John Harris regularly writes in The Guardian. He is particularly good at talking to “ordinary” people and contrasting their views with politicians, commentators and celebrities. I know there’s no such thing as an ordinary person – we are all extraordinary – but reading his articles always provide a fresh and different perspective.
He also regularly writes about music in all the music magazines I like. He feels he was denied a place at Oxford University because of his membership of prominent left wing organisations. He is not a fan of the current predilection for manufactured music. He seems like a good guy. I want to discuss music and politics with him over several pints and a scotch egg.
After the vote to leave Europe, he visited Stoke and wrote an excellent article which explained why reasonable, hard working, decent people voted to leave, citing the example of Polish plumbers undercutting a British self employed guy and ruining his business. Whilst not a fashionable point of view for those of us in the affluent South East, it helped modify my opinion about the beliefs of Leave voters.
John Harris wrote a very powerful piece in yesterday’s Guardian about the long term economic impact of the pandemic. It was a real eye opener for me as I think I have been wallowing in self pity for too long (as these blogs will testify). He described families without electricity, without gas or even basic furniture. He wrote about hungry children ripping open food parcels the second they could get their hands on them. He compared this with the distraction of the debate as to whether a scotch egg constitutes a substantial meal (and would allow people to visit a pub). In the real world, he spoke to a woman who had just been laid off after working for a company for eight years and now has to wait two months before receiving Universal Credit. None of this should be a real shock to me. I know that I’m lucky but I sometimes forget. John Harris described how the identity of many towns is defined by retail as years of manufacturing decline have destroyed any other sense of community. As shops are forced to close, people’s sense of who they are and where they belong will disappear. The recent announcement of a freeze on the pay of most public sector workers has revealed the duplicity behind the idea of “levelling up”. John Harris explored the contrasting priorities of the affluent minority where banana bread and Zoom calls are to the forefront with the not so lucky majority including the guy he met in Walsall who described the pandemic as a “living hell”.
A few days ago, I was thinking about writing about the future and what I am hoping for. John Harris has shamed me into thinking, just for a few milliseconds at least, about others. He wrote “If you have lately found yourself waking in the night wondering what the immediate future might be like, imagine how you would feel if you were having to count every last penny, and worrying about whether your entire town was going to meaningfully survive.” He concludes this powerful piece by predicting that the economic effects of this pandemic are going to last for a long time.
Tim Buckley sings his version of “Wayfaring Stranger” on this live double album. It is a traditional song, first published in 1858. During the American Civil War, the song was often referred to as the Libby Prison Hymn since the words had been inscribed on a wall in the prison in Virginia. The lyrics tell the story of a man who is on a troubled journey through his life. He has had to face up to hardship, sickness and danger and he hopes that when he dies (when he crosses the river Jordan), he will find the friends and family he has lost. When he faces his Saviour, he will finally be home. The song has been covered by Burl Ives, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Cash and Jack White amongst many others. It also featured in the soundtrack to the war film “1917”.
Tim Buckley has a voice like no other in rock music. On the “Vinyl Factory” website, Martin Aston that his voice was “deep, rich and resonant, stretching several octaves, as he shifts through multiple musical styles, driven by the principles of jazz – improvise, don’t repeat yourself, keep moving.” “Dream Letter Live In London” is a two hour double album recorded at The Queen Elizabeth Hall in October 1968. Whereas most of his nine albums had sophisticated and interesting musical arrangements, this concert was a two hour showcase for Tim Buckley’s voice. As such it is remarkable and unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. There are other instruments – Lee Underwood plays brilliant lead guitar, David Friedman plays the vibraphone and Danny Thompson (Pentangle, John Martyn etc) plays bass – but the emphasis is on the emotional range of Tim Buckley’s voice. His version of “Wayfaring Stranger” is merged with one of his own compositions called “You Got me Runnin'”. On this track, which lasts for over thirteen minutes, the only other instrument is Tim Buckley’s 12 string guitar. As a passionate tour-de-force it is beyond description. As a soundtrack to the desperation, sorrow, distress and solitude felt by many people described in John Harris’ article, it is perfect.