Category: Arts Culture

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

Can we put the civil back in civil society?

‘Why do we scream at each other? This is what it sounds like, when doves cry’. Prince

The culture wars, from Brexit to Trump and beyond, have driven deep wedges between different sections of society. We now communicate on cultural and political issues with the caps lock PERMANENTLY ON. This is most obviously played out in the snake pit of social media, but it can also result in a cab driver screaming at a bicyclist (me). We seem to operate on a very short fuse or in many cases on no fuse at all. We blow up in each other’s faces.

Whether social media has caused this or whether it just provides the perfect forum for abuse is tough to say.

I remember when we first came back to London having lived in Asia for eight years, being struck by the latent anger that everyone seemed to carry about with them. Asia is quite different, and people don’t tend to lose their shit in a microsecond. If you start screaming at people out East then their reaction is generally no reaction and if you are screaming at them to get something done, then good luck, because you’ll get nothing. Unfortunately, the anger I noticed in London on my return is still there, but now I just take it for granted.

Perhaps social media has jacked us all up to screaming pitch, but I wonder if there is any way we can disagree with a little more courtesy.

If you go back to my second Little London Life blog titled ‘Hey Londoners: Be better’, I was talking about something similar.

It’s embarrassing to admit that there are many people in my part of London who I meet and interact with on a regular basis, but about whom I know absolutely nothing. I may well see them more often than I see my friends, but I don’t even know their names. It works like this.

 Perhaps you’ve found a café that sells a decent flat-white close to your office, you generally get served by the same bloke who becomes ‘your barista guy’. You are starting to behave like an aloof millionaire not wanting to interact with the servants – despite only having £10 in your bank account to last you to pay day. You are morphing into that person you hate, the one who is unpleasant to waiters.

I ended the piece by saying: Be better, be courteous.

Recently, I was listening to Politics on the couch, a podcast by Rafael Behr and he came up with an interesting analogy. Global warming has heated the seas and when the water becomes too warm, corals will expel the algae living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white. It’s called coral bleaching and the coral will likely die. Our public discourse, and yes, I am thinking of President Trump, is now so heated that it’s bleaching out our ability to have civil conversation.

I may profoundly disagree with your politics and you with mine, but we have to find a way to have a conversation without screaming at each other. When you scream nobody is listening and the culture war wedge is driven that little bit deeper into our already divided society.

It may seem incredibly old fashioned but courtesy and civility lie at the heart of a decent society. Why do we scream at each other? Let’s talk instead.

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

‘Holy Joe’ a charity song for the homeless

A bunch of musicians, not sure if that’s the right collective noun, who are also mates of mine have released a song called ‘Holy Joe’ to raise money for the homeless.

I wrote the lyrics and I’m hoping with a little arm twisting on my part you might be persuaded to open your purses and wallets and direct a bit of your hard earned in Joe’s direction. If you’d like to cut to the chase, skip the rest of the story, and hear the song just click here. That’s fine with me.

Just before coronavirus hit, I’d started writing songs with an old chum of mine. His name is Simon Webb. He’s conducted the Cats orchestra, was the musical director for The Who’s Tommy when it appeared in the West End, and scored and played the music for Sir Nicholas Hytner’s celebrated Royal National Theatre production of Henry V. On occasions he can be found playing keyboards in deafening rock bands.

For reasons best known to himself he said he fancied writing some songs with me. I sent him some lyrics which by my own admission were mostly terrible, but Holy Joe had something about it. It’s a simple song about a homeless man I’d seen drifting around the streets near where I live in London.

Here’s a snippet:

My name is Joe, Little Joe Monroe

No one asks, no one says hello

I’m just another drifter, just another drifter in the snow.

Simon wrote some beautiful music that perfectly complements the words and there we were with a lovely song, unsure what the hell to do with it.

It was staring us in the face for weeks, before we finally realised it would make a perfect Christmas song and a fine way to raise money for the Joes and Janes of this world who are destitute.

Time and talent

Because of the pandemic, musicians, actors, bar staff, waiters and in fact everybody involved in the night-time economy have had a dreadful year. Many are suffering right now, but only in extreme cases does their suffering match the suffering of those who live on the street.

Simon started putting together a pretty sophisticated demo of the song and sent it to the musicians he regularly uses for his projects. Despite some of them having a tough year, they all agreed to give their time and talent for free.

Lockdown meant they couldn’t all get together in a room to record the song, so they recorded their individual parts at home and sent their musical brilliance to Simon who wove the whole thing together like a wonderful musical tapestry.

It sounds like making the record that way is incredibly easy, but trust me it’s not. I got Simon to explain how it all works but he started talking about musical stems, digital audio workstations, deverb, gating and logic and frankly I got a little lost.

Donate and share

To finish, if you like the song please donate what you can and share the link with your friends on social media. Every penny will go to a homeless charity. Early in the new year we will divvy up and let everyone know where the money has been placed.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

You can also listen on Spotify.

Want to know more about the band?

 The Spiderhawks

Robert Hart is the singer. He is currently fronting Manfred Mann’s Earth Band and has toured with Bad Company and The Jones Gang, the group run by Faces tub thumper Kenney Jones.

Guitar player Jay Stapley’s credits include Roger Waters, Mike Oldfield, Scott Walker and Shakin’ Stevens, but I like him best because he played guitar on perhaps the finest British film: Withnail and I.

Drummer John Trotter sent his drum part all the way from Australia where he now lives. John has worked with Robbie Williams, Hot Chocolate, Cliff Richard, The Corrs, Georgie Fame, Ruby Turner, The Three Degrees, Boney M and The Platters.

Sax player Al Stewart has worked with Tom Robinson, Cliff Richard, George Michael and Bert Weedon (Google that name kids).

Pete Jagger played the harmonica. He’s a singer and guitar player who tours extensively playing his own brand of folk, blues and ragtime.

Steve Stapley and Lynda Hayes provided the backing vocals. Lynda has sung with Barry Manilow, Nik Kershaw, George Michael, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Meatloaf and many others. Steve is a gifted singer songwriter. He sang in the rock choir on Evita for the film and soundtrack album and has worked with Sir Tim Rice.

John Gordon played bass, is one of the funniest people on the planet, and has worked with Alan Price and Wanda Jackson among many others.

Please make a donation here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/holyjoe

Church haul

Church haul

Well the dog has to be walked, so we trudge up the road past Holy Trinity church. Bucket starts to pull in and I begin to wonder if she’s had some kind of canine epiphany. Actually no, she just likes Holy Trinity because the daughter, who’s pretty dog-walk averse, brings her here when instructed: ‘For god’s sake it’s your turn to walk the damn dog’ and it’s the shortest distance she can get away with. Bucket likes to retrace her steps to see if there are any new doggy smells. Holy Trinity, surrounded by a patch of grass, is a vast old Victorian hulk, not a pretty church and surely far too massive for the spiritual requirements of the godless citizens of South Woodford.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sunday I went to visit the folks. They still insist on remaining dead and have done so since the early seventies. My wife and I sought them out at their grave in Ravensthorpe, a village, just outside Northampton. The Church is St Denys and frankly I’d never heard of a Saint called Dennis, so I’ve just looked him up.

Apparently, he was born in Italy around 210AD. He became a priest and in 245 Pope Fabian consecrated him and six others as missionary bishops to work in France, where the locals had been giving god-fearing Christians all kinds of hell. Unfortunately, they didn’t take kindly to Denys’ evangelical zeal and he too got it in the neck, quite literally as they chopped off his head. Legend has it that after martyrdom Den carried his head for six miles to the place where he was to be buried. Saved someone else the grisly task, I guess.

The church that bears his name is around 800 years old and is made from beautiful, deep copper, Northampton stone. In the churchyard old Yew trees creak in the wind. It’s a peaceful place.

There you have two Anglican churches, one in the suburbs of Essex the other in the rolling Northamptonshire countryside. One beautiful and one ugly, both almost entirely unused. St Denys has a communion service every second Sunday. Holy Trinity, as you can see from the sign, holds three services on the Sabbath. On all other occasions both churches are shuttered. Understandably they are locked to prevent burglary, but you do have to ask if the dear old Church of England needs quite so much religious real estate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose I’d better come clean. I’m not a praying guy. I was brought up a Christian and while the faith has lapsed, I still see myself as a cultural Christian. I love church architecture, well some of it. If anything bad were to happen to St Denys I’d be mortified and not just because the parents are residents. It is clearly a beautiful place and the residents of Ravensthorpe deserve some beauty in their lives. I still love some of the old hymns I used to sing at school and the King James bible is stuffed with poetry. I’m not some atheist zealot, but what are we to do with all the Churches that scatter the land sitting there empty, waiting for a purpose?

I visit the folks perhaps twice a year and I’ve never once been able to get into the church, which is just as charming on the inside.

Obviously, many churches are deconsecrated and turned into housing, which seems all to the good. But what about the ones with architectural merit that are locked up pretty much 24/7?  Can they be repurposed in some way so that they once again become central to the community they serve? Despite the Church of England’s inherited wealth, I worry that some will just slide into disrepair.

In the UK we have a haul of beautiful churches, there needs to be a national debate as to what to do with them. Anyone got a clue?

Shuttered Soho

Lockdown Lowdown 16.5.20

Took the bike and trundled up to Soho at 8am this morning to see if it still existed. It’s been my preferred place to have fun for more than forty years. Plenty of nothing going on now.

Soho Square: Lot of homeless people being cleared out by police
Want to be back at Ronnie’s the night it re-opens.

See you there when it all wakes up.