Drum's quite good, bass is too loud
This week a parking space in Bath sold for £115,000. How can it be right that we live in a society where some people struggle from day to day, and are homeless through no fault of their own, whilst others can happily spend life-changing amounts of money just for the convenience of not having to look for a parking space? The gap between rich and poor is offensive. As I write this, Arlo Parks has been announced as this year's winner of the Mercury Prize for her debut album, "Collapsed In Sunbeams". The £25,000 prize she wins for this outstanding achievement would buy her a whole 22% of a Bath parking space.
In the clearing stands a boxer
Did you know that Wednesday was International Literacy Day? I'm not sure what these days achieve, and I was especially confused by this year's chosen theme which was "narrowing the digital divide", which seemed to be more about technology than literacy. I started thinking about what I used to read as a kid, and I recalled a hand-me down copy of a Rupert Bear annual. As I got older one of the things I enjoyed most was reading lyrics on album covers. Much better than the dreary poetry that teachers kept telling us to read. One of my favourites was the lyrics to "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, which were printed on the back cover of the "Bridge Over Troubled Water" album.
I often feel schools under-estimate the power of comics and pop-music lyrics in getting kids switched on to reading and poetry. I love to see albums include the lyrics because it adds a dimension to the music. Last weekend I picked up my copy of "We Are Girls", the debut album by IDestroy, which has the lyrics printed on the sleeve. Even though they are spread out over a triple-fold CD album cover, I still need a magnifying glass to read them, but then my eyes are not what they used to be. This Sunday, The Mighty Redox are holding the launch party for their crowd-funded new album, "Fiesta d'Amor", and the lyrics come in a separate A5 booklet. To be honest, even though the typeface is bigger, I'm still struggling to read the print in them.
Annoying the neighbours with his punk rock electric guitar
Some pop songs have wonderfully expressive lyrics which really capture the reality of urban life. There is often a tendency for pop songs to write syrupy lyrics, like the 1973 homecoming song, "Tie a yellow ribbon", or rose-tinted songs like "Ferry cross the Mersey" which proclaims:
People around every corner
Seem to smile and say
We don't care what your name is, boy
We'll never turn you away
But for a grittier view of life, and arguably better poetic expression, there are songs like "Dirty Old Town" by Ewan MacColl. It was actually written about Salford, the town where I was dragged up, but many places across the country can identify with it. In fact, as a result of it being covered by The Pogues, many think it is about Dublin. There are some really powerful lyrics about modern life to be heard in "Up The Junction" by Squeeze, but one of my own favourites has to be "The Sound Of The Suburbs" by The Members. Do you remember it? I first heard it on The John Peel Show.
The woman next door just sits and stares outside
She hasn't come out once ever since her husband died
Those lines express so much about human nature and the isolation of modern life. And it is a world away from Wordsworth's host of golden daffodils that we had to analyse in ridiculous detail at school.
Thirty years ago
You may have realised by now that I was a big fan of the late John Peel. There are so many bands, including The Members, which would simply never have made it into the public consciousness if it hadn't been for his ground-breaking radio show. Peel threw out the Beeb's official play list and played stuff which indy bands had sent him, recorded at home, on cassette tape. He called it "new wave" music rather than punk.
Thirty years ago, 1991, John Peel did a TV series for Channel 4 called "Sounds Of The Suburbs" where he went out to look at the indy music scenes beyond London. You might have expected he would go to Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester, but no, instead the 30 minute episodes went to the north east, to south Wales, to Bradford and to Glasgow, and to Oxford. If you want to look back in time, the Oxford episode can be found on the John Peel channel on YouTube. Here it is, in two 15 minute segments.
Recognise anyone? It was interesting to hear that back then, one of the issues affecting music in Oxford was that gigs were held in the bar at the Manor football ground in Headington, and were under threat due to plans to redevelop the site into flats. Nothing changes.
The politicians keep on talking
I was trying to listen to the debate today from the Scottish Parliament, before they rubber stamped their Covid legislation to make passes required for admission to night clubs. Strangely, the Scottish Government has not yet been able to come up with a definition of what constitutes a night club. Does a social club count as a night club? Does an evening of bingo for pensioners count as a night club? Does ballroom dancing where you are in close proximity to strangers count as a night club? Is a rock gig held in the afternoon a night club?
Please stay safe
Our vaccination levels here in Oxford remain so low. The nationwide average for first doses is 89% of adults, but in Oxford it is just 63%. The UK average for fully vaccinated is 81% compared to just 55% for Oxford. Every week now there are stories in the news about people becoming seriously ill and bitterly regretting not being vaccinated because they'd believed the horrible nonsense being spread around on the internet. If you are one of those who is not yet vaccinated, please understand that once you have become sick, it is too late for the vaccine to save you. You need to be vaccinated now, while you are still healthy, to protect yourself, and to protect the people around you.
Even if you've been double-jabbed, please continue to take care, wear face-masks, keep up with the handwashing, and do your lateral flow tests regularly and make sure you are not an asymptomatic virus spreader.