The Psychedelic Furs, London 2017

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Last Saturday was a date long-awaited in my calendar: the welcome return of The Psychedelic Furs to London after five long years. Their Singles tour has taken in nine UK cities, as well as dates in Europe, South America, and an extensive US road trip. Pretty much every date in the UK has sold out. and that’s without a new album to advertise or anything crassly commercial like that.

Nope – this was a tour for music fans, by music fans, delivering happiness, dancing, singing and memories both on-stage and off.

I’ll come to the headliners in a moment, but first, a few thoughts about the support.

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I want to know who booked Lene Lovich so I can shake their hand. As support, the choice of music’s maddest act was inspired. Lene and her band played a set of familiar and not-so-familiar tunes to an audience who literally lapped up every note. Just the same now as she was back in the early 80s, Lene Lovich still hits the highest of high notes with a style and a smile all her own. The audience loved her, and the platform for the main act was firmly set.

Then came the Furs. And boy, did they deliver.

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Rarely will you see a band so together. Fronted by the brilliantly eclectic Richard Butler, whose vocals and physical presence on stage mesmerises, The Psychedelic Furs are – in my eyes and ears at least – the very definition of the perfect gigging band. There’s the rock-solid rhythm section of Tim Butler on bass and my friend, the awesome Paul Garisto on drums. These two threw down a firm foundation for the three melodious ones, all of whom I could write paragraphs about. Rich Good‘s guitar work is effortless perfection, Amanda Kramer‘s keyboard work is so spot on that it hurts when she stops, and there’s very little I can say about Mars Williams‘ sax playing that could possibly do his genius enough justice.

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Starting with Dumb Waiter and running through to a second encore with President Gas, we called in at all the familiar stops, spanning a career that has seen their fan base grow and grow. All the favorites were there, including Mr Jones, Heartbreak Beat, Heaven, India, and – naturally – Pretty In Pink.

However, a mere track listing wouldn’t reflect the sheer exuberance and joy coming off the stage. The Psychedelic Furs really do have to be seen to be believed.

I attended the gig with my brother (to whom I introduced The Furs back in 2012) and an old friend Pete, who has actually written his memoirs around gigs he’s attended. Given there are many, many hundreds to measure against, when he turned to me at the end and simply mouthed “How awesome was THAT!”, you knew you’d been there at a special time.

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I managed to catch up with Paul and Richard after the gig, and both confirmed what I thought – they had had such a good time, and were still on a buzz from the show. Paul particularly was amazingly relaxed and happy, and said that he’d not felt so comfortable and chilled at a gig for ages. It certainly showed in his playing.

Next time I’ll bring my copy of Talk Talk Talk for Richard to sign. Thankfully – according to him – this will hopefully not be too far away, as they are already starting to discuss a return trip to the UK. When they do come back, get your tickets early, because The Psychedelic Furs really will be the hottest show in town.

 

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The American Way, or the Highway…

I’m following current events in the US with increasing dismay.

The protests / counter protests in Charlottesville over the weekend showed just how much white supremacist fascism feels enabled by the actions of the present government over there.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and the injuries suffered by many others is horrific, but I fear that the underlying cause that created these events runs far deeper.

‘The American Way’ is often touted as their utopia. It’s all about people being free – free to do, say, live, behave, worship however they want, with little or no interference or control from the state. In principle, that’s a good idea. Sadly, it relies on a principled population to work.

Let’s take the First Amendment – the freedom of speech. Basically, you can say what you like. Even if that’s not what other people like. and they can say so, and you can argue, and you can confront each other’s views, and then suddenly there’s a car being driven into a crowd of people simply because they think differently to you. And people die.

That’s not an issue that specifically surrounds white supremacism, although pretty much all of the recent events have been due to their actions. And the alt-right need to take responsibility, as do all groups, for the impact their views have on society as a whole.

Let’s take the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Written in the late eighteenth century at a time when there was a clear danger from Native American Indians, rogue English-supporting vigilantes, and claim-jumpers looking to secure the best land for themselves, it made sense that a homestead could be protected.

But it’s not been updated for over two hundred years, and you now have people with an armies’ worth of assault weaponry, quoting ancient legislation as their ‘right’. The rights of these gun-toting mavericks legally outweighs the rights of the rest of society to be protected from their potentially murderous intentions, or any accidents caused by a trigger-happy citizen out shopping (such a dangerous pastime in some states, clearly).

Most other ‘civilised’ countries understand the need to draw a line between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. They know that free speech is important, but hate speech is illegal. They know that having an armed population will only lead to people being shot.

America needs to wake up to the fact that ‘The American Dream’ is in severe danger of being left for dead on the sidewalk, and that only by bringing the edge-case lunatics (white fascists, survivalist weapons hoarders, etc.) into line by protecting the many against the few, will the US start to regain it’s freedom.

Because – after all – the anthem doesn’t just talk about it being ‘the land of the free‘, it also declares itself ‘the home of the brave‘, and it’s time that the brave stood up – like Heather Heyer did – and start to make a difference.

 

General Election 2017 – Riserdrummer’s What, Why, and How guide

Well, it’s been a few days since the election, so here – in all its glory – are my thoughts on where we are now, how we got here, and where we go from there.

Let’s start with what we all know.

Theresa May called a snap election because she felt she needed a more recent and personal mandate to pursue her policy of a hard Brexit (a word I still despise, but am forced to use it to avoid grammatical nightmares). As we know, her parties slim majority turned to a slim minority, and we’re now all doing the math on what this actually means. The Conservatives are talking to the DUP, whose 10 MPS would push the balance of power beyond the ‘magic’ 326 number.

In the meantime, Labour are claiming a ‘moral’ victory, UKIP were basically wiped out, and surprisingly the SNP saw their Westminster powerbase slashed with many of their constituencies choosing the Auld Enemy by voting Tory.

That’s what the media are presenting, and what most people believe is the whole truth. But I suspect the reality is quite different, and more complex. And to understand why, we need to step into the Way Back Machine and take a journey to 2010…..

The General Election in 2010, as it did this time, gave us a hung parliament, where no one party has enough votes to form a working majority. As is the custom, the incumbent party has the first chance to form a coalition with other parties, and if they are unable to do so, the largest single party can have a go. Seven years ago, the Liberal Democrats rejected a coalition with Labour in favour of moving in with the Conservatives, and we saw five years of deal-making, deal-breaking, and the rise of UKIP as the more EU-friendly Lib Dems tempered the Eurosceptic elements of the Tories.

Fast forward to 2015. Many people feel that the Lib Dems have sold out for a taste of power, based on the items that they were unable to bargain away over the previous five years. UKIP’s media presence was looking likely to take seats and votes from the Conservatives. And so David Cameron and his team launched their ‘master-plan’ – a manifesto promise on our EU membership – the one thing UKIP were firmly against. This was, on the face of it, a quite clever idea. All the polls were suggesting there would be a second hung parliament, and this EU referendum was a simple thing to trade away when negotiating the terms of the new coalition. All was going seemingly, until the polls closed, and we discovered that the unthinkable had, in fact, happened: a Conservative majority. UKIP, whilst they pulled a reasonable number of votes, didn’t actually gain anywhere near enough in any constituencies to become a power in Parliament.

Now Cameron was in a quandary. He didn’t want to hold a referendum, but his choices were to either break his promise or do what he feared. And despite many, many lies and a campaign of mistrust and vitriol on both sides, the vote was a close decision to leave. Which prompted Cameron to do the same, as he really didn’t feel he could negotiate something he fundamentally felt was the wrong decision. Cue a leadership contest, and welcome to the stage Mrs T May, our second female Prime Minister.

Which basically brings us up to date as far as the history goes. And now we’re looking at the future. So let’s pause, and consider the actual numbers:

The important ones are: Conservative 318, DUP 10, making 328, which (if the DUP votes were guaranteed) makes a working majority of 2. In practice, this would be a working majority of eleven, as up to now Sinn Fein MPs have never taken their seats in Westminster. Something that – if the DUP have any voice in power – can no longer be taken as read.

Labour have 262 seats, so would need to bring in the SNP (who originally said they wouldn’t work with them unless a large amount of power was granted to them and IndyRef 2 was legislated), the Lib Dems (who have said they won’t work with Labour, and whose presence in parliament is still nowhere near its 2010 heyday) and the combined minor parties of Green and Plaid Cymru. This would still leave them short of the Tory total by 4 seats, and by 14 against the Tory/DUP coalition should it emerge. However, the level of back-room deal-making that would be required beggars belief in that scenario.

Enough about what the actual make up of Government is / might be. What’s in fact more revealing, is why.

It’s clear from the 82.4% who voted either Labour or Conservative, that there is a partisan split in the country. But that’s not the only split. The country is clearly also split over the EU, and within that over how the EU departure should be managed.

And it’s this latter split that’s probably the key here.

Yes, some people (I suspect mostly younger naïve first-time voters) went for Labour because he promised to end tuition fees and stuff. Others would have sought an alternative due to the inclusion of a Fox Hunting vote in the Tory manifesto (one of the more outlandish things to bring into an election campaign).  But honestly? I think that the nation’s feelings over Brexit were clearly key. But not in the obvious way.

Had Labour declared itself a Europhile party, then they would have won by some margin, as would the Conservatives had they gone down that route. What we understand now is that it’s no longer a case of 52% against 48%. It’s more a case of 10% rabidly anti-Europe, 10% rabidly pro-EU, probably another 10% that want to continue the bolshy, hard negotiations we’ve seen so far, and 70% who want to make sure that if we absolutely have to leave the EU, we do it at a pace and in a manner that safeguards as much of our current trade agreements as possible. That allows us to remain in the Single Market, and that doesn’t leave us with excessive trade tariffs and import taxes. That allows EU nationals in the UK, and British citizens living abroad, to retain their rights and status. Kinda like a civil partnership. We’re not actually married to the EU, but a lot of the day-to-day stuff and legal protection still applies.

Evidence for this? Look at the seats that turned red. These were the ones not simply where the previous Tory majority was tiny, but where the Remain vote was strongest. Naturally, any anti-Tory vote would be most effective voting for the second-largest party, which is why these votes can be seen not as pro-Corbyn but anti-Brexit. In areas where the Leave vote was higher, the Tories did better, winning some seats from Labour into the bargain. On the whole, people don’t want a tough break-up with the EU. If we do have to leave, we want it to be on the best of terms, not the worst.

It’s very apparent that the EU was the pivotal factor in this election. That public opinion was misjudged by both sides. That Labour benefited from a protest against May’s strategy over the EU, but not by enough to make a significant difference due to also being anti-EU. And that what most people actually want is for the vocal, rabid minority to shut up and for the country to come together somewhere in the middle, sort out its differences and its problems and move on.

The 2017 Election Cometh…

Well, despite bringing in fixed five-year terms for governments as recently as 2011, we’re now looking at a General Election in 2017, a mere two years since the last time.

I ought to be suggesting that this is wrong, but there have been a huge number of major incidents in the political world in the past 24 months, so I doubt anybody is really surprised.

We’ve seen bigotry and lies win a US Presidential Election (with no little help from the Russians) and the same approach (sadly filled with half-truths on both sides) resulted in a narrow victory for the Leave campaign in the EU referendum last year. What we saw following both of these results has been an upsurge in hate crimes – not because there are more people who think that way, but those that do clearly feel their views have somehow been validated by the results. And maybe they have.

I’ve been in a difficult position as a result. A life-long, and until 2016 a card-carrying conservative, I’ve been unable to commit to any of the major parties. and here’s why:

I believe that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being rich (not that I am anywhere near that state) because if you work hard to achieve your goals, it’s perfectly fine that you should get the rewards that come with that success. So economically, I lean slightly to the right. But with that privilege comes responsibility, which many appear to ignore.

I also believe that if you are at the other end of the ‘health and wealth’ spectrum, and if you need support and assistance, you should get it. In a developed nation, nobody should be in the position of needing to choose between food and heating. Or not getting a prescription filled because they don’t have the money for their medicine. Which means that socially, I’m a little to the left. I also feel absolutely that cheating the system to get money you’re actually not entitled to and don’t need, takes money from those that do need it, and should be stomped on hard.

I’m certainly not in favour of ‘big’ government. Certain things (such as who we love, marry, read, talk to, pray to or what we wear) are not the business of government and should not be legislated – either to promote or to suppress.

None of the main parties agree with that. There’s really no ‘centre’ party these days that tries to strike the right balance, allowing aspiration and success in a caring, responsible, inclusive society. Rather, they try to push people to one or other of the extremes.

With the Conservatives moving to push UKIP even further right, and Labour abandoning any pretense of the centre ground in favour of a more hard-line left wing socialist agenda, there’s a huge gap right where we ought to be building Government. The Liberal Democrats have singularly failed to fill that gap, being as they are a party that advocates tax rises (thereby alienating the centre-right) and failing to address the needs of the most vulnerable (thereby shutting the door on the centre-left) by focusing on issues such as Trident and Nuclear Disarmament over things such as housing and education. Honestly – what do the Lib Dems think about either of these things? I don’t have a clue, so bad are they at appealing to voters.

In Scotland, the rise of the SNP shows a nationalistic streak that points to both a rejection of Westminster and a jingoistic attitude towards anyone not born north of the wall – far more divisive than inclusive.

And nobody except the Lib Dems seem to share my concerns about our pending departure from the EU at breakneck speed. Given that this is about the only thing they have communicated, I doubt anybody can claim to vote for them with any level of intelligence.

So where do I go? I will always vote, for several reasons. many people don’t have that right, and many people have sacrificed themselves to safeguard it for us all. Plus – if you vote, you can moan. You can complain. You can voice dissent. If you don’t bother to vote, you effectively lose that right. So I’ll be voting.

In my constituency, ‘protest’ votes won’t make any real difference, seeing as my local MP is also the Prime Minister and is never going to lose. However, there’s the opportunity to send a clear message. One that says that the people who elect her expect representation, and expect their voices to be heard.

As such, I’m fortunate to have an Independent standing locally whose agenda closely matches my own thoughts. Success is good. Care for those who need it. Look after the vulnerable. Live lives in freedom rather than in fear.

For an insight that is probably worded better than this missive, check out Grant’s website at https://grantsmithformp.org/

Whoever you vote for – make sure it’s because you agree with their politics and their opinions. Don’t waste this opportunity to have your say. And make it a positive time.

Give me your tired, your poor, your… no, wait a minute…

Make no bones about it – I’m not a well man. Comes with increased age, I guess.

But at least I’m an ill man in the UK.

I just looked up my current medications (pretty much those I will need to take every day going forwards, not counting some that may be coming up soon), and discovered what they would cost if I was living in the US. A three month supply would cost me close on a thousand dollars. Here in the UK: zero.

I will admit, free prescriptions are the only benefit of having life-long conditions, and I’d far rather not need the drugs. However, I really can’t get inside the heads of those who appear determined to oppress and subjugate those people in the US who need medication to survive, and who can barely afford the cost of that medicine.

Former President Obama took his election pledge, and the words on the Statue of Liberty, seriously.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Obama  provided assistance through the Affordable Care Act (better known as Obamacare) that provided health insurance and coverage for millions of Americans who simply could not afford the price they were being charged for necessary, life-sustaining medication.

The ‘new and improved’ AHCA will, if passed into law, wipe away this ability to survive for millions of poor, elderly and infirm Americans, whilst providing massive hikes in profitability through tax breaks to the pharmaceutical companies, many of whom will have contributed directly and financially towards getting Trump into the White House.

The price of medication in the US is, to use the most appropriate and fashionable term, obscene. It is kept artificially inflated through the misuse of patents and copyright agreements held by the pharmaceutical companies and their associates, so that even for such simple conditions as insomnia, the very same drug can cost $70 US, compared to $11 US just across the northern border in Canada. A cancer drug, Campath, costs $570 US for a patient here in the UK, but an American suffering from the same terrible disease would need to pay $2,400 US for exactly the same drugs.

Every single industrialised country has some form of price controls on patented medications, except the United States. There, it appears, all that matters is how much they can make you pay – not for things you’d like to have (we all know Apple products are far cheaper) but for things you need or you could die.

America. You talk about making your country great again. To me, it looks as if there’s a long, long way to go, and increased military spending shows you’re walking in the wrong direction.

Republicans. You declare yourselves a Christian party, a movement founded on moral and ethical standards driven by scripture.

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth,
when you refused to help the least of these
my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

Matthew 25:45

Are you really about doing the right thing? Are you really looking to welcome the poor, the wretched, those yearning to be free? Are you really looking to help the least in your communities, in the world? Or is it all about money and power?

Your actions will tell us, and we’re all watching…

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…

 

US Election 2016

Or – as Social Media clearly calls it “Holy Crap How The Hell Did He Get Elected What On Earth Were We Thinking – 2016”

It’s … interesting to see so many of my American friends on social media reacting to the US election result. Whether your candidate won or lost can have a huge impact on your outlook and mood for a long time. Democrats are saddened, worried, and frightened at the thought of someone with Trump’s track record being in the White House, and they see a fault in the electoral system that allows someone to lose the popular vote and still get the win. Some are more militant, looking to protest the result to make their views heard. Republicans (those who supported Trump) are naturally happier, but instead of flagging all the good things that are coming, they are condemning many democrats as either undemocratic, whiny, or crazy, and are telling them to grow up and/or shut up.

But here’s the thing…

This election wasn’t fought, lost or won on policy.

It wasn’t fought, lost or won on issues.

It was fought, lost, and won on rhetoric, emotional manipulation, half-truths, outright lies, and appeals to the basest elements in ourselves.

There was more talk about racism than there was about foreign policy. More talk about misappropriation than there was about poverty. More talk about criminal activity than there was about security and safety. More talk about building walls (literally and figuratively) than about breaking down barriers in society. Neither candidate had a good word to say about the other, and both had plenty of bad stuff that they kept repeating.

Given that atmosphere, it’s not surprising that many people now feel uncertain about how their world, their nation, their future, will pan out over the next four years. However, there’s a way through this, even though it doesn’t seem so to many at the moment. So here’s my five-point plan:

1. Compassion.

A post that a friend shared spoke of how the tears of students was pathetic and showed just how little the PC liberal elite understood democracy and real life. These kids (yes – kids) have just had their first taste of the democratic process, and it pretty much blew up in their faces. It’s no wonder they are unsure about the whole political thing at the moment, but all that they see is people attacking them for caring about the outcome.

How about getting alongside them? How about helping them through this by talking with them, understanding how they feel, not judging them for their disappointment but helping them to see what they can do to make a difference over the next four years. Who knows how influential they may become by the time 2020 arrives? And how much your input might contribute to that?

2. The First Amendment.

Freedom of speech, freedom to protest, is engrained in the US Constitution. There’s a whole mess of irony about when one group tries to shut down another group in the name of democracy. Think about that one…

3. Get alongside your neighbour.

No matter what political side they are on, your friends are still your friends. The world has not split in two, it’s just that a couple of guys have changed jobs. Whether your friends are Republicans or Democrats, black or white, gay or straight, American, Mexican, Irish, whatever – this is the time to pull together, not a time to force divisions even wider apart. Trump’s slogan was ‘Make America Great Again’. It was already pretty great, and can be greater still if communities and people come together.

4. Hold your President accountable.

He’s made some pretty wild statements over the past fifteen months. He’s been desperately trying to make many reconciliatory statements over the past 24 hours.

Keep him honest, keep him on his toes, and make sure he delivers an America for everyone. That’s your job. Make sure he does his job.

5. Smile.

Have a beer, go see a movie, go to dinner, take a walk with your dog, visit your family, spend time with your kids, hug your partner. Laugh, love, and live.

Remind yourself that life is good and life goes on.

Because it does.