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Monday, 28 May 2012

No future in this jubilee dreaming

Jubilee bunting in Tesco, an old head-and-shoulders pic of Queen Elizabeth aged about 50 on a street poster. Without really noticing, I’ve recently started seeing lots of Diamond Jubilee tat. Tat that takes you back ... to 1977, the Sex Pistols and oh god…..

As if we couldn’t learn the lesson of a third of a century ago, we seem condemned to repeat it now. Farce, farce and more farce.

Play it again John

Anyway, while things like Cassetteboy v The Diamond Queen or this weekend’s Last Jubilee punk festival are mildly diverting, there’s definitely not much edge to them. The former seems almost to celebrate the royal family in its gentle ooer-er-missus satire, while the latter is unashamed punk nostalgia: good fun if you like that kind of thing (and don’t mind spending £125 on a ticket) but well, not exactly cutting-edge art.

We seem to be trapped. Caught in a time warp of lampooning the royals and/or celebrating punk’s own considerable longevity and surprising resilience (a sort of mirror-image to the royals). In fact, with faded punk royalty like the Buzzcocks and the Damned at the last jubilee beano, it’s clear that for some punk fans the Lydon/Reid/McLaren assault on the monarchy will always be its defining moment. And now even I’m doing it…

In fact, I also “did it” last year with the Catherine/William wedding, riffing on the “mad parade” of last year’s bash and the Sex Pistols’ magnificently chaotic ’77 boat gig. So, there’s no way out, even for escapologists and cheats like me …

But … maybe there’s a glimmer of hope in that rather touching BBC feature about ’77-era punks remembering the Silver Jubilee and how they played the SP’s God Save The Queen through open windows to annoy neighbours preparing to pay homage at their street party trestle tables. It's interesting that the majority of the now middle-aged interviewees still dislike the royal family (some vehemently so). After all those rock star accounts of how they were first energised by seeing the Sex Pistols, there must be a very nice book to be written about how punk changed the lives of thousands of “ordinary” people, including by profoundly influencing their politics.

As that well-known political theorist Professor Rotten said in one of his early treatises, “Don’t be told what you want / Don’t be told what you need …”.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

John Peel: the campaign to stop him becoming a national treasure starts here

Another week, another John Peel music story. There's been a lot of coverage of the project to digitally represent JP’s records and home cataloguing system (plenty of media space for The Space) but to me, well, it's not much different to the usual half-baked fare.

We've had the obligatory references to The Fall, New Order and The White Stripes, with just The Four Brothers and the alphabetical oddity of Mike Absalom thrown in for variety. In fact, the Today programme decided that the best way to sum up Peel’s famously broad musical range was to stress that he also liked mainstream stuff such as Status Quo or Roy Orbison. Great. No need to mention the thousands of other artists that might be a little ... ooer ... unfamiliar.

So much for the media, which never departs very far from a tired posthumous Peel script (institution ... inspiration to millions ... Teenage Kicks ...).  But the archival effort itself sounds rather lacklustre too. It's apparently going to reproduce the album sleeves and the great man’s filing cards, starting with just 100 LPs and rising to 2,600 by the end of the Arts Council-funded life of the project. Hmm. They're saying Peel’s albums run to 25,000 in number (which itself sounds surprisingly low to me), so that means only about 10% of his collection will be included. And the 40,000 singles and thousands (presumably) of CDs (and let's not forget the lovely cassettes) are ... what? Sidelined? And anyway, we're not talking about recordings being digitised or downloadable or anything like that, just links to where you can listen to them. I dunno. Laudable it may be, but isn't it all slightly half-hearted, kinda pedestrian?

The thing about Peel, surely, is the scope of what he did, and I think efforts to tackle that themselves need to have a bit of madcap ambition. So, instead of trite media summaries about what he played we ought to be getting people bothering to check and reflect his shows more accurately (eg a random Peel tape from my shelves, 17/9/86: Timbuk Three, followed by The Railway Children, Robert Wyatt, Twang, Microdisney, Toxic Reasons ....). And instead of modest web archiving projects, maybe we could get ... er, actually I don't know, but something big, a British Library-type affair.

Home taping is not killing John Peel

Actually, maybe there’s already something approaching that in the form of existing JP sites like John Peel Everyday and Fades In Slowly. I particularly like the sites that are obsessively huge, with archived recordings of shows stretching back decades. Density and depth rather than the lightweight froth of “Peelie” tributes is, I reckon, what it’s all about. I can well do without anyone ever again mentioning Home Truths or that fact that Peel’s favourite song was a certain John O'Neill composition. On the other hand, I definitely don’t want to lose all that music or the ambition of his inclusive approach to playing it. So please, I implore you, will you support my campaign to stop John Peel being turned into a national treasure? No more tributes, just huge databases ...