Tony Benn

Tony Benn death

The death of Tony Benn wasn’t unexpected, and it probably shouldn’t be cause for sadness. He was within striking distance of 90 in a world where millions of people are lucky to reach 30, relatively sprightly to the end, and went quickly, surrounded by his family.

You get the sense he was about ready to go, too. While his political faith kept him going through a heroic calendar of marches, meetings and speeches during his last ten years, it was clear that his life was never the same after the death of his wife Caroline, an American-born educationalist and life-long campaigner for state schools, in 2000. And it’s difficult to think of anyone else in the public eye whose life was so thoroughly, and inspirationally, lived to the full.

Amid all the intellectual discussions about his significance to British political history – and the tantalising what-might-have-beens if the collapse of post-war social democracy brought about a sharp jerk left under him rather than a sharp jerk right under Mrs Thatcher – it’s easy to ignore the fact that Benn was, by all available reports, a delightfully nice man. Continue reading “Tony Benn”

Dancing Machine (Jackson 5)

This clip of the Jackson Five recently surfaced on YouTube, and, yes, as with 90% of popular music, you could easily swap out the one-track mind lyrical guff for last week’s shopping list without any real loss in meaning. But, in addition to being a deliciously funky bit of proto-disco pop, it also serves as a sad reminder of just how flabbergastingly talented Michael Jackson was. Not only did this 1974 Carol Burnett Show performance popularise the ‘Robot’ dance, thus bequeathing a grateful world with the sight of over-remunerated beanpole Peter Crouch doing a shoddy version decades later – it’s also testament to just how early the pieces of his (Michael’s, not Peter’s) later signature sound fell into place. Astoundingly, and upsettingly, he’s only fifteen in this clip – astoundingly because of the stonking power of that voice, upsettingly because he was already an emotionally and physically abused dancing bear, bullied by an authoritarian father and chronically insecure about his appearance. He would go on to be the most successful entertainer in the history of the world (Jesus loses out by a nose through his lack of body-popping prowess), mangle himself with plastic surgery, become addicted to prescription pain-killers and die alone in an enormous mansion at 50.

For some annoying reason, if you want to actually watch the video bit of a WordPress-embedded YouTube video rather just hear the audio, you have to either watch it fullscreen or click to watch it on YouTube itself.

Digested: What’s Going On In Crimea?

Thanks Newsround, we'll be pinching that useful map
Thanks Newsround, we’ll be pinching that useful map

Russia appears to have invaded neighbouring Crimea, the historical region currently part of the Ukraine. It’s opprobrium a go-go in the West, as the leading lights of liberal democracy compete to see who can pile the most macho condemnation on Vladimir Putin, the man who, presumably, gave the order.

Geopolitics quickly polarises people. The mainstream media less-than-subtly slides behind the economic and strategic interests of the United States, while even among well-meaning leftists there’s a tendency to uncritically back anyone who the West is currently lecturing, no matter how authoritarian and/or anti-democratic. For the casual observer, this can make it difficult to understand what the hell is actually going on.

Last November, Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych suddenly pulled out of a deal that would’ve seen his country forge closer links with the European Union to make one with Russia instead. This wasn’t very popular in the West, whose leaders almost immediately started chafing for his removal. Continue reading “Digested: What’s Going On In Crimea?”

Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths/Radiohead)

Sacrilegiously, the Bemolution’s favourite rendition of landmark Morrissey/Marr track ‘The Headmaster Ritual’ isn’t even by The Smiths. Like a lot of the band’s early to mid-period output (although they were around for such a short time that beginning middle and end sort of blur into one) some fairly anaemic live performances let down magnificent material. By 1986, the original four-piece would be bolstered by Craig Gannon at live gigs, an acknowledged pain in the arse but a competent rhythm guitarist and, as such, a source of much-needed extra heft on stage. Continue reading “Headmaster Ritual (The Smiths/Radiohead)”

Teach First Isn’t Very Good, And Neither Is Rampant Neoliberalism

The 'Tough Young Teachers', posing ridiculously
The ‘Tough Young Teachers’, posing ridiculously

The Bemolution has largely given up watching TV because most of it’s rubbish, but we’re informed by persevering telly-watchers that there’s a programme on about Teach First.

Teach First is a government initiative designed to encourage ‘high-flying’ university leavers to have a go at teaching before they join one of the more conventional graduate employers. Its stated aims are reasonably well-meaning. ‘Top’ graduates rarely go into education, the logic runs. They’ll go to into banking, PR, marketing and the like, but for some reason consistently dodge anything socially useful. If that excellence could be harnessed and directed at educating some of the most disadvantaged people in the country, perhaps it could strike a resounding blow against social inequality.

Successful applicants are put through six weeks training then sent off to work in a school for two years – almost always one in a heavily deprived part of the country. They get a nominated mentor, a fellow teacher at the school, and various other forms of support from Teach First itself, but in the classroom they’re very much on their own. And it’s here, apparently, that the BBC’s Tough Young Teachers looms in to follow the progress of six new Teach Firsters.

Someone who’s watched it told us that the featured newbies were posh and useless. That’s probably unfair, and/or a massive over-generalisation. And if it isn’t, you can hardly blame rich, socially segregated graduates who aren’t much more than kids themselves for being bad teachers when they’re parachuted into the toughest schools in the country after a month or so of PowerPoint presentations. Continue reading “Teach First Isn’t Very Good, And Neither Is Rampant Neoliberalism”

Paco de Lucia

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The Bemolution is officially very, very sad to hear of the death of the mesmerically talented clump of cells born Francisco Sanchez Gomez, known worldwide as Paco de Lucia, maestro of flamenco guitar. Premature death (de Lucia was 66) is always worse from an atheist perspective. Paco has ceased to be. He’s dead. Forever. Gone, and never coming back. Digits that spent a lifetime flying across fretboards have wiggled their last, and it’s such a shame. Paco won’t mind, because he’s dead and won’t know anything about it. But for his young children, who he’d been playing with on a beach near his home in Cancun, Mexico just before he died of a suspected heart attack, it’s a sudden, shocking loss that they’ll likely be left dealing with for years to come.

A few years ago we wrote this about him and his music. We’d struggle to pinpoint a musician who’s brought us as much enjoyment in recent years as Paco de Lucia, particularly through his collaborations with John McLaughlin, Al di Meola and others. Because it’s about as much as we can do to honour his memory and a lovely musical legacy, we’ll hereby declare 2014 Bemolutionary Year of Paco de Lucia – which in effect will mean little more than us posting lots of his music on here, but it’s the thought that counts.