One of our faves: Annie Clarke, aka St Vincent
And now in an entirely, inexcusably self-indulgent excursion into the sonic realm, here’s some music The Bemolution listened to and liked in 2014.
Customarily, when you come across these ‘best-of-the-year’-type collections in music publications and the Guardian they only concern themselves with records put out in the last twelve months, as you’d expect. To turn the solipsism dial up to eleven, we’re just going to bang on about stuff that happened to cross the Bemolutionary turntable between the 1st of January 2014 and now, regardless of when they were made.
And off we go.
We’d long-since pronounced quality pop music dead as a door-nail, but this year we stumbled across quite a bit of it – hooked after catching their beguiling, excellently-humoured turn at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival earlier this year, The Bemolution whiled away a fair slice of Autumn listening the lead single from Paul Heaton and Jacqui Abbott’s What Have We Become on repeat. Wry and spiky, “Moulding Of A Fool” is a three minute gallop through blink-and-you’ll-miss-them vignettes about dumb consumerism, youthful indoctrination and life’s fleeting insignificance. Subtract one gnashing guitar break – misplaced, in our meaningless opinion at least – and you’ve got a perfect pop single.
This month: we finally finished a trilogy of bits about our travels in the Czech Republic, Communism as-was and capitalism as-is that we started in 2012; we got angry at how society lionises business and fawns over the richest, as typified by the BBC’s The Apprentice, and how it neglects, belittles and abuses NHS personnel; and we contrasted the way in which modern parents dote almost obsessively on their offspring, while doing, thinking, or, apparently, caring very little about the climate catastrophe that might rob them of a future.
… And, music-wise: funky Nigerian afrobeat from Fela Kuti, and banal ‘50s country and western.
Deck the halls with boughs of holly, it’s Christmas time, and the Bemolution is communicating with you from its fairylit inner sanctum, swimming in tinsel and shovelling grotesque quantities of chocolate log down itself.
We don’t celebrate birthdays (exceptions made for young children or the impressively old), or like ceremony in general, but we officially do quite like Christmas. Not enough to suspend our miserablist current affairs-prodding, of course. But it at least encourages people to squeeze a trickle of festive goodwill to the rest of the species from their neoliberalised granite-hearts, and stop trying to compete each other into the dust long enough to eat their own bodyweight in turkey and Brussels sprouts.
Anyway – to business.
In this month’s Bem Bulletin
1. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement
1 and a bit. … And Sociopaths in power
2. Porn Censorship and the Tyranny of the Vanilla
3. The Life and Times of Gordon Brown
4. Jim Murphy, Neil Findlay, Scottish Labour
5. Obligatory Christmas Commercialisation Whinge Continue reading
Melting polar ice caps
Modern mummies and daddies pedestal their progeny to an almost nauseating degree – but without radical change, there won’t be much of a world left for them to inherit.
We’re living in a society where people obsessively dote on their children. Contrary to what practically everyone seems to think, that’s not a good thing. It’s not the doting itself that’s the problem, of course – that’s natural. It’s the extent of it, and what that means for everyone else in the world.
Dismayingly often, modern parenting boils down to prioritising your own little brood over everyone else’s little brood, if not the rest of the species. “You-and-your-family” politics was re-established with a vengeance back in the 1980s, but it’s been hammered ever deeper into the popular consciousness by every government since. It’s pure Thatcherism – really just the cuddlier-sounding flip-side of “there’s no such thing as society”. Strip away the frilly language and you’re left with the “fuck you, buddy” individualism of countries where any notion of social responsibility beyond your own four walls has been decisively smashed. Let the other poor saps’ kids drown – we’ll put little Billy through private school so he’ll come out ultra-competitive/emotionally stunted enough to make it big in market society, while doing his bit to perpetuate horrific social inequality.
Of course, it’s quite a lot to ask of parents to think of other people’s children when they’re proving so spectacularly bad at thinking of their own. They keep popping out sprogs left, right and centre – but most pay startlingly little attention to the world they’re bringing the poor things into. Continue reading
For some reason, the Bemolution loves benign American pop music from the ’50s, despite the fact we should probably hate it and everything it represents. Harlan Howard-penned ‘Heartaches By The Number’ was first given voice in 1959 by the wholesome baritone of Ray Price, here shown bearing a fair resemblance to devious President Charles Logan from the fifth series of 24, and standing around what looks the set of a Wild West-themed panto with a higher-pitched pal in a lovely shirt.
Price’s version – slightly better in our meaningless opinion – wasn’t the one that brought the song to a mass audience, though. Later the same year, Guy Mitchell’s rendition would prove a roaring success. Decades in the future, this same recording would find favour among legions of people far too young to touch country music with a barge-pole after it appeared in 2010’s absorbingly excellent Fallout: New Vegas.
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.
Sugar and friends
Caring is out. Ruthlessness is in. That’s neoliberal morality.
Recently I had cause to partake of the National Health Service – or, more specifically, I had to accompany someone to an appointment at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, which at least involved riding an NHS-provided bus, sitting in a nice warm NHS waiting room and watching repeats of Grand Designs on an NHS TV.
I’ve been fortunate enough not to need the health service much. Yet. I still think it’s the greatest political achievement in the history of British statecraft. Given that national politics has been monopolised by nest-feathering plutocrats since time immemorial, it admittedly hasn’t got much competition for the title.
As the kind of lentil-munching ultra-leftist the Daily Mail presumes uses the Union Jack to mop the floor, I’m constitutionally obliged to hate dumb, tub-thumping patriotism in all its forms. But if there is something about ‘being British’ that’s genuinely worth being proud of – rather than a piss-poor football team, a plasticated Barbie and Ken monarchy, and a millions-enslaving, famine-inducing, continents-sundering imperial past – it’s the fact that our society commits to providing high-quality healthcare free at the point of use to anyone who needs it.
The NHS was born out of that dismayingly brief period, more of an blip when you look back on it, when top-drawer politics wasn’t entirely dominated by said nest-feathering plutocrats. “No society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means”, proclaimed Nye Bevan, post-war Health Minister, lovely Welsh socialist and exemplary human being.
In the decades since, national politics has slowly but steadily reverted to business as usual. Now we’ve reached a critical mass of high-functioning sociopaths in positions of power, the NHS, like everything else left over from that bountiful five minutes of post-war welfarism, is under relentless attack. Continue reading
Years ago we were writing a trilogy of pontificating half-essays about a trip we made to the Czech Republic. It was called Politics and Post-Communist Silly Dancing, but we never wrote the third bit, due to contain the all-important Silly Dancing, thereby rendering the title baffling to anyone who happened to read parts one and two. Then, recently, we played a very small part in helping a sassy and streetwise young altruist from South Bristol get an EU-funded Czech volunteering gig. She was going to take almost the exact same route as we did when we were in the country – a flight to Prague, where she’d have a day or so to look around, then down the Moravian south-east via a very, very long train ride. And, interest suitably re-engaged, we decided to dig out the notes we’d once intended on turning into a part three and actually turning them into a part three – albeit served with a side-dish of thoughts on Communism as-was, capitalism as-is, and the need for an alternative to both we’ve had since (you can click here for part one, and here for part two).
Death by fascistically efficient train door wouldn’t be an especially pleasant way to start a four and a half hour train voyage across the Czech Republic, but you’d get quite a nice view as the unrelenting steel liquefied your innards, at least until your lifeless husk was eventually flung free within sight of the High Tatras.
Luckily, the Bemolution managed to slink aboard with a few nanometres to spare in the twenty seconds or so the carriage designer had considerately thought to allot on the off-chance a passenger might actually try and get in it. We then spent the bulk of the following journey squashed uncomfortably close to two diabolically snobbish Fabians from Kent, inwardly debating whether the company made the prospect of being crushed in the door slightly more appealing.
After a frenetic few days city-slicking around Prague, we were relocating several hundred miles south-eastwards to the Zlin region of South Moravia, scarcely an hour from the Slovakian border. Our little red speck of Somerset was celebrating twenty years of international friendship with this warm and architecturally distinctive border region, and an array of civic dignitaries plus assorted-hangers on had been invited to mark the occasion. Confusingly, a strange sort of Labour Party field trip had been grafted on the side, too – the political terrain back home meaning that most of said dignitaries were Labour councillors – and small-town diplomacy was being frequently interspersed with get-togethers with the Czech equivalent, the Social Democrats, or CSSD (hence the Kentish Fabians). Someone had dropped out at the last minute, so late they couldn’t get any of their money back, and we were offered their spot on the trip for practically nothing. And that was how, despite disliking taxpayer-subsidised jollies for elected representatives about as much as neoliberalised ex-social democracy, The Bemolution ended up rattling speedily towards a bewildering few days of civic pomp, folk-costumed gay abandon and lashings of 50% proof brain-popping Czech booze. Continue reading
We’ve never really spent long enough trying to decode Fela’s pidgin English to know what it’s supposed to be about, but Water Get No Enemy is joyous, gloriously peaking when voices scat in unison with the Afrika 70’s surging horn section.