band tradition: remove one of those pieces and the chemistry is gone (and we saw the catastrophic result of that all those years ago at the Reading Festival).

They’re all here, the perfect soundtrack to a summer’s night – ‘Elephant Stone’, ‘Sally Cinnamon’, ‘Sugar Spun Sister’, ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, even ‘Mersey Paradise’, plus two numbers I don’t recognise which might be the recent singles. ‘Waterfall’ is the immaculate centrepiece of the set, which is just as well as I have to leave for the train straight afterwards. Following the helpful signage, I leave the stadium with the opening chords of ‘Fool’s Gold’ echoing behind me. A security man who lets me out says it’s never the same if you have to leave early, but I’m pleased that I at last got to see and hear a band that, in The Stone Roses, made one of the defining rock albums of all time.

On the way back, I’m marooned in Derby for a couple of hours. A nice town, a river runs through it and, reflecting on a joyous evening, I sit and watch its thundering weir. It’s a waterfall.

Photographs: copyright Robert Fairclough

Sunday, 12 June 2016


It's a steep drop from the efficient, nationalised public services in days of yore to the unreliable, privatised businesses of today's rip-off Britain.

Come back, Blakey, all is forgiven. (Image copyright: ITV)

I know the UK wasn’t exactly a socialist utopia in the 1970s, but as far as the public services went, when they were nationalised they were generally efficient, and if something went wrong it was usually fixed the same day. You didn’t get a load of attitude or, worse, dishonesty.

In broken Britain it’s a different story. Here’s just a few incidents of public service breakdowns that have happened to me recently.

1.    Myself and Dawn caught the number 89 bus to Bexleyheath on Tuesday. She got on ahead, bleeped her Oyster card and was about to go upstairs when mine bleeped I was out of funds and so I had to get off. Dawn asked for credit – i.e. a ticket so she could get on a later bus – and the bus driver said no. The conversation then went something like this: 

Dawn: I’ve had one before.

The bus driver ignores her.

Dawn: I said I’ve had one before.

Bus Driver: I was talking to [me].

Dawn: No you weren’t. You said I couldn’t have one.

He ignores her, prints out a credit ticket and grudgingly hands it over without saying anything.

Me: Thank you very little.

OK, I didn’t say that, but I wish I had done. A few weeks ago I got on another bus and the driver didn’t know if it called at a stop that was on his route. He was entirely dependent on his satnav.

2.    We got a black cab from Lewisham to Welling last Saturday. Instead of taking the direct route, the driver turned off into an estate and went along the side roads to clock the fare up to £25. He could tell we’d had a few and thought that we wouldn’t notice and just pay up as we wanted to get home quickly. When he dropped us off, I told him I was only paying £15 as that’s what the journey should have cost. The driver gave me some verbal about it being more expensive because it was ‘that time of night’; it was 20 to 11, hardly late for a taxi. Dawn used her phone to take a picture of his cab number and we politely told him were going to report him. He roared off, tyres squealing, and gave me the finger.

3.    A couple of weeks ago on my birthday, we took a cab from Welling to the pub in Lewisham where we were meeting friends. Dawn was rather surprised at the quote of £16 when, in the past, the same journey had cost 8. Soon after me and the girls got in the mini cab, things took a bizarre turn. Again, instead of taking the main road, the driver followed the questionable, repetitive instructions to ‘turn left, turn right’ from his satnav which put us somewhere in Kidbrooke village, miles out of the way. Unable to ‘turn left’ into a road as it was blocked by an oncoming van waiting to exit, he actually turned off the engine and sat waiting. I politely pointed out that it might be better to drive on and take another turning. The driver reacted as if this common sense idea had never occurred to him.

It took 50 minutes to get to Lewisham when it should have been a 15-20 minute journey. We paid the guy off as, by now, we just wanted to get to the pub as people had been waiting for us for over half an hour. Dawn was rightly incensed, but when she phoned the cab company, at first the controller at the other end wouldn’t pick up. When he finally did because she persisted, he said, ‘I know what you’re going to say Dawn, and you’ll have to ring after 10 tomorrow morning to complain.’ He was clearly in cahoots with the driver in trying to sting us for double the money. Dawn didn’t phone after 10 the next day. She went on every mini cab review site she could find and told the truth about what had happened.

4.    I was in Welling library and wanted to print something out from my laptop. The girl behind the counter immediately looked rather flustered, rummaged through piles of paper and assured me the information I needed ‘was here somewhere.’ I told her not to worry, but if she did find the info to let me know. She didn’t.

5.    I was in there this morning and I asked if there was anything wrong with the computers as they were all turned off. Saturday’s librarian truculently informed me that she hadn’t time to turn them on yet, in a tone of voice that clearly suggested it was my fault.

And so it goes on. Were things better years ago? I was a kid in the ‘70s, but I don’t remember my parents complaining a lot about the buses, trains or the services provided by our county council. Stuff worked and there wasn’t the unpleasant attitude of insulting people’s intelligence by ripping them off for as much money as possible, or so called customer service advisors being plain rude or ineffectual.

I’d like to think they’re in a minority, but some people clearly are Thatcher’s children.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

iZOMBIE review

Let the anti-Buffy tickle your funny bone.

Monster, monster, monster!

I’ve said this before, but I’m not a huge fab of zombie fiction. The Walking Dead (2010 - ) is very well done, but I still can’t work out why Rick and co. don’t run very fast in the opposite direction or, better still, jump in a car and drive very fast in the opposite direction. Even in AMC’s fine series, the Biters are still doing that shuffling Gumby walk that couldn’t outrun a determined tortoise.

28 Days Later (2002) is still the only truly terrifying realisation of zombies I’ve seen. In that, they move like lightning and are portrayed as the rabid animals modern zombies are clearly meant to be.

(Image copyright: BBC)
Fiction about recovering from being a zombie is rather more interesting. BBC3’s In the Flesh, which ran for two series over 2013-14, was about the rehabilitation of teenager Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry, left), who became one of the undead during an apocalyptic event called ‘The Rising’. The series followed his attempts, as a sufferer of PDS – Partially Deceased Syndrome – to reintegrate with his prejudiced small village; the metaphor of outsiders trying to adapt to an unforgiving community has obvious – and, if you’ll forgive me – biting contemporary parallels. In the Flesh was excellent but for some reason the BBC didn’t go for a third series.


iZombie (2015 - ) has taken the survivor scenario a step further by crossing it with the police procedural genre and Neil Simon-sharp comedy. It’s the sort of thing I could watch for days with a contented feeling and a warm smile.

Medical intern Olivia Moore - 'Liv More', geddit? - (perky Rose McIver), who handily works for the police, is bitten, becomes a zombie then unaccountably wakes up in a body bag, more or less normal again. That is, apart from the need to feast on human brains. She discovers that when she does – on the grey matter of bodies in the police body shop – she acquires some of their memories, often at the point of death. Hence her subsequent crime fighting career a la iZombie.

Olivia Moore is remarkable as the heroine in this anti-Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Funny, smart and very real, like most of the little known cast she’s seized the opportunity offered her. The only TV series she was a regular in before was Power Rangers R.P.M. (2009) as the Yellow Bear RPM Ranger. I’ve never seen it, but just by that title alone you can tell it can't have been the best career move.

Ever since Buffy, US fantasy dramas have been contractually obliged to have a cool British character, and in iZombie it’s the turn of Rahul Kohli as Dr. Ravi Chakrabarti. He’s Felix to Rose’s Sarah Manning, reigning her in when she wanders off the straight and narrow and dispensing dry one-liners. The veteran in the cast is David Anders, here not playing a Brit but cheerfully amoral as fellow zombie survivor Blaine DeBeers, a former drug dealer turned Rose’s nemesis.

Malcolm Goodwin as Detective Clive Bavineaux completes the ensemble as the straight man, in the best traditions of the police procedural often putting his job on the line to back up Rose’s spectral visions. The playing between Moore and Goodwin is a joy to watch.

Part of the series’ appeal for me is its acid, Joss Whedon-esque insight into the human condition. In one episode, Rose realises that putting her career before her partner and losing him meant that ‘parts of me were already dead before I died.’ Like Shaun of the Dead (2004) before it, iZombie suggests that, if we’re not careful, modern life will turn us all into the walking dead.

OK, iZombie isn’t Orphan Black, but it’s all the livelier because of that. Recommended.