Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Post on our trip to Berlin to follow, but in the meantime here is an original review of Mies's Neue Nationalgalerie from the September 1969 issue of Domus magazine, part of what is now the Kulturforum. It was his swansong.


Monday, March 28, 2011


Richard Osley, a journalist from the CNJ (an acronym that will need no spelling out for Londoners who live north of the Thames), has written two interesting posts about Saturday's demo.

The first is about the Labour Party's response to the march. This was certainly the first march I have been on (I'm 30) where Labour banners gave the streets a red glow - indeed, I can't recall a march in the last ten years at which a party member would have been seen dead. "Red flag after red flag showed the different branches of the party on parade: presumably this means a Robin Hood tax will be in the party’s next manifesto," suggests Richard. "We’ll see." I am sure that the scale of the march on Saturday will be keeping Ed Miliband up at night far more than it will disturb Cameron or Clegg. Labour, not untypically, are way behind the rest of us in this debate. It is good to have their support, at least in name, but there are few signs yet as to how they might use this movement to the advantage of the people they claim, still, to represent.

And the second refers to Miliband's comparison of this struggle with that of the Suffragettes, and rebuts the claim that the Suffragettes achieved their objectives through peaceful means alone. I wrote earlier that we should stop apologising for acts of violence against the property of the people who are the cause of these cuts - if the Suffragettes had simply turned up, chanted a few slogans, cheered on a Labour Party leader and then went home, we would not be talking about them today.


A march or demonstration that is reasonably well-attended can lull you into a false sense of security. I’ve been on plenty which, however well-organised, have hardly set the world on fire and, surrounded by people with the same unshakeable faith, I have come away feeling ever so slightly complacent. We came, we protested, we conquered, we went home with a fuzzy glow.

The fact that Saturday’s march against the Coalition’s cuts was so well-attended – and for half a million people to travel the length and breadth of the country in order to walk uncomfortably slowly in the drizzle is a really extraordinary thing – means such complacency is impossible. I did not go home with a fuzzy glow (though two and a half pints in the Shakespeare at Victoria afterwards did give me a fuzzy head). In fact, we stayed up until late worrying and deliberating about where this protest should go next – such is the massive opposition to the cuts, a general strike is an absolute minimum.

But any such conversation inevitably proceeds from opposing the cuts to opposing the whole structural framework of society. A long and sorry saga tells of how the global economy got into this current mess, but while the politicians and business people still desperately cry “business as usual,” I really think that most people who were marching on Saturday – and many people across the country and the world who did not march – were marching for a new society.

Even if people cannot yet articulate what that new society could look like (I’m not at all sure myself), most people know that it wouldn’t involve older people’s day centres being the price we have to pay to convince the financial markets that we are credit-worthy; nor would it involve a teenager selling his or her right to go to university by buying a pair of jeans from Topshop; now would it involve unemployed people being hounded into finding work, while workers from the public and private sector are thrown on the dole; and nor, most of all, would it look like ANYTHING resembling the Big Society.

One banner on Saturday summed up the mood that something big has got to change: “This is just SILLY”.

Finally, a word about those marchers who were, shall we say, not quite so well-behaved. First and foremost: they smashed the windows of a few branches of HSBC, they sat down in a few high-street stores whose owners refuse to pay their taxes, and they wrote “tax the rich” on the entrance to Fortnum and Mason’s. Really, if this is what you mean by evil (or fascism, as the Deputy London Mayor described it), you’ve led a very sheltered life. Secondly, it’s not good enough to dismiss this as the actions of a renegade minority: all the marchers shared a feeling of visceral anger, which some vented by creating wonderfully inventive banners, others by playing the Brazilian drums at full pelt, and others by throwing paint at the police. Far be it for me to predict which of these tactics will prove most effective. Thirdly, on Saturday (and at numerous demos recently) the violence can broadly be categorised as that against property (windows, cash machines, cars etc) and that against people. The perpetrators of the former are vilified, while the perpetrators of the latter (overwhelmingly the police) are portrayed as the victims. This says something very damning about the priorities of our ruling classes. And fourthly, I think we all need to stop apologising for the antics of others and stop worrying about how many middle Englanders they will upset. People have generally picked their sides already, and it is ours that is in the majority.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Before I go to Berlin tomorrow, I'd like to invite you all to spend next Saturday with me, my wife, several of our friends and colleagues and hundreds of thousands of other people in the Hyde Park area of London.

This manifesto neatly sums up why we'll be there:

We stand for:

* The opportunity for everyone to access work, safely and for fair reward.
* Good jobs that give people fulfilment and a chance to develop.
* More green jobs and a more sustainable economy.
* Quality public services, available to everyone that needs them.
* A vibrant and democratic civil society, respecting human rights.

We won’t stand for:

* People being exploited at work, union members or not.
* Unfair employment practices and bad political decisions that encourage them.
* Greed, tax dodging and speculation that damage the productive economy.
* Inequality that traps people in poverty, debt and drudgery.
* Business models based on a race to the bottom on standards.

And as internationalists, we hold to these principles for people in other countries, as much as we do for those at home.

These are the foundations on which even the most basic civil society must stand, but they are being chipped away (or, in many cases, dynamited to the ground). So, sociable types that we are, we look forward to meeting you, you and definitely you there next Saturday.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


Three more solos, then let's speak no more on the subject:

Holy moley - this is the shit. A variation on the solo-as-song, Merle sings a verse, plays a finger-pickin' solo, sings another verse, plays a Hawaiian-style slide solo, and so on until he's run out of styles. Proof that being a virtuoso doesn't have to be pretentious (or long - the whole thing is over and done with inside of three minutes).

I love this not just for Wyatt's incredible lyrics which make Dylan's original seem earthbound, or for the duelling solos at the end, or the murky riffs that run through it, but the fact that the lead guitarist on this unashamedly arty piece of rock is ... Paul Weller!

Does in 40 seconds what most groups would have spread over several albums: a hard rock jam with nine solos in total. McCartney's bars are the most technical, Harrison does his best Clapton impression, but it is Lennon's proto-grunge riffing which stands out.

Monday, March 07, 2011


"People who cry out for change in the NHS always cry out against the past. They see only ugliness and failure, never success, and, like Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian last month, they seem content to throw out the baby, the bathwater, the taps, along with the reservoir supplying the taps."

An interview with Kentish Town's very own Roy MacGregor, on the subject of the imminent death of the NHS.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


The greatest guitar solo of all time is, of course, the one Joe Cocker plays in his head while he sings “With a little help from my friends” at Woodstock. Strung out on acid at the festival to end all festivals, Cocker becomes the every-teenager in his bedroom, arching his shoulders, creasing up his face like the most clichéd of jazz-cats, his fingers lacing arpeggios over an imaginary fretboard. It is at the same time phallic and submissive – and anybody who has played air guitar knows what he is feeling. It is a deeply uncool thing, the guitar solo, an over-the-top pleasure which can only really be enjoyed alone.

Which leads me to some initial suggestions for the guitar solo meme. Most of them are played by dinosaurs: pale-faced, embarrassing creatures whose dirty monologues we prefer not to air in public. There are a few, also, whose company we can be proud to be seen. And your narrator (me) is, if I may say so, the archetypal guitar solo fan: the kind of person who makes up for his failure to master a solo of any kind by learning all about different makes of guitar and boring others with his knowledge.

What kind of solos are there? First, there is the solo which develops from the rhythm part so effortlessly that it is almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. The master of this is Robbie Robertson of the Band (“the only mathematical guitar genius I’ve run into who does not offend my intestinal nervousness with his rearguard sound,” said Bob Dylan). And in a similar vein, we must face two Oedipal challenges head on by learning to love the man all of our fathers got into when their collective musical taste began to wane (Mark Knopfler), and by delving into their own childhoods by hearing the genius chop/riff/solo fusion of Mick Green of the Pirates (“My babe” is not on Youtube, but is on Spotify).

Solo at 3'37".

Solo at 4'08".

Secondly, there are solos which are very much solos: searingly direct, shamelessly virtuoso, or simply (as in the cases of Lindsey Buckingham and Neil Young) tearing at the same string over and over again.

Extraordinarily dense, sharp solo from McCartney at 1'13".

Having played second fiddle (ha!) to a barrage of horns for most of this song, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter lets rip at 4'47" (holy-fuck!-moment-alert at 5'21")

It's really only for the sake of variety that a list such as this must feature guitarists other than Richard Thompson. Solo starts at 4'30", goes on for five minutes, never lets up.

Turn it down!! The moment David Gilmour begins his slow, howlingly loud solo at 3'06", you realise the rest of the song has merely been a warm-up to the this moment. Really gets going at 4'30".

Solo starts at 3'18".

Solo starts at 2'10".

Sometimes the solo turns into the song itself. There is nothing to "Maggot brain" or "Eruption" besides the solo - the former owes a deep debt to jazz, where the soloist steps forward to the front of the stage and the others take a back seat, except that in this case Eddie Hazel sounds like he's stepped into another world (I know that sounds like a cliche, but I mean it literally); the latter just makes me want to kiss everyone to thank them that I'm alive.

Solo starts at 3'20". Don't bother with the previous 3'19".

"The disgusting stink of a too-loud electric guitar - now that's my idea of a good time." From one of Zappa's many interminable albums, this is his greatest moment - pay attention from 2'40", but especially from 3'57" when he switches from Gibson to Fender Stratocaster.

And finally, there is the solo which isn't a solo at all, where shards of feedback pierce through the very of fibre of the song. In the first clip, Masami Tsuchiya solos at 1'30", but his breaks are all over this performance of "Art of parties" on the Old Grey Whistle Test (again!). The second clip, of King Crimson playing "Frame by frame" on OGWT (yet again!), effectively has three lead guitarists (if you count Tony Levin on the Fairlight Stick) - Fripp plays an exhausting acoustic guitar arpeggio, while Adrian Belew exorcises animal noises by whacking the headstock and yanking the whammy bar. All very technical, you might say, but jesus, what a sound.


If Michael Gove were a building, he would leak. He would crack and crumble on faulty foundations. He would be windy, but also overheat. Behind a pretentious facade, he would be shoddy in design and execution.