The Smiths Revisited

On Friday 6th May, 1983, my Goth-mate Jimmy dragged me along to see the Sisters of Mercy at the University of London Student’s Union.  We were students at the time, so only needed to show our SU cards to get in.  I know the date because I have the ticket glued in my scrap book.  What we didn’t know, as we huddled in the small studio-sized room, was that a relatively new band from Manchester was being showcased – The Smiths.  They had replaced Babaluna on the bill – why and how, I don’t know (Rough Trade getting them some capital exposure, perhaps?).

thesmithscoasters1984Most of the leather-wearing Goths sloped off to the bar as the weedy Mancunians set up their gear and were given a lukewarm, almost apologetic, introduction to the indifferent crowd.  Jim and I were pleasantly surprised, as we both had copies of their early singles – Hand in Glove and its brilliant B-side, Still Ill, This Charming Man, What Difference does it Make?  We stood at the front of the low stage, knee high, right in front of Morrissey’s swivelling hips and the jingly-jangly Johnny Marr.  Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce looked fresh-faced and keen, in a time before stardom and their descent into drugs hell.

1983_05_06_london_ulu_poster_the-smithsThe Smiths ripped out their early set with joyful verve, delivered in a loose and slightly un-together cacophony of the first album material to barely fifty people.  Reel Around the Fountain lingered, hauntingly in my young mind, Mozza’s compelling imagery striking home.  We loved it, and it cemented our status as Smiths fans.  The meat was not yet murdered and Strangeways had not been visited, but we had seen enough emerging talent by then that we knew.  These boys were special.

Oh, and the pre-Mission Sisters were rocking and sleek, with Eldridge gripping the mic with hand in leather glove. The room filled and we grooved and gyrated to their compulsive rock set, including early hits, Alice, the Body Electric and covers of Gimme Shelter, and yes, the Dolly classic, Jolene.  Great gig, all things considered, and not bad for two quid.

 

the-smythsFast-forward 33 years, to Thursday 8th December 2016, and I found myself at the Half Moon pub in Putney, South London, where tribute band The Smyths performed to an enthusiastic room full of Smiths fans, ranging in age from teenagers to us fifty-somethings who were around when Morissey was first warbling.

As I sipped my pint of flat lager I reflected that it was a happy meeting of creative talent when gawky teenage poet Stephen Morrisey met shy tunesmith Johnny Marr at Salford’s Boy’s Club in the early 80s.  The unremitting bleakness of Manchester’s gray post-industrial decay, high youth unemployment and the pressure to find a job, the heart-rending crimes of the Moors Murderers, all formed a backdrop against which Morrissey’s urban poetry found a new outlet as song lyrics.  Some themes keep recurring to give an oddly current feel to some of the songs.

That night I finally understood the difference between imitation and veneration.  That ‘tribute’ is indeed a sign of respect for something that deserves to live on. Here was a band performing the works of the Smiths in a reverential manner, technically accurate right down to mannerisms and nuances, fronted by a singer so alarmingly similar in both voice and looks to a young Morrissey that you had to blink and rub your eyes.

But he isn’t Morrissey, he’s Graham Sampson, a talented singer in his own right, sporting quiff, flowery shirt and charity shop necklace, giving the fans his interpretation and paying homage in this brilliant set of songs.  I reeled around the fountain once more and sang along with the other 300 revellers at this pulsating sell-out gig, re-living and celebrating the eternal charm of these songs, now passing to a new generation of fans.

We sang along to lyrics that refuse to be forgotten:

It’s time the tale was told, of how you took a man and you made him old…

Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate, will nature make a man of me yet?

Park the car by the side of the road; don’t you know, time’s tide will smother you.

I decree today that life is simply taking and not giving, England is mine, and it owes me a living.

Shoplifters of the World unite and take over!  Panic on the streets of London!

Because the music that they constantly play means nothing to me about my life – hang the DJ!

So what difference does it make? I’m so sick and tired and I’m feeling very sick and ill today.

…and don’t go home tonight, go out and find the one that you love and who loves you…

 The Smyth’s take a bow.

 

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Moral Courage

Those who find themselves in positions of responsibility are morally obliged to make the ‘right’ decisions. That is, decision-making that affects other people must be good and just and in the common interest. Otherwise the moral basis of our society is in question. Are we fundamentally ‘good’ people or just selfish monsters obsessed with wealth accumulation in an age of greed, who de-humanise our fellow beings in the process of getting what we want?

human rights2We see far to many instances reported where people are allowed to suffer the consequences of bad, wrong or just plain evil decisions from leaders they look up to and trust.

The obvious example in British news at the moment is the deeply disturbing child sex abuse scandal in our national sport, football. Club officials have turned a blind eye to the activities of serial child rapists so as to protect ‘the good name of the Club’. Shame on them. Lives have been ruined as a result.

Ordinary people have a right to be protected from abuse and exploitation by those they look up to – managers, politicians, religious leaders – but all too often the abusers and exploiters are the ones in positions of power. Who can they turn to when bullied and threatened by their abuser?

A manager or parent is a first point of contact, but image the victim’s misery being compounded when they are not believed or accused of being complicit in their own abuse. Our police force is there to uphold the Law and protect victims of crime, backed up by civil society – organisations and charity groups. The infrastructure is there, but perhaps needs a higher level of governmental and public backing. Victims must feel confident to speak out and know the correct channels to do so. They must also have confidence in the system.

Distrust in our leaders goes right to the top, with many citizens no longer believing our politicians have the moral courage or sense of community to ‘do the right thing’ when it comes to decision-making. We are now consumers in an age of capitalist exploitation. We are encouraged to be selfish and greedy, to accumulate and hoard things we don’t really need.

It has become obvious to many that our government makes decisions that are in the interest of ‘Big Business’ over citizen welfare, and some point to the Brexit vote (higher in the regions away from the wealthy South-East) as evidence of disenchantment. The politics of shoring-up the interests of a wealthy minority and favouring them over the interests of the majority will surely come back to haunt our current crop of London-centric politicians. Theresa May, be warned.

This is at the heart of our culture of indifference to human suffering and the belief that greed is good. It isn’t. Not in my house. If we cannot treat each other with respect and kindness then we are failing as a society.

I believe it is our collective duty to create an atmosphere of kindness, tolerance and helpfulness and have the courage to speak out and denounce acts of evil. When we elect our political leaders we must hold them to account. They are charged with overseeing a tolerant society where citizens’ rights are protected, where they have opportunities to achieve their goals in life, and are protected from the predatory monsters who lurk amongst us.

 

 

 

Positively Dickensian

On a bleak Black Friday, 25th November 2016, I ventured out from the warmth of my humble abode to attend the most delightful author talk, the subject being arguably one of the greatest writers in our English language, Mister Charles Dickens.  The presentation, made in Slough’s newest space, a triumph of modern architecture, the Curve, was delivered with enthusiasm by historian Lucinda Hawksley, a great-great-great granddaughter of the man himself. She had come to share with us her new biography of her illustrious ancestor, ‘Charles Dickens and his Circle.’

charles-dickens-and-his-circleHer connection to this great literary figure made for an intriguingly personal approach in offering an insight into the life, loves, motivations and achievements of this extraordinary man, told through his associations and friendships with other celebrity figures of the Victorian Age. Indeed, a member of the audience remarked on a perceived family likeness, as she stood next to a portrait of the 27-year-old Dickens by artist Daniel Maclise.  This was the first of many portraits shown of Dickens (with a growing beard over his lifetime) and other notable Victorians. Some are paintings housed in the National Portrait Gallery in London (the publishers of this book) and others, illustrations and photographs.

Lucinda’s book includes portraits of the key figures in Dickens’ life, both family and friends that made for a good slide show, conveying a feel for the time as she delicately exposed the key moments of his life for us to get a sense of the man.  She told us that his early childhood in Portsmouth was a happy time, with his carefree parents creating an atmosphere of kindness, love and playfulness in a tiny terraced house (still standing as a museum).

Things changed for the worse when the family moved to the urban squalor of London.  Soon his parents got into debt and ended up in Debtor’s Prison.  In fact the whole family were interred, and the young Charles, then 12 years old, was sent out to work to earn enough to cover the family’s costs.  His first job was working in a shoe polish factory on the Strand, and he would walk there and back from his one room lodgings in Camden Town each day.

This wretched end to his happy childhood deeply affected Charles, but being of strong character, he battled through and helped his family out of debt, eventually progressing to a better job as a solicitor’s clerk. He began to follow his heart’s desire to be a reporter by going ‘freelance’ and selling news reports to various publications.  Newspapers and magazines abounded in Victorian London, and he soon established a reputation under his pen name ‘Boz’, going on to serialise what was to become his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in a magazine.  Much later, he finally dared to write about a family who were subjected to the shame and social censure of being sent to the Debtors Prison in Little Dorrit, a subject that haunted him through his life, given the trials of his parents.

Lucinda describes his struggles to achieve his dream of becoming a writer, and the crossover from journalism to fiction writing, through which Dickens could convey his observations and experiences of life in Victorian London.  Various characters entered his life, the first being his wife, Catherine.  She was the daughter of his newspaper editor, and is described as being from a well-off middle class family, and a cut above the ambitious but impoverished Charles.  Together they had ten children, nine surviving to adulthood (kicking the trend of only one in three children becoming adults in Victorian times).  During the course of their marriage he was transformed from an unknown journalist to a famous novelist.

Indeed, the rigours of poverty in industrial Britain were an ever-present theme in Dickens’s writing, and he spent much of his time campaigning for social justice and improvements for the poor.  Lucinda presents us with an array of celebrity friends and associates of the Dickens family – fellow writers and artists, philanthropists and business associates, painting a picture of the celebrity culture of the day.  He went on book promotion and reading tours, engaging with his readers, which has earned him the reputation as the first ‘modern’ author.  He also fought for copyright law, as his works were mercilessly bootlegged, robbing him of income.

Once he became famous, he joined the literary set in London, mixing with the likes of William Makepeace Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot).  Illustrators and artists abounded, including JMW Turner, and Hans Christian Anderson was their house guest.  Philanthropists and radicals, royalty and musicians could all be found at their parties.  He was greeted with the fervour of a pop star on his visits to the United States of America, where he befriended Edgar Allan Poe, William Wadsworth Longfellow and Washington Irving.

Lucinda described some of the more poignant moments of his life, including when he left Catherine for his mistress, Ellen Ternan.  Dickens barely survived a devastating train crash in Kent that left him physically and emotionally scarred.  He had pulled Ellen and her mother out of their crushed carriage and was lauded for helping the wounded and dying.  He died exactly five years to the day after this awful event, in 1870 at the age of 57.

These were some of the fascinating insights into the life of Charles Dickens laid before us as the often stern faces of the Victorian greats and Dickens’ family members were flashed on the screen.  I procured a signed copy and started reading the book as soon as I got home.

 

Charles Dickens and his Circle, by Lucinda Hawksley, published by The National Portraits Gallery Publications, 2016.

 

Heartwarming Christmas Anthology

I’m thrilled and honoured to have my holiday story, El Dorado, featured in this soon-to-be bestseller!  Holiday Heartwarmers came together after a shout-out to authors from around the World in a FaceBook Author Group, and the fifteen ‘best’ stories, set at Christmas time, were selected by Editor, Sunanda Chatterjee.

holiday-heartwarmers-cover

Immerse yourself in this eclectic collection of short stories featuring authors from around the world. Travel to different places with them as they enjoy an unexpected journey back home to reunite with family and take a chartered flight to the North Pole. Shiver with the cold and anxiety as their loved ones get stranded in a snow storm in Alaska or share the amazement of gazing at the spectacular views during a hike to Machu Picchu. Explore the Indian subcontinent by train, share an unforgettable vacation in Cyprus or venture into Afghanistan in the midst of war.

Holidays are a time of sharing and can take many forms. These stories explore the issues of family dynamics, reflections on life, and finding the true meaning of love and acceptance. They also show that sometimes, it is just as important to let go of old feelings and old memories.

This collection of short stories is sure to warm your heart and light the spirit of Christmas

Halloween… the Day of the Dead

To celebrate Halloween I’ve discounted my spooky thriller, Devil Gate Dawn, to just 99p/99c.  if you download, please message me and I’ll send you a FREE pdf copy of my short story, ‘Halloween 50BC’.

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Halloween History

Straddling the line between autumn and winter, plenty and paucity, life and death, Halloween is a time of celebration and superstition. It is thought to have originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Sah-wen, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts.

In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1st and 2nd  as a time to honour all saints and martyrs; the twin holidays, All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Sah-wen. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween.

Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterised by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

The Politics of Big Business

It’s 26th October 2016 and in today’s news (in the UK) is the announcement that the British Government has backed the proposal to expand Heathrow Airport by building another runway.  This is despite protests from the hundreds of thousands of local resident in this densely populated area west of London, and over one million people signing a petition saying NO to a new runway.  Already the air is dangerously polluted, and residents on the flight path (including myself) suffer from poor air quality.  Once again, the interests of Big Business trump those of citizens, in our pro-capitalism sham democracy.

ba-jet-over-houses

 

Prime Minister, Theresa May, said the decision shows her government is ready, “to take the big decisions when they are right for Britain.” Right for whom, exactly?  Not for the residents and the million plus protestors, and not for her constituents in Maidenhead, also on the Heathrow flight path, whose protests she was supporting before her swift elevation to party leader.  Why are they continuing to invest in the already overcrowded south east of England and not in the Midlands or North?  They are crying out for investment, whereas residents in the South East are crying out for more space and breathable air.

 

Add this decision to the many others since the time of Margaret Thatcher that have asset stripped and weakened our country in the name of privatisation and personal wealth accumulation for a tiny minority of international capitalists, and, bizarrely, foreign governments. Our public transport and utilities sectors, owned mainly by international companies, are amongst the most expensive in Europe, as ‘consumers’ pay over the odds for shareholder dividends and senior executive bonuses.  Our small manufacturing sector is dominated for foreign multi-nationals, many of whom reject our country’s democratic decision to leave the European Union and now threaten to punish us by leaving.  The stock markets and money markets are already punishing us for making the ‘wrong’ decision, thus demonstrating our collective weakness to choose our own path when held in the tightening grip of the forces of capitalism.

 

In Britain, it seems that regardless of which political party is in power, the net outcome is the same – the soft left government of Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown delivered the deregulation of the financial sector that ultimately led to cowboy trading and the big crash of 2008. Neither Labour nor the Conservative Party can be trusted to act in the interests of citizens over Big Business.  We are simply witnessing the latest in a long line of decisions aimed at making a tiny minority of already wealthy people even wealthier.  This is the philosophy at the heart of our bankrupt political system.  I will soon need my own oxygen supply just to survive living close to Heathrow.  Perhaps Prime Minister May can recommend a competitive international supplier?

 

If you want to share my insight into what Britain and the USA will be like in ten years time, then please click the link below, download and read my novel, Devil Gate Dawn, currently discounted to just 99p/99c…

 

http://hyperurl.co/ii7gpl

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