Thursday, 20 September 2012

Clegg's Apology

I'm not ashamed to say it: for the greater part of my voting life I have supported the Liberal Democrats or their political predecessors the Liberals & the Social Democratic Party (SDP) - in fact in my 20s I was a member of the SDP.

At the last General election in 2010 I, like many others across the country, was excited about the prospect of the Lib Dems being involved in the nations political life in a way that they hadn't for the best part of a century. Nick Clegg was coming across as a leader-in-waiting, and one particular policy - opposing any rise in University tuition fees - was hitting a nerve nationally, and certainly in Clegg's adopted city of Sheffield where I live and work. Many of us remember the scenes of frustrated students unable to vote on election night because the polling stations simply couldn't cope with the numbers who turned out.

Following the election, Clegg and his party executive took the decision to form a coalition with the Tories - the largest single party in the poll, but with no clear majority - and a government was formed. Sadly, very early on in that administration, the pledge on university tuition fees was scrapped as financially unworkable, and much to my distress and anger, Clegg then stated that he hadn't really meant what he'd publicly promised.

From that point, I felt that I could no longer support the party in any election for the foreseeable future. And so far I have maintained that feeling.

Over the last 24 hours (as I write) Clegg has sought to set the record straight, to un-muddy the waters and - wait for it - to apologise (a rare word with politicians). But he's not apologised for breaking his word - for lying to voters and potential voters: no, he's simply apologised for making the pledge in the first place.

He believes that the decision to sign the pledge and then to break his word has become a weight round his and the party's ankles: too true, but he's showing no remorse at all for lying, simply for making the decision that won him so many votes in the first place. This move, ahead of the Party Conference next week, where Clegg will probably face anger from some local activists, is certainly not going to convince me to go back on my pledge, not to support the party I have most clearly empathised with for the majority of my adult life, certainly while Clegg is still leader and is still legitimising Cameron's divisive, elitist regime - a Government this country did not vote for and does not want.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

English Electric (Part 1)

Every now and then something comes along that makes me sit up and take notice. In recent years one such has been the band Big Big Train.

I first encountered them early in 2010, when many people were raving about their album 'The Underfall Yard', and on listening I could understand why there was so much interest in their music. Since then I have immersed myself in most of their back catalogue, which surprisingly stretches back to the mid-1990s, and have discovered the same standard of musical excellence throughout.

Later in 2010 saw the release of what was strangely called an EP (40 minutes of music used to be called a single album!) 'Far Skies Deep Time', and then came the promise of new material some time this year. That promise is now fulfilled, with more to come in 2013, with appearance of 'English Electric (Part1)'.

This is, again, a beautiful collection of songs, steeped in the Progressive rock tradition, but also suffused throughout with a celebration of England. Images of railway sidings, hedgerows, views of 'Winchester from the Hill', echoes of Betjeman in 'Summoned by Bells', and the eulogising of 'a charming old lovable rogue' of an art forger in the wondrously joyous 'Judas Unrepentant'.

Full of exquisite vocal harmonies, folky touches to the music, as well as hints of 'Selling England by the Pound'-era Genesis, this is music that your ears will love you for listening to. This band deserve to be more widely known and appreciated, and I hope this collection of songs will go some way to achieving this.

The album is available through Amazon, or you can listen and /or download from the band's Bandcamp site.

Macbeth at The Crucible

Shakespeare's tragic history of Macbeth is a play that many are familiar with, if only from struggling through it at school: the timeless tale of ambition, destiny, guilt, murder and madness; of the equally swift ascent and descent of Scotland's king, Macbeth. The autumn season at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre opens with a production of this play, following on from acclaimed performances of Hamlet, starring John Simm and Othello with Clarke Peters & Dominic West.

I attended the Public Dress Rehearsal last evening, and was part of a packed house. For the first time that I can remember the theatre was completely in the round, with seats where the back-stage area usually is, and the performance area central. The set was sparse but effective: a circle of stones around the outside, with an area that could be raised later to fashion a table for the banquet scene. The lighting was well designed and effective.

The performances, I have to say, were mixed. Andrew Jarvis came across well as Duncan, the Old Man and Siward; the two local youngsters, Joseph Pass (Fleance) and particularly Ethan Carley as Macduff's son also performed well; and Christopher Logan, who took seven parts in the play, effused as the drunken porter and camped it up as Hecate. John Dougall as Macduff, I'm afraid, seemed to shout rather than project, and much of his dialogue was lost as a result. Other cast members, on the whole, put in creditable performances.

Of the principals, both Claudie Blakley as Lady Macbeth and Geoffrey Streatfeild as the troubled king sadly came across just a little flat, delivering their lines but at times just that. I and others left the theatre a little disappointed, feeling relieved that we had only paid £1 for the night. I have come to expect better from Daniel Evans' direction: I hope that, as the run goes on, other will not be as disappointed as I sadly was.