Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Shine On, You Crazy Diamond

It is pretty weird sitting here, looking out - the setting sun lighting the clouds in the distance as if contained within a medieval biblical painting.

Somehow apocalyptic. Somehow appropriate.

This morning's news - unhappily - didn't come as too much of a shock. All that I absolutely didn't want to read was contained in a one-line e-note. It simply asked that I call Coalition immediately.

And so, today marks the end of an era.

Rob - in some ways my mentor and in all ways my friend, died peacefully in his sleep in a West London Hospital this morning.

Tina was with him at the last; Rob's final taxi, the ending of his long, utterly ghastly, battle with cancer which he'd endured with more stoicism than anyone I've ever met fueled by the darkest sense of humour that could only emanate from... Rob.

During one of his recent - and he endured over twenty-eight of them - courses of Chemotherapy, he sent me an e-mail detailing it as follows: tomorrow i start another course and shall become a human light-bulb.

A couple of months ago - when last I saw him - he was, as ever, holed up in his West Landon office working when really he probably shouldn't have been, never failing to take a call and surrounded by many of the things he treasured most: his cup-final ticket when his beloved Queens Park Rangers only got beaten in a replay; framed magazine front covers and posters that related to some of the work he'd undertaken over a multitude of years; a plastic statue of James Brown; a grainy black and white of a gnarled Miles Davis and a scrap of paper signed by Gil Evans - a treasure among treasures.

There's an array of ancient dinky cars; a fading picture of him dressed in drag as Carmen Miranda from one of the legendary Island Christmas parties (the year I went as a Nun); pin-button badges from US elections as well as a myriad of other bits and pieces, everything lovingly looked after as the head groundsman would tend the greensward at Loftus Road.

The external humour - dark as bible-black - reigned supreme, Rob was ever the dancing-master of dry-wit. But, sadly... oh so sadly, the eyes told their own and very different tale... He knew, he knew I knew and yet... you never knew.

Until today.

Over the past couple of months of being far from home, everyone bar none that I've come across who've had some kind of relationship with Island... has asked... how's Rob..?

And, the genuine sadness that I've heard in voices today - people far and wide that I've talked to - has been heartfelt and, in a strange way, heart-warming...

'cos... Rob was loved so much...

Billboard already has a tribute up... its their main headline... and it says: British Music PR Giant Rob Partridge Dies

U.K. music industry veteran Rob Partridge has died following a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 60.

In a statement, singer/actress Marianne Faithfull, who had worked with Partridge since 1979, described him as "one of the greatest men I have known and a great man to work with." She added: "I don't know what I will do without him, we have been friends for so long."

Faithfull had initially worked with Partridge in 1979, when he was head of press at London-based Island Records, and remains a Coaltion PR client. Another of Partridge's current clients, former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, said in a statement: "Rob was a lovely guy, gentle and polite, but not above good devilish humor. He loved soulful music and working with soulful artists, because he was soulful himself."

A hugely popular and respected figure within the U.K. music business, Partridge began his industry career as a journalist for British trade publication Music Week before joining the now-defunct weekly music magazine Melody Maker in the mid-1970s.

He became head of press at Island in 1977, joining the board of the company as media director four years later. In that role, Partridge was directly responsible for a roster that included Bob Marley & The Wailers, with whom he worked until Marley's death in 1981. Partridge subsequently handled press for the Bob Marley Estate until 1997.

Other acts with whom he worked closely at Island included U2, Grace Jones, Kid Creole & The Coconuts, Run-DMC, NWA, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, Robert Palmer, Steve Winwood, the B-52's and Tom Waits.

Partridge exited Island in 1990 to launch PR agency Partridge & Storey with his business partner Neil Storey in early 1991. The company became Coalition PR when Storey departed in 1996. Current acts on its roster include Tom Waits, Marianne Faithfull, Amadou and Miriam, Manu Chao, Billy Bragg, the Charlatans and Daniel Lanois. The company has also enjoyed lengthy relationships with retailer HMV and the Mercury Music Prize.

In 1999, Partridge launched Coalition Management, which has a current client list that includes the Music, the Streets, the Zutons, the View, Bloc Party, Embrace and Fionn Regan.

Coalition issued a statement which reads: "From Tina and all of us at the Coalition Family and to all in our extended family of ex-staffers, clients, colleagues, artists, journalists and friends, we send our heartfelt thanks for all your love and support during Rob's fight and the knowledge that his spirit will live on through all of us that he's taught and nurtured in the way that only Rob ever could."

A little later, another luminary adds his voice: Bono saying that Rob was the first person in the British Music Industry to sing our praises. He not only had an eye for upcoming talent, he was a nurturer... a person who would educate you about the kind of obstacles you were going to meet and how to get over them... a rare human being.

Yes, Rob was all of that, probably pretty much everything everyone will say in obituaries far and wide that'll be published in the next few days. All of that and a whole heap more... he was, to use a too-often utilised word... unique... and, this mad business of music will never see his like again.

But - and here's the good bit - we were all blessed in some way or other by having the privilege of either knowing or working with him.

I'd imagine that everyone will raid thesauruses, looking for apt adjectives to describe him... the best I can come up with isn't an adjective... because none properly sum him up... because... Rob... was just... Rob.

And, now he's sleeping peacefully.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stories For Boys

Today, while trying to avoid the mental roadblock (or the traffic lights that seem have become stuck on red as I've been wont, of late, to phrase it) the milk-churn of thoughts has been trying to grasp (what I consider to be) one of nature's weirdest side-shows.

Men and women of a certain age... dressing and acting whereby they pretty much parrot their children.

Weird... don't you think?

The thought process (which formulated a number of years back while idling about in a Surrey-suburban shopping Mall one wet, Saturday afternoon) was somewhat brought back into focus by earlier today seeing a headline concerning a new book called Men to Boys - The Making of Modern Immaturity by a bloke (worthy no doubt) called Gary Cross. Great surname that - perhaps that was what attracted me to it in the first instance.

Anyhow... according to him, they (adults but men in particular) have transmuted what was formerly a stage of life into a lifestyle with no end in sight.

Those are pretty long words for me and dangerously close to gobbledygook-speak for my liking but, I think I get the gist of what he's driving at.

And certainly enough for me to start thinking that I'm in agreement with this Cross bloke... because, nowadays... it seems that that parents somehow seem to aspire (hell, I used that word yesterday and more than once)... can't think of a better one so... off we go again... they seem to aspire to a state of almost perpetual adolescence.

Why? I'm bemused. Don't grown-ups want to be... errrr... grown up? Seems not.

Look at it this way then... these are just random examples... Soccer-dads who get very very worked up, standing behind the white-touch-line, egging on their children... to such a degree that its not unknown for punch-ups between parents to occur - Your Jimmy tripped my Billy... If I were on that pitch, I'd have flattened you. No you wouldn't 'cos I'd have nailed you first... and so on and so forth... And the Mums are just as bad. Handbags with the half-time oranges anyone?

Hoodies... how often do you see dad's in hoodies? Far to bloody often. And Mum's aping the dress-sense of their teenage daughters, with jeans that are far, far too tight, moulded over birth-given hips to the extent that they look like caricatures of their siblings.

Nothing seems sacred anymore... teenage daughter X dresses (in her mind) to thrill and kill at thirty paces only to find Mum, five steps asunder, wearing a similar(ish) outfit that makes her look like a clown.

Getting off on the same music... another weird one. Time was when my son was so heavily into Ibiza re-mixes played at volume eleven that he'd lost track of the fact that any other form of music existed. He'd play me stuff that - even to a musically liberated mind such as I have - was, to me, beyond help. Don't you get it Dad? he'd ask. Nope... sorry. Ahh, that's 'cos you're old. Thats fair enough... I am. Older anyway.

Its a bit like my parents blanching at their first sight on TV of The Beatles or The Stones or... heaven forbid, Jimi Hendrix.

For many years and in various homes I've lived in, a startling portrait of Jimi - the original artists' proof that became the cover for The Ultimate Experience - hung on the stairs. Why there - well, basically, it was too bloody big to hang pretty much anywhere else and besides, I really wasn't into the idea of it being hung in (say) the dining room or drawing room because I didn't much want a room like that to look like an outtake from a record shop.

A beautiful, some might say stunning piece of art that it was (is) but... it scared my aged Mother every time she saw it when she came to stay.

Which is a sort of opposite of what one tends to see around one nowadays... with parents seeming to want nothing more than to stay as young as their own teenage children, by sharing in their choice of TV, music and computer games.

A bit peculiar, I reckon. Plus, when I was a load younger and my own raft of grey hairs were way over a distant horizon, I loved the fact that my Dad (in particular) couldn't get a grip on Monty Python. He hated it. Quite right - he was old (in my mind) thus... don't come near what I like. I'd have hated him coming into the pub with me in the days when it was de-rigeur to wear jeans with bell-bottoms that would put a sailor through all shades of blue-shame wearing similar to mine. Hated it..? No, I'd have been bloody humiliated.

And, can I make head or tail of much of what my teenage daughter has on her own i-Pod currently? Nope... At least sixty per-cent is of bands I've never heard of. She'll play me stuff - some I like, some I don't. But, the point is, I don't get off on it / or pretend to be into it 'cos I want (need) to ape her developing musical tastes. Equally a shed load of stuff I like, she loathes - one day maybe she'll arrive at the same conclusion I have with regard to (say) Puccini... maybe in time she'll learn to love Opera as I do... maybe not... and, more importantly, it doesn't matter.

None of this makes her or me / me or her any better or worse than anyone else but... at least there is no pretending or aping.

But, nowadays... look around any urban environment and... there's too much evidence of that, of older wanting to be young in some kind of bizarre never grow-up recreation and its there for all to see.

I do, however, love the idea of being Peter Pan but... isn't that in the mind as much as anything else? I reckon so. The whole growing old disgracefully bit... thats for me. Oooops, another digression...

Somewhere I came across another take on this whole adolescent / adult scenario... and, I just found what I'd written down in amongst a whole heap of Project X notes... which, I suppose, goes to show just how wildly my mind wanders from time to time.

Anyhow, this is a early-teen explaining their thoughts on what they reckon it'd be like to be an adult.

When you're properly grown-up you don't have to do stupid things like hobbies... you don't have to worry about tidying your room because you live in your own house... you don't have to worry about finding a girlfriend and how to do things with her because you have a wife and children... you can tell other people what to do, and you can say things like 'take my word for it'.

And... you can grow a moustache.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Witness For The Prosecution

Today, I’m in more of a quizzical frame of mind than normal… asking the question why over and over again. From where I sit, cogitating the good and the downright lousy in this life, masticating on the bread and butter of humdrum and chewing the cud of frustration, I’ve a whole host of why’s hovering over my fertile imagination like a nasty dose of cumulo-nimbus.

Why - as just one example - does it take so long for some people to respond when it takes others mere peco-seconds? Why, as another example, do certain people simply quash the radar of communication without apparent reason? Why (or how) can the sun shine and yet it feels interminably cold? Why is ‘Reality TV’ relevant? And, why is it that some people believe in what is termed multi-tasking?

I remember once calling a girlfriend of not terribly long ago; she was at her corporate desk and in the background I could hear the clickety-clack of her perfectly polished nails tapping out an e-mail or an internal memo or a briefing document whilst we talked.

After a few minutes it became clear that her concentration wasn’t exactly one zillion-percent on the subject in hand - the one that, I had (selfishly) imagined we were meant to be discussing. She was in her office so, yes, it can (rightly) be argued that I shouldn’t have made the call in the first place but, when a reply came back to a question I hadn’t asked in the first instance, it dawned on me that perhaps we’d be better off discussing subject X at another time. So, somewhat foolishly, I suggested that we’d be better off doing precisely that.

Error #1. Why? Because I was informed in little less than stentorian tones that ‘women can multi-task’.

Of course you can, dear… it’s because you're from Venus and we men are from… yeah, you’ve got the picture.

Actually, I think thats all bollox - could I multi-task while writing this? Take a Project X related conference call that’d link Toronto to me by way of Sydney and contribute properly while tapping away at this? Absolutely not…

Firstly it’d be totally disrespectful to colleagues far away and second, this’d become even more random, more shambolic than ever… with probable thought processes heading off up dark alley-ways from which it’d be nigh on impossible to extricate oneself. Multi-tasking… its all in the mind.

As is this whole madness of so-called Reality TV. And thats the real worry.

What, I wonder, is it teaching - or telling - our children?

Isn't this a concern...? UK Culture Minister Barbara Follett was quoted today by saying, ‘Kids nowadays just want to be famous. If you ask little girls, they either want to be footballers' wives or win the X Factor.’ Six months ago, a survey for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in Britain found that 60% of teachers questioned said their pupils most aspired to be David Beckham.

Dunno know about you but that scares the shit out of me.

Hell… when I was that age, I wanted to be a fireman. A bit later on I aspired to being a long-distance lorry-driver. I did, I confess, have a bit of yearning to be a Cowboy but maybe that was because of what was on (un)Reality TV when I was younger. But, the nearest my brother or I got to that ‘reality’ was watching the Lone Ranger and Tonto clambering back from the brink of disaster (at that point we’d taken up our respective positions behind the couch, terrified that our heroes would get clobbered). However, they always came good in the end by disarming the baddies and handing them over to the Sherriff of Dead Man’s Gulch.

So... the lesson - subliminal that it was - that we learned was quite simple, good conquered evil.

So why is that I'm sitting here - Canute-like, trying to stop the wave of absurdity that’s purveyed as entertainment - tittle-tattle-trash-entertainment? Its because… oh don’t please stop me now, I’m all worked up and in full-on rant / grumpy old bastrad mode… because, because... I’ve come to believe that the yoof of today simply don’t have anything of substance put in front of them.

Put in entirely simplistic terms, there is no differentiation between good and downright evil.

Don't believe me? OK... check this out... how was it that the Christmas 2007 edition of EastEnders ended with one bloke throwing his wife downstairs, the programme ending with the audience being left believing he'd killed her. Was that a good influence on...?

It can be argued that the Lone Ranger and Tonto’s weekly black and white adventures weren’t exactly brain of Britain material but, at least we (my brother and I) knew it was escapism - well, that was when we weren’t chasing one another round the garden with makeshift bows and arrows.

But nowadays, people believe in these unbelievable soap opera characters, they follow them - in their millions. This (for example) mad(dening) Jungle thing… I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here..? They’ve got to be having a laugh, haven’t they… the programme makers… a cast of Z-is-dead list of so-called Celebs swanning about in so-called Jungle conditions… eating absolute shite… Malcolm McLaren was right a couple of series back - get paid to travel there first class and then plead a prior engagement like washing his hair and pissing off. And then, Strictly Come Waltzing Matilda... at least one of the contestants has had the good sense to resign 'cos he realised it was all a joke. And Much Older Very Stupid Badly Behaved Brother - who honestly wants to be Jane (or is Jade) Goody?

Doesn’t anyone know where the off-button is on their remote any more?

If people want to watch all that sort of crap - so be it… and, as much as it may read the other way, I'm not arguing the case for or against.

What I am simply - OK, so its a bit of a ramble - suggesting is... shouldn’t there be something of an alternative… to balance it all up a bit, something that gives this emerging generation that we've brought into the world something to aspire to?

If not, won’t this new generation just grow up with ever-limiting horizons… with little to aspire to? Isn’t it a responsibility of those of us who are a bit older to open their eyes a little?

And, if that can’t be done on TV - which, I’d suggest is all but a lost cause nowadays, then why not begin in the schools and colleges.

And teach the kids of today, the business leaders of tomorrow to be… aspirational.

To push their individual envelopes of ambition and help them see beyond a street named Coronation or a boozer named after a Queen where shaven-headed blokes stage-whisper to each other about hurting people.

Let the kids learn by example - and, the best people to give that information are from the workplace.

Which makes me think of the objectives that are absolutely central to Project X.

Which, in turn, leads me to ask another of the Why’s… and its one I can’t - today - answer. Maybe I shall be able to tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Green Green Grass Of Home

The cough is no better, the cold hasn't gone away and Project X is still held-up at the traffic lights from Hell.

On-line / off-line... we nowadays live in a universe where two worlds don't exactly collide, they sniggle-snuggle up to overlap to such an extent that the blur between one reality and the other reality isn't so much a blur but a lightly sprayed mist (rose-water flavour please).

Fast backwards to a bar... it could have been any old bar but, in fact, it was a pretty swish one that I was in the other night. It isn't, I confess, my more normal sort of watering hole - in fact, far from it.

For a start, there isn't even a bar... there are numerous tables and the lights - such as they are - have been dimmed to about three levels above pitched-darkness - so dark that I have to use feel and touch to locate my glasses that I've placed on the table in front of me with which to read the cocktail menu that has been placed there by a (probably aspiring film-starlet) babe. She's sporting a skirt so short that one misplaced step and a penchant for all things south-american would, doubtless, be revealed.

I end up lighting my lighter to read said menu, the two minature-sized candles shedding nowhere near enough light. The fact that I actually use a lighter to cast enough light on the subject matter nearly causes the micro-skirted waitress an apoplexy what with the recent(ish) smoking ban everywhere... however, when no accompanying cigarette / spliff / cigar or other combustible appears from out of my pocket, the sense of relief heard from nearby-quarters is almost palpable. Drinks are ordered and the mini-skirt sashays away into the distance with the majority of the male clients of said bar following her every hip-movement.

Three tables away are a couple... he's probably early-forties and dressed in that sort of I-work-in-the-City-but-I'm-in-a-bar-and-so-I-can-wear-my-after-work garb - ie carefully cut chinos, beautifully polished shoes and a properly pressed shirt with a jumper thrown ludicrously around his shoulders. His companion - his wife, his lover, his girlfriend or someone else's wife (I wonder) is similarly dressed down. Urban chic for all to see. Their drinks arrive, what look like a brace of Martinis, shaken hard and not awash in a sea of crushed ice.

One assumes they both have pretty high-powered jobs - well, neither of them are scaffolders... and, one'd assume that either A or B has suggested they meet up for a bit of drink and then head off somewhere nice for a spot of dinner before back to his / hers / theirs for a little horizontal jog.

To all intents and purposes, just a normal couple, out for an early evening drink. Nothing wrong with that... surely?

Of course not... but... why the hell are they both sitting there, drinks to one side untouched... the both of them hammering away as if nothing else matters at their respective Blackberrys? Why?

Are they not pleased to see each other... have they nothing to say to one another... or... have their on-line / off-line worlds colluded to such a degree that the reality of human interaction... ie talking to one another... has become a thing of the past.

It did / had in the Material Girl's household where - if reports are anything to go by - the husband was required by the wife to set time aside in the diary for sex. Is that penetrative sex? Because if so, I'd have thought a quick visit to would have been in order - its hardly a turn on to have one's time for hanky-panky, bit of spanky, written up like a things to make and do list in the office diary.

Oh dear.

I sip at my own viciously-shaken Martini... and observe from out the corner of my eye him 'n her three tables away. In the space of half an hour they don't utter a word to one another; they're consumed by their mobile-information-technology-gathering-devices...

We all use the bloody things... and I'm not complaining. This is the 21st Century after all and no, I'm not harking back with a I'd-rather-live-in-the-Middle-Ages point of view. Far from it.

Its just this that I simply don't understand... why do we nowadays seem to inhabit a world in which we simply cannot switch off?

Why is that that every single mobile call has to be answered - no matter where and when and how inconvenient and annoying it may be to others around one? Why is it that people (appear to) subscribe to the view that the next incoming Blackberry message matters more than the situation they're in currently? Why oh why, is there this need for... this search for... this belief that... the grass the other side of the fence has got to be greener?

Because, generally speaking... it isn't.

Like Frankie said... Relax.

Disraeli Gears

That which hears more stupidities than anything else in the world is a painting in a museum. Jules de Concourt, 1866

The cold that started as a sniffle more than a month ago has recently turned into a gurgling stream; the cough that began as a mid-morning irritant has become a chest infection a little like an unwanted house-guest that has overstayed their welcome. Both of which, I'm desperately trying to cure through remedies ancient and modern.

I've deluged my throat with so many pastilles to ease the barbed-wire pain there that I've become hyper-active; I've smeared so much vapour-rub across my chest to create some form of normality in breathing that I break out into 90-degree cold-sweats and I've now invested in herbal remedies that'd see a wise-woman from the middle ages taken outside, tied to a steak (don't hurt me, I'm a vegetarian) and burned to a crisp.

Unfortunately, nothing much is working.

My latest cold and flu potion is organic and wildecrafted - how do I know this? It is written on the bottle and it must be unbelievably bloody organic because it includes extracts of: elder berry, osha root, cherry bark, venus fly-trap, bitter orange peel, cayenne pepper, sage, garlic, coffee bean, onion, yarrow, pleurisy root, lobellia seed, licorice root, osha root and elder flower in a base of (wait for it) super-oxygenated, energised, distilled water, organic apple cider vinegar and organic grain alcohol.

According to the label, it has been aged for months. Also, according to the label, it is very expensive. Not according to the label, it tastes quite revolting.

Nor has it done a great deal for my mood over the last few days.

Project X is sitting very very patiently at the traffic lights, waiting on them turning a different colour from red. Amber would be fine, since then I could engage gear. Green would be fantastic too... but, at present, its like being the first vehicle at a set of road works; there is a lot of oncoming traffic and the bloke who signals from afar to his opposite number near me to switch the side of his oval batton from red to green has yet to do so. Should I turn the engine off or leave it iddling? The gear-stick is in neutral, my hand on the knob, my foot on the clutch and I'm drumming my fingers on the dashboard patiently. Patiently... patiently.

My mind wanders.

All art is a more or less oblique kind of confession. All artists are forced to tell the whole story and vomit the anguish up. James Baldwin - from the Northern Protestant, 1961.

I love great Art. What I don't like is art spelled with a capital F.

The vision of the ancients, carving extraordinary shapes in rock or in stone, learning to defy convention and gravity by constructing the most exquisite monuments to their Gods - be they churches, cathedrals or temples in Indonesia, The Outer Hebrides, Greece or Mexico; the statues of Easter Island, the Pyramids, the Christ the Redeemer cross high above Rio, Petra in ancient Jordan, the Alhambra Palace, even Eiffel's great creations - the Tower in Paris and Liberty in New York, the Taj Mahal. Beauty, beauty, beauty.

How about the subtle simplicity of Origami, the painstakingly beautiful lettering of Medieval scripts, Henry Moore's oblique structures and Rembrandt's pen and ink sketches - fading almost to the point of no return in the Guggenheim in Venice - or marveling at the small scale of Dali's Clocks (yes, I know its titled something else but I can't remember what it is more properly called).

Stanley Mouse or Rik Griffin's poster art of the late Sixties and Cecil Aldin's watercolours of old English Coaching Inns from the age of the Stage Coach by way of Van Gogh's Sunset Through an Avenue Of Trees to Picasso's Girl With A Mandolin.

From Bosch and his pre-acid hallucinatory incubus of the petrified macabre - still-life at its most terrible - to Monet and his impressionistic enchanted lillies via Turner and his apocalyptic seascape visions, through Matisse and Chagal to Kaarsh and Mapplethorpe's essays in black and white photographic beauty.

And a thousand others in between.

Art - in its widest, visual context that brings one back to it time and time again.

Something new to attract the eye and stimulate the mind; something fresh to see each and every time.

And, an endless cultural journey to last a lifetime.

Can the same be said for an installation that can only be described as follows: one length of string stretched between four nails - two of which have been hammered into a wall and the other two whacked into the floor. The string (brown in colour so as to be accurate) was then stretched between all four nails to make an out of kilter oblong box. (F)artist then stood back and admired his (her) handiwork.

Didn't anyone, anywhere have the courage to say to (f)artist X or Y... that's absolute crap, pal..?

Try this, then...

I'm wondering how much worth there is in a paintinp that takes up the entire wall of a room within one particular museum which I can think of that consists of nothing other than blobs and splodges of paint thrown randomly at the canvas. Not much, I think you'd agree.

However, forseeing that most sane people would also come to that conclusion, the painter took to riding his bike over said canvas - randomly most probably - to... well, all it did was spread out the splodges and blobs in uncoordinated wheel marks.

After a while, probably about half an hour, the painter either got bored with cycling aimlessly, became a bit tired or simply fancied a beer. Whatever it was, he climbed off and signed his name at the bottom left hand corner.

Jackson Pollock?

Total bollox.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Eleven O’Clock Tick Tock

The ticking of a thousand million clocks, each inexorably beating to the same heartbeat… marching everyone into an uncertain future… as if anyone could - as if it'd be possible to resist its onward stride, King Canute-like.

Tick tock, tick tock… split-seconds leading to moments in time, minutes morphing into hours, day turning to darkness with sleep becoming a rare comodity as the sitting and standing and waiting merge into endlessness.

New meanings to the word patience circumnavigate raw minds, wracking and wrecking the grey cells with thinking… creative thinking… Is there / was there anything more I can do… or that anyone could have done?

Then… as the great grey dawn rolls back to be split by a shaft of watery sunlight, the far off sound of the whisteblowers…

Ninety years later, a single bell sonorously tolls, striking the hour - marking the moment.

Three of the last four surviving British troops from World War One, the war that was meant to end all wars, are on Whitehall… its overcast and they’re wrapped against a November chill in bible-black overcoats, their medals and ribbons blown by a slight breeze, a nest of poppies in a wreath on each lap as, in their wheel-chairs, they’re slowly pushed forward toward the Cenotaph.

In Greek, the word Cenotaph translates to Empty Tomb; the Lutyens designed monument that bisects Whitehall has but a simple inscription carved into the granite-like Portland Stone: The Glorious Dead.

With firmly determined yet shaking, numb-cold frail hands, the three service-men each slowly push their individual wreaths of blood-red poppies forward to a helper, so that their tributes to those who fell and paid the ultimate sacrifice may be placed among others.

The poppy symbolises the fallen; one of the very few plants that grew on the ripped-apart battelfields of Flanders after the conflicts that raged through Europe’s heartlands. Where, once upon a time, there was agricultural farmland where the plough-boys and the harvest maids roamed - came poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen - from a distance, transforming bare tracts of land into an ocean of blood red… each year, to bloom again, self-renewal from seeds borne on the wind.

While these three starkly simple wreaths are laid among among those placed by the supposed great and the good of the nation the reality is a little different… is it not that these three are the great and the good?

Three once-young but about to become prematurely-aged who, aged no more than sixteen at the time (which is a mere three years older than my youngest daughter is today), would have stood in the trenches summoning up more courage yet being sadled with more terror than anyone transfixed by their every move would ever experience or understand.

It is incredibly moving.

Because, these three very, very old-men are among only a handful of other survivors of that conflict left around the globe.

It is a sight that, most likely, will never be repeated... ever again.

As much as Obama’s victory in the US election was described as being of historical significance - so is this moment… but, perhaps its even more pertinent.

Because… cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Let that man, pray God, put an end to all war, to all conflict… Because, he, above any single other, has that power. And the power to use his position wisely.

Lest we forget.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Of Rules

The soap-opera-saga of the Ritchie's divorce gets worse or better depending on one's personal point of view - the world as innocent bystanders watches in the bath-tub of underhand mud-slinging when what should remain totally private is publicised by the publicity-mad with no forethought whatsoever on precisely who'll get hurt in the short and longer term.

Its not the run up to Christmas... oh no... 'tis the season of the bully.

Because, according to latest on-line reports, the fading singer with the fake-blonde hair has issued a ten point manifesto to be strictly adhered to by her about-to-be ex-husband in respect of their children. For example (if this is to be believed), when out and about in open spaces, the children are to have their hands regularly disinfected... they may only eat macrobiotically... they may not watch television (clearly that doesn't apply to open spaces... or does it?)... so on and so forth.

Two questions arise - is any of this normal... and what is wrong with kids being... kids? And, as an adjunct, a third (observation)... who precisely believes that being a complete control-freak is, in any shape or form, justifiable?

The woman in question was - not that long ago - recording a (new I assume) record in Basing Street - only, its not called Basing Street nowadays... anyhow... staff there were instructed (so my source reliably informs me) that when the woman was in situ that, should they come across her in (say) a corridor or... passing through a door... or anywhere in fact... she had issued an edict: there was to be no eye-contact.

Excuse me...?!

Who is it that lives in the real world... and who lives in a world where one's every move is protected by bullies in shades with bulging muscles?

This, is it not, is the Theatre of the Absurd.

But... its not just contained to so-called 'pop stars'... by no means... For example, when was the last time you actually spoke to your bank-manager? They probably exist but, generally speaking, telephone any bank and its absolutely impossible to speak to anyone in authority - one deals with machines.

And... should one be lucky enough to get to talk to someone in-situ, when one has a delicate problem to discuss - such is the fashion for open plan offices that one's disastrous or otherwise banking history can be related and discussed to the minutest detail in the full hearing of others queuing to pay their water rates.

Oh joy.

What if - for example - one would like to discuss a business proposal with (lets say) a senior person within (say) an Equity firm. Is this possible - of course not.

You have to submit written proposal after written proposal via the internet - whereupon, once you've hit the play button, all your hard-work simply disappears into a vacuum. Does anyone read it... one has no idea. Does it get to the person that one really wants it to? Who knows? Most probably not. And, more or less every internet site of that ilk one peruses has so many caveats and clauses - the small print - that, more often than not, its more dangerous to submit anything in that manner. Yet, equally often, there is no alternative. One that I looked at recently while involved in a spot of research, even had the temerity to explain to its luckless / hapless readers that anything submitted would fall under the ownership of the company to whom one submitted said submission.

Hey - thats a great way of doing business... I think not.

Once were the days that one could talk business to a business person, to a decision maker who wasn't hidden from view behind a phalanx of secretaries and personal assistants.

The days when one contacted person X and they'd respond. Not that long ago either. Old fashioned courtesies seem to have going out the window with the advent of the Blackberry / i-Phone / everything-by-e-mail or else generation.

The generation who are constantly looking over their shoulder, over your or my shoulder, wondering if there's something better going on than whats present and current. This is the generation who march into business meetings and slap their Blackberry's on the table and... disrupt said meetings every few minutes because they have an incoming e-mail... why?

Because, somewhat ludicrously, they seem to think that it could be more important than whats current, whats happening in front of their faces.

Its the entire grass is greener on the otherside mentality.

It may look attractive but, generally speaking, its not - and... much like Mrs Ritchie's fake-world - its exactly that... unreal.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I haven't seen the sleeve artwork for this album in... goodness knows how long; my own copy is a bit battered about the edges now - after all, the album was released in 1970. Nowadays, mine is sandwiched in-between You Can All Join In and El Pea - two other seminal Island samplers from the same era in a roughly-hewn shelving unit back in the dungeon (office) at Merle HQ in France.

But... here I am, holding an otherwise pristine copy of Bumpers in my own hands with both twelve-inches of vinyl consigned to the left hand sleeve, the right hand remaining empty. It is as if the owner has recently played sides three and four but absent-mindedly has replaced the vinyl in the wrong half of the album jacket.

A quiet voice besides me intones; That was the first sleeve that Tony did for me, you know. I'm jerked back into consciousness -of-thought.

Really... I hadn't realised. I continue staring at the sleeve while the owner of the voice fiddles with his lap-top; its like walking back in time yet a voice from inside me comes as if from nowhere. And, before I know it, I'm musing out loud. D'you know, it was one of the first Island albums I bought? I used to spend hours listening and looking at the inner sleeve, trying to figure out who was who from all of those grainy black and white images that has been drawing-pinned to the tree-stump on the inner sleeve.

Did you? The voice laughs. I can't remember who had the idea of doing that.

I'm still staring down at the sleeve, almost hypnotised by this imagery of remembrance. There's still some incredible music on it... stuff that stands the test of time... tho' I'm not so sure about the Quintessence track. Actually... I wasn't really at the time either. I catch myself laughing nervously. I have a friend in France who is busting to get hold of all my vinyl 'cos you can get these digital decks now that plug straight into a computer and transfer everything across.

You'd fill up a lot of i-Pods. He laughs while continuing to tap away - the occasional expletive uttered when a depressed key fails to register.

I know but... think of all those great B-sides too... I stop myself, realising I'm meandering dangerously - after all this is meant to be a business meeting and... this sort of chatter is hardly business like.

But then, this is no ordinary business man I've spent the last nearly two hours with.

The voice besides me coughs his trademark cough before continuing. You're right.. With some of those bands,though, it was all about a time and a place and they sort of fitted in. The voice is fiddling with his glasses which are perched on the end of his nose, and he's still peering intently at his computer screen. On the wall behind us, the biggest TV screen I've ever seen offers up the news in such high-definition its almost possible to see the newscaster's hair-spray.

The voice ignoring the news is wearing a sweatshirt that is crumpled at best, no shoes and a pair of well-worn jeans.

A pair of cast-off moccasin-slippers lay half under another table that is groaning under the weight of assorted books, dvds, random vinyl, magazines, what looks suspiciously like a lot of maps and three unboxed brand-new i-Phones.

Above him on the wall is a magnificent black and white porttrait of an elderly Rasta - signed and numbered as only truly beautiful limited edition lithographs are. OK, I think this e-mail is about ready to go now... we just need to attach the file to it. Can you do that bit for me? I think you're better than me at this. I'll copy it to you and to myself too. OK?

This comment breaks my reverie for a few moments and jolts me back to the purpose of my meeting. Thats done, I attached it when you were on the 'phone...He glances up, nods his appreciation, types in the e-mail addresses and clicks a button.

The e-mail that I never dared dream might be sent whizzes into hyperspace in front of my very eyes - destination about three-thousand miles distance.

In the blink of an eye, everything has been sent - personally endorsed by the man tapping his keyboard - to one of the most influential people on this planet within his own field.

OK, great... thats gone... I love e-mail, don't you? Yeah, you're right, there is some great music there... did you know that the first track was to have been on Steve's solo album that became John Barleycorn? And, then there's Jess - or rather Bronco and then Spooky Tooth's next isn't it?...

Yes... it is... I still think that is one of the best Beatles covers... it sort of... growls. Incredible stuff. It was also the first time I think that I'd come across Nick Drake too. I dunno why, but I'd never picked up the first album and then, there was this from the second and... I guess it did what compilations were meant to do, y'know... straight out there and went and bought a copy of Bryter Layter. Its quite strange seeing this after so long... all those bed-sit nights with my friends, listening and looking and then... being part of the whole thing as long as I was... inwardly I'm wondering if I should be saying or even admitting out loud any of this stuff.

And then I catch myself saying... it was such a... I hesitate briefly. was a bit like being allowed into the sweet shop and being told you could open any sweets you liked and then... being given the key to the back-room too. You know... to be paid to indulge a hobby... was just... such a privilege. I'm rambling, I know I am... but, hey... its a strangely emotional moment this - and I'm feeling like I'm stuck in a moment I can't get out of - this, after all, is the man who pretty much formulated my record collection.

He smiles, his voice is slow, he's pondering, looking for words. Y'know, I sold Island twenty years ago and, looking back and now seeing everything run by accountants and... I'm just... very very proud of what we all did... what everyone did. He glances across at me.

You should be proud of this project of yours too, it's really great... I love it... and I think that (and he mentions the name of the person to whom his e-mail endorsing project X has been sent) will get it... like I did. I think that he's the right person to help you take it forward. What did you call it again? I tell him.

He coughs again, I don't like the name but that can be changed...

Its more than kind of you... I hadn't expected this... my voice tails off... I genuinely don't know what to say.

I love it, I think its great and I hope this helps you. Another slight cough and a pause before he continues. It'll be a lifetime of work y'know?

Oh I know that... I laugh, Mind you, it should keep me out of mischief.

He's right - so, yes, if it all comes off - if (meaning the big IF) the link in the chain that the man in front of me has instigated is activated then, it won't just be me being busy for the rest of my days, it'll be absolutely life-changing.

We shake hands and I turn toward the lift thinking that, among the true mavericks and the real pioneers - Chris Blackwell, Island's founder, is probably the foremost of all.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

24 Hours From Tulsa

Been wracking my brains for another way of putting this but, I guess I must be word-bird-brain-dead-beat now... it's starting to feel like I'm totally written and, frankly, everything-else'd-out now on Project X.

Its reached that really bizarre place; teetering as if high on the tightrope... ready to fall either way.

Which, of course, parallels very neatly into my own dread of absurdly high heights. Am fine on roofs, done enough of them in my time to have conquered that fear but... tightropes. They make me think of Blondin. Remember him? (pointless asking that really since I have virtually no readers). So, for any new-comers, I'll just carry on regardless... ie as usual.

Blondin was an utterly bonkers French bloke from round about the start of the last century who indulged in some pretty mad high-wire stunts. And loads of people - clearly with nothing better to do than watch a man possibly fall to a fairly unpleasant death hundreds of feet below - paid to go and see him... perform. Performance art? I suppose so. I imagine too, that the bookies took bets... wonder what the odds were on a windy day? Sorry, minor digression.

Anyhow... for example, one time he strung a wire from one side of Niagara Falls to the other and then... hopped on and walked across. No safety net or anything vaguely sensible like that. Mad? Absolutely crackers... what sane individual does something as loopy as that?

Anyhow, needless to say, he didn't stop there... this is from memory yet, I'm pretty sure the little grey cells are accurate on this bit of trivia - he (Blondin) wasn't just content with wandering across from one side of the Falls to the other... oh no... he was French = perennially hungry.

So... he took a stove, a chair, a frying pan, knife, fork, plate and three eggs with him on his next trip.

Set up the stove and his chair - obviously both balanced in a fairly precarious manner - broke the eggs, cooked his omelet, ate it and off he toddled... over to the other side to rapturous applause from both banks.

How does this equate to Project X?

The meeting I have tomorrow morning looks like it could be pivotal. Everything is set as best I can set it up.

Therefore, heading off to my 10.00am appointment will, I reckon be a bit like walking out onto the tightrope... with absolutely zero safety net.

So, shall I be taking a stove, the eggs and the rest? Rather a lot hangs on this so... the answer's yes... I'm taking the full kit-and-caboodle plus boning up on every culinary skill I know.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Red Rain

Obama made it... is anyone surprised? Can't imagine anyone, anywhere could be.

Which means...

The world now has its first black US President.

So bloody what? Should that actually matter... I mean, the actual colour of his skin?

No... of course not, its absolutely and totally ludicrous... But yet, without a shadow of a doubt, to some it'll be of huge significance.


Well... here's the worry.

That some might see this US Presidential election result as a victory for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the minorities. Now, let me be clear here... I'm not saying everyone will, just saying some might. And, that (for me) is a big, big worry.


Because there are people out there in the world who still believe that the colour of a person's skin matters. And, even worse... their sexuality matters; if they're male or female matters; their religious beliefs makes a difference too.

But... that's the narrow minded bigotry of the minority... where political correctness has become a wearisome cornerstone of all our lives.

For pity's sake, can't we put all that to one side - and accept that the best person for any task is just that, no matter their sex, race, creed, colour or religion.

If the world can't get past that bit in this day and age... then where the hell are we truly heading to in the 21st century?

Answers to my tuft of grass in the prairie of Voltaires on a post-card please.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

All This And More

Change is the law of Life. And, those who look only to the past or the present are certain to miss the future. John F Kennedy - Frankfurt, Germany, June 25th 1963.

By the time we wake up, America will have a new main man.

The commentators are talking of this as being the single most important election in living history.

Why..? Well, just maybe everyone, everywhere has become fed-up to the back teeth with all thats gone on - across every single facet of life these last few years.

Perhaps, we're therefore living in truly historically important times when those pledges that are made and yet always broken - will FINALLY be held up as true and... IMPORTANT.

When that someone who the world confidently expects to be the next most important man on this planet will have the guts and determination to say... NO MORE WAR.

And, instead... rally those other spineless world leaders by stepping out and marching to the beat of another drum.

To really herald in an age of true reform - where the homeless and the disposessed are cared for; where the elderly are not forgotten; when the sick and infirm aren't kept waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors; an age where the horrors of AIDS are - finally - properly adressed and nations who can... actually DO something as opposed to talk about doing something bloody well do it... when trade is fair between nations... and when a proper education for all is a right not an option if you can afford it.

The past is another country, they did things differently there. LP Hartley - the opening lines to The Go-Between.

Is it too much to ask that the past is consigned to where it belongs and that we work toward a better future?

Here's my hope... and, it applies to so, so much: that the best of the past is the worst of the future.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Message In A Bottle to Gordon Brand

I woke up this morning and…

The opening stanza to many a Blues song; perm any one from nine – the hey-wrap, Mud-Slide Slim baling bales on a cotton field deep-down in the depths of the sarf; brewed up on a 24-hours from Tulsa porch, fermented by the cultural collisions within down-home swamp-dog culture. Oh, sister, is my mojo active this day – you better believe it.

Actually, I woke up this morning with my mojo so bloody energized, its like an outtake from the Duracell battery adverts – so much so, that I had two thoughts running through my overly bed-logged mind.

First out of the box: my web-log (to give its correct title) is no longer be so-named. I’ve decided that, from now on, it’ll be a Voltaire and based around the be-wigged Francois-Marie Arouet’s pen-name – although, I have learned that his most famous quote is, apparently, apocryphal. But, for the purposes of this, it’ll do. Voltaire was a leading light within the French Enlightenment movement, a writer, philosopher and essayist who produced works in almost every literary form. He was outspoken, a thinker and a defender of civil liberties, an advocate of free trade and an outspoken critic of dogma. How appropriate.

Besides, Voltaire was the world’s first blogger.

He wrote thousands of pamphlets, essays by the hundred, books by the dozen, poetry by the ream, prose by the yard, polemic romances by the metre, verse by the hectare, letters that would now be measured in terabytes – until his fingers were the colour of Quink. OK, so the web hadn’t been invented when in the 1700’s but who’s counting.

The second jack-in-the-box: I have a five-hundred percent increase in readership. Which, seen in another light is… a statistic.

And, it proves statistics are total bollox. Why?

Because read one way, a five-hundred percent in readership is a massive increase. Its 500 times the number one had before. Thus – to the casual browser of this little tuft of grass in the prairie of web-Voltaires… that’s quite an incredible increase. Neil’s Voltaire (see, the word trips of the typewriter far, far more easily than the word that rhymed with my bother’s unfortunate morning out near Cirencester) is a success. Wow.

Except its not… as it appears that I now have five readers instead of just the one.

Its still a five-hundred percent increase though – which, quite clearly proves that statistics can be manipulated to read in ways in which people decide they want you – the reader – to. And statistics beget interpretations, from which opinions are made. Present statistics in one way and people will believe what you want them to; present them another and… they’ll believe something else. Equals… statistics are meaningless manipulation.

But this statistical increase is marvelous – see, I’m presenting my own statistic in a manner in which I can make you believe I’m doing terribly well when the reality is barely anyone reads this drivel. Still, I reckon it is pretty… schplendid. And, that’s one of a few words that I can pronounce in pure Sean Connery.

Try saying it… roll the S, the C and the H together and attach the plendid… it works. Pure Connery. The only person I ever came across who could actually talk in pure Sean was one Henry McGroggan – tour manager for La Faithfull – Reading’s one time Maid Marianne to Dartford’s Michael Phillip of Jagger. Henry’s a proud Scot through and through and would issue the day’s instructions in his Connery-brogue that, ever so occasionally would factor in a tinge of Gordon Brown. Try this at home – take any word starting with the letter S and, look… it works – like magic… for example… how about SchpeSchial… or Scholo… or… Schexually eSchxSchpliSchit..?

Anyhow, this all leads me to wondering how an unintelligent sex crazed (try it… it works) low-rent comedian is forced into resignation for saying what he wants on air and yet the Prime Minister of England, part of Wales, some of Scotland and not much of Northern Ireland has not had that same state forced upon him… for doing just the same bar the expletives… why?

OK, I understand the case against the former – he’s not even vaguely funny; just a sad parasite who utters inane rubbish in the guise of comedy. But, isn’t it the other one who’s the real comedian and someone for whom the statistics really do toll.

Brand is unfunny. Brown is equally so…but both thought / think they’re bloody clever. Wrong. Deluding their respective audiences is not funny. At all.

Tumbling Dice.

I read the news today… oh, boy… 2,000 holes in Blackburn Lancashire. Hey, if that was all that the front-pages were reporting on, if that was the main item then… would we all be worried? Nah – of course not.

Am I a tad late in catching up… yes, a bit because its been a mad-crazy week for Project X. So, a bit like the cow’s tail, I’m all behind.

So... what's on the good old agenda today? House prices across the UK down by a staggering 17%... The recession is biting but no one seems to have the guts to say, wait up a moment, this is really a depression… not just a recession. Why won’t anyone stand up and actually be… honest for once, and tell it like it is?

Lets look across the water – and ask ourselves this then. Why, just as a random example, did it take CNN – one of the most reliable news resources on this earth – 48 hours last weekend to acknowledge that the US of A had taken Syria to task by deploying a number of helicopter-gunships and strafing the shit out of a number of innocent women and children… the BBC, The Times of London – the Thunderer, The Daily Stale (whoops, Mail), Reuters and AP all had it… watching it all unfold over the Internet as a running news item wasn’t all that invigorating - in fact, it was truly madly deeply depressing but… CNN… nope… they ignored it. Highly curious.

So why is it significant? Well, in that CNN would be a primary source of news all over America… one would have thought that the American populace would have wanted… needed… to know what their outgoing President, good ol’ George double U was up to; one of his final throws of the tumbling dice at the end of his crumbling regime that’s destined to ignominy with Barrack – half man, half biscuit – Obama coming up on the outside rails like America’s new Messiah.

But, will he solve the Wall Street shuffle?

London, New York, Tokyo, Paris, Dubai, Merle. It’s the same everywhere; the value of the Euro is bound up in the exchange-rate of the Dollar which is controlled or not as the case may be by the fluctuating Pound whose strings are pulled by the puppet-masters of the Yen while the Rand nestles up to the Rupee because every company is outsourcing.

Outsourcing – what a lark. Call Directory Enquiries in Britain only to find that you’re talking to someone, somewhere in Bangladesh; ask for a number in Rochdale and receive the details for a connection in Roehampton. The rationale – its cheaper to do it that way. Does it matter that information that one requires is wrong? Absolutely not; we (company Z) are saving money so it has to be better. Bollox.

Directory Enquiries used to be one of the Great British institutions… a bit like the BBC. Reliable Aunty. And, this week, what on earth do the BBC think they’ve been doing?

On the one hand there was crazed uber-comic Russell Brand lambasting Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs in an unforgivable manner on his radio show. Aided and abetted by Jonathan Ross – who I first came across when he was a columnist on one of Britain’s lesser music magazines. Ross now earns (so it is said) 16,000 GBP… daily. If I earned that in a year, I’d be more than happy.

But… the BBC became weighed down by over 30,000 complaints for the ghastly outspoken comments made by the pair on Brand’s show. OK… that’s that bit… One has, thankfully, resigned and the other... oh dear, he's been suspended without pay for 3 months. Poor Jonathan, he'll only loose what... about a million. Poor dear, don't we all feel sorry for him. Act like a twat and get away with it.

But… there’s another bit that no one seems to have picked up on. Unless I haven't listened to the right news bulletins.

That was a pre-recorded show. Which means that – like every other show on radio and / or television, it’d have a producer at the helm. And, a producer’s role is to ensure that certain guidelines – niceties if you like – are met.

Yet… while the presenters were – justifiably – up in front of the Aunty's Beak… the producer lay silent… Why? Isn’t he (or she) the one ultimately responsible for saying yes… the show is fine for broadcast.

Isn't it time that people took responsibility... or, maybe I've got it all wrong and this isn't the 21st Century.