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.

The Thin White Duke’s Shadow

At last the big day dawned, cold and bright.

After all the hype, the uncertainty and the tireless campaigning of Sue and Dave Stopps, the world’s first statue of the late David Bowie was finally revealed, in the seemingly peculiar setting of Aylesbury’s market square.

That Sunday afternoon was the culmination of a long fundraising and planning campaign to have this legendary musician’s cultural contribution honoured in bronze, and also to highlight this market town’s significant yet unsung contribution to modern music.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the story, the legendary venue of Friars Aylesbury is where Ziggy Stardust made his first appearance here on Earth, while the Spiders from Mars were born in the long-demolished dressing room.

This was all before my time, although that early wave of live music legends cemented

The Earthly Messenger

Aylesbury’s unlikely reputation on the gig circuit, ensuring I had easy access to a whole host of brilliant and innovative acts when my turn came around. Looking back now, I sometimes find it hard to believe just how lucky I was.

Like so many sons of this small but sparkling jewel in Britain’s musical crown, I was only too happy to answer the call when the appeal was launched to honour one of this nation’s most remarkable, innovative and enduring musical performers. Although I’d never had the privilege of watching Bowie perform live, I gained a great deal of personal satisfaction from helping to preserve and promote this legend’s legacy after his premature passing.

So that’s how I, along with a crowd of other sponsors, musicians and well-wishers, ended up standing under the arches beside Aylesbury Crown Court on that chilly spring morning.

There’s often good reason to criticise local authorities as obstructive and bureaucratic, but Aylesbury had gone all out on this one. The Market Square, already immortalised in Marillion’s debut single, became a musical focal point once again as the air shimmered with an LED archive of Bowie’s timeless videos and live performances. Local rockers the Callow Saints put in a terrific performance to entertain the crowd, but with the great man never far from the stage, it wasn’t quite clear who was supporting who. It’s really something to be headlining from beyond the grave.

There was an expectant air as we huddled beneath those arches, staring at a custom printed cover all set to reveal the Earthly Messenger to the waiting world. As the clock struck two, both Steve Hogarth (Marillion) and Howard Jones tugged on the string…and nothing happened. It’d worked flawlessly during rehearsal, but that’s showbiz for you. I’m sure David was having a rueful chuckle somewhere in music heaven.

The applause rose quickly, and I joined in as I realised I wasn’t looking at a single image of the great man, but several. Ziggy Stardust floated, in the air, somehow suspended in time as the Thin White Duke looked on, finally at home with himself and his accomplishments.

A sweeping bronze chorus line of Bowie’s other incarnations spiralled across the wall behind, reminding the world of the master performer’s constant creativity and re-invention.

Sculptor Andrew Sinclair explained how he wanted to capture as many faces of Bowie as possible, as his long and varied career meant that his identity was forever shifting in the minds of his audience. How we remember him often depends on the time and place we first crossed paths, be it on the turntable, through the radio or the internet.

Speaking of the internet, social media went crazy of course, with comments both for and against the Earthly Messenger raging back and forth across Facebook and Twitter, the forever homes for malcontents and could’ve-beens. Some bright spark has already defaced this privately funded endeavour with a political message about homelessness, and I’ve read several online rants about wasting public money. However, they are all wrong. This project was funded entirely by a group of people who wanted to honour one of the twentieth century’s most recognisable men. Clearly some in this world are just too embittered to endure anything that isn’t about them. Well, I’m sorry you didn’t get as famous as David Bowie but you’re just not talented or creative enough. Your ill-informed, pinch-faced scribblings are easily erased.

As for me, I think Bowie’s memorial is as bold and striking as the man and his music had always been. He was never afraid to take chances both with his image and his reputation, and I think that pioneering, risk-taking spirit is expressed perfectly in this unconventional dedication to that most unconventional of pop icons. Really, it could not have been otherwise.

I for one am extremely proud that my name will forever be seen in the Thin White Duke’s shadow.

My Top 10 Live Bands – 5

Depeche Mode

Every once in a while, an avid music fan is lucky enough to catch a band at the very peak of their pomp. While it’s great to find exciting up-and-coming acts and somehow more real to see performers once the media machine has discarded them, sometimes we hit that sweet spot. Ironically, we’re often ignorant of that truth at the time.

That’s what happened to me when I saw Depeche Mode at Crystal Palace in July 1993. Still riding high on the huge success of Violator and touring to promote Songs of Faith and Devotion, this once plastic synthpop band from the early eighties had somehow transformed itself into a worldwide musical phenomenon.

If I’m honest, I don’t really know what I was expecting because I’d turned out as much to see the Sisters of Mercy in support as I had to see the headline band. After all, that kind of combination doesn’t come along every day and so I jumped at the chance of getting two for the price of one.

As the light faded and the boys from Basildon took to the stage, I quickly realised that I was witnessing something far greater than just a few blokes twiddling with keyboards: this was an all-out musical assault by a band of hardened professionals who’d honed their skills both in the studio and on the touring circuit.

I remember being blown away by the sound quality, innovative use of video and the sheer energy and excitement of the crowd; something I’d only really experience at rock gigs before then. If Dave Gahan was on something that night, it was still during those early days when energy and endurance are enhanced and the piper is still totting up his bill for the user.

It was really terrific to hear all those old hit singles remixed and re-delivered, yet still so comfortingly familiar as to create a slightly disconcerting effect where it was difficult to reconcile the live experience of the moment with the countless years of radio repetition that had burrowed deep into my brain.

For me, the standout moments were the band’s performances of Enjoy the Silence and Stripped, both of which are considered by many to be the finest recordings of those two singles ever made. The video of a hand writing the word “stripped” over and over is one of the simplest and most impressive effects I’ve ever seen at a live show.

Although I’m sure they’re still very good now, I don’t think I’d want to watch Depeche Mode again today. I want to remember them as the conquering heroes who held the world in the palms of their hands, standing high on the crest of a wave that was always destined to crash upon the gently declining shores of age and familiarity.

I know they continue to tour and attract huge worldwide audiences, and so they should, but sometimes a kind of magic chemistry occurs between band and audience. Like a user forever chasing that first high, the wise music fan knows that any attempt to recapture those few golden hours will inevitably end in disappointment.

I’ll leave Depeche Mode as I found them, in a place where age, scandal and mediocrity can never diminish them.

The BBC’s new Personal Services Comedy

Maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s the one where a bunch of too-clever-by-half wheeler dealers get caught out for tax dodging, and then start crying and blaming each other.

The proceedings inside Parliament’s Committee Rooms are not known for producing outstanding satire, but there are always exceptions.

Earlier today, various BBC presenters including Kirsty Lang and Liz Kershaw were giving evidence on the widespread use of Personal Services Companies (PSCs) within that organisation. These companies have been increasingly scrutinised by both the press and HMRC over recent years because of well-heeled professionals using them as vehicles to minimise their tax exposure. It’s a shame that the rest of us aren’t permitted to offset the cost of our lunch or our daily commute, but I digress.

However, according to both Lang’s and Kershaw’s accounts, the situation at the BBC was entirely different. The Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee heard tales of the taxpayer funded broadcaster forcing its presenters to set up such companies in order to avoid paying National Insurance on their salaries. It’s unclear to what extent the presenters themselves benefited from such arrangements, but I’ve never heard of a Personal Services Company being formed to increase tax liability. If Christa Ackroyd’s tax bill of £419K is anything to go by, then we’re talking about a lot more than a couple of lunches and a few train tickets here and there.

The BBC stands accused of using these service companies as a way of bypassing normal workers’ rights such as sick leave, with one presenter stating, on the record, how she felt forced to work through almost an entire course of chemotherapy. These poor, downtrodden public servants paint a picture of a tyrannical corporation that has driven some of its familiar faces to the brink of suicide.

The highlight of today’s show was when the BBC’s Paul Lewis said “this isn’t a story of well-paid presenters trading through companies to avoid tax.” Although I’m pretty sure he knows what kind of PAYE take-home is needed to run up a £400K tax bill. It’s funny how the BBC’s money guy suddenly got all shy about hard numbers on the presenters’ side, yet he was pretty outspoken about the £10 million tax the BBC has allegedly sidestepped.

So, if I’m following the plot correctly, the taxpayer funded BBC forced these presenters to set up Personal Service Companies, and as a result both parties paid a lot less tax, but that was only the intention of mendacious BBC executives. Any favourable tax conditions enjoyed by the presenters were entirely incidental and forced upon them against their will. Poor souls.

No doubt that Christa Ackroyd would much rather have paid the lion’s share of half a million pounds to HMRC in exchange for the security of sick leave, and it’s just a shame that the BBC declined to tell its side of the story to the committee today.

Now that really would’ve been a punchline!

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

Rotherham,
Oxford,
Aylesbury,
Newcastle,
Rochdale,
Bristol,
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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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.

Why?

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 FreeDigitalPhotos.net