Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Join the dots...

This video shows an animation of the score to 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane. This is, at the moment at least, my favourite jazz tune - I tend to change my mind about these things and find speaking in absolutes very hard. I simply cannot do those 'top 5' lists! Firstly, I think that this tune shows Coltrane's very real genius: the 'sheets of sound'; the almost ludicrously flexible harmonic structure; the chords shifting like a milling crowd.

Usually, the bass player instinct that is hard wired in me hones in on the rhythm section - the bass and the drums. The guys playing on this track - the great Paul Chambers on upright and Art Taylor on drums - put in an unbelievable performance. They bubble along like a simmering pot on a stove and never lose sight of the tune's progression. It sounds effortless, easy even. Tommy Flanagan on piano almost joins the rhythm section in this case, and, aside from the solo, marks the passing of the chords with guttural stabs. However, for once, my ears are dragged kicking and screaming from the mysteriously arcane and dingy world of the rhythm section and into the strange and uncomfortably brightly lit world of melody and harmony. Coltrane's playing is staggering. He rides over the changes like a surfer on a wave; effortless and yet pushing it as far as he possibly can. I cannot even begin to understand what's going on with this tune, let alone explain it.

So, yes, this is about the best piece of music I can think of right now. What strikes me about this video is how much simplifying has to occur to transcribe what Coltrane is playing. I'm a poor reader of music, yet even I can appreciate how much of Coltrane's playing has gone missing when it is written down. It is very close, but to write every inflection and nuance of what is going on down on the manuscript would render it unreadable to even the most accomplished of readers. Just goes to show: it doesn't matter how much education or expertise one has on paper, real genius cannot be imitated or transcribed. There is simply too much to write down and not enough symbols to give the reader the true colours; a cheap Polaroid of a masterpiece.

Use your ears, folks, and do it for real!

Monday, 8 June 2009

What now?

May I start by explaining that I never intended this blog to be a platform for my political views. I still don't think that it is really; I haven't really detailed what I believe, just what I object to. However, recent events have stirred the slumbering political beast that lies within me. So, here goes...

Well. It has happened. Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons have become the first members of the BNP elected to the European Parliament. For the first time ever, the British electorate have chosen to be represented by a party that is founded on principles of racism - albeit thinly veiled in promises of protecting the rights of the 'indigenous Briton' (see my posts below if you're at all interested in what I think about that) against the onslaught of immigration. In a manner that is like a diet version of the inter-war rise of fascism in Germany - 3rd Reich Lite if you will - the recession, a feeling of injustice and disillusionment and a need to turn inwards and away from the influences of the others that are the phantom cause of all our ills, far right politics is now firmly on the menu of Britain's political dinner party. I've considered the views of the BNP, tried to understand them and listen to the people that vote for them, but I've always found them to be incredibly flawed, ill-informed, half explained and understood even less. They always come back to plain old bigotry. I even heard Andrew Brons on Radio 2 claiming that he didn't know why non-white people weren't allowed into the party as he had only been in it for four years and he didn't make the policy. He is an elected representative of the party, and yet even he cannot explain why he thinks what he thinks. Is it just me, or isn't that just a teeny-weeny bit farcical? If Brons, a former school master, can't explain or justify what he believes, what hope do the voters he is supposed to represent have?

I'm not entirely sure if I'm being hysterical in saying that this country will never be the same again. The question I'm pondering is whether this will eventually turn out to be a good thing. Obviously, I don't think that it could ever be a good thing to have fascists representing you and me in any kind of democratic assembly, but perhaps the shock - the stomach turning horror of seeing such people and such negativity and hatred given any kind of power - will provoke something very positive.

When it comes down to pointing the ineffectual giant finger of blame, I feel that my generation and demographic has a lot of explaining to do. I simply cannot believe that people would protest the abuse of expenses by MPs or the recession by voting for a party that judges people's rights by the colour of their skin. How could you move from the left-centre politics of traditional Labour to the far-right stance of the BNP? Surely the problem is not a shift in voting loyalties; I think that the problem is with the apathy and laziness of the kind of people who voted for Labour - namely me. I have always voted at every election. I have always made the effort to get down to the polling station and put the cross next to the name that stood out to me. However, could I honestly say that I have taken the time to look into the political landscape into which I am about to walk? Have I done my research? Do I know, really know, if I'm voting for something in which I believe in?

I am a practicing Christian. This means that I believe in things that have far greater power than any politician. It also means that whatever political affiliations I have now depend on the issues of the moment rather than a traditional association with a party. My dad, for example, is a traditional Scouse socialist: he has voted Labour since he was 18 and will probably vote for them forever. When I said to him that I had voted Liberal Democrat in one election, he asked me if my "arse hurt from sitting on the fence". It's good to have loyalties and strong principles, but I think politics has changed now. If I'm honest, I don't see much difference between the centre-left of Labour and the centre-right of the Tories, aside from some differences of opinion on Europe and the economy. I could honestly say that if the Tories were elected tomorrow, my life would not be impacted greatly. However, I believe that if I am to align my faith with a political persuasion, it would probably look more socialist than right: a desire to help the poor; to treat the sick with compassion; in the equality of all men and the prevention of selfishness and greed at the expense of others. Looking at the manifesto of the BNP is like looking at the negative image of these values.

My faith also means that if there is one thing that is not an option, it is inactivity. Standing on the sidelines and claiming "I told you so" is simply not allowed. It doesn't change anything. It merely makes one complicit to the problem, almost as blameful as the perpetrators themselves. Shame on those who stayed at home and didn't vote as a protest: how can someone claim that by not voting they are protesting? If you don't like the way MPs behave, vote them out. Or spoil your paper. Staying at home - a mass display of apathy - merely confirms that the powers that be can get on with things on their own because we're not really interested. How can we suddenly pay attention when it suits us? And how strange that we demonstrate our anger at the system by doing absolutely nothing, en masse?

Whatever: the BNP stand for nothing good. It is apathy that has opened the door of power to them, albeit the slightest of an amount. It will be apathy that keeps it open. So it is imperative that we get out of our comfortable armchairs of casual outrage and start registering our feelings about whatever is going on in demonstrable, effective ways. Doing nothing could perhaps no longer be an option. Therefore, maybe those fascists getting into the European Parliament could result in being a positive thing. I really hope that's the case. The alternatives could be very unpleasant indeed.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Hello? Is there anybody there?

The debate rages. Or at least my side of it does. Following my recent emailed letter to the British National Party, I've heard nothing from them in reply as yet. Which seems a little incongruous and even strange considering their almost feverish determination to mop up the 'disillusioned vote'. A gentle reminding nudge was in order, so I've just emailed the following follow up. I will post any responses that come my way. If they ever materialise that is...

Dear sir or madam,

I recently sent you the query below regarding your policies on immigration. I asked you to define the term 'indigenous Britons' that is very frequently referred to in your party literature to help me understand your philosophies and to cast an informed vote in the forthcoming local and European elections. This leaves me unsure as to whether or not I can describe myself as indigenous to Britain. As I have, as yet, not heard a reply from your office, I am assuming that either there is no satisfactory explanation for referring to anybody as an indigenous Briton - other than the Welsh perhaps - or that you don't particularly want my vote. Or would it help if I sent a photograph?

Every other party I have asked direct questions of regarding their policies has managed to reply or at least pointed me in the right direction to find out more. I am very disappointed that you, as a publicly accountable political organisation, have been unable to do likewise. Surely, as you seem very keen at pointing out the all too evident lack of accountability shown by our leading political parties, you would want to display to a voting member of the public such as me that you care about explaining your policies and philosophies. Or maybe you don't want my vote?

Either way, it would be great to hear from you before June 4th. At the moment, I am deciding to vote only for a party that is able to explain exactly what it stands for. That seems to me to be the only commonly sensible way to use my privileged position as a British voter.

Yours faithfully,

Liam Owen, Bristol.