Monday 22 August 2016

Left Field: The Musical

Left Field: The music. I was in love with the girl in the record shop. She persuaded me to buy Johnny Tillotson's 'Poetry in Motion'. Being in CND in South London, meant live Blues artists at the Bromley Court Hotel. These three got my mojo working. Howlin Wolf's 'Smoketsack Ligtnin' ', John Lee Hooker's 'Jack of Diamonds' & Muddy Waters, 'Got my Mojo Working'. Jimmy Kennedy was getting ready to go to Bosnia to run the War Child Mostar bakery. I remember his endless cups of tea, his smokes and his obsession with Van Morrison's 'Queen of the Slipstream'. Brian Eno invited me to his studio to listen to an early recording of 'Miss Sarajevo'. Bono composed it and Brian was producing it. He needed to double check how to pronounce Miljacka. In 1995 the Help album was released with contributions from more than 20 artists, It was recorded on Monday, September 4th, 1995, in studios across Europe and released, on target, five days later. It raised more than £1.5 million for aid to Bosnia Herzegovina. I was in charge of deciding where the money went. Here are two tracks from the album: Sinéad O'Connor's 'Ode to Billy Joe' had arrived too late for inclusion in the album, but Brian Eno and his team were so impressed with her haunting rendition that they felt they had to include the song. 'Fade Away' was recorded by Oasis with contributions from Kate Moss and Johnny Depp. 'Pavarotto and Friends' for War Child in Modena raised millions for the charity. The music Centre in Mostar was the result. Of course Pavarotti, Bono and Eno sang 'Miss Sarajevo' and Liza Minnelli joined Pavarotti for 'New York, New York'. Bruce Cockburn's 'Somebody Touched Me' is for Anne Aylor whose touch saved my life. watch & listen to Left Field: The Musical

Then check out Left Field, published by Unbound & distributed by Penguin Books

Sunday 21 August 2016

Friday 19 August 2016

Miners - lost and found

One of the great results of writing a memoir is that you are contacted by long lost friends. Notes and photos on the 1984 miners strike had disappeared during my bitter divorce. Addresses too. Yesterday I had a call from Pat Davies who I had not seen for 32 years! I had tried to locate her, husband Selwyn and her family when writing the book, but had failed - until now. Here is an excerpt from my account of the strike in South Wales ... "I was teaching at Kilburn Polytechnic and my union branch set up a food support group for the Blaenant miners in the Neath Valley, south Wales ... I was one of those who drove groceries down to their families: tinned and fresh fruit and vegetables, cartons of long-life milk, pasta, cheese, biscuits, soft drinks and toiletries. Our supplies were dropped off at the miners’ social centres and distributed by the miners’ wives support group who had precise information on every family’s needs. Proof that a co-operative society can develop under the most extreme conditions. I stayed with Pat and Selwyn Davies in Pen-y-Cae and, over the weeks and months of the strike, we became friends. One weekend I travelled there with the North London Gay Liberation Front. They staged a benefit for the strikers and their families in the miners’ club at the Onllwyn Miners’ Welfare Hall in the Dulais Valley. It ended with a mass hug-in: miners and their wives and children embracing their visitors. That evening has been accurately represented in the 2014 film Pride." Pat and Selly are going to send me photos she has of me and my family and I am sending them a copy of 'Left Field' And I have promised to visit them soon in Pen-y-Cae.

Thursday 4 August 2016

Ships at Sea

 I spent a lot of time at WOMAD with Amir Amirani, director of 'We are Many'. A great man who has devoted years to getting this film made. It can now be bought on DVD and soon on Netflix and has been bought by Universal Pictures. All this on his own and without any support from the 'media'. I doubt you are going to see this film on your TV screens. Why? I think it's because he is an outsider – he's not working inside the box, inside the acceptable paradigm. It's the same with Jeremy Corbyn. 10,000 can fill the streets of Liverpool but he remains 'unelectable'. What is meant by this is that he remains 'unacceptable'. He is not playing by their rules. I wrote about this in 'Left Field'. “A police inspector turned up at our house. He wanted to question me about a march I was helping to co-ordinate as secretary of South London Youth CND. ‘Are you the organiser?’ he asked. ‘I’m one of them.’ ‘What is your role?’ I was being introduced to page one of the police training manual: locate the leader. I said nothing, but my mother tapped him on the arm. ‘He’ll get over this,’ she said. ‘He’s still growing up.’ As the front door closed, she pleaded with me. ‘David, why can’t you be normal?’ ‘What is normal, Mum?’ ‘Why don’t you go into politics?’ ‘I am into politics.’ ‘Banning the bomb isn’t politics. Why don’t you join a party? You could end up in Parliament.’ Ambrose Bierce, the American wit, said that politics is ‘a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.’ Politics that you ‘go into’, takes place in a box with shared rules of engagement. If, like me, you believe there is nothing ‘shared’ about our world, the only place for politics is on the streets, not in a debating chamber full of Right Honourables who barrack and ridicule each other, then go off to have cosy lunches together. For my mother, my extra-parliamentary activities made me an extremist. But it’s like ships at sea. If a fleet of them are sailing together, a lone ship on the horizon is viewed as one which occupies an extreme position. However, from the point of view of the lone ship, you have to be a damn good sailor.” Amir is a damn good sailor and so is Jeremy Corbyn. They are our only hope, and in my case, now aged over 70, my last one!

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Ivo's Boat to Noam Chomsky

Some readers of 'Left Field' have asked me what gave me the idea for this memoir. I started writing it while watching men fishing from a harbour wall on a Croatian island. This eventually became the chapter 'Ivos' Boat'. They reminded me of my father-in-law who had learned to fish, not as a summer hobby, but from necessity. A cafe musician, he lived most of his life in poverty and fish you catch yourself are free. Ivo had been a Partisan and communist. Born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, living most of his life in 'communist' Yugoslavia and dying in independent and right-wing Croatia. His country was confusing for him and central to me. My connection to the region is reflected in the heart of the book. But my biological family in this country have exerted a similar strong influence on me. My father was one of the first Allied medics into Bergen-Belsen and took me on my first CND march. My Welsh mother led me to a love of Dylan Thomas and all three of them have found their way into this book. Closely pursued by Pavarotti, Brian Eno and my connections to the music world and whistleblowed charity! Political activism has been a central thread in my life - I must be one of the oldest members of Momentum, but so long as Chomksy lives I feel young.

Monday 1 August 2016

The Unkillable Human

Last night I cooked shepherd's pie for Jane Glitre. Word of warning. If I ever invite you for dinner make sure I am NOT cooking shepherd's pie. I have known Jane for over 20 years and first met her at the time of the Bosnian war. She and a group of brave women calling themselves 'Through Heart to Peace' walked across Mount Igman into besieged Sarajevo. She tells me how they entered the city through the famous tunnel, with the older members of their group at the front. As they emerged at the far end there was a line of open-mouthed Bosnian soldiers waiting their turn to go the other way. 'Don't worry' said one of the first women to emerge, 'the younger ones are at the back.' On one trip there they took in Frederick Franck's sculpture, 'Unkillable Human'. After the war Jane ran the Spitz music venue in Spitalfields market and I used to volunteer there. A wonderful place killed off by the developers who turned it into another expensive restaurant for expense-account bankers. Here is Eric Bibb who I saw there as well as Bert Jansch, Beth Orton, Tom Paxton, Honeyboy Edwards, Martha Wainwright and many others. Today she runs the Spitz Charitable Trust, bringing music to older people. Check her work out.  A great evening, reminiscing the years. And next time it will be a curry. Oh, and you can read more about Jane in Left Field.