Book Review – Flat Earth News

Book Review – Flat Earth News

This book review will critically evaluate a 2009 paperback print of Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. It will discuss his findings and how in the years following the book’s publication, his predictions have largely been proven correct.

Flat Earth News was originally published in February 2008 and written by the recently retired and multi award winning political and investigative journalist, Nick Davies. In the prologue, Davies, a scribe of forty years experience, says Continue reading Book Review – Flat Earth News

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Oh Manchester Is Wonderful…

A recent poll from Foursquare has named Manchester as the rudest city in the world.

Mancunians are forthright, innovative and naturally rebellious and Manchester historically has an independent spirit. The Manchester Ship Canal was constructed due to the Liverpool Dock trust imposing crippling levies on Manchester’s export trade. With a defiance that is characteristic of Mancunians, the city mayor, Sir Bosdin Leech, decided to commission Daniel Adamson, an engineer, to build the Ship Canal. This resulted in Manchester being able to ship their own exports and take Liverpool out of the equation.

Mode Wheel Lock, Manchester Ship Canal

What we now know as the premier liberal newspaper in the UK, The Guardian, was founded in Manchester  by John Edward Taylor in 1821. Until 1959, the vehicle was universally known as The Manchester Guardian. The paper was a dissenting voice in a media that was considered free but in practice, was complicit to the wishes of the authorities.

The first Trade Union Congress was held in Manchester in 1862 at The Mechanics Institute. The TUC gave access to education, culture and protection from exploitation that had previously been denied to proletarians.  Emmeline Pankhurst (nee Goulden) was born in Moss Side in 1858. In 1889, Mrs Pankhurst founded the Women’s Franchise League and revolutionised the patriachal society that she lived in. Mrs Pankhurst was instrumental in the succesful campaign of women getting the right to vote which commenced in earnest in 1903 with the formation of the Women’s Social and Political Union (colloquially known as the suffragettes)

Manchester has historically been a hotbed of football. Players of Manchester United football club were instrumental in the first ever players dispute with The FA in 1909 which eventually resulted in the formation of the PFA. This was in protest of the serf like working conditions that footballers in general were expected to happily live with. Nearly fifty years later, Manchester United gained international recognition by being the first English club to participate in European football in 1956, in defiance of the wishes of the Football League. Chelsea (as League champions) were invited to take part in 1955 but as is the way with London,  they did what they were told with full compliance. Ultimately, Mancunians as a collective are not rude, just honest, straight talking and down to earth. The last word on Manchester, it’s identity and it’s people I will leave to a Parisian, Eric Cantona whom in 1996 said

“I feel close to the rebelliousness and vigour of the youth here. Perhaps time will separate us, but nobody can deny that here, behind the windows of Manchester, there is an insane love of football, of celebration and of music”

Manchester Ship Canal photograph copyright of Martin Clark and used courtesy of Creative Commons licence 

Pledge

Pledges made in election campaigns have been historically broken by prominent politicians throughout aeons.  In more recent times, George H W Bush notoriously claimed “Read my lips, no new taxes” at the 1988 Republican National convention during the election campaign.

This pledge was effectively broken by the 1990 Budget Enforcement Act and was thus, instrumental in Bush’s defeat to Bill Clinton in the 1992 American Presidential  Election.

Gordon Brown was on a crest of a wave when he succeeded Tony Blair in 2007. Brown was seriously considering going to the country to gain his own five year mandate but his plans were buckled by a stroke of genius by the Conservatives.  The Conservatives famously pledged to increase the threshold of Inheritance Tax from £325,000 to £1,000,000.

Brown decided against a snap election and that decision had huge significance for both himself and his prime ministerial successor, David Cameron. With the change of Government in 2010, the very popular pledge that Cameron made has never actually been implemented but it hasn’t damaged him politically. With an election due in 2015, David Cameron has, quelle surprise, revived his pledge from 2007.
 Dave 'n' Nick

Whilst Cameron has escaped unscathed from his 2007 pledge, his deputy Nick Clegg, is unlikely to have the same fate in the 2015 election.  Clegg famously pledged to end student tuition fees in his electoral campaign of 2010. It is impossible to say how many votes the Liberal Democrats gained due to that pledge but it’s safe to say that we will find out come next years election

Not only have tuition fees not been abolished, they have actually tripled since the 2010 election. Clegg issued a grudging apology in November 2010 by saying  “I should have been more careful perhaps“.  In September 2012, Clegg was more forthcoming by saying “we made a pledge, we didn’t stick to it – and for that I’m sorry“.

 With Cleggs pledge to scrap tuition fees being annihalted alongside his core policy of the Alternate vote being routed in a referendum in 2011, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly what he has achieved in coalition with David Cameron. What can be said with some confidence is that the only pledge you can trust, is the one that is used to clean the household furniture.

The only pledge you can trust

Photograph of Nick Clegg and David Cameron, image by The Prime Minster’s Office

 

A Disservice To The Anti Racism Campaign

The recent allegations of institutional racism made by former Arsenal and England centre half Sol Campbell, make a gross disservice to the anti racism campaign.

Campbell is perfectly entitled to feel aggrieved about not being the regular England skipper for ten years if he wishes to. For that, in the opinion of this writer, Campbell a fine defender but his skills as a footballer did not necessarily make him captain material.

Whatever Campbell’s abilities, to accredit his none appointment of being regular England skipper to an indented racism at the Football Association is not only unfair on the FA but unfair on the campaign to eradicate racism.

Broon and Campbell

Racism has been a major problem in the UK since the merchant vessel Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury docks in 1948, with 492 Jamaican immigrants. Tolerated casual racism reached it’s nadir or peak (depending on which way you chose to look at it) in the 1970’s. Television programmes like The Black and White Minstrel Show  and Jim Davidson were considered acceptable mainstream popular entertainment in a way that would be inconceivable today. On the football field there was overt racism, particularly in the late 1970s which is not socially acceptable today.

Ultimately, Sol Campbell was never the England skipper due to the prerogative of the respective managers that England had between 1996/2006. Ian Wright believed that Campbell may have been overlooked as captain because of his placidity. Wright told the BBC that “Sol has never had the demeanour where he is aggressive on the pitch and put people in their place”.  What is needed from a captain is skills of leadership, a man who has the respect though not neccesarily the affection of his team mates. A man who can be trusted when there is adversity for the team to stick around and fight for the cause.

Sol Campbell infamously left Highbury at half time during a match between Arsenal and West Ham in Ferbruary 2006. He had been culpable for two West Ham goals in the first half. It is incidents like this which are why Campbell was never regular England captain. To blame the none selection on racism, undermines dilutes the hard work and dilligent work done by anti racism campaigners, particularly since the late 1970’s.

Photograph of Gordon Brown with Sol Campbell, image by Downing Street via Creative Commons/License

When Hell Freezes Over – Never Say Never…

Every so often speculation about the potential reformation of now recognised seminal Manchester group, The Smiths rears its head. Whilst there is absolutely no do doubt that that Bass player Andy Rourke and Drummer Mike Joyce would be amenable to a reunion, the likelihood of this happening in my opinion is unlikely but as we are to discover over the course of this article, one should never say never.

In October 2011, The Smiths Mancunian compatriots, The Stone Roses announced their reunion after a break up which lasted fifteen years. The group’s guitarist, songwriter and conceptual artist John Squire stated on a piece of his art in 2009 that he had ‘no desire whatsoever to desecrate the grave of seminal Manchester pop group The Stone Roses. Just over two years after that statement, after a frenzy of speculation in the preceding days, The Stone Roses announced that they had reformed and were to play to play concerts at Heaton Park in June/July 2012. Just under 250,000 tickets sold out in an hour for three nights for that particular weekend. The timing of the announcement was optimally timed but the reasoning for the re-union, whilst easily speculated is to this day unclear.

There was once a time when a band split up, it was considered a permanent thing if nothing else than to preserve the artistic integrity of their legacy. By far the biggest band break up was the Beatles in 1970. They became embroiled in split so sad and so vicious, it had a Shakespearean sense of melodrama to it. It can now only be a hypothesis as to whether The Beatles would have reformed in the 1980s due to the senseless slaying of John Lennon in December 1980, just as he was getting back into his artistic stride. Whilst John Lennon had the most abrasive public exterior of The Beatles, the most resistant to a re-union was always George Harrison. On December 1, 1989, George Harrison said in the New York Times that ”As far as I’m concerned, there won’t be a Beatles reunion for as long as John Lennon remains dead,” after it was suggested to him that Paul McCartney would be “Receptive to getting together again with George & Ringo’.

Whilst George was presenting an intransigent stance at the time, behind the scenes, the machinations were already in place for an eventual reunion of The Beatles five years down the road. This wasn’t down to a softening of George’s feelings but sheer pragmatism. In 1986 his Handmade film company lost $14.7 million on the disastrous Madonna &amp; Sean Penn film <i>Shanghai Surprise</i> ( <a href=”http://www.filmsite.org/greatestflops11.html”>http://www.filmsite.org/greatestflops11.html</a> ) . This was an unfortunate but manageable loss until Harrison found out that his business partner Denis O’Brien had made him sole guarantor for Handmade’s losses without his knowledge. Now he was in danger of losing his beloved gothic mansion in Henley on Thames. To earn some money, he rescinded his vow of retirement from the music business, made in 1982, to release a very successful single called <i>Got My Mind Set on You </i>(1987) and in 1991, he embarked on a tour of Japan with his old friend Eric Clapton. These endeavours whilst yielding money weren’t enough in themselves to settle his financial woes. He had to swallow his pride and get back to where he once belonged and work again with Paul and Ringo. George tried every which way of circumnavigating a Beatles reunion but ultimately, it was that re-union which solved his monetary problems and gave him back the financial security which he’d previously took for granted, for the rest of his life until his heartbreakingly early death in 2001.

Whilst The Beatles were the most famous band to split up and their break was hardly amicable, compared to Roger Waters attempted disbanding of Pink Floyd in 1985, it was a mere squabble between a few mates over some naïve business decisions. Waters had previously, through his personal psychological hold over the band, effectively sacked Floyd keyboard player Rick Wright by holding the release of the incredibly successful <i>The Wall</i> (1979) until Wright had agreed to resign. The band members had so much money tied up in the project that they had to have the album released post haste or they were in danger of defaulting on a bank loan due to an ill judged investment into skateboards, just as they were going out of fashion. The follow up album to <i>The Wall</i> (1979) was the presumptuously named <i>The Final Cut</i> (1983). Floyd didn’t even bother touring that album and when Waters sent his formal letter of resignation of band membership to David Gilmour, Nick Mason and CBS in 1985, he thought that Pink Floyd would quietly disappear off into the sunset, never to be heard of again. To his shock and horror, in 1987 David Gilmour and Nick Mason announced that they had made a new album alongside erstwhile pianist Rick Wright and were going out on tour as Pink Floyd. If this wasn’t enough to make Waters seethe, it transpired that Floyd would be on occasion, playing the same city as he was on the same night as he was touring his <i>Radio K.A.O.S </i>(1987)<i> </i>album. Waters attempted to curtail the Floyd tour by litigation in the mistaken belief that he had the moral or legal right to stop them from trading without his presence. On Pink Floyd’s North American tour of 1987, they had to have a lawyer on standby in every city they played in anticipation of a cease and desist order from Waters legal team. It never came but it was an expensive enterprise which widened the already deep wounds of the acrimonious divide.

In a 2003 interview for Uncut magazine, David Gilmour said that Roger Waters was lying over his claim that he was over the very generous distribution of song writing credits on Dark Side of the Moon (1973). It seemed from that interview that time had not softened any mutual hard feelings between the band and it’s estranged lyricist and bass player. In 2005, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Live Aid and to appeal for the cancellation of the debt of some impoverished nations in Africa, Bob Geldof had coerced some of the biggest names in the world of rock music to play at Live 8. Getting the likes of Paul McCartney, Coldplay, The Who, Stevie Wonder and U2 was an achievement in itself but the coup-de-grace was persuading Pink Floyd to make their first appearance as a band in 11 years. That was then superseded by revelation two weeks before the concert that Roger Waters was going to join the band onstage for the first time since 1981. With the venom and poison that had been in the air since Waters official departure from the band in 1985, this was to my eyes, the most jaw dropping band re-union.

During promotional duties for The Eagles 1980 album <i>Eagles Live</i>, band drummer and singer  Don Henley was asked by Rolling Stone magazine as to when The Eagles were going to be playing live again or be back in the studio. He replied that it would occur ‘When Hell freezes over’. The break up of the band was a fractious one and clearly at the time, wounds of their tense break up were clearly fresh. They may have thought that it was a bad split and they couldn’t bear to be in each others company but a very cold day was had in Hell in November 1994 when they re-appeared with a new album and a touring schedule which lasted for two years. Nearly two decades on from that re-union, The Eagles are still a going concern.

In 1983 The Rolling Stones signed a contemporary record breaking deal with CBS records for the distribution rights for ten years. As aside to that deal, Mick Jagger had also signed a contract with CBS for distribution of his solo albums over the same period. What became apparent to Mick Jagger’s song-writing partner of twenty years, Keith Richards, was that CBS had no interest in making new Rolling Stones albums, merely distributing and repackaging their lucrative post 1971 output. To Richards observation, CBS saw the future as Mick Jagger having a solo career and worse to Richards, Jagger didn’t discourage the idea. In 1986, The Rolling Stones released <i>Dirty Work, </i>an album that Mick Jagger had merely only participated in by turning up to do his vocal parts then disappearing leaving Keith Richards to organise with Ronnie Wood. The problem for Jagger was that as half-hearted as it was an album, it was still streets ahead of his own solo album released twelve months prior. This was perhaps Mick Jagger’s biggest mistake. Before his solo album, people had assumed that his bandmates in the Rolling Stones were his able and willing backing men but when listening to his debut album and its execrable follow up, <i>Primitive Cool</i> (1987) it suddenly became blindingly obvious just how much he needed his fellow Stones around him to make decent records. To all intents and purposes, Jagger would have been happy to leave The Rolling Stones and go alone for the rest of his career but after a very rancorous estrangement that lasted three years, The Stones reconvened in March 1989 to make the <i>Steel Wheels</i> album and they subsequently embarked on the biggest selling and money grossing tour ever at its time. Unlike The Who in 1982, The Rolling Stones never at any point actually said that they had split up or were never going to play together again. Throughout the vitriolic exchanges between Jagger and Richards in the 1980s, this was without doubt the wisest thing they did (or more to the point, didn’t). The Stones have continued to function since 1989 with Keith Richards arguably being the most powerful member of the band. Something that was almost unthinkable up until the late 1980s. Mick Jagger returned all smiles with his tail firmly between his legs and on the surface, all’s well within the Stones camp</p>

In the closing months of 1982, The Who and The Jam both announced their permanent proffesional estrangement. Thirty years later, the split of The Jam has been faithfully observed but the Who returned for a one off performance at Live Aid in 1985. They fully re-convened (obviously without Keith Moon) in 1989 to tour the Tommy rock opera and have been an operating band since then. As for the Jam, Paul Weller has claimed that a reunion will never happen but Weller is unlikely to ever need for it to happen. Weller has carved out a succesful solo career with a good loyal following of fans who will watch him play theatres in the UK and the occasional outdoor show In the summer. He also appears to be financially stable enough to not require The Jam to re-unite. The Jam had and indeed have loyal fans and if they announced a re-union, it would be received with some excitement. The harsh reality is though that The Jam would be a strictly second division re-union in comparrison to a potential reformation of somebody like Led Zeppelin or ABBA. Certainly in terms of popular demand if not in merit. Led Zeppelin split up in 1980 following the drink induced death of drummer John Bonham. Like The Who, they played the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid in July 1985 with Phil Collins on drums. In 2007 following the death of Atlantic records founder Ahmet Ertegün in December 2006, Led Zeppelin announced that they were to play the Millennium Dome in Greenwich in December 2007 for a charity concert. The tickets were priced at £125.00 and there was reputedly 20,000,000 applications to watch a concert in a venue hat held 20,000. I was one of the people trying in vain to get a ticket for that concert. Such is the enthusiasm and clamour for a Led Zeppelin re-union that is my belief that if they were to tour, they would set a precedent which I don’t believe would ever be surpassed.

They could name their price of tickets and sell out fifty stadia in the United States in record time. The split of Led Zeppelin, unlike The Beatles and Pink Floyd was not particularly acrimonious. That would be the biggest stumbling block to a potential ABBA re-union. Formed from a nucleus of songwriting partners Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, they brought their respective wives on board, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog and formed the one of the most successful pop groups the world has ever known. Ulvaeus and Andersson had a similar knack to Lennon and McCartney for infectiously catchy and intelligent pop music. ABBA’s problems occurred not through financial disagreements or musical differences but by the collapse of the respective marriages that the band was built around. The other similarity Abba shared with The Beatles is that when they were breaking up they, were still producing classic songs like <i>Winner Takes It All which graphically explained the state of the relationships within the group. It is hard to say which would be the bigger re-union between ABBA and Led Zeppelin in regards to public demand, hypothetical ticket sales but of the two groups, there is more chance of Led Zeppelin going back on the road than there is of ABBA. Since ABBA ceased making music in 1982, primary songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have made far more money from the ABBA musicals, Hair, films using ABBA songs and the phenomenally successful ABBA Gold compilation that was released twenty years ago than they did when they were an operating band. There is no financial motivation for any of the group members to get back together, no personal ambition to but there is a public demand for it to happen. Will they do it? Never say never, if The Beatles and Pink Floyd can get back together to make music (however fleeting) anybody can.

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