I have a backlog of reviews to write, but I'll do the most recent first. This was the fifth time I'd seen Al Stewart, sometimes solo, sometimes with a large band, sometimes just with another guitarist. The first time was in 1969 (I think) when he was supporting the Young Tradition and Tom Rush. Last time was in 2006 (blogged here). This time he was accompanied by his now fairly regular partner in strings, Lawrence Juber (ex-Wings guitarist). Juber provided the first half by himself: all acoustic guitar instrumentals, some of his own composing, but plenty of classics like While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Maybe I'm Amazed, Little Wing and the like. I could happlily have listened to him all night, but of course that wasn't what we were all there for.
Al was on great form. Last time I saw him he'd seemed a bit irritable, but this time he was relaxed and funny, sometimes doing introductions to the songs that were as long as the songs themselves (but worth listening to - about wine, obsessive record-collecting and cataloguing, being persuaded to put money into a Yoko Ono experimental film, the Treaty of Versailles, and much more besides). I'd expected that he'd do a lot of material from his new album Sparks of Ancient Light, but in fact he did only three songs from it: Angry Bird, (A Child's View Of) The Eisenhower Years and The Ear of the Night. Otherwise his set ranged back and forth across most of his career, from Past, Present and Future to the present day. His own guitar playing is still good, though he no longer tries to be the ace technician of the fretboard (well, would you with Lawrence Juber standing six feet away?) His voice sounds much as it did, though he doesn't try to reach the high notes he used to go for. And the songs continue to work their magic, year after year. Al Stewart is in the enviable position of having such a big back catalogue that even when he discards the songs that are merely adequate and keeps only the really good stuff, he still has far more materal than he can use in any one gig. Consequently he can alter his set round from day to day, and does. He and Juber also interpolate little things such as a version of The Shadows' Apache, apparently spontaneously. The pair of them work brilliantly together, a partnership exemplified by Night Train To Munich, a kind of homage to Django Reinhardt which works as well as a live duet as it does with a combo on record.
Songs (not necessarily all in the right order):
On The Border Angry Bird Lord Grenville Night Train To Munich (A Childs View Of) The Eisenhower Years Mr Lear Carol The Coldest Winter In Memory The Ear Of The Night Down In The Cellar Soho (Needless To Say) League Of Notions If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It Katherine Of Oregon Year Of The Cat Gina In The King's Road (encore)
Comparing that list with the set list from 2006, what stands out is that he did nearly as many songs in half a concert this time as in a full one then. And how few are duplicated (five).
They both signed records, books and posters afterwards, with Al inclined to be chatty (explaining to me that he'd had a cold when he recorded Old Compton Street Blues but had to do it that day regardless as Fairport Convention - backing musicians on the session - were only available then). Oh, and everyone who bought a book or CD received a free disk of mp3 files (about 50 hours' worth) of unreleased material, much of it live recordings from the earliest days to the very recent past.
Here are Al and Lawrence doing Night Train To Munich back in 1995:
Michael Oren is a contributing editor to Azure magazine. (Yes, that's right, Azure magazine, spiritual home of Benjamin "C**t" Kerstein, who is its Assistant Editor.) That renowned lover of liberty and democracy Benjamin Netanyahu has just appointed him (Oren, not Kerstein) as Israel's ambassador to the USA. How delightful. Not that Oren is paranoid or anything.
In that article, Oren says "Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic state."
As we all know, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently visited Washington, where he wittered on about the supposed nuclear threat from Iran and refused to endorse the idea of a Palestinian state.
On a positive note, Mr Netanyahu last week ordered the demolition of one illegal Israeli settlement, comprising seven huts. So that's all right then.
I thought this piece a few weeks ago in the Guardian by Max Hastings was spot on. When I was in my teens and twenties everyone I knew thought Israel could do no wrong and that it set an example of "courage under fire". Of course, then we all thought that the Six-Day War had been a surprise attack on Israel rather than a long-planned surprise attack by Israel, but we were young and naive. Israel was cool then: if you need proof of that, consider Adam Diment's super-cool secret agent Philip McAlpine (think James Bond but with a AR15 and a large spliff rather than a Walther PPK and a martini). In the last McAlpine book, Think Inc. one of his colleagues in crime (literally as it happens) is an ex-IDF tank commander, and he and his military experience are is portrayed entirely positively with not a hint of criticism.
Yet it was Israel's own right-wing extremists who removed the gilt from the gingerbread. As Hastings describes it:
I also became dismayed by the naked imperialism displayed by Israel's rightwing zealots. One night at a dinner party in Jerusalem in 1977, I heard a young Israeli talking about the Arabs in terms which chilled my blood. "In the next war," he said, "we've got to get the Palestinians out of the West Bank for good."
And who was that young Israeli?
By a curious quirk, that young Israeli whom I heard enthuse about emptying the West Bank of Arabs was Binyamin Netanyahu, today his country's prime minister.
Did Barack Obama really imagine that Benjamin Netanyahu, proponent of ethnic cleansing or worse and bitter opponent of a Palestinian state, was going to listen to a single word he had to say?
The Dalit Solidarity Network is an organisation which works for the human rights of Dalits ("Untouchables"), the bottom of the social heap in India. (More on India's caste system here.)
Recently the DSN has launched a campaign against the continuation sof a practice which would surely have died out many years ago were there not millions of Dalits who could be forced to do it by being denied other employement opportunities. ladies and gentlement, I give you Manual Scavenging. Or to put it more plainly, scooping shit with your bare hands.
Oh goody, more surveillance to go with the DNA database and ID cards. All for our own good of course, and supposedly the public supports it (according to the BBC, that is).
If "innocent people have nothing to fear from the way we use it" why has it already been used to to track and threaten a wholly innocent bloke whose political opinions happen to include opposition to the Iraq war? "We know what's best for you": the mantra of dictators everywhere
More on the Israeli Railways: and other employers who think Arabs and Jews shouldn't have equal treatment
That is, these workers, who were being discriminated against by the Israeli state railway for not being Jewish. There is some good news to report: a first court victory. Still, the railway employers are continuing to try to justify their discrimination, so the lawsuits continue. However, one might say there is light at the end of the tunnel.......
It's not just the railways, of course. Here's an Israeli employer demanding that the labour courts strike out compensatiuon claims by Gazan workers, not on any legal grounds but because preventing them from being paid is starving Gaza of funds, the people of Gaza voted for Hamas, and hence denying them compensation is a blow against Hamas. You couldn't make it up: but as this is Israel, you don't have to.
So: Eurovision 2009 has come and gone. The block voting problem has been addressed as far as is feasible (one has to remember that many EV entrants have been hits in several neighbouring countries for months: their neighbours' voting for them is not necessarily only a sign of political solidarity). And Norway ran away with it, which I suppose helps to make up for the ignominiy of Norway's having had the first ever Eurovision entrant to garner no points at all. Britain's own entry (composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less) came a very creditable fifth, which after many years of finishing near the bottom was terrific.
For what it's worth, I didn't especially fancy Norway to win. My favourite was Iceland, who came second so I don't feel too bad about that. Previous occasions when I've had a strong feeling that I was listening to a winner have been Ira Losco (Seventh Wonder, Malta, 2nd in 2002), Katrina and the Waves (Love Shine A Light, UK, 1997, winner) and Nicole (Ein bisschen Frieden, Germany, 1982, winner). You can see clips of all those performances here.
Anyway, here is Iceland's entry:
And here is Andorra's, which didn't make it through the semifinals but which I thought was an unpretentious workmanlike three-minute pop song, the kind we 've mostly given up on but which can be found in pockets of suitable habitat in Europe.
One of my wife's students remarked on Facebook to the effect that studying the English Reformation was making her brain hurt. Never one to desert a damsel in distress (especially not a damsel whose profile picture shows her in a skimpy top and a policeman's helmet) , I proferred the suggestion below, which seems to have acquired a small fan base among her fellow students. If it's good enough for them it's good enough for you.
The English Reformation For Dummies
Dear Pope, please can I have an annulment of my marriage to Kath coz she's boring and hasn't produced me a prince? Luv Hal
Dear Henry, f*** off. Luv, Signor Papa
Dear Pope, Okely-dokely, here's how it's gonna be: I'm starting my own church, and it's going to be a Protestant one like Martin Luther's, ...only in English. Get that, Luigi? ENG-ER-LISH! Then I can get me a D.I.V.O.R.C.E. Oh, and in case any priestly types get in the way, I'm making myself head of this church so I can fire them. Not you - me. ME. Ner-ner-ner-ner-ner!
King to lackies: now I’m head of the proper Church of Me, any Catholic who bears allegiance to the Pope is highly suspicious and we should probably be arresting them all on suspicion of belonging to al-Vaticana . But hey, live and let live, but let live without all the huge fortunes they've built up. Of you go and dispossess all those rich bastard abbots: squeeze them till the Popes squeak. Hahaha! Geddit?
But sire.....(sound of axe)
The King is dead!
It's OK son. we'll look after the kingdom for you, Just sign here. Right - Catholic churches made illegal and Queen Mary cut out of the succession. Go CofE!
Hail Queen Mary!
Nobody here but us loyal Catholics, Your Majesty.
Congratulations, Your Majesty, they've named a cocktail after you.
The Queen is dead!
Nobody here but us loyal Anglicans, Your Majesty.
Damned right I'm the head of the church. And the look and feel I want for it is sort of Catholic-Lite, capisce?
The unspeakable in pursuit of the incomprehensible
Yes, the old fool is at it again. Prince Charles is apparently planning to tell tonight's audience at the Royal Institute of British Architects (which is unlikely to contain many British architects) how terrible this beastly modern stuff is, and how vital it is that all British buildings should be rooted in the past like his joke of an estate at Poundbury. Perish the thought (sorry, thort) that anyone might want to build decent affordable housing (sorry, hyzing) instead of hand-knitted organic pastiche. How dreadful that the Qatari Royal Family, despite the Prince's clear instructions, should wish to continue with a plan for the Chelsea Barracks site which celebrates modern British architecture instead of plumping for a sort of P.D.Q. Wren monstrosity by one of the Prince's pals. Architects, he reminds the audience, are "placemakers". As opposed to His Royal Highness, of course, who is simply a placeholder.
As the song has it:
Chairlie the First, he got beheided; Chairlie the Second, he succeeded. Chairlie the Third, he'll no be needed: Lucky wee Prince Chairlie!
With the "war on terror" in which we are all supposed to believe, it will come as no surprise that a Muslim extremist who threatened to bomb Glasgow's main synagogue and behead one Jew a week until all Scottish synagogues were closed would attract the attention of the counter-terrorist agencies. So of course when a member of the National Front telephoned the police with a threat to bomb the Glasgow Central Mosque and to behead a Muslim a week until all Scotland's mosques were closed, he was charged with...er.... breach of the peace. WTF?
Update: sentencing has been deferred for a fourth time for reasons which are unclear but probably connected with desperate attempts to find a loophole by which the government can avoid the embarassment of having to lock up a white man (not even a Brazilian for God's sake) just for wanting to murder a few uppity Scottish Muslims. It would never have happened when Charles Clarke was Home Secretary, let me tell you (or Jack Straw, or David Blunkett....)
Here is an editorial from Ha'aretz, which shows that it isn't only Arabs or Western commentators who are aware of the discrimination going on here. You know, against those "forgotten Palestinians" (the ones with supposed Israeli citizenship) whom many of my readers probably thought were a figment of al-Jazeera's imagination.
And here is the latest position (with Israel Railways doing their even-handed and democratic best to victimise anyone daring to defend their human rights).
The Scottish Trades Union Congress meeting in Perth, Scotland recentky adopted a set of recommendations from their General Council which said:
“6 General Council Recommendation 6.1 The General Council is recommending that Congress should take a position of: • supporting boycotts and disinvestments against Israel, • calling for sanctions against Israel, • encouraging positive investments in the occupied territories.”
These are a summation of the positions adopted but it is necessary to read the full text to appreciate what the decisions mean exactly.
The full text of the report can be read on line here Or downloaded from here.
The statement was adopted following a STUC Delegation to Palestine and Israel to investigate the issues involved. The delegation report can also be downloaded from the same page.
Prior to the delegation visit and before the report was completed the STUC consulted with their affiliated trade union bodies and with a wide variety of organisations including:
The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland The Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland Jews for Justice for Palestinians Palestine Solidarity Campaign The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities Scottish Friends of Palestine The Scottish-Islamic Foundation Scottish Jews for a Just Peace Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign Trade Union Friends of Israel.
An important issue related to the STUC 's relations with the Histadrut:
The STUC acknowledges its relationship with both PGFTU and Histadrut and supports the development of a constructive dialogue between them. The STUC will explain its position on BDS to Histadrut, and will, over the next 12 months, raise with them Histadrut positions in relation to Gaza and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The STUC will review its relationship with Histadrut in this context.
Here is a link which I meant to post back before the Israeli election. It made depressing reading even before the result was announced (not that the election result had too much relationship to the eventual composition of the government, but that's full-on PR for you).
It is a sobering reminder (for those who need it) that while most commentary on Israel and the Palestinians concentrates on those living under military occupation, those more fortunate who have Israeli citizenship have only a fraction of the rights enjoyed by their Jewish compatriots in what some persist in declaring to be the region's only "democracy". Aye, right.
Von hier an in sehr allmaehlicher aber stetiger Steigerung bis zum Zeichen
OK, I admit it. One of the reasons my blogging has become patchier of late is that I have taken to hanging around Facebook, finding people I'd forgotten I knew and viewing pictures of wild parties attended by people less than half my age. Not to mention playing online Scrabble, feeding a virtual pet (which fortunately doesn't need real-time attention or it would be dead by now), undertaking strange quizzes from which I gather that if I were a key signature I would be F sharp major (Tippett Second Quartet - delightful) , and slightly less strange ones such as the one in which I scored 71% for identifying musical figures such as Captain Beefheart and Nico, and bands such as Moby Grape and The Mothers Of Invention, from photographs. (The post-punk American stuff let me down.) Yes, if a blog is the digital answer to the shed as the middle-aged man's refuge from reality, Facebook is the neighbouring greenhouse to which everyone in the neighbourhood keeps dropping in, rather like the party on the train in Some Like It Hot.
So anyway, what with Marilyn Monroe and the Manhattans and all that, I'm getting a bit behind with my reviewing. On the positive side, though, one of my wife's fellow music lecturers posted a marvellous link which I felt I had to share with the world. It will prove funniest to those readers with the most experience of Mahler, especially as players, but even a fairly cursory knowledge of Gustav's style should unlock most of the humour. And you really don't need to know any German, though it doesn't hurt.