Looking Back on Somalia

Somalia-famine-007Between October 2010 and April 2012, Somalia was wracked by the world’s worst famine in 25 years. The humanitarian response on the ground was typically heroic, but international donations were sluggish. Last week, new figures released suggested thousands more were killed than originally thought.

Somalia – another arbitrary geographic unit where people fundamentally no different to anyone anywhere else on the planet have been left to endure decades of abject suffering.

Independence from the British Empire brought a brief but dysfunctional flash of Western-style Somali democracy in the 1960s, before an army coup replaced it with a dictatorial pro-Russian regime. The seventies saw stuttering attempts to meld Soviet-style economics with Islam, but after a war with more straightforwardly Marxist Ethiopia lost it the USSR’s backing, Somalia’s rulers became increasingly violent and repressive, largely binning ideology in favour of clinging on to power anyway they could. Continue reading

Question Time: Coventry, 9th May

The Coventry sky-line

The Coventry sky-line

As the NHS tumbles down the slope towards privatisation, Question Time ignores it completely and obsesses about Europe. Such is the unearthly power of Middle England’s xenophobe Dracula Nigel Farage.

The Place: Coventry, the West Midlands

This week: having done paradigm-shiftingly well in last week’s local government elections, UKIP and Nigel Farage were suddenly, inescapably everywhere; the government announced widely controversial plans to tackle migrants coming to the UK to use the NHS, asking doctors and nurses to blow the whistle on so-called ‘health tourists’; and David Cameron appointed Old Etonian number six to his inner circle, making Jo Johnson, brother to London’s Mayor, the head of No. 10’s policy unit.  Continue reading

March of the Kippers

ukippersBarely dented by accusations of extremism, UKIP’s highest profile County campaign in history saw the mainstream parties shunted aside by the purple juggernaut.

Here in the eternally green, pleasant and Blue-or-Yellow-ruled West Country, a gruelling night of ballot-box overturning revealed astounding levels of support for United Kingdom Independence Party, Britain’s foremost catch-all protest party of wax-jacketed xenophobes.

Nationally, UKIP have just pulled off the biggest jump in support any fourth party has achieved in over half a century. At the last County elections in 2009, eight UKIP councillors were elected. Yesterday, they got 147. Of all the votes cast in 34 separate elections across England, nearly a quarter went to UKIP. In Somerset, they leapt from nowhere to secure three seats. Continue reading

Otis Rush – Checking On My Baby

One stagnant afternoon, this little number popped up on random on the Bemolutionary MP3 player and air-struck away the cobwebs with its howling intensity. That agonised opening fanfare sounds like a blues catastrophe, blaring guitar notes being mangled out of shape, giving way to what surely must rank as one of the most powerful, impassioned vocal performances in the history of blues music.

The Bemolution had never encountered Otis Rush before – this track was from one of the many, many generic compilation albums that have been borrowed, ripped to hard-drive, returned then barely touched. So, delighted with this accidental musical discovery, the next step was to have a mosey around the rest of his musical output. And, vaguely intriguingly, find it quite unimpressive –Rush’s back catalogue is mostly middle-of-the-road electric blues, with little of the fire shown on a small handful of standout tracks, like this and the similarly blazing ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby’.

Still, it’s fascinating to ponder the myriad of tiny little factors that have to come together on the day of one recording session to produce a meteor-blow of a three-minute single, and how when some of those factors are absent the same artist can sound completely different.