Posts Tagged ‘UB40’

Vox Political on the Continuing Relevance of Kirsty MacColl

December 18, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has written a short piece, remembering how it was 16 years ago today that the world heard the sad news of the death of the singer and songwriter, Kirsty MacColl. Mike states that listening to the lyrics of her 1989 track, Free World, it seems that very little has changed, and that we need more singers like her.

See his article at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/12/18/kirsty-maccoll-died-16-years-ago-today-but-her-music-is-as-relevant-as-ever/#comment-92400, where there’s a video of her singing this.

I’m not surprised that MacColl was politically engaged, as I think her father was the folk musician, Communist and conscientious objector Ewan MacColl. And Mike’s right – we do need more musicians like her. The 1980s were a very bleak time, with Maggie in No. 10 shutting hospitals and schools, among too many other closures. But it was also a time of very politically engaged music by the very talented musicians that emerged in the decade. UB40 took their name from the unemployment benefit form. There was Billy Bragg, singing his ‘urban folk’ songs about the miners during the Miner’s Strike. And Joanna, one of the commenters on Mike and this blog, also notes in her comment that the Style Council’s ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’ is also acutely relevant, as song of resistance to everything Thatcher and the Tories represent. That had the lyrics

‘You don’t have to take this cr*p,
You don’t have to sit back and relax
You can try and change it…
Lights go out,
Walls come tumbling down’.

Here’s a video of Paul Weller explaining why he puts his politics into music, and the band playing that same track.

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May, Smith, Trident and the Continuing Relevance of 80s Pop

July 23, 2016

In the debate over Trident the other day, both Theresa May and Owen Smith showed their utter willingness to incinerate hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in a nuclear war. Michelle, one of the great commenters on this blog, was particularly chilled by their readiness to do so without any apparent qualms or pangs of conscience. She wrote

It would seem there’s something dangerous in the water at Westminster! I couldn’t sleep after seeing the clip when May said “yes” without hesitation to the question of whether she would be willing to kill 100,000’s of INNOCENT men women and children! If anyone hasn’t seen this: https://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jsshttps://youtu.be/zK4Z5ZF3jss

Then there is Owen willing to do so even if the count is in the millions and with a small smile on his face: https://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22shttps://youtu.be/o86kjk15j4E?t=22s

It would seem the cackle of madness is drumming out most rational thought in the power house.

Absolutely. After he and Kennedy nearly destroyed the world in the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev was very serious about the threat posed by nuclear Armageddon. On his goodwill visit to the West afterwards, someone made a joke about it. They were told by Khrushchev that the destruction of humanity was ‘no laughing matter’. The Soviet president also didn’t get on with Chairman Mao. Some of this was due to differences over geopolitical strategies, and attitudes to Communist doctrine. But Khrushchev was also appalled by Mao’s attitude to the nuclear stand-off. Mao really couldn’t understand why Khrushchev had pulled back, and felt that he should have nuked America when he had the chance. It’s an attitude to the extermination of the human race, or at least a sizable part of it, which shows what a genocidal maniac Mao was.

May’s and Smith’s comments are particularly frightening in the present climate, when prominent NATO generals are claiming that by May next year, Putin will have invaded Latvia and the Atlantic Alliance and Russia will be at war. I can remember the threat of nuclear incineration in the New Cold War of the early ’80s. That was terrifying, but it also called forth some of the greatest and most beautiful pop songs of that period, as our musicians added their voices to the call for peace and sanity.

One of them was Sting, and his piece ‘Russians’. Based on a piece by the great Russian composer Prokofiev, it has the lines ‘Do the Russians love their children too?’ and is a condemnation of the militaristic posturing by both America and the Soviet Union, and an eloquent plea for peace. The Soviet Union has passed, but unfortunately the song and its message still remain very relevant. I found this piece on YouTube of the great man singing it on Russian TV. The fact that the Fall of Communism has led to a thaw between the West and the former Soviet bloc is, to my mind, one of the greatest and most optimistic events of the post-War era. The fact that British bands were able to travel to Russia and perform, beginning with groups like the Clash and UB40, shows that military confrontation, sabre-rattling and posturing is far from the only foreign policy option. East and West can and do still meet in peace and friendship. Let’s hope our leaders don’t waste this situation, and annihilate humanity for the sake of military status. Here’s the video.

Movie Review: Black Sea and Mark Kermode on Countdown to Zero

December 6, 2014

Yesterday a friend and I went to see the submarine thriller, Black Sea. I won’t say too much, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen it. It’s been advertised on the TV, and the basic plot is that a group of British and Russian divers and submariners get together to search for a sunken German submarine lying at the bottom of the Black Sea. The sub’s cargo is a consignment of gold from a loan the Germans extorted from Stalin during the brief period of peace during the Nazi-Soviet pact prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR. Ethnic tensions between the Brits and the Russians, and personal betrayal leads to a series of catastrophes that eventually scupper the mission and lead to a battle for sheer survival. It’s a taut thriller, with much of the tension derived from the situation of desperate, dangerous men working in a highly confined, dangerous environment, while trying to avoid detection by the authorities.

Despite the ethnic friction between Brits and Russians, I also found the film optimistic in its portrayal of relations between the two nations. The two leading characters, who set it up, one British and one Russian, are friends living in London. Even after the outbreak of violence, the hero and his Russian counterpart continue working together and try to prevent its escalation. Even after the end of the mission, the friendship between the few surviving crew, Russian and British, continues. I liked it, because not only does it show the current reality in that since the fall of Communism, people from the former eastern bloc, including Russia, have come over here to live, work and set up businesses, but that friendship co-operation between Brits and Russians is as much the norm, indeed possibly more normal, than chauvinistic distrust.

Glasnost and the Rise of a Shared Pop/Rock culture

In this respect, it’s a slightly better world than when I was growing up. I was at secondary school during the new Cold War between Reagan, Thatcher and the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union. It was an absolutely terrifying time, when many people feared that at any second the world would end in a flash of gamma radiation and fall out. There were some truly horrific films, like Threads and The Day After on American TV, showing what a nuclear war and its consequences would be like, along with documentaries about the possibility of a limited nuclear war in Europe. It was very much a cause for celebration when tensions eased when Reagan and Gorby started to talk to each other around the negotiating table in Iceland, and the USSR began to open up to Westerners and western influences. The first pop video I bought was of UB40’s concert in Moscow, not so much because I liked the great Reggae popsters themselves, but because I was fascinated and delighted by the fact that they were now playing live in Russia in front of their fans from that side of the former Iron Curtain.

And the same process happened in reverse too, as Russian bands and clothing became fashionable over here. The USSR always had a very strong youth culture, and they were not as nearly as backward as was often portrayed in the British press. If you believed the Sun – I know, that’s a very big stretch, but go with it – then the young and cool in the Soviet Union had only just caught up with the Beatles in the 1980s. In fact, the Soviets had a large skinhead culture, who were, I was told at College, referred to by the rest of the Soviet press as ‘British horrors’. A massive Heavy Metal rock culture developed extremely rapidly. The greatest and most visible exponents of Soviet Heavy Metal were the mighty Kruiz, who toured the West and whose albums were available over here. I think one of their songs was ‘Heaviest in Town’, in which the singer searches for the heaviest rock band, only to conclude ‘I’ll fly to Moscow for Kruiz’. There were also a number of other Russian bands, who were virtually unknown over here. Martin Walker, the Guardian’s Russia correspondent, tried to make people on this side of the Baltic aware of some of the best and most interesting in his column. There’s a lot of really good rock and pop in Russia and the former eastern bloc states, quite apart from some of the stuff that appears on the Eurovision Song Contest. They’re on Youtube and worth checking out.

Black Sea reflects this changed situation, and I am profoundly glad that it does and the world has moved on and improved just that little bit since the late 70s and early 80s. Moreover, the film’s sympathetic portrayal of the Russian characters shows it’s aimed partly at the Russian market. Its release during this period of strained international relations between Russian and the West over the situation in the Ukraine shows that the friendship and co-operation between Russia and Britain is now considered the natural, normal reality. My deepest hope is that this situation will continue and that our politicians will have the wisdom to build on it, and not let the conflict in Ukraine drag us back to the fear and hatred of the Cold War, that nearly destroyed our world.

Countdown to Zero and the Persistence of the Nuclear Threat

Mark Kermode is the film critic over at Radio 5 live. He’s a very literate commenter, having a doctorate in Horror film. When he was younger, he was the British correspondent for the Horror film magazine, Fangoria, or as he states it was known to aficionados, ‘Exploding Chests Monthly’. His reviews are always interesting and well argued, even if you disagree with him, such as on the subject of the Star Wars films. He dislikes them, while I really loved the first three films, and enjoyed the prequels. He also genuinely appreciates his listeners writing to him and giving their views, even when they take the opposite view to his.

One of the films he reviewed is Countdown to Zero, a documentary about what happened to all the nuclear weapons that were supposedly packed away at the end of the Cold War. The film shows that the weapons and the hair-trigger response systems are still in place. A nuclear bomb is much easier to make than may be thought, and the danger that these could fall into the hands of terrorists and rogue states is very real. The film reveals how at several points after the supposed end of the Cold War, mistakes made by the superpowers could have resulted in a nuclear holocaust. I haven’t seen the movie, but it does sound like a deeply unsettling, thought-provoking movie, and the opposite of the slightly more optimistic vision behind Black Sea. Hopefully, the optimists and peace-makers will win through, and that the world won’t go back to the ideological, economic and nationalistic fears and hate that nearly led to nuclear Armageddon. Countdown to Zero shows that we shouldn’t be complacent, but it does seem that the world is just that little bit better after the end of the Cold War. And we should be profoundly glad of that.

Kermode’s review of Countdown to Zero is on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xfkfn4W_hgM. It’s well worth a listen, especially as it shows we still need to get our politicians working on a truly secure peace.