My Top 10 Live Bands – 6

John Foxx & Louis Gordon

Just like my previous posting in this series, John Foxx is another legendary musician I just assumed I’d never get to hear play live. In this case it was a simple accident of birth, with my being a little too young to go out gigging while he was on the road.

By the autumn of 1997 I was well into my twenties, and by sheer blind luck I passed the now demolished Duchess in Leeds and caught sight of his name on the upcoming gig list. Naturally I was through the door in seconds, and I’ll never forget the barman’s world-weary roll of the eyes as he confirmed that yes, it was the John Foxx, and yes, I could buy advance tickets.

Next thing I knew, I was standing on the street with tickets in hand, less than five minutes after first glancing through that window. Needless to say, the next couple of weeks really seemed to drag as the gig slowly approached.

At last the great day came, and I recall an unexpected feeling of trepidation creeping over me as I waited for the maestro of discordant harmonies to grace the Duchess’ tiny stage. Would he be any good? Could he be any good? How could a middle-aged bloke hiding behind a keyboard expect to engage even an expectant and partisan audience like this one? After all, although Foxx is a fine lyricist and a musical visionary, he’s not exactly a rock front man. How would he pull it off?

As the lights dimmed and both Foxx and Gordon appeared in logo-less black polo necks, my questions about how the great man would win us over were instantly answered.

He used his music. What else?

As the first thumping techno beats of unfamiliarity gradually morphed into the iconic Burning Car, I began to realise I was witnessing something very special. This was John Foxx 2.0; remixed, re-engineered and reimagined for the coming millennium. Unchanged and yet enhanced, balancing both the security of the familiar and the shock of the new by creating a perfect equilibrium between those opposing poles.

With a dizzying array of cutting-edge equipment somehow spliced together with older, more outdated devices, firm favourites were remixed and repackaged; new and improved, yet always faithful to the established and trusted brand.

The King is dead, long live the King!

It’s striking that among all the technological wizardry, one of the things that impressed me most is just how well both Foxx and Gordon could sing and harmonise live on the hoof, especially during those oddly melancholy and off-key moments which are his hallmark.

Foxx and Gordon were nothing short of triumphant conquerors that night, reminding an increasingly pushbutton industry that there’s more to electronic music than simply assembling files. Although the output may be digitised for the information age, Foxx’s great strength has always been that his synthesised concoctions spring from the heart and soul of a true artist.

Long may he reign.

Telford’s #metoo Moment

Keighley…and now Telford.

It’s only been a few days since the latest story of yet more industrial scale sexual abuse and establishment complicity made headlines, only to tumble down the news ladder just as suddenly as it had surfaced.
Maybe we’re all abused out. Maybe just another run-of-the-mill, conveyor-belt story of organised exploitation and police paralysis is no longer shocking enough to hold our attention. It’s old hat and we’ve heard it all before. Besides, there’ll be another one along in a minute.

Just let that sink in for a moment. As a nation and a community, we are no longer shocked that organised gangs of mainly Asian men can prey on some of our most vulnerable young girls, while our once proud police cower in the shadows, ever fearful that the dark magic of the R-word might be cast against them. Welcome to Britain in 2018, a nation with a hollowed out and inverted value system, where fear of a false accusation allows real crime to go unpunished.
It’s instructive to compare the damp squib of what’s been called the “worst ever” abuse scandal in our nation’s history against the explosion of media coverage surrounding the alleged predations of Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood figures. There the response was immediate and very, very loud indeed. Hashtags, black dresses, bully pulpit speeches and unlimited airtime on tap.
Away from the glitter and the spin and the faux moral outrage, Telford and Rotherham actually do have something in common with Hollywood. In both cases, everybody knew what was going on but nobody was willing or able to challenge a rotten and degenerate status quo. Those few brave or desperate souls who pulled their heads out of the sand were swiftly crushed by a legal and media machine driven by those self-same abusers and their establishment enablers.
Where Telford does differ from Hollywood is the way the world at least pretends to give a toss when Tinseltown gets upset; although whether the world really cares about the problems of famous and influential multi-millionaires is debatable. A movie star speaks and millions of us hear her voice, whether we want to or not, and regardless of how vacuous and self-serving her moral outrage and finger pointing may turn out to be.
The girls of Telford and Rochdale are far less fortunate, mostly because they’re forced to place their trust in social services and the police. Where once we believed those flawed institutions at least tried to uphold the law without fear or favour, we now know that fear and favour are the only factors when deciding who may or may not receive justice and protection.
I lost all respect for our mendacious cultural and media elites long ago, but I never thought I would lose my respect for the British police. I used to believe they were a positive force in this nation, but that was before they turned their energies to harassing thought criminals on the internet and actively working to hide the arrogant criminality of organised groomers and sexual abusers.
When the police collude with criminals, they lose all moral and social authority. All that’s left is the strong arm of the law.
As an aside, I wonder what the wives of these organised abusers think about it all. There must be quite a few out there, so I guess we’ll find out one day…maybe. I also wonder if any retired police officers, social workers and civil servants will ever face real repercussions for their duplicity in what is by far the biggest social scandal of our age. Perhaps some will resign, lose their jobs or even be hauled in front of committees; but rest assured that pensions will be protected with a passion that was vindictively denied to those vulnerable girls in our grey industrial towns.
Never mind, it’s kind of a boring story anyway and we’ve heard it all before. Better log in and see how #metoo is doing.
That’ll show ’em!

Image courtesy of Ambro at

My Top 10 Live Bands – 7

Clan of Xymox

Sometimes life grants us a rare second chance; a chance to turn left instead of right, to say yes instead of no, or maybe to see a live band that we once thought had passed us by.

It was April 2008 when I stumbled across just such a rare chance to watch Clan of Xymox at the Whitby Goth Weekend. I’d never been able to catch them in my teens, twenties or even into my thirties, so I must confess I was a little nervous when the opportunity finally came around. If middle-age teaches us little else, we learn that some things belong strictly to our own history, and the tombs of the past are perhaps sealed for good reason.

Ronny Moorings, April 2008

Thus I remember feeling both excitement and trepidation in equal measure as the Clan finally took to the stage some three decades late. It was kind of an odd feeling to see Ronny Moorings face to face at long last, with Old Father Time having made the same alterations to his features as he had to mine; although with a lot less hair dye in my case.

In any event, the Clan’s performance was proof positive that experience always outlasts exuberance. It was a great gig! The sound was good, the atmosphere was terrific and the playlist was just a bursting box of musical chocolates, packed with old favourites and new flavours to tempt the palate. Naturally the most gratifying part for me was hearing such timeless Goth anthems as Back Door and Cry in the Wind performed live at such an iconic event.

My only regrets were the smoking ban and the present-day perjury of plastic glasses, which left the whole thing feeling perhaps a little too clean and sharp around the edges for my tastes. Nevertheless, the sheer unadulterated joy of such a hugely respected subculture band playing live made me glad I’d decided to break out my black eighties duster. The heavy cotton across my shoulders and the intimately familiar soundtrack filling the air soon dissolved those lost decades into the autumn darkness, leaving me at one with the music, the culture and all it once stood for. It was 1986 again, if only for a short while.

All that’s left is for me to say in closing is a big thank you to Ronny and the gang for unlocking the back door and turning a very personal page in my own social and musical journey. What was a routine gig for you guys was something of a milestone for me, and that’s an experience nobody can ever put a price on.

Images courtesy of Paul M Baxter at Baxter Photography

Does the EU Really Want a Trade Deal?

The evidence suggests it doesn’t.

It feels like forever since Britain voted to leave the EU in June 2016. Following that momentous day, the long-suffering British public have been buried by a blizzard of headlines, briefings, position papers and statements of principle. Everything from security, to the Irish border, through citizens’ rights, the “divorce bill” and back to the Irish border has been subjected to the most intense scrutiny and debate. Offers, rejections, accusations and counter-offers have become the new normal for Anglo-Brussels relations.

The only subject consistently absent from this flurry of proposals and propaganda is trade.

Funny that.

It’s become increasingly clear that the EU is desperate to talk about everything except trade. It’s surely no accident that the first phase of the exit negotiations makes no mention of any future trading relationship between us, and now that phase is concluded, the thorny issue of the Irish border has popped up once again, seemingly from nowhere.

The EU knows perfectly well that its so-called “backstop” position on the Ireland issue is completely unacceptable to the UK. So why go to the trouble of including it in the draft Brexit treaty?

The outrageous “divorce bill,” demands for ECJ supremacy and now the de-facto annexation of Northern Ireland are all part of a pattern of behaviour that’s starting to resemble a disgruntled employee who’s trying his hardest to get himself fired.


To put it simply, the European Union has no political interest in being a good neighbour and dependable partner to the United Kingdom, and is therefore trying to force Britain to abandon the talks. The uncomfortable truth is that while a far-reaching and ambitious treaty will help both the people and businesses of Europe, it will not help the European Union.

And that’s what really matters.

In practical terms it should be a cinch. We’re already so closely aligned that maintaining standards for EU markets while diverging in other areas should be the easiest thing in the world, so why is the EU making it so difficult?

Because Brussels knows full well that if the UK can exit the European Union and continue with (relatively) frictionless trade, other nations will soon stampede for the door. After all, what country would not wish to strengthen its domestic legislature while paying a manageable price in terms of trade? If Britain can strike a comprehensive trade deal with the EU, then the EU is finished as a global political force, and it knows this. The once omnipotent European Union would be politically neutered and gradually reduced to the status of an international trade body if Britain gets a good deal. Ironically enough, this would transform the EU into the kind of continental trading bloc we first joined back in 1973, and that’s something most Europeans and Brits would be quite happy with. However, such a dramatic loss of political power is something that the European Union will never accept. Make no mistake, Brussels is willing to pay any price in European misery to preserve its own supremacy.

If Brexit has served no other purpose, it’s proved beyond doubt that what’s good for Europe is bad for the EU, and all Europeans would do well to think long and hard about how we got ourselves into this position.

Images courtesy of Arztsamui & franky242 at

My Top 10 Live Bands – 8

The Cult

It was a cold November night in 1989 when I finally cornered the Cult. All in all it was a strange kind of courtship, filled with false starts and missed gigs, but we finally managed to meet up in (the now refurbished) Wembley Arena.

Naturally I was excited to catch up with the band who’d released the best rock album of the previous year. However, this gig was so much more than that, and it was as though I and the rest of the audience could feel the chill winds of change on that cold weekend. The shadows had lengthened in the empire of the eighties, and the destructive digital compressions of grunge and nu-metal were already buzzing through long-range receivers.

Ian Astbury, November 1989

But on that night, those things had not yet come to pass, although I think that many of us felt some sense of a last chance of sorts as we gathered to celebrate great music before the landscape heaved and shifted forever.

I hardly need mention that the guys delivered in spades that night, so much so that I went back and bought a ticket from a tout for Sunday night’s performance. Yeah, I’m not proud of it, but that’s the truth. The real problem with doing that is the way that time and alcohol have kind of fused both performances together, melting them into a single, deliriously brilliant musical memory.

The standout moment on both nights was the epic kettledrum intro to Sun King, some percussion bothering I’ve never seen bettered. Hell, none of us even minded when they played Sweet Soul Sister twice for a live recording. I think maybe that ended up on a B-side or something; and if you ever listen to that version, then my voice is one of the thousands.

Here’s the really weird part though. Despite the fact that both nights were spectacularly good, one of my most abiding memories of those head-pounding and heart wrenching performances was the certainty of missing the last connection and being stranded on the London Tube’s semi-detached badlands. That’s how Nine While Nine by the Sisters of Mercy has woven itself into the mix of two hugely memorable Cult gigs.

Anyone who’s been there will know.

Ian Astbury image courtesy of Jon at

It’s Not Charity When There’s no Choice

I donated money to Oxfam last year…and so did you if you’re a UK taxpayer. That’s how generous we are here in Blighty. We give without even knowing or being asked.

In fact the UK government donated over £200 million of taxpayer’s cash to Oxfam alone in 2016. Tax free of course.

That’s not charity. It’s State policy, sub-contracted through the cuddly sounding “aid sector.”

I’ve no idea how many trillions of dollars the developed world has given away in aid these past decades, but we’ve seen precious little progress to show for it. With seemingly endless conflict, famine and migration crises, our generosity seems to have done almost nothing to alleviate the Developing World’s most acute social and economic problems. A true cynic might begin to wonder if the “aid sector” has any real interest in actually solving any societal and cultural problems. After all, it could be argued that increased prosperity and self-reliance are bad for the aid business as they diminish demand, and overseas aid donations have become big, big business.

In this case the word donations is a euphemism for the State confiscating our property via taxation, before handing it over to an ever growing list of multi-billion dollar enterprises on our behalf. It may surprise many of you to learn that the single biggest recipient of UK Government aid during 2016 was Pakistan, a nation that can somehow afford nuclear weapons yet can’t (or won’t) govern its own territory or educate its population effectively. I wonder how they manage to pay for all that shiny military hardware?

I’ve no doubt Pakistan’s ruling elite is indeed grateful for the £463 million the UK government donated to it last year, as it leaves them free to pursue their global and regional agendas without the cost and bother of building schools, hospitals and other such boring but vital infrastructure. Why fix the road yourself when your neighbour will do it and you get to drive all the same? This bottomless bucket of guilty-conscience cash is a great advantage to an entrenched ruling class, as it weakens any potential grassroots challenge to their authority. A population dependent on aid is easily controlled, because hunger is a powerful political persuader.

There’s some serious coin in compassion these days, with Oxfam’s Chief Executive trousering a hefty £119k per annum as far back as 2013. Indeed, Oxfam’s own statement from August of that year claims the figure was “in the lower quartile of what other large charities paid for their chief executives.” This state-funded largess makes the latest revelations regarding the behaviour of some Oxfam staff all the more reprehensible, especially with former ministers claiming this is just the “tip of the iceberg.”

When it comes to charity and generosity of spirit, we in the developed world have no reason to reproach ourselves, but I’ve got a nagging feeling we’re about to learn that everything we thought we knew is wrong.

Image courtesy of Alex_ ugalek at

My Top 10 Live Bands – 9

New Model Army

Arguably the greatest of the crusty, dog-on-a-string bands, New Model Army have been rocking their own strain of anarchic nihilism for over three decades now. Often imitated but never bettered.

By some strange quirk of fate, my first encounter with this exceptionally loud, talented and good-looking threesome was Reading Festival in 1989, the day before the Mission’s epic and legendary performance.

NMA were riding high on the back of Thunder & Consolation, their best and most successful studio album when I rocked up a little late to the party. Standing there in that sweaty field, I was struck by the realisation that there were probably just as many people eager to hear New Model Army play as there were waiting for the Pogues to throw down, and the boys from Bradford could easily have headlined that year. No problem. They kicked arse.

New Model Army built a shelter for the refugees of generation punk, as well as their growing brood of hand knitted, skip-diving devotees long, long before grungy activism had atrophied into the squalid, bourgeois gap-year jollies we see today. Just like the Matrix’s Neo, we could all sense there was something wrong with the world, and New Model Army managed to wrap all those ill-defined anxieties around themselves. I still think that Drag it Down and A Liberal Education are two of the finest political songs ever written.

I caught up with NMA again at Brixton in 1991, where I was so very fortunate to catch Ed Alleyne-Johnson in the supporting slot, getting ready for the release of his Purple Electric Violin Concerto. I’ve never witnessed an audience literally dumbstruck by artistic beauty before or since, and I consider myself privileged to have been a part of something so very special. A truly magical experience.

Like so much in life, things are right and true only for a short time. The world never stands still, and although I could easily catch New Model Army again at some nearby venue, I know I can’t go back. It’s hard to justify singing the same tunes about the same things when there are so many new battles to fight. Besides, I don’t know how the worlds of NMA and Health & Safety can ever be properly reconciled.

Still, the bruises have long healed and I’ve got some great memories. Thank you, guys!

Print Propaganda 101

So it’s finally happened. With the DOJ, FBI and committee Democrats holding out until the eleventh hour, the controversial FISA memo has at last been revealed in all its Machiavellian splendour. You can click this link to read the original document should you wish.

Predictably, the spin masters in the paid-for corporate media are working overtime to downplay, minimise, ridicule and dismiss this official document as a nothingburger, after giving huge amounts of free airtime to those dedicated to preventing its publication in the first place. It’s been especially instructive to see how the mainstream media is operating right now, with any pretence of objectivity or even reasoned opinion suddenly swamped by a surge of increasingly blatant and desperate propaganda pieces.

There is no better illustration than an opinion piece by Walter Shapiro for the Guardian. It’s a classic by-the-numbers propaganda device designed to frame anyone who pays even the slightest attention to this recently de-classified document as some kind of swivel eyed conspiracy theorist.

Let’s unpack just some of the propaganda contained within.

Before we even get to the article, we’re confronted by the title: The Nunes memo shows Republicans buy their own conspiracy theories. This leaves the reader in no doubt that the Nunes memo should be associated with some kind of serious yet unspecified political paranoia.

Note also how the FISA memo has suddenly become the Nunes memo. By shifting the language away from a secretive and murky judicial procedure and pinning it to the Committee’s Republican chairman, the author reinforces the headline’s strong message of partisan shenanigans. At this point it’s important to remember that calling it the Nunes memo is not actually a falsehood, as it was in fact written and signed by Devin Nunes. This is exactly how persuasive propaganda and spin are supposed to work. By subtly shifting attention away from some ideas and favouring others, the author attempts to convince the reader that his interpretation of the world is the most plausible and trustworthy one.

After reading the headline, the next thing we see is a lengthy strapline that reads: Ever since Watergate, the standard for any scandal is whether there is a smoking gun left next to a corpse. In the case of the Nunes memo, we lack a body and the gun is a child’s toy pistol. This is actually a short paragraph culled from the article itself, but by placing it front and centre, the author makes sure you see his amusing if largely irrelevant analogy twice. Thus, before even starting in on the article proper, the reader has been primed to equate ideas of irrationality, childishness and partisanship with more serious claims of state-sponsored malfeasance arising from the memo’s, you know, actual contents. It’s not clear whether the strapline was Shapiro’s own choice or an editorial decision by the Guardian, but neither would surprise me.

As an interesting aside, you can tell we live in fascinating times when a paper like the Guardian rushes to defend the honour of highly secretive, opaque and immensely powerful US government agencies. But I digress.

Shapiro’s article begins with two paragraphs discussing the widely known hoax known as the Piltdown Man. Clearly the Piltdown Man has nothing to do with a recently de-classified US government memo, but psychologically linking these unrelated ideas is yet another method of suggesting that said memo, and those associated with it, might not be altogether on the level.

To sum up, we have a highly emotive title, a lengthy strapline which is repeated later, and an opening not suggesting, but outright declaring a commonality between the Nunes memo and the Piltdown Man hoax.

The rest of the article is an illuminating and subtly crafted blend of known facts, interwoven with a narrative of conjecture and outright speculation. It’s well worth reading if you really want to see some modern propaganda with your own eyes.

Another way to discern deliberate, targeted propaganda from ordinary opinion is to look for what isn’t there. For example, Shapiro’s piece completely fails to mention that the DOJ and FBI were threatened with contempt proceedings for witholding information legally demanded by Committee subpoena. Devin Nunes’ letter summoning both the Attorney General and the FBI Director to appear before the House Intelligence Committee to explain their intransigence is not referenced once in the article. You’d think Shapiro would want to mention it, because that letter specifically requested the very same information which is basis for the FISA memo.

If that ain’t hardcore damage control, then I don’t know what is.

As for me, my personal biases lead me to wonder just how the publication of a government memo can magically change from “extraordinarily reckless”
before its release, to a “nothingburger” immediately after publication.

Ask yourself the same question.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Donald Trump’s Media Masterclass

Psst, I’ll tell you a secret.

It’s something I’ve suspected for quite a while now, and the more I’ve observed, the more I’ve come to realise the startling, astonishing and almost unbelievable truth.

Donald Trump is a master communicator.

That’s right, you heard me. The man who was dismissed as a vainglorious clown by virtually the entire political and media establishment has consistently outmanoeuvred nearly all of them; which goes a long way to explaining their visceral and, by this point, completely irrational hatred for him.

Don’t believe me? Fine, I don’t blame you, but come along with me and witness a masterclass of 21st century social media manipulation. Blink and you’ll miss it, but it’s there all the same.

Anyone who knows anything about American politics is aware that the imminent release of the controversial FISA memo is consuming the entire continent’s media and political energies. Democrats, Republicans, the media class and the MAGA populists are all jockeying for position during what might turn out to be one of the biggest political scandals of our age.

A detailed knowledge of the issue isn’t needed for what I’m about to show you, but Newsweek have summed it up pretty succinctly.

So here we all are, trapped inside a pressure cooker of high-stakes political drama; and what does big, stoopid, unthinking Donald decide to do on this game-changing day? Why, he fires off an irresponsible tweet of course, straight from the hip, and in the process he lets an important and easily spotted error pass through unchecked.

Anyone with even the slightest understanding of the issue knows full well that the name of the research firm involved is Fusion GPS,
and not GPS Fusion as Trump’s written it. What a dummy! Only a sloppy, irresponsible fool would do such a thing…right?

Wrong! Trump knows exactly what he’s doing.

Donald Trump is well aware that a huge slice of the political establishment, media elite and grassroots Democrats have spent the last year feverishly fashioning themselves into one-dimensional caricatures, defined only by their unending and unconditional hatred for the democratically elected President of the United States.

Trump knows this only too well, and rather than trying to convince his intractable foes that he’s not a monster, he’s chosen to harness their hatred and bend that endless energy supply to serve his will. To that end,Trump’s seemingly endless army of hardcore haters now face a very simple choice. They can either let this “accidental” typo pass unchallenged, or they can mock Trump’s inability to even send a single tweet without somehow screwing it all up. They can laugh, deride and spread his stupid, stupid mistake to the farthest reaches of the globe, faster and far more efficiently than any TV station or national newspaper could ever do.

Of course, in their haste to present themselves as so much smarter than the leader of the free world, they’re doing a fine job of reminding that world exactly what the words Fusion GPS mean, and how they relate to the whole FISA memo issue.

Congratulations guys, all you clever people are now doing your sworn enemy’s bidding. On your own time, and for free!

Who’s the smart one?

Image courtesy of Gabriella Fabbri at

Thinktank Report on BBC bias? Never Heard of it!

It’s been a busy news day, what with Donald Trump at Davos and the continuing fallout from the pervy Presidents Club. With all that in mind, it’s understandable that maybe the mainstream media haven’t found time to study the latest Civitas report documenting the BBC’s blatant anti-Brexit bias.

In today’s competitive media sphere, you’d think that maybe Sky News or The Guardian would jump at a ready-made story where someone else has already done the legwork; but no, I guess they just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Maybe tomorrow.

In fairness, we can’t expect every outlet to have exactly the same priorities, but when the likes of the Daily Express and the Telegraph don’t want to weigh in on a highly critical paper penned by seasoned media professionals, then we really need to start asking some questions. At least the Daily Mail and The Times have turned up, and stories are finally starting to trickle out.

Maybe all these highly paid and highly educated journalists are just too preoccupied to read the full eighty page report and condense it down to a single digestible chunk for an increasingly harassed and world-weary public. That’s surely why it’s been mostly left for partisan blogs like Brexit Central to pick up the story and run with it as best they can.

There are only two possible explanations when the blogosphere is frantically busy with something and the mainstream media is noticeably muted. The first possibility is that the internet is chasing a phantom, non-existent, tinfoil hat kind of story; and the second is that said story is all too real, but the corporate press don’t really want to talk about it more than they absolutely have to.

How to tell one from the other? Well, look at the report and decide for yourself how important it is.

Image courtesy of pakorn at