Saturday, 29 December 2012


Perhaps the best present I received this Christmas was a new stylus for my turntable. I rather suspect Clare has been sorely regretting her act of kindness. Although our musical tastes collide in some places, she isn't a massive fan of the obscure punk rock which I'd spend my days listening to given half a chance. We all have strange indiosyncricies which drive our partners mad. Mine is that I love music which perhaps 99% of the population finds unfathomable. As I've run a studio for 33 years, played in a band for just as long and know a fair few people of note in the industry as friends, people assume I have an encyclopedic knowledge of all things musical. The sad truth is that nothing could be further from the truth. I am a total anorak for certain genres of music and an avid collector of vinyl, especially 70's punk rock and 60's psychedelic music. Sadly most other genres are of passing interest, if any. If I was spend a night spinning my favourite records to my friends I'd very quickly be in a room on my own. People assume I have a love for such acts as The Beatles, Queen and Foreigner. I find them all rather hard work. Give me the Fall, The Heartbreakers and the Lurkers anyday.

At school I had little interest in music at all until I was fourteen. Whilst mates were into heavy rock such as Led Zeppelin and rather dull concept album bands such as Pink Floyd (although I have always loved the Barratt era classics such as See Emily Play), the only bands I really liked were T Rex and Bowie. Most of my friends dismissed Bolan as "pop" and Bowie as a weirdo. Then on the 6th June 1977 I saw the Ramones, Talking Heads and the Saints. All of a sudden it all fell into place and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. Mark Perry published three chords on the front cover of "sniffin glue" magazine and urged everyone to go out and write songs. The Sex Pistols had been on the Bill Grundy show. I instantly associated with them, although I had no clue what their music was like. My schoolmates were still into all the old prog rock on the Old Grey Whistle Test. I discovered the John Peel show. All sorts of bizarre music was played. Peel would think nothing of following a track by the Sex Pistols with one by the Northern Dance Orchestra. I'll never forget when the Buzzcocks released another music in a different kitchen. Peel played eight songs in a row, then declared he'd play the other three tomorrow.

The thing we seem to forget about Punk is that it wasn't just a couple of bands playing a similar type of music. It was also a fashion style which was massively important. The bassplayer of my band, The False Dots had a punch up with the bassplayer of another local band, called the Mojes (by us) over who was the first person in Mill Hill to wear bondage trousers. Sadly for our bassplayer, the Mojes bassplayer was a bit of a hardnut, but he couldn't let the matter pass as a point of principle. Punk also gave birth to a whole crop of independently published magazines, and a new crop of journalists. The three "young turks" of the NME have become national figures. Danny Baker, Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons covered the punk scene and built huge reputations. Interestingly they often didn't even bother going to see the bands they had reviewed. I remember Burchill getting pulled up for slagging off a Souixsie & the Banshees performance at Leeds, when the band hadn't played. I personally never forgave Parsons for a dishonest review of the Ramones at the Rainbow at Xmas 1977. Interestingly the gig was captured on video for a film, proving Parsons claim that the audience were bored was rubbish.

What is interesting to me is the state of music in 1976. It was dire. I see many parallels with the current music scene. People had stopped making music for the sheer joy of playing. The whole scene had become bloated, lazy and dull. Over indulgence was the order of the day. There was nothing to get excited about. As I survey the current music scene, I see the same thing. Our studio has seen a big fall off in the number of young people forming bands. This has been compensated by a rise in pop acts aspiring to X factor. What scares me is that there is little creativity in much of the music. People seem to have given up trying to write good songs.

I am usually a good judge of such things. I anticipate a resurgence of creativity in the coming year. All of the factors are ripe. As in 1976, we had a recessive economy, a sudden realisation that "the system" won't deliver jobs and easy money. I believe bad economies are good for music and religion. I expect an upsurge in interest in both. With the Friern Barnet Library occupation, I have detected an awakining that amongst ordinary people that if you sit around and do nothing, you get shafted in such a climate.

I was trying to recall the last time a really top notch protest song got anywhere in the charts. I honestly couldn't remember. Our current crop of teenagers have borne the brunt of the assault by the Tory establishment. The government seems to have singled them out for a good going over. I believe that our Tory masters think that if young people are enslaved to debt, they can be controlled. I suspect that they will find something rather different happens. I alone of all my brothers and sisters did not do any post school education. There are several reasons for this, but one of the main considerations for me was the fact that as my parents were well off I would not receive a full grant. This meant I would have to rely on parents. Instead I left the country at 18 and went to live in Sweden for six months. When I returned, I had to work to pay off my debts. I realised that I'd had my fill of education. I worked as a painter and decorator for a while to pay the bills.

By the time my friends had left University, I had a wealth of work and life experience. I found that if you want something, the way to get it is to work hard. What did I want? I wanted a band, I wanted to play music. Strangely I didn't want to be a famous and rich pop star, I just wanted to play music. I have seen so many people who were talented lose their way because they want music to be a career. I believe that you should make music you like and if you get a career from it, then great. One of the shows I always listen to on the radio is Robert Elms on BBC 94.9. This week he's been playing the best interviews from his show this year. Stand out interviews were Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. Althoug I'm not a massive fan of either, the interviews were top notch. What stood out was the fact that both love the music they make.

I think the problem for many youngsters today is that their lives are racked with fear. Some of this is instilled by paranoid or pushy parents. There's fear of debt, fear of academic failure, fear of walking down the street, fear of "outsiders".  None of these things need to be feared. I've been in serious debt, failed academically, walked down the street and always felt like an outsider. I'm still here and doing ok. Life is only worth living when we take chances. A totally safe life is a totally sterile life. I'm not urging people to take stupid risks, but for heavens sake, we have moved too far towards a culture where we wrap people in cotton wool, both physically and intellectually.

I foresee a backlash against this. If there isn't the country will end up as a place where we all lock ourselves in after 5pm, and have no life at all.  I've been doing a lot of thinking recently. When I started writing this blog, I did it out of sheer frustration that nobody was covering important issues. I've never particularly enjoyed it. I can't see people being thrown to the wolves and stand by. Luckily, there are plenty of bloggers in Barnet now. All of them are better educated and more literary talented than I am. I am not going to "quit blogging", there is too much work to do. I am however going to dedicate less time to writing and researching blogs in 2013 and more time to the things I've neglected for the past four years and especially the last year.

I hope that the shortfall is met by my ever growing army of guest bloggers, who have lit the blog up. Expect more blogs on subjects such as music, local history and the environment in the coming year. I will still be covering One Barnet and all of the other issues, but it is time I delivered on the promise I made when I started writing a blog on the Hendon Times. That was to promote the local music scene. The political blog was an accident of fate, caused by the atrocious Stalinist reaction of the local Conservatives in Barnet Council to some justified criticism I made of their policies and behaviour.

Sadly in Barnet, I've seen some truly atrocious things happen to the way young people are treated by the council. Perhaps the most crass example was the way the Rythmic Project at Canada Villa has been dismembered. This gave local young people an opportunity to make music. A local Conservative councillor asked me what I thought of the project. I responded that I was overjoyed that the council was developing young musicians. He asked if it bothered me that the council were providing facilities for free, that my business charged for. I responded that it was a good thing as young people can't afford a commercial studio anyway, and when they start earning they will step up. He replied rather tersely, "if they knew you felt like that, they'd probably shut it down". When I heard that the staff were under threat last year, I immediately wrote to the council asking that they reconsider and listing reasons. Sadly this award winning project, that received Youth Music funding was not spared.

What frightens me is that if you give young people nothing positive to do, they do negative things. I expect to see vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, anti social behaviour and petty theft to rise. Music offers a get out of jail card to many young people. That is why it is important. That is why we need to get young people involved. I've read the Mayors strategy. It talks about "elite music". This, in my opinion, is a mistake. Music and sports are the one thing everyone can participate in for little or no cost. Both are healthy and stimulating. Why would any sane person want to steer young people away from such things?

I am working on some new intitatives for the new year. If you notice a few changes here, that is why.

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