Trojan Horse

If you were thinking about classical myths when you saw that title, congratulations on your fine education. For me, “Trojan Horse” is an absolutely wonderful band that I like enough to have seen three times in three weeks – and I am going back for more next week.

Fine quality songwriting is at the heart of the experience you get. What makes these guys stand out so much from the crowd of wannabe pop stars is Troy Henderson’s delicate and varied lyrics and his mastery of writing a bunch of very catchy tunes that stay in your head.

Yes, it’s played beautifully. Yes, these four guys really rock out and give a terrific show. So do lots of bands. Hardly anyone writes songs this good. Trust me on this. I go to a lot of shows.

The extraordinary thing is that I have watched Troy become a better and better performer with each gig. He is ably supported by the others, including Ben Hayes, Ben Ramster and Miguel Angel Serna Ruiz. Managed by the very wonderful Jena Chupungco, the band is building up a London following.

Troy is modest enough to think this increase of fans is happening because he has good friends and because Jena’s working hard (and she is). It’s actually because you are such an excellent singer and songwriter, Troy, with some heartbreakingly beautiful turns of phrase and gorgeous variations of melody.

Far and away the best of these songs is “I Wanna Be Your Man/Alright” which makes you think about the Rolling Stones, Lou Reed and a whole lot of memorable rhythm and blues’ classics. I cannot stop humming it.

Having written that, there isn’t a dud song here. They are all great.

“Avenge” starts out with a slow and pop tempo and builds to almost heavy metal levels. “Hold On .. She Said” has those gorgeous wave rhythms the Beach Boys do so well, but there is a bit of B52s in this too. It has a fantastic subversive edge, as do all of Troy’s songs.

“Bright City Lights, Big City Nights” goes to somewhere between the honky tonk and the jazz bar.

Steve Earle might have written “Fight It Out” in one of his rock moods.

Everything just shines and makes you feel good, even though the lyrics can be quite bleak about relationships gone wrong and broken dreams. The music shimmers and lifts the words to hopefulness and joy.

You can see them for free at the Garage at the World’s End in Finsbury Park, London on August 11th. If you want to hear them, go to:

http://www.myspace.com/trojanhorsedenn/music

You will thank me for leading you towards them when they are rich and famous. You can say you saw them early in their career. If you get their autographs, you probably won’t need a pension plan.

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Royal Wedding

I watched it. I figured that if it’s costing me 62 pence, as a British taxpayer, I should check it out and see what I am paying for.

When the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flew over my house, my first thought was “Are we at war?” followed by “D’oh”.

Then I saw the same planes on TV, a few minutes later. This was very bizarre.

Given the amounts spent, you’d think they would pay the cleaners properly, wouldn’t you? The point of this post is to encourage you to join the Facebook page supporting the palace cleaners. You can join by going to “PCS Union Says Support The Royal Cleaners” etc.

The campaign is growing and the aim is to get the cleaners the London Living Wage.

I hope William and Kate have a very happy married life. And I hope the palace officials help the cleaners to a better life through decent wages.

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Easter Thoughts and a Plea to the Mayor of London

It’s Good Friday and Earth Day. The last week has brought news of another set of acquaintances and friends who have lost their public sector jobs. The bankers got it wrong and services for poor people suffer.

In Britain, it feels like this is an ideological war on poor people and not an economic one about balancing the budget. Cuts bite hardest at the lowest levels.

Whether the jobs axed were “useful frontline” or “back office bureaucrat”, the current swelling of the unemployment statistics won’t help anyone feel good. Revving up the economy should be the government’s priority, but it seems to be firing all its salvos at a costly election on voting systems that most people don’t understand or care about.

The last ten years saw lots of jobs created of dubious value. Have the “stop teenage pregnancy” legions had any impact on the birth rate? Probably not. But the people who do those jobs are better off in work than out of it and if they improve just one girl’s chances in life, they are potentially helpful and mostly harmless. 

These bad economic cycles run for two to five years and they bring as many opportunities as problems. Too many of those opportunities bring joy to the carpetbaggers rather than to the entrepreneurs. The poor stay poor and the rich get richer.

This week, I went to a rugby match for the first time, courtesy of the Evening Standard. The crowd at The Stoop – score 26 all for Harlequins and Castleford – was a very different creature to the people on the football terraces at West Ham and Leyton Orient.

I have no idea what was going on, other than the bits that were like American football. Yet I observed that this crowd was courteous, orderly and even the toilet queues were kind and chatty and fair.

The conversation was all about job losses. As were the bits of conversation I overheard in the posh pub in Richmond, a world away from the East End I live in. No conversation seems to be about voting systems.

Is there any possibility public sector and private employers might consider cutting from the top rather than the bottom? Yet again, it seems that those earning least are suffering most. Why can’t elected Councillors and senior managers cut their own salaries?

It’s the “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas” argument, isn’t it?

One point I need to get attention to is about the extraordinarily unfair ticket structure of Transport for London. If you have an annual or monthly or weekly Travelcard, this will not affect you.

It has a profound effect on the poorest, who are on “pay as you go” Oyster cards. Did you know that costs rise sharply if you need to travel between 6.30am and 9.30am and 4pm and 7pm?

A typical journey from Zone 3 to Zone 1 carries a whopping 40 pence premium at this time. Who has to travel during these hours on pay as you go? Shift workers, parents, carers and – essentially – those in the most fragile job situations.

If the Mayor of London and his new transport guru, Isabel Dedring, care to do something special for Londoners in trouble, they will take action to end this unfair surcharge on those who need to travel in those hours.

Depending on the zone you are in, the surcharge is between 10 pence and £1.40 and it needs to be removed to get London economically active again.

It would be good if they could actually address the meltdown of the Jubilee and Central Lines too. But could someone consider that the increase in travel might actually more than cover the lost income?

Posted in British Politics, Cuts, Politics, Public Sector, Transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marching Against The Public Sector Cuts – March 26th 2011

It’s a long time since I marched. The anti-war protest was the last cause I felt drawn to and that was 2003.

I didn’t get any younger, since then, although I am far fitter than I was having lost a lot of weight and got into shape.

It was one amazing day, to rehash the phrase about the Millennium Dome. I met up with a friend at Holborn. The Tube station was already crowded with people and banners and we found each other via text message, in the throng.

Then, we tried to get to Embankment. Thousands of people were coming the other way. So we hung on to find people we knew. After an hour in The Strand, getting pushed back, it was clear it would be impossible to get into the area around Embankment, with thousands of people coming the other way. We were convinced we had missed our group, so we proceeded to Parliament Square, where it would be easier to see banners.

Everywhere, we were part of a large group. We meandered and joined the march.

It felt absolutely incredible to be part of such a huge protest against the savage cuts to the UK public sector. The whistles, drums, vuvuzuelas (ah, them again) and the chance to be part of such a massive march all added to the atmosphere.

The BBC estimates that half a million marched. It felt a lot bigger than that.

One joy of this event was the capacity to see so many iconic London buildings from the middle of the road.

If you weren’t there, you missed a terrific event.

Amassing in Hyde Park, the speeches and – after a long warm spell – the rain started. We persisted for a while but, eventually, the pub beckoned. Indeed, several of those did beckon.

I marched so that young people might have libraries, free education and universal health care. I marched so that a protest was registered by those in power.

Will it make any difference? Well, it certainly made a big difference to me. So many people made a huge effort to come from all over the country. My efforts in crossing London pale, by comparison.

Protest, sign petitions, protect you local Council services and your NHS, please.

If there is one warning note I have to sound, it’s that calling this government “scumbags” in  speeches in Hyde Park will not help the cause. This government is full of clever people with their own agenda. But they are not “scumbags” and we should keep the high moral ground and not use this language.

Having said that, I was there. And I am very, very proud of myself tonight.

Posted in British Politics, Cuts, March 26 2011, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Vulgaires Machins

The political punk rock group Vulgaires Machins combines pure poetry with high octane performance to give the lucky audience a once in a lifetime experience. Honestly, I cannot remember when I last enjoyed every song at a gig and danced until my whole body hurt.

Even rarer is it that I come home and start listening to lyrics all over again and translating them, for my own pleasure.

They have an agit-prop and utterly provocative nature at their essence. They want you to react. Your brain is a free place. Their message is important and needs to be discussed. 

Vulgaires Machins (VM) roughly translates as “vulgar stuff”. My high school French teacher once used is as a pejorative term for all rock and roll. The last time I heard the phrase used, it was by a woman dismissing a particularly ghastly dress worn by a transvestite on a street in Montreal. Believe me, in French conversation, you will always get a laugh if you are using it correctly.

Now, it will always mean sublime music with a distinctive Quebecois edge. The video that’s at the start of this post gives a good feel for how explosive they are live.

Boy, in these videos, these people are a long way from scantily clad gals and bling-covered guys.

If you do understand French and if you know Quebec’s lyrical language idiosyncracies, you will appreciate that these people write incredible songs, with an unstoppable combination of saying something deeply meaningful and alternative, expressing it beautifully and writing great and catchy songs that stay in your head forever.

They are also really nice people.I spoke with them at a Quebec cultural event for “francophonie” week. Being a francophone is a uniquely Quebec thing. Quebec has anglophones, francophones and allophones (that’s anyone else). My father used to joke that he was an anglo-saxophone.

VM come from Granby. In terms of a Montreal childhood, this is the place that has a zoo you have to visit in Grade 8. I remember a lot of giraffes and no music at all.

Guillaume Beauregard and Marie-Eve Roy are the heart of the group, sharing vocals and guitars. Marie-Eve also plays piano. Maxime Beauregard plays bass and Patrick Landry plays drums. They have made eight albums and are exceptionally articulate. Having just sold out big venues in France, they should have been disappointed by the disparate audience of about 50 Quebeckers in exile at the Comedy Club, but they gave it their all.

I wonder if, in time, they will sing in English. The French language is all that’s standing between them and super-stardom. Even those who spoke no French – I am bilingual and classified as such in Quebec – were rocking out and loving the music.

Live, they come into their own. They have replaced the Comsat Angels as my favourite band, ever and I know far too much about music. Guillaume reminds me of my dear friend Richard Flint who has now been dead for nearly three years. Richard would have loved this gig.

So I will leave you with a live performance at Laval University. I have seen the future of music. As I suspected, it’s in Quebec.

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La Ronde (2011)

La Ronde was the name of the fun fair at Expo 67 in Montreal. The rides and the atmosphere of St Helen’s Island made it a paradise for kids. Alongside a spiffing new metro station, it was accessible and better than anything we had seen before.

At university, I became aware there was a famous Max Ophuls film called “La Ronde”,(1950) based on Arthur Schnitzler’s play of 1900. It’s about a series of sexual encounters and the film and play and playwright were considered to be controversial. I wondered if the designers of my childhood hangout had been having a quiet laugh as they named a fun fair after a drama that was once denounced as pornographic.

 I saw the Rosemary Branch 2011 version, written by Peter Scott-Presland with music by David Harrod. According to Wikipedia, it’s the fifth gay adaptation and they also cite a 1964 Roger Vadim film. This “La Ronde” is a play about people who regularly attend a gay bar.

It is deeply reassuring to think that straight sex can be allowed in a gay play, albeit as a perversion, in 2011. This production covers (uncovers?) different sexual activity There is no place here for those who have issues with simulated sex and semi-nudity. It makes the odd decision to place it in John Major’s Britain of the 1990s.

This provides some anachronisms. The main one is that some characters are speaking to each other on the Internet in chat rooms. I am reasonably convinced that I was one of the first onto the Internet and that was about 1996. I had something similar at IT companies in the 1980s, but I got my old Compuserve package in 1996.

Having discussed this with others, Internet chat rooms did not get going until Tony Blair came to power in 1997. I have never used one, but friends tell me these existed from about 1998 and as dating sites from about 2000.

While I am nit-picking, the clothes are all wrong for 1992. The fabrics the characters wear simply did not exist in 1992. Trouser legs were wider, day glow colours spilled over from the 1980s and the hair of the characters is very 2011 and not 1992. Hair should be flatter or fatter.

I have one more quibble. If clothes are going to be put on and taken off quite this often, it would have been easy to find authentic 1992 gear that would have been simpler to put on and take off. The actors struggled with socks and jeans too often.

Despite these niggles, this is a very entertaining play indeed. The AIDS plot and the epilepsy episode are harsh, but these are just part of the reality of a very engaging group of gay people who have a variety of encounters.

Scott-Presland’s script is very witty and engages your attention from the start. (I need to declare that I am a friend of Peter’s as well as a fan.) David Harrod’s music is involving in a pleasant and music hall style and he plays the keyboard at each performance.

The young stars are a real joy. It’s hard to pick out a particular winner, in such a great ensemble, but Paul Bygraves as The Wolf, Simon Chilvers as The Kid and Cupid 1 and 2 (Ozer Ercan and Nick Bosanko) all shone particularly brightly, for me.

JJ Criss as The Soldier and Randy Smartnick as The Fag were also spot on. There isn’t a dud performance here.

David Shenton’s set creates a very imaginative bar and bed that are moved around to great effect.

It’s long, at 2 hours and 40 minutes, but there is an interval. That’s a good thing given that this is a cosy theatre and the seats are not at the luxury end of the market.

“La Ronde” says interesting things in the progress from sex to love and the themes are as relevant to straight people as they are to gay people. It held my attention from the start to the grand finale finish.

There are some lovely and light comic touches that will charm you. It feels less bitty that the Ophuls’ movie and it hangs together better as a complete piece. The use of the Cupids as chorus is particularly key to making sure the seams don’t show, between scenes.

It’s a love story as much as a tale about sex. Do go see it, unless you are a prude. If you are prudish, stay away.

“La Ronde” is at the Rosemary Branch Theatre, 2 Shepperton Road, London N1 3DT (Haggerston or Old Street Tubes then a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute bus ride) March 15 – April 3 2011 Tuesday-Saturday 7.45pm Sunday 4pm

Posted in Gay, La Ronde, Lesbian, Play, Theatre, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Spirit of Madison, Wisconsin

Political protest has appeared to be dead in England, over the last years. Apart from the large marches opposing war in Iraq and Afghanistan and some brave but occasional action by unions, people seemed pretty supine.

Suddenly, students and public sector workers are marching and forming new networks to resist cuts. Buildings are being occupied. Plans for bigger marches are being made. Part of the reason for this may be that young people are not signed up to the “get a job and pay a mortgage” pathway to the future. They say both those possibilities seem very remote, if not impossible for them, given the current financial meltdown.

The mortgage is one of the best means of social control as you probably don’t think about occupying a building or marching on one if you are a little preoccupied by paying for your home.

There probably is a PhD thesis to be written from researching the political reasons for the mortgage as a tool for minimising political protest. Somebody may have already published that.

If large scale protest has become unusual here, it appeared to be on the endangered species list in the United States. Suddenly – not out of nowhere but surprisingly – where should the current hotbed of protest be but Madison, Wisconsin?

The only bit of trivia I know about the place is that the founder of “The Onion” went to university there. I have never even visited the place.

Last week, about 600 people occupied the State Capitol building, protesting Governor Scott Walker’s determination to end collective bargaining for public sector workers. The protest grew and grew. Teachers from Canada were joining their comrades in the building.

Even weirder, the Democrat party members decided to fly out of the state rather than be forced to vote. They didn’t consider joining the protest.

The police were ordered to empty the building. Many of them (although their collective bargaining is separate to the planned cuts) refused their orders and some are reported to have assisted the protestors.

Pizzas were being delivered free to the occupiers by local business people. Messages of support were coming in and significant amounts of internet traffic featured clips from inside the scene.

I used to think Scott Walker was a great name because one of my favourite singers from the 1960s was called that. Flowers in your hair and San Francisco and lovely cuddly hippie ideas were his claims to fame.

This new Scott Walker is planning to cut 1500 jobs immediately and make teachers and others accept big pay cuts. Apparently, many teachers have to take second jobs, just to make ends meet, before the cuts take effect.

As I write, the judge has ruled that the occupiers have to leave or they will be evicted by police on Monday, March 7th.

Governor Walker said today that the protestors had never threatened “business as usual” and that people are coming and going to and from the building, as normal.

Tell that to the local pizza places who are swamped by offers of donations from sympathetic souls around the world who want to see the brave occupiers fed.

So, Madison, Wisconsin, I think what you people are doing there is inspiring. I fear you will lose this battle, but you will win the war. Although we may all face much harder times before you win some justice, my heart is with you. I hope you all get home, safely and are really proud of yourselves.

Posted in American Politics, British Politics, Cuts, Politics, Public Sector, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments