Indie music today

I have just had the displeasure of flicking through the most dreadful quality of music on Now That’s What I Call Music 84. I am most probably showing my age, but it was filled with turgid, manufactured piffle. I know that as a rule, those albums are mainly composed of pop artists but back in the day you could rely on at least some of it being good indie music – Pulp, Radiohead, Blur, and Oasis. The very best album I owned at the time was Urban Hymns by The Verve.  Today we are in the shackles of reunions because today’s bands just aren’t cutting the mustard.

We are in desperate need of a new rock supergroup to follow in the footsteps of Oasis, and start a new cultural revolution. Back in 1994, in a political climate not too dissimilar to today (growing up in a tough northern city which had been literally abandoned because of Thatcherism), Oasis – perhaps as an antithesis to the contemporaneous acid house music, most definitely wanting to build on the late 80s indie movement instigated by the Smiths and the Stone Roses and, without question, wanting to complement the growing influence of grunge pioneered by Sonic Youth and later Nirvana – took a style (i.e. ripped off the Beatles and 70s glam rock) and made it their own. But it was good. It was loud. It was fresh. It was music that defined and spoke for a generation and it was done by two normal lads who – for better or worse – fought like cat and dog, much to the thrill of the tabloids of the time.

I want to give the kids of today something else to listen to other than Justin Bieber, his counterpart Lady Gaga, the nice but bland Taylor Swift and the very worst of them all, One Direction. Where is the next indie supergroup going to come from? Remember, Oasis came when U2 and REM were riding high bringing music to the intelligentsia and that means it can happen today with Coldplay in a maturing state. The very worst thing to happen would be Noel Gallagher judging on X Factor. In the words of Thatcher, no, no NO.

Labour came into power at the height of Britpop in ’97, in the middle of a wonderful feelgood factor, and there’s much to say that they will do well in 2015. If so, we should welcome them in similar style.
Who’s in?

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York

Last month, York was voted the city that people in this country would most like to live in. As a resident of York for over six years, this does not come as a surprise. From the moment I entered York, I fell in love with it and proceeded to build a life in this venerable city hereafter. It is difficult to relinquish its hold.

York oozes class. It boasts amazing culture – great restaurants, art galleries, bars – fabulous architecture, and most of all, an indeterminable essence that cannot be described more than it can be felt, whether you’re at Clifford’s Tower, Stonegate (stick a roof on this street and you have a museum), The Shambles, or The Minster – the tourist magnets. But spend long enough here, though, and you really get under the skin of the city. Millions of people walk the streets of York every year, from every corner of the globe, but to residents, there is much more to York than meets the eye.

I moved here in 2006. I spent the previous three years in Durham, another quintessentially beautiful English city, where I read law. The similarities between the two cities are obvious; both are centred on ancient seats of Christian worship; both are internationally renowned places of academic study; both underscored by a vibrant local community. Some argue that Durham is actually prettier: the walk from Van Mildert College to the law department on the Bailey, taking in Prebends Bridge, has what many great men have called the most picturesque scene in all of England; the view of Durham Cathedral sitting high atop the hill on a peninsular. It is certainly one of the best things I have ever seen.

But what York enjoys most over Durham is space. It is a bigger city, with more things to do, and more things to see. You can actually feel a degree of claustrophobia in Durham after a while, which for me at least, can only be dissipated by a visit to Newcastle 12 miles away. York, on the other hand, has everything you need within an easy, walkable distance. The Minster is smack bang in the middle of town – head through one of the ancient snickets in York and you wouldn’t think that one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture the world has ever seen is a stone’s throw away, hidden away from view. Its ability draw a gasp still holds strong after six years.

Local community

Like many others before me I came to York for legal training at the College of Law,  situated at the Knavesmire overlooking the racecourse and the home of one of the best venues for racing in the country (The Royal Ascot was held in York in 2004). I moved to South Bank, living in a student house on Scarcroft Road, and it was a typical postgraduate household; two Italians, a Liverpudlian, a Bulgarian, and a weird but wonderful Chinese man who sparked within me a desire to explore the South East Asian region, which I did in 2008.

To this day I still cannot think of a better community in which to live. A fifteen minute walk into town (a journey which takes you through Micklegate Bar) the area has many top quality amenities: a butcher that makes the best hot beef sandwiches known to man, a baker, a great pub, a great hairdresser, and a huge field to run in/barbecue/sunbathe when the weather feels appropriate. Not to mention Bishopthorpe Road, a wonderful little High Street that has a very cosmopolitan feel to it, juxtaposed to the small ‘villagey’ feel it has about it. I have sat outside the Pig and Pastry eating a continental breakfast and drinking fresh orange juice in the blazing sunshine, thinking the area compares with the very best that London has to offer.

The people

When I moved to York, I took a job to supplement my income in a city centre bar. For a good number of years it proved to be the central hub for mine and other peoples’ social lives. Based in the Old Quarter, annexing Stonegate, this is the classy part of the city to drink. It contains some of the best bars in the country in my opinion; Kennedy’s, Evil Eye, 1331, Bobo Lobos, Vudu, Dusk, Stonegate Yard, and The Biltmore to name but a few. Serving drinks and food to customers from all over the world is by far and away the most interesting job I have ever had, but more than that, the people I worked with, and still know to this day, made it much more fun than I could ever imagine. Finishing a shift and then walking into a competing pub where you know the other members of staff, drinking until the early hours of the morning, has provided a good number of enjoyable moments. Even if I barely remember them.

If you have a predilection for meeting new and interesting people, York is your place. Throughout my time in York I have had the chance to DJ in front of a packed crowd, play guitar in a number of venues across the city for a good friend who possesses a sparkling voice, not to mention meeting many, many other interesting people.

Christmas in York

I have yet to mention Christmas! Stonegate at Christmas brings a warm feeling to your tummy. There really is a special vibe about the city, compounded by seasonal festivities. There is no better place to be than in York at Christmas time. St Nicholas’ Fayre and the Festival of Angels only adds credence to this – thousands of people descend upon York to shop in the boutique shops and be watered and fed in many of the city’s independent restaurants.

Whenever I step off a train at York, and walk into the street opposite the City Walls, I immediately get a sense that this is my home. I am glad the rest of the country want to feel this too.

The Zeitgeist and Jimmy Savile

 

The news is hot on one topic at the moment. Jimmy Savile appears to be one of Britain’s most prolific paedophiles, yet whilst he had an aura of eccentricity and strangeness, the rumours that followed him were never acted upon. Why?

In yesterday’s Observer, Jane Root, controller of BBC2 from 1999-2004,  said there needed to be a “truth and reconciliation commission” into Savile along with perceived sexism in the corporation, and “throughout television” in the 1980s and early 1990s. She said: “It was this sexist atmosphere, although a totally different thing, that assisted a very dedicated paedophile such as Savile to operate in the middle of it all”. Therein lies the question. How could the BBC foster such an environment in which Savile could go about his business?

I will admit that I find nothing wrong with adult men finding post-pubescent teenage girls attractive. Biologically speaking, youth is a powerful driver in sexual attraction. Moreover, guys I know will tell you that they have, as adult men, recall at least one situation where they have noticed an attractive underage girl before, especially when they wear revealing clothing and appear to look older than the age of consent. But generally speaking, as people get older, they are attracted to and look for sexual partners closer to their own age. The reason being is that older people have matured, and they are on completely different planes to younger ones mentally.  Sexual maturity does not equal mental maturity.

It is for this reason that there exists an age of consent in countries across the world, which is where sexual and mental maturity reach a confluence. This age, of course, is entirely arbitrary but we have to draw the line somewhere and here in the UK we settled on 16. This varies across the world, and indeed in countries with similar cultural norms to ours; for example, in France, the age of consent is 15; in some countries it’s 14, 13 and so on. Indeed, in certain cultures across the world, it is customary for a girl to become pregnant and raise a family as soon as she is physically able to, but they tend to be in countries we consider to be “third world” and are often much more tribal than we are accustomed to.

So whilst I concede there can be an attraction to younger girls, at the same time, I think an adult male should have their testicles cut off and given back to them on a plate if they sexually take advantage of girls under the age of consent knowing full well how old they are. Doing so once is bad enough, but doing so on a prolific basis is nothing short of systemic child abuse. Such behaviour is predatory in nature and much less about sex, but rather, power; a point rightly made by Deborah Orr in Saturday’s Guardian.  Savile, who clearly had a predilection for underage girls therefore deserves to be labelled as a child abuser. Noticing a girl who is pretty but young, and having a sole sexual interest in girls under the age of consent are completely different things. The demarcation for when a girl becomes legal is designed to protect her. Savile broke that line, not least by choosing underage targets but by forcing himself upon people, which is horrendous to both adults and children and alike.

Having said all of this, the question then must be asked as to how and why the BBC fostered such an environment in which Savile operated. That there has been a wall of silence around this behaviour, especially in a society that enjoys exposing sleaze, defies belief if we assess it by today’s standards.

The answer lies in the ‘spirit of the times’. This is known as a zeitgeist, defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time”. Think of the 1950s and how the world looks today compared to back then. Young girls routinely started families much earlier than they do now. We’ve seen a huge swathe of cultural and legal changes designed to bring parity to women and other groups across the world over the course of many hundreds of years.

But it’s a developmental process, and it takes time to finally realise something is wrong and needs to be changed. For instance, a man could legally rape his wife up until 1991. That’s right. A woman could not bring a rape charge against her husband if he had sex with her without her consent because it was seen as part of her marital duty to satisfy her husband. Furthermore, child porn was legally sold in Denmark and other European countries, with laws banning their sale coming only in the early 80s. There existed an organisation called Paedophile Information Exchange which received funding from the Home Office and those who advocated for child sexual freedoms publicly argued for their cause.  Homosexuality used to be a crime which deserved imprisonment. We used to hang people if they committed a crime; even on shaky evidence.  Women used to be legally paid less than men (and we are still battling on that front). Therefore the zeitgeist is crucial to understanding shifts of thought pertaining to certain periods of time in history, and equal pay, human rights, women’s rights, gay rights: all have benefited from changes in human thinking over the course of time. What is deemed and morally acceptable continuously changes.

It appears, therefore, that Savile came from a time when it was seen as being acceptable, if not publicly but inconspicuously, to engage in sexual behaviour with sexually mature, but underage girls.  None more so than in music and show business was this more prevalent. Many famous rock stars had sexual relations with underage girls (think of the groupie culture), and indeed many famous songs were written about such desire. Whilst it may have been frowned upon by certain people (people did complain at the time of Savile’s offences) it certainly didn’t spark the widespread revulsion we would see now – revulsion seen in the recent Jeremy Forrest case for example (Google this name and Megan Stammers if you are unfamiliar with the story). Instead it was met with a wall of silence and a degree of acceptance. The police investigated Savile but did not bring a criminal charge.

So is it the case that the BBC ignored this because it was seen as being “part of the culture” back then? Jane Root seems to think so. Much like it was seen that women were inferior to men on almost every feasible level until we realised it was completely unacceptable and made some very necessary changes. Remember that this behaviour wasn’t just perpetrated against young girls – adults complained about groping at the station as being “par for the course”.  Remember too that the BBC produced shows that routinely contained blatant racism in its TV shows, which was viewed as being culturally acceptable back then. The internal culture appears to have been equally inappropriate.

What’s more, the very fact that Esther Rantzen (who made it her mission to protect victims of child abuse) did not see Savile’s abuse as being something which she should complain clearly demonstrates the zeitgeist in which the BBC operated. How else could a woman ignore child molestation whilst at the same time invite victims of child abuse to call ChildLine? I don’t believe it to be about Savile being completely untouchable – there are plenty of domineering stars who the media would love to tear apart – the sleazy press existed back then and surely if they felt it to be a scoop they would have reported all of this many years ago. Nor do I believe his charity work trumped his illegal behaviour.

There exists no plausible defence for illegal behaviour and Jimmy Savile appears to have been a prolific criminal stretching over many decades. He broke the law, but seemingly had free will to do so. Just like the man that once raped his wife as free as he pleased. Thankfully now rigorous controls are in place and it seems very unlikely that a Jimmy Savile would be able to conduct criminal behaviour on an institutional scale. The zeitgeist has changed.

My take on the Olympic Games

2012 was already proving to be a great year, with the birth of my son back in June amidst what was already an impressive programme of sport. George arrived just in time for the England v Sweden game during Euro 2012, whilst Wimbledon, the British Grand Prix, all came and went until the Olympics started two weeks ago. What has happened in this country in those two weeks has been nothing short of remarkable. There is a palpable degree of sadness that the Games have drawn to a close. There is a collective question across the country: “what do we do now!?”

Before now I was quite indifferent about the Olympics, quite sceptical about our ability to stage such a large scale event amidst one of the worst economic crises the world has ever seen. I did not enter a ballot to secure tickets to any of the events, nor did I plan to visit London at any point during the Games. I have to confess that my interest in all of the participating sports other than football was minimal, and so I expected the Games to pass without stirring anything inside me. Alas, all of the talk about the Olympics was mostly scaremongering from a work perspective, with London expected to be completely locked down and rendered logistically incapable, adding to a real sense that the Olympics were becoming a burden, rather than a benefit, to us all.

Only none of the negative predictions about the Olympics came true. Transport ran smoothly. We welcomed people from all over the world and the army of volunteers, who each surely must receive an MBE at the very least, showed Britain in its best light. We have seen an absolutely flawless spectacle that started with the Opening Ceremony in what seems like a lifetime ago, and from then on in, I was absolutely spell-bound. I have never seen anything quite like that ceremony. It was surreal watching this huge spectacle unfold on the television celebrating everything about the country in which we live, watching the most obscure countries arrive at the Olympic Stadium in such wonderful fashion. Suddenly, a huge wave of patriotism came over us, with (Sir) Danny Boyle’s technically marvellous and emphatic celebration of British culture entrancing each and every one of us in a dazzling work of art. From then on, we were hooked.

I took the advantage of being on holiday to take in sports I would never normally watch. Archery, swimming, diving, gymnastics, rowing; I found myself spurring on completely unbeknown people representing Britain in every sport imaginable because of their sheer determination to win. The image of the rower collapsing after giving his all says everything about efforts people went to in order to secure medals for Britain. In years to come I will be showing my son videos of athletes showing the utmost level of determination and teaching him that if you want something bad enough, you can reach inside you to achieve something beyond your wildest dreams if you try hard enough.

This has been the resounding memory over these last two weeks. Jessica Ennis mesmerising us in the 100m hurdles and becoming the best female athlete in the world, Mo Farah easing to a double gold in the 5,000m and 10,000m, Chris Hoy winning his sixth gold to become our most decorated Olympian, Andy Murray destroying the best tennis player in the world, Ben Ainslie becoming the most successful sailor in Olympic history, Usain Bolt showing us why he is one of the world’s most loved sports stars and making sprinting into an art form. There is something so beautiful about watching the most elite athletes in the world at the pinnacle of their respective sports trying their very best to become the best and being quite humble in their achievements. That they did it in this country in some of the best sporting facilities in the world is nothing short of fantastic.

We need to now build on this and develop a legacy in this country for after the Games has finished. If elite sport is properly funded, we can give kids of my son’s generation the best chance to emulate the athletes who competed at London 2012. More than this, we need to take advantage of the sporting successes of our new heroes and ensure that Britain continues to be a leading sporting nation thereafter by instilling sport as a compulsory provision in schools across the country. Private school education is much lauded and not least because of its sporting provision in its schools, something which shows in the medal tables in certain sports. Australia failed to adequately fund and support elite sport after the 2000 Olympics and they are surely ruing that now. There is no point spending billions on a single event if we then fail to ensure that our elite athletes will continue this success in other countries, starting with Brazil in 2016.

Back in 1996 Britain staged the European football championships and back then I noticed a wave of the ‘feel-good factor’; that indeterminable essence you can only describe and that has no physical quality except for that warm feeling inside of you and the smile across your face. Sixteen years later I feel it again, and if there is one regret I have it’s not travelling to London to enjoy the atmosphere at first hand. I have learned that you did not need to buy a ticket to enjoy the Games, but sitting in a London park with people from all over the world celebrating sporting achievement in what turned out to be glorious weather must have been an amazing experience. If I feel like this now sitting in a remote part of rural Lancashire, I can only imagine my thoughts had I visited London during her finest hour. I have the BBC to thank for providing stunning coverage and showing the world that it is the final public service broadcaster in the world. Just like many of our country’s athletes – best in the world. Bravo!!