Saturday, November 26, 2011

Two tone, two minds

Way back in the late 70s (when I was your age, O best beloved), two-tone became popular, and I just loved it, and still do, though now I've learned to call it Ska. Maybe not their best, but the one that kicked it off then and there was Madness and:
Had I been more awake, I would have realized the connection between Ska and skinheads. Pretty obvious in retrospect, especially given the best of the bands at that time:
As far as I can make out, the skinheads started off as a working class offshoot of the Mods in the 1960s. The Who, like me, were obviously far too middle class and played in places like the Railway Hotel, Wealdstone. {Still not sure how my mother knew about things like this, but this is what she would often say as we drove past the place -- now knocked down and turned into crappy flats trying to attract downwardly mobile high fliers (arithmetically challenged wannabe 1-percenters, sinking through the 20th percentile, and evidently bamboozled about where Wealdstone is) -- but at my time a bikers' pub that I never had the courage to go into.} Punks (with the same mod ancestry) and skinheads were brothers in aggro in the mid 70s, and nice middle class boys like me still cowered. But by the time recession started biting (late 70s, labour, under Jim Callaghan, and far worse, early 80s, conservative, under Margaret Thatcher), the skins started to get nasty. They'd been on the way already, with Rock against Racism starting against them about a year after punk. Beginning as reggae-lovers, they moved to white supremacists: the film This is England gives a pretty good idea (and a great soundtrack). Two-tone was something of a reaction against this, and was decidedly black and white (hence the name).

My favourite two-tone bands were, in order, the Beat (annoyingly, here called the English Beat) from Birmingham:

(plus maybe my favourite song
and one I know you like:
). And then the Specials (from Coventry)

. Of course Madness (yes, from London, named after a song by Prince Buster)
and also Bad Manners, with Buster Bloodvessel and his unforgettable hymn to beer (Special Brew is a strong beer from Denmark, sold only in Britain), and I'm sure you'll get the Beano artwork reference

And then there's the Ska master
(like the boots, don't recommend the hairstyle), and

The two minds? Well, it's all about racism, nationalism, and having the basic decency to ignore it. Your grandfather was a tricky one to work out. I can remember (in I think 1966) when the Victoria Line had just opened on the tube, going up to town for some reason and on the way back having a gigantic Jamaican woman hand me and my brother a fistful of tickets so that we could run round and round through the newly installed automatic barriers. Dad was chatting and joking with her as we circled through, and everything seemed warm and friendly in the world. It was only later that I began to realize that it was not so. In his particular bestiary, while West Indians did in fact count as white Englishmen, perhaps because they were so good at cricket, other cricket-playing races were not so favoured (sorry India and Pakistan); none however came quite so low as Nigerians, French or Germans. A regular Alf Garnett. But later still came the realization that none of this racist pantheon had any bearing on his relations to individual people. Hardly anyone was invited back home from work, but Ibrahim Rizvi was the only repeat invitee: there's principles, and there's people. Our next door neighbour was if anything even worse, and yet still the same. Politics somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, she was nonetheless a great fan of Basil D'Oliveira, a "coloured" South African cricketer who wound up playing for England, and did a great deal to promote sports against apartheid. She didn't like his (entirely understated) politics, or his skin-tone, but he was a good cricketer.

As economies implode, we're in for way more racist and religious bigotry. My response may seem craven and cowardly, but it's to neither agree nor strenuously disagree. Listen, try to understand where the people are coming from, and focus on individuals. As I once tried to tell you and Eric, you don't have to respect peoples' beliefs, but you do need to respect the people. Usually, they come through.

Support your local bands

The Brazilians seem to be asleep at the wheel, and you can't say I didn't give them a chance. So here is some more non-Brazilian music. And yes, the Pogues were a London band, even if decidedly London-Irish. Apparently they gave the Irish Tourist Board coniptions by resurrecting the image of the drunken, fighting paddy. I reckon that Shane McGowan is one of the finest song-writers ever, but there are a number of depressing documentaries featuring him as a brilliant, but destroyed and shambling alcoholic wreck.
This is one that you enjoyed listening to when you were younger:
and here's one for New York:

and a couple for London

and one for Ireland (except that the song is Scottish):

And if you want the best of their albums (besides the various best-ofs), it's probably "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash" (a Winston Churchill quotation, describing the traditions of the Royal Navy), produced by the ubiquitous Elvis Costello.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ranting, 1642-style

If you remember the whole Stephen Williams kerfuffle, I once had the opportunity to state (semi)publicly what I'd always wanted to say over here: that I'm no liberal, and that back in the UK I would be viewed as a republican; I'm sure that you can place this in the right context. There was a song that at the time (6th grade) you said reminded you of your maths classes(!):
Mind you, the Chumbawamba video has nicer illustrations
and they also sang the original Winstanley version
You've probably forgotten, but you once asked to have a Diggers' themed birthday party; I somehow managed to change the subject. These guys were of course all religious fruitcakes, and judging by Christopher Hill (The World Turned Upside Down), Abiezer Coppe was one of the fruitiest -- "there's swearing ignorantly i'the dark, vainly, and there's swearing i'the light, gloriously".

While on religious English nutters, who can resist the bard's version of William Blake
or more surprisingly, him doing a version of a Rudyard Kipling poem
By the way, Christopher Hill had one of my other favourite sentences, in a postscript to a preface of a book of essays (Puritanism and Revolution): "It comes as rather a shock to reread nearly forty years later what one wrote in the brash exuberance of early middle age."

And in case you are still worrying about the whole republican claim, here's something I wish I'd had the clarity and knowledge to put to paper.

Bard of Barking

Here's one song that is usually able to make me laugh:
It's hard to get a good version of this on youtube -- he changes the lyrics as circumstances dictate, and the "actions" to this one are a little annoying. Billy Bragg's sincerity while managing to be tongue-in-cheek is truly admirable. But he knows which side he is on.

And this is another song of his that consistently brings a tear. As the years wear on, it increasingly reminds me that I'm but my father's son:

Monday, November 14, 2011

Expletives undeleted

So here are some of my favourite songs demonstrating mastery of basic English (you have been warned):
Ian Dury, it turns out, was born right next to my primary school. But if Wikipedia is to be believed, the faceless suburbs of Harrow Weald were not quite appropriate for a pre-punk Essex man. In compensation, Billericay Dickie is the only song I know that has my name (in reverse order) within the space of a few words. Your great-grandfather, however, was from Essex (Ilford). Your grandfather was born in Balham, in the tubeless and consequently impenetrable wastes of south London, and your grandmother, presciently, was born in Crouch End. Before that, I was once told, we come from a long line of East-Anglian wheelwrights and undertakers: I do my best not to find this somehow appropriate

Good as gold (stupid as mud)

So your mum asked the gringo to step in and pollute the musical purity of this blog.

While I'm working my way up to adding some of the songs with the finest control of anglo-saxon diction, I thought I'd start gently by adding this.

No particular reason except that I like the band, and particularly Paul Heaton's lyrics.

The Beautiful South seem to be almost unknown in the States, and broke up a few years back, apparently because of "musical similarities".