gaza mural

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There will be no more divisions,
No cultural collisions,
Or blinkered racial visions
On the other side of the wall

There will be no flagellations,
No female mutilations
Or power-hungry nations
With no mercy at all

There won’t be terror forces,
Denial of resources
Or distant bearded voices
In stony holy vow

No vicious circle game
Of here we go again
Where history takes the blame
But punishment is now

On the other side of the wall,
The strong will heed the call
Of dignity for all,
The need to understand

To heal the great divide
That festers deep inside
And cannot be denied
When written on the land

On broken Belfast streets
Where concrete keeps the peace
With reinforced beliefs
That stand twenty feet tall

In east and west Berlin
The long divided kin
Who never did give in
Until they saw it fall

In Gaza on the strip
Where sniper bullets rip
A nation in the grip
Of merciless control

Existing without power
Beneath the look out tower
With murder by the hour
And hospitals in holes

On the other side of this pain
Truth will fall like rain
And pour down onto flame
Extinguishing the grief

On the other side of this rage
The troops will disengage
Like someone turned a page
Restoring our belief

There will be no more excuses
No temporary truces
Or human rights abuses
To dim the inner light

Suspicion will be banned
And martyrs will be slammed
And people will demand
Their safety from the fight

On the other side of the wall
Hearts run free
Horizons of hope
Stretch continuously

The dream of all nations
Believe it we must
On the other side of the wall
The rebirth of trust

 

Season of Sweat

female boxer Today the temperature has hit 29 degrees (that’s centigrade, my American friends) which is pretty ferocious anywhere in the UK but particularly so in a Northern town like Liverpool. Sitting here without a shirt and sticking to the back of my vinyl chair, I have little energy to do anything more than muse upon that familiar yet strange physiological phenomenon, sweating.

It’s the bodily function we have least control over. We can, at least briefly, control the impulse to urinate, defecate, vomit, sneeze, fart, cough or cry but when things get hot, our sweat glands get to work without consulting us.

For many people, it’s a regular cause of embarrassment. Sweating reveals us as essentially bestial – we talk of “sweating like a pig” – and many people carry anti-perspirants around with them every day, regularly blocking their pores, lest their uncontrollable animal body lets them down.

Of course we know that the actions of those two million tiny glands are our body’s cooling system, but it’s one that has had limited effectiveness since humans started wearing clothes, and now it’s only function is to mess up our hair and make us smell.

Airplane!Sweating is often triggered by anxiety; the nerve-wracking experience of a job interview is often accompanied by moist palms, while a best man’s speech at a wedding is not complete without a constantly wiped brow. It’s a disloyal bodily function that reveals your inner state to the outside world like a blush or a stammer. And when it strikes, whether as a result of anxiety or simply overheating, the discomfort is magnified by the embarrassment of damp patches under the arms.

Nevertheless, sweat also has plenty of positive associations – it is synonymous with honest physical toil and is also frequently highly erotic. Sweat is such a powerful signifier that if it didn’t exist, the advertising and movie industry would have had to invent it.

In the 1951 film The African Queen, Humprey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn make a hazardous journey down an African river in a tiny steamboat, both covered in a layer of sweat throughout the film. Sweat seems to dissolve the class divide between no-nonsense sailor Charlie and Rose the prim, dignified missionary, leading to an unlikely romance.

Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn

Of course, respectable ladies didn’t sweat in that era (the film was set in 1914). In the polite parlance, they ‘glowed’, while gentlemen ‘perspired’.

During the pre-air conditioned years of the British Empire, sweating would have been a regular physical reminder to Europeans that they weren’t built for tropical climes; but of course it wasn’t only the ruling classes that suffered so.

The vast majority of colonial sweat was shed by Africans slaves forced to work through midday heat on cotton and sugar plantations. The black sweat and blood that built the United States and made the Empire rich stains our collective conscience to this day.

I happen to be blessed with a skinny frame, therefore I rarely sweat profusely. If I do, it normally happens on a packed bus on a summer day. Other people, usually the heavier ones, will be already have wet fringes and beads of sweat on their faces, even though the windows are open. When the bus is stuck in traffic with ruthless sun coming through the windows, the situation is a mild kind of torture and the only remedy is to pant like a dog!

So far this has been a great summer for sport, from the warm lawns of Wimbledon to the sticky heat of the World Cup in Brazil. Sweat is part of the iconography of physical performance, whether it’s the sweat-varnished torso of the boxer or the soaked hair of a rock vocalist sticking to his face. Here it is an index of heroic effort; it shows how hard they are working to entertain us.

Iggy Pop

Despite our uncomfortable relationship with sweating, ultimately one of the most relaxing experiences in the world is sitting in a sauna and just letting your pores do their thing. When you are wrapped in a towel gently stewing in your own brine, the worries of the world melt away. Those stressed out citizens on the bus might reflect that it’s not sweat that is the real enemy, but our modern lives.

And now for a nice cool drink…

 

“The key to a good album is to be both eclectic and cohesive, and paradoxical as it sounds, that’s exactly what Tom George achieves on ‘Postcards” – liverpoolacoustic.co.uk
postcards cover

I recorded this album with in Liverpool with the expert help of Jeff Jepson at the controls. If I had to sum it up I would say it’s a collection of melodic indie-rock reminiscent of REM, Jeff Buckley and the Stone Roses, but you can decide for yourself by visiting http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/tomgeorge

You can listen to clips of the tracks and if you like them, buy tracks individually or the album as a whole. You can also get the album it on amazon if that’s more convenient.

I played most of the instruments on this album, including electric and acoustic guitars, bass and drums. Jeff also filled in with some keyboards, and Norweigan artist Ragz provided extra vocals. I hope you enjoy it.

Flyingcircus_2

It might have seemed as unlikely as a dead parrot coming back to life, but next month, the team who have been described as “The Beatles of comedy” are set to return to the stage.
45 years after their TV debut, the Monty Python team will be reuniting for ten shows in London.

The five remaining veteran comics (Graham Chapman died in 1989) will not be performing any new material, just well-loved and oft-repeated classics like the brilliant “Arguament Clinic”.

Such pieces have become iconic in the national culture, particularly for those who witnessed them the first time around. My Dad was one of those fans who witnessed the Monty Python’s Flying Circus TV series, which ran from 1969-1974 and the other day he was telling me about the impact they had on his generation. To paraphrase, he said “we liked them because they seemed like us”.

The Python team, all ex-students with an irreverent attitude, embodied a cultural change in the country. Their lampooning of many aspects of British society and the class system resonated with baby boomers who had grown up in the repressed post-war years.

In keeping with other cultural revolutions of the era, their shows and later their books, records and films exploded the conventions and structures of comedy, creating a kind of anarchic intellectual playground where ancient history and philosophical discourse were wired up to the chaotic energies of surrealism and silliness.

Their impact on comedy, and culture as a whole, was enormous and continues to this day. But do we really want to see a live comeback of pensionable Pythons? And does that old material have anything relevant to say to the Britain (well, the London) of 2014?

It might be useful to compare the Pythons with another group of performers from the same generation. The Rolling Stones are currently on what, depending on who you believe, could be their last tour.

rolling-stones

The Stones have never stopped playing live and Mick Jagger, always a highly physical performer, inspires amazement that at 70 he can still pull it off. Last year’s Glastonbury performance proved that he has plenty of strutting energy and charisma left.

Like the Pythons upcoming shows, the Stones’ live gigs are built around their most famous material. But there’s a big difference between music and comedy. We can listen songs like ”Satisfaction” indefinately and they still sound fresh; a good song keeps on giving. But the impact of a joke is always most powerful the first time around; the humour comes from the surprise of seeing the world from an unexpected angle. The Pythons themselves emphasised this in “The Funniest Joke in The World”.

Of course the Python team don’t do jokes, as such. Their sketch-based comedy is sophisticated and repays repeated viewing, but I suspect there will be more chuckles of nostalgic affection than gut-bombs at their shows next month. Hopefully they will be able to inhabit the characters and material convincingly despite their advanced maturity, perhaps with some ad-libs and asides to freshen up the iconic routines.

Eric Idle has already tested the water for this kind of enterprise with his massively successful musical Spamalot which combines the script of the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail with a selection of the team’s best known songs, although none of the original team are involved onstage.

This will be the last chance to see the much-loved comic pioneers performing together. But any fans hoping to see the silly walk sketch have been told not to expect that particular hit of nostalgia. Following John Cleese’s hip and knee operations, attempting it would be a very silly thing to do.

I was on route from a meditation class. Sitting with my dharma chums before a golden buddha, I was on the verge of getting somewhere, but I had to cut short the session and catch a more immediate form of transcendence – the Liverpool return of The Polyphonic Spree.

polyphonic spree

If you are a musician, there’s a good chance that you will end up in this band at some point. In the early noughties they toured with twenty-plus members, and over sixty have passed through their ranks over the years. Fronted by vocalist Tim DeLaughter, the band creates an anthemic, uplifting sound enriched by horns, harp, strings, and numerous backing singers.

Tonight, inside a packed East Village Arts Club, a town crier appears at the front of the stage, reading an introduction from a scroll and instigating a pantomime call-and-response with the audience. It’s a suitably wacky intro to a show that invites you to lose all inhibitions and participate in a collective experience.

A white screen is stretched across the front of the stage and shadowy shapes appear behind it. As the invisible band strike up, the words “SCOUSELAND FRIENDS!” are sprayed onto the banner from behind. A pair of scissors then appears and begins cutting the banner down middle, and suddenly there they are! A stage packed with musicians grooving animatedly as their leader twirls deliriously among them.

Favourites such as “Soldier Girl” are recieved ecstatically, DeLaughter interacting constantly with the crowd: conducting their singing, shaking hands and dedicating a song to one girls’ eyes. Even with a slimmed-down line-up (tonight there are a mere fourteen musicians onstage), the Spree deliver an epic sound.

“Two Thousand Places” is a textbook Spree anthem: descending bass line, over the top arrangement, celebratory lyrics. Tonight it’s expanded to eight minutes; towards the end, sustained chords surge out from the stage like waves of bliss, DeLaughter standing on the monitor speakers, his body face and body contorting in ecstasy, before they launch back into another celebratory chorus.

DeLaughter’s high, innocent voice is reminiscent of Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, and their music inhabits a similar terrain of psychedelic positivity.

If one wanted to gripe, you could point out that many of their songs follow the same Beatle-esque template (specifically evoking “All You Need is Love”) but the live Spree experience is neither tired nor contrived; the exhuberance of the band inspire the audience who in turn feed the band. It’s a positive feedback loop that threatens to lift the roof off tonight.

The audience are of a mixed age range, but there are a fair amount of white follicles in the house tonight, and one or two of the audience look like veterans of the hippie era. The Polyphonic spree is their church. For these faithful devotees, this was an overdue return, but more than enough to keep the spirit alive.

Fans of Tom Waits, Chet Baker etc. might like this clip – it’s one of my more jazzy numbers, filmed at Studio 2 in Liverpool. I wrote the song originally for a female vocal but I think it suits me pretty well; flute maestro George Roberts blows some serious stuff over the top…

My first visit Berlin six years ago coincided with the global financial system going into meltdown. It was all over every screen in my hostel, with panicked-looking people in suits trying to explain incompehensible columns of figures. But I wasn’t there as a financial journalist; I was on a mission to explore a very different universe which exists at the heart of Germany’s capital – the radical underground of Berlin...

There was much that I had planned to check out on this trip, such as the Brandenburg gate, several gig venues and the famous art-squat Tacheles. But despite all my pre-planning, I was prepared for the unexpected to happen. Five days in to my visit, it did.

At about 3pm on 11th November, I was walking through the city centre when I saw a large gathering of people on the central square of Alexanderplatz, so I went over to see what was going on.                                                                                                                                      berlin demonstration

They were mostly young people, many of them punks and alternative types, and some were wearing bar codes across their foreheads, while others had hats made out of tin foil. It was obviously some kind of demonstration.

Many of the protesters had T-shirts and placards with the image of a Big Brother-style face –with the slogan Stasi 2 underneath. (the Stasi were East Germany’s secret police during the communist era)   

Having a pitiful knowledge of German, I couldn’t work out what was going on. But I found someone who could tell me in English. His name was Roman Froelich.

“The German government is enacting laws to enable the state to intercept emails and phone calls, to examine peoples’ computers and install CCTV widely” Roman explained “…this march is a coming together of almost 200 different groups to oppose these policies”

The march was moving off, so I joined it. Drum’n’bass and electro was blasting from sound systems on the backs of graffitti-painted trucks as we walked down Karl-Liebnecht-strasse. The people around me were holding banners proclaiming ‘Frieheit nat angst’ (freedom not fear) and Num Ziem Stalker-staat’ (stop the stalker-state)

Those standing on the street watching the procession, many from an older generation, were genuinely interested in what the protestors had to say, and the leaflets they handed out as they went. For Berliners, state surveilance is a very sensitive issue. A population that lived under the original Stasi are not as willing to tolerate it as people are in the UK.

An interesting factor was the low police profile. Where British police often line the routes of marches in massed ranks, here there were just a handful at each corner where the march took a turn. It looked as though people are allowed a little more chance to have their say in this city.

The marchers were not tightly packed, and I was able to move towards the front of the the march. As I did, the atmosphere got more confrontational.

black bloc

I found myself amongst a lot of young men, most of whom were dressed in black hoodies, sunglasses and in some cases, face masks. Their banners screamed “Fuck Control” and “Save The Resitance”. The police were in greater in numbers here, watching menacingly in their military-style fatigues and helmets.

Suddenly, on the wide street Unter Den Linden, the march slowed and came to a stop. I couldn’t work out what was going on, but dozens of police began running back the way we had just come. The young contingent then erupted into massed chants and gestures in their direction. Someone told me that there had been a fight further back involving some fascists. There was a tense atmosphere, but within 3 minutes we were moving again.

I moved up further to where the march was passing the Reightstag – the German Parliament building. The building itself had been totally sealed off with wire fencing. More police and vans were around, and dog handlers stood on the pavement at ten metre intervals, holding back their snarling animals, which were being driven crazy by the noise from the samba band which I was now walking with.                                                                                                                          

berlin cops

We were being filmed by police cameramen here. And in return, some marchers were filming the police. We eventually wound up at the Brandenburg gate, where speeches were given from a stage.

A few days later, I met up with Roman at a left wing pub in Mitte district. Roman told me he had been immersed in the Berlin radical scene for ten years. Firstly, he expained how Berlin’s radicalism has been nurtured by the squat scene.

“the squat scene happened after the wall came down in 1989. During the GDR era, the authorities moved a lot of people into new tower blocks and left the old buildings abandoned. When the wall came down, lots of people came over to Eastern Berlin to make use of them…the squats offered a lot of space for people to do creative things in the new atmosphere of freedom. More alternative and radical people came to the city. It was a place where they could fulfil their dreams in a non-capitalistic way”

This led to an era in the early nineties where whole neighbourhoods were utilised, with squats providing meeting places, living spaces and venues for the new subculture, largely collectively organised along anarchist lines. However, the city authorities eventually decided to act against this movement.

“In 1993 a law was passed which said that squatters could be evicted within 24 hours of entering a building unless they had signed a contract with the landlord…so now there are no real squats. All of the squatters have contracts, or in some cases they have managed to buy the buildings”

The original squat scene was pioneered by punks, a group that been cruelly oppressed during the communist era.  “Punks were punished in the GDR. There were no punk gigs allowed. The only places that punk bands could play was in churches…Some people were put in prison just for being punks. A lot of people from that time are now sufferring from psychological problems.”

berlin squat

Our drinks finished, it was time to visit one of these spaces. Roman took me to a squat-bar which is used by a number of radical groups as a meeting and organising point. The interior had flaked plaster, raw bricks, red lights and layers of graffitti. There were shelves full of underground literature and gig posters on the walls.        

Young people were gathered round the bar, playing table football or huddled away having conversations in corners. Amusingly, Sham 69 was playing on the stereo. It was such a cool place, but a universe away from the superficial, commodified world of mainstream youth culture.

Getting back to our conversation on the radical scene, I asked Roman about the black-clad marchers I had seen on the demo a few days before. “They are known as the ‘black bloc’” he told me “they are a movement throughout Europe, have been for about fifteen years…they physically confront the fascists – fight with them. They also fight with the police and cross police lines on demonstrations. They cover their faces to remain anonymous, although covering the face during a demonstration has been made illegal.

in recent years fascists groups have started to adopt the icongraphy, music and style of anti-fascists, to attract the youth…also there is a long history of infiltration of anti-fascists by fascists, and vice versa. And by the police.”

berlin police

The black bloc seemed to be an almost exclusively male force, with a very confrontational energy, which you feel could attract people who simply like violence, and could go either way. “That is a problem” Roman agreed “…it is a very male thing. But there are also many feminist groups here in Berlin. There’s a big gay and lesbian movement too…but it is not entirely safe. Some lesbian friends of mine were coming out of a squat party once and they got beaten up very badly by turkish fascists”

Berlin’s squatters might not be changing the world but in their adopted buldings something like an alternative, free society has been created. But as Roman explained to me, this radical subculture is under threat as Berlin becomes increasingly gentrified.

“In the last ten years a million new people have come to Berlin, many from abroad. For many years people were coming here and just hanging out. There was a very special alternative and non-commercial culture. But the success of that non-commercial culture has attracted people who spend money on culture. They want to be a part of it.”

Indeed, the amount of UK and American accents to be heard in the cafes of bohemian areas like Freidrichstain is striking. I personally know of arts professionals who have moved to the city, attracted by its edginess, energy and affordability.   

“Rents are rising ” Roman says “…and in areas like Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg, a lot of poor people have had to move out. When the rents are put up, the new people will still pay it, because it’s still cheap compared to where they are from.”

Many of the squat-clubs in Mitte district have closed in the last 2 years, and are now luxury flats. But the underground is not giving in: “15 years ago, ‘Mietshauser syndikat’ was formed – it’s a charity to help squatters buy houses. Lots of people in the radical scene pay a contribution each month to this”

This kind of solidarity is astonishing. Berlin remains a centre of alternative culture that can inspire, inform and amuse. And remind us of what is possible.

This article was originally written for Nerve magazine.

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