That Joke



Some people don't understand humour. "I can't see why you are laughing because that poor man slipped over on a banana skin" they say. "I don't think you would find it at all funny if you fell down in the street. I just hope he wasn't hurt." 

Or else they say "You wouldn't talk about going to the lavatory at the breakfast table, so why does that man think it is okay to talk about it on the radio". Or "That man made a joke about an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman who were all up before a firing squad. I don't think he understands that military firing squads are not funny. They are horrific, and, in the first world war, very frequently unjust." 

Sometimes I think they are making an excuse not to engage with material they find challenging in other ways. When Anne Widdecombe appeared on Marcus Brigstock's radio show (in which slebs are asked to try out things they think they wouldn't like) she refused to watch more than three minutes of the political satire show In The Thick of It because it contained the word "fuck". (Quite frequently.) I suspect she was subconsciously reluctant to watch a show that was very critical of her profession. But I am prepared to entertain the possibility that hearing people say "fuck" is physically painful to her. (I once heard a black man say that when a white person said the N-word he physically felt as if he was being punched by bullies in the playground again; and I can perfectly well see how that might be true.) 

Some forms of post modernist art play on the fact that some symbols carry meanings regardless of context: Ronald McDonald alongside Adolf Hitler; a crucified Mickey Mouse. Positivists like Richard Dawkins believe that words carry singular meanings -- or else that their only meaning is the meaning the speaker intended and that sub-text is impossible.) My go-to example was Mrs Mary Whitehouse who said that the word "fuck" -- the sound of the syllables and their semantic referent -- was intrinsically violent, and pronouncing them in any context whatsoever was harmful. (She also thought that the Chuck Berry song "My Ding-a-ling" was a literal exhortation to masturbate which listeners would literally obey. And that one of the main functions of the BBC was to prevent masturbation. She was not very sensible. In a few weeks I will be writing about the Deadly Assassin.) 


I think that Fin Taylor made a fairly weak joke. Have I Got News For You is a tired format. It was at its best when it used to ambush naive politicians: people who had come on expecting a light-hearted quiz show only to be mercilessly mocked by Hislop and Merton. Hislop is the serious satirist; Merton is the school boy clown. When you have three comedians all telling jokes it can come across as smug; though not, obviously, as smug as the Now Show. On the other hand, improvised comedy is a difficult artform. The best improv performers have the capacity to just be funny -- they don't tell jokes that they've made up on the spot, but their conversation has an intrinsic wit which we are happy to listen to. (David Mitchell either has a clever capacity to spot the funny side of any situtation, or else a facility to deliver pre-planned jokes as if if just made them up.) 

The set up for That Joke was actually fairly promising. Jeremy Corbyn is like Bob Dyan "because I only hate him so much because of his fans." The observation ought to be that Dylan is a good performer, and Corbyn a good politician, but that his fans / political supporters elevated them to something way beyond their actual value. I suppose the cheaper development would be to draw some sort of comparison between the stereotypical Corbynista and the stereotypical Dylanhead -- long hair, faded jeans, smelly dufflecoats, whatever. 

He doesn't develop the joke in this direction, I think because he actually dislikes Dylan and can't pull off the "Dylan is great but his fans think he is even greater" set up successfully. (The other guest on the show, Joan Bakewell, who is a Dylan fan, pointed out he won the Nobel Prize, to which Taylor responded "for writing, not for singing" and said that Dylan sounds as if he has a sinus infection. Real cutting edge stuff.) 

I think it was Stephen Colbort who said that the secret to generating topical political jokes quickly was to pick two things which had happened in the previous week, and come up with some kind of connection between them. Joe Biden has been declared President Elect of America; Boris Johnson has announced the latest anti-Covid measures in the UK. Bristol has refused to concede that it is in tier 3 and demanded a recount. I literally made that up off the top of my head. (Maybe "Bristol claims that Johnson was including dead people in his body count" would be better?) 

Taylor has set up the "Corbyn is like Dylan" gag but can't find a way to connect the two. His jokes about Dylan -- his voice sounds horrible, his lyrics are better than his tunes -- don't particularly transfer to Corbyn. (Could you have done something along the lines of "His fans called he Judas when he went electable?") 

So he switches to a different tack: Corbyn didn't really have that many supporters; it was just that he flooded the the Labour Party with 200,000 or so devotees. This doesn't work very well either -- you might be able to say that Corbyn only had a very niche following, but Dylan is clearly one of the two or three most successful recording stars of the twentieth century. (And when all is said an done, something like 10 million people wanted him to be Prime Minister.) 

But the idea that Corbyn actually had very few supporters, and Corbyn was like Bob Dylan does providew a punchline: you could have eradicated Corbyn's support base by nuking Glastonbury -- and got rid of Bob Dylan, into the bargain. I don't think it is very funny: I don't think there was necessarily that much overlap between the hard-lefties in Momentum and the well-heeled music fans who go to Glasto. But it will do: you kind of see the point. There were so few Cobynites that you could gather them in one place. 

Taylor winds the riff up by saying that he expect to get ripped apart on Twitter, which is a pretty annoying and smug way of handling this kind of thing. Ha-ha, look at me, people are going to be cross, but only the kinds of people who get cross about this kind of thing, ha-ha. 

But really. Anyone who hears that kind of joke and takes it to be a serious injunction to plant a bomb at Glastonbury; or who thinks it is comparable with a joke about the Manchester Arena bombing or (as one person I read on Twitter suggested) that it makes all the previously unprintable Earl Mountbatten jokes fair game is really not thinking straight. "There were so few Corbyn supporters and they were all the kinds of people who went to Glastonbury - and by the way folksinger have nasal voice" is not an exhortation to genocide. 

The BBC today defended Fin Taylor's joke about Jeremy Corbyn, while launching an investigation into Martin Bashir's twenty five year old interview with Princess Diana. News is just coming in about Ian Hislop being involved in a road accident in a Paris tunnel. 

Boom, boom.

2 November 2020

 In fairness PMINO, there are three options

1: Do this

2: Do something else

3: Do nothing

It does not appear that anyone has suggested anything sensible under category 2. The plan to have three tiers (hip hip! hooray!) doesn't appear to have done any good. We don't have a working track/test/trace system, and there is no point in saying "well, we should have". At this point. I will say it over and over again if we have an election in 2023, and everyone will reply "Yes, but the other fellow is unelectable'.

Is there anyone proposing "do nothing" who is not obviously mad? It appears to me that the "do nothing" faction is also the "virus doesn't exist" faction, or "the virus does exist but hardly anyone dies of it" faction or "the virus does exist but it doesn't matter if lots of people die of it." 

A million people in hospital would not be great for the economy, even if seven hundred and fifty thousand of them eventually got better. 

I am looking forward to the bit where churches have to stay closed on December 25th in order to save Christmas. 

We are where we are. 

1 November 2020

To Cafe Kino on Stokes Croft for a Beanburger and onions, and a black Americano. They are fully vegan now, and I prefer black coffee to Flat White with artificial millk. Before I became a reformed character I used to measure out my writing in Kino coffees and muffins. I didn't go in there so much once I started doing most mornings at the library. They're a full-on co-op; they'd only just managed to reopen. Now they have to close again. Who knows if they will bounce back. 

 It feels different this time, as Peter Davison said. Last time it felt like a strange but necessary holiday; a break before things get back to normal. Festivals postponed til 2021; shops closed but promising to come back. I've been back at my job for exactly three weeks. This time I think we are all wondering if there will ever be coffee shops and gigs and libraries again. 

Not entirely rational, because there seems to me more optimism about a vaccine from actual scientists coming along in the last few months than there was last time. And the hospitals may actually have their masks and gowns and they've learned a bit about treating. 

I think we should support the Prime Minister for doing the right thing, not complain that he should have done it a fortnight ago. (As someone said about someone else: he can be relied on to do the right thing, after he has exhuasted all the other alternatives. Churchill on America, possibly.) 

I have nothing to say about the Labour Party, and I have nothing to say about not having anything to say about the Labour Party, and I don't want to debate the fact that I have nothing to say about not having anything to say about the Labour Party. 

I am working on a long short essay about an 1980s comic book, and then finishing a series of short long essays about a 1970s TV show. 

 It appears that my essay on Bulverism (avaiable to Patrons in full, and currently being serialized on the main blog) has been pre-empted...by the editor of the Spectator! 

  “The term ‘virtue signalling’ is not an argument but a sneer,” wrote Leith. “When you say somebody is ‘virtue signalling’, you’re not bothering to commit yourself to an argument about whether the position they are taking is right or wrong. Rather, you are making a groundless and unfalsifiable presumption about their motive for doing so and using that as the supposed basis to dismiss the whole shebang. It immediately, lazily and arrogantly, frames any assertion of a moral or political principle as an act of narcissism.”

31/10/2020

 I was supposed to be at a Show of Hands gig tonight. 

But we can still listen to the Best Halloween Song: 



Beardy Folk Festival - Sunday

If there were folk awards this year, Beardy would certainly win the Best Folk Festival of 2020. More than one of the acts said it was their first and last gig of the year. A lot of folkies straddle a line between amateur and professional and there was an overwhelming sense of acts being genuinely happy to be back on the stage in front of a live audience. In some cases it was the first time they had seen their band mates since the dreaded Lock Down began. Hannah Martin apologised for singing all the miserable and depressing folk songs (folk songs are miserable and depressing by definition) with such a happy smile on her face.

Even if Beardy hadn't been the Only Festival of 2020 it would still have won the award for Most Folk Festival. There were 40 acts over the weekend, and we heard 39 of them. (No disrespect to, checks notes, Glymjack, but they were the curtain-raiser on Thursday night and we arrived on Friday morning.) There was a big stage for big acts, and a smaller stage, in an area called the walled garden, for the smaller acts. (This apparently reversed the set up for the first two years, but it worked so well that it is going to stay like that in future years Lockdown or no Lockdown.) The Big Act is setting up while the Small Act is performing, and the next Small Act can set up while the Big Act is doing it's thing; and the audience can walk backwards and forwards between the stages and not miss a thing. Food and Beer is near the smaller stage, so you can still hear the diddly diddly dees and and the murder ballads even while you are ordering your fish and chips and vegetable curry. 

This does mean that after a while -- by the second beer on Sunday, certainly -- the acts start to merge into one, a great stream or murdering Morris dancing pirates. So there was definitely a fiddle and squeezebox outfit who said they were improvising and brought on young lady poet to speak some lines about the Saxon invasion over their tunes. Was that the Ciderhouse Rebellion. I certainly heard three Irish Guys doing a song about how they never had TV when they were growing up, but made up for it with singing and story telling. Wet The Tea, possibly? The singer-songwriter who wrote the shamelessly soppy song (in a good way) about the couple who meet via the "Rush Hour Crush" column in Metro ("from the girl in the red dungarees to the boy drinking peppermint tea in Waterstones) was almost certainly Susie Dobson, because I wrote it down. And I am pretty sure that the young guy who provided us with the ONLY PIRATE SONG of the weekend was Chris Fox. If so, he is very worth checking out for a quite exceptionally thoughtful and empathic song about having a conversation with a homeless person, called Little Brown Sparrow. 

Perhaps not surprisingly, the highlight of the final day of the festival was Gigspanner in its big band incarnation. Peter "Used to be in Steeleye" Knight is joined by John "One Half of Spires and Boden" Spires and Hannah James and Phillip Martin (who now trade as Edgelarks.) That's supergroup territory, that is. No folk festival is complete without someone singing Oh The Hard Times of Old England. They also did one about two ladies who hid away in a bower to escape a plague. 

I am not certain if I remained conscious for the whole of Sheelanagig's barnstorming festival-closing climax. It is hard to imagine what that do when they are not ending festivals -- I can't imagine going to hear something that loud, that fast and that silly in a midweek venue. 

Louise, picking me up from the station, expressed some skepticism about whether I had made use of the on-site shower facilities. I had, in fact, dealt with the artic temperatures after sundown in Shropshire by sleeping in my jumper and coat, and it seemed a shame to take them off the next morning. It was that kind of weekend.

There are festivals for people who want to soak up the atmosphere, purchase a poncho, and try out Chinese percussion based healing therapies. And there are festivals for people who want to listen to bands. Beardy was all about the music. Oh so much music. It was an absolute joyous miracle that it managed to go ahead in These Unprecedented Times, and I do hope to return when things are Precedented again. 


"We will be back next year, said the organiser, in our normal June slot. The week before Glastonbury. Not that Glastonbury is going to happen."  Unprecedented. 

Beardy Folk Festival Day 2

It is very cold. But it is not raining. I had hunters stew from the Polish food van. I am not sure what goes into hunters stew, but it was very nice. I refrained from asking whether "Polish food van" was the name of the business or a note for the cleaner. (You will, Andrew, you will. I have been asked to point out that the Cleobury Mortimer joke from yesterday is Copyright R Worth. Apparently, Shrewsbury, which I have previously visited, is in Shropshire. Who knew?)

I can affirm that this is officiall a folk festival. We have now had a Dylan Cover (Cardboard Foxes doing Don't Think Twice It's All Right with a Bluegrassy swing) and two, count, then two songs about Highwaymen. Heg Brignall (she of the Wolf Chorus, but today in a duo with Juli Irvine) did Sovay Sovay All On A Day. They said they have been actively looking for folk songs in which women take an active role and don't get drowned or go mad. And the always wonderful Granny's Attic did a song they called The Highwayman. I don't know why Highwaymen in songs are always so proud of the fact that they don't rob poor people. I would have thought it made basic business sense.

We are still waiting for a song about a pirate, but we have had several about whalers.

Some people seem to be a bit nervous of folk festivals, because they think that it's going to involve "too much folk music". Probably only three of todays acts played entirely traditional material. Nick Hart has a mordantly Chris Woodish style of delivery and will do you songs about chimney sweeps getting hung and the man who is mistaken for the devil because he is hidden up a chimney with butter and cheese and all in his pockets. His story telling is wonderful but you probably wouldn't dance to it. The aforementioned Granny's Attic do close harmony versions of songs about spinning wheels and ships in distress with and amazing fiddle and an even more amazing squeeze box, along with traditional and traditional style instrumental tunes. Inlay on the small stage did a whole hour of Morrisy Plafordy Tunes. And Calan, the top of the bill, are heavily rooted in Welsh traditional music (a lot of the songs and indeed the count-ins are in Welsh language) although there is a loud modern beat interpretation -- no po faced reverence. But there is a plentiful stream of blues, bluegrass and singer-songwriter running through the rest of the day.Traditional songs are the exception rather than the rule. I did notice Cohen, the box man from Granny Attic, putting his finger in his ear during one of the harmony numbers.

I guess the only running definition of folk music is that its the kind of music you would expect to hear at a festival like this.

I thought Luke Jackson took his act to a whole new level. As expected he was the highlight of the day for me. This is only the second time I have heard him with his full trio: the harmonies and the drums suit his current blues inspired folk rock more than his earlier, folksier material. (Again, I think I need to take my hat off to sound people, because Luke's perfect voice and fabulous lyrics were perfectly audible in front of the band.) It's been six months since anyone has been able to perform live, and the sense that these were three good mates having a great time was palpable. I loved the acapella finger clicking I'm In Trouble Now; and his dark folk rock ballad Eliza Holt clicked for me in a way it possibly hasn't at solo gigs. The ghost of an inmate from an insane asylum haunts the new estate that has been built over the grave yard. It may not be folk music, but it is certainly folk subject matter.


Sent from my iPhone

Beardy Folk Festival Friday


We are officially in a field in Shropshire. It is not clear if Cleobury Mortimer is the name of the country park or a trad folk singer I hadn't previously heard of. Every act says how amazing it is to be performing in front of real human beings. Sam Kelly said this was his best gig of the year. Everything is in the open air (I think in previous years marquees were involved) but there are social bubble ditanceced circles painted on the ground which people are largely adhering to. This creates a spread out, concert like feel (everyone is encouraged to be on picnic blankets and camp chairs rather than standing and moshing.

It occurs to me that I do not know anything about Shropshire. I believe the lads here have a thing about cherry blossom and death. I couldn't name a town, but my phone says we are near Kiddiminster.

When everything else was cancelled, the organisers of Beardy bravely postponed their June festival to September, and here we all are. About a fifth of us, anyway. I don't think anyone quite predicted how COLD Shropshire gets after dark in later September. Coats and fleeces are much in evidence.

Definitely the sort of festival to come to if you want to listen to a lot of music. Acts alternate between the main stage and a smaller stage, so yo can literally listen to music non stop form noon to mindnight, and indeed, give or take beer and sandwiches, there is not too much else to do. I kind of promised my Slimming World representative that I would make Good Choices, and as a matter of fact there is a fine array of food outside the pie and burger space. Polish Ghoulash and Moroccan veggies curry so far.

Top of the bill yesterday was the always excellent Sam Kelly and the Lost Boys, who mixes moderately traditional fare (in the lowlands, in the lowlands, we're sinking in the lowlands low) with cheeky poppy covers like Sultans of Swing and The Chain. I don't know if it was down to the act or the sound system, but I have never heard him better: the vocal and the instrumental came out crystal clear in a way that you don't always manage in open air festivals. 

MOst of the rest of the day was being surprised by acs I didn't know very well. I had forgotten how good the Shackleton Trio are. I was particularly pleased with a daft number about accidentally buying an Ostrich on ebay ("i should have bought a quail.)I hadn't previously heard of Banter, who did a slightly Show of Handsish collection of traditional and self written material. But the big discovery for me was Daria Kulesh, who performs utterly entrancing Russian folk songs and fairy tales, in a spirit of two thirds earnest and one third irony. There was something Carthyesqye in her delivery of ballads about Baba Yaga and monks tempted by fey women, but the climax of the axect was Those Were The Days performed in  three languages. It was originally a Russian folk song. Who knew.

Eleven solid hours of music, and more tomorrow. And the next day. The sun has just come out. I am eating a bacon sandwich. 
Sent from my iPhone

Are These The Only Songs The English Know?

No-one is banning patriotic songs.

The Proms are an annual season of classical music. The Promenade Concerts. (You can get in cheap if you stand up.) The final concert each year involves some popular classics: maybe the Choral Symphony or Rite of Spring or the finale of Twilight of the Gods. The second half includes some traditional numbers: a Fantasia on English Sea Songs -- by Henry Wood, who founded the concerts -- and Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March. The people who have been going to all the proper concerts as well are allowed to be a bit naughty in the second half. They stamp along with the Sailors Hornpipe and the conductor tries to go faster than them. They sing the words to Rule Britannia in the sea song medley, and they sing the words which someone added to Elgar's tune. This is all good fun and harmless. No-one is banning patriotic songs. 

Sadly, people who do not go to the other concerts and have no interest in classical music have latched onto the end of term party. And the only thing that anyone knows about the Last Night is the two patriotic songs. You end up with the spectacle of a pop concert, which happens to include Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory taken out of context, being called "Prom in the Park." No-one is banning patriotic songs. 

There is nothing wrong with singing rousing, silly old songs. And of course they sing a section from Blake's Milton as well, which (if anyone was paying attention to the words, which they aren't) is an anti-nationalistic, revolutionary anthem. Most countries have songs with words that they couldn't, in the cold light of day, defend. Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps perversion! Do you hear, in the countryside, the roar of those ferocious soldiers?  They’re coming right into your arms to cut the throats of your sons, your comrades! The blood of the martyrs will water the meadows of France! No-one is banning patriotic songs.

We allowed this very harmless and very silly tradition to be hijacked by the very, very far right. Actual fascists have started to say that maybe not singing one of the songs for one year proves that the BBC is run by communists and should be destroyed. We are told that we have to sing the song to prove that we are not woke. No-one is banning patriotic songs. 

Woke means "too strongly opposed to racism", "not racist enough", or, in short "not racist". If someone disapproves of wokeness, that is a pretty good indication that they are racist. (I am sure there are exceptions. Can you think of any exceptions? Then please keep them to yourself.) If you are told that something is woke, that is a pretty good indication that you ought to be doing it. No-one is banning patriotic songs. 

Nobody gave a flying fuck about Edward “Who The Bloody Hell Is He?” Colston until the ludicrous Bristol nativists started saying “Unless you love and genuflect before the spirit of Colston and affirm that so-called slavery was not really all that bad, all things considered, then we do not want you in this city." And so the statue had to go, along with all the place names, in a single night. I have been to festivals where black-faced Morris dancers appeared: I have been to a festival in which one of the dancers who blacked up was actually mixed race himself! -- because it was a very silly nearly obsolescent tradition and no-one cared because no-one meant anything by it. But the actual full on Nazis started to say “We must defend our traditional English black-face, and if you do not black up you hate this country and are a communist”. So the tradition has come to an end. No loss: traditions evolve, and blue face and green face dancing turned out to be more fun. No-one is banning patriotic songs. 

We are where we are. I quite liked Last Night of the Proms. I quite like Rule Britannia, even. But since the one thing which everyone agrees is that if we don't sing the song this year, we are being woke -- we are kowtowing and bending the knee to the new gods of woke, indeed -- then we mustn't sing it. Ever again. The options are being woke or being racist. So the song and the tradition and very likely the concert has to go. The white supremiscists have imbued a nice singalong with their own particularly twisted pathology. 

No-one is banning patriotic songs. 



9 July



Ten Album Challenge # 5: John Lennon / Plastic Ono Band

23 June

Ten Album Challenge #2: Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat