Joe Stead - The Ramblings of an old Codger. Volume Eighteen - March 2002.
DATES FOR YOUR DIARY.
If you live in the North of England you ought to try to see Archipelago in concert either in Manchester on Wednesday February 27th or in Leeds on Thursday February 28th. If not you can also see them on Friday March 1st at The Puzzle Hall Inn, Sowerby Bridge. Archipelago are a revelation and should not be missed if you appreciate guitar and violin virtuoso's of the highest quality.
Wednesday Feb 27th Archipelago @ Institut Cerventes, 326 Deansgate, Manchester Thursday Feb 28th Archipelago @ Leeds City Art Gallery, the Headrow, Leeds Friday March 1st Archipelago @ The Puzzle Hall Inn, Sowerby Bridge Saturday March 2nd Kimber's Men and Archipelago @ Station Hotel, Dewsbury Tuesday March 12th Joe Stead @ The Howcroft Inn, Bolton Friday March 22nd Joe Stead @ The Wellington, Seaford, Near Lewes, Sussex Sunday March 24th Joe Stead @ The Cricket Club, Horsham. Monday March 25th Joe Stead @ The Barge, Gillingham Wednesday March 27th Joe Stead @ The Wheatsheaf, Bough Beech
Coming soon on television look out for 'yours faithfully' as a drunken line dancer in "At home with the Braithwaites" a destitute tramp in "Nice Guy Eddie" and a brewery rep in "Pheonix Nights". All exciting stuff especially the drunken line dancer sketch where the camera opens the scene on my colourful palm tree sunset boots made to order in Glastonbury.
We've all heard of the KKK. I'm certainly not a member or a supporter of that terrible bunch of low life, but I have to wonder if I might be a member of the FFF. Categorising oneself is not always easy and we don't always put ourselves into the same category as others might see us. My recent criticisms of Muslim people might appear to some that I am a racist, to others it simply signifies that I am a stupid ignorant old fart. Well this column does not have the heading 'Ramblings' for nothing.
I used to consider myself to be a slightly right of centre socialist and firm supporter of the Labour Party. Whilst I don't always agree with everything that Tony Benn has to say I find myself becoming more divorced from Tony Blair by the month and I have a strange feeling that I am not alone. Was it only a year ago that he regained control of the country, (without any help from me I might add), with an even larger majority? An absolute landslide, yet everywhere I go today I hear whisperings of discontent. Whilst he strides the world like a colossus gaining adulation in America his adoring public in Britain is dwindling; and dwindling rather fast. Why even the police are threatening to go on strike! He has become a male form of Thatcher where absolute power equals dictatorship. Enclosed with these Ramblings is a poem written by Monica Degernier. I urge you all to read it. If you read nothing else in this news letter, please read the poem at the very end.
So what is an FFF you might be asking if you are still reading. Well it stands for Friendly, Fumbling, Fascist. I had never considered myself to be a fascist before and as the definition of fascism in my dictionary is explained as "the principles and practise of those who believe in a strong centralised government with suppression of all criticism or opposition," then I guess a fascist I'm clearly not. I welcome your letters discrediting my monthly verbal diarrhoea as I learn from and enjoy the exchanges involved. Judging from a lot of the responses I get you enjoy them too. Perhaps it is Tony Blair who has become a fascist?
If not a fascist; what then am I? The gradual steady decline of principles in this country is worrying me and if I start going down paths I've trodden before it's simply because I can't understand why other human beings do not see things as I do. I was brought up in a Britain that appeared to believe in justice. Regrettably it wasn't always meted out and I have to accept that a number of people were hung in my childhood days for murders they clearly did not commit. I don't want the death penalty brought back.
Heaven forbid. What I simply cannot understand is why the adult populations stands back to let juveniles run rough shod over everyday principles of reason. The argument that it is not right to smack a child when it continually does wrong is an argument I simply cannot understand.
I've heard all this crap about two wrongs do not make a right, that inflicting corporal punishment on children is simply a form of bullying, that reasoning with the child is a far better path to take. Well we've been reasoning with children since about 1965 when the cane was abolished from every day schooling. Have things improved? My God they've got 100% worse. You cannot argue with these simple facts. When I was a youngster children did not cheek adults in the street in the way they do today.
School teachers were never abused by pupils and seldom by their parents.
Adults did not walk in fear of being robbed in broad daylight unless they were in a very dangerous part of town. Cars were seldom if ever stolen by children and they did not gang up upon each other to commit murder upon innocent younger children of a different creed and race with broken
I've just come back from the bottom of my garden where I've been investigating the vandalism that children inflicted on my pond in my absence over Christmas. Two dead frogs and the pond nearly filled to the brim with my neighbours paving stones. Plant life appears to be savagely destroyed but some life is left. Now what inspires children to break into a neighbouring garden to inflict such wanton damage and blood lust? OK, I understand one child on his own would never have done it, it takes a number of them to egg each other on just as they probably egged each other on when they (whoever 'they' might be) murdered Damilola Taylor.
Reasoning with children does not appear to be working. We abolished corporal punishment in schools in the late 1960's and each generation of children since that time have grown into their teenage years heaping more and more havoc onto an ever patient adult population. Three decades have passed and in that time the irresponsible children have grown into irresponsible parents. The time has come for us to say that enough is enough. You can reason with some children that have a semblance of intelligence certainly. But even these see non-discipline as a sign of weakness. You simply cannot argue or reason with ignorance. We've all tried it in our time. How many of us have been faced with a shouting lunatic at some point in our lives? There is no way you can make someone see sense if he/she doesn't have the intelligence to argue the point in a reasonable fashion. You are simply wasting your time and risking assault, especially these days due to the reasons I outline.
I once witnessed a head teacher in a junior school admonish three children for doing something they clearly should not have done. I was surprised, when they walked out of the office, that they were not given a sweet each.
The children stood there whilst a few supposedly harsh words drifted over their heads and frankly they couldn't give a damn! If we teach children discipline when they are young, if they realise when they are 9 or 10 years old that doing wrong will result in a form of punishment they don't appreciate, they will grow into adults who realise that wrong doing will be severely punished. Children will continue to steal cars and break into your homes if the judicial system continues to send the offender back into the public domain with simply a few pathetic words of warning. There is a school class in Rotherham that has had thirteen different teachers in fourteen weeks! This is of course a sad reflection of the teaching industry that I have already criticised before, but the number would be have been considerably less than thirteen if teachers were given more powers of authority. We are digging our own graves and we continue to dig.
So whilst I'd like to wring the necks of the children who wilfully and unnecessarily vandalised my garden, I don't upon reflection blame them.
Unfortunately they know no better. I blame the multitude of adults who for three decades have sat back and blissfully smiled whilst their offspring have slowly but surely gained control. Today when I see children misbehaving in the street I look the other way. Why? Because I don't want to come out of my house tomorrow and find my car has been scratched and the tyres punctured.
Of course deep down I know the reforms I would like to see will never happen. The bureaucrats in Brussels would never allow it. Still I suppose the degeneration of our way of life will continue along with the pound of bananas, the pint of beer, the pound sterling.. Oh I'm a FFF alright!
I would like to say just a little bit about foreign affairs. The cruel assassination by cutting the throat of the American journalist Danny Pearl must serve as a warning to us all, (if we need a further warning) that the battle with the extremist Muslims is far from over. Don't think that the over throw of the Taliban government in Afghanistan is a victory well won.
The thoughts that must have gone through that poor man's mind just prior to the killing knowing that he was about to be executed on film with a sharp knife across his Adams Apple cannot be imagined. My deepest sympathy is extended to his family. May he rest in peace, he sure didn't die in it.
Safiya Huseini the 36 year old Nigerian woman with an illegitimate child is still under sentence to death in Nigeria by stoning for adultery. Her fate, if the world allows it, will be to be either buried up to her neck or thrown into a pit and then pelted with stones until she is dead. Safiya is divorced but under Islamic Sharia law the crime is the same as if she were still married. Please alert all your friends to this terrible act of cruelty, if enough people make enough noise there is a chance the death penalty will be commuted. Perhaps the first thing we ought to do is to try to get Nigeria thrown out of the World Cup! This might sound a pathetic idea, but one way to make men stand up and listen is to take away their football!
RAMBLINGS PAST - Chapter 2.
"Paul, Paul come and meet my dancing partner". Peggy Middleton was holding a garden party in her home in Kidbrooke Park Rd, Blackheath for a very important guest from America. It was the summer of 1959, one of those long hot summers we all remember but, for some strange reason, despite global warming never seem to happen any more, at least not in Sowerby Bridge.
Peggy Middleton was a fairly important person herself at the time. She was a Labour Councillor destined to become The Mayor. She died a few years after and The London Borough of Greenwich named the new DSS building after her. Peggy would have liked that. Peggy Middleton House stands today in the busy metropolis of Woolwich complete with car park beneath.
By the summer of 1959 I had been working in the West End of London for nearly 12 months. My atrocious stutter had become slightly more controlled and was now simply a bad one. I'd learnt to use the telephone. This may seem a strange thing to say in 2002, but in the late 1950's few houses had telephones and I had never needed to use one. Most of my friends, most of whom also didn't have telephones, lived within one mile of me, so if I needed to contact them I could run there in five minutes. I could run back in five minutes too. I was busy developing a "Superiority Complex!" It was still a long way off mind you, but I had quickly realised as I threw off my school mantle that due to my stutter I had an inferiority complex, which was indeed justified. I was inferior! So changes had to be made.
But as 'Paul' strode over to meet me I realised that I was going to have to summon all my most vital powers of self control to speak to him. It was a daunting thought, but in the last twelve months or so I had learnt a few tricks. I found that if I started every sentence with the word 'Actually' I could get a fair way into the conversation before breaking down again.
So I might often say something like "Actually I'm going down the actual street to the actual shops because what I actually want to buy is a pair of actual football boots". It might sound completely stupid to you, but it was a revelation to me. I had also learnt the fine art of suddenly at the last second substituting another word for the word I was going to say without losing the context of the meaning. This worked fine most of the time although I do once remember bringing a 'blind date' back a glass of sherry from the bar when she had actually ordered a gin and tonic! But this was a minor problem and as I never saw her again after that evening it's an event of almost inconsequential proportion.
"Paul, Paul come and meet my dancing partner". Paul Robeson was striding towards me! Now let's get this into perspective. Paul Robeson was walking over the lawn to meet me. Not the other way round. Paul Robeson had been summoned to my presence! What on earth was I going to say to him? "Hallo Paul. Actually isn't it actually a lovely summer evening", was not going to be sufficient. But we had one definite thing in common by now, our love of American folk music. I had already purchased a number of Pete Seeger and Weavers records. The Weavers had appeared at The Royal Festival Hall earlier that year with Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry supported by my other favourite folky, Rambin' Jack Elliott. A concert that incidentally I thoroughly enjoyed. The Weavers had come without Pete of course because he had left the group and was performing solo again, but there were rumours he would be coming to England later in the year. So I had something to talk with Paul about. Peggy suddenly disappeared into the maelstrom of a 1959 garden party leaving me on my own to talk to Mr Robeson. Whether Peggy summoned Paul to meet me because she thought the meeting would do me some good, or whether she did it simply to escape my somewhat lurid form of jiving is still unclear. I never asked her; but I would like to think it was the former.
I had Paul to myself for about 10 blissful minutes. We discussed Pete Seeger of course and he told me about their travels together. I asked him about the times in 1948 when they were campaigning for Governor Wallace and we discussed the McCarthy era that was at the time coming to a close. The Wallace campaign was a very much a touch and go proposition. Many people thought that it was possible that Wallace would be assassinated so Paul and Pete were right up there in the firing line. The police allowed the Klux Klux Klan to get away with throwing rocks, stones tomatoes, eggs etc but mercifully no guns were used. The sight of white and black people travelling together in the same car incensed crowds especially in the South. Robeson, Seeger and Wallace shared this vision of an America of rustic virtue, where people helped strangers and their union brothers, where black and white sat down together in the same restaurants and churches. But in 1948 I was only seven years old, so I knew nothing of this - but I was learning fast.
So here I was with Robeson who had just got his passport back. The American government had stripped him of it in 1952 when the Communist witch hunt, which had started in the 1940's, really got underway. Paul had campaigned for human rights and the dignity of the Afro-American. His songs and speeches also implied that all men were created equal, which the majority of Americans at that time still disbelieved despite the words of one of their most famous presidents some hundred years earlier. McCarthy was an evil man without doubt, who lived in what some folk call a completely evil era. He was the kind of human each country throws up every so often. McCarthy would have enjoyed a relationship with Adolph Hitler I'm sure. Fortunately he never made the presidency himself and few tears were shed when a decade or so later he went to meet his maker. Robeson like Seeger was blacklisted. Without a passport they were unable to travel to other countries to work, no radio station of any consequence would contemplate playing their music and no theatre would undertake the task of booking them to do a concert. Television was completely out of the question. There was obviously the odd radio station that risked the wrath of the authorities and people like Oscar Brand should be applauded for their guts and dedication. But in the main being blacklisted in America in that time meant that you simply did not work. Seeger found employment in the colleges where unbeknown to him he was building up a huge following that would come to flower in the 1960's'. Robeson, being black, found it even more difficult. Robeson managed to do the occasional outdoor concert on farms that adjoined the Canadian Border, where makeshift stages were erected and where the police were in sufficiently low numbers not to disrupt matters. Canadians came across to see him work and sympathetic Americans joined them. But on the whole they were extremely lean times.
All the while however he was speaking up with that beautiful eloquent vocabulary that was his trademark wherever and when ever he could. Looking back it is amazing that some white lunatic failed to assassinate him.
Paul probably told me a lot of other things as well that evening but regrettably they were lost in a haze of adulation that we simple people suddenly experience when talking to someone with whom we are completely out of our depth. Robeson was a big man in every way possible, not only did he seem to tower above me in height (and I'm six feet four inches tall) he was one of those human beings who leave you exhausted with respect when they leave you. So Paul eventually wandered on but appeared again later in the balcony of the first floor window of this large Victorian house to sing about six or seven songs to the party-goers below. I can only remember Joe Hill and Old Man River among a bunch of spirituals. But for me it was a spiritually uplifting day that I would remember forever. Well you would wouldn't you?
And so it was that I first saw Pete Seeger, (again with Ramblin' Jack
Elliott), at St Pancras Town Hall Theatre on October 4th 1959. Pete had
also just got his passport back. He was still under the sentence of 20 one year jail terms that were heaped upon him by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the brain child of McCarthy and his cohorts. In America Seeger had become an odd form of celebrity, only the tiniest proportion of the population knew his music yet he had started a growing cultural movement. In a way the HUAC was the making of Seeger. He seemed to enjoy right wing attacks upon him as a perverse tribute to his
effectiveness. I was of course already a folk music enthusiast, but this
performance by Pete totally locked me on. I remember I had a seat next to the gangway and I heard a fellow walking past me during the interval saying in a very posh voice to his friend "This fellow's terribly good, but you know he's absolutely painted red." Seeger the catalyst, Seeger the idealist, Seeger the friend, has surely been the inspiration for many performers. That day in St Pancras Town Hall he lifted me out of my seat and into another plane of thinking. To me he is the Godfather of Folk Music. Perhaps the biggest thrill in my career was travelling across the Atlantic in April 1995 to do just one concert with the man. But that is another story and another chapter in my life.
To be continued.
Veteran blues and folk singer Dave Van Ronk died on February 10th at The New York University Medical Center in Manhattan. He was sixty-five years old and had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment for colon cancer when his cardio-pulmonary system failed. A crucial early influence on Bob Dylan and others of the Greenwich Village school, Van Ronk was at the forefront of a musical generation that drew inspiration from rural blues masters, while creating a solo performance genre popular with urban, college-educated audiences. Beginning in the 1960's, he toured widely, performing in coffee houses and campuses. In subsequent years he broadened his repertoire to encompass the traditional jazz influences of his teenage years, art songs by the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Joni Mitchell, and his own compositions, usually marked by an ironic self-deprecation that eschewed sentimentality in favour of hard and beautiful realism. ("From Genghis Khan to the Fuller Brush Man/ They're all a bunch of losers like me.") He was also known for his solo guitar arrangements of jazz repertoire, especially the work of Jelly Roll Morton.
On his most recent recording Sweet and Lowdown, a jazz ensemble accompanied his exploration of popular standards like "When Time Goes By." Familiarly known as "The Mayor of MacDougal Street," Van Ronk presided over an apartment that served as hangout pad/salon to peers like Odetta, Tom Paxton and Peter Yarrow, and a virtual graduate school to the next generation of guitarists, some of whom, like Christine Lavin, achieved broad popularity in their own right. An engaging raconteur, he enjoyed sipping wine and spinning philosophical tales deep into the night.
Recipient of a Grammy nomination, he was also honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by ASCAP, the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers.
To me he was an engaging character that I met on three occasions. Once at the Cambridge Folk Festival, once at the Philadelphia Folk Festival (both in the same summer) and prior to that at a folk club in Philadelphia where I was fortunate enough to share the stage with him. He invited me to visit him in his apartment in New York. Regrettably I never took that invitation up. (The majority of this obituary was sent to me by Caryl P Weiss - Thank you Caryl).
Now to THAT poem.
'HE' by Monica Degernier
HE went on a journey to India
Even visited Afghanistan.
He said " What a great prime minister
And international statesman I am.
I'm simply la crème de la crème and
Certainly I'm in my prime
I travel the world seeking peace
But I can't make the trains run on time"
He tried to fix Palestine and Israel,
But a small domestic issue forgot.
In Ulster the pot goes on simmering,
And mad men are stirring the pot.
He's waging a war 'gainst the terrorists,
Who committed that terrible crime.
But he's forgotten the home-grown insurgents
And he can't make the trains run on time.
He's failed education, education,
Education, and now that's all just old hat.
The policies don't seem to be working,
And he just can't be doing with that.
The schools are doing their dammedest,
Leagues tables they're anxious to climb,
But in droves the teachers are leaving,
And still the trains don't run on time.
I hope I won't need operations,
And so won't be required to wait.
And I hope that my overworked GP
Won't get to refer me too late.
The hospital waiting list's growing,
Theatres and wards they sink into grime,
He's turning to private management
Though they can't make the trains run on time.
And what may I ask of our letters
And parcels. How will he fix that?
The Royal Mail is now in deep danger
Not to mention poor Postman Pat.
He's changed their name to Consignia
But that's without reason or rhyme
For turning BR into Railtrack
Did not make the trains run on time.
He's roundly condemning the wreckers,
Who thwart all his dearly-loved schemes,
They simply must do as he tells them,
However misguided it seems.
He's off on a journey to Africa
Full of missionary zeal quite sublime.
He'll sort out the whole blessed continent
But he won't make the trains run on time
Though he knows he is right in all matters,
By some tricky questions he's vexed,
Are asylum seekers all bogus?
And what should he privatise next?
Should he keep spending strictly in limits
Or plan for taxation to climb?
Oh - and should we be joining the Euro?
For in Europe the trains run on time.
Copyright: Monica Degernier (Resident poet and performer at Bishops Stortford Folk Club)
Finally did you know that 2 minutes after 8pm on the evening of 20th February was a very special time in history? The exact time was 2002, 20 02, 2002.
Keep smiling and keep singing.