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With a dizzying array of cutting-edge equipment somehow spliced together with older, more outdated devices, firm favourites were remixed and repackaged; new and improved, yet always faithful to the established and trusted brand.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

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

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

My Top 10 Live Bands – 10

The Mission

When viewed from the comfortable vantage point of middle age, I can now say with confidence that the past is indeed another country. Looking back, 1986 was a very different and many would say a better, more hopeful and freer world than the paranoid, obsessively introspective and neurotic landscape we tiptoe through today. There was no internet to spy on us, everyone’s overcoats were way cooler and we were still allowed to smoke indoors. Those simple freedoms we took for granted are viewed with a kind of incredulous horror by the risk assessed youth of today, and I often reflect on just how lucky I was to have come of age before the end of live music’s golden era. At that time there was still plenty big gig game to be hunted by a kid with a sense of adventure and a school leaver’s salary.

I recall a stifling perfume of Spiritual Sky patchouli, poppers, cider fumes and dry ice filling the air when first I saw Wayne and the guys take to the stage at Friars*, Aylesbury. 1986 was probably the year of peak gothic rock in the UK, and I found myself right in the middle of it one dark November night. Wayne looked like an off-duty glam rock star kidnapped from some alternate universe where Marc Bolan had lived on as he stood to deliver The Mission’s good word.

It was real, it was raw, it was most definitely live…and I was hooked. One of my most enduring memories of the night was of that trademark jingle jangle riding a thumping rock baseline with all the polished finesse of a professional surfer.

From that high point where I first found them, The Mission continued to grow until our next meeting in 1989. That year I was fortunate enough to witness their legendary headline performance at Reading Festival. The one with the windmills. Everyone always talks about the windmills.

Nearly three decades later and the band (or brand) is still going strong, although I for one won’t be going to see them anytime soon. Nothing stays the same, and like a beloved but fading friend, I want to remember them as a dying echo of all those lost venues and frozen stations from my Thunderbird-blurred and nicotine-stained yesterdays. Some things can never be re-created, and the centrally heated, LED illuminated, Uber app immediacy of our modern world has stripped the live gig of perhaps its most valuable and enduring aspects. The rituals, camaraderie, and yes dammit, downright recklessness of that smoke-smudged world are fondly remembered with good cause. I don’t envy the kids today.

Alas, there are no really good quality recordings of those near-forgotten glory gigs, but there is a last remnant from that Friars gig still haunting cyberspace, along with a glimpse of those famous windmills, or spider webs, or whatever the hell they really were. Nobody who was there at the time really cared. All they remember is just how awesome the whole damn thing was.

* In fact this was not actually a Friars gig, but big gigs in Aylesbury around that time are still referred to as “Friars” gigs, in the same way that vacuum cleaners are often called Hoovers regardless of their true manufacturer.

Somebody’s fibbing…but who?

“Like a Child.” “They say he’s a moron.” “An idiot.” “This man does not read, does not listen.” “He cannot do this job.”

Those are just a few soundbites from a recent Today interview with man of the moment Michael Wolff, discussing his sensational new book, Fire & Fury: Inside the Whitehouse.

Unsurprisingly, the dirt is flying and virtually the entire commentariat is wondering whether this book will actually bring down the presidency as Wolff has publicly claimed.

The media aristocracy have never forgiven Trump for making them look so foolish during the 2016 general election, and so they’re busier than ever repeating the mantra that the President may be mentally unstable, and therefore unfit to hold office. This is clearly just the latest attempt to dislodge a democratically elected head of state from office, now that the whole Russia collusion narrative has blown up in their faces.

Alas, for them anyway, this latest co-ordinated attempt to unseat Trump will end in much the same way.

Let’s assume for a moment that every last word of Wolff’s salacious new gossipfest is completely true. Then, how is it that a “moron” has managed to outsmart both the Republican and Democrat parties, while simultaneously blindsiding almost the entire mainstream media machine, entrenched business interests and the almost omnipotent US donor class?

Call this wild speculation if you like, but I’m willing to bet that morons and idiots who can’t do their jobs will never out-manoeuvre the entire establishment of the world’s richest and most powerful nation. If Trump’s an idiot, what does that make them? If you got thrashed at chess by Forrest Gump, would you really spend the next year whining about your opponent’s alleged stupidity? Well, maybe, if you were desperately trying to hide your own epoch-making incompetence.

Is Trump eccentric? Probably. Is Trump semi-literate? I sincerely doubt it. Is Wolff’s new book some smoking-gun evidence of Trump’s mental instability? Well, it’s a pile of steaming something all right, but anyone waiting for this orgy of anonymous source sensationalism to trigger the 25th Amendment will be sadly disappointed, no matter how many tame “experts” are wheeled out to pontificate on primetime TV.

Think what you will of Trump, it’s not my job to convince you he’s a great guy, but one thing I can say with confidence is that someone’s about to be exposed as unbelievably short-sighted and slow-witted…I’m just not sure it’s going to be the guy sitting in the Oval Office.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at