Friday 27 November 2015

in praise of disobedience

This weekend is the first anniversary of my admission to hospital for an operation on a subdural haematoma. I was at the 'Disobedient Objects' exhibition at the V & A. On display, suffragette teapots, battered pan lids that had helped bring down the Argentine government, a Palestinian sling-shot made from the tongue of a shoe and homemade shields made to look like book covers. My behaviour was as surreal as the exhibits and I went directly from the V & A to A & E. You can read about all this in an article I wrote for Huffington Post and later in 'Left Field'. One year on and I am alive, recovered and on my way to join the disobedient at Downing Street to oppose bombing Syria. I have nothing but contempt for our tinpot bombardiers. Cameron's sole experience of war would have been his time on the parade ground at school. Ex-chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, once told the PM that 'being in the Combined Cadet Force at Eton did not qualify him to decide the tactics of complex military options.' I know, I don't trust Sir David either. My trust is with Jeremy Corbyn and those who join me in Whitehall at midday. 

Thursday 26 November 2015

Standing in the light

Ex-Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, General Wesley Clark, made this comment eight years ago.“We’re going to take out seven countries in 5 years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran”. Hasn't exactly gone to chronological plan, but they are still working on it. My friend Haifa Zangana, novelist, short story writer and political columnist, invited me to a showing of 'Whose Peace Will it Be' at the P1 Studio London last night. Directed by the Belgian filmmaker, Luc Pien, it was deliberately not a film about the atrocities that have been committed in Iraq—and now far beyond its borders. Pien spoke with writers, poets, academics and refugees. As well as Haifa, they included Zainab Khan and Intisar al Obaidy, artist Rashad Salim, film maker Al Daraji and academic Mundher Adhami. Harold Pinter said, “We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people.” Yet out of this degradation the survivors emerge, defiantly standing in the light and speaking for themselves and for a civilisation that belongs to all of us. Don't forget to be at Downing Street at midday on Saturday. We still have to act against Clark's seven-country plan and stand in the light. More on Haifa Zangana in Left Field

Saturday 21 November 2015

Syriza, Inside the Labyrinth

Last week I went to the the launch of the new Left Book Club at Conway Hall. Their first publication is Kevin Ovenden's 'Syriza, Inside the Labyrinth'. As a fervent follower of Kevin's insightful blogs on Greece and much else I am looking forward to reading this one. Set up in 1936 the first LBC had 57,000 members, and 1.500 discussion groups in workplaces and communities. Writing in today's Guardian, Ian Jack wonders, “could anything like that success happen again? At first sight, it would seem mad to think so. A book is an antique method of political dissemination ... But too many recent examples suggest the case is far from clear-cut. Thomas Piketty, Richard Wilkinson, Naomi Klein, Bill Mckibben: it was the printed book that contained their ideas, rather than social media. A form devised in the 15th century is proving remarkable resilient. A book, lke a fire, is something people can gather round. It can be - see reading groups and literary festivals – the focus of a good night out, or the first provocative stage in a more serious process. Or both.” Well said. My own upcoming memoir is a great coming together of social media – which has raised more than enough funding to publish – with a traditional physical publication at the end. Not forgetting the E-book. So, read Kevin's book and check out 'Left Field'. 

Tuesday 10 November 2015

Rolling Fork to Tallahatchie

In the 20s and 30s, American black jazz singers, Josephine Baker and Alberta Hunter, found their stardom, not in New York or Chicago, but in Paris and London. ‘The Negro artists,’ said Hunter, ‘went to Europe because we were recognised and given a chance. In Europe they had your name up in lights. People in the United States wouldn’t give us that opportunity.’ In the 50s and 60s this happened again with the great blues singers who played to packed houses at London’s 100 Club and the Marquee. It was Europe and the UK, in particular, that gave them the recognition they deserved. When these musicians arrived in London, their first booking was often at the Bromley Court Hotel, Catford, a short bus ride from my home in south London. Blues greats, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley appeared there with British stars such as John Mayall, Alexis Corner and Spencer Davis. With his pencil moustache, red telecaster, sharp suits and from Rolling Fork, Mississippi - Muddy Waters “Got my Mojo Working”. The Bromley branch of CND used to hold meetings at the Swan and Mitre in the High Street, and I was delighted that being part of Ban the Bomb in South London meant I was among other blues’ fans. I remember one evening we cut the meeting short and decamped to the Court to hear Sonny Boy Williamson, another Delta blues man from Tallahatchie. Here they all are in a collation titled: 'American Folk Blues Festivals,1963 – 1966. The British Tours'. Be sure to check out Mamma Reed and “Baby What you Want Me to Do?” at 33:50  Much more on this in 'Left Field'

NOTE: I am going to see DUBIOZA KOLEKTIV at 100 Club in London on 20 November. I saw this gig in Belgrade in 2014 - my good friend, Oha Maslo is guest singer towards the end. They played Glastonbury this year and this is their 2nd appearance in the UK. Many more to follow I hope.

Saturday 7 November 2015

never-ending wars & poppies

This year the poppy people have extended their 'patriotism' to a photo of three kids carrying giant poppies. - for soldiers of the past, soldiers of the present and soldiers of the future. So now it is going to be never-ending poppies alongside never-ending wars. I gave a talk on 'Left Field' at my old school, Canford, last week. The 200 sixth formers sitting in front of me was a sea of poppies. I didn't want to be rude as they were a lovely audience and the school was more than friendly to this old rebel. But I had to say something. I told them my father had been one of the first Allied doctors to enter Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and I had witnessed war at first-hand. Both experiences meant I think poppies should stay in the fields. Read this about veteran Harry Smith - a true patriot. 

Tuesday 3 November 2015

The pied piper of Mostar

I met yesterday with Prof Nigel Osborne as he passed through London on his way from running children's workshops in Syria and Lebanon to Buxton. He was due to give a talk at the Buxton Opera House and attend the premier of a new work of his, 'Bosnian Voices', to be performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The Chief Executive at Buxton is Simon Glinn, who played a significant role at the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar. 'Significant' is not strong enough. His technical skills were vital to the setting up of the centre. Here is an excerpt from 'Left Field' about Nigel's first visit to Mostar. “War Child today still emphasises the charity's historical connections with the music world, but the first money-raiser for our work involved animals. Over the 1993 August Bank Holiday we organised a three-day event at London Zoo. There were sitar and sarangi players near the elephants, Peruvian pipers serenaded the llamas and didgeridoo players the kangaroos. There were African drummers and giraffes, gamalan players entertaining the Indonesia rhinoceros, Brazilian berimbau players the squirrel monkeys. The Chinese percussionists were kept well away from the giant panda, Ming Ming, because she needed all her concentration to breed. The most amazing sites for me were a string quartet playing Bach in the Butterfly Grotto and a lone cellist in the shadowy depths of the Aquarium entertaining the circling sharks. On the lawns, pathways and courtyards there were clowns, jugglers, stilt-walkers, magicians, dancers and acrobats, story-tellers, poets and pavement artists. Inside the monkey house we held children's workshops, art and photo exhibitions. The promotional brochure said that, 'during these three days, London Zoo, with the help of its animals, will come to the rescue of another endangered species – children threatened by the thirty wars raging across our planet.' Six months later Nigel Osborne arrived in Mostar to help the children. He was carrying a large bag full of percussion instruments. A big, bearded bear of a man, Nigel was Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. He’d heard that we were co-operating with MTV and taking music tapes into Sarajevo where he’d been trying to organise music workshops with young people, working with the Sarajevo String Quartet and collaborating with cellist, Vedran Smailović and poet, Goran Simić on two children's operas. He said he would like to run children's workshops in Mostar and it was to be the start of a long association between Nigel and War Child. It was no problem gathering interest. I had been amazed how quickly news travelled across this bombed-out ghetto and, in such a desperate place, anything out of the ordinary was news. After two years of shelling, the upper floors of the UNHCR building had been blown away. The lower floors, housing the UN office, were as secure as it got in East Mostar. By the time Nigel arrived, there were twenty children and their parents. They sat very quietly and few of the children smiled. They looked as though they were about to be told bad news, not be offered the chance to bang drums and blow whistles. I looked around the room and realised most of them would have had no memory of anything but fear. One mother sat with her blind, impassive, six-year-old daughter. I watched while Nigel tried to get the girl to play a triangle. She refused to hold it. This went on for some time until, finally, she grabbed the triangle with one hand, the metal stick with the other and struck it over and over. Her face lit up. Her mother told us that it was the first time she had seen her daughter smile in over two years. Nigel's arrival in Mostar was to result in a schools' music pogramme that reached 3,000 children in Mostar and the surrounding area. More on all this in Left Field