England played Germany at Wembley in the last 16 of the European Championships on Tuesday. Goals from Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane led to a 2-0 victory. The quarter final match against Ukraine is on Saturday. Before the game, as always, the teams sung their national anthems. During the German national anthem, a significant number of the crowd booed. It seems unnecessary to say that I found this despicable, unpleasant and childishly jingoistic.
I spoke to two of my friends this week about supporting the England football team and they both expressed the view that they didn’t really want England to win because this would give succour to the neanderthal elements of England supporters. A victory for England would validate the mindset of those supporters who can’t tell the difference between patriotism and jingoism. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines jingoism as “the extreme belief that your own country is always best” whereas patriotism is “the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it”.
I like to think that I am patriotic but not jingoistic but I fear that my patriotism is constantly being tested. What is a country? Is it the culture, the landscape or the people who inhabit it? While I love British culture and I find the geographical variety within the island to be endlessly fascinating and beautiful, I find it increasingly hard to love a lot of British people. To live in a country where it is acceptable to boo another country’s national anthem is, frankly, embarrassing. Do I love the crowds that attend cricket matches in fancy dress or sing boorish songs for hours on end? How can I love a country that for 45 of the last 67 years has voted to be oppressed by the entitled graduates of an elite education system? It’s clear that Boris Johnson and his cronies hate most people in the U.K. and that explains why he is prepared to let “the bodies pile high” rather than deny his mates the opportunity to profit from a pandemic. I would love to feel more patriotic but I fear that would involve me in being more tolerant and understanding of the majority of the population who voted for BREXIT, vote Tory or behave poorly in public.
Back to the football. I’ve always supported the England football team. I’ve always wanted them to win. It’s never occurred to me to associate the fortunes of the team with the attitudes of some of the idiots who support them. Of course, not every England football supporter likes to travel abroad to sing songs that glorify a war that took place 75 years ago and, as Billy Bragg said, “piss in their fountains to express their national pride.” This reminds me of a trainee teacher who confessed to me that nobody in their class was listening to them. When I asked them to be specific, they could only name three children: it just seemed like it was the whole class who weren’t listening when it was just a small minority. It was the same at Wembley on Tuesday; out of the 45 000 people at the game it was probably not more than 1000 people who booed although it sounded like the whole crowd. As always, a small minority spoiled it for the rest.
So, in summary, is it possible to focus just on the sport and not consider the despicable associations? Is there anything wrong in enjoying the game, supporting the team whilst abhorring the attitude of a mindless minority of supporters. I think it is, but it’s been interesting to discuss this with two intelligent, thoughtful friends who have come to the opposite conclusion.
When I wrote about the Phil Spector Christmas Album, I described how I stopped watching “House Of Cards” when allegations of sexual misconduct were levelled at Kevin Spacey. I’m still not sure why I did that. It must be possible to focus on the drama, the story and the acting without worrying about the shameful behaviour of the actor.
It’s hard to know where to start with Van Morrison’s recent statements. Suffice to say that he is spreading malicious misinformation about COVID, vaccinations and government conspiracies. He has been advocating a return to live music before it is deemed to be safe. He has launched an attack on the Norther Ireland Health Minister. He has released a double album called “Latest Record Project” featuring songs such as “Jealousy”, “Why Are You On Facebook”, “They Own The Media” and “Stop Bitching, Do Something”. It is currently the only Van Morrison album I don’t own. I don’t seem to be able to get past the bizarre nature of his public statements to enjoy the music.
Van Morrison formed Them in 1964 with guitarist Billy Harrison. The group were named after a 1954 horror movie, called “Them!”. After a residency at The Maritime Hotel in Belfast, the group were signed to Decca by Dick Rowe (the man who had turned down The Beatles in favour of Brian Poole And The Tremeloes). Between 1964 and 1966, there were 18 different members of Them. When it came to recording their first album in London, Dick Rowe brought in Arthur Greenslade and Bobby Graham to play keyboards and drums. (They had also played on The Kinks’ early singles.) Them’s first three singles were “Don’t Start Crying Now”, “Baby Please Don’t Go” and “Here Comes The Night” on which Jimmy Page and Andy White (who had played drums on the album version of “Love Me Do“) played. The first of these disappeared without trace; the second was never a hit but became the theme song for “Ready Steady Go” and “Here Comes The Night” got to Number 2 in the U.K. Charts. None of these three songs are on “The Angry Young Them”.
Them were managed by Phil Solomon who also managed The Bachelors. The frenzied garage rock of Them was in complete contrast to the saccharine banality of The Bachelors. After the failure of their first single, Phil Solomon moved Them into the same London hotel where Jimmy Saville was staying. At the time, Jimmy Saville was a very influential DJ and he started promoting Them who later credited him as being pivotal to their success. Without Jimmy Saville, Them may never have achieved any fame and Van Morrison may never have had the opportunities to make the magical music that he made over the subsequent 50 years. Without Jimmy Saville, hundreds of people’s lives would have not been ruined by the abuse that he visited upon them. Is it still okay to like Van Morrison after the way in which he came to prominence? Is it okay to like Van Morrison after the nonsense he’s spouted in the last year? If you were to force me to answer those questions, I would say “yes”, in the same way that it’s okay to enjoy England’s football team’s games despite the associated right wing thuggery of some of their supporters. Focus on the sport, the art, the music, the programme. Forget about the associated badness. Is that short sighted and blinkered?
In the late Fifties, the first record that Van Morrison ever bought was “Hootin’ Blues” by The Sonny Terry Trio.
The opening track on “The Angry Young Them” is “Mystic Eyes”, a Van Morrison original composition which has a lot of similarities to “Hootin’ Blues”. The B side of “Baby Please Don’t Go” is the garage-rock classic song, “Gloria”, which is on Side One of “The Angry Young Them”. The song was written by Van Morrison when he was 18 years old and is a tribute to a recently deceased cousin of Van Morrison’s called Gloria.
“Little Girl” was also written by Van Morrison and concerns the love of the singer for a schoolgirl and contains lyrics such as “Well, I walked by your classroom. I had to take a look. I stopped a while and watched what you had written in your book. ‘Cause I love ya and I don’t care, what they say.” This can sit alongside “Cyprus Avenue” which contains these lyrics: “And I’m conquered in a car seat and I’m looking straight at you. You keep walking down when the sun shone through the trees. Nobody stops me from loving you baby. So young and bold, fourteen-year old.” On “Too Long In Exile”, Van Morrison covered Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl.”: “Good morning little schoolgirl, can I go home with you?
Tell your mama and your daddy, that I’m a little schoolboy too.”
There are two magnificent performances on “The Angry Young Them”. One is, to my mind, the most energetic version of “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” although the towns visited in the last verse change from Winona, Kingman, Barstow and San Bernardino to Pamona, South Park Garden and San Bernardino.
Finally, “Don’t Look Back” is a genuinely moving and soulful rendition of John Lee Hooker’s song which he had released in 1964. 33 years later, John Lee Hooker released an album called “Don’t Look Back” which was produced by Van Morrison and contained a duet between the two men on the song. Of all the versions, Them’s is the most outstanding. In my opinion. Whereas the rest of this album is manic, this is quiet, reflective and gives a fascinating taste of what was to come in Van Morrison’s career.
Should we look back and indulge in cancel culture? Is it ethical to focus on the art or the sport and ignore the wider sociological impact? Buy me a beer and let’s discuss this further.