The 24hr Tragedy Cycle

Not before time, the public enquiry into the tragic events at Grenfell Tower has juddered into motion. Already we’ve heard several days of heartrending and tragic testimony from those who’ve lost loved ones in the most dreadful, almost unimaginable circumstances. These Commemoration hearings will perhaps bring some small crumb of comfort to those left behind to live with the crippling pain, anguish and guilt that always accompanies such a sudden and traumatic event.

But since when did a public enquiry become a fitting vehicle for these once very private and deeply personal parts of the grieving process?

Will these eulogies to the departed teach us anything about how this tragedy unfolded, or forewarn us against similar dangers in the future? Will they shed any light on decisions made long ago that formed the next link in this chain of catastrophe? I’d like to think so, but a tear-jerking tale of personal loss cannot advance our understanding of the events leading up to that terrible and unforgettable night.

This blurring of lines between the judicial and the personal is an unhealthy one, both for the victims of tragedy and for society at large. While friends, family and community might offer essential support to those directly affected by disaster, the public enquiry is designed to heal and salve the wider society. Its primary role is to establish exactly which variables contributed to the tragedy, and to honour the suffering of the departed by ensuring that we learn something valuable from their deeply unjust and untimely demise. We all feel a sense of loss and bewilderment after such a monumental event, and so we look to the instruments of State to provide answers and reassurance that never again will we tread that same path toward disaster.

It feels deeply ironic that our media driven and secular society is becoming ever more obsessed with personal grief, as we turn away from the eternal and spiritual to place our trust in the inconstant and temporal. Funerals, memorials and services can no longer satisfy our collective search for closure and meaning. These ancient rites of passage and grief are now recycled into documentaries and retrospectives, while yet more tributes to the lost are being shoehorned into a judicial process designed primarily to establish the facts.

As these personal tragedies are played out day by day on the public stage, I’m forced to wonder who benefits most from this protracted display of emotional outpouring. Time will tell, but I’m not convinced that these overly worthy displays of grief and loss will move us any closer to the answers we seek. Still, it makes a cracking good real-life melodrama that we can all involve ourselves in, whether we were there or not.

Who are we really thinking of when we turn on the TV to catch the next episode?

Images courtesy of Hazel Brown & Johanna Ljungblom at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 Live Bands – 3

VNV Nation

Once in every decade or so, a musical movement or maybe a movie franchise appears that just looks, sounds and feels like nothing else. Like a brand new branch springing from a mature tree, this unexpected creative offshoot bursts out of the existing cultural body in a completely unpredictable way, yet somehow manages to look like it was pre-destined to appear all along.

VNV Nation arrived in our psyche in just such an unexpected yet predictable fashion during the creative drought of the mid1990s; starting very small, but rapidly evolving into an entire musical sub-branch in their own right. This Anglo Irish duo somehow managed to blend an almost New Wave futuristic synth vibe with state of the art technology to produce a stunning series of auditory sculptures which are often imitated, but never bettered.

Working tirelessly both on the road and in the studio, VNV Nation have built up an impressive album catalogue as well as a hugely dedicated following, and all without the blessing or endorsement of the mainstream media machine.

Having been a fan of their music for quite a while, I was more than pleased to finally have the chance to witness a live performance.

They didn’t disappoint.

Although not the greatest of technical singers, Ronan Harris’ voice nonetheless oozes an authentic and heartfelt sincerity which perfectly matches the more spiritual aspects of VNV’s best work. Meanwhile, the physically imposing Mark Jackson stands like a stylised Soviet foundry worker as he hammers out the industrial foundations of a seemingly endless stream of underground anthems. With two guys working, and I mean working the desk all evening, the sound started at a high point and was absolutely flawless within a very short time. There are plenty of much bigger and much richer acts who could learn a lot from that level of dedication and professionalism.

Illusion, Homeward, Legion, Standing and the majestic, incomparable Beloved were just a few of an ever growing catalogue of firm audience favourites that kept us all jumping pretty much from start to finish. VNV delivered exactly what we all wanted, which was an orgy of hardcore electronic tracks which transcend mere dance music to become something much more akin to audial art.

They were flawless, and the reason for their fans’ dedication and almost obsessive loyalty was clearly expressed in the symbiosis between those on the stage and those on the ground. It was as though the very gods of synthpop themselves had descended to bring us the good news.

Preach it loud!

Like all truly great gigs, I just didn’t want it to end, but all good things must pass in time. However, that’s not before the guys delivered their trademark wind-down of Perpetual, which ekes out the last looping, chiming chords of the gig and leaves the audience both on a high and hungry for more.

VNV Nation have more than earned their success, and their live gigs are a testament to the old showbiz saying which reminds us that, no matter what, talent will out.

Decision Time for Theresa

Whatever you might think of her politics or personality, there’s no denying Theresa May’s tenacity and dogged determination. So far she’s confounded all the doomsayers who prophesised that the Brexit talks would never get this far. Predictions of Jeremy Corbyn celebrating Christmas in Number 10 have vanished from more than one blog, and gleeful tweets about the imminent local election meltdown have been recycled into memes of mirth all across cyberspace.

Despite being a little grating and not especially charismatic, the Prime Minister has nonetheless managed to retain, and in some cases gain, the loyalty of an electorate which has come to grudgingly admire her patient if bureaucratically dull approach to an increasingly ill-tempered, intransigent and deliberately discourteous European Union.

Contrary to what the more unhinged factions of the Remainosphere might say, the Brexiteer who thought this would all be a breeze is a rare and strange beast indeed. The British electorate backed Brexit in the full knowledge that there would be more than a couple of bumps in the road as we embarked on the biggest constitutional upheaval in a generation. How could there not be?

This typically pragmatic, balanced and, yes dammit, British attitude explains why both the voters in general and the Tory Party in particular have continued to support the PM through the increasingly difficult and tortuous Brexit process.

However, with her latest and, quite frankly, downright dishonest sounding customs union fudge, the PM has finally run out of creative ways to yield ever more ground to Brussels while kicking the can down the road at the same time. It’s been a really neat trick which has served her well so far; but beneath all the noise and shiny distractions swirling around the Brexit debate, the influential European Research Group has finally delivered its considered verdict.

“Completely cretinous.”

The back benches have lost patience with Britain’s seemingly endless procession of one-way concessions. Their letters to the 1922 Committee are poised and ready. They have the numbers, they’re no longer scared of Corbyn, and I believe they mean business this time.

Soon we will know for sure whether the PM has been doing her best in good faith, or whether her talk of “no attempt to remain inside the EU [and] no attempt to re-join it via the back door” was just another carefully measured dose of duplicity made in Brussels.

At the moment, Theresa May seems to be the only person in Europe who hasn’t learned that there can be no compromise with the EU. I don’t know why she finds this concept so difficult to grasp. God knows, they’ve told us often enough.

Images courtesy of Adrian Olguin & Anja Ranneberg at Freeimages.com

Hooray for the 2nd Referendum!

It’s nice to agree with your most implacable opponents every now and then. That’s why I was especially cheered to hear Patrick Stewart’s reasoned and measured arguments as he championed the new People’s Vote movement in various television studios nearly a fortnight ago. It’s hard to deny that we’d never make different, better decisions if we could see further into the future. After all, how many of us wouldn’t want to turn back the clock and not have a particular argument, or choose a different path that didn’t lead to a dead end?

When it comes to weighty matters of state, we all cast our votes based more on hope and belief than any meaningful knowledge of the future. That inescapable truth probably explains why we’re permanently disappointed that our destination bears only a passing semblance to the exciting postcard we received. So it’s with a big dose of hindsight and a little humility that I’ve come to embrace the idea of a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The landscape is so dramatically different and so many arguments resoundingly disproved that I can see no other alternative. We’re just not where we thought we would be.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet informed voters that a Council of Ministers would make Europe-wide decisions. However, that competency was transferred to the unelected European Commission in 2009. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet assured voters that “no important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament.” However, both the Maastricht
and Lisbon Treaties handed many important policy powers to the same unelected European Commission. The UK electorate was not consulted about this change.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet declared that “through membership of the [Common] Market we are better able to advance and protect our national interests. This is the essence of sovereignty.” I can’t possibly speak for 17.4 million leave voters, but I’ll bet the farm that a significant majority of them believe that regaining control of UK border policy, money and laws is the true essence of sovereignty. It’s taken a little over forty years for that glib official statement to be tested in the real world and found so desperately wanting.

In 1975, the UK Government’s official pamphlet stated that Commonwealth countries would not be disadvantaged by Britain’s membership of the EEC. Yet less than two pages later, the very same leaflet states a UK voting to leave the EEC would no longer be inside the Common Market tariff wall – but outside.” The pamphlet didn’t try to explain how splitting the Commonwealth between those behind and those outside the EEC’s tariff wall was beneficial to the countries left outside. The eagerness of those same nations to embrace new trading ties with the UK shows that statement to have been utterly false, and I suspect Edward Heath and a large portion of Parliament knew it back in 1973.

Whilst some of the Government’s claims regarding the Common Market may have been accurate in 1975, an awful lot has changed in forty years. New treaties, new power structures and new laws have transformed the EEC beyond all recognition, and in the light of those radically altered conditions, it was right and proper that at long last a second referendum on EU membership took place on June 23, 2016.

Some of the more embittered remain factions highlight the fact that older voters were the deciding demographic in the referendum result, as though that somehow counts for something. Despite ridiculous and condescending claims that older voters represent a non-existent past, they are in fact the very same people who’d voted to remain in the EEC in 1975. They’d just developed a better understanding of what they were really voting for this time around. Sound familiar?

Mr Stewart and his chums at People’s Vote HQ can celebrate the fact that we’ve already had a second EU referendum. When considering new developments and changed circumstances that were unknown in 1975, the electorate has soberly and very sensibly changed its mind.

The North London, 2nd referendum set can sleep soundly knowing that democracy was well served by the 2016 vote, and they can focus on really important things like writing letters to the Guardian.

The People’s Vote of 2016 was a triumph for democracy.

Image courtesy of nwhomebuyers at FreeImages.com

My Top 10 Live Bands – 4

Ultravox

If there’s a single band that encapsulates all that’s best about the music of the late 70s and early 80s, then that band must surely be Ultravox. With a dark, new wave undercurrent, superb arrangements and a willingness to step off the pop reservation, Ultravox effortlessly bridge the language gap between mainstream music and the alternative counter-culture.

There’s no doubt that they arrived on the scene with perfect timing, at the end of an era when unconventional and experimental tracks like Vienna and The Thin Wall still stood a chance of chart success. Seriously, does anyone believe singles like those would’ve gotten a look in five years later? I sincerely doubt it.

Like so many talented bands from that brief flowering of analogue alchemy, I wasn’t able to catch Ultravox in their Monument heyday, but I was thrilled to finally see Midge and the boys performing live at Sheffield’s O2 Academy during their highly regarded Return to Eden tour. This was doubly exciting for me as I’m already on record stating that Rage in Eden is my favourite album of all time.

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven as Midge Ure strode onto that stage in a silver-sheen suit and proceeded to blast out some serious hard-core guitar chords. Within half a minute those chords had morphed into the opening riffs of New Europeans, one of the great unsung new wave classics. Not only does it sound fantastic, but it perfectly packages the zeitgeist of that struggle between the printing press and the microchip, played out against a backdrop of grey concrete and glaring new neon.

The gig that followed this blinding opener was a nonstop parade of new wave classics, reminding us all just how imaginative and prolific they’d been during that short burst in the early 80s. Although some hair was thinning here and some waistlines thickening there, Midge and the boys more than proved that they could still throw down with the best as they displayed a level of musicianship which, let’s be honest, was all too rare among some of their more readily marketable contemporaries.

With an unassuming stage set combined with sound and lighting to die for, Ultravox re-established their credentials as some of the more serious musicians from a decade that started deep, but quickly shallowed into an identikit ensemble of sickly synthetic pop confections. It’s ironic how those dark, brooding foundations of the Ultravox sound were once a drag on commercial success, yet now they’ve become the very feature attracting a new generation of admirers in this new millennium.

Whilst they may not have been the vaunted megastars of yesteryear, there’s no denying that Ultravox have outpaced, outlasted and out-created nearly all of their contemporaries. There are no humiliating twenty minute slots on some washed-up-by-the-sea revival tour for Midge and the boys, and their enduring appeal is proof positive that substance always outlasts style in the long run. I’ll wager there’s many a big-name from yesteryear who secretly wishes they could still headline in their own right, instead of hitching their one-hit wagon to a burgeoning and cynical nostalgia machine. A lesson for us all methinks.

Though the years may have changed them physically, Ultravox’s commitment to their sound, their performance and their audience remains as bright and youthful as those heady days of top ten success and Smash Hits centrefold splashes. Though they may never again write or perform as a cohesive unit, it’s clear that those New Europeans have more than a couple of ideas inside them still.

Remoaners need Dr Who, not Captain Picard

So, it’s finally happened. The entrenched establishment’s last desperate gamble to thwart Brexit has cranked into life amid great fanfare, tons of publicity and a million pound budget.

Of course they don’t call it that. When questioned on their attitude to Brexit, this elitist coalition of closet authoritarians hide their disdain for democracy behind phrases like “choice”, “new information” and “the terms of divorce.” They are always, always at pains to stress just how much they respect the result of the 2016 referendum.

This is a brazen, calculated lie, and we all know it. In fact, arch luvvie and continuity remainer Patrick Stewart couldn’t even convince the BBC’s Andrew Marr of his sincerity when asked about respecting the Brexit vote. Either he wasn’t properly briefed by the “People’s Vote” campaign, or he’s decided that honesty is the best policy. Whether by accident or design, we should thank Mr Stewart for saving us all the time and trouble of trying to prize the truth from this dishonest and deceitful campaign’s lips for the next year or so.

One of the more reliable rules of politics is that any nation with the words “democratic” or “people’s” anywhere in its name should be treated with extreme caution, and the same can be said of political campaigns. Ironically enough the “people” understand this fundamental truth well enough, which is why this this last hurrah from the fading neoliberals will expend a lot of time, energy and hot air with no discernible outcome. Kind of like having a counsellor on a spaceship.

The People’s Vote is doomed.

First and foremost, because there will be no second referendum. Both Labour and the Conservatives have been clear about this. Any such proposal is extremely unlikely to make it through Parliament as both the voting public and the political class are well aware of Brussels’ long and lamentable record of re-runs when it comes to democratic votes they don’t like. Such a move would be politically impossible in the current atmosphere.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has already been triggered, and any move to reverse that decision will require a democratic mandate equal to or greater than the 2016 referendum. In the unlikely event a second referendum were to be held, it would not affect the result of the first unless that question was specifically addressed on the ballot paper.

This new and fundamentally flawed rearguard action is grounded on the false premise that any second referendum will be a direct re-run of the first, when the likelihood of such is vanishingly small. The best they can hope for is a take-it-or-leave-it vote on the final form of any future Brexit deal, but this will not affect the legal status of the Lisbon Treaty. In fact, such a plebiscite could quite conceivably lead to the “hard” Brexit they so desperately seek to overturn. The potential for backfire is a real and present danger, so hardcore remainers should be careful what they wish for.

Finally, there is also the inescapable and ironclad fact that Brexit is driven by the largest democratic mandate for anything, ever, in the long history of this nation. The ship has sailed, and there’s very little chance of stopping it now. The hard core rump of Brexit deniers would’ve done better to find a time traveller than to rely on Captain Yesterday.

Image courtesy Carol Kramberger at Freeimages.com

Our Futuristic Breadbin Brexit

What do Brexit, a loaf of bread and a high profile environmental campaign have in common? You might be tempted to answer “not very much,” but they are in fact linked by deeper, hidden forces which are currently the rise of populism and the rejection of the neoliberal world view.

It’s not often that everyday objects like a sliced white can speak so much truth, but that’s exactly what happened in the bread aisle as I endured the ritual torture of grocery shopping. I’d arrived at the supermarket earlier than planned, having fled the house after Sky News tried to force feed me another helping of environmental advocacy. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s true that the amount of plastic polluting our world is a real and pressing problem, and I for one am pleased that such a large organisation is bringing attention to this urgent and important issue.

There were films of plastic, debates about plastic and statistics surrounding plastic still rolling around in my head while I engaged in the drudgery of the supermarket shop. First stop was the fruit and veg, and I immediately recalled the apocryphal tale of four apples shrink-wrapped on a plastic tray, which is often cited as the pinnacle of ridiculous and completely unnecessary plastic packaging.* In fairness there are very few people who’d approve of such a thing in today’s more environmentally conscious climate, but still it happened once upon a time.

Then I came to the bread, and as I was loading my favourite brand into the trolley I suddenly remembered that bread was once packaged in nice neat waxed paper parcels, whereas now it’s nearly always wrapped some sort of plastic bag.

So who actually asked for such a change? I don’t recall the old way of wrapping bread being a particular problem, and I certainly can’t remember the consumer demanding his apples be packed in plastic trays. So how did we get to the place where we find ourselves now?

Like so much in modern life, to find the answer we must follow the money and the power to the point where somebody’s holding of either increases. It’s a fundamental truth that businesses must either cut costs or grow revenue to increase profits, and in the food sector that means processing. The more any given food is processed, the greater value is added to it, and that fundamental economic and marketing truth goes a long way to explaining our apocryphal apples wrapped in plastic. What else can you do with an apple and still preserve it as recognisable piece of fruit?

It’s only now, after decades of profligate plastic usage that we’re starting to understand just how big a problem we’ve created for ourselves. Naturally we’ve started seeking solutions, which ironically involve looking back to an era when paper was king and glass bottles were easily reused or recycled. Taking the longer view, it turns out that maybe we were once wiser than we knew, and many “old fashioned” ideas had a lot more to their credit than the loudest of lobbying voices cared to admit.

Just like our apples wrapped in plastic, the European Union has also quietly grown into an expensive and wasteful hazard, and its baleful influence had to reach choking point before most of us noticed its creeping incursion into all our lives. Outside of a few noisy special interest groups, hardly anyone in Europe ever wanted or asked for the gargantuan behemoth we’re battling now; and just like our irresponsible push to plasticise, we stand aghast at the damage we’ve unwittingly unleashed.

The good news is that just like the packaging industry, the future for nation states can be found in the past. That doesn’t mean slamming on the brakes and trying to throw history into reverse, but instead taking some fundamentally sound ideas from a time before the EU and reimagining them for the century to come. Just as some bright inventor will soon come up with bio-degradable waxed paper 2.0 and make a ton of money, so we’ll develop new ways of working together in an increasingly globalised, interconnected, yet de-centralised world.

Doubtless many aspiring authoritarians will argue that our increased interconnectedness demands an even greater degree of supranational governance and regulation. Well, that all sounds fine in the lobbies at Davos, but history is now revealing the folly of exchanging the reality of national sovereignty for the illusion of increased prosperity and security.

The European Union is the plastic apple tray of the political world. We don’t need it, we never asked for it, and all it does is serve the interests of a small group of men sitting on the top floors of tall buildings.

We’ve allowed one hell of a mess to build up over the years, and it’s going to take a long time and some innovative thinking to repair the damage.

Image courtesy of tinpalace at Freeimages.com

*Some commentators maintain that wrapping food like fruit prolongs shelf life and decreases food wastage, and thus the environmental impact is more nuanced.

Do you want Friars with that? – Dessert

What better way to round off a multi-course musical banquet than something sweet, uplifting and not too heavy?

Everybody knows that one of the best and most enjoyable rituals of a live gig is the false ending followed by the (almost) inevitable encores, and naturally Marillion were only too happy to oblige. Being a Friars gig, there was no way they could sneak out of the building before delivering a rousing rendition of Market Square Heroes, their very first single from the dim and distant days of the early eighties. In fact, I’m pretty sure there are local bylaws compelling them to play it whenever they set foot in the smallish town where it all began. Although it’s undoubtedly the most famous song about this unlikely musical mecca, Steve Hogarth did remind us that Bowie himself also

Charlie from David Live

tipped his hat to the very same square in the first line of Five Years.

Maybe it was because Marillion had played a mere forty-five minutes, or maybe it was the joy of going home early that gave Steve the energy to launch himself into the air with such gusto and abandon during the shouty bits of the song that launched them. Whatever the cause, he looked and sounded like he was having as much fun as the rest of us.

Naturally we were all awaiting the finale, which most of us figured had to include a Bowie number. My money was on Starman, which kind of fitted into the whole idea of the day.

Well, we did get a Bowie number, but not the one I’d imagined. Mind you, that hardly mattered less as the first unmistakable chords of Heroes filled the theatre, the sound rising to the rafters and somehow lifting us all with it.

I never saw Bowie play live, but as all the musical contributors piled onto the stage and Charlie from David Live took the microphone, it was as though the spirit of the great man himself had returned for one final appearance. I’ll remember the way my hair stood on end for many a year to come.

Dave & Sue Stopps

Naturally, it was only fitting that both Dave and Sue Stopps were cajoled onto the stage for their own personal, and hugely deserved round of applause. After all, it was their hard work, dedication and persistence that brought us all together in the creation of the world’s first, most dramatic and easily the most memorable monument to one of this nation’s most enduring musical talents.

As the music faded and the atmosphere dissipated along with the audience, many of us stopped beside the Earthly Messenger to reflect on what the past has given us and what the future may hold. If I’m honest, I think we also lingered to drink up the last dregs of that wonderful atmosphere, in a brightly lit place where we set aside our squabbles to create something very, very special.

I like to imagine we all fell asleep feeling just a little bit heroic that night, and I like to believe we deserved it too.

Just for one day.

Images courtesy of Alan Jones

Do you want Friars with that? – The Main Course

With the Dung Beatles and John Otway having set the bar incredibly high, there was a sense of palpable and growing excitement as the tech staff busied themselves preparing for the hugely talented Howard Jones to take the stage.

Now I can’t have been the only one who had the image of a big-haired, bat-sleeved eighties keyboard wizard etched into his memory, so I doubt I was alone in my surprise when that techno minstrel’s stripped down, almost lounge scale set up began to take shape. Perhaps somewhat naïvely, I’d expected banks of preassembled equipment to be wheeled onto the stage to deliver old favourites and new experiments. However, time waits for no man and so I confess my curiosity was piqued as that middle-aged but still very recognisable musician took to the stage behind a single keyboard, accompanied only by an acoustic guitar and some kind of new-fangled, multipurpose percussion pad.

Howard Jones Alan Jones crop
Howard Jones

Whether conscious or not, Jones’ stripped down performance was a reflection of both the change and continuity experienced by most of his now older and hopefully wiser audience. In the same way that the concrete brutalism of Jones’ heyday has been reshaped and remodelled, so his musical expression has adapted and evolved to blend in perfectly with its environment. Gone are the artificial colours and flavours of his synthesised eighties concoctions, replaced by a warmer, more organic and holistic musical output. All the old favourites were there, but reimagined in a more carbon-neutral and less overbearing package. Not too loud, not too abrasive; not too shrill and guaranteed not to upset anyone from anywhere. Yes indeed, Howard Jones’ extremely competent and very watchable performance was a true reflection of the world in which we now live.

Perhaps it was selfish of me to expect to hear those synthpop classics in their original forms, but none of us can choose where we come from. In the end, I’m a child of concrete, fluorescent light, smoking indoors and no internet to tell me what I should be outraged about next. Howard Jones put on a great show and I’m glad to have been there. I just wasn’t expecting his music to be wearing carpet slippers and a safety helmet.

That’s how I found myself in a reflective kind of mood as the applause faded and the techs returned, this time to clear all available space for the imminent appearance of the mighty Marillion.

For anyone who’s never seen this legendary live band, a Marillion gig is best summed up as a masterclass in the studied application of musical power as opposed to the blunt-force assault of mere volume alone. With only a small handful of line-up changes over the decades, Marillion are unquestionably one of the slickest, tightest and most respected live acts anywhere in the world today. While many others have burst brightly and disappeared just as quickly, Marillion have remained a constant and extremely well disciplined star still burning brightly as they approach their fourth decade in music.

Their performances are the stuff of musical legend, whilst their relationship with an intergenerational fan base is one of the closest of any band to its audience. Indeed, after their short run of chart success in the eighties, Marillion turned their back on chasing mainstream success, and by doing so they built themselves one of the strongest and most fanatical followings in music today.

Naturally, being the world’s premier touring prog rock band, the big joke was how many of their ridiculously long tracks they’d manage to shoehorn into a mere forty-five minutes. I confess I was curious to see how they’d handle such a restriction on their usual running time of two hours plus.

Steve Hogarth Alan Jones crop
Steve Hogarth

With a stripped down stage and few of the usual whistles and bells that accompany a successful live act, it was kind of refreshing to see the guys cram so many old and new favourites into such a short space of time.

The crowd went crazy when the perennial Easter made the cut, and we were all treated to Steve Rothery’s legendary guitar solo that features so prominently on that decades-old track. It was wonderful to hear Afraid of Sunlight once again, a firm favourite of mine.

As ever, Steve Hogarth was in fine form, leading many of the uninitiated to wonder just how such a big and clear noise can emanate from someone who sounds so much bigger than he really is. That precocious and seemingly ageless vocal talent has earned him the affectionate nickname of Windy Shrimp in some quarters.

I’ve actually lost track of how often I’ve seen Marillion play across the years, but their gigs never grow old, never get tired and they never look or sound like they’re just going through the motions. I’ll wager they picked up a few new followers at the Bowie Benefit that night.

All in all it was an amazing evening, and we were full to bursting with four delicious and very different musical courses. At the end of the night came the question that springs to every restaurant patron’s mind as the plates are being cleared away…

Have I got room for dessert?

Images courtesy of Alan Jones Photos

Do you want Friars with that? – The Starter

Don’t mind if I do, and lay it on thick while you’re at it!

What better dish to compliment the world’s first David Bowie statue than a double helping of local music talent? With no less than four top quality acts donating their fees to the statue fund, my musical taste-buds were already tingling as I took my seat in Aylesbury’s impressive Waterside

The Dung Beatles

Theatre.

I don’t like to fill up on starters, but as this was a special occasion I decided to just go with the flow. Besides, it’s downright ungracious to refuse a course when the chef’s showcasing his skills for free.

First up were the Dung Beatles, and if I’m honest, I can’t say my expectations were all that high. After all, it’s another Beatles tribute band, which is fine if you like that sort of thing. Now it may be heresy to say so, but I’ve never been a massive fan of the Fab Four. Maybe that’s because I’m a child of the seventies and eighties, but I figured I’ve heard pretty much everything a tribute band could offer the boys from the Cavern Club.

I wondered just how wrong my preconceptions were as I counted a grand total of nine onto the stage. My interest was especially piqued as I saw the four piece brass section take their places, not an occurrence you see all that often in tribute bands. As the first crystal clear chords chimed out, I realised I was hearing a well-oiled and carefully calibrated machine clicking effortlessly into gear. These guys could really play, and they’d clearly been practicing…a lot.

John Otway

Never before have I heard such bold tribute choices as Sergeant Pepper and The Walrus. The Dung Beatles have clearly set out to be so much more than just another Beatles band, and they’ve succeeded completely. They were as tight as a drum and sounded so damned good that I think I can finally understand what all the fuss is about.

As I said earlier, I’m not a massive Beatles fan, but I’ll sure be seeing these guys again, given half the chance!

The first act had left me in a buoyant mood as I eagerly awaited the appearance of the legendary John Otway. The last time I’d seen one of Aylesbury’s favourite and daftest sons was at the Wellhead, which means I’m talking in decades here. So I wondered if time had changed both him and me enough to make the experience a little less scintillating in middle age.

I needn’t have worried really. If anything, the man who got famous for falling over on telly was even more daft, amusing and unsettlingly perceptive than he’s ever been. That same old self-deprecating humour hid the same old insight and sensitivity this professional jester often slips into his songs. It’s easy to miss if you’re laughing all the time, and I think he plans it that way.

Never one to let life get too serious, Otway regaled us with his old stories and firm favourites like his hilarious rendition of Blockbuster and, of course, his Cumbrian dad’s Space Oddity was a no-brainer for such an occasion. One of my most enduring memories of that whole special day was of my other half laughing for a full half hour straight as John reminded us that music and mirth make good bedfellows.

Like all good starters, both acts were finished just as I was getting a taste for them, but I was far from full and eagerly anticipating the main course as the funniest man in rock left the stage to raucous and heartfelt applause.