Downfall Redux

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve always found hero worship odd. I’ve never had rock n roll/pop heroes, religious heroes or political heroes. 

 

Back in1979, friends of mine flocked to Knock, Dublin and other places to see John Paul 2. Although I was 13,and not from the community the Pope came to speak to, I saw a spotlight on our place, shone by the entourage of journalists and commentators he brought with him. As I write this, a smaller crowd are greeting the present Pope, who is busy apologising for child abuse meted out by his church, but not apologising for the incredible male-ness of his permanent entourage and decision makers. 

 

As heroes topple, most of them men, its the behaviour of those around them that fascinate me. 

 

Many friends of mine were absolute hero worshippers of Morrissey and the Smiths. As the working class pseud sang about the plight of the “his community,” and their culture in the eighties, millions dressed like him, had their hair cut like him and quoted his lyrics almost as I imagine fans of 18th and 19thcentury romantic poets did. He was of that lineage. 

 

Cut to the late nineties and two thousands, and Morrissey’s increasingly anglocentric, British nationalism and seemingly uninformed sexism was brushed aside almost as “mistakes, flaws,” by their still heroised bard. His more recent behaviour, praising alt-right tropes etc, hasn’t pushed his back catalogue to the back of the record collection, yet. The Smiths and early Morrissey are still untouchable in a way Gary Glitter’s back catalogue will never be. He still has a stage in front of thousands, no, millions of people to whom he can spout his message of “Viva Hate!” Unfair? I don’t think so. Like all monsters, the monster in Morrissey must be denounced. And someone with the huge power of a public voice should be humbled. The price if not, is that more politically vulnerable fans are not given clear messages of what is acceptable politics and unacceptable fascism. How the fans/ex fans react is hugely important. 

 

In the seventies and early eighties, Fascist imagery, lyrics and speeches from the stage were made unacceptable by the superb “Rock Against Racism.” Eric Clapton, has spent years apologising for his drunken racist outbursts, and many fans, radio DJ’s etc, to this day body swerve his music. If you find some of his outbursts on YouTube, fans can be heard booing him. Bowie and others from the avant garde school of pop/rock were forced to abandon fascist imagery and nowadays, no right wing music or bands get beyond backstreet pub gigs. 

 

The fans spoke. They condemned and they refused to buy tickets. Rock Against Racism changed the rock and pop industry every bit as much as Thatcher, Stock Aiken and Waterman, Island or Simon Cowell. An unhealthy and imbalanced relationship between ego-ist, and at best, niave pop stars and unacceptable symbols and politics of hate, was averted by major bands, fans and record labels signing up to Rock Against Racism principles. 

 

Back in early 2005, branches of the then thriving Scottish Socialist Party, of which I was a member, were called to extraordinary meetings in which we were told that our then heroised by many, “Convenor,” Tommy Sheridan, had badly erred. Tommy, at meetings some of us attended, apologised. In those days, Me Too, the movement of support for those who have been victims of abuse, did not exist. Powerful men were the norm. Heroes out to save us from the enemy. There were no subtleties in public discourse. To many of those in the SSP, Sheridan was a hero, and although he had more subtle options, he was going to “fight The News of the World,” which had published details of a visit to a swingers club in Manchester he, some friends and a reporter had made. Sheridan’s behaviour, and those who then sought to gain politically within the Socialist movement were crucial to what then happened in Scottish (and subsequently, UK wide) socialist politics. 

 

Sheridan pursued a tactic of outright denial-which on its own could well have seen this issue blow over. To add to the denial, Sheridan decided to sue the Murdoch empire. Most of the rest of the SSP disagreed with this tactic–to throw our at that time sizeable forces at this would ensure we were caught up in something for years that was far from why activists from across the left had come together, volunteering time, money and energy to the SSP. Activists would burn out totally, if the raison d’etre of the party became the sanctity of “The Great Hero Leader,” who, in fact, was a very naughty boy. But it was those who saw political capital for them and their small factions who turned a small body blow into the destruction of, until then, Europe’s most successful socialist alliance. I won’t go in to detail about what followed, Alan Mccombes book, Downfall does a pretty good job of telling what happened, as does this Thousand Flowers article.

The thing is, during all of this, naively, I thought politics could continue as normal. We could continue to fight the Blairist Government, and fight for amazing socialist reforms. I remember, clearly, going to a small SSP Regional Council meeting in The Piper Bar, in Glasgow City Centre. The main protagonists were there, including Sheridan, and his until this point in time, best friend Keith Baldassara. I was there to ask Sheridan our MSP, advice on a proposal our branch had discussed regarding education, but the entire meeting became an argument between Baldassara and Sheridan about Sheridan’s stance on suing the News of the World. After a long time of intractable argument, I asked could we turn to other business, to which Baldassara told me, “you don’t know what you are talking about here, Neil. This is more important.” And clearly it was, to them. To me, as someone who had joined the SSP in spite of not liking Sheridan’s insincere rhetorical style and obvious ego, the most important thing was politics, not the preservation of the great leader, from whatever side you took.

 

Subsequently, Sheridan pulled together groups of people whose egos he stroked and factions that hitherto had tried their best to take over control of the alliance. Such was sectarian socialist politics. And those groups and fans who felt Sheridan was a hero or a ticket, wrecked a movement. Sheridan dragged people through the courts, and using his influence in the press, dragged the reputations of women who had been comrades in arms, and innocent bystanders through the mud. Many of us built a group within the party to try to save it, and to support those comrades Sheridan had decided to try to destroy. It had limited success. After 2007, the SSP and the Scottish Socialist movement  went into a decline it still has difficulty pulling up from. And that tarnish went on to infect the Independence movement as Sheridan flapped about trying to find income streams and ego stroking crowds. 

 

I watch the current left heroes across the UK, two in particular, through the lense of  experience of the SSP and that of Rock Against Racism, and know that if the worst aspects and mistakes of what has become known as “Corbynism” are not called out and addressed, the Labour Party will flounder in its attempts to pull the party left yet again.  And here in Scotland as people line up in solidarity with an alleged abuser and victims in the SNP, I can only hope the lessons of the past become the voice of the majority.

 

One “hero” is not a movement. The refusal of men to admit their fallibilities will wreck all that is good about what has been built. Defending one man should not be our raison d’etre. Change should be. Let’s hope these current heroes and their fans understand that.

 

By Neil Scott

 

You can read more Ungagged Writing here, or hear a range of left views on our podcast




Edinburgh Fringe Review

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Day 15 of Edinburgh Fringe and the mood has changed.


76% of performers are hungover and 39% of performers dreams have been crushed forever . Flyer guys and gals have lost interest mostly and nobody that I know has seen a show yet. Everyone just walks around handing out or accepting bits of cardboard.


Everyone gets distracted and spends the full day walking around diagonal cobbled lanes that even makes google maps shite themselves.


There is no internet reception. Either because too many instagram cunts or because internet is shite. Nobody truly knows.


Every drink costs a fiver until you say ‘really?’ to the barman, then discounts appear like bagpipes outside a chip shop.


We all pretend we love Runrig because our patriotism has better tartan than everyone else’s patriotism and that’s a good indication that we were randomly born into the best country that ever existed and perhaps the time we exist is more important. But that’s for historians to decide.
I met one of them tonight. They gave me cardboard and I promised to go to their show, but I didn’t because I got lost walking in Edinburgh.


This fuels our economy. Apart from the oil, it’s all walking and cardboard interactions that keeps us ticking over. 5000 shows today and only 40 audience members.


But 5 million shortbreads sold and twenty homeless people arrested for being outside.


I don’t think we can change the world we inhabit but it would foolish to think we definitely cannot, so I will be spending Saturday night putting it all to the test. Stramash. 9.30pm. Girobabies. Free entry. Edinburgh Fringe. The Moods. Micky 9s. Dopesickfly.


And now I will say some hollow words that mean very little so people versed in my writing don’t scroll down and think ‘this is probably an advert‘ because even though it may look like it. This is environmental.


No cardboard was harmed in the making of this post.

By Mark McGhee

You can read more Ungagged Writing here or hear a range of left views on our podcast

Being Wrong…

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Neil Scott

Being Wrong…

 

Admitting you were wrong is pretty difficult, especially when society is so judgemental and in turn individuals at a personal level feel judged by friends, family and peers. So, I’m going to write a wee series of blogs on “when I’ve been wrong.” Please, judge me all you like. I’m 52 and know I’ve made mistakes. Many. I’ve said shit things, thought shit things, done shit things and been an unbearable shit to some people. Not all the time, I don’t think, but I’m going to offer apologies to those I’ve hurt, or criticised when I have been wrong. I can’t ask for forgiveness, and I suppose, on one level, I don’t want it, because being wrong has helped me learn, because when people shout an alternative world view at you when you are shouting your view, it does sometimes register.

 

I perceive myself as politically left, and I think if anything, the political left should be about one thing- analysing society, and perhaps shifting their world view as well as others, in order to stop society sliding into a massive shit hole of creeping Conservative right wing inequalities. Challenging our own view should not be seen as confrontation, but should be welcomed. We should be open to it. The world can only get better if we keep an open mind to change both personally and societally.

Anyway, my first apology is not about politics, well, partly so, but only partly. Though that will come I’m sure. My first apology is about music, and at a guess as I write more of these, my apologies will be about other aspects and choices regarding music.

  • Paula, I wasn’t wrong about Joy Division, but perhaps neither were you.-

Teenage boys can be introspective en extremis. I was no different to many others, and as I discovered music, I thought, “I’d love to share this feeling, this deep, emotion, with other people,” so the stereo was cranked up in the bedroom and when I went to Paula’s house, I brought my Joy Division tapes with me. Unknown Pleasures on one side, with a few fillers like Japan’s “Night Porter, “ and then their other album, “Closer, “ on the other side with a few fillers like “Love will tear us apart,” “These Days,” and The Beatles “Let it Be,” sang by St Paul’s boys choir.

Cheery, and what every girlfriend would love.

Paula wrote all over the cassette, “boring! Snore..!” and other less than enthusiastic words. Although she was of course wrong, it made me think that perhaps my perspective on music might not be everyone’s. What touched me, didn’t always register with other people’s life experiences.

My music taste did develop, though Joy Division and New Order stayed with me. As I became more aware of what went on outside me, I began to love music that dealt with political themes. The Fun Boy Three, and “The More that I see,” about Northern Ireland, The Police “Invisible Sun,” about the same theme, and then stadium music that dealt with Steve Biko, Mandela, Martin Luther King, poverty, starvation etc became the big theme of the eighties and selfish, introspection was out. And I loved to find the roots of the music I loved, the influences etc, so I became a fan of New York punk, and in turn, the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Western US pre punk rock bands like The Doors. I loved the music that influenced my modern day heroes, Echo and the Bunnymen and other northern English bands; The Associates, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and other Scottish bands.

And here comes the main apology:

  • I wasn’t entirely right about The Cure, Sharon and Toby. I won’t apologise for not worshipping the ground Morrissey soiled, but I will apologise for not fully appreciating Smith’s introspection, musical talent and actually laying out his problems on vinyl.

Morrissey did write some scathing political songs in the eighties, but his own reordering of his thoughts have now set him firmly in the category Rock against Racism was set up to counter. I bought The Smiths first album, and although I did like some tracks on it, that was it. The Smiths to me, created some good songs, sometimes in spite of Morrissey’s whiney, “look at me, I’m so your new Dylan, Byron hero thing that the artistic press seek every ten years or so.” Some amazing, sparing singles. Johnny Marr and the others made The Smiths. Morrissey in my opinion, made them unfollowable.

Smith, at a glance, seemed the same. And for me, again, there were songs I liked. But my mistake was I mistook his introspection and shyness as a Byronic feyness ala Morrissey. I appreciate now, I was wrong.

My other gripe about Smith and his music persona, “The Cure,” was that he seemed to follow groups, and imitate them. I remember reading an interview with him in which he said his favourite track was Joy Division’s The Eternal. So, I started hearing The Eternal in everything he did, and his song The Walk, was quite obviously his take on New Order’s “Blue Monday.” Having said all of that, one of my favourite tapes I bought during the eighties was a “best of” The Cure’s early stuff. (I bought stuff on tape I thought was disposable – if I wanted a lasting copy, I bought vinyl and taped the vinyl). I wasn’t wrong in his listening to good stuff and using some of the same techniques, but I was wrong to make this something to diss what was amazing stuff, almost entirely created by Smith himself. Smith, I realise, was a magpie. While his peers applied modern musical instrumentation to what they learned from The Velvet Underground, Bowie, The, Doors, The MC5, unlike his peers, he also picked out what he liked about what his peers were inventing.

Listen to Disintegration and you’ll hear The Bunnymen, New Order, Bowie, the anthemic stadium sound of the time, and even classical influences. But what is clear is it is about Smith, his disintegration, his depression,, his realisation that the joyous, self conscious, certain world he inhabited in his teens and twenties were coming to an end. Friendships and the need to be in a gang, were less certain, but love and commitment and respect were. His emotions, unlike so much that was “indie”at the time, are laid out on this amazing construction.

And mental health, addiction and depression created a joyous, anthemic, beautiful piece of work I had dismissed as a copy.

Toby says this is late night listening. Perhaps. But the current heatwave, the claustrophobia of the heat and slowing down of life, makes this apt, appropriate.

Unlike those who found it at the time, it will remind me of the incredible weather of summer 2018. My memories of 1989 are of The Doors, Australian rock and crashing my dad’s car driving to meet Sharon, one of The Cure’s greatest fans.

 

 

 

If you enjoyed this piece you can read more from Neil on his writing page, or listen to his contributions to our Podcast

Why Tracey Ulmann, Blackpool, and I Ruined Utopia

Reading Time: 10 minutes
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Neil Scott

This is an article Neil composed originally as a piece for Ungagged.  The podcast it is part of is this one (details and timings are on the website)

This also appears on his blog

Utopias we want to build are always, of course, something much better than what we are part of at present. And part of is the key. Not marching in time with. Not a cog. But an active participant. Alive. Human.

When I was a child, my utopia was Blackpool. We went there for our holidays for quite a few years in a row. I anticipated and spoke about Blackpool months in advance of going, like I did Christmas when I arrived home. Blackpool was a break from school, a break from the streets, a chance to do stuff with my English cousin. I loved the journey to get there, Larne, Stranraer, and a bone shaking drive in our VW beetle through Dumfriesshire and then a couple of nights in the lake district, the beach, the tower, the piers and the pleasure beach. The confusion of it all. The crowds, all out for good times. Families together, not trying to fit in a life around must do and routines.

All innocent, 1970’s pre-Thatcherite fun. A childhood utopia, something away from the mundane, for 10 days every year.

I was full of imagination. I made up worlds, written, drawn and with my mates on riverbanks, in fields, around the housing estates and at the top and bottom of trees, and hills, and wasteland. We were lucky, we lived on the edge of the countryside, within view of the magical world of Narnia – well, the place that inspired CS Lewis Narnia – the Mourne Mountains. And we visited Narnia and its coast – the county down coast – regularly. And I still do. A utopia of natural beauty.

And most of the people of Narnia and its surrounds are wonderful… but to borrow a phrase , wherever you go, hell is other people. Utopia is always ruined by others interacting within it in a way you feel you don’t- and some never seem to appreciate the utopia you see.

Yet.

And then some upset the utopia, ever so slightly, with their want to exploit what draws people there. And you judge, so you are in that room Sartre created. You are part of the torture.

So, what is utopia? Is it just these personal places we yearn for? These places we can be happy?

As political beings, we are always searching for it. And as social beings, utopias are not solitary things, so I suggest, we can only really find utopia in our lifetimes, as somewhere we like to be with people we trust and want to be with.

Build any physical utopia, and it will be undermined and exploited by people with different reactions and interactions with your creation. A political utopia in my opinion, is not a bright summer day watching the ocean for the rest of our lives.

I started writing this piece with the video of They Don’t Know About Us, by Tracy Ullman in my mind.

Weird when I’m supposed to be talking about utopias. But the video is about the utopia that the character who Tracy plays is aiming for in her working class, 1970’s disco night out, teenaged world. It makes me cry every time I watch the bloody thing! Her utopia isn’t realised, only in her dream. I remember my aunt Jean loved the video – she and others in my family laughed in recognition of Tracy’s reality versus her dream. Working class people did these things – and still do. Because they live in their hope, or disappointment at the reality of our proto-utopia, and Tracy’s character ends up exactly where lots of people they knew, did. And still do. In the reality of walking down that supermarket aisle in your fluffy slippers, not caring about your appearance, your whole being about others, and feeling you are failing because of the system you live in isn’t anyone’s idea of utopia – and certainly does not support you.

Well, this world is utopia for a small percentage of people who control all its resources and political narratives. They don’t understand us. They don’t know about us.

Why that song? Why that video? Well, it sits well with four other songs I love that kind of explain my idea that the golden citadel we all think we are struggling for is a hard struggle against ourselves, and not just “them. “ At least those of us struggling with this capitalist rat race. Three songs enhanced by their videos, one not at all.

Three of the song videos are by the Manic Street Preachers. A band I put up there in my top ten. And a band I have never seen live because of the bloody awful capitalist ticket system we endure every time tickets are released…

Video 1:

The first one to watch, Show me wonder… The utopia of the dance, the young woman putting on her late seventies/ early eighties make up to go to the club and the young guy with his mates all going to the same place (a miners welfare somewhere in Wales), the whole atmosphere of the dance, which I remember really well, as it would have been part of the mix of the types of places I week ended in.

Live music, a hooley and a coort (what young people did at the end of the night with someone they had fallen deeply in love with during the dancing). That’s what was a successful night in those days, and I’m sure for many a teenager nowadays it isn’t THAT different. Different destinations and drugs, but largely the same night. The utopia of the weekend after a week’s graft. Increasingly in our world, the weekend is becoming a minorities luxury yet again.

And the working men’s club (not being sexist here – that’s what they were called!) as the centre of the community. It’s a joyous place, a joyous, beautifully executed video with a wonderful story.

Video 2:

The second video, Anthem for a lost cause then starts in the early eighties, with the beginning of the end of what was a sort of utopia for many of us. A world in which we marched together, we struck for a better world. We weekended together. We learned and loved together. There was equality in the UK like there had never been seen in the history of the country, ever. And we see Thatcher’s destruction beginning with the miners’ strike. We hear a woman’s voice say, “no one in this country is going to be starved back to work.” Defiant. Strong. And we watch as the woman in the story from the previous video finds her voice and stands and fights. I won’t spoil the story. That’s not the whole thing. Watch it.

And then we forgot. We had forgotten the pre-war conditions – and the equality we first found in death, destruction, and grief in World War One, that led to our welfare state and National Health Service-free and accessed easily by all.

Video 3:

And we were defeated. And the third Manics video, Rewind the Film, sung by Richards Hawley, shows the same miners welfare social club as it stands now, almost deserted. Tatty. Almost without hope. A place out of time in our increasingly gentrified town centres. A place for those who had dreams to still come together, amongst the decay of what Thatcher and her successors forced on us, though the weaknesses the Tories recognised. Through the cracks in our solidarity. And through their forgetting again that those with less than them are people too. The video shows a community, not without hope. But weak, old.

The forth song is one whose lyrics are remembered in Show Me Wonder, the first Manics video I asked you to watch. “Heaven is a place, were nothing ever happens…”

The Talking Heads song, “Heaven.”

A song that is designed and written to express that being trapped in a utopia can be hell. A song that recalls Sartres words in context. Hell is other people trapped in the same room you are. I really love that Talking Heads song. As a lover of dystopian fiction, books like, This perfect Day by Ira Levin, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, The Machine Stops by EM Forster, and of course, Huxley’s Brave New World, that song sums them all up.

We almost achieved an equality. But then came along punk, coinciding with the dissatisfaction theThatcherite media threw at us. We were young, and told we could be different. We didn’t have to be our boring parents. We yearned from a utopia away from working class sameness.

Rebellion from sameness.

A sameness, a golden age, we all as working class people, hark back to. A golden era we fondly remember, even through the propagandised the Winter of Discontent tries to stamp on. A discontent the working class mostly only felt as the aristocratic empire failed us.

A breakout from the room of the working class certainties. Away from the working mans clubs, away from the doing the same job your forefather did all their lives. And we the working class, loved punk. Punk became post punk and yuppies and dayglo and Blair and Cameron and now May and Boris and Brexit. Back then, our rebellion was sitting with Mohicans on St Pauls Cathedral steps, and squatting and dressing differently in our grandads long coats with lacquered hair with no other way to rebel until Thatcherism kicked in and kicked the working class out of our certainties…

Now my generations new, tory driven rebellion is fucking with their children and grandchildrens future. More bloody tories and brexit. Boris’s carefully constructed messy hair, I’m sure, harks back to the days we took hours to make our hair look different.

The present revisiting of the 1980’s is almost laughable. People pick out records of hope – most of which are made up of bland, meaningless lyrics, don dayglo and legwarmers and tell us “this is the eighties.”

The eighties for me was the busting of a kind of utopia. A place and time when jobs were jobs for life. When taxes meant that we had real affordable homes, decent reasonably priced communications, gas, electricity, travel etc and surpluses that went back into the creation of jobs, and better things. I worked in a factory on the eighties, and every few months, we saw more of our union power eroded, and our pay and conditions chipped away.

My eighties were the discordant post punk era. An era when people wrote, moaned and whined about the dystopian nature of every day being like Sunday, and Huxley was pushed aside and Orwell was waved in our face as Thatcher and her mob along with the left, told us that that is where our social democracy would lead to.

Our proto-Huxleyan state began to crack when some were told they were better than others, and looking around them they began to wonder why their taxes were paying for things for their neighbours, they didn’t yet or never would need.

They moved from the council estate after buying their council home and selling it for a big profit, and went on to vote tory in their misguided individualist, mortgaged, Pimms soaked, Lady Di hairstyle, big shoulder pad, Dynasty anger.

How to dismantle a welfare state. Convince the middle class they are being ripped off by helping those in need.

And we the young helped Thatcher dismantle what had taken 200 hundred years to create… a state in which working class and poor people experienced an equality never before or since seen on these islands. We huffed and puffed about bringing the state down.

And Thatcher loved us for it.

We created our Thatcherite indie music labels, most perversely anti-Thatcherite in the art they produced, but financially living in her handbag. But perhaps the music some of them left gives us cause for a pause to think over the philosophies the singing pseuds poured over to write their lyrics. And the working class fightback lyrics of others. And the increased beats per minute in the real indie scene in secret fields and hangars, not the AEIOU’s and D I S C O’s of the selling of plastic to people seeking their utopia in new designer lagers and nightclubs.

We railed against her, in our comedy – some of those who made their money on anti-thatch humour are now the supporters of the Eddie Izzard Blairite bunch who will chip away at the left that the labour party and British politics need so badly.

I could speak, ashamed, for hours about how the utopia, the golden citadel that the pre-1945 generations fought for was destroyed by my generation. I could speak for hours on how many who listen to this will deny they were part of it, but we were very much part of it whether we knew it or not.

But that’s for another time.

But lets say, Utopia was betrayed by the 1980’s before it was allowed to take shape properly. Not to say that in lots of respects, the proto-utopia social democratic UK was not hugely flawed-and beginning to fail just as equality was being reached. It was. In many ways – including the fact it was still reliant on the labours of the empire… the poverty of most of the rest of the world, a desperate world others were baring arms to try to destroy in Cuba, Angola, Bolivia and many other places.

And our destruction was reliant on the discovery of Scottish oil, now a commodity that like coal, will become much too expensive to take out of the ground.

So. What is utopia?

Well, as a reader of science fiction, dystopian nightmares and utopian dreams I have a few favourites, including those I listed before. I love Edward Bellamy’s 19th century book, Looking Backward. A book that spawned more socialist societies across the world than Marx ever did. A novel so hopeful that socialism was going to be a middle class utopia, it seems quaint nowadays. But a novel that predicted much that has happened, like the supermarket, the debit card, radio, and much more. If middle class lefties nowadays wrote a novel set in a utopian left-wing world a hundred years hence, I know it would be full of the horrors Bellamy described in his present day Boston, because the levels of poverty and homelessness, as always when Tories are in control, is shameful. The book would, like Bellamy‘s, be full of their middle-class presumptions of what utopia would be like and THEIR wants.

So, back to Tracy and Blackpool. Ullmans video has her dreaming of her utopia at the end of the video, a utopia that is based in her characters working class world, inside a small car with Paul McCartney. A dream far from her character’s reality.

I revisited Blackpool in recent years, and it is far from the 1970’s utopia of my childhood where we could be set free by our parents amongst the flashing lights and sounds of screams of laughter.

The reality of our new world, summed up by these videos and by way of these novelists don’t perhaps offer much hope.

Maybe. But they all have one thing in common. They all seek something better for more than the person in the video or book (with the exception of Tracy’s character, who is trapped, but still dreaming for her own Paul).

And my dream? My dream is that I live to see a time when we have a society not far from the imperfect, perfect society envisaged by Iain M Banks. A Culture exploring ourselves and the stars, in which we have individual care, and long productive interesting lives. And the ability to become Tamara Bunke, Tanya the spy, inserting ourselves into worlds yet to change, with the exciting danger that that brings.

Utopias should be exciting.

And Utopians should never forget.

Our utopia shouldn’t let us forget that we are all equal and we should all be looking out for each other, or they’ll still be building statues to Thatcher while people freeze to death on our streets and children starve.

Sinead O’Connor… my Danny Boy

Reading Time: 5 minutesNeil Scott speaks about the concert he fell in love with a rebellious hero.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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by Neil Scott

This is the script of the piece Neil did on Sinead for Ungagged, 10/08/17 His piece starts at 23 mins…

Available FREE on iTunes and Podbean

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“… Which brings me to what I wanted to speak about.  One of my music heroes.

At the weekend, Sinead O’connor posted a really sad, video to Facebook. It was a cry for help. Her voice and image went out to millions,, and the positive response was inspiring.

People from across the world held out their hands and hoped they could catch the very fragile and desperately ill woman. Happily, it has been reported she is safe and with people who love her.  But this sad event and the anniversary theme of this podcast reminded me of when I saw Sinead, live, in Belfast now nearly thirty years ago.

Not since I had watched the Ramones with their defiant “this is me, SO?” attitudes, smacking the frets with a string orchestra behind them on Top of the Pops in the early eighties had I noticed such societal twisting and bending till it broke. Norms we had been sold tangled, turned and thrown back at us to create new ground. New questions. New ways to see the world.  Counter culture is always usurped and sold back to us, creating new counter cultures.  This time it was a woman – a woman breaking the bonds of the patriarchal male gaze.  A woman demanding people to listen.  A woman demanding people to look, but judge for who she was, not how she was packaged.

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Before her, there had been Blondie. Debbie unabashedly strutting across stages, but unmistakably an all American poster girl, selling clothes and style as well as records. An all american icon, albeit one with attitude.

The Irish were biting back. Political and personal statements of “we are here and we are more than the conservative Irish catholic/protestant at loggerheads about just whose unnatural, boxed up, disciplined ideology is supreme.”

In today’s global kiss arse neo-con context, Bono is called a wanker, but for a Northern Irish boy questioning all he experienced in his unionist town, Sunday Bloody Sunday and waving white flags and singing about dead American Civil Rights leaders was pretty radical. Civil rights were a threat in our bordered, walled, military world.

Teenaged visits to Dublin and partying across the wire in Belfast was my rebellion. I guess part of hers was singing in Belfast’s most bombed hotel.

The shock of Sinead; the appearance, defiance, rebelliousness -truthfulness- was like the buzz around Boy George after his first appearance on TOTP. He bent gender. He looked incredible. He raised questions, and consumerism jumped on board. The homophobic commentary from The Daily Mail and its nasty comrades bounced off his young, confident shell of self. Until it became too much. And until it was packaged and sold.
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Sinead stood, self consciously, beautiful and strong. “This is me. I don’t do “Dana” nor am I Madonna. I am a woman with something to say. Listen or don’t.”

The shaved head. The subtle, if any, makeup. The lack of ra-ra, jewellry or shoulder pads immediately set her apart singing Mandinka without Legs and Co and their nonsense. She bent the Murdoch, BBC, Rothermere, ad-man, fashion world, socialised, schoolboy view of what a woman should be.

But something about her seemed fragile. Glass. Breakable. In need of a friend, as we all are at 21.

Excited by Mandinka, we wanted to go to the Belfast show. There were threats after some would say, unwise words about our war wounded walled province – or was that a local media creation? A sense of “punk” Irish republican hysteria created to sell newspapers? Tickets? And a hastily rearranged venue. The Europa Hotel- protected like almost no other hotel in the world seemed a wise new stage.
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Gareth, in the know, got the tickets. I smuggled my SLR camera into the show. The tickets expressly said in those days, “no cameras,” but I would sidle up to the press corp and slip the camera out of my jacket.

This was well before the days of people watching live events through their phone screens. I used to watch through my camera eyepiece – trying not to waste expensive, valuable, finite film – waiting for the perfect shot. Hiding behind the camera; self conscious; not wanting to look someone so beautiful straight in the eye. I got few good shots that night – I was too mesmerised by this person.

And she took to the microphone, holding it tightly; looking around the small venue (most venues in Northern Ireland at that time were small). Her eyes scanned the crowd, and then, I felt, they rested on me. Or on my lense.

The music was immediate; I couldn’t place it into a box along with my Toyah’s, Debbie’s or Kate’s. This was music with lyrics as important as my Curtis’s, Morrissey’s and Burn’s. This wasn’t punk, but it shouted something.  It challenged everything.

The atmosphere she created was electrifying. This was a woman with something to say, but who was saying it through her music. Even the band – made up of  Smiths members, couldn’t divert our attention from this performer.

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No grandstanding like Bono; no histrionics like The Jesus and Mary Chain.

I remember being disappointed the concert was so short – but this was a young woman with new songs.  I longed to see her later in her career with more to say.  But that was the last time I did.

This was a woman as I experienced women. This was no media creation. This was someone with opinions; with blood, flesh, colour and nervous, darting eyes. No mannequin. No wankers fetish.

This was someone who didn’t demand to be treated like a man – this was a woman who demanded to be treated as a human being. Valued as a human being, and fallible like every other human being I knew. And I was hooked. This woman of truth, but so delicate, so damaged. So aware.

Sinead cried on film; she sang about her lost children. She sang about her lost childhood and the lost generations and scars in her Ireland. She raged at the down presser man. She raged at the tendrils of organised religion. She revealed her inner battles and physical scars. She was hated by the American right and the religiously pompous and patriarchal. Frank Sinatra threatened to “kick her ass” for refusing to play a concert if the US national anthem was played at the start in her protest at US foreign policy.

And she gave Miley Cyrus advice – sound, motherly advice and was ridiculed in a dreadful way by the young woman whose rebellion has been packaged and sold back at her. A young woman sold as a commodity, but all the time, like lots of young people nowadays, told their rebellion is theirs while their money is spent or their bodies and minds are exploited, while corporations tell her do this; buy this- adults don’t like or “get” this. Miley’s rebellion has been packaged up and corporations make a mint. Sinead’s own advice, from her song the Emperor’s New Clothes, is thrown back at her.

“He thinks I just became famous
And that’s what messed me up
But he’s wrong
How could I possibly know what I want
When I was only twenty-one?
And there’s millions of people
To offer advice and say how I should be
But they’re twisted
And they will never be any influence on me…”

Some of Sinead’s songs reduce me to tears. (in privacy of course – this damaged male holds the baggage of role models foisted upon him by capitalist stiff upper colonialist lips and admen and consumerism and hierarchy).

Her song, My Special Child is my Danny boy.

She’s My Patsy Cline.

But unlike Danny, her songs are hopeful, educational and unlike Patsy, she *will* heal.”

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Tracks of my Years

Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Neil Scott
This piece originally appeared on Neil’s blog

A loaded gun wont set you free…” -Lyrics in the context of my growing up in Northern Ireland that had meaning beyond the meaning Ian Curtis perhaps intended. As a young man I was continually questioning all that was going on around me. Growing up in a mid-Ulster market town, answers were difficult to come by. At 14 I joined CND and around he same time I read Cry Freedom and had my address included in Christian Aids anti apartheid (snail) mail list. I found out about racism in Australia by sending off for a report on the plight of the native Aboriginal people and the organisation I sent away to had the genius idea to include a report on Ireland north and south and the inequalities within the two states. A year later I stole a book about Marx from my “non-denominational” Proddy High school. I stole it, rather than borrow because Marx/the Cold War was associated with Republicanism and Nationalism by those around me. I really could not see anything within its pages that I disagreed with.

All of these things made me think.

I’ll come back to New Dawn Fades in a minute.

Of course other things made me think… challenged me… Made me realise that lots of these beautiful, wonderful, in other ways open, friendly and rational people were saying and supporting the most unreasonable things. Their entire house of bigotted cards was supported by an imaginary being I could not twist my belief system to believe in. And I tried! When seemingly reasonable, funny, kind people say that They had been found by God; were born again; found God; seen the light; were saved and so on, I tried to find what that meant. I looked at ways to think of God that wasn’t this beardy Marx like figure… to no avail. The house of cards of loyalism and unionism seemed equally irrational. “Directionless, so plain to see… The loaded gun wont set you free…” lyrics that could be applied to both sides in the war going on around me.

All around me, death and mayhem drove the engine of our personal and economic society.

And death and mayhem was being cited as a solution by all sides including a Government not elected by Northern Irish people. Thatcher’s solution stepped up the killings and brought bombs closer to me. I saw mushroom clouds, broken, mangled buildings, cars and people and the aftermath of death and revenge and the hatred it perpetuated. The people around me, including me, were in the midst of an undiagnosed trauma. A violated people. And seemingly all of those in charge were out of control… On one hand saying death and murder were wrong, but on the other hand arming more people, and sending in SAS death squads to bereave more people and to harden more and more hearts.

“I’ve walked on water, run though fire, just can’t seem to feel it anymore.” And the denial by all of us within the North of Ireland about the effect of the fire engulfing us, the numbing of our feelings for those around us, was plain to see by any outsiders who came to visit.

Political music influenced me a lot. From the Specials, The Police (yes they did!) and Fun Boy Three through to Peter Gabriel And even Bono (who breeched the dam of Bloody Sunday denial). But the anger, stark, monochrome, industrial hopelessness of Joy Division did even more. It allowed me to realise that those around me might not have solution. The politicians and those they targeted with their biting, bigoted or rationalised violent solutions through to the preachers preaching difference through an imaginary, patriarchal deity were pulling us in ever decreasing circles of murder and hatred.

The track that sums up my freedom from the narrow minded sectarianism was not written with this in mind… But it was part of the freeing of my mind. “Different colours, different shades, over each mistakes were made…” and the shoots of hope I see at home beyond the marches and ire of some politicians as ordinary people reject triumphalism and violence as a solution give different meaning to Curtis words than he intended, once again.

Bits of Kids

Reading Time: 5 minutes
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Neil Scott
This piece originally appeared on Neil’s blog

We drank our tins of Satzenbrau shivering on the school roof looking across the streetlit mid-Ulster valley that was my hometown of Banbridge.  Another Friday night without a care.

Out of the six of us, I was the only one working. The others were all still in High School. We all loved the new found freedom of youth, drink and music- and some weekends, before we hit whatever pub we wanted to go to that week- or whatever youth club or nightclub, we listened to music from a mono battery powered tape-recorder and debated the merits of the synthesizer and its impact on guitar music.

Alex had eclectic taste- BA Robertson, Rod Stewart and chart stuff. Colin was into Jim Steinman in a big way. I was into my post-punk stuff, Joy Division, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire… The Mod was into the Jam, The Kinks, The Who and the likes and Roger and Jackie, the only girl with us that night, were into Punk. We took turns with tracks, but it was The Mod’s stereo. The Jam blared through the cool night air. The noises of the town wafted up to us, inviting us to join the laughter coming from the streets where the Rollerdrome, smoke filled and full of the confused noises of disco and Donkey Kong, Space Firebird and Defender vied for our attention with The First and Last, Campbells, The Coach, the “big church” youth club, Gowdy’s or just hanging about on the streets “gaunching” with people… asking about unseen pals; gaping,  stuttering at girls; feeling inadequate as Lutton took to the dancefloor and never stuttered once. Or playing snooker.

My favourite part of the night was the carryout. A few cans of beer and a bit of craic, usually freezing in a hedge, at the side of a gable wall or a school grounds.

The music was my freedom. It promised much. A world before us. A world we would change. The Mod dressed in his mod clothes, “target” on his back. Roger in jeans and grey denim jacket. Colin in a burgundy bomber, Alex in a fleecy, furry tartan jacket, me in black baggies, boxer boots, a flaming cross teeshirt and long trenchcoat- fashion victim extraordinaire- and Jackie in her forbidden makeup, pvc trousers and punk top she stashed in a bag in a friends house so her ma and da wouldn’t see.

We were ready for a new world- or at least a few more beers, a chip and gravy from the chinese and another box of fags.

Then it was Roger’s turn to play his tape.

The music didn’t thrash out in the way his choice usually did. It wasn’t California Uber Alles or Pretty Vacant. The guitar sounded almost like a sitar. The opening vocals  almost whispered.

“It was nothing like that in my day, not here in my town
We didn’t get things all our way till we were full-grown
Now they go into pubs and you’re gonna get mugged in my town…”

We stopped speaking over the music.

“It’s SLF’s new one.”

We knew of SLF of course. Alternative Ulster. Suspect Device.  Barbed Wire Love. Wasted Life. Tin Soldiers.

Loud shouts about the shite of  our wee world. This world we knew. One that visited this valley from the outside now and again. Driven in deliveries of mayhem that couldn’t and didn’t differentiate between catholic and protestant children, women and men. A world in which music had been a “legitimate target” when after playing our local big venue, the next big thing, The Miami were blown to bits and shot to death.

This was music that told the truth about murderous “sides.”

At the time through my rejection of the local version of rebellion- hard rock; meaningless Billy Idol lookalikes and Doctor Martens that did nothing to Kick Over the Statues, but instead marched to them to salute, I rejected punk.

Outwardly. To suit my image.

My “post punk” *self* image, because no-one here really gave a shit about how I looked nor did they care for the hopelessness of Joy Division or the inaccessibility of the lyrics of The Bunnymen.

Secretly, though, SLF touched me through the nonsense of being told, about my best friend, “but do you know Mickey’s a catholic?” And through the fear of the threatening phone calls my joiner dad got from paramilitaries for doing his job in their territory, SLF comforted me that others thought “sides” where nonsense.

Mickey’s mum’s Sacred Heart pictures on the wall were no reason to hate. And my rejection of religion didn’t make me a protestant for others to hate.

“So you read about it every day, in the headlines
How they take and take and drive away, sex and late nights
And it’s gotta be wrong, because they’re so young…”

My childhood was happy. A mother and father who worked hard to give us Blackpool once a year and a great Christmas. A childhood my society tried to steal. The big men who forced my father to hand over the few quid “protection money” from the corporation he worked for. A low paid worker forced to be the middleman between the multi-million pound rehousing project in Belfast and the Shankill Butchers.

After the cartoons, I watched Gloria Hunnyford tell me why my da’ might be late… “incidents” in Belfast, Lisburn or the Maze.

Our family were not outwardly “kissy,” but we loved each other. Our livingroom curtains could conceal me as I stood behind them looking down the road, waiting.  And on seeing the yellow Farrans van drive down the road my heart would leap, but I would control my relief and shout into the kitchen where my mum kept the dinner warm, “he’s home!”

“They’re only bits of kids, they’re only bits of kids
It’s always bits of kids today.”

“This is class, Roger.” Jackie loved it, so we loved it.

I wished we drank slower. But out of booze it was time to hit the town and to try to make the fiver stretch to a few more beers and a chinese.

“Where do yiz fancy going?”

We climbed down from our sniper nest and walked down the leafy lane to the main Newry Road. A road that took everyone from this end of town to work in Belfast, Newry, the Shoe Factory or the town.  I looked up the hill towards the factory where I would end up working in a few years time- a place in which there were sectarian quotas which were met through predominantly catholic offices and predominantly protestant offices; catholic run lasting lines and protestant run sewing machines. All controlled by English General managers sent to oversee us.

Roger and Jackie walked on. Jackie oblivious of the fact she had legitimised this meeting of nerds by her presence. Roger, Embassy Regal hanging from his mouth, and Jackie disapeared to somewhere cooler than The First and Last.

We walked passed the nursery school where I had been painting Humpty Dumpty’s for the wee ones on the windows when the bomb went off; passed the empty shell that was once Stevey Shepherd’s motorbike shop, across the bridge under which the controlled explosions were executed; past the shop the eleven year old boy died of shrapnel wounds and through the side door into the lounge.

A “catholic bar” where both religions relaxed, played “Crazy Climber” and snooker, and we were never questioned about our age. A few more pints into a world of gaunching with our mates.

” Broken cities ‘n’ broken hearts, bits of people who fall apart
In my town
It’s always bits of kids today
Bits of kids, we’re always, here in my town.”

Stiff Little Fingers are a band I have loved since. A band under valued. A band who, along with their rivals The Undertones and the others from the Good Vibrations camp and along with The Miami and The Shankill Butchers, bomb sales, parades and catholic and protestant quotas, shaped me.