Tuesday, 28 October 2014

So That's Why We Went to War in Afghanistan

Well, folks, it appears that my blogposts have taken on the persona of the archetypal London bus - you wait ages for one to appear, then two come along in quick succession!
So why one so soon after the previous?

Well, I felt compelled to post this after listening to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon on BBC Breakfast yesterday morning as he justified Britain's 13 year operation in Afghanistan. When asked whether the deaths of 453 servicemen and women was justified, he started his response by stating that nowadays more than half the population of Afghanistan have mobile phones.
Is that really how we are going to measure the success of a multi-billion pound military operation?
Granted, he did go on to mention more important outcomes, like the numbers of children (especially young girls) who now have access to education, but to start his justification with a statement about mobile phones seems to me more than a little disturbing.
Was the aim, all along, to simply open up a whole new market for Apple and Samsung and Angry Birds? Did the powers that be in the West believe it was fundamentally wrong that the 30 million people of Afghanistan were being denied the opportunity to 'like' a Taliban member on Facebook, to tweet about how much opium they were growing, or to take AK-47-toting selfies in front of bombed-out houses with their new iPhone 6 or Samsung Galaxy Alpha?
And does this widespread access to mobile communication not mean that we've provided the Taliban and its supporters with a whole new means of keeping in touch, of sharing information and planning new atrocities? (Or maybe this is actually a cunning plan by the West to digitise the Taliban's communication networks so that they can be monitored and studied by the intelligence services so we're always one step ahead…like they were before 9/11 and 7/7).

Whatever the potential security benefits of a full-coverage mobile network may (or may not) be, the fact remains that the Right Honorable Mister Fallon would, I believe, have been better served to start his justification for the 13 years of danger and death that our troops endured in Helmand Province by telling us how much safer it has made us here at home, how less of a threat there now is from terrorists who had once been able to regard Afghanistan as a safe haven, and how the sacrifice of 453 brave men and women had been worthwhile in ensuring the security of millions of ordinary people back here in Blighty.

Oh, by the way, the Ministry of Defence will be announcing how many young Afghan children have X-boxes and Playstations some time next week. After all, access to and ownership of mobiles, games consoles and flatscreen TVs is the new measure of how 'civilised' a society has become.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Midge Ure - A musician worth celebrating

Last night, my good lady and I were at the Lowry Theatre in Salford to listen to a singer who, more than any other musician, has provided the soundtrack of my life.
The one and only Mr MIDGE URE (cheering and applause should now ensue!)

Reap the Wild Wind was the first single I ever bought (followed closely by Hymn) and Ultravox was the very first band I ever got 'into' as a teenager - since then, I've never really been 'out of them' - they're there on the iPod, popping up for a sing along when I'm in the car, be it The Voice, Vienna, Love's Great Adventure or One Small Day.
Once hooked by the unique techno-sound (and their brilliant videos), I studiously bought all their previous singles (including Passing Strangers which I didn't particularly like), and played them constantly.

When the Lament album came out in 1984, I played it constantly - Lament (the single) remains my favourite song of all time. I remember vividly how disappointed I was when Dancing with Tears in my Eyes didn't make it to number 1 (got as high as number 3, if I remember correctly).

In 1985, Midge brought out a solo album called The Gift which I also played constantly, much to the chagrin of my then girlfriend who, by the time U-VOX (and the excellent All Fall Down) came out in 1986, had moved on to a new pair of tights (her loss).
In addition to the brilliant If I Was (which gave Midge a No.1), The Gift also has great tracks like That Certain Smile, Antilles and Edo.
Then came another solo album - Answers to Nothing - which contains a track called Lied. Now this has always been a source of annoyance to me. Lied is one of the best songs Midge has ever written, yet it was never released as a single and, sadly, Midge has never performed it live at any of the gigs I've attended (though he has performed it live in the past, as the video below demonstrates!!)

And yes,  I've been to a lot of Midge gigs, starting with Manchester Apollo in 1990(ish) - when, annoyingly, Wendy and I had to leave before the end because we had a train to catch, having endured what seemed like an eternity listening to a terrible support band called 'The Picture'.
Since then, Midge has been producing cracking tracks like Move Me - Cold, Cold Heart - and the utterly fabulous Breathe.

And, over that same period, Wendy and I have seen him perform at Blackburn (4 times), Kendal, Bolton, Salford (twice) as well as the Ultravox revival of 2012 with the Brilliant album in Blackpool (which Wendy missed because she was ill, much to the delight of my sister who came along instead!!)
And every time Midge has been utterly stupendous.
He may now be over 60 (hard to believe/accept, I know), but by Christ he can still belt out a hell of a tune and whether its just Midge and a guitar (as it was last night), or Midge and a synthesiser (as it was when he performed at King Georges Hall and played some of what my wife referred to as his 'weird' stuff), he is the consummate professional.
And to top it all, Midge has given us a new album, Fragile, and the excellent track, Become.

So there you have it - my short homage to a fabulous musician whose music, more than anyone else's, I've sung along to over the last 30 years, who I've been to watch more times than anyone else, and who's CDs take up more space on the shelf and on my iPod than any other artist.
Hopefully he'll be back in Manchester next year, and the year after that…if and when he is, I'll be there!!

And hopefully he'll play Lied!!