'How will you know when you know' is a song about being in a band and hitting the wall of realisation that you are probably not going to be the next U2. In the first verse, there is excitement and optimism as the musicians plan for another adventure, loading up their van for a gig (in the exotic location of Aberdeen). The second verse is written from the perspective of the morning after the night before, grinding through the daily routine and trying to analyse events through the enervating fog of sleep deprivation. What was last night all about? Why did we do it? Was it really a good use of our time? The video was produced by Eddie Macarthur at Stealth Studio in Glasgow.
Tuesday, 24 January 2023
Saturday, 14 January 2023
My modus operandi when composing is to sit and strum, pluck or plonk with no particular aim in mind, other than to go in the direction the music seems to want to go. Of course, this will be influenced by how I'm feeling, whether I'm playing loudly or quietly, whether I'm forming chords or picking out single notes and so on. On this occasion, once I found the opening chord and a rhythm that felt right, the forward momentum became irresistible. The sequence and structure arrived within a couple of minutes because the 'song', even in its nascent form, knew where it wanted to go. Within moments, I had a working title and an idea of what the lyric would be about. The subject of political polarization interests me and I wanted to explore a landscape wherein dialogue between opposing sides isn’t just frowned upon or rejected; it is taken to be undesirable.
There are other ways to write songs; I’ve got material that has been in development for years because I don’t know how to finish it, or haven’t devoted the energy necessary to achieve closure. But this one was signed, sealed delivered in a very short space of time. I believe ‘My Gang’ is a well-written and a well-executed song. It’s not original and it’s not going to change the world, but in three minutes or so, it encapsulated some of the things I wanted to say about what passes for political discourse in the 21st century. The video was splendidly produced, as ever, by Eddie Macarthur at Stealth Studio in Glasgow.
So … here’s the next blow in my continuing war of attrition with the record-buying public. 2 million CDs (a) take up a lot of space and (b) weigh a ton. Please buy one, because structural damage to one’s house is no laughing matter. ‘Judge a man by the company he keeps’ is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, iTunes, CD Baby and all the usual sources.
Friday, 1 October 2021
I hope you can take a couple of minutes out of your busy schedule to read this.
Today is a big day for everyone in Scotland, but it seems that many people haven’t quite grasped the significance of it. I refer to the introduction of the so-called 'vaccine passports'. I object to them as a matter of principle, but before you are tempted to dismiss me as a crank, I will point out that I’m neither an ‘anti-vaxxer’ nor a conspiracy theorist.
Having watched, with mounting concern, as the British and Scottish governments reacted to the virus by engaging in sustained bouts of psychological warfare on their own people, I welcomed the arrival of a vaccine and was relieved that we were finally able to glimpse some light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel. My age and my caring responsibilities for my elderly father led me to conclude that being double-jabbed was the appropriate choice for me. I have no difficulty accepting that the vaccine has been important in breaking the link between cases and hospitalisations, but the benefits don’t seem to have accrued in quite the way we were led to expect.
By now, our national conversation ought to be focusing on the appalling damage done by some of the political decisions made in response to the virus. By that I mean the patients not diagnosed, the illnesses not treated, the support groups abandoned, the lost jobs, the destroyed businesses, the suicides and the broken families. And much will eventually be written about the crushed hopes of our young people, often disgracefully traduced by the media as ‘super spreaders’, their education disrupted and devalued by a political establishment which reacts to statistics like a nervous dog reacts to sudden noises in the street outside. Many have come to believe that the Covid cure will eventually be judged to have been more damaging than the disease, but instead of having conversations about that, we are being held in a state of febrile confusion by ever-moving goalposts and increasingly ridiculous and contradictory rules.
And now, in Scotland, we appear to have accepted the division of citizens into ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’.
History, when we are willing to pay attention, warns us against such developments; it tells us that this has happened before and that it doesn’t end well. It tells us that the unchallengeable invocation of concern for public health provides a golden ticket to those of an authoritarian bent. And, when people are motivated by a desire to exert control over the lives of others, they will welcome and embrace (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) any conditions which allow them to consolidate and enhance the mechanisms of control.
If you are one of those MSPs who view themselves as part of the opposition and you voted against the vaccine passports, I feel that I should disabuse you of the notion that you have somehow discharged your duties. Because it wasn’t your job just to vote against this bill. We all knew that the authoritarians would carry the day; we knew that merely counting the votes in the house would give them the permission they required. Your job was to not to quibble about the practicalities of the bill; it was to oppose the principle of it and make it as difficult as humanly possible for it to pass. You would have lost the battle, of course, because they are currently in charge. But you would at least have given an important signal to a proportion of our demoralised, fearful, but increasingly angry population. And your vigorous opposition would have forced the authoritarians to reveal just a little bit more of their true natures.
You may feel that what I have proposed would have breached the normal rules of engagement, but perhaps the ‘new normal’ we’re being asked to accept also requires new rules of engagement. You were elected to protect the rights and freedoms of all citizens, not just the clean. Someone has to make a stand, however unpopular that might be, for the unclean. If not you, then who? And if not now, then when? If you are unwilling to draw the line at dividing citizens into clean and unclean, where exactly might you take a principled stand? On compulsory vaccinations, perhaps? Or excluding unvaccinated people from the employment market? Or how about forcing the unvaccinated to wear badges in public?
Some of you reading this will think: “Oh, don’t exaggerate … none of those things are going to happen.”
In response, I’d say: how do you know that? Given what we’ve been trained to tolerate over the last eighteen months, how do you know that?
The descent into totalitarianism does not happen with a big bang and a sudden announcement that “Big Sister is in charge and you’ll do as you’re told. Dissent is not an option.” The retreat from civilisation is always gradual, featuring hundreds of little steps, some of them barely perceptible, but each with the goal of preparing you for the next one and acclimatising you to the direction of travel. How many of those little steps are you willing to take? Is there any point at which you’ll say ‘enough’?
I’m just one person -a vaccinated person- but I’ve now reached that point of principle, my personal line in the sand.
I have friends and family who, for perfectly legitimate reasons, have concerns about the vaccine. I will not consent to them being treated as lesser citizens. I will not consent to them being excluded from society on the grounds of choices they have made about their own health. I will not consent to handing a world like this over to my children and grandchildren. I will never present medical papers or proof of vaccination in order to enter a bar, a cinema, a concert or a football match. Going to gigs and big sporting events are two of my favourite things to do. My sacrifice -such as it is- may be modest, but it is one that I feel compelled to make, because my head, heart and gut are completely aligned in opposition to the direction of travel.
The introduction of this law was a significant and, I believe, shameful moment for our country. You were in a position of relative power and could have made a difference.
I fear that history will judge that you were weighed, you were measured and you were found wanting.