Category Archives: whatsonuk

Music and Michael Franti (August 03)

So the time had finally come to leave whatsonuk. I wrote this article on holiday as I was due to leave. Unfortunately this meant that I never got a hard copy of the article and I wasn’t even creditted with it. But I was really happy to get it in there. Michael Franti is a real hero of mine and the opportunity to interview him was special. The fact that the article is so different to Blowback’s new style is rather telling. I still have the transcripts, maybe one day I’ll write it properly

Music And Politics

Michael Franti Spearhead’s a new consciousness

It’s a sweltering hot day in on the West Coast USA. In his sparse, freshly feng shui’d apartment, Michael Franti kicks back with Sly And The Family Stone on the juke box.

‘When I’m at home, there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t sit and play guitar or dig through my stacks and find records that I haven’t listened to in a long time.’ Mike smiles ‘Music is part of my life everyday.’

Away from home there’s the continuous and grueling task of touring. Franti doesn’t feel it this way,

‘It’s like Bob Marley says when the music hits you, you feel no pain so it’s never hard for me to get on stage and play. ‘

Totting up almost 20 years in ‘the biz’ from Beatnigs, to Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy then Spearhead, Franti has consistently released intelligent music which hip hops across many styles linked through sharp lyrics and real love for what ever genre. Music drives him and helps him create. A few years back the none creative process of dealing with a major label, Capitol did begin to drain though,

‘I had just become frustrated with the whole corporate culture thing,’ he points out, ‘Every time you wanted to record, you had to get everyone’s okay in triplicate and have a budget. Once we built our own studio, we just started making our own stuff and it was like “Shit what do we need these guys for?”’

Boo Boo was born and a number of different distributors in different territories now put out the major releases. It doesn’t stop there though, Franti remains ever prolific and can get titles out quicker on the web,

‘I put out an acoustic album recently and another spoken word album, we just made a DVD and I’ve got a book coming out. It’s just freed us from the pressure of selling millions of records. We just do a few thousand and keep it going by that.’

The website www.spearheadvibrations.com also contains all the Spearhead bootlegs you could ever need.

‘We allow taping at all our shows, there’s a number of sites which have all our live shows to download for free. We found that doing that has helped spread the word. It’s kind of the opposite to the way major labels operate. It’s kind of like, you know, that’s our television network.’

Franti once wrote a record called Television The Drug Of The Nation, surely now a website which is like a TV network couldn’t possibly be a good thing?

‘The internet is a great place to create communities and in that way it’s different from TV.’ Mike puts on his rhyme hat ‘TV is a place, in my estimation that breeds isolation. Through the internet people have to find what they want and then you find other people who are interested. You don’t know where they’re from or what they look like, you just know that they’re into the same thing.’

Franti flips sides,

‘Now the drawback to that is that less than 1% of the worlds population is participating in what we call the “world wide web” so it’s a really serious misnomer.’

1% could still be considered a strong voice, say for example when forming a coalition, Michael concedes,

‘Before the first Iraq war there was no voice against it and today we see in one weekend we had 30 million people around the world marching. So I feel like people are more aware than they have been, in my life time at least.’

Disposable Heroes documented the Bush war I with Winter Of A Long Hot Summer, a song which is still eerily relevant for Bush War II. Bomb The World lyrics found their way onto banners of the anti-war marches, but comparing the two songs highlights the change.

‘Like I say in the song Music And Politics, music is about the expression of emotion,’ he counters, ‘music is a voice to emotions that we never knew existed. In my early days I was just expressing anger. Now I want to express this whole rainbow of emotion and I want people to feel uplifted by the music.’

Franti gets the balance just right, the new album flicks between styles with ease but each genre isn’t tokenistic but played and produced expertly, Michael smiles again,

‘I want people to think. “Today I’m going to get up and clean my bathroom and this album will help me do that” and that’s what I really try to do is create inspiring music.’

Music which everyone deserves to hear, be inspired…


Keep Flying The Flag (July 2002)

Whilst I was editor of whatsonuk part of my remit was to get more political content (but presented in a groovy ‘ yoof’ manner.) It was always quite a struggle to commission good writers that communicated with our audience.

 

 The following I felt was one of my most successful. This was ghost written by myself following an interview with Billy Bragg around the time of his Take Down The Union Jack era. Most pleasing to my ‘pseudo-socialist-except-when-it-comes-to-getting-paid’ boss was that he refused to take any payment for it.

 

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Can patriotism be a good thing? Billy Bragg points out the importance of national identity and to stop fascists stealing it.

 

 

At the moment I like to bitch about Pop Idol as much as the monarchy. One of the reasons I released the record ‘Take Down The Union Jack’ around the time of the Jubilee was because it would have been great to wipe the cheesy smile off (the bastard son of Morrissey) Will Young’s face!

 

What I think Pop Idol represents is the way in which we’ve turned the charts into a predictable procession of bands and artists who have got nothing more to say “I’m great and you’re shit,” and “Do you like my socks,” I’m tired of that. I think music has the potential to say so much more. Apart from the mischievous desire to kick the chinny wonder and the Queen into touch by beating them at their own game, there was a hidden message.

 

I’ve been interested in identity politics for quite some time now and this song and the last album in particular was an attempt to tackle this issue. For a while the left wing has correctly believed in multiculturalism and internationalism and has suitably promoted them. However, the promotion of this has left a vacuum where national identity is. This has made it simple for the racists and bigots and football hooligans to take all these symbols and make them into symbols of oppression.

 

Now, the Union Jack is a symbol that is all about looking back. Everyone you see waving a Union Jack are looking back to the past. The jubilee brigade are looking back to 1952, the metric martyrs are looking back to the imperial measures, Europhobes are looking back to 1940, BNP are looking back to, well… the Stone Age. Even the benign uses of the Union Jack by Mods, Johnny Rotten, Noel Gallagher and other Britpop ‘heroes’ are all retro.

 

I think particularly at the moment whilst we’re in sporting moods (post World Cup) we have an opportunity to grasp something else rather than the former ‘glories.’ Something that is more tangible. My candidate for this is rather contentious. It’s the flag of St George, a flag that carries many of the connotations of which I already mentioned. Britain itself is somewhat obsessed with its Empire, with Monarchy, with being ‘Great’ in a Victorian sense. But England, when we look at manifestations of it almost always turns up multicultural.

 

They’re all kind of random things, for instance our football team is a visual display of our diverse people, The cricket team is captained by a guy called Nasser Hussain, from Essex! English identity is a diverse identity, we have nothing to fear from finding our own identity again, and talking about this issue. It’s basically what we see every day on the streets, in the cities, out in the villages, its all part of it and it’s our great diversity, this is our strength. This is my idea of Englishness.

 

Everyone who reads this will have their own idea of what Englishness is and that’s because it’s so damn diverse! If we bring our ideas together we may find something that we all feel strongly about, that we all have in common. Englishness, if it’s anything, is a common sense of belonging based on the space we all occupy together. A space that happens to be called England.

 

Multiculturalism and Englishness are not opposites, you can’t have one without the other. Most importantly, the reason why we need Englishness is the BNP want it and we have to stop them and their evil ideas spreading across Europe. By grasping these ideas that are central to our identity we can build a looser sense of who we are on our own terms.

 

Britishness is shot, and it’s sailing off into the past, but Englishness is real an it’s on our streets, here to celebrate and talk about. I think History is very important, the BNP have their History and we have ours. That’s why we can’t just begin with a new flag and a new idea. Englishness has a past and a present and a future and just chopping off the past doesn’t guarantee our future.

 

If you can ever be bothered, take a look at the BNP website, have a look at their ‘History’ it’s all white supremacy bullshit based on an Anglo-Saxon heritage. Now, your Angles and your Saxons were from Nordic country and they were the first economic migrants to this country. Out of the whole phrase Anglo-Saxon, the only thing that comes from England is the hyphen! That hyphen is important because it’s our traditional diversity.

 

Our strength is that people have came and brought things to us, which we’ve co-opted and made our own. The people from the Indian sub-continent brought their food, which is now our most popular food, the people from the Caribbean brought their dress sense which inspired us. How would The Beatles sounded if they’d only ever listened to ‘pure English’ music, they used Black Americans to inspire them to make the most English music ever.

 

That’s how it works, it works by taking in many influences to keep your culture strong, celebrating that diverse identity and taking that diversity forwards, that’s what I feel passionately we need to do, compare and learn.

 

We’ve got to get a place where, when we see the flag of St George we don’t immediately think ‘racist.’ People don’t think that when they see the flag of Scotland or Wales, it’s  a real problem that we have here in England. It’s our problem – the BNP are in England.

 

So keep the flag flying people, just understand its true meaning.     


This Is The News! (October 01)

This was my first ‘headline story’ for whatsonuk back in 2001 when Chris Morris was in danger of unravelling the ‘very’ fabric of society (‘like a kitten with catnip injected into its eyes’ as Morris would – probably – say.) I must point out there was a bit of a culture for plagirism at whatsonuk – it was a student magazine and many of my source material did get mashed in with original copy. From memory this article has debts to articles published in The Guardian, NME, the web and even the Daily Mail.

Chris Morris is possibly my biggest influence and re-typing it now it’s quite suprising how very relevant it is still and how much fun I had Blowin’ back the style.  

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When story breaks like twigs neck snap. And though your head be full of fuddyduddyness. Bring on race riot smash mash. The welcome. Aaaaah hmmm whompaf Welcome… Chris Morris.

When Channel 4 finally broadcast the Brass Eye Special last month, the UK tabloid community let out a small git of panic. Newsnight discussed it, MP’s and pressure groups condemned it (but didn’t watch it) and even my mum asked me if I’d ever heard of this Morris fellow. Complaints reached fever pitch and the press estimated about 2000 phone calls to the ITC and Channel 4. Chris Morris himself was no-where to be found for comment. Brass Eye’s main aims were easily his best statement. The guff had been dropped, time to clear the area. 

This is not the first time that Morris has courted controversy by a long stretch. In the past, he has been given almost near mythical sackings. As with all things Morrisian, all stories are grossly inaccurate and if you believe all you read then you’re a bigger fool than the fawning celebs that will read anything from a cue card.

Morris started his career at Bristol radio, working in the news team. The story goes that he began subverting from the inside. In one news broadcast he reputedly filled the studio with helium. Morris also had time to perfect his skills and on another occasion he re-edited the Queens Christmas Speech so she announced ‘It was in this room that my father would service men.’ ‘Contract terminated’

Next, GLR offered him a morning programme. Complaints began when Morris ran two phone-ins for the under tens. The first involved ‘The Sweet Game’ where a child would stuff their face then pronounce a sentence which in a kids sweet stuffed mouths would come out as swear words. Another was called ‘Kiddies Outing’ where children were encouraged to name and shame celebrities as homosexuals. ‘Released from duties’

Armando Iannucci heard him and asked him to anchor a mock-up news show On The Hour for Radio 4. Other noticeables in the team included Stuart Lee and Richard Herring, Peter Baynham, David Quantick, Rebecca Front and with the vocal talents of Steve Coogan, Alan Partridge was born. One stunt involved tricking The Sun into giving them £1500, after Coogan did an impression of Neil Kinnock acting drunk in a Holiday Inn (‘Forget Paddy Pantsdown, I’m Neil Bigcock.’) ‘Let go’

Its TV incarnation (without Lee and Herring) The Day Today, developed the Christopher Morris vs Jeremy Paxman persona further. With greater exposure more people where beginning to adopt the mangled soundbites that mimicked tabloid headlines ‘Russia Elects Cobweb’ ‘Headmaster Suspended For Using Big Faced Child As Satellite Dish’ being a few favourites. ‘Not invited back’

Back at Radio 1, he headed his own show where he started to interview celebs. 2Unlimited were early victims (‘Are there really No Limits’) and several people were asked to comment about the death of Michael Heseltine. The final insult was when he blasphemed profusely in an interview with Cliff Richard. ‘Resting’

Morris began work on Brass Eye in 1996 but the programme was shelved until early 1997, due to rumours surrounding the show. The first episode featured ‘a made up drug’ called Cake. Noel Edmonds and various MPs were seriously miffed at being duped. Back then Chris Morris had the energy to respond with

“People have been mocked out of their constituency who want to be informed as well as entertained… the whole of the media is a deception cloaked in coded statements – a pay rise, a sacking, whatever. I can’t stand that high handed attitude, that there’s a proper way to behave. Everyone is fucking about. You’re just displaying it. You can dupe people until the cows come home as far as I’m concerned.”

The final episode was gaulessly cut to shreds at the last moment following a media uproar concerning a sketch called ‘Sutcliffe The Musical.’ Morris justified pushing the satire further than the rest,“Brass Eye should put an end to the recent spate faux pas prankster drivel… it won’t of course. It will spawn another host of second rate imitators. So top this you quisling fucks.”

Rumours abounded that when the 11 ‘o’ Clock Show was commissioned it was because Channel 4 didn’t have the guts to re-employ Morris. Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee split Morrisisms between them and as expected, didn’t match par. Richard Herring christened the programme ‘Brass Eye lite’ and after Ali G left only the occasional 3 minutes with Ricky Gervais stopped the audience from dying a smothering boredom.  

Meanwhile, Morris had gone back to Radio One with more ideas. Blue Jam lasted for three series and was broadcast on the station’s appropriately named ‘graveyard shift.’ Morris spliced sketches into leftfield Electronica and smart pop songs. According to Morris it “was about the way your mind works at night.” Listening to the show tapped into the subconscious, the songs offering cosy solitude to be banged abruptly by the sketches and often inducing nightmares in the semi-conscious. As much as a twisted humour and highlighting middle class hypocrisy the sketches played on fears and pushed new ground and broke taboos. Your sense of humour was always questioned, “If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally randomly – out of bounds – then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something. But it’s a matter of finding yourself in that area rather than setting out to look for trouble.”

Aside from a few sketches involving the re-editing of the Archbishop of Cantebury’s speech on the death of Princess Diana, the show was left alone and went out surprisingly, un-cut. “[With Brass Eye] Most complaints were sort of ‘Can you imagine how I felt sitting through this with my daughter’ and that’s not going to happen in the middle of the night [with Blue Jam] unless you’re helping your daughter through her first steps through drugs.”

Jam the TV version on Channel 4 last year grabbed more attention due to its 9.30 slot. Morris achieved his subconscious infiltration this time by using a who’ll digital film arsenal. Such tricks as slowing down the film, chopping up and changing the shots, adding tracing filters and muffling the sound all added to the ambience. And giving the show a soundtrack was again aped on such mainstream copyists such as Trigger Happy and Double Take. “It’s designed to be hypnotic so that it weaves itself in and compelling, so you stay with it,” said Morris “And quite often jokes are going off underground – normally you’re given a cue to laugh at things, and here there aren’t many cues.”

There would be a case for saying that the shows ambience contributed to it going beneath the tabloid critics radar. Despite his constant sackings, a sign of how much respect he was given by the media cognoscenti is that he was able to get the show run without the traditional commercial break. This meant that there was no stoppage time or ‘reality’ check.When the first series of Brass Eye was finally aired, Morris commented “Watch this programme now, because it will never be allowed a repeat, British law prohibits a video release and I’m too puked to consider a second series.” 

Michael Grade (despite being called a cunt for one fiftieth of a second at the end of the first BE series) did repeat it, and this time put it out un-cut. To finish the series he also commissioned a one-off special.  Before the show went out rumours flew around the Internet as to what the special (ambiguously titled Trombone) might be about, Morris apparently even set up a bogus website to promote different stories. A tighter grip was kept on the actual content than before. However, it was postponed, due to the disappearance of two school girls. Then a few weeks later following firm pressure from web sites, the decision was made to air it.

Contrary to tabloid reports, the show did not glorify paedophilia. Its primary target was the very same hysterical media that reacted so hysterically! The response to the show blatantly exposed the tabloids for the frauds and hoaxers that they are. They perpetuated a panic fuelled media and stirred up the same irrational feelings. Perhaps anyone who actually saw the show should think twice before believing the hype.


Street Talk (July 2002)

This article has appeared in various editions of whatsonuk. From the tabloid to the festival guide. I’m still very proud of it. For me it was when I started to play around with form and style to try and emulate (or I as I later coined it, Blowback) the experience of chatting to and creating with the artist. In this case Mike Skinner, just before the fame really hit. 

 

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On the phenomenom known as The Streets

Building ruff beats and rhymes to move minds and feet 

A cheeky Brummie geezer, crowd pleaser, he can squeeze the – inspiration from the everyday in a twisted way. With verbal darts from the heart to rip the charts apart, the upstart has got his blag to a fine art. A new star for the muzik mags to celebrate. The consensus, he’s great, taking a stand in this wasteland. Dance music’s saviour? Just a raver with a plan, a young man in the right place at the right time. A kid staying true to the life that he leads, told in rhyme.  

‘I wanted to keep it real. Though not in an Ali G way. Garage bling tends to be a fantasy thing. Jus’ wanted to do it for the people see? I don’t care about booty, the Audi and shirts by Gucci.’

 

Listen…

 

You light your smoke and take a toke, sit back and recline and his verbals are blowing your mind, there’s a mad joke. A compulsive ill rhymer. No SMTV mimer. A blagger? A faker? For sure a money maker. A prophet? A poet? A star and u know it. He can flow and watch his bank account grow, but will he blow it?

 

‘I like to look mean, nothing but designer jeans. Safe ‘n’ sound I’ve got  20 pairs of trainers at  130 pounds.’

 

Wait a minute now Mike you’re contradicting yourself. That’s alright though, new wealth can sometimes affect your mental health.

 

‘Oi. It’s a protection thing you know? I didn’t always have enough dough. If people look at me and go ‘Geezer knows ‘is game’ it ain’t about the fame.’

 

Back on the street and feelin’ the heat and which streets are these? Not the same as Asher Ds.

 

‘It would have slotted in better, if I was Black see and from Hackney but I’m not so don’t criticise me. I’m suburban not inner city but these are English streets spittin’ all across Britain, not just

London and Brixton. I’m saying lets break free.’

 

Original Pirate Material coming down your aerial. Tuned into the radio. Hear your heroes in Stereo, information overload, on it goes, knowledge grows, lyrical information flows, then into the studios.

 

‘I’ve spent a lot of time getting it right and now it’s perfect. Like brandy, maybe you haven’t acquired a taste for it. You see people aren’t against you. They don’t care whether you’re there. You’ve got to get in their faces, tell ‘em what rings true… oh yeah and be bad too.’

Check 1-2. Loud and clear, speak your mind, no hate, no fear a mirror to your life inside, now Internet broadcast worldwide. Take it from your bedroom, be real but be true to you.

‘I’m wise but I don’t mean to patronise. I’m not taking the piss, it’s deadly serious, don’t diss. Well I take the piss out of me, so others can’t. That’s it.’

 

With wordplay not gunplay, they slay all in their way. Beating the rest respecting those who wan test. To the biters and haters it’s laters, jah bless’d.

 

‘But I don’t try and have a message. I don’t try and preach. I just want to be entertaining and honest.’ The Streets.