Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy (1984)

In my opinion, 1984 was a game-changer of a year. Later in the year, social consciousness would be raised to an entirely new level when Band Aid pricked the consciences of a nation, to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. In the context of yuppies, Thatcherism and the rise of consumerist culture, Band Aid was a comma that provided a much needed pause in our rush to wear red braces. However, there was another social revolution going on at the time – one that had been slowly growing since the start of the late 1970s and had been boosted in the early 80s with the advent of pop stars like Boy George. 1984 was the year when the pop charts voiced the desperate need for equality in terms of gay rights.

Bronski Beat, fronted by the helium voiced Jimmy Somerville, were instrumental in providing political impetus to the campaign for equality. There had always been a long tradition of camp in pop – whether that was likes of disco divas likes Sylvester, or the rampant individualism of the new romantics. This had been brought to a head when Boy George and Culture Club burst onto the music scene with their first single, “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?”, including a jaw-dropping and iconic appearance on Top Of The Pops. However, whilst Boy George was jaw-dropping in appearance, his public behaviour (at the time) remained very much in the tradition of the camp pop star shying away from confrontational statements about the treatment of gay people and homosexuality in general in favour of creating a family friendly image. This probably is most famously reflected in the much repeated quote where he was reported to say that he preferred to have a cup of tea rather than have sex.

Now I don’t want people to misinterpret me here – the influence of Boy George on the lives of countless people was huge, and I have come to admire him for his resilience and tenacity during times of personal crisis, but he was always about much more than being a gay man. Boy George’s raison d’etre was to encourage people to embrace their core personality and individuality in whatever form it showed itself, to embrace the process of transformation so any “ugly duckling” could turn themselves into a beautiful swan. Maybe Boy George’s greatest achievement was to create the groundwork that would in more recent times enable the increasing social acceptance of transgender people – even though Boy George (who was commonly labelled as a “gender bender” at the time) was clearly not a transgender person (and is not today).

What Bronski Beat did so brilliantly with “Smalltown Boy” was give voice to the often traumatic experiences of young gay men (and women too, obviously) when they decided to “come out” and be public about the truth of their sexuality – often with the results of being rejected by family and friends, and thereby making the decision to move away from home to a place where they could openly live in a culture that accepted them as an LGBT person (which would usually have to be a big city, like London, Birmingham, Manchester or Brighton, to name a few). It is a brilliantly catchy piece of pop music but it also gives you an insight into a totally different life experience – and isn’t this possibly the greatest thing that any art form can achieve, to create empathy?

 

It is one of those moments when the song and the accompanying video clip work together so brilliantly that you finish watching / listening with complete clarity about the intended meaning of the song. It is simply astounding.

You leave in the morning with everything you own in a little black case
Alone on a platform, the wind and the rain on a sad and lonely face

Mother will never understand why you had to leave
But the answers you seek will never be found at home
The love that you need will never be found at home

 

Bronski Beat made the personal experience of being gay in 1984 into a political statement, or maybe it was rather about making a political statement about being gay in 1984 into a personal experience? They were not satisfied with just being openly gay pop stars. From their very beginnings, they were unhappy with what they viewed as the inoffensive and non-confrontational nature of contemporary gay pop stars. They wanted to be openly confrontational about the need to create equality for gay people – so much so that they called their debut album “The Age of Consent” because they wanted to change the law so the age of consent for homosexual sexual activity could be changed to be made equal to the age for heterosexual sexual activity. The inner sleeve listed the varying ages of consent for consensual gay sex in different nations around the world. At the time, the age of consent for sexual acts between men in the UK was 21 compared with 16 for heterosexual sexual acts, with several other countries having more liberal laws on gay sex.

Their more confrontational attitude was clearly exemplified by their second single, “Why?”, which forcefully made the point about the levels of violence that was often directed against people simply because of their sexuality. The same issue is presented in the lyrics of “Smalltown Boy” – it was sadly a very common experience.

Pushed around and kicked around, always a lonely boy
You were the one that they’d talk about around town as they put you down

And as hard as they would try they’d hurt to make you cry
But you never cried to them, just to your soul
No, you never cried to them, just to your soul

 

I have never experienced this level of persecution and hatred, primarily because I’m not gay, even though I have had rumours swirled around by various people about my sexuality at different points in my life. Perhaps the closest that I have come to this is the number of slightly patronising and offensive comments that I have sometimes received (particularly back in the late 80s/early 90s) about being Welsh (usually resulting from stereotypes build up through figures such as Neil Kinnock etc.) but even that obviously does not come close the physical and verbal persecution that gay people have experienced. I’m just trying to build some empathy using the somewhat limited experiences of prejudice that I’ve had directed at me.

However, perhaps the main point of mentioning “Smalltown Boy” in the first place is to remind ourselves of how far we have come since those distant days of 1984. I would never have imagined that a conservative government would take the step who enable gay couples to get married (not the civil partnerships that were set up by the Labour Party back in the 90s) but here we are – perhaps it could be argued that the gay marriage legislation will be David Cameron’s legacy in the same way as the Northern Ireland peace process might be Tony Blair’s.

However, it has taken a very long time to get here – you have to remember that it was not even ten years ago, in 2008 to be precise, that the age of consent for homosexual acts was fully equalised with the heterosexual age of consent across the whole of the United Kingdom, with Northern Ireland being the last nation to make the equality set in law. Go back further in time and you will discover that the death penalty was actually applicable for men who committed acts of homosexual sex. When you study the story of the age of consent, and how it has changed particularly since the 1960s, it is not surprising to see why so many homosexual people feel that society has always had a problem with their sexuality. I sincerely hope that we can now say that society has moved beyond this – however I’m not so politically and socially naïve to think this as there continue to be issues with gay marriage in certain churches.

However, I’m also utterly confident that we will there and there will be full equality between people of different sexuality eventually. I have to remain positive and hopeful that people are essentially good, and want other people to be happy.

Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away
Run away, turn away, run away, turn away, run away

 

So watch now Jimmy Somerville with that amazing, soaring, sky scraping falsetto voice sing a stripped back piano and vocal version of “Smalltown Boy” that will, I guarantee, send a shiver down your spine. It not only reminds you of the stunning brilliance of that voice that was unsurprisingly subject of so much piss-taking when the song first came out, but it should also remind you of the haunting, tragic tone of the lyrics and the bleak reality they communicated about being gay in the early 80s.

It is stunning:

 

Isn’t that simply spine-tingling?

Yes, sometimes we need to be rightly ashamed of things that have happened either in our country’s historical past or sometimes even contemporary events such as the recent tragic fire in a high-rise tower block. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves the difficult questions of why things were ever allowed to happen. However, sometimes we also have to recognise that things have improved for certain specific groups of people in ways that we can perhaps never fully appreciate. I hope that life will continue to improve, whether this is for transgender persons or continuing to improve race relations or to tackle Islamaphobia.

“Smalltown Boy” reminds me this is possible.

 

Tears For Fears – Sowing The Seeds Of Love (1989)

Ah yes, I almost missed the 1960s. I was born in 1968 so I managed to experience two years of the heady days of psychedelic experimentation that founded the basis of so much modern music. Except, of course, that I have zero memories coz I was only a baby. Growing up in the 70s, I was continually reminded how great the 60s were supposed to be as they continued to play the likes of The Beatles on a daily basis on Radio 1, along with the newest music. The 60s were all conquering and all consuming. It took the punk generation of the late 70s to kick The Beatles out of play at least for a little while.

Tears For Fears were at the vanguard of early 80s synth-pop, releasing their first single in 1982, creating music that had a surface sheen that matched the likes of OMD, Yazoo, Depeche Mode etc but also had a slightly pseudo intellectual undercurrent. Their debut album, called “The Hurting”, was heavily influenced by the theories of Arthur Janov who had put together something called “primal therapy” in (yes, you guessed it) the 1960s. John Lennon had been his most famous patient in 1970. Just look through the song titles and you will get the flavour of the album: “Suffer The Children”, “Mad World”, “Change”. “Ideas As Opiates” is even named directly after a chapter from Janov’s book, “Prisoners Of Pain”.

“Sowing The Seeds Of Love” is not synth music based around primal scream therapy. It is the sound of a band trying to create an 80s version of The Beatles.

It also has a lovely video:

 

Yes, it is a very trendy late 80s video that is similar to the semi-animated / computer-effects laden videos that were epitomised by the likes of Peter Gabriel’s ground-breaking “Sledgehammer” video onwards (think of the likes of “And She Was” by Talking Heads, Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble” or others that I can’t be bothered to list right now). As somebody who had been a Tears For Fears fan since the first time I heard the first single mix of “Suffer The Children”, this video worried me because the of the California tans and gleaming white teeth of Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith – it just seemed to show a distance of travel that now seemed miles away from my everyday experience back in rain-soaked South Wales.

However, we are heading ourselves away from the basic premise here about the weird and perhaps unwanted influence of the 1960s upon the 1980s.

High time, we made a stand
And shook up the views of the common man
The love train rides from coast to coast
DJ’s the man we love the most

 

It is important to remember that the influence of the 1960s extended beyond cultural signals such as music. It affected almost every sphere of human experience, especially politics and the social contract between the vastly differing elements of society so we didn’t blow everything up in a short lived and ultimately futile revolution as had happened in other countries.

The late 1980s was the time when I “got” politics. I had grown up in the relative leafy suburbs of a new town in South Wales, but even that had not been safe from the radical neo-liberal open market economic ideals and social experimentation that had characterisation the 80s under Margaret Thatcher’s new brand of Conservatism. My dad had been unemployed for most of the 80s, having grown up to become a relatively unqualified painter and decorator suffering from the age of DIY that had expanded under the new wave of home ownership at the vanguard of Thatcherism. I became a dedicated and evangelical performing arts student, and I had become highly influenced by the theatrical theories and socialist politics of Bertolt Brecht. Unsurprising when you consider that I was one of the “have nots” in a society that was increasingly divided on economic rather than class lines. Socialism was in my blood – and I was growing up in a time when socialism was quickly becoming a much derided idea.

Whilst not exactly an evangelical socialist anthem, certainly not of the sort you might expect from the likes of Billy Bragg or maybe even Paul Weller (in his Red Wedge years), “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” does manage to capture a sense of discomfort, dislocation and anger at the transitions taking place in society resulting from the new focus on individualism (and individual wealth accumulation) at the expense of any sense of collectivism or societal connections that had been at the forefront of the socialist movement and the previous post-war social contract (as epitomised by the formation of the NHS).

Could you be, could you be squeaky clean and smash any hope of democracy
As the headline says you’re free to choose
There’s egg on your face and mud on your shoes
One of these days they’re gonna call it the blues yeah, yeah
Sowing the seeds of love, seeds of love, sowing the seeds
Sowing the seeds of love, seeds of love, sowing the seeds

 

At the start of the decade, 80s music was seeped in sense of the future primarily due to extensive use of cheap synthesizers that had flooded the market from Japan, which had enabled creative but not technically proficient keyboard players to put together endlessly imaginative pop songs. Watch any episode of Top Of The Pops from 1980 until the end of 1984 and you will see an endless list of talent that fits into that precise description: Eurythmics, Yazoo etc. The two keyboard playing of the likes of Rick Wakeman had been replaced by the two finger playing of early Depeche Mode.

However, you then hit 1985 and pop experiences the seismic shift of Live Aid. During the first half of the decade, music had been dominated by the forward thinking optimism of new blood and the old guard had almost been effectively swept away by a tide of skinny ties, sharp suits, floppy fringed haircuts, and lots of scrap material used creatively for whatever Boy George was going to be wearing this week. I don’t remember many great singles from the likes of The Rolling Stones during this time. McCartney was putting out the likes of “The Pipes of Peace” or “Ebony and Ivory” which don’t exactly rank as his greatest musical achievements across his lifetime. Yet, it was the likes of Jagger, McCartney, The Beach Boys, Bowie, Queen, and others who had been around for donkey’s bleeding years who certainly did the best out of the Live Aid experience (especially at the Philadelphia concert which seemed laden with bands that I’d never heard of – who the hell was Joan Baez or Teddy Pendergrass or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?).

The end result of this that music in the mid-80s took a turn towards the bland, although some might consider it a stretch to blame it entirely upon the shadow of Live Aid. Even Bowie’s mid 80s albums were generally bland commercial fair after the excellent pop-funk of “Let’s Dance”.

If I had been a listener of John Peel (yes, I don’t know either, except that I did go to sleep fairly early back then) then maybe I would have discovered a world of alternative wonders. However, I didn’t. So, as I despaired of the shite clogging up radio 1, I turned to my record library and started to work my way back into the 70s by listening to lots of early Bowie, Iggy and Roxy Music. So perhaps it was inevitable that I was priming myself for listening to new music that has perhaps what might be described as a “classic” (in other words 60s) feel to it.

Or maybe it was more simple than that? Maybe we were just surrounded by the culture of the 60s again?

Don’t believe me? Check this out:

 

Yes, thanks to that advert, my girlfriend became obsessed that I should be wearing boxer shorts and started buying me lots of slightly funny novelty patterned boxers to wear. It took me a long time to adjust coz I had never worn boxers before – I’d spend a comfortable and nicely supported lifetime in briefs thanks. Oh well, that’s fashion for you I suppose.

This fondness for the 60s found itself popping up in music all over the place. Lenny Kravitz would base his entire early career upon recreating the vibe of the 60s rock/blues thing. “Sowing The Seeds of Love” owes an obvious debt of gratitude to The Beatles – a far cry from the synth modernism of “Mad World” or even “Shout”. UK underground culture, whilst enjoying a new wave of wildly futuristic music in the form of Acid House and the entire warehouse party / rave culture, could not entirely resist this warmly nostalgic feeling as it found itself being christened as “The Second Summer Of Love” by the likes of the NME (desperate to create another youth movement after their peak years during the punk movement).

Indeed this 60s nostalgic vibe would find itself mixing with dance culture in unprecedented ways as we started to see a new wave of bands who were clearly influenced by both, such as The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays who both led a charge towards Madchester and the so-called baggy scene (as epitomised by the flared jeans and baggy hoodies that were favoured by the increasingly style free hordes who worshipped at the alter of baggy). This was a long slow burn that would eventually lead to the creation of an even more celebratory music and style culture (heavily influenced by the 1960s) that would dominate the UK scene in the mid-90s: Britpop.

Politician granny with your high ideals
Have you no idea how the majority feels?
So without love and a promised land
We’re fools to the rules of a government plan
Kick out the style, bring back the jam, yeah, yeah

 

Perhaps it was due to the cultural impact of Margaret Thatcher winning her third consecutive election victory but there was a feeling of something in the air – not that I expected the charge towards some kind of socialist utopia to be led by the likes of Tears For Fears. Yet the lyrics make a clear reference to the “politician granny” that was Margaret Thatcher, whilst also calling for Paul Weller to get his head of his Style Council noodling and to re-engage with society by re-forming The Jam.

Heady stuff this political protest music, eh?

Hey, try this rather nice orchestral version from some kind of Proms style concert somewhere out there:

 

Is it me or there a bit of a weird ending on that?

Ultimately, whilst “Sowing The Seeds Of Love” dabbles with righteous political anger, it is not quite on the same level as the Manic Street Preachers who were starting to make their presence felt on the indie punk scene. It isn’t even “Warriors Of The Wasteland” by well known political activists Frankie Goes To Hollywood.

What it is is actually a call to be nicer to each other – yes, it harks back to that 60s ideal of brotherly and sisterly love. Hey man – probably not a bad idea when you look around at the shit fest of a world that we find ourselves living in today.

Oops… I almost went all political then.

The impact of the prolonged process of making “The Seeds of Love” album doomed the partnerships between Orzabal and Smith, with Curt leaving after the management of the band had been declared bankrupt with allegations of financial mismanagement of band funds. Smith was also reported to have been frustrated with Orzabal’s fastidious approach to making the album, messing around with sounds to make them as authentic to the 60s feel of the track as possible, whilst Smith was living with the consequences of his first album breaking apart.

Orzabal retained the “Tears For Fears” name, and would go on to make several albums which didn’t exactly set the world alight either commercially or critically.

However, Orzabal and Smith reunited their relationship in 2000, with the result that they released a new album in 2005 called “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending”. Did they decide to return to the early heavily synthesised sound of their debut, “The Hurting”? No. Did they decided to return to big stadium synth rock sound of mega selling opus “Songs From The Big Chair”? No.

Have a listen to first single from the album, “Closest Thing To Heaven”:

 

It seems like the 1960s still rules.

Terence Trent D’Arby – To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly (1989)

Terence Trent D’Arby was, if you remember the mid to late 1980s, considered by many critics to be the greatest soul singing sensation in a long time, the next great hope for soul music, successor to the greatest soul vocalists like Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson, and the most exciting new black artist to appear since Prince at the end of the 1970s. Not much weight of expectation then, eh? All that would be too much pressure for many new artists were it not for the fact that Terence (or TTD as he liked to call himself in the third person) seemed to have excessive confidence in his own self-proclaimed genius and all round brilliant musical powers so that when he appeared with his debut album, he instantly claimed to have made one of the greatest records ever.

Some might say that he had a bit of an ego.

Under a temperamental sun
On the dark hillside of your sorrow
If there’s pain in your heart
Let it go
Just reach inside and let it go
Now dig

 

Just to put things into a bit of perspective, here is the debut single that announced TTD’s prodigious talent to the world:

 

Things might also have been helped slightly by the fact that he was also blessed with impressive genes and bone structure that made him instantly one of the most beautiful men in the world during the late 80s. Thus TTD released his debut album, stunningly called “Introducing The Hardline According To Terence Trent D’Arby”, that featured a number of hit singles in addition to “If You Let Me Stay” (“Wishing Well”, “Dance Little Sister”, “Sign Your Name”) and the album became one of the biggest selling and critically well received of 1987. He toured. He appeared on television. He was big news.

Cue two years later, and the news filters through that TTD is going to release his second album, mysteriously called “Neither Fish Nor Flesh”. The single, with the elongated DJ baiting title of “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly”, was apparently taught to TTD in a dream by none other than Marvin Gaye. Oh. Was this a sign that his previously somewhat entertaining ego was now well and truly out of control? Was this a sign of something darker and far more disturbing regarding his mental health? Was this simply a case of hype to the max and then let’s ladle on some more hype just to be certain? It could’ve been any or indeed all of the above.

However, what was most important to me was whether it was any good:

 

I loved it. I loved it back then and I still love it now. I loved it because it was full of soul and romantic yearning (yes, I was young and newly in love back then) and also rather pretentious (as I’m sure that all of my friends would confirm that I was more than a little pretentious at the time – hey, I was a student in the performing and visual arts, so of course I was bloody pretentious) but also I could sense a bit of tongue in cheek humour laying underneath the surface. I loved the rather “dum dum” refrain of the backing vocals, and I loved the sense of freedom that was shown by throwing whatever he fancied into the instrumentation. I love people who are prepared to show a maverick spirit to forge ahead on their own path and do what their spirit and freewill was telling them to do creatively. Prince had it. TTD showed it too.

Listen to me now
In my love garden
I wrestled with an angel
Not in a dream
Her eyes did seem
Like the grapes of the vine
Her lips were made like the gates of Heaven
Not to be missed
Made to be kissed
But not to kiss goodbye

 

Of course, the critics panned the song (and the following album) as the pretentious ego fuelled meanderings of a prodigious talent with no focus and no control, and then it sold as close to bugger all as you could possibly achieve back then in 1989.

It essentially killed off not only the career of Terence Trent D’Arby but it also had a massive impact upon the man too.

He managed to put together another two albums of equally diverse but slightly more focused epics (the equally fantastic “Symphony Or Damn” in 1993, and then “Vibrator” in 1995) which followed the same basic pattern of smooth soul, tight funk workouts, 60s inspired rock beats and the occasional stripped down piano and vocal only ballad. Each one promised a critical and commercial rebirth for TTD but the ghost of “Neither Fish Nor Flesh” would inevitably be exhumed to slap down TTD’s ego and remind everyone that he was capable of failure.

What kind of world do we live in where the boring consistency of your typical acoustic singer-songwriter of the twenty-first century is somehow seen as preferable to a person who decide to use harps, bongos, kazoos and other exotic shit in the making of music that is prepared to be brave rather than boring? Oh yes, the world that is run by people who hate anything that is not as boring and as mediocre as they are. Sorry, I forgot that the music interested is run by the likes of Simon Cowell who clearly has no interest in music.

Well screw that – I totally love “To Know Someone Deeply Is To Know Someone Softly” (and I equally love the whole of “Neither Fish Nor Flesh”) precisely because it is exhuberant, joyful, fun, free and (yes) utterly bloody pretentious music made by a person who might be as mad as a box of frogs… I DON’T CARE IF HE IS MAD, NOR IF HE CHANGED HIS NAME AND IS LIVING AS A MONK WHO ONLY EATS CAMEL SHIT ON A DAY WITH “X” IN IT… this music is utterly and completely brilliant and compelling and fun and serious and I am so grateful that I listen to it every so often so it can put a big stupid bloody grin on my big stupid face.

Sorry… I had to let that out.

Actually.. I’m not sorry at all. If you don’t agree with me, screw you but in a polite and friendly way obviously.

Once a flower opens
It never closes
Until it dies
And the it lies
Amongst the roses
I wanted to play her like
A black grand piano
A clarinet
A minuet
Or lyric soprano

 

Of course, the story does not finish with that marvellous rant. TTD had another dream – a dream that told him to follow independence, to stop chasing pop stardom, and start on a musical rebirth that would be based around following his singular vision without compromise to the industry of selling music “product”. So he went away and changed his name to the one that he had a dream about. Terence Trent D’Arby is now called Sananda Maitreya and he now releases music under this name. He calls his music Post-Millenium Rock. His latest release is an opus entitled “The Rise of the Zugebrian Time Lords”. Yes, it is a concept album. It features a couple of Beatles songs mixed in with some 60s sounding rock and soul.

It sounds pretty similar to “Neither Fish Nor Flesh” to me, and that is not a bad thing in my humble opinion.

So let’s remind ourselves why he was considered to be “the next Prince”. Enjoy this live version, especially the one dodgy note that proves that TTD was as human as any other musician (mixed with a very funky version of “Attracted To You”):

 

I want to think that we might eventually end up living in a society where the likes of TTD are welcomed for the amazing talent they have, and are not criticised because they display behaviour that could be best described as eccentric if not perhaps a bit ego-centric.

 

Don’t get me started.

Here’s some Sananda Maitreya from “The Rise Of The Zugebrian Time Lords”:

 

Still wonderful. Still wouldn’t have him any other way.

Catatonia – International Velvet (1998)

“Everyday that I wake up, I thank the Lord I’m Welsh!” – you might not remember a time when, with the possible exception of being Irish, being a Welsh person was the biggest crime that you could be guilty of in the UK. I suppose it began with Neil Kinnock, especially after that infamous clip of him slipping over on the beach whilst trying to back away from advancing waves, shortly after being elected leader of the Labour Party. You could almost hear the newspaper editor rubbing their hands with glee. Hooray, the new Labour leader is a complete fucking twat! Also, he’s Welsh. Let’s make his life a misery for ever!!

You might remember “Spitting Image”, the satirical weekly puppet show that created wickedly funny (although some would just say wicked) caricatures of political and cultural figures and showed them in what many would call unflattering terms. Kinnock’s puppet was cruel (but funny at the same time). Oh, I can hear what you are all thinking out there – what about the legend that is Tom Jones, the genius judge from “The Voice”. Well this was back in the 1980s. Tom was not quite a legend. Many felt his best days had passed him by, and he was desperately involved in novelty hits (particularly his cover of the Prince song, “Kiss”, in collaboration with The Art of Noise). No, there was no such thing as a cool Welsh person.

Then something happened. That something was a band by the name of the Manic Street Preachers. They challenged everybody’s preconceptions of what it was to be Welsh, and if you didn’t like it then you were immediately told to fuck off. It was glorious. And then Britpop happened and we were suddenly presented with the likes of Super Furry Animals and the glory of Catatonia.

Here’s a nice little slide show of Welsh stuff that somebody has put to the song. Enjoy:

 

I don’t know for certain if it was ever released as a single (although I could be wrong) but I do remember hearing it played on the radio, hey it was getting late into the 90s now and chart sales were starting to mean less and less. However, I kept on hearing it on the radio, especially on any occasion when I found myself returning to the glorious motherland.

Deffrwch Cymry cysgld gwlad y gan
Dwfn yw’are gwendid
Bychan yw y fflam
Creulon yw’are cynhaeaf
Ond per yw’are don
‘Da’ alaw’are alarch unig
Yn fy mron

 

Fantastic lyrics, don’t you think?

What?

You don’t understand Welsh – oh, so much for being part of a United bleeding Kingdom. Oh yes, you want us to be United but we have to be United on YOUR ENGLISH TERMS and not on ours. No wonder England is so bloody despised by so many Northern Irish, Scots and Welsh.

Awaken sleepy Wales, land of song
Deep is the weakness, small is the flame
Cruel is the harvest, but fair is the tune
With the song of the lonely swan in my heart

 

Did that help?

No, can you go and do me a favour and actually have something on the UNION FLAG to represent my country? Yes, the only nation that does not have a visual representation of the flag of the UK because, at the time it was created, Wales was considered to be a PART OF BLOODY ENGLAND.

Or should a phrase that Eng – ger – land?

Good, I’m glad that we got that sorted.

You may feel that I have somewhat lost the plot but it is very difficult to communicate to the English the actual level of cultural, political and even moral superiority that one country has over all the others that are part of the laughingly so called United Kingdom (which might not remain united for long if Scotland manages to get another independence referendum as a result of the entire Brexit thing).

Everyday that I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh

 

All of this is thrown into sharp relief because I don’t live in Wales anymore. For the last 20 years, I have made my home and raised my family in the last bastion of Celtic culture outside of Wales / Scotland down in Cornwall. I cam down here because I had been made redundant, and there was a job opportunity. I went for it and got the job, and I have loved life down here. It is the only place outside of the motherland that I could ever make my home. Yes, I am an economic migrant.

My first experience of life outside of Wales was the three years that I lived in Nottingham where I went to University. In my first day, I talked to somebody in the lunch queue who genuinely thought that we all worked in coal mines, and that everything was either coal or gas powered. Yup, a twat. On my second day, I went to a safety thing at the workshop where we would be working on sculpture if we opted for it. One telling the person that I cam from a place just outside Newport, he went slightly pale. I only found out later how spectacularly violent a reputation that Newport had outside of Wales (where it actually became the arson capital of the UK). To us, it was just Newport. Fights happened. People got glassed. That’s just what happened if you went out in Newport… and we went to Newport almost every weekend as slightly bored teenagers from Cwmbran (where we had pubs but not a single nightclub, ah that made the trip to the ‘Port so worthwhile… until we realised they were shit).

Last time I went home to the motherland, I took a trip by train into Newport. I didn’t recognise it. I mean I didn’t recognise the train station, or the road when I stepped out of whatever the fuck they considered to be a shit excuse for a train station. I didn’t know where I was. It was a mess. I couldn’t bring myself to walk down Stow Hill for fear of what might have happened to it, and how it might ruin my memories of all the times getting stupidly drunk there.

Hey, that’s just life, eh?

One of the most amazing things about “International Velvet” is simply the slightly sweeter Bonnie Tyler-esque vocals of lead vocalist Cerys Matthews, ranging from being super sweet and girly at one point into roaring like a mighty Welsh lioness at another. It is a beautiful thing to behold. A thing of wonder. The Welsh voice. You may woship at this particular temple if you so wish, I do hereby give you permission. The Tom Jones alter is just over in that direction.

Talking about Tom, Cerys had a minor hit with him when they duetted on the standard “Baby It’s Cold Outside”, with Tom leering all over dear Cerys like some lecherous dirty old bugger. Hey, its Cerys so who can blame him?

Enjoy this live rendition:

 

Only a few months til Christmas, so until then don’t play it again.

 

 

 

Audioslave – Be Yourself (2005)

Something terrible happened this week. Chris Cornell, singer from Soundgarden and then Audioslave (in addition to being a solo artist in his own right) killed himself in a hotel room, after a gig. His wife has since said that she was concerned that he had admitted taking too much of an anti-anxiety medication, and that he was sounding slurred when she had phoned him. We may never know what caused him to take his own life, and whether is was on purpose or some stupidly fatal mistake.

What cannot be disputed is that his was one of the richest and most emotionally engaging voices that came out of the grunge music scene of Seattle in the 1990s. It was a voice that could reach the appropriate screams and growls and groans that we want from our rock vocalists. However, it was also a voice that was capable of reall emotional sensitivity and connection, often giving voice to his depth of emotional turmoil.

The lyrics were said to be inspired by events from the singer’s own life. In an interview, Chris Cornwall said: “The ‘be yourself’ part really just came from a lot of things that I’ve gone through in my life and a lot of different changes and all the different tragedies and all the horrendously stupid mistakes I’ve made in my personal life, and wanting to be able to make up for those things and wanting to be able to not be ashamed, all that stuff. You know, that’s the one thing about getting older that’s better, and this song kinda says it so simply, to a degree that 10 years ago I would’ve been embarrassed to put it in a song ’cause it is so simple. But there it is.”

Someone falls to pieces
Sleeping all alone
Someone kills the pain
Spinning in the silence
To finally drift away
Someone gets excited
In a chapel yard
Catches a bouquet
Another lays a dozen
White roses on a grave

 

It seems to be another one of those terrible human tragedies that nobody saw coming, yet somehow seems to make some kind of terrible sense when you look with the sad benefit of hindsight – it reminds me of the moment when Michael Hutchene, lead singer with Australian 80s funk-rockers INXS, was found also having hanged himself in a hotel room… everybody was initially surprised but then it all made some kind of tragic sense later.

 

Can you hear something in the song? Maybe I’m just reading too much into it knowing what has happened but I’m sure that I won’t be the only on doing this.

I hope that people use this an opportunity to talk to their sons, husbands and brothers about this issue. You have to remember that the biggest killer of men under the age of 45 is actually themselves – bigger than deaths caused by cancer, heart disease, murder or any form of accidental death. There is a crisis in male mental health care in particular and people need to talk about it or it will continue to happen. Every time something like this happens, it gives us a terrible but much needed opportunity to talk about the pressures that can lead men to take this ultimate course of action.

I don’t have any close friends who have taken this course of action, but I do know some people who have had brothers and even fathers take their own lives. We always ask ourselves why or what could we have done to prevent the person from taking this most final of actions? I can’t possibly answer that question but I can direct you to people who might be able to give this incredibly important and valuable insight into the male mind at its most vulnerable.

Someone finds salvation in everyone
And another only pain
Someone tries to hide himself
Down inside himself he prays
Someone swears his true love
Until the end of time
Another runs away
Separate or united?
Healthy or insane?

 

Firstly, let me direct you to the incredibly powerful and moving documentary that was put together by Professor Green that investigated the suicide of his father, and investigated the wider reasons why so many men seem to be taking the similar decision to kill themselves. It is worth watch and I thoroughly recommend it.

 

Welcome back.

And even when you’ve paid enough, been pulled apart or been held up
With every single memory of the good or bad faces of luck
don’t lose any sleep tonight
I’m sure everything will end up alright

 

One place to recommend that you visit regularly is the website for The Campaign Against Living Miserably. It is a website that is dedicated to raising awareness of male suicide, and campaigning to direct vulnerable men to reliable sources of immediate short term help and longer term guidance to help them to take care of their mental health.

http://www.thecalmzone.net/

Another great place as a starting point is the Movember charity, who have built upon their success in raising the issues of prostrate and testicular cancer and have extended now into mental health concerns and male suicide in particular.

https://uk.movember.com/mens-health/mental-health

 

And is that does not get you to understand the scale of the problem, maybe this video will:

 

Whatever you do, don’t just play the amazing music of Chris Cornell to remember his life and talent, do something more. Talk to the men that you know. Maybe you will be able to help somebody who is taking that step closer to that most final of decisions.

Thanks.

Talking Heads – Road To Nowhere (1985)

1985 was an important year in my life for a whole variety of reasons, some obviously more important than others. 1985 was exactly one year after 1984, made famous by George Orwell in his book, “1984” (the clue was in the title), which gave us a future of a totalitarian state where people were brainwashed into obeying every instruction of the omnipresent Big Brother. Yeah, it sounds a whole lot like 2017 doesn’t it?

However, the other reason why 1985 was a big year for me was that it was the year of my O Level exams (kinds similar to GCSEs but obviously ten times more difficult, notes educational editor). It was a changing point in my life, as it does with so many students today when faced with making a decision to either stay with the school that has been a regular feature of their existence for five years, or whether to make the jump into a brand new educational context. It marks a moment when you make a choice that makes you feel slightly more grown up.

And it was my last year of being a single man.

This song reminds me of that time, as it was released in the September of 1985, just as I would take my first fateful footsteps in sixth form life, and I would meet the beautiful young lady who would eventually become my soul-mate and my wife:

However, I’m not going to blab on about this defining moment in my life because it is earmarked for another particularly 80s song.

“Road To Nowhere” is another of my possible funeral songs. If my children decided to go with this, I just think it will be particularly funny to have “Road To Nowhere” playing as my coffin goes into the fires of the inferno that will cremate my body into dust, to be mingled with the dead dust of numerous other bodies so my wife will probably get a mixture of me and several strangers to comfort her. Black humour. Love it.

Well we know where we’re going
But we don’t know where we’ve been
And we know what we’re knowing
But we can’t say what we’ve seen
And we’re not little children
And we know what we want
And the future is certain
Give us time to work it out

 

Now I’ve talked about ideas regarding my funeral before, when I wrote a post about “Do You Realise?” by The Flaming Lips. I didn’t really go into detail, other than to say that I don’t really give a shit about what happens to me funeral. However, I do have some ideas about what might happen in terms of some kind of ceremony.

So, I don’t believe in any religion. If my family decided that they wanted a religious ceremony, that would be fine with me coz at that point I’m dead so I don’t get any say in the matter. Funerals are to help those people who have to move on with their grief.

I was raised as a good Catholic boy by my father, so I’m used to the idea that my body would be cremated. It really does give me a giggle to think of my coffin disappearing behind the curtain to the strains of “Road To Nowhere”. You have to laugh at these things. I have been guilty of treating life way too seriously since I became a dull and desperately responsible grown up. I have no intention of taking my death seriously. It would make my dead body smile if somebody actually pissed their pants due to laughing during my funeral.

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin’ that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride
I’m feelin’ okay this mornin’
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go

 

So, what do I fancy? One of the key factors will be to get people there who are prepared to have a bloody good loud sing-along to the songs played – I’m considering having something like “Mr Blue Sky” or even a song that just has a “la la la” moment that people can join in and wave their hands in the air. Would it be going to far to hire a DJ and get people doing stupid rave dancing? Don’t care – I’m not there so I couldn’t give a shit about the so-called dignity of the occasion.

I don’t want people to wear black – I spent too many years wearing regulation drama teacher black. So I will be mightily annoyed off if people turn out in black, so much so that my corpse may will reanimate itself just to tell everybody to bugger off and that the funeral is cancelled. Does that make me immature? Hey, I’m dead so screw the finer emotions.

Would you like to come along
You can help me sing this song
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

They can tell you what to do
But they’ll make a fool of you
And it’s all right, baby, it’s all right

 

I have spent too much of my life being told what to do in life by people who I don’t respect that I’m going to be damned if I allow the same worthless conventions of polite society to tell me what to do in death. Therefore bright, colourful clothes will be the order of the day. Hey, maybe we’ll do the whole thing in fancy dress, eh?

So don’t bother putting me in an expensive coffin, especially if you are going to cremate me! If I’m going to have a coffin, make it the most punk rock coffin you can possible put together. Hey, if it can have added flashing lights and play the theme to “The Magic Roundabout”, then bloody well do it coz that’ll just make it more memorable and increase the possibility of that one person pissing their pants laughing.

Then invite everybody who knew me and liked me (so it won’t be many – ah, black humour again!) round to a pub and have a bloody good piss up, and ask everybody to tell the most ridiculous story they cab think of that is in any way associated with me. Most of them will come from people who knew me either in school or university, or possibly in the first half of my teaching career when I was a young and excitable teacher of drama. There might be some epic stories of school production meltdowns. Some might remember my antics in the school choir. Some might even suggest scandalous rumours. Who cares? I’m dead. Enjoy the stories, have another drink or ten, and try to remember me fondly.

That’ll be a good way to say goodbye.

 

Oh, and one of the things I love about David Byrne is his fearless creativity as a solo artist, including not being afraid to mess about with much loved songs. Watch this:

 

 

Chris Rea – The Road To Hell (1989)

Roads are often used as metaphors in music to symbolise the frustrations that can be encountered along the journey of life: one moment you seem to be travelling along at top speed with the top down and wind flowing through your hair like a beautiful photo-shopped model, and then something unexpected happens with the consequence that nothing moves and everything is cloaked in a fog of pollution and poison. The Beach Boys often used cars and driving to represent the endless possibilities and freedoms that we associate with being young. Chris Rea’s “The Road To Hell (Parts One and Two)” symbolise something far darker.

It begins with a dark and droning sinister sound, and we hear one of the richest and most distinctive voices of the 1980s intone an almost hymnal tone. It is a dark and magical opening:

 

The legend behind the development of “The Road to Hell” is that Chris Rea wrote the song whilst stuck in a traffic jam. Generally people believe that it was whilst stuck in a traffic jam on the M25 on the way to a record company meeting, whilst others believe that the song was originally to be called “The Road to Hull” – however, the first option has been revealed to be the truthful version, as he later donated the crumpled piece of paper that he located in his car to the Teenage Cancer Trust for them to auction. The paper also included details of an Indian Takeaway that had been recommended to him, and also a reminder to “phone Brenda”.

Stood still on a highway I saw a woman by the side of the road
With a face that I knew like my own
Reflected in my window.
Well she walked up to my quarter light and she bent down real slow
A fearful pressure paralyzed me in my shadows.

 

Part One of the song seems to be a personal reflection upon the consequences of Chris Rea entering into a deal with the music industry, something that seems to have darkened his soul, as he sees a vision of somebody who we presume to be perhaps the ghost of his mother, or maybe even the ghost of his past dreams and aspirations, warning him to be wary of the action that he is about to undertake. Many musicians have released songs warning of the double dealing, back-stabbing reality of life in the fast lane of music biz life. These songs are often received with the same sense of “boo hoo, it must be really bad to be you in your chauffer driven limo, you pompous bloody dick” as we enjoy yet another year of crap wages and equally crap working conditions. Thanks government!

However, Chris Rea cleverly swerves the song away from what might easily become a self-pitying funeral dirge as Part One segues into Part Two, and the pace picks up to transform it into the driving blues-rock colossus of the late 80s that it became. At this point, the visions that he sees can be seen as being less about his personal hell within the music industry, and is interpreted by many as a broader vision that humanity is rushing forwards towards its inevitable destruction.

Well I’m standing by the river
But the water doesn’t flow
It boils with every poison you can think of
And I’m underneath the streetlight
But the light of joy I know
Scared beyond belief way down in the shadows

 

One of the distinctive aspects of “The Road to Hell (Part Two)” is the distorted slide blues guitar that was possibly only popularly used by Rea back in the 1980s, before being re-popularised by the likes of Seasick Steve in more recent years. It is a keening, yearning, authentically weeping guitar sounds (sorry George, this is a guitar that angrily weeps) that is perhaps one of the one most memorable guitar sounds of the 1980s. Yes, I know that people will throw a whole selection of names at me now like Eddie Van Halen, Slash, Steve Vai and lots and lots of other virtuoso guitar axe gods. No, I’m not talking about technical ability – I’m talking about the tone of the sound. Perhaps only that huge epic Dave Gilmour sound (of Pink Floyd fame) is perhaps more instantly recognisable in mu humble non-guitar playing mode of thinking. Or perhaps the fiddly widdly guitar picking of Mark Knoffler. Hmmm, maybe I should’ve never started this particular train of thought.

The things about the opening section that stays with me is that I see it being about the sacrifice of individuality either for success or for survival. I feel that I have been guilty of doing this, particularly in the world that we live in right now, when people fear for their jobs as the economy slows and Brexit inevitably looms large, and wages continue to stagnant whilst living costs soar – and we forget that we are always part of a community of similar souls experiencing similar problems because we only concentrate upon our own survival.

This the reality of our times, where we have repeated headlines bombarding us with the politics of fear (whether it is trying to make us fearful of Muslims, or fearful of Europeans, of fearful of the consequences of voting for Jeremy Corbin, or whatever it is that is designed to make us pull up the drawer bridge to of own castle, get reading the Daily Mail and fear footsteps that approach the front door), it is all designed to control our lives and make us fearful to be who we really want to be. This is the tragedy of taking that decision to take that road to hell.

I’m tired of living in fear – whether it is fear of losing my job or my pension or my health or whatever the news is promoting right now. I’m tired of keeping my head down because bringing attention to myself in any way that might be deemed as negative only brings those fears one step closer. I feel that my quality of life is such that my mental health is bound to suffer from the continuous levels of stress that seem to be an integral part of contemporary life.

And the perverted fear of violence
Chokes the smile on every face
And common sense is ringing out the bell
This ain’t no technological breakdown
Oh no, this is the road to hell

 

Technology – ah yes, Towards the end of the 1980s, people were turning away from buying those terribly old-fashioned circular slabs of vinyl that had been the basis of my music purchasing youth. Instead, they were starting to invest in smaller shiny plastic discs that were (according to a legendary “Tomorrow’s World” item) utterly indestructible – you could spread jam on them and you’d still get perfect sound reproduction out of these wonders of technology. Yes, my arse! I have CD discs that have had a nervous breakdown as a result of taking them out of the jewel case a bit too energetically!

The album that the song came from, also called “The Road to Hell”, was one of the major selling CD releases of the late 1980s. I associated it, along with likes of “But Seriously” by Phil Collins (remember “Another Day In Paradise”?) or “Brothers In Arms” by Dire Straits, as music beloved by that particularly hateful breed of 80s wanker that was known as the “yuppie” – think slicked back hair and red braces and you get the idea, or just watch “Wall Street”.  I was once visiting somebody who certainly fitted into this category, and I noticed that “The Road to Hell” was in their brand shiny new CD collection. To my shame, I decided that it obviously wasn’t going to be to my liking despite the fact that I had thought the single was brilliant.

Yup, guilty as charged – I was a bit of a prick, walking around with a classic working class chip on my shoulder having grown up in a poor family, and hated what Margaret Thatcher had created in terms of what I considered to be the selfishness of the 1980s. I’m probably still a bit of prick with that working class chip on my shoulder to be honest, but I’m getting too old to give a damn whether people like me or not!

And all the roads jam up with credit
And there’s nothing you can do
It’s all just bits of paper flying away from you
Oh look out world, take a good look
What comes down here
You must learn this lesson fast and learn it well
This ain’t no upwardly mobile freeway
Oh no, this is the road
Said this is the road
This is the road to hell

 

So here find ourselves heading into another general election, bombarded with messages from political parties who primarily seem more concerned with the continuation of parliamentary power rather than giving a shit about the population that they allegedly govern. Yes, we seem to be on the road to hell, and I cannot see anyway to get off the damn thing without pain and suffering all around.

So the fear continues – expect the NHS to fall apart as it continues to be privatised by stealth, expect teachers to lose their jobs as schools continue to be underfunded, expect Brexit to go anyway except the way that any politician expects it to go. Welcome to the fear. Welcome to the road to hell.

Apologies for the miserable post – maybe the music inspired me?

Hey – how about a live version to make it up to you again?