Sunday, 16 April 2017

Rockin' At The 2 i's

It is, quite possibly, one of the most iconic spots in Soho, if not in the whole of London. At least it is if you are a Teddy Boy. 

This is the very place where a young Tommy Hicks (better known to the world as Tommy Steele) took to the stage in 1956 and introduced England to a genre of music he had picked up whilst working as a cabin boy on an ocean liner plying its trade between London and the USA. It was called Rock n Roll. The rest is history.

Old Compton Street has changed a lot since those halcyon days, but I was delighted to note that the site of the 2 i's coffee bar again displays the old neon sign (a replica, of course, but a very good one).

Inside, the music is retro, but of course not as it was in those early days. Rock n Roll is probably not so commercial, and this is a high rent district now, and today's teenage audience has a collective memory that goes back no further than breakfast time.

It is now, as before, a theatre district, full of music and quality entertainment. It was lovely to see this little Rock n Roll footprint in such a great place.

This great track is by Wee Willie Harris, one of the first English Rock n Roll stars, and like Tommy Steele a Bermondsey boy. Willie still lives in the area, and can sometimes be tempted out of retirement. I remember him performing in Southwark Park a few years ago, and an audience of thousands would not let him off the stage. Great man, Wee Willie....

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Marine 'A' still behind bars despite his conviction being overturned. Why?

Sgt Alexander Blackman, often referred to as 'Marine A', was expected to be released from jail last week following the overturning of his scandalous murder conviction, appears to still be in the cells.

We are now told that he can expect to be released within the next two weeks.

Why was his release delayed?

Was it because of last week's attack in Westminster by an Islamist terrorist?

Perhaps it was thought that the release of Sgt Alexander, who - quite rightly in my opinion - sent another Islamist terrorist off to paradise on the battlefield of Afghanistan - might upset Muslims?

How spineless our country has become.

Monday, 27 March 2017

"No Motive" for London Terror attack. Really...?

So let us get this right: six weeks ago so-called 'Islamic State' outlined, via mobile phone messages to their supporters, a list of possible victims and 'perfect targets' in Britain including politicians. 

In the post was an illustration - titled 'Fight Them' -  of an ISIS terrorist dressed like Jihadi John holding a sword in front of Big Ben, as a fireball engulfed the background with a tattered Union Flag flying in the wind.

Six weeks after this call to arms was posted via Telegram, terrorist Khalid Masood, who converted to Islam and was radicalised in prison, like many of them, launched his  attack on the Houses of Parliament, in the shadow of Big Ben, killing four people and injuring many more.

(Despite the fact that Masood was implicated in a plot, as recently as 2010, involving a planned bomb attack on a Territorial Army base in Luton, and despite the fact that he had visited Saudi Arabia twice, "after carrying out a risk assessment and looking into his background, it was decided he did not pose a terror threat." - the police and the Home Office will be working frantically behind closed doors to cover their politically correct backs even as I write).

Telegram was also used by fanatics before the attacks on Nice in July 2016 and Berlin in December last year.

And the Metropolitan Police are saying that they may "never find out" the motive for this mass murder.

Are they stupid?

Apart from the background of Masood, who ticks just about every box as far as Jihadists go, can I offer the Metropolitan Police another clue as to his motive?

The website al-Islam proclaims that "Jihad (Holy Struggle) is an Obligatory Duty". They justify this by referring to their holy book “O Prophet! Strive hard agaunt the infidels and the hypocrites, and be firm against them, and their abode is hell, and evil is their resort.” Holy Qur'an (66:9)

Just to simplify this for their more simple readers, they go on to say that "Muslims should defend themselves if being attacked in order to preserve their faith, spread Islam, and stand against tyrants and oppressors. Allah made jihad obligatory, in all its forms, whether it is the jihad of society or self, speaking a word for the sake of preserving Islamic call Da'wah, or defending the sanctuaries of the Muslim nation. Jihad is considered among the best forms of worship with Allah, the Most High... The martyr who sacrifices himself and dies for the sake of his faith finds his place in Paradise."

Al-Islam describes itself as being the "official website of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community - an Islamic organization, international in its scope, with branches in over 200 countries".

This is quite an old group, founded in India in the 19th century. It teachings all assume that Islam is practiced in the context of a Caliphate. The stated aim of Islamic State is the creation of a new Caliphate.

I could go into far more detail, but should Scotland Yard's finest read this, they might find the clue they are looking for regarding a motive for Wednesday's attack.

Its really not that hard, Sherlock.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Legacy of Martin McGuinness

I would not ordinarily wish death upon even my enemies, but in the case of Martin McGuinness I have long made an exception. 

I took great pleasure in writing his obituary yesterday, it is a shame it took so long. I look forward to doing the same for Gerry Adams.

I wish for his surviving family members, and his close friends, the same fate that he inflicted upon his victims, many of them children.

The front page of today's Daily Mail sums up what this piece of uneducated shit brought to the world.

McGuinness claimed to be a practicing Roman Catholic. If so, I hope that in accordance with his superstitions he is now learning just how hot the fires of hell can be.

Read: Martin McGuinness Dead

Monday, 20 March 2017

Hieronymous Bosch at Eurantica

The gentleman in the picture with me is Rob Camp-Vos, a Belgian art dealer with a passion for Early Modern prints, and with a particular penchant for, and a great knowledge of, the Dutch masters.

We met him at Eurantica, an annual fine arts fair in Belgium just a few days ago.

The print he is holding is a 17th century Hieronymous Bosch. So it is rather late, but in superb condition, and very rare.

He was not only happy to talk about this extremely rare print, he even took it out of its frame and allowed us to touch it. If it was mine, I wouldn't let anybody else even look at it.

To describe Rob as passionate about his subject is really an understatement, and it is no surprise that having gone from start-up to where he is now as an art dealer has taken just 14 years. The collection he casually offers to buyers is superb, and he knows the story behind every single print.

This particular print has stood the test of time well, but has undergone some slight restoration on one corner, but I certainly couldn't see it. Therefore it is for sale at what is a very reasonable price for a Bosch print of that era - €25,000.

You can contact Rob through:

Learn more about Eurantica at:

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Meeting a Living Legend

Very lucky to get to meet and talk with Ivan Marchuk a couple of days ago in Bruges. 

He is one of Ukraine's most famous artists, and in 2007 was named by the Daily Telegraph as one of the top 100 geniuses of our time.

During the Soviet era he was banned from painting - his work was considered to be 'too patriotic', in that it was highly evocative of Ukrainian traditions, and folk culture. The Kremlin had a history, of course, of stifling Ukrainian culture, and tradition it continues to this day.

The exhibition 'Looking into infinity' was held to mark 25 years of Ukrainian diplomacy in the EU.

Marchuk in Bruges: Art Expo Marks 25 Years Of Ukrainian Diplomacy In EU

Monday, 13 March 2017

Today Is Commonwealth Day!

Today, March 13th, marks Commonwealth Day. When I was at primary school in the 1960s this was a great event - we would write letters in advance of the day to schools in Australia, NZ, Rhodesia, Canada, India, etc,etc,etc.... and we would receive their news by post as well.

Then we sold the Commonwealth out big time by joining what was then the Common Market, abandoning our traditional partners, causing economic problems for them, and leaving them to find their own way out of the mess. NZ in particular, with its vital sheep farming sector, lost its biggest market almost overnight, despite promises to the contrary.

I had always assumed that there would be no way back from that betrayal. I was wrong.

The British Commonwealth survived by re-inventing itself as the Commonwealth of Nations, always receiving the greatest attention from Queen Elizabeth II, whose enthusiasm for the Commonwealth has never diminished in the slightest.

Following the Brexit vote, the first countries to come knocking on the door of 10 Downing Street (figuratively, and in at least one case, literally) were the Commonwealth nations - the big ones!

52 countries, 2.2 billion people, almost all of them young and rapidly developing economies.

And as was once said of the British Empire - The Sun never sets on the Commonwealth!

Friday, 10 March 2017

Sweet Gene Vincent

George and I went to the theatre tonight to see High School Musical. It was great. Full of energy, and the mostly teenaged cast gave a superb performance.

And I found a little gem......

In the foyer and bar of the Rhodes Arts Centre in Bishop's Stortford there is a collection of memorabilia, mainly old posters of some of the acts who have performed there over the years - some big names.

But this one really caught me, as I am a big fan of Gene Vincent.

This poster dates from 1964, when Gene was recording for Columbia records. It was a difficult time for him.

He had been seriously disabled in an accident during his service with the US Navy. His left leg was in a brace, and was in constant pain. Performing onstage was an agony for him. He was also still suffering emotionally from the death, in 1960, of his close friend, the Rock n Roll legend Eddie Cochran. They were involved in a car crash near Chippenham, in England, in which Eddie sustained injuries from which it was impossible to recover. He was just 21 years old.

Gene never recovered from this incident psychologically, and his physical condition deteriorated.

However, England and France loved him, and although his career waned in his home country, the USA, he played to packed houses in Europe until the end.

He died in 1971, a broken, but much loved, man.

I love the line at the bottom of the poster that states the first 50 girls will be admitted to the concert free of charge. Gene had a bit of a reputation in that department, but 50....?

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Gathered Leaves - Alec Soth

American photographer Alec Roth is attracting a lot of attention with his expo 'Gathered Leaves', a set of four collections on his work, 'Sleeping by the Mississipi' (2004), 'Niagara' (2005), 'Broken Manual' (2006), and 'Songbook' (2014).

He is currently exhibiting at FOMU (foto museum) in Antwerp, his first showing in Belgium.

His work depicts ordinary Americans in their natural surroundings, and often emphasizes the sheer scale of the North American landscape in his work.

I found Broken Leaves particularly interesting.
This looks at some rather eccentric, and sometimes disturbed, people who don't quite fit the the mold, and have tried to break away. Many of his subjects have withdrawn from mainstream life and are living outside society, including in remote areas of the desert.

An excellent documentary is also showing alongside the Expo, in which he talks to some of his subjects about their lives. It is well worth seeing.

FOMU always has expos on each of its three floors; I have spent many an hour there and never once have I come away disappointed. This one I certainly recommend.

An Afternoon With Picasso

As one who has, shall we say, conservative tastes, I have always been somewhat skeptical as to the merits of Picasso.  I always assumed that when he studied art he must have skipped the 'how to draw faces' module.

So I approached the Picasso Sculptures expo at Bozar, in Brussels, with mixed thoughts. I was only ever even vaguely aware that he sculpted at all. Was I in for a lesson!

In fact, his paintings were very often of his own sculptures. He created his own models, first from paper, and then, often, from scrap metal, and occasionally concrete.

He used to use bicycle saddles a lot. I have a wonderful image in my mind of the Paris police in the 1930s investigating a spate of saddle thefts in Montemarte. 

I am reliably informed that he also used to steal items from the Louvre, and take them home to study them.

Try to steal from the Louvre now and see what happens to you!
The sculptures themselves are fascinating: from every angle you see something completely different.

But above all, they are fun. 

Almost as much fun as watching the devotees who search endlessly for the true meaning of Picasso's work. One lady even brought her own chair and spoke briefly to one work before sitting down and staring intently at it. What was going through her mind we can only imagine. She may even be still sitting there now.

Due to incredible demand, the expo was extended, but draws to a close this weekend.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

A good hair day....

Spotted in Hertford recently. Now this is how a barber shop should look :)

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

London Underground: Service As Usual

I switched on the BBC news this morning in the somewhat vain hope that there might be something of substance, rather than the endless 'heartwarming' pieces about children's charities and dogs surviving diabetes, but alas, it was service as usual.

It is service as usual on London's public transport as well, apparently.

Of the 14 lines (underground and overground) that make up the central system, no less than 4 go from 'severe delays', through 'partially suspended' to 'totally suspended'. 

This is totally normal, and it is totally unacceptable. The London Underground is one of the most expensive metro systems in the world, literally millions of people depend on it every day, and it doesn't work.

I understand that it is very old, some of the tunnels date from the reign of Queen Victoria (the Metropolitan line first opened in 1863), and they require a great deal of attention. But that is not the real problem, is it?

The real problem is privatisation, or rather, the legacy of a failed privatisation that should never have happened in the first place.

This left much of the infrastructure in a dire state, due to the inevitable under investment by the carpetbaggers  who moved in to slash costs, and to strip out all the profit they could, paying themselves and their shareholders mega-bucks, before going bankrupt and leaving the taxpayer to clear up the mess.

Also high on my own private hit list is the RMT, the trades union that many transport workers belong to. It is their decision to hold yet another 24 hour strike that has led to today's misery. Former RMT leader, the late Bob Crow, famously had a bust of Lenin on his desk; so you get the picture as to their position.

The fact that most lines are working today confirms the fact that the unions are losing their grip - in the 1970s it would have been "one out, all out", and the brothers would all retire to the pub to spend their strike pay and to prepare for the arrival of the worker's paradise.

My own experience is that the system becomes even worse with every tranche of staff cuts. Ticket offices are largely closed now, so forget about asking travel directions there, and if the ticket machines are out of order, you ain't going nowhere, mate.

Of course, if you have an Oyster card you can always top it up with cash at a newsagent or a corner shop. Mr Patel will respond to any gap in the market almost instantly - guess why Asian small businesses are so successful!

But the big disgrace is the lack of staff manning exit barriers. After the horrific 1987 fire at King's Cross, in which 31 people died and more than 100 were injured, it was revealed that when the fire took hold passengers were unable to escape through the barriers to safety quickly enough, meaning that many were blocked in with the flames and the smoke.

As a result it was made a legal requirement that all exit barriers should be manned at all times so they could all be opened immediately in the event of an emergency.

That requirement seems to have been quietly forgotten, and in the event of such a catastrophe occurring again in the future, the guy who would have opened the gates to let everybody out will at home filling in job applications.

The current Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who I have a lot of time for, clearly understands the plight of travelling Londoners, and has moved to cap fares.

The problem with the underground, however, is that fixing it will require many years, decades even. Governments think in terms of electoral cycles, and so the foremost question in their minds is always "can we fix this before the next general election, and buy votes with the glory?" So its unlikely to be fixed any time soon, if at all.

My prediction is that it will be allowed to rumble on as it is until every penny of revenue has been milked out of it, then we will start to see some of the older lines being closed and abandoned.

(Caution: Video, whilst hilarious and a very accurate depiction of the commuter's life, does contain language that some may find highly offensive)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

A Little Corner Of Hertfordshire...

 I occasionally find myself in Hertford, a lovely little town in east Hertfordshire.

Taking a different route into the town centre yesterday I came across this little gem. It is the Church of the Immaculate Conception & St Joseph, in St John's Street. It is built on the site of Hertford Benedictine Priory, which itself dated from 1087, and which was destroyed by King Henry VIII in 1539.

With its cloister and garden, complete with fountain, it is absolutely beautiful - an oasis of peace and tranquility.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Louis Hayes - Jazz Legend

'Tis true that there are some jazz musicians that simply get better with each passing year, and so it is with Louis Hayes.

I won't re-publish his biography here, suffice to say that Louis has drummed alongside some of the greatest names in the genre, Oscar Peterson to name just one.

Louis is just some weeks short of his 80th birthday, and so he is on tour to mark that fact.

 And such a tour it is.

Playing some of the great European cities, he rocked up, with his band, in what can only be described as an insignificant  Belgian village, and I wondered why the Hell he was there. I wondered why until he started to play.

Belgians love jazz, and Louis was welcomed in such a way that I realised why he was there. He was playing to the people who love his music, regardless of where they are. There was no pretension here, this was a jazz legend playing to, and for, the people who matter to him. His fans.

I have witnessed some great performances over the years, but this was special. I rather suspect that when I enter into my mid 60s I might be attending Louis' 90th birthday celebrations. I look forward to it, it will be great!

Friday, 3 February 2017

Feb 3rd: The Day The Music Died

On this day in 1959, Buddy Holly, J.P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson, and 17 year old Richie Valens died, along with pilot Roger Peterson when their Beechcraft Bonanza came down in bad weather conditions on farmland near to Clear Lake, Iowa.

This was the tour Holly did not want to take part in - it meant leaving his pregnant wife, Maria Elena - at home in their newly acquired New York apartment. But having trouble being paid by his manipulative manager, Norman Petty, he had little choice. He needed the money.

The rest is history.

Given the astonishing amount of music he left behind him, and the influence he had over musicians from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, to Eric Clapton and Don McLean, it is difficult to believe that he was just 22 years old when he died.

In the late 1970s a 'definitive' album set of what was supposedly every recording appeared to a great

However, even now, some 40 years later, obscure recordings on reel-to-reel still occasionally appear.

Some are mere curiosities, others are real gems that give us a great insight of how he played with every song until he got it exactly right. Some, which never saw the light of day for decades, have assumed great popularity among aficionados, such as myself, in their own right,

I'm particularly fond of this, which was recorded in his home in January 1959, just days before he died.

The great appeal for me personally is that this is unadulterated Buddy. Many of his most famous records were actually released after his death, and the aforementioned Norman Petty took the liberty of adding vocal backing tracks that were totally out of place.

His music is still played widely on the radio, and is constantly being reissued. Although overshadowed by Elvis Presley as a stage performer, his contribution to Rock n Roll was much greater.

Friday, 27 January 2017

One for the ladies, Dick?

I just love Dick Clark's intro "this is a song, I guess, written for women..." I always admire a chap who is unafraid to flaunt his politically incorrect credentials, although I suspect that if he made a remark like that now, what was to become one of the longest careers in showbiz would have been terminated very quickly.

The song is actually brilliant, and you don't have to be a woman to realise that.

Despite the forgetfulness that comes with being 55 years and 2 months old, I have incredible recall when it comes to the music. I can remember when I first heard this one - it was in 1979, on Mike Allen's excellent Saturday night show 'The American Dream', back in the days when Capital Radio was broadcasting on medium wave. He played the show out with it, and it really grabbed me. This is Doo-Wop at its very best.

At the risk of drifting into Dick Clark territory, I assumed that the Passions were a black group (the management at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem made the same mistake with Buddy Holly and the Crickets in August 1957, which is how they came to be the first white act to play there).

Just to emphasize the sheer greatness of this song, and its importance in Rock n Roll history, before it was given to the Passions, the original demo was recorded by none other than Carole King and Paul Simon.

Paul Simon himself performed on a number of early RnR tracks, but under an assumed name. I know exactly where to find him, of course, and perhaps I will share one or two of his early, and largely unknown, gems in a future post.


Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Ilya Yashin: A True Human Rights Defender.

Its not every day that I get to meet and interview a chap like Ilya Yashin.

Ilya is a prominent Russian politician, who just happens to be a major opponent of Vladimir Putin.

After Boris Nemtsov was so brutally murdered outside the walls of the Kremlin, in 2015, it was Ilya who picked up the torch, and has been a thorn in the side of the Russian dictator ever since.

Of course, he has paid for this, with the occasional spell behind bars, and worse, and has been declared by Amnesty International to be a 'Prisoner of Conscience'.

Nice to see that there are, even in Russia, still men who are prepared to stand for freedom and democracy.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Look out, Mr Putin; Rock n Roll is coming to Moscow!

The Evil Empire, aka the Soviet Union, really hated western popular culture.

There was a real fear in the Kremlin that if Russian youth (note: 'Russian' - the Kremlin didn't care less about any of the other 'Soviet Republics') were exposed to western culture than they might realise that they were living in a socio-economic hell-hole.

In the 1950s there was a particular fear about Rock 'n' Roll. The Politburo really did not get this at all. The idea that working class people could really lead a cultural revolution really spooked the geriatrics in charge in the Kremlin.

The  official line was that Rock 'n' Roll was an American plan to subvert the minds of the youth - and God forbid that black people could be involved!

Tommy Steele (right) with actor Richard Todd  (left)
It all started to go wrong for the Evil Empire when a young chap named Tommy Steele turned up in Russia. One of Britain's greatest recording stars of the 1950s, (and a major showbiz star to this day), he defied the KGB and managed to be photographed in Red Square.

Russians have their own take on everything.

Their church, which professes to be Christian, but which is in the hands of the security services, does not even recognise other churches as being Christian.

I remember, after 9/11, attending a lunch at the Russian Orthodox Church in Gunnersbury, West London, presided over by a priest who was later demoted after being exposed as a sexual predator, and being shocked by the statement by said priest that "Russians should not pray for the victims as they (the victims) were not Orthodox". 

Actually, a number of victims of the 9/11 attacks were members of the Orthodox Church.

But back to the music.

I am therefore delighted to learn that there is, currently, a terrific Rock 'n' Roll station broadcasting out of Moscow. are playing great R'n'R, with a mix of western classics and Russian and other European versions.

To be truthful, there is no original R'n'R coming out of Russia, nor is there likely to be in the forseeable future (although Russia is particularly strong on Neo-Nazi skinhead music).

Otherwise, Russian popular music is about 50 shades below Dire. It's awful. It has not one single saving grace.

If you don't believe me, then listen to this garbage:

The perpetrator of this atrocity is Alla Pugacheva, (pictured right) one of Russia's most popular singers. I tried to watch this, and lost interest after 10 seconds. 'Nuff said.'

This, believe it or not, is about as good as Russian popular music gets.

But have the balance just right... R'n'R, Rockabilly, DooWop, R'n'B... great tracks, some cover versions and some original, from all across Europe and beyond. This is serious R'n'R, and the chaps at 101 should be commended for this.

Perhaps, like before, proper western culture will awaken the proles to their fate...

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Deja Vu for the residents of Brussels....

 You see some strange things in Brussels - and how many times have I used that line?

I recently came across this interesting scene nearby St Katherine's, the old fish market.

As soon as I started to take photographs I was accosted by security guards demanding that I stop, as "taking photographs is not allowed - it is forbidden!"

"Forbidden by whom?" I asked.

"Forbidden by my boss", came the reply.

"Didn't he die in a bunker in Berlin in 1945?" I asked.

My sense of humour, combined with my total lack of respect for authority have often gotten me into trouble, and this was looking like becoming one of those moments. So I took my pics and faded into the background.

Although I really cannot say it for sure, I believe this was, in fact, a film set. Belgians, however, are very sensitive about Nazi imagery. Its a guilt thing.

Little history lesson: During WW2, a young Catholic politician, Leon Degrelle, realised that the only way Belgium could survive the occupation was to make itself useful to the Germans. He founded what was to become the Waloonian Division of the Waffen SS (although in reality it was no more than a single battalion), and went on to achieve great things on the Russian front.

Adolf Hitler once said of him "if I had a son, I would want him to be like Leon."  

I know a bit about this, as many years I wrote a paper on the subject.

So, this leads us to the real reason for Belgian's extreme sensitivity over this chapter in their history.

After the war Degrelle was given sanctuary by Franco in Spain. He was Europe's most wanted man for a while, but he actually offered to give himself up to the Allied authorities, albeit with one condition. He would only surrender himself if he was guaranteed a fair and open trial in Brussels.

Degrelle knew he was on safe ground as the last thing that the Belgian royal family wanted was an open debate on collaboration, and one being led by the man who knew exactly where the bodies were buried. That simply would not be allowed to happen.

It is worth mentioning that fact even today, whilst I can write this in London with impunity, to publish it in Belgium could cause me serious problems.