You Choose

Funny where thoughts of current affairs take you.

All the fawning (and, to be fair, condemnatory and neutral) coverage of Trump’s bombardment of a Syrian air base in response to Assad’s gas attack have stated the quantity and type of munition that was used: “59 Tomahawk Cruise missiles.”

Those of us who lived under the shadow of the mushroom cloud in the 80s will remember that missile. It was the one stationed at Greenham Common, which of course was the subject of much protest, mainly from the Women’s Peace Camp.

The Greenham camp was primarily part of the anti-nuclear movement, as the missiles stationed there carried nuclear warheads. Obviously the ones the US launched a couple of nights ago didn’t, but what the whole thing did was remind me of a song from that time: “Tomahawk Cruise,” by TV Smith’s Explorers.

I recall hearing that song in my Dad’s car1 back when it came out. It’s possible that I only heard it that one time, but it has stuck in my mind all these years, just waiting to be shaken loose.

On listening to it on Apple Music I’m pleased to find the chorus is almost exactly as I remembered. The rest of the lyrics are more oblique than I’d have expected. It was an anti-nuclear song, but less obviously than I’d have thought.

It’s very 80s, as you might expect (it was released in 1980), but there is, of course, nothing wrong with that. Inevitably it’s to be found on YouTube and Spotify.

Not sure whether this counts as nostalgia, in terms of my post the other day, but I don’t really care. What definitely isn’t, though, is the album I’m listening to as I type: The Chiswick Story by Various Artists2 (most of whom I haven’t heard) is a potted history of the label. Lots of good stuff on there.


  1. Bit weird, as he never listened to Radio 1, and there’s no way it would’ve been on Radio 2. I guess maybe I was waiting in the car while my parents shopped. []
  2. It was suggested because that’s the label “Tomahawk Cruise” was on. []

Swim, Test, Shop, Film, Sleep

Yesterday I kind of wilfully skipped a day. At some point in the evening I realised I wasn’t going to write a post, so I just said, “Fine: that’s allowed.”

Today I started by going for a swim. After my new regime of exercise last summer, I got out of the habit once I started a new contract. So it was good to get back to it. (Which is not to say I haven’t swum or gone to the gym in all that time, but it’s been a few weeks at the moment.)

After that I took a HackerRank test for a new job opportunity. It’s a site that does programming tests. This one was, I suspect, a disaster. I hate doing that kind of thing: you’ve got a timer running, and the problem you’re trying to solve is unlike anything you’d have to do professionally… Anyway, suffice to say, it didn’t go terribly well.

This evening was all about falling asleep in front of the telly. We tried to watch 20,000 Days On Earth, the film about Nick Cave from a few years back. I got it a few Christmases or birthdays ago, but hadn’t got round to watching it till now. I enjoyed what I saw of it, but there was definite falling asleep on the sofa and missing chunks. Oh well, it’s a DVD: we can always go back.

Oh yes: there was also a trip to Westfield, the time-void where hours go to die.

Looking Back and Forward

My recent and forthcoming live music experiences all involve bands of my youth that have reformed and are touring their old material.1 Wallowing in nostalgia, some might call it.

But there’s nothing inherently wrong with bands getting back together. It can be problematic if you are the band that tours as the Dead Kennedys, of course. There’s a whole saga there that I won’t go into, but if Jello Biafra’s not involved, and in fact is actively against it, then it’s not the Dead Kennedys.

Indeed, in his song “Buy My Snake Oil” Jello suggested that a way for old punks to make money off their history would be to

Give in
Ride the punk nostalgia wave
For all it’s worth
Recycle the name of my old band
For a big reunion tour
Sing all those hits from the “good ol’ days”
‘Bout how bad the good ol’ days were

Which is a fair criticism of old bands doing their thing in modern days, I guess. But I see two arguments to counter it, from a gig-goer’s point of view.

Unfinished

The first was made by my friend Andrew, around the time that the Sex Pistols reformed and toured. This would have been in 1996.

“I missed them first time round,” he said when I challenged him about it. “This is unfinished business for me.”

Which was a good point, and kind of made me regret playing the purist and not going.

In 1993 I had investigated going to see the reunited Velvet Underground. But I really didn’t want to see them at an all-seated venue. Partly because I’d had a bad experience seeing Lou Reed a year or so before (despite having had a very good experience with him a year or two before that).

I recall that I phoned the venue — Earl’s Court, I think — and found that it did have some standing room. But those tickets were sold out. So I didn’t go. Regretted that, too. So I’m talking the chance to see bands like the Rezillos, or The Beat and The Selecter, that I missed first time around.

OK, But What is it Really?

The second point about the “punk nostalgia wave” (or any similar accusation of nostalgia) is: that is not what it is.

Because here’s the thing: it isn’t nostalgia if you’re carrying on with something that was always there.

Nostalgia (noun): a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past

according to Cambridge.

But this isn’t that. Because while those bands’ heydays might have been in the past, their music has remained available and frequently-played. You can’t be nostalgic for an album you listened to last week, or last night.

And a live performance always happens in the present.

This train of thought was kicked off for me a couple of years back when there was an article in the Guardian, prior to The Force Awakens coming out. I can’t find it now,2 but it claimed that “nostalgia” was part of the cause of the excitement for the new film.

And I thought, no. Well, maybe for some people. But for many of us, if not most of us, Star Wars never went away. We’ve watched it, talked about it, read theories about it, and so on. It has been part of our lives.

Or take Doctor Who. Sure, there were the wilderness years before 2005, but The Doctor never really went away. The Tardis and Daleks are burned into Britain’s cultural memory, and I think they always will be.

Now if I were to see an episode of, say, Marine Boy: that would be nostalgic. I remember it fondly from my childhood, and have never seen it since. I’ve never even seen it in colour, because those were the days of black & white televisions.3

But I can’t be nostalgic for punk bands or Star Wars or Doctor Who, because they never went away. The sense of warmth and shared experience they bring: that’s not nostalgia, it’s something else. Familiarity, at worst. Or better: community.


  1. Or a mixture of old and new, as with The Rezillos. []
  2. This is why you should always save links, folks. []
  3. God, I really come from another time, don’t I? []

Punk and Hugo

I hadn’t come across Garageland London before, though I approve of the name.1 They came across my radar the other day with a piece called Cease and Desist: An open letter to Brewdog from PUNK, which says:

It has recently been brought to our attention that you are claiming legal ownership of the word ‘punk’ and are sending threatening legal notices to those you feel are infringing on that ownership by using that word.

I hadn’t heard this about Brewdog. If it’s true, they’re being beyond ridiculous (or possibly winding people up). I’ve got a lot of time for a Scottish company making craft beer, even if it’s only OK (and too damn strong most of the time: I like a beer you can drink a few of without falling over). But like the Garageland people, I thought their “Equity for Punks investment portfolio did raise some eyebrows.”

The open letter ends:

Definitions of punk are varied and debates over those definitions have been going on since before you were born. However, one thing punk is not is a bully! That goes against everything punk stands for. If you continue in this vein your punk credentials will be revoked and you will be called upon to cease and desist.

Kind regards and a middle finger salute

and is then signed by hundreds of bands. So many that I can’t really believe the website got agreement from all of them. But I heartily endorse the message.

In other good news, the Hugo Awards nominations were announced, and it looks like a great list, and also like the Puppies have been almost totally wiped out this year. Yay fandom!

I also note that one of the novel nominees is the very Too Like the Lightning that I was writing about the other day. Hugo nominated, and you still can’t buy it in Britain. Come on publishers!

Also: WordPress tells me that this is my 600th post on here. Not that many for the time the site’s been going for, but a milestone — or at least a round number — nonetheless.


  1. It’s named after a Clash song, as if you didn’t know. []

Garden and Barbican

Spent most of today in the garden, making a start on clearing it up for the summer. Not exactly gardening, as such. More gathering sticks and leaves, and putting them into brown bins for collection. Nice day for it, though.

Then this evening to the Barbican, for the New York Philharmonic doing a couple of pieces by John Adams, as part of the “John Adams at 70” series. Oh, and in the middle they had a cello concerto by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Who was the cellist? Nobody special. Just Yo-Yo Ma.

It was clearly a virtuoso performance, but I didn’t enjoy the Salonen nearly as much as I did the two Adams pieces. Especially the second, “Harmonielehre.” Among other things, it’s good to see something orchestral where the percussionists have some serious work to do.

Not that we could see the percussionists, mostly. We were effectively in the front row. Which is to say, it was row D, but row C was right up against the front of the stage, and not being used because the stage had been extended into rows A and B. That orchestra is big. The downside of having such close seats is that you can only see the first few rows of the orchestra: the string sections, basically.

The big upside of the position, of course, is that you get such a close view and intimate sense of the performance. It’s almost like you’re inside the music at times.

Meanwhile British politics has gone even crazier, with Michael Howard crawling out of the woodwork to threaten war with Spain.1 But that’s a discussion for another time.


  1. To be fair to Howard, that’s not at all what he said. Just that May should be as steadfast with Spain as Thatcher was with Argentina. But “war” is of course how the papers are hyping it. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gibraltarians (96% remain) now wanted to become part of Spain. []

Interesting Lineup

Interesting generation-spanning lineup at the British Summer Time festival in Hyde Park: Green Day headlining, with the lower-on-the-bill bands including The Damned and The Stranglers. Interesting questions of seniority there.

They should really get Stiff Little Fingers as well, for the full High Fidelity vibe.

Singles

I was thinking about the loss of singles. Not individual tracks released individually: that still happens, of course; perhaps more than ever. But back in the days of actual, physical singles — 45 rpm records, or even CD singles later — you didn’t just get an individual track.

I’m here to celebrate — and maybe mourn the loss of — the B-side.

When you bought a single you usually knew what the main song was going to be, because you had heard it on the radio, or at least read a review. Or you might just know and trust the artist’s work, and believe that the chosen track would be worth your 75p.1

But there was always the promise that there would be something good on the other side, too.

Often, of course, the B-side track was really “B” quality, or lower. It was genuinely just filler. Which was always a shame. I remember flipping Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army,” to find out what “My Funny Valentine” was like. I hated it, and never listened to it again. Though as (in other versions) it’s something of a jazz classic, it’s possible that I’d like it more now.

The Members’ classic “The Sound of the Suburbs” was backed by something called “Handling the Big Jets,” which always sounded slightly rude to us2 and I think was an instrumental.

But for every one of those you could get a “Jail Guitar Doors,”3 or a “The Prisoner.”4 Or almost any Beatles single.

Then there were double A-sides, wherein both sides were supposed to be worthy of being playlisted. They always felt like slightly better value for your hard-earned pocket money.

And when CD singles came along they usually had three tracks, raising them arguably into the EP category.

But now, tracks are realised for streaming or download, completely on their own. It’s very sad, and I’m sure they must feel lonely. Plus if you’re buying the download and you want what would have been the B-side, you have to pay for each individual track.

I was going to say, as well, that if you search for single on your streaming service of choice, you only get one track. But I found out the other day that’s not quite true. I wanted to listen to “Elephant Stone,” by the Stone Roses; and in fact the B-side, “The Hardest Thing In the World” was listed too. Its “Album” tag was given as “Elephant Stone — Single (2009)”.

Which apart from the wrong date (and ok, it could’ve been a reissue5) is not a bad example of misused metadata. Or maybe just misnamed: not every gathering or carrier of a group of songs or musical pieces is an “album”.

Or maybe that’s just a change of meaning: what we used to call a single or an EP is now just a very short album.


  1. Only 50p, in fact, when I first bought them. []
  2. We were schoolboys. []
  3. The B-side of “Clash City Rockers,” of course. []
  4. B-side of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.” What, you think I’m not going to talk about Clash singles? []
  5. But how you should give the date for reissues is a whole nother conversation []

Demo

Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the anti-Brexit/pro-Europe demo today. I had a work thing that ended up taking most of the day. But I was there in spirit.

Last night was Comic Relief, which included Red Nose Day Actually. I thought the speech by Hugh Grant’s prime minister character was amazingly relevant to the times. Obviously that was intended, generally; but specifically it had resonance with London’s reaction to the Westminster terrorist attack.

Also about that, Mitch Benn has written a song called “London’s Had Worse,” in which he sings of our resilience and the attacker’s crapness. Not his best song, but no bad.

And Then it Was All That

One of the blogs I follow is called And now it’s all this, by the mysterious Dr Drang. He writes mainly on engineering and provides lots of interesting Python scripts.

What I’m interested in his blog’s title and subtitle, though. “And now it’s all this”; and “I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or was taken wrong.” I’ve been reading it for years, and had only idly wondered about why it was called that, or what it really meant.

I’ve also been listening to, and reading about, The Beatles for years — for a great many more years. And so I was very familiar with John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” line, and the subsequent furore.

But not that familiar, it turns out. Or not with his apology, at least.

We recently watched the excellent Eight Days a Week film, which has lots of Beatles footage I’d never seen before, and puts it all together into a compelling narrative.

Of course, it covers the “Jesus” period. So there was John, at a press conference, making an apology of sorts. And out pops:

I just said what I said and it was wrong. Or was taken wrong. And now it’s all this.

Oh. OK. Right. I should have seen that years ago.

Of course there are two remaining questions:

  1. Why did the good doctor choose to name his blog that?
  2. And what does the “leancrew” mean in his domain name?

Saved Life

In International Clash Day I mentioned a life-changing song: “Wasted Life,” by Stiff Little Fingers. SLF’s anti-military song literally changed my life; or its potential direction, at least. I was probably moving in an anti-war kind of direction anyway, to be fair., but it was definitely a trigger point.

People say — or used they to, at least — that a song couldn’t change your life. By comparison, I don’t think there was ever a similar tendency to say that a book couldn’t change a person’s life. I suspect that is down to their comparative sizes: it seems respectable for something the size of a novel to have a major impact on a human’s psyche, while a three-minute song? Not so much.

Although if it were merely length, then people wouldn’t have complained if you said an album changed your life. I’m not sure that anyone ever said that ,1 but I suspect that if they had, their statement would have been pooh-poohed just as much as the same claim for a song.

At this point I feel I ought to quote Springsteen, giving the opposite view:

We learned more from a three-minute record, baby,
Than we ever learned in school

he sings in “No Surrender.” Hyperbole, certainly, but there is a core of truth to it: the truth of the feeling you can get from listening to a great song.

With “Wasted Life” the feeling for me was of sudden crystallisation, or realisation. I had, for some years, been saying that I wanted to be pilot, join the RAF. This was before the horrors of the Gulf War, or for that matter the Balkans. Though it was in the heart to the Cold War, and British soldiers were stationed in Northern Ireland during the troubles — though not so much RAF staff, I would think.

But I was blind to all that, brought up as I was on a diet of Second World War films, Commando comics, and Airfix models of warplanes. I had, in short, a thoroughly romanticised view of war. And I just wanted to fly.

But I didn’t want to kill. I had always known that, I’m sure. But two lines of that one song made it real for me:

Stuff their fucking armies
Killing isn’t my idea of fun2

And that was all it took. I remember that it was a while before I could tell my parents that I had changed my plans. Perhaps because they would have asked why, and I didn’t want to have to explain it. Maybe because I thought they’d be disappointed. I’m sure my Mum wasn’t. My Dad kind of was: “But you were going to be a Spanish-speaking pilot,” he said. He had always been slightly amused that my school taught half of us Spanish, instead of the then-much-more-conventional French.

A life can hinge on such a small moment.


  1. Somebody must have, of course. []
  2. In an amusing followup to recent thoughts, I originally wrote that as “army,” but find that lyrics sites think this plural too. Correctly, of course. []