The Spur by Joan Shelley


The 2005 Ashes series between England and Australia has been called the greatest cricket series of all time. Roo and I were lucky enough to go to the last two days of the Second Test, where a thrilling climax led to England winning by two runs, the barest of margins. England finally won the series 2-1, the first time that they had beaten the old enemy since 1987.

Michael Vaughan was the captain of England in that series and he showed an ability to lead the team through setting a good example (he was an outstanding batsman, even though he was a poor fielder) and displaying insight into what motivated the individuals in his team.

Michael Vaughan is a compulsive user of Twitter. On 15th October, 2010, Michael Vaughan tweeted “Not many English people live in London. I need to learn a new language”. In 2017, he tweeted “Give me a Donald Trump style leader over any of our leaders any day of the week”. After the bombing at the Manchester Arena in 2017, an exchange of tweets resulted in him urging English cricketer Moeen Ali to ask Muslim people he didn’t know, whether or not they were terrorists. In 2020, he tweeted “Who cares who anyone voted for? This government have acted on behalf of the people”.

Last year, he was accused of saying, whilst captain of Yorkshire in 2009, to four players of colour, that there were too many of them in the team and the club needed to get rid of some of them. He denies making this comment. On June 14th, the governing body of English cricket charged a number of individuals, including Michael Vaughan, with bringing cricket into disrepute. The case will be heard in September.

BT Sport dropped Michael Vaughan from their commentary team for the Ashes series that took place in Australia last winter. The broadcaster put him on a 20 hour diversity and inclusion course and brought him back to commentate on a Test match against the West Indies in March. He has a contract with the BBC who also dropped him from commentating on the Ashes series in the winter but then included him in their team for the three recent matches in England against the West Indies. The Australian broadcasting company, Fox Sports, had no qualms about using him in the winter. Some Australians are racist and I write that as someone who is half Australian.

Last week, the BBC’s Black, Asian and minority ethnic group sent an email to their bosses criticising the “totally inexcusable” decision to continue to employ Michael Vaughan. Subsequently, he decided to “step back from work with the BBC over concern for the well-being of my family members”. He remains under contract to the BBC.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Michael Vaughan did make racist comments to team mates. It must be true because I have read about it on the internet (and the newspapers). I also believe that he likes to be controversial because he believes that makes him an influencer. He was an excellent batsman and a strong leader but that doesn’t make him the sort of person that I would like. Even the comment about protecting his family could be interpreted as a bit inflammatory. I would love to share a beer with Paul McCartney or Alistair Cook but I’d refuse a pint from Van Morrison or Michael Vaughan. Unless it was Harvey’s.

Despite all this, what happened to the concept of being innocent until proved guilty? Some people have made an accusation about Michael Vaughan. Personally, I have no doubt that they are correct but should the court of public opinion decide innocence or guilt? How far removed are we from lynchings and witch trials.

Between February 1692 and May 1693, two hundred people in Salem, Massachusetts, were accused of witchcraft and 19 of them were executed by hanging. It is an example of the danger of mass hysteria. Wikipedia describes the episode as “a vivid cautionary tale about the dangers of isolation, false accusations, and lapses in due process“. This sounds all too familiar.

How do I know anything about Michael Vaughan? Only through a media filter, whether it is Twitter, listening to his commentary on TV and radio or reading about him in The Guardian. He appears to me to be intelligent, gifted and bigoted. But how do I know what he said 13 years ago? How does anyone know who wasn’t there? Surely, everyone deserves a fair hearing? Surely, everyone deserves to be assumed innocent until proved guilty. Everyone, except Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, David Cameron, George Osborne and anyone else I disagree with. Is that how it works from now on? Let’s round up a posse and condemn anyone I don’t like. No! It’s not the 17th Century; we have progressed since then. Or, at least, it would be nice to think that we have.

Of course, there’s another way of looking at this and, sadly, this a reflection of the times we live in. It is now quite common for people to simply lie their way out of a corner. The lead comes from the top and Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are inveterate liars. The culture of Western society has sunk to such depths that when anyone is accused of doing something terrible, our instincts are to assume that, when they deny their wrongdoing, they are liars and something needs to be done about them. “Due process” is beginning to lose credibility.

How should we respond to deception, aggression and wrongdoing? If I were Christian, I would recommend “turning the other cheek”. If I had been watching television on 25th June 1967, I would believe that all you need is love. On the other hand, a voice in my head is saying that we should always stand up to a bully.

“The Spur” is Joan Shelley’s ninth album and contains a wonderful song called “Breath For The Boy”. The lyrics displays empathy for men displaying signs of harmful aggression. She says that she has a fear that “unless you give all your empathy and kindness to the men in your life that will maybe lash out at you, then something bad will happen.” In order to survive as a woman, she needs to give in to empathy. “I think that’s a shame.” She believes that “being in tune with the emotional state of those around you was a survival thing for girls, and to boys it doesn’t matter.” It sounds like she is conflicted about her feelings. Is this an intelligent way to live or is it too submissive for these times? As a male, can I have an opinion about her feelings?

Joan Shelley’s natural peaceful demeanour was tested during the recording of “The Spur”. The album was made while she was seven months pregnant. She and her husband, Nathan Salsburg (who plays acoustic and electric guitars on the album), recorded the album in Kentucky, only a few miles from her childhood home. She finds that in her home State, there is a “mob mentality, an us versus the world” mindset. Near her house, there are “a couple of people that hunt and they practice shooting. We hear guns all day long up here.” As self-employed people they can’t get healthcare. The title track urges her lover to be a spur – the spike that is attached to a riding boot which is used to drive a horse forward. The song hopes that, with her lover’s motivation, she can move away from hate to a better world.

“Amberlit Morning” is musically languid, calm, beautiful and gentle. Lyrically it describes, er…., a morning which is lit with an amber colour. The singer is appreciating the wonders of nature and the animal world. She reflects on the inherent difficulties of trying to maintain a credible position within society: she drinks cows’ milk and wears leather clothes. “For it takes so much to be human and watch the bull die. I am sorry and I thank you.”

“The Spur” is a wonderful album. It is a statement from a singer/songwriter who succeeds in describing the human condition. The songs are full of sadness and joy, loss and love, inertia and momentum.

And it avoids judgement and condemnation.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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