A new self-penned song which I released on the 5th of May 2022. Vocals and all instruments performed by me. Available to download or stream at iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. The photo below was taken by Riaz Ahmed in September 2021 in Little Germany, Bradford.
In Friedrich Nietzsche’s book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the chapter titled The Bestowing Virtue has the protagonist Zarathustra suddenly announcing to his few disciples that he is to leave them. He observes that they’re no longer thinking for themselves, due to their idolising and adulation of his teachings. On reading it I was reminded of the “You’re all individuals” scene in the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Below is Zarathustra’s address to his followers, deliberately expressed in archaic language which is used throughout the book. I’ve omitted a couple of sentences but the basic gist of his message is contained in the quote:
‘I now go alone, my disciples! Ye also now go away, and alone! So will I have it. Verily, I advise you: depart from me, and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he hath deceived you. The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends. One requiteth a teacher badly if one remain merely a scholar…. Ye venerate me; but what if your veneration should some day collapse? Take heed lest a statue crush you! Ye are my believers: but of what account are all believers! Ye had not yet sought yourselves: then did ye find me. So do all believers; therefore all belief is of so little account. Now do I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when ye have all denied me, will I return unto you.‘
Zarathustra’s followers were initially inquiring of mind, curious and questioning that which they’d learnt, but had over time become content to assume that everything Zarathustra told them was correct. Psychologists might describe this as ‘vicarious learning’, to learn in a second-hand way rather than one’s own experience. It is a common trait among the majority of people, especially in how they relate to authority figures, individuals of clout, etc.
“…be ashamed of him! Perhaps he hath deceived you. The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies, but also to hate his friends. One requiteth a teacher badly if one remain merely a scholar. ”
Why would Zarathustra caution his followers to be on their guard against him, and even be ashamed? My own interpretation: No matter how correct a teacher may be in many areas, ultimately it is their experience and not our own. Not only that, the teacher may even get some things wrong. It’s akin to the musician who’s so in awe of their favourite instrumentalist that they indiscriminately copy everything their hero plays, even the mistakes! Also, perspectives that ring true at one period may be of less validity with the passage of time, so it’s a good idea to periodically examine your beliefs to see if they still hold relevance to your life. To love enemies and hate one’s friends I feel is symbolic of not staying with the familiar and being open to learn from sources that are outside of your regular mental terrain.
The overall message is to find your own truth. It doesn’t preclude learning from others, but as it’s been expressed by different individuals throughout history, ultimately all the knowledge you’re looking for is already within. The best teachers are those that act as a catalyst for the student to unlock it.
Imagine any educational institution or any other seat of learning today saying to its students, “Sorry, we’re closing down for a while, and I think you should all go home until you stop believing every single thing we tell you.” A tad impractical, yes, but not a bad idea at all, in theory.
In my blog from November 2020, Cancelled Culture, OR: ‘Stand up for your rights’, said Fred, I commented on how the vast majority of popular artists (UK and abroad) associated with ‘protest music’, ‘socially conscious music’ have been, for the most part, in unquestioning support of the government’s lockdown mandates. One artist after another repeated the mantras of ‘stay at home/stay safe/get the jab’. As I write in 2022 this is still much the case, despite the wealth of evidence detailing the governmental tyranny masquerading as concern for the public well-being.
At first glance this seems totally inconsistent with artists that have always spoken out about social injustice and government abuses, although a different picture starts to emerge when one looks closer. As critical of government as many protest-related artists are in songs and public statements, the majority still tend to hold a belief in the established institutions, and see current affairs within the traditional left-right paradigm. The problem is that the scamdemic doesn’t neatly lend itself to a left-versus-right analysis, especially with left-oriented politicians often demanding ever greater restrictive measures in the UK and elsewhere. This might account for the silence, and in many cases compliance of “conscious artists”.
Yet this is as it should be, and it is indicative of a shift that has occurred. I am not an astrologer but I have a great interest in this area. In the spirit of “as above, so below”, astrology holds some revealing insights on the subject at hand.
According to many astrologers we are now in the Aquarian age or at the very least on the cusp of it, having previously been in the age of Pisces. For those unfamiliar with astrological terms, let me briefly explain the basic concept of an ‘age’. Just as the year is subdivided into 12 zodiacal signs, an astrological age is a much longer period of time, lasting 2160 years. During an age, life falls under the influence of one particular sign of the zodiac and human life reflects the attributes and themes peculiar to that sign.
So, for instance the Piscean age runs roughly from 50 BCE to 2100 and was all about following messiahs, saviour figures and political structures to which people gave their power away. What we had was top-down systems where the beliefs of the collective were determined and often imposed by an authority. The rise of Christianity and Islam are good examples, as well as governmental and, in more recent times mass media institutions. The sphere of popular music also has its Piscean associations, and not all negative; artistic expression has been taken to great heights during the age. Pertinent to this blog is the mass worship of famous musicians in a manner that has all the trappings of religious devotion, something that came to the fore from the latter half of the 20th century onwards. Some artists were seen by their fans virtually as musical messiahs, saviours and prophet figures in a secular context.
By comparison, the themes we would expect to see in the Aquarian age would be an emphasis upon individuals finding their own unique truth, rather than looking to the existing established institutions. So, as artists urged their fans to get vaccinated, not all of them followed suit, thankfully! Where the popular artists parroted the government, a less-acquiescent section of the public sought a second opinion outside of the orthodoxy. Social media has been the main means by which a truer picture emerged, itself a strong Aquarian association with cutting-edge technology and networking amongst people. We have seen this abundantly, owing to the failure of the established institutions to be transparent.
The planet Uranus rules Aquarius. The Uranus energy can be associated with unexpected upheaval in a person’s life, removing outmoded ideas, structures, relationships etc that no longer serves them. For many, this has meant the turning away from orthodoxy that has led to tyranny. The phrase “I believe” is said by astrologers to represent the Piscean age, whereas “I know” is what defines its Aquarian counterpart, the latter being an intuitive process.
Given what we’ve seen over the past two years, where does this leave the concept of ‘conscious music’ and the artists that create it? I personally see it as a stark lesson in trusting one’s own judgement and not looking outside for saviours, for people to do or say things that you can do yourself. To see people seeking information for themselves, drawing their own conclusions rather than looking up to celebrities who mostly echoed the government line, surely speaks to the themes associated with Aquarius.
Not being a major gourmet, I’d never considered any link between the respective arts of cooking food and music making until recently. What triggered it was attending the funeral of a friend’s mother, a Jamaican lady of the Windrush generation who had made her transition in December 2021 at the age of 85.
Among the tributes given was one by a woman who as a thirteen year old had attended a cookery class delivered at Bradford West Indian Parents Association by this Jamaican ‘auntie’, and another Caribbean lady. By all accounts these two women were a joy to work with, yet with a formidable strictness that would have made Gordon Ramsay quake in his chef’s hat. In her tribute, she recalled one class in which she took out a notepad and pen to write down in great detail the directions given to her. Noticing the skeptical looks of her teachers, the conversation that followed ran a little like this:
“Weh yu doing?”
“Oh, I’m just writing down the ingredients.”
“No need, love. All yu need in the kitchen is yu hands, yu eye, and yu mout’.”
It wasn’t until I thought about this anecdote the following day that it struck me how much this approach has in common with music making. The sense of going by your own feel and intuition rather than following a strict format. The feeling of being in the moment, where the piece of music doesn’t have to be identically played every day, sticking rigidly to the same arrangement. In this way, the same meal/piece of music will be different each time but still taste good.
I’m sure people have experienced how food prepared by sticking to the letter of a recipe book usually doesn’t taste right. It’s as though there’s something missing. Even more in keeping with the musical process, I’ve seen a couple of cookery articles where writers are saying it’s OK to make mistakes in the kitchen, embrace them! I’d be willing to bet that some of the tastiest meals were created despite the misgivings of the cook believing they’d put either too much or too little of an ingredient, over-cooked it, etc.
To end on a culinary note, here’s Candy Mckenzie performing ‘Ice Cream’, with Lee Scratch Perry at the controls.
One of my favourite musician stories is an anecdote Herbie Hancock shared about a concert he played in 1964 as the pianist in Miles Davis’ group in Stuttgart, Germany. It has an unconventional twist to it because rather than the usual recalling of how on top of their game the band was, his recollection actually centres around a wrong chord he played.
Many musicians have had the experience of mistakenly playing the wrong chord, note or beat during a performance (or for that matter a writing session) and finding that the thing they played ended up sounding better than what they’d intended. Herbie’s account runs on similar lines but takes the meaning of the event much further.
He takes up the story at 2:06 up to 5:34.
What’s remarkable is Herbie uses this experience on the bandstand as an analogy for what takes place in the process of everyday life. The phrase “turning poison into medicine” draws upon his Buddhist practice. I’m also reminded of the Kybalion (ancient Egyptian-based hermetic writings), and two of its seven principles/laws – ‘correspondence’ and ‘polarity’ respectively. The law of correspondence relates to how you can draw analogies from one life situation as a way of teaching you about something else that may be ostensibly unrelated. In this case we have the details of a musical performance being put forward as a metaphor for life. There’s also the law of polarity, which the Kybalion presents as follows:
“Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has its pair of opposites; like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.” (The Kybalion)
Let’s say someone finds themselves in a challenging situation, due to their own or others’ mistakes and bad choices. By being open enough to reflect and learn the lessons contained therein, the person can grow and the same situation becomes transformed from being “poisonous” to its polar opposite – medicine i.e. something that’s healing. The important point being that they had to make the mistake in order to then experience the growth. Just as Miles might not have played those amazing melodies without Herbie’s ‘wrong chord’.
Perhaps Miles Davis was right when he said “Do not fear mistakes. There are none.”. Then again, all truths are but half-truths.
An abiding childhood memory of mine is hearing ska and early reggae tunes playing in the front room on a Sunday morning. Time-wise, we’re talking about 1970 onwards, a few years before I started primary school. It’s a piece of nostalgia that many of the Windrush generation and their children will recognise and identify with, irrespective of which island that they or their parents and grandparents hailed from. This was also the period when the original skinhead movement was at its height in Britain, adopting the new songs coming out of Jamaica as its anthems.
The music also has a strong association with food, specifically the delicious smell of Jamaican rice, peas and chicken that my mum would have been preparing. Ska and reggae tunes pumping away, sometimes the occasional pre-ska JA pop by Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards, along with the waft of the expectant big dinner. In a way, the vibes from those tunes were a hidden ingredient that went into the food. Even at that tender age, I understood that this was my parents’ way of maintaining ties with ‘back home’. Strengthening the link further, we even had the Jamaican Weekly Gleaner newspaper delivered to our home on Sundays, where we could find out about current events on the island.
I’ve many a favourite song from that period, far too many to mention. Standouts are Monkey Man by The Maytals, Double Barrel by Dave and Ansel Collins, Them A Laugh And A Kiki by The Pioneers (aka Soulmates), the whole of the Tighten Up Volume Two album, Here I Am Baby by Skin, Flesh & Bones – the list goes on! For me and my brothers, having being born in England, we were getting a glimpse into our parents’ world, the island that had nurtured them. They’d tell us about how a song such as Long Shot Kick De Bucket (about a racehorse that died during a race) was based upon real events. There always was a little sad undercurrent to the way the Pioneers delivered the story with their sublime vocal harmonies.
One thing I noticed was, those records were only played in our home on Sundays, except at Christmas time. For the rest of the week, it was Radio One at breakfast and around teatime, with its selection of mainly British and American pop, and of course Top Of The Pops without fail every Thursday. There was also some ‘crossover’ because in the early 70s, reggae frequently featured in the UK charts. Things such as Let Your Yeah Be Yeah by The Pioneers, and Bob and Marcia’s Young, Gifted and Black were on constant rotation. Yet it was English artists that we heard predominantly on the radio, and, by a neat coincidence, our family meals on weekdays were mostly the same dishes that you’d find in any English home – give or take the odd serving of plantain, dumplings or yam now and again. This would have been pragmatic on the part of my parents; making an elaborate Caribbean meal would have taken up too much time after they’d come home from work. Hearing ska and reggae only one day a week took on a special significance; I’ve also no doubt that by hearing such a wide variety of music throughout the week is the reason why my tastes were eclectic from day one, and remain so to this day. Though I still like to play reggae tunes on Sundays – keeping a great tradition alive, you might say.
Often times, it’s the everyday, run-of-the-mill events in life that by pure chance convey the most profound of messages. Such is the case with a horse race that was run in November 2020 at the Fontwell racecourse in West Sussex, UK. The footage speaks for itself, really, so rather than giving you a description first, please view the 2 minutes’ footage of the closing stages.
The winning horse’s name Dharma Rain, which I heard as Dharma Reign, lent a certain symbolism to the outcome of the race. ‘Dharma’ is a Sanskrit word for a concept in Indian spirituality that has multifarious meanings. One of them is to do with a person’s ‘destiny’; their ‘dharma’ being basically their ‘calling’, what they are meant to do in life.
In the race, we see all the horses except one avoid the hurdle and are duly disqualified. Dharma Rain negotiates the hurdle and turns out to be the victor. We all know that in the pursuit of our respective calling, there are inescapable challenges that present themselves that stand in the way, challenges that must be met head on. Going around the barrier has its place as well but sometimes there’s no other option! There’s also a message here about following your own path and not being swayed by the crowd, something that is of great importance in today’s world.
All this from the 3.50 chase at Fontwell.
For many, the lockdowns unintentionally afforded the time to watch films and tv programmes that they’d long been interested in seeing but never got round to. I’m no exception; I spent the first couple of months of 2021 watching The Changes, a series first broadcast in 1975 on BBC1. Aimed at children but with a narrative equally pitched at adults, I found it compelling viewing. What I’d not expected, however, was that this disparate sci-fi tale would contain themes strangely similar to the ongoing UK lockdown measures.
In the story, Britain has been experiencing strange weather that affects the population’s behaviour, causing them to turn against technology, suddenly smashing up machines whenever the conditions occur. The society soon grinds to a silent standstill reminiscent of pre-industrial times. The mindset of most of the population has also altered, reverting back to a quasi-‘Dark Ages’ mentality, with its attendant bible-based, ‘olde worlde’ superstitions. Technology is viewed as being evil.
This is bad news for the main protagonist Nicky Gore, who, in the search for her parents whom she’s lost in the melee, is found sleeping in a barn in a village where farm machinery (deemed as “wickedness” by the locals) has been locked firmly away. She is tried and sentenced to death by stoning by Davy Gordon, a witchfinder general-type who runs the village, but is spirited away by a pair of siblings, Margaret and Jonathan, who, unlike most of the villagers, haven’t fallen under the sway of the superstitions.
The siblings’ father is a different story, however, as he has also succumbed to the witch-hunt mentality. A revealing piece of dialogue takes place when Nicky asks Margaret if the villagers really believe she’s a witch. Margaret’s response is telling: “Well, most of them (do) – because Davy Gordon has persuaded them. Men more than women. You see, since the ‘changes’, they believe doing things like this is God’s will; and our dad is really a kind man but he’s not all that bright. His life has never been very exciting. Well, now he’s right under Davy Gordon’s thumb. He’s got this kind of ‘mission’ in life, rooting out evil. Our mum knows it’s a load of nonsense but even she can’t get through to him”
I was instantly reminded of something I’d heard said repeatedly by Irish author Thomas Sheridan in his Epic Voyage series of Youtube vlogs chronicling the lockdown: “The normies are absolutely loving this, and do you know why? It’s because at last they now have a sense of purpose.” Initially I didn’t get this, until I started to notice people whom I would normally see coming and going to work, now zealously out in the streets in their purple volunteer uniforms, on housing estates, at the entrance of supermarkets, all over shopping centres handing out masks and sanitiser, going from door to door offering testing kits like JW’s flogging the Watchtower. They probably see themselves as activists of some kind, saving the world from a modern-day plague. I’m sure I’m not the only one to notice the glee of shop assistants now charged to tell customers to wait in queues before being allowed in, seemingly reveling in the opportunity to wield a bit of ‘power’.
The similarities of the measures to Abrahamic religious ritual and forced indoctrination have been covered by both alternative and mainstream writers. (By the way, this isn’t an attack upon anyone’s personal belief, it’s merely a comparison of the way in which religious institutions, in tandem with governments, have historically suppressed the worldview of others with a distinct perspective on life.) As for the modern-day “witches”, they are of course any of the individuals who challenge or debunk the efficacy of the measures, or refuse to go along with the programme. Anyone not walking around looking like an extra from a 50s sci-fi B movie is viewed with suspicion, as though they aren’t wearing the required religious garb.
“Men more than women”. When looking at social media, it has not escaped my attention that women appear to be far more outspoken against this than most men, and far less compliant with the government’s ‘health’ mandates. Of course, many women have been more than willing to follow Hancock and Johnson’s latest sermons, yet where has been the resistance from men? It is as though the roles of the sexes have reversed.
Throughout The Changes narrative, only a relative handful of people remain unaffected, which takes on significance. Firstly, there’s the Sikh community whom Nicky meets and briefly travels with. We’re told that it is the Sikhs’ way of life, so different from the populace around them, that safeguards them against the prevailing madness. The same is true of a married couple encountered later in the story, who live in a rural, “off the grid” lifestyle, having gotten away from the hustle-bustle of London. The implication being made in the case of both this couple, and the Sikhs, is that it is their independence from the norms which has created a kind of ‘immunity’ for them. This is comparable and analogous to the independence of spirit that characterises those who haven’t capitulated to the fear and hysteria present amongst most in the present lockdowns.
I’m glad to have had the chance to see The Changes. By its reference to witch hunts, I would surmise that the author Peter Dickinson may have based this upon the actual social dynamics of medieval times, and the powerful hold that these ideas exerted over people. It’s also clear that Dark Ages thinking manages to persist into the present-day reality.
I decided to put out this song as a way of voicing my perspective on the times. It’s a song I actually wrote a couple of years ago but which feels nonetheless relevant. The track was released on 16 November 2020 and can be downloaded at iTunes, Amazon & Spotify.
An interview that I did on BCB Radio on November 25th, 2020 can be heard below.
If someone had told me on January 1st 2020 that Right Said Fred of Deeply Dippy fame would be one of the few high-profile voices in Britain to speak out against government tyranny, I’d probably have given them a number to ring, and a wide berth. Yet this is exactly what happened during a surreal year in which the music industry, like many others, came to a virtual standstill.
As we entered 2020, like many I’d been feeling for some time that the popular music industry wasn’t in great shape. Everything sounded so samey and predictable. At live shows, audiences were no longer watching the artists; in many cases they’d be at concerts either stood still pointing a mobile device to the stage, or filming themselves gurning into their Smartphones while the band played on in the background. It seemed a far cry from the glorious chaos of the mosh pit I’d experienced, and the pioneering maverick spirit of the past. It felt like the music was going through the motions.
Of course, I’m generalising here, but when viewed in hindsight and in context of how the year has panned out, from a symbolic perspective it could be said that the creative stagnation audible in the music was heralding the decay of the industry itself. For some, this might seem an outrageous suggestion but it’s difficult not to see this allegorically.
I’m not in the least bit jingoistic but the passing of Dame Vera Lynn seems so poignant in terms of 2020. Just over a month before her death she was interviewed and spoke about the power of music to comfort during hard times, urging people to “keep smiling and keep singing”. How ironic it is that we have had bureaucrats warning people of the dangers of singing as a possible means of spreading the virus. How anal (and cowardly) can they get?
The same month that Dame Vera Lynn gave that interview, Little Richard died. Again, this was of such importance. Here was someone who changed the world with his creativity, and without being in the least politically-driven, his music effected powerful change in the social climate of the USA, and beyond. Without Little Richard, in the UK there would have been no Beatles, no Stones, and nothing of the powerful music scene that gave so much joy to generations of people, at the kind of venues that are now in danger of closing.
It’s been more than refreshing to see, along with a series of protests opposing the measures in the UK and across the globe, a body of research challenging the measures, independent of government and corporate media, calling into question the need for the lockdowns, their effectiveness and legality. Surprisingly, this has not come only from the alternative media; some opposing voices have also come from the heart of the mainstream. Again, who would have thought that such mainstream figures as Kirstie Allsopp and Richard Madeley would number amongst the rank of dissenters? By contrast, there’s been precious little in the way of dissent from other sectors (educational, health, sport, religious groups etc).
What’s been most noticeable to me has been the response to the developments from the infrastructure of the music industry, as well as most popular artists themselves, and not only in the UK. As I write this, there’s been practically no challenge to the government narrative; Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Ian Brown, Sir Van Morrison, Zuby, Noel Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft, Joe Jackson, and most unexpectedly Right Said Fred have been exceptions to this. On the whole, many artists – including those that have made their name and fame through ‘anti-establishment’ content, artists that had hitherto never shied away from outspoken social comment on the most provocative of topics – have been largely silent. The few that have spoken out against the measures have been rounded upon by mainstream media and even some of their fans as ‘conspiracy theorists’ and other predictable replies. At the same time, legions of their audience have been fully supportive.
In a youtube video discussion in October 2020 with Vincent Dunmall of Save Our Rights UK, author/alternative music researcher Mark Devlin (whose work focuses upon how popular music has been used as a form of social engineering) surmised whether the controllers of the industry had pulled the plug on it, so successful as it has been in its objectives. It’s a fair suggestion; after all, there has been precious little in the way of resistance from any corner of the industry.
One would think that in a scenario where careers are being threatened, there would be more of an outcry. Such a protest would be welcomed, I’m sure. The object here isn’t to judge nor attack anyone. It’s a commentary on the state of popular music in our society in general, in particular from that area which had always been regarded as the ‘counterculture’.
‘Cancellation’ took on another meaning in 2020. We have the ‘slow cancellation of the future’ articulated by Mark Fisher in his Youtube talk of the same name. Then there’s the literal cancelling of gigs. Finally, we have ‘cancel culture’, wherein anyone can be effectively banned from public life if they’re deemed guilty of ‘WrongThink’. It’s tempting to consider whether it’s the combination of all three that has rendered musicians largely mute.
Stagnation and atrophy in any life situation usually is a sign of the ending of something, and the need for something new. While most of us would have neither expected nor be supportive of the kind of change that is occurring, it is a strange coincidence. In many ways, we’re seeing the death of the old, out of which we’ll hopefully see the birth of something new, and better.