Divided Soul

I’ve never been to Wigan,  I first heard Frank Wilson’s ‘Do I Love You’ on a KFC advert and I don’t even have a record turntable.  When challenged by any of those guys with the round patches on their jacket I would have to concede that my relationship to ‘Northern Soul’ is, at best, tenuous.  Yet, whenever I listen to any of the tracks included in this genre, gleaned second-hand and at a distance from Kev Roberts ‘Northern Soul Top 500’, then, horror of horrors, downloaded as MP3s, a strange affection arises.  I say ‘strange’ because there is no personal or emotional reason for me to feel this way – the vast majority of my interactions with Northern Soul have occurred with media in between.

And this is hugely ironic, considering the socialising of the all-nighters with other fans, the huge values placed on the actual vinyl records or even the admiration for those who can dance really well, show, more than any other genre, that Northern Soul is a real world, physical, cultural beacon, around which people gather.

It is beyond me why Northern Soul kindles this affection; yes, the reasons listed above certainly can account for some of it, but there is something more.  For example, the fact that most of the records were not commercial hits, even though they were released by major labels with major clout, only to be cherished – saved? – by Northerners down for the football in London and taken back up North on the train, which is, famously, the reason the music came by its name, is hugely appealing.  Appealing because the music industry failed, but the music survived.

The other strand of my affection for Northern Soul lies in the fact that it took place away from the media glare of the London, in such places as Wigan or Southport, developing almost like a well kept secret, not in a showy, ‘puffed’ way but true to itself – not like a ‘scene’ trying to be a ‘scene’, and as such it was a solid, vibrant thing.  Ordinary people went to these places to dance, listen to the music.  It really is – or was – a living thing.  ‘Northern Soul’ is an apposite name in more ways than one.

And this is where my affection is tainted by wistful sadness.  A teenager in the Highlands would never have been able to gain access to ‘Northern Soul’, to get an idea of what it is about without the media, be it the internet or T.V detective dramas set in the Sixties.  The media allowed m to become a fan.  However, almost like a Trojan Horse, the very means by which I could become a fan, in some inexpressible way takes away from Northern Soul because I have never actually experienced it in any other way than being at the end of some sort of long line of communication and if I physically went to an all nighter it would be a different experience to if I had attended having heard a record at a friend’s house and then went with a group of pals.  Having experienced Northern Soul first through the media, I would be similar to a tourist visiting a museum.  I don’t know, perhaps this is overstating the case, but I feel if I went along to one of these events I might, in a small way dilute it and contribute to making it something other than it is in some sort of reflexive, vicious circle.

Paranoid as it is, I see this sort of thing happening already in, you’ve guessed it, the media. John Newman’s latest single, ‘Love Me Again’ set in a dance hall, mimicking the faster tempo of the ‘Northern’ records clearly aims to grab on to some of the goodwill that the scene provokes.  Yet if you look at the models, all stylishly made out, all good looking, all dancing perfectly, the spirit isn’t there.  Where are the ordinary people who love music?  Were they knocked back at the door?

The music, and the fans will still exist, and flourish, after this current vogue for ‘vintage’ looks, I have no doubt about that, yet I think I will look on from the side, trying to keep the faith in my mind’s eye.


A King of Many Kingdoms?

If the SNP wants to get the whole of Scotland behind it, then it has to improve on its celebrity endorsements because,  as a teuchter, the raft it selected to launch the ‘Yes’ campaign leaves me cold. Bear in mind SNP, that I say this as a person who is fully prepared to let their opinion of the future of their country be swayed by the opinion of someone who has appeared on the ‘One Show’.  (Joking apart, I do fear that subconsciously this may be the case.)

Additionally, however, apart from the frivolousness – and insult – of using celebrity to endorse something as gravely important as the Independence debate, there is a serious point lurking. Each one of these celebrities – Annie Lennox, Alan Cumming, Brian Cox,Sean Connery and Martin Compston – have backgrounds which are rooted in its industrial cities: Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen and Glasgow.  Yet, there is more to Scotland than this, far more.  The Highlands, the Borders, the Hebrides, the Northern Isles are all vastly different to the cities and are all vastly different to each other – and all have different needs.  Where were their celebrity representatives?  Yes, okay, it may well be harder to find celebrities from these areas, but as someone who comes from one of these areas, and has seen at first hand how it seems to have been left behind in favour of the cities to face the indifference of economics, I remain to be convinced that an Independent Scotland will be any different, especially as PR signals of the ‘Yes’ campaign has done little to assuage this doubt, as shown – somewhat tenuously I fully admit – by their coterie of ‘Yes’ people.

And whoever is going to take an Independent Scotland into the future has to be keenly aware of this – there may well be fewer votes in these areas, but they might just tip the balance.  Perhaps one of the putative parties might like to include details of how the age-old problems of governing a Scotland, with its variety of cultures and needs might be mitigated in a manifesto before the referendum?  Might Alec Salmond forego a visit to Nigg fabrication yard, with its boom and bust employment figures and temporary contracts in favour of committing to upgrading the A9 earlier, something that would be of real benefit to the Highlands?  All areas of Scotland need careful, thoughtful planning to flourish, and Independence will provide this opportunity.  It is vital that the political classes do not rely on Connery et al to win them the referendum, because they only speak for part of Scotland, not all of it.   

A Scot? At Wimbledon?

Last Sunday, a Scot managed to play a blinder in Centre Court.  Yes, Andy Murray did his bit for tennis in particular and sport in general, and, by association, Scottish Nationalism by winning the thing. However, another was participating more directly in this Nationalism game and he didn’t even need to leave his seat in those green stands.  Merely by waving a Saltire in the right time and right place – after Murray had won match point and behind David Cameron’s head – Alec Salmond might well feel he had struck a blow for the ‘Yes’ campaign.  The reason for referring to his actions as a ‘blow’ is that, quite simply, Salmond is a political operator par excellence, too wily and sensitive to political currents to commit such a mistake.  Any of his pleas that he was merely ‘a proud Scot’ are disingenuous. Salmond set out to provoke.

And provoke he did.  Mutterings came to the fore in the press and online that he: ‘lacked class’ and that he was desperate to make ‘political capital’ on Murray’s coat tails.  It was difficult not to imagine such words as: “Quite the other thing, old boy,” escaping from beneath handlebar moustaches in gentleman’s clubs in Chelsea and Kensington.

And succeed he did.

Nothing will get on the nerves of a group of people who feel they aren’t being listened to in the way they should more than those who aren’t listening to them, telling them what to do, how to do it and when.  For example, something like … oh I don’t know… a First Minister being told off by the London establishment for not behaving in the proper manner when another one of their own had just ended a British Sporting Success Drought.  Cue thousands of shouldered chips becoming that bit heavier, gruntles becoming dissed, internal political barometers moving ever so slightly towards ‘change’.  Okay, it might not be a huge gain, but it’s still a point – call it ‘fifteen – love’ rather than ‘game, set, match’ (Yes, okay, I did it).

But then David Cameron’s return appeared to be a winner: inviting Murray to Number Ten, suggesting the possibility of honours – what First Minister could compete with that?  And Murray went and the photos were achieved, no matter how uncomfortable Murray himself looked.  Did he himself begin to feel like he’d taken the place of one of those yellow balls he had battered around the day before?  It seemed that the Independence debate had become a battle for the tennis player’s soul, played out under the gaze of the media. (Even though it’s obvious that Ivan Lendl has it hidden in a racquet bag and feeds on it on cold nights.)  This too might play into Salmond’s plans in the long run, perhaps even blowing up in Cameron’s face, as the possessive Scottish public see his move as a cynical attempt to garner some of Murray’s glory and feel it rankle.

Yet, here’s the rub:  none of this matters one tiny iota to Scots, English or British people in real, concrete terms, even if they think it does.  If Andy Murray is regarded as Scottish or British does not inform anybody about economic models, industry rates or public services following independence – if this is to happen at all – but we have heard more about this than any of these.  That Saltire, produced from his wife’s purse could well just be a misdirection, gleefully grabbed by both sides to divert attention away from a paucity of ideas.

Summer’s still here. (and John Peel, and Primal Scream)

I was sorry to hear of Donna Summer’s death.  Having never met her, in fact, I live on the different side of the world to her, this seemed absurd.  It may even appear wrong: ghoulish.  John Peel’s death, years earlier provided an even greater shock.  I tried to skate over these feelings, fearful that in some way they would devalue relationships with my own flesh and blood: that I wasn’t showing enough reverence to my own kin in the here and now.

However, if the concept of what an idea actually is, is taken into account, the pang of sadness at hearing of the death of someone who is a stranger does not become so absurd after all.

Art is all about ideas and getting inside a person’s head – isn’t it?  Surely, if an idea manages to set up shop inside that person’s head, it becomes part of that person and their make-up:  much of a parent’s job is ensuring that the right ideas start making profit in their offspring’s mind.  So, in some convoluted, diluted, roundabout sort of way, people who create and propagate ideas can be held responsible for incrementally changing the way people unconsciously look at the world.  So, in some distant, hidden, subtle way Donna Summer and John Peel could be held responsible for changing the way I unconsciously look at the world.

“I Feel Love” certainly provoked a reaction when I heard it one a Friday night, driving on the motorway, speakers at full volume.  Its bass line was incredible, exciting, industrial, and a futuristic synth sounds rooted it in the future.  In short, it rocked.  Yeah, but did it change the way I look at things?  Yeah, I suppose it did.  I’d always been slightly nervous of being seen to like anything that was ‘gay’, in both senses of the word, but the sheer power of that song blasted these misconceptions out of the water.  To paraphrase those musical magpies Primal Scream: “Music is just music. . . “   Perhaps also, it was because at that time I was getting that bit older, a bit more mature, but hearing that song defined it in my consciousness.

Likewise, watching a documentary on BBC Four, I remember feeling the excitement as the original songwriters showed how they stumbled across the looping method that changed a leaden bass into the soaring rhythm that was instantly recognisable.  It was like watching one of the genes in the DNA of modern music being switched on. And it was exhilarating.  It also changed how I look at what ‘creatives’ do and made me realise that anyone can be creative.  More than this, it re-ignited a creative drive within me, extinguished since childhood.

John Peel, in his radio show, was the gatekeeper to many such ideas.  So, on reflection, it is right to feel a loss at the deaths of he and Summer.  A loss in proportion to the small, almost undetectable, step change in my worldview, but a loss nevertheless.  Yet, if there is anything that can cheer those close to Peel and Summer it is the fact that they have had a subtle effect on so many lives.  If there is anything that can cheer us, it is the fact that, in this information-sharing age, we can have access to countless many more ideas like those shared by John Peel and Donna Summer.

Kubla Khan

Kubla Khan

I dreamt, the other day, that I was in the Nineteen Fifties.  It was one of those nasty dreams, where it seems that somewhere in the dream that you can’t see, someone is plotting against you or something feels like it’s about to go wrong.  It understates the creeping dream horror to say it was a glimpse of straitened times: brylcreemed hair, no colour T.V. and spam fritters for dinner – enough to make me believe that those who wish for the ‘good old days’ are senile.  I also had an overwhelming urge to bottle up my emotions; even though, when I went to sleep, I don’t remember having any emotions to bottle up. Worse, instead of the ‘Friday News Quiz’, on the wireless, a voice, in cut glass English was using words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘austere’ and ‘importance’.

Seconds later – awake – my initial relief at being back in my own ‘pleasuredome’[1] was subsumed by resurgent feelings of creeping horror.  I stared, tall-eyed at the T.V., seriously wondering if I’d been ‘incepted’: that I‘d only woken into another level of the dream.  On the screen was a politician, muted, while in the ribbon below were phrases: “Continued austerity deemed necessary,” or “Fiscal responsibility a must.”  I no longer felt the need to bottle up my feelings.

Can anger be described as biblical?  I don’t know, but the word ‘austerity’ reduced me to my knees, crying, with my arms aloft and my hands balled into fists of rage.  Look, I didn’t say I was rational, did I?       So, why do I go ‘all manic’[2] when I hear that word?  There are a number of causes.  Firstly, it’s inaccurate. The dictionary definition of austere is: ‘puritanical in outlook, severe, strict, harsh or ascetic.’  None of those in power at the moment can claim to be anyone of these.  Certainly not if you take their dealings with ‘big business’ into account – I realise this is a vague term, but there are so many instances: ‘Ve Banks’, ‘Ve Tabloids’ and the NHS sell off to name but a few.  Certainly not if you take their private lives into account either.   They have not applied ‘austerity’ in such a way as it can be called ‘austere’.  Try substituting ‘austerity’ for ‘maintaining inequality‘.  ‘Austere’ also has connotations of immovable and objective.  Neither term could I imagine applying to our ‘glorious leaders’ in a tax meeting with a company like Citibank or. . . News International.

Secondly, and I am sure this will resonate with the emotions of many, is the fact that they brazenly nicked the term from the fifties, when rationing was still in full swing after our great grandparents and grandparents had, oh aye, defeated the fascist Third Reich, by throwing the kitchen sink at it.  The country was austere because it had fought itself to a standstill in the last ‘moral’ war; not because a few coke addled city boys had spunked our pensions up against a wall.  By borrowing the moniker for the government measures that have been introduced, it appears that they are automatically making links between the disasters that forced their introduction.  Sickening.  Or Orwellian, if you are of a government conspiracy bent.

Another aspect that makes me ‘act like a daftie’[3] is the fact that a vast majority of the politicians who were implementing the original austerity measures had far greater gravitas, purely because, despite being ‘toffs’ – they at least believed in the spirit of service.  Many had served in the First World War, some being horrifically wounded, and had played their part in the wartime government; at least if they were asked if ‘we are really all in it together’ they could point out their service records.  If we asked the same of those leading us now, would we get an answer anywhere near as satisfactory?  No.

Nothing is satisfactory about this government.  At least in the original ‘Austerity Years’ the U.K. saw government led initiatives to improve housing and the introduction of the N.H.S. – things that led to unity.  Now, they’re selling everything they can, destroying levers and mechanisms that were designed to ameliorate the harsh conditions in which many were living.

Austerity?  You can kiss my decadent bum.

[1] It is a big T.V.

[2] Not words I would have chosen.

[3] Again, not my words.

Get Knitted

I found this on a scrap of paper in the back of a book borrowed from the local library:


Extract from ‘Essays’ by Angus McTavish


On the need for Political Reformation

Right, as someone living in Scotland, here’s what rips my knitting: London elites who make mistake capitalism for policies that help the country; who have a blindness to anywhere outside the South East; who seem confident that the Scots and English can be convinced they are different peoples like, say, the Belgians and the Luxembourgers [1] and who are solely interested in looking after their pals[2].  Add in to this mix, a Scottish Parliament thirsting to extend its own powers, and there seems to be only one course of action.

England!  Why not come and join us?   Minus London of course.

The two countries would, er. . . ‘knit’ together because, though it sticks in the craw to admit it, outside of theLondoncircle, people on both sides of the border are made largely from the same pattern .  “Eh?  How so?” I hear you mumble.  Well, just look at the telly – any night on BBC Three it’s possible to tune into documentaries recording the antics of teens who have buckled themselves with booze in an sti –blown Mediterranean ‘Gin Lane’, provoking parental hand-wringing for the cameras.  “Hullowerr, welcome to parenthood!”  as Rab C. Nesbitt would say.  These scenes are not new, nor are they particularly Scottish, despite the stereotypes we all know and love – the crap that gets dumped on people in theU.K.smells the same wherever they are, and people deal with it in exactly the same way. And nobody seems to notice that there is a possibility that the course can be changed through solidarity, because we seem to be too bothered about our minimal differences.

Take last week, for example, my new sweater vest was rent asunder – amidst gnashing of teeth! – on the very needles on which it took form, as on the telly a grim-faced B.B.C. correspondent informed the nation that the deserted shopping arcades of North Manchester ‘were more like the grim landscapes of Detroit.’

“Detroit? Detroit?  Bullshit!” was my measured response.  What? Was a comparison to the deserted landscapes of Methil not ‘glamorous’ enough, not ‘gritty’ enough?  Or was it convenient to forget thatScotlandis getting shafted as well, along with the millions of ordinary people in it?  Many of whom could be easily convinced to help do something to prevent something like our economy becoming dangerously unbalanced yet again.  Let’s face it, though the language of the B.B.C. is usually unimpeachable in its objectivity, they are very careless in what ‘news’ they leave out.

Notably, that fine public body was very lax in reporting the N.H.S. ‘reforms’.  Hardly anyone in England, it seems, is aware of what these reforms are.   In terms that the fine youth of the islands would understand what has actually happened is this, in the words of an S3 pupil:  “Ye’re at a party, n yir pal was sent out with the kitty to the shop and he spent the lot on Tennent’s, even though folk wanted other drink because it was stronger and cheaper but he’s spent the lot so ye’ve got to drink that because there’s no other option.  Oh and yir pal who went for the drink is a shareholder in Tennent’s.  He wouldna be ma pal for long.  Pure pish likes”  It was political racketeering.  Yet I would be willing to wager the shirt (woollen) from my back that if Health was devolved, Westminsterwould not have been able to pull it off.  Why not?  The NHS was a free service – you’ve heard about how copper wire was invented haven’t you?[3]

So come on, people from Cardigan to Jersey, forget the differences that Westminster is keen to peddle – David Cameron doing so by omitting to disprove the SNP rhetoric – join together and create a parliament that leaves out the London elites and lives in the real world, we Scots will help – I wonder what a parliament building would look like in Carlisle.  We will one again have aFair Isle.

[1] Let’s face it Dave Cameron is pretending

[2] LOL

[3] In 1872 inPaisley a Rab McGlinchie and  Rev. McTaggart spotted a penny a the same time and bent to pick it up.  Six hours later, they were found yards from the spot, unconscious from exhaustion, each end of the wire gripped between their bleeding fingers.

Observations of a ‘Scot’, living therein.

If Camus said: “All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.”  I could say that everything I know most surely about my nationality I owe to the Scotland football team – couldn’t I?  Probably a daft thing to say, right?  Well, I don’t know much about football, and even less about Scottish politics so any reference might be sensible.

Wait though, there may be a more relevant connection, albeit a purely emotional one – isn’t anything to do with Scottish football?  The connection is this:  watching a Scotland football game at Hampden is the only time I have felt noticeably Scottish.  There, I’ve said it.  Upon reflection, I’ve decided that any stirring of emotion felt when observing David Cameron having his balls metaphorically cupped by Nick Robinson’s shaking caresses on the BBC is merely anger[1], and should not play any part in a reasoned piece of writing.  So I’ll leave the anger until the next crop of hysterical lickspittles are wheeled out on the next ‘Question Time’.

The last time I was at Hampden it was great, we didn’t get the result – natch – but it was still great: the humour, the optimism and passion; the tide of drink; the strains of – Oh!  Soundtrack of a nation! – Runrig.  Yeah, it was intoxicating and yeah it was tangible.  However, I would be hard pushed to tell you, that if the flags, scarves and songs were taken away and replaced by other stimuli, whether or not I would have the same response.  A toga for a football shirt?  A bean and tattie pie replaced with a bean and tattie stuffed dormouse?  Booze with. . . booze?  Footballers for gladiators?[2]

This feeling has not been repeated at any point during my everyday life, despite many musings upon the subject.  Not during my education, not during any point in my career or at home or ‘at abroad’.  Perhaps because I live in a world where I expect to be judged on my personality first, everything else second.  A modern world.

However, the real ‘bark your shin on a table and then hurt your hand punching the same table in rage’ maddening thing about this is that the political classes involved in coaxing the nation towards a referendum do not seem to realise the fleeting and artificial nature of nationalism but don’t have the integrity to take on the position of: “ Whoah, calm doon and let’s see what we’re on about.  Oh and let’s tell some folk what we’re thinking.”  Grrr.  Kick the table again.  Apologies, I know, I know – ‘Question Time’s not ‘til Thursday.  I’m not a close political observer by any stretch of the imagination – not even ‘Question Time’ any more because it stops me from sleeping – but I am an adult, I have a reasonably sound mind, and I have a vote.  Yet, even with the continual controversy about independence I do not know one concrete fact that puts me up or down about Scottish independence.  Political parties take note.

I know that North Sea oil is an issue, yet I am not aware of anyone nailing their colours to the mast by explaining why Scotland might be entitled to revenues.  I know that commerce is an issue, and I get the impression that we will be at the beck and call of larger, more powerful markets, if Alec ‘the pragmatist’ Salmond’s ability to put prawn sales to the Chinese ahead of human rights is anything to go by.  Does Salmond’s decision to go with this mean that he puts financial concerns ahead of moral?  In that case does he believe that Scotland has a moral case for independence at all?  Which makes the whole debate a little more prosaic, in a boring, ‘pointless meeting at work’ sort of way.  Oh yeah, and ‘Curriculum for Excellence’ how come no-one in Scotland knows what’s going on?  If that screws up, ‘Al’, say goodbye to electoral credibility.

So just tell us the facts, even honest, impartial projections, about how we will stand if we are elected.  Get rid of the spin and just let us make our minds up, so I can get back to feeling ‘properly’ Scottish again – at Hampden.

[1] Shit, hope it’s not jealousy. . . fuck.

[2] No, I wasn’t alluding toRome ! – TheFife Junior Cup Final 2007.