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therealus "therealus" (Herts, UK)
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Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History
Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History
by Rozina Visram
Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, eye-opening and more, 14 Jan. 2015
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Four centuries ago, at the beginning of the 17th Century, passengers aboard a ship belonging to the East India Company carried a young man who would be the first recorded Indian in Britain. He was soon followed by other Indians associated, directly or indirectly, with the Company, as lascars (seamen), ayahs (nannies) or servants. Rozina Visram charts the history of Indians, and in passing that of other foreign nationalities, in Britain from that period until the end of the Second World War.

It is a history marked by inequality and segregation, prejudice and mistreatment, but also often of endless hard work, creativity and heroism. Sometimes through economic or political necessity or opportunity-seeking, sometimes to gain skills to take home, and sometimes simply for want of seeing the “mother country”, Indians came to Britain, some leaving later in order to apply their skills, knowledge or political ambitions back in India, others staying and integrating as best as they were allowed into their new home.

Moral panics abounded, especially with regard to a fear of white women mixing with non-white men, and there were the usual tales of Indians taking British jobs and selling substandard goods. A reluctance by landlords to rent out lodgings to non-whites meant that what accommodation was available was substandard, and in such short supply that Indians were forced to crowd into squalid slums, upon which effect and cause were confused and this was taken to be the Indian norm: thus are myths created.

But despite this Indians thrived and made positive contributions to their new home. They became a new source for the expanding industrial working class, opened restaurants purveying exotic, novel food, and cared for the health needs of Britons as doctors and nurses, eventually to become a key component of the National Health Service. Without Indians in Britain we may never have had, or would only have had later, meals on wheels, Pelican Books and much of the knowledge we currently have of hypertension. Crucially, India itself also contributed men, women and materiel during two world wars: Visram rounds off her chapter on the Second World War with the story of Noor Inayat Khan, an SOE agent who worked with the French Resistance, and who was captured by the Gestapo, tortured, and eventually taken to Dachau and shot. For her service Khan was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French and the George Cross by Britain. Conversely, many of the lascars who perished during both world wars remain unacknowledged by the authorities, and some of those wounded as a result of enemy action found themselves without pay during their convalescence due to their inability to work.

Despite its title, however, the book only really covers 350 years of history, not 400. That’s a shame, as it would have been useful to have seen at least an overview of how the South Asian presence in Britain developed over the 60 years subsequent to the Second World War (the book was published in 2002). Apart from that, though, the only mild irritant I found, and this is purely a matter of personal taste, was Visram’s habit of occasionally posing a series of questions as scene setting for what is to come next. As the questions proliferated I occasionally found myself thinking “I don’t know. Why ask me?”

On the whole though this is a story well told, and a story which deserves to be told not only on its own merits, because it’s interesting and eye-opening, but also to redress the balance of the distorted view some people have of the Asian presence in the UK.

Born in the U.S.A.
Born in the U.S.A.

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song continuing to ask some awkward questions, 6 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: Born in the U.S.A. (MP3 Download)
Even Ronald Reagan would have found it difficult to interpret this as a gung-ho no-questions-asked pro-America anthem.

Shires and Isbell strip the song down to its basics so that the words, not the arrangement, take centre stage. The bitterness of Springsteen's original has been replaced by despair. But the bewilderment of betrayal remains.

Shires's fiddle plays a big part in setting this mood, but it is the clarity of Isbell's singing that clinches it.

It's still a pro-America song, but one that continues to ask some very awkward questions of those who send young Americans to war then neglect them when they return.

The Establishment: And how they get away with it
The Establishment: And how they get away with it
by Owen Jones
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Yes, Mr Jones. I mostly agree. Now, what do we do about it?, 6 Jan. 2015
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Given I agree with most of what Owen Jones says in this book, and believe much of what he reports, I wish I felt able to rate it higher, but it suffers from too many flaws for my liking, and ultimately reading it has left me feeling little better off than had I not done so.

Immediately before writing this review, I read an excellent article by Jones in which he praises Stephen Hawking en route to pointing out that every great public figure, and every great public achievement, is the product not of individual but collective effort, from Hawking’s remarkable survival, thanks in large part to the NHS, through to the creation of the NHS itself, an institution under increasing threat from a bunch of fanatics who obsess over individualism. Side-by-side was an article by James Dyson, of vacuum cleaner fame, slamming the same bunch of fanatics for their insane policies on allowing, or rather not allowing, overseas students who graduate in the UK to stay a while to apply their new-found knowledge to our collective benefit. Dyson is one of Jones’s targets, for shifting his manufacturing overseas, but as Dyson points out, conditions under the rule of the individualism fanatics are such that his manufacturing supply chain is better overseas than domestically, and if they have their way the same will soon apply to his supply of talented engineering graduates, and his R&D will have to move too. Jones’s criticism in this case is restricted to the superficial: it takes no account of the underlying reason for Dyson’s actions, nor that the two of them share a common foe.

Early on in his book, Jones traces the roots of this fanatical individualism, sometimes referred to as Thatcherism, to its origins, under the malign influence of the thoughts of Hayek, in right wing think tanks such as the Adam Smith Institute (which selectively misrepresents the philosophy of its eponymous inspiration), the IEA and the Bow Group. These “outriders”, as he calls them, were seeking to return the UK to some mythical pre-war golden age, disposing of the legacy of post-war, social democratic progress. These are the same people who, since 2008, have sought to divert the blame for the Great Recession from casino banking to public spending. In this they are aided by another section of the Establishment, the press. In order to create the material conditions for the roll out of Thatcherism the unions had to be defanged. So laws were passed and a campaign waged, often violently as in the case of the miners’ strike of the mid-eighties. Enforcement was the responsibility of another part of the Establishment, the police, who at the time were amply rewarded for their efforts. (Anyone remember ASPOM? Officially Avon and Somerset Police Operation Miner, it was dubbed by the officers themselves as Arthur Scargill Pays Our Mortgage.)The press came in handy here in demonising those the police were roughing up, promoting the Enemy Within lie. The depth of the collusion under way at the time has since been exemplified by the revelations of the Hillsborough enquiry, in which the press were complicit in a campaign to discredit Liverpool fans as without exception hooligans, drunks and thieves, in order to take the focus off a shambolic police operation.

However, Jones points out the irony that the police themselves are the subject of cuts, their former champions having turned on them now they have outlived their usefulness. Police officers now talk of striking, and there are symbolic confrontations such as that with chief whip Andrew Mitchell (go on, be honest, how many of you, even those of you who distrust the police, believed Mitchell’s side of the story?). He also points out the perverse incentives set up by the introduction of policing by objectives, with overtime exchanged for arrests, and thus an inordinate number of young people, disproportionately black, arrested for possession of negligible amounts of cannabis, criminalising a generation.

But perhaps the biggest irony Jones highlights is in the bailout, by the state, of that ultimate bastion of anti-statist individuality, the City, following the debacles of 2008. Socialism for them; Thatcherism for the rest of us. Underlying this is a cosy relationship mysteriously neglected by much of the press: I remember clearly their belittling negotiations between a Labour government and the unions as being over “beer and sandwiches”; I don’t recall a similar treatment of talks over wine and canapés. But clearly these are taking place between the Thatcherite ideologues of the coalition government, the Thatcherite outriders of the right wing think tanks and lobby firms, and the City hierarchy, often off the record and unaccountable. This preferential treatment of Establishment fellow travellers contrasts obscenely with the treatment of those at the bottom of the heap unable to find work and trying to claim benefits, demonised by, you guessed it, the press, as lazy thieving scroungers (with reference to Hillsborough, do you see a pattern developing here?), and treated as such by benefits clerks whose targets, similar to those of the police, set up perverse incentives. And whilst denying the poorest a basic level of relief, billions are poured in to Quantitative Easing, a scheme characterised by Jones as a pro-rich scam of negative benefit to the majority of the population. Instead of creating money for investment in things that matter like R&D (back to Dyson here), infrastructure (note the market failure of power generation, with talk of “brown outs” due to inadequate generating capacity, a result of the short-termism of private industry), education, a functioning health service (tried getting an ambulance lately?), or social housing, we hand money over to people who already have it to shift their activities from relatively stable government bonds to the same kinds of high-risk financial instruments that got us in the hole in the first place.

All of this and more I agree with (and have added my own garnish to, for what it’s worth). And yet, as with the rather unfair lambasting of Dyson, sometimes Jones takes cheap shots which are easily deflected. Criticising the army recruitment service, for example, because it doesn’t mention the killing and dying bit, is a little like criticising a ski resort for not mentioning that snow can be a bit slippery, and extremely patronising to the people he purports to be defending, the working class youths who comprise the bedrock of our armed forces (and always have done, as long as there has been a working class). Similarly, he picks out one part of the proposed EU-US TTIP trade agreement for (justifiable) criticism, but fails to address the potential overall benefits, or costs, of the deal. In fact he sets up the US-UK-EU relationship as thoroughly bad, which is not at all true (and I doubt even he believes it!). And what about the church? This former cornerstone of the Establishment merits a single paragraph, in the Introduction, and it is true that the church has lost much of its influence, partly due to a secularisation of UK society. And yet what is significant about the church now is the way it sometimes bites the hand of those in power, for example criticising the government, as has the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, for creating the conditions under which food banks are necessary in the UK. Perhaps he found, inconveniently, that the church, for all its toadying to the monarchy, doesn’t quite fit his thesis.

It’s a little lazy, in other words, and this is also reflected in the repetitious nature of the prose (I got particularly irritated by the number of institutions and individuals for which he considered the adjective “iconic” to be appropriate, to the point that it now irritates me when I encounter it in other peoples’ writing). I also got tired of his repetitive scene setting: there can’t be a greasy spoon caff, high-end nosh palace or any point on the intervening continuum he didn’t meet someone whilst researching the book; too many of his interviewees betray their origins through residual accents.

But the real blind spot is in his inability to propose an alternative vision. It’s clear what he’s against; less clear what he’s for. UK Uncut were great while they lasted, but where are they now? Ditto Occupy, which turned out to be not much more than a fad. Thomas Piketty, whom Jones cites, at least offers proposals for redressing the wealth/income imbalance, albeit ones that may come under the heading Utopian. Jones offers not much more than “not this”.

So sorry, Mr Jones. I am likely on your side when it comes to despising the Establishment and most of its works, but I don’t see much of a guiding light indicating how we slip their embrace.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2015 3:25 PM GMT

Gasa Gasa Live
Gasa Gasa Live
Price: £19.78

5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous, 10 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Gasa Gasa Live (Audio CD)
The high point of my 2014 pilgrimage to Lafayette in 2014 was seeing Lost Bayou Ramblers on stage at the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles. Two days before they had played La Blue Moon and front man Louis Michot had been suffering with some kind of bug. The night before they had played until the early hours in New Orleans, so with a 1pm start at the Festival there may have been excuse for their being jaded, but excuses they needed none. They were tremendous, and some of the excitement, energy and ebullience of that performance can be guessed at by a listening to this live album recorded at Gasa Gasa in the Crescent City.

Opening with an uncompromising version of Cote Gelée, they proceed to storm through a 50-minute sample of their capabilities. Just as on their previous live album, Live À La Blue Moon, where they laid down a definitive version of the Cajun classic J'Etais Au Bal, so on this set they raise the bar for all future attempts at Pine Grove Blues. In amongst the rest is the audience singalong O Bye, which I found myself, to my own great surprise, singing along with when they played it at the Festival, and four songs from their last studio album, Mammoth Waltz. Two of these, Carolina Blues and Croche, had the hair standing up on my neck in Lafayette, and the other two, Blues De Bernadette and O Marie, demonstrate that it's not all pyrotechnics, bringing the pace down gradually and, in the finale, providing a more reflective, melancholy air.

Quoi Ca Dit
Quoi Ca Dit
Price: £33.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet, 27 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Quoi Ca Dit (Audio CD)
The Babineaux Sisters – Julie on bass, Gracie on vocals and any other instrument you’d care to name other than drums, handled by Cameron Dupuy, and guitar, played by Maci Lopez, who also plays djembe – appeared at the 2014 Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette just before Lost Bayou Ramblers, providing a sweet aperitif to the Ramblers’ spicy entrée. Mostly Cajun in flavour, but with creole ingredients (Gracie attributed to zydeco star Cory Ledet her taking up of the accordion), the songs are uniformly gorgeous, and the instrumental at the end, Lover’s Waltz, all you could ask for a tune of that title: dreamy, romantic, lilting.

This record would do most musicians proud, but it misses some of the gems available from seeing the band live, such as Marley’s Three Little Birds and Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower, both in French, and both sounding quite different from more familiar versions, especially Hendrix’s Watchtower. It also comes in at only 25 minutes, which is all right for the price you’d pay for it in their native Louisiana but you’re going to have to feel a real need to pay the Import price.

I admit that’s cheaper than the air fare, but if you can combine the shopping with a visit to one of their performances you’ll have yourself a bargain.

Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches
Introduction to International Relations: Theories and Approaches
by Robert H. Jackson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction, 6 Oct. 2014
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Jackson and Sørensen's International Relations provides an excellent introduction to the subject for student and non-student, although the emphasis is slightly on the former, given its text-book format. The different traditions of International Relations are described and explained, along with some of the various critiques which have been applied to them. Its systematic approach means that each of the traditions can be approached in isolation at first, before addressing the potential shortcomings in their foundations and assumptions. The theoretical content is amply supported with real-world examples, although these are not overplayed, meaning that the theory is not swamped. Towards the end there is an excellent treatment of some of the issues - international terrorism; religion; the environment; the dynamics of statehood - currently confronting International Relations. There is also a useful Glossary.

One intriguing aspect for me, having recently completed a degree module including International Relations, is the differences in emphasis placed on the various subject areas between the book and the module. For example, where Jackson and Sørensen make a clear distinction between constructivism and the English School, or International Society, as they prefer to call it, the module implied similarities and affinities. In addition, Jackson and Sørensen present traditions such as mercantilism, under the heading of International Political Economy, also touching on such areas as post-positivism and post-structuralism. The book therefore complements the module, in the meantime illustrating the point that no received message is neutral. All messages, no matter how well-intentioned the author, has a slant in one direction or another.

My one reservation is with the short section on think tanks, in which their descriptions of some of the more famous ones read almost as if taken from the respective organisations' publicity material. In general, though, this is a good introduction to the subject.

Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
Offered by Englishpostbox
Price: £10.41

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As fresh and creative as ever, 1 Oct. 2014
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Lucinda Williams is not in some ways the most fecund of artists, this being her first album since Blessed in 2011, but Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone corrects that somewhat in being a double CD, so we get a lot of Lucinda as some form of compensation for the long wait.

To say the wait was worth it is an understatement. Williams’s razor sharp lyrics are honed to perfection, pleading, threatening, berating, defying and celebrating in turns. She shifts in very short order from the lamentation of Burning Bridges to the uncompromising “If you don’t like it, tough” attitude of West Memphis, and there are numerous other shades and nuances to savour, both lyrically and musically.

Williams’s singing is as distinctive as ever: there’s little possibility of mistaking her for anyone else. The musical accompaniment, however, has a different feel from previously, neither Car Wheels nor Essence. Some of that is likely in the production, with the electric guitars in particular seeming to cut through the air at times. It’s also in the variety of tempos employed. But in being untypical it is, perhaps, typically Lucinda.

As so often, Williams’s preoccupation with geography gets a look in, which sometimes brings to mind that other legendary American geography celebrant, Bruce Springsteen. But where, in this reviewer’s humble (and possibly flawed, you decide) view The Boss has lately been off the boil, Lucinda Williams demonstrates with this set that she is as fresh and creative as ever.

Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash
Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of the Clash
by Pat Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Unravelling the myth, 24 Sept. 2014
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There are a few things you should never see being made if you want to continue enjoying them. Sausages and rock music come pretty well up that list. There is nevertheless a kind of perverse fascination in reading Pat Gilbert’s account of The Clash’s brief, fruitful career culminating in a train crash ending made almost inevitable by the very forces that made them good in the first place.

There are so many, often self-generated, myths surrounding the band that a part of Gilbert’s job in writing this account was to unravel them and dig into fuddled memories in order to construct a different story, although the alternative version he creates is often no less extraordinary. Reading the 2009 revision it’s clear that there’s still more to be clarified or denied, or confirmed but with a bizarre slant. For example, throughout most of the account we have a vision of Bernie Rhodes as a cross between pantomime villain and capricious Svengali, and yet at the end we find there was no early plot on his part to oust Mick Jones and replace him with Steve Jones, and that CBS found him to be a welcome, stable interface with the band.

Given the number of books dedicated purely to deconstruct the recorded music Gilbert perhaps wisely spends very little time on this. It’s a shame though that his account of the band’s live appearances is so skewed to problems and the US, which almost makes it feel like I made up the times I believed I saw them, other than the RAR event at Victoria Park. He writes about the appearances in Paris during which Futura 2000 painted the backdrop of the stage while the band played, but not of the at least one occasion this happened in Brixton. Or did I really make that up? There is similarly too little background to the, at the time quite odd, in some people’s minds, appearance of Joe Ely (a country singer!) at a “punk” gig as The Clash’s support in Camden. If you only have this book to go by, you’d think that only happened in the US.

Leaving quibbles aside, though, Gilbert’s account is well worth the read, and rather than detracting from enjoyment of the band’s music will possibly give it a whole new life.

However, if there is a book out there that gives a more thorough account of The Clash Live in the UK I’d like to read it.

Flamenco - All You Wanted to Know
Flamenco - All You Wanted to Know
by Emma Martinez
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good primer, 22 Sept. 2014
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If you're looking for some lessons in how not to spell or punctuate, this is possibly your starting point. But it is also a good place to start to learn about flamenco. Unlike other guides to flamenco culture, this one lacks airs and graces, and is not all about the author.

Martínez deals with flamenco forms, history, culture and lore fairly comprehensively. There are discussions around authenticity and controversies regarding what is and is not flamenco. She names some of the key figures in flamenco, past and present, and suggests recordings with which the uninitiated could start to get an idea of what is good flamenco. There is also a useful history of the development of the Spanish guitar.

Despite the undoubted value of the contributions of Federico García Lorca to the promotion and understanding of cante jondo, Martínez is nevertheless quite rightly scathing of his self-appointment as an arbiter of good taste in flamenco, though his role in this respect is no different from many intellectuals of his day, and in fairness he appears to have been very popular with the gitanos he associated with. Unlike some authors, she does not romanticise the marginalised status of gitanos, and is happy to sacrifice some of the "pena" of the music in exchange for a better life for them.

It doesn't quite deliver all it promises: there are still more things I'd like to know, but as a primer it's more than adequate, better than Robin Totton's Song Of The Outcasts, although that book has the bonus of a CD as illustration of the various styles. It's an enjoyable read and one which should help anyone wishing to understand flamenco a little better.

KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
KIN: Songs by Mary Karr & Rodney Crowell
Price: £12.76

5.0 out of 5 stars Ten songs; ten high points, 27 Aug. 2014
Lovers of Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr’s songs will love this. The different artists performing the songs each gives them a different seasoning, meaning that their amenability to different styles is brought out. Whilst often the lyrical style and subject matter are typical of the writers – outlaws, misbehaving parents, beloved siblings, home, sorrow – the performers’ interpretations are likely not always as Crowell himself would present them: it’s difficult to see/hear him delivering Momma’s On A Roll anything remotely like Lee Ann Womack does.

There are ten tracks and ten high points on the record, but here are some random observations.

Both If The Law Don’t Want You, delivered in world-weary style by Norah Jones, and My Father’s Advice, with Crowell accompanied by a gruff Kris Kristofferson, are still making me laugh out loud. God I’m Missing You, on the other hand, is infused with a sadness so deep by Lucinda Williams that I have to listen to it with a drink in my hand, even more so than Crowell’s own version on Tarpaper Sky. Somewhere in between, Sister Oh Sister recalls happy memories of a lost sibling, sung by Roseanne Cash with backing vocals by Chely Wright. And in addition to providing a tangible regretfulness for missed opportunities on Long Time Girl Gone By, Emmylou Harris sweetens up the vocals on the closing track, Hungry For Home.

To cite one of the old man’s pieces of advice, go on and give it a whirl.

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