Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The Consolations of Coventry

Watching the street I used to live in on telly, and stupidly sad that I'm not there.  Not there to be scared and angry in a city full of scared and angry people.  Not there with the extractor fan on to get the smell of burning bus out of the kitchen.  Sorry about that, people from Brighton who bought my flat.  

Instead, I'm watching it all on telly from miles away and feeling a tiny bit less than alive because I'm not in London, where things happen.

This ridiculousness forces me to remember why I like living here, in my house, with my beloved, in a city that's not yet mine.

The other Saturday, we were wandering around town and heard an unusual noise.  Looked up to see three birds, one of which seemed to be carrying another.  Took a while to process this visually, then realised I was looking at two peregrines taking a pigeon - an Attenborough-worthy drama right in front of us in the city centre!  They live in the church spires, and it turns out everyone knew about them but us, or at least the Coventry Telegraph did.  We then pottered around the Herbert Museum for a bit, going "ooh look, a Lowry" and trying on the armour from the kids' dressing-up boxes, all finished off with a decent cup of coffee.  

The previous week we were at the Godiva Festival, as documented elsewhere, and I can't think of anywhere else I could watch Heaven 17 for nowt, while drinking Pimms and watching families settle down with their kids and dogs for a bit of an eighties singalong.

The following week we unexpectedly got tickets for Latitude - they arrived on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon, following a couple of quick emails, we were off to Clapham to be ferried to the festival  in style by the legendary Dave the Owl. Despite the perpetually annoying and unnecessary difficulties of travelling horizontally across the UK, we learned that a trip to Southwold at two day's notice was perfectly possible, and I even  had time to nip to Asda and get a pair of wellies for £12.

That's a handful of reasons to be happy living in Coventry right there, and I've only been here a few weeks.

When the riots reach us, I almost feel as though I can say, while banging heads together:  "Not in MY city, you don't".



We had Proper Riots in the Olden Days

Feel weirdly homesick watching my old streets and local shops getting smashed up live on rolling news.  Kids on the rob and throwing fireworks don't make Kingsland Road any less familiar, but this is beyond a "riots in Hackney, no-one notices" joke.

I spent the first day simply astounded at how copiously and fragrantly people were shitting on their own doorsteps.  It took a while to realise that these people were prepared to trash their own community because they don't see that it is theirs.  As far as they're concerned, the corner shops and the homes above them, the buses and the roads are all legitimate targets, no different to the corporate giants or the government agencies who've served some of them so badly. 

I was living in Brixton during the riots of 85, and any rioter, any passer-by could tell you what the problem was then.  Disaffection, alienation, racism, poverty, unemployment - the rioters were using the only means they had to get things to change.  No-one this week seems like they could point out any purpose in their breaking and burning.  They're blindly lashing out, not in any hopes of effecting change, but maybe because they're the sons and daughters of those for whom things never did change.  The rioting has no message other than "our lives are so shit that this is what we do".  It's self-harm on a grand scale.  

It was not till today that I first saw anyone involved being interviewed or even wanting any kind of platform, outside of the people who were asking reasonable questions about the death of Mark Duggan.  The Croydon teens on the BBC came up with "we're showing the police and the rich people we can do what we like".  Bear in mind that for them, "rich people" include shopkeepers and their staff.  People are looting pound shops.

Previous riots (and let's not forget that England has such an ancient and prolific history of them that they're almost normal) have had a point, an enemy and an agenda, however ill-defined and variable.  There's no such thing here.  Rioters used to smash McDonalds and burn useless jobcentres.  Now they're destroying ordinary people's homes.

They're holding us all to ransom, but not making any demands.  The pathetic looting of hair weaves and cigarettes alongside the 3D TVs shows that they're not expecting things to be better after all this is over, not even different. Even Sky News have stopped referring to people who break into a jewellery shop as "anarchists".  This isn't anarchy, it's another sort of capitalism.

I'm not saying that the rioters have nothing to complain about - but whatever it is, they're NOT complaining about it.   Nicking trainers is not, in itself, a political act, however inarticulate you are.  They haven't even got a decent soundtrack to riot to.  At least the 80s had the Specials, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, the Smiths.  This lot have got Swagger Jagger.  

Stay safe, London and Birmingham (not to mention Dublin, Dundee, Humberside).

Wednesday, 3 August 2011


I was still shaking bits of London out of my shoes (Olympic Park dust and Dalston hipster charity shop dandruff) when we realised it was time for our old chinas to come up and visit us for the Godiva Festival.  It calls itself the UK's biggest free family festival, which may well be true.  The only rival I can think of is Cambridge's Strawberry Fair which tends to feature more "your child's name on some glittery mud"-type stalls and less in the way of festivally music acts.  
I didn't see much of the promised "local history and culture" at Godiva (if you don't count the roller disco), and had a small tantrum at the sign on the curry stall assuring "nice and mild", but the entertainment was free, and we did have large amounts of fun. We were only there on Friday which was 80s night, headlined by Blancmange (yes!) and Heaven 17 (yes indeed!).  I shamed myself by complaining I didn't remember Mirrors from the 80s at all, to be gently told that they are a contemporary synth-pop band who spent the 80s mainly getting conceived.  They did turn out to be rather good though, in an Interpol-meet-Kraftwerk-but-unexpectedly-jaunty sort of way.
Blancmange didn't disappoint.  Well, I would have liked to have heard The Day Before You Came, but maybe it would have been a bit of a downer for such a pleasant evening.  However, God's Kitchen remains one of the most solemnly bonkers tunes of the keyboard-poking era, and nobody could fail to be excited to hear Living on the Ceiling, not even Blancmange themselves, apparently. Delightful.
Heaven 17 were a fantastic choice for headliners.  A genuinely good band containing two borderline geniuses, taking the music seriously but happy to play the hits to a casual crowd, and at least one song that everyone knows.  "Isn't this all a bit funky for you?" asked The Lovely Paul (I may have been grabbing that groove thang by the throat and throwing it in the ocean at the time).  He doesn't realise that in the olden days we had to take good music where we found it, be that in Unknown Pleasures or Penthouse and Pavement.  Wisely, that now-classic album is what the set's built around, and although it's had the now-inevitable anniversary tour, the songs evoke a thrilling combination of teenage exuberance and nostalgic horror at one's former self.  Not for Glenn Gregory though.  No, he simply looks genuinely pleased to have an audience, though he does apologise a lot for having crammed too many words into songs, never expecting to have to play them live thirty years on. There are new songs, and they are good new songs, and if they were the work of a new band (say, Mirrors) I would seek them out, but it is hard to hear them out of context in this setting.  Halfway through "Let's all Make A Bomb", Gary and I reminisce about spending a good ten years of our lives utterly convinced that we could die in a nuclear war at any given moment.  "We survived the eighties!" he cheers, and the song becomes a celebration.  They make sure they do the favourites - most people have, after all, come to hear Temptation, which they know from best-of-the-eighties compilations, or remember from high street nightclubs - but are careful to also include their own favourite which turns out to be a rather soulful Let Me Go.  Throughout, it's easy to drift off, thinking: "That's Martyn Ware, right there.  They might do Being Boiled or anything".  That doesn't make it a tiny bit less surprising and thrilling when they actually do Being Boiled.  After thirty years, STILL the only pop song to be written from the point of view of a silkworm.  Tch.  Pop stars today.
I suspect the other two days of the festival were just as much fun, featuring, somewhat surprisingly, Athlete and Musical Youth among others, but we had other destinations in mind.  That's a whole new post though.