Sunday, 19 June 2016

I offer up to you this tribute: Billy Bragg and my dad

My dad died in 2000. I've blogged about him before, particularly around the great work of the Stroke Association who provided my dad with great support after his first stroke, and also after I met Edwyn Collins shortly after his own stroke. It's Fathers' Day today. I think about my dad all the time, but particularly on day's like these. I've taken to posting a link to Billy Bragg's Tank Park Salute every year - its become a sort of small, personal act of remembrance. Its a wonderful song, and makes me quite emotional just thinking about it. An excerpt from the lyrics appears below, and a video of Billy performing this appears in the link above. 

'You were so tall
How could you fall?

Some photographs of a summer's day
A little boy's lifetime away
Is all I've left of everything we've done
Like a pale moon in a sunny sky
Death gazes down as I pass by
To remind me that I'm but my father's son

I offer up to you
This tribute
I offer up to you
This tank park salute'
(from Billy Bragg: Tank Park Salute)

I've met Billy a few times, and he has always been kind and generous. Billy Bragg concerts have been a bit of a constant throughout my adult life - perhaps I will at some point write a piece for my Tickets of Distinction (my other blog, celebrating some of the gigs I have been to over the years) blog about one or two of these, but here I want to concentrate on one meeting, in 2010, at Latitude Festival. Tank Park Salute is of course a tribute to Billy's late father, Dennis. I met Billy by chance outside the poetry tent, and in the course of our conversation I told him about what the song meant to me. Billy was brilliant, and asked me for a hug. In the photo below, pre-hug, Noah, my son, is also telling Billy about how I picked up one of his plectrums at a Red Wedge gig.  

Billy only went up in my estimation that day, and I still remain in awe of his songwriting - Tank Park Salute is a wonderful tribute to his father and a lovely touchstone for lots of us, including this heartbreaking story from Neil Hughes's blog about his daughter. A couple of years ago I met the poet Mike Garry, eager readers may remember some of my previous posts about him
Mike had written a poem as a tribute to his mum, entitled What me mam taught me, which I thought was beautiful. Mike is a firm believer in the power of the word and that we all have poetry in us. we talked a lot about our fathers, both had had strokes, and Mike encouraged me to write a poem about my dad. I've written fragments but its not finished but maybe next year for fathers day I'll publish it. In the meantime, for my lovely dad, I offer up to you, this tribute. x

Friday, 10 June 2016

1966 and all that

I remember seeing this emblazoned on posters around London during EURO '96, and on the eve of EURO 2016 our thoughts turn to not thirty years of hurt, but now 50 years since our last major footballing success. Outside of the triumph at Wembley, 1966 was an important year for all sorts of other reasons. I'm currently reading Jon Savage's book 1966. I am a great admirer of Savage's work, England's Dreaming for example is by far the best account of punk that has been written and Savage's contextual awareness in all his work, Teenage being another fine example, is astounding. Savage describes 1966 as 'the year that the decade exploded', and the first chapter begins; 
'1966 was a year of noise and tumult, of brightly coloured patterns clashing with black and white politics, of furious forward motion and an outraged, awakening reaction. There was a sense that anything was possible to those who dared, a willingness to strive toward toward the seemingly unattainable. There remains an overwhelming urgency that marks the music and movies of that year, counterbalanced by traces of loss, disconnection and deep melancholy'.
I can't vouch for the whole book yet - I have been striving to read the book (which is divided into months) in such a way as to get a sense of the year in real time, 50 years on, so am only up to June, but what the book has illustrated so far is that 1966 is significant on many fronts. At the Centre for Law, Society and Popular Culture we are currently considering using 1966 as our theme for Centre events for the next academic year. We have previously used themes for our Film Matters series, and thought that 1966 might work as the motif for a series of events given its significance.  
In terms of the cinema, Roman Polanski's Cul De Sac received its world premiere at our Cinema in 1966 and we are hoping to show that. Other key films released that year included Blow Up, The Battle of Algiers and Au Hasard Balthazar all of which are currently being considered for screenings. Outside of the cinema but still within visual media we have already pencilled in a screening of Cathy Come Home, introduced by Professor Peter Robson (former Chair of Shelter) and chaired by Dr Russell Orr to mark the 50th anniversary of its BBC debut.
Musically, key albums released in 1966 include The Beatles' Revolver, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde (Centre Member Ken Foster was even at the infamous 'Judas' Dylan concert at the  Manchester Free Trade Hall!). We have previously run Vinyl and Wine events at the Centre where members of the Centre take it in turns to play an album of their choice and might refine this concept for those three albums above. Interestingly there is a far more eclectic soundtrack provided by Jon Savage to accompany the book, the Ace Records' spotify playlist of which is available here.  

Other events are being considered too, perhaps including some celebration of the important House of Lords Practice statement on Judicial Precedent, or even recognising 12 July as the date Tony Macaulay signed his publishing contract that ultimately led to the case of Schroeder v Macaulay. On as more macabre note, 1966 was also the year of the the sentencing of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady (The Moors Murders), and Harry Roberts (The Shepherds Bush Murders), both of which have featured heavily in popular culture.  Any more suggestions and ideas welcome, and keep an eye on the Centre website for news on developments. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Just Like Honey?

This week I have been pre-occupied by bees. On Wednesday I went to a mesmeric live performance of Be: One at Sonos Studios in Shoreditch. This is part of a Wolfgang Buttress project  which seems to have developed far beyond what he even imagined at its inception - indeed at the Q&A that preceded the performance he seemed barely able to comprehend that a project he started with bee expert Dr Martin Bencsik of Nottingham Trent University has led to a booking at Glastonbury  this year and culminates (or maybe it will develop even further, who knows!) with an installation of The Hive at Kew Gardens this summer.
Be One at Sonos Studios, 11 May 2016
The performance itself was magnificent - I bought the album earlier in the year via the brilliant crew at Caught by the River (CBTR) website and the album can be purchased via that link. CBTR was formed by Heavenly's Jeff Barrett and his friends, and to me the man is a touchstone for quality and has barely put a foot wrong over a distinguished career  - Be One is no exception. The album is a beauty, an intensely moving and immersive attempt to harness 40,000 bees, with their very specific communication modes including their 'begging signals', 'tooting' and 'quacking'. Their sound is amplified and complemented by some superb musicians including members of Spiritualised in what Buttress calls 'a dialogue between bee and human'.
Coincidentally, on a research visit to South Africa last year, along with my colleague Steve Greenfield, I was taken to a hive outside Potchefstroom near Johannesburg. Again this was a fascinating experience, and the rituals surrounding beekeeping, and the sound of the bees  as we opened the hive, was amazing. This got me thinking about keeping bees myself, and I couldn't fail to notice the higher levels of bee awareness that were emerging, see the work of the Honey Club for example. Some more research revealed that bees had been introduced to Regent Street for the first time by the Crown Estates in 2009 and this got me thinking about my University, the University of Westminster and perhaps one of the crown jewels of Regent Street, and bees.
As an urban Polytechnic, it appears we have never taught classes on beekeeping. This perhaps  is one of the few practically oriented courses we have not taught, as a view of our history would indicate. Those wishing to delve more deeply into this should look no further than the excellent series of publications published as part of the University History Project. Only this week our esteemable archivists tweeted that Vidal Sassoon studied hairdressing at our predecessor, the Regent Street Polytechnic.  We have apparently experimented with keeping bees at the University, but sadly it appears our efforts up at our Chiswick Sports Ground were met with vandalism and, so far, despite some interest in placing hives on flat roofs and spaces at our various buildings in the West End and beyond, we have had little success. I'm hoping that we can further explore the possibility of using the otherwise overlooked rooftop at Westminster Law School for this and will report back if this comes to fruition. One of my favourite photos of the Law School actually involves students pictured on the roof performing gymnastics, sometime around 1929, an activity now precluded by health and safety considerations, see below.

For now though, whilst this has got me thinking about bees in song and bees in popular culture (the more 1980s popular music literate will have picked up on the reference in the title to this blog) I'll sign off with an excerpt from an earlier performance of Be: One, a link to the whole album on spotify,spotify:artist:06kHjoBIuDUNyFBNBMoAC2 and, with a sense of circularity, the video for Just Like Honey.